Astonished by the incompetence and lack of interest, I said I'd be back at 9am, probably doing an impression of an angry parent

28th March 2003 at 00:00
I've never been one for taking photographs, but digital technology has changed all that. Now I can take quality photos easily. If I don't like a picture, I just erase it. I don't need film or processing. I can transfer my pictures to a computer and play with them. I can make them black and white or sepia. And I can print them out, any size, using photographic paper.

It's all so easy - and the news has spread. Need pictures of the butterflies hatching, or the tadpoles changing into frogs? Here's the camera. Get snapping, and I'll bring your pictures back tomorrow. Such has been the demand that we decided to buy a digital camera rather than continually pass mine round the staffroom. I'd scoured the reviews, and after school I popped into one of the huge stores that grace the outskirts of every town. Wandering past micro hi-fis, and TVs with five-metre screens and matching sound levels, I eventually found the camera counter, and there sat the one I wanted. Simple. I'd be home in time to watch that documentary about chaos in schools.

There was nobody behind the counter, but plenty of sales people in yellow shirts wandering around. Catching one was hard, so I asked a senior-looking man in a white shirt if he could sell me a camera. He looked towards a yellowshirt and bellowed: "Derek. You busy?" "Yeah," shouted Derek. "Well, when you're not, can you serve this man?" Derek didn't appear again. I was about to ask why whiteshirt couldn't serve me himself, when he got off his stool and disappeared too.

Fifteen minutes passed before I found a free yellowshirt, and I pointed to the camera I wanted. After lots of tapping of computer buttons and cursing frozen screens, he said he hadn't got one. Could he sell me the display model? Well, he could, but if the manufacturer's rep walked in and one wasn't on display they'd have his guts for garters. Then could he order me one? He could, but it might take a while to come. After more computer fiddling, I learned I could have one on Thursday. Did I want it delivered? I paid, and said I'd collect it from the store.

On Thursday I came home to find a note saying they'd tried to deliver, and the camera was going back to the store. I hurried to the store, waited at reception for 20 minutes - and was told it hadn't arrived. More computer fiddling. It would be off the van by Saturday, I was assured.

It wasn't. Definitely Monday. I gave it until Wednesday, just to be sure.

It still wasn't in. It wasn't at the depot, either, though it could be on the van. "Somebody's going to be for it," laughed a yellowshirt. Unamused, I asked for the manager. Apparently he'd gone home. So had the assistant manager. But if I could pop back in the morning everything would be sorted out, and was I certain it hadn't been delivered to my home?

He seemed to be saying I'd received the camera and was pretending I hadn't.

Astonished by the incompetence and lack of interest, I said I'd be in at 9am, probably doing an impression of an angry parent at school. By 9.30am, the manager hadn't arrived. Eventually, a cigarette-puffing yellowshirt found the assistant manager, who offered to deliver the camera by courier.

When they located it. Appalled, I asked for my money back.

Meanwhile, my wife watched while four yellowshirts walked past a persistent telephone. She suggested to the fifth that he might like to answer it.

"After all," she said. "You never know. It might be a customer."

Mike Kent is headteacher of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark. Email:

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