Faced with a recalcitrant mobile phone last week, I set off for the company's local shop - one of five phone shops in a single shopping centre. All the assistants were already occupied with customers so I waited.
The assistants - all three of them - eyes fixed on their computer screens, resisted all attempts to make eye contact; the customers fiddled silently with the mobiles they were buying or had brought in for repair. Nobody said a word.
With a bustling concourse a few feet away, six people stood facing each other across the counter in stony silence: I started wondering whether I had inadvertently intruded into a piece of experimental theatre.
Finally, after more than ten minute of trying unsuccessfully to catch someone's eye, I gave up and went home. Fortunately the Artful Dodger, being a child of the 1990s, understands these new-fangled things and has since managed to restore the phone to working order.
A ten-minute wait gives you plenty of time to study your surroundings. The piece of shop furnishing that struck me most was a large red sign prominently displayed on the counter, warning of dire consequences for anyone who physically or verbally assaults one of the shop's employees.
If what I experienced is a taste of standard high street practice these days, then no wonder Britain's service economy is in trouble - and no wonder they need that sign.
The prison on the plain
10 hours ago