Although I was never a boy scout, I'll always have a soft spot for the organisation largely because of its being the proud owner of the best motto the world has ever seen: "Be Prepared." That's just magnificent, isn't it? Simple, universally applicable and not in Latin.
I've been wondering lately if there exists an equivalent of the boy scouts in China because if ever there was an example of being prepared, it's our local multi-purpose Chinese shop. The first thing to point out is that it’s really, really tiny. This, however, doesn’t stop the family who own it from stocking everything and anything you could ever possibly need. I’m forever nipping in there to look for solutions to the myriad practical problems that occur on a daily basis down at the pub.
“Have you got an extendable beer pump cleaner with polyurethane handles?”
“Mmm, maybe - ah! ah! Yes! Yes! Here you are.”
Every enquiry is taken as a personal challenge. The sheer delight on the owner’s face when his rummaging reveals just what you needed is a joy to behold. It’s all I can do to stop myself from high-fiving the chap after each little victory.
There was just one occasion when they didn’t have what I needed and the poor man was completely crestfallen. From the look on his face, you’d think I’d just told him that his entire extended family were unaccounted for after a plane went missing just north of Barnsley. He searched and searched, down on his knees with a torch, up a ladder with a stick, into the backroom three or four times, constantly jabbering in Chinese as his wife looked on, tutting furiously and sporting the kind of grief-stricken expression that only the truly bereft can muster. In the end, I had to half physically restrain him and tell him it was over, like on one of those hospital dramas when a distraught family member has to be pulled off their dead relative.
Of course, the obvious and - to my mind completely unfair - conclusion would be that our Chinese friend simply loves money and wants to maximise profits. However, I’m sure it’s much more to do with personal pride and wanting to offer the best service possible.
Never mind the Picasso museum, with its horrible Picasso paintings, if we really want our children to receive a useful education, we should send them down to the local Chinese shop in order to ask for a set of pre-1970 magenta Peruvian nose flute fibre glass flight cases. Either that or they should join the scouts.