Alan Dee: Cake conundrum is a cautionary tale

RULE one of retail – if you get a name for something, you’d better deliver. Because if you can’t deliver, your customer is disappointed.

Tuesday, 16th August 2011, 6:42 am

I’ll go further. Your customer is driven round the bend by shuttling from store to store in an increasingly surreal search for something he doesn’t even want and will not be allowed to enjoy, but which he must find.

Yes, I’m talking about me – can you feel the pain? I haven’t had such a dispiriting attempt to spend hard-earned money since I had to scour three counties for a Hungry Hippos to put in the son and heir’s Christmas stocking back in the day.

But I expected that odyssey, because Hungry Hippos was a must-have Christmas gift and they were in short supply, and this was in the days before online store-checkers and your only option was to hit the road.

So let’s fast-forward to today, and the little matter of a birthday cake.

Mrs Dee, as regular readers may recall, is a dedicated education professional dedicated to shaping our next generation into fine and upstanding citizens. Yes, she’s having a lovely six week break, thanks for asking.

But her staffroom is 100 per cent female, and as we know ladies set much greater store than blokes in marking birthdays and other anniversaries with appropriate celebrations.

Part of the whole process where she works is the provision of a cake upon which a photograph of the birthday girl has been cunningly rendered in icing thanks to a service on offer in the bakery departments of some of the big supermarket chains.

All you have to do is pick out a plain iced cake, hand them a picture, wander off to do some shopping and return a little while later to pick up the bespoke item in question.

Or that’s how it’s supposed to work, and to be fair has worked pretty smoothly for the last couple of years.

But with a ‘big’ birthday coming up for one of Mrs Dee’s colleagues, it all went pear-shaped for yours truly, charged with chivvying up the cake as there are no branches of this particular chain around the corner from the school in question.

At the first store, round the corner from work, the machine was broken. It happens.

At the second, requiring a detour on the way home, it was working. Hooray! But the only person who knew how it worked was on a break. OK, a little delay. Then the machine started misfiring and after two attempts at a decent image gave up the ghost. That’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back,

But I had to press on, because not having the cake would cast a shadow over the whole celebration, or so I was told. Store 3, another detour, another broken machine. In Store 4 was miles out of my way, and I tell you no lie – I found myself waiting behind an even more desperate woman who for some reason had been forced to pick up an icing sheet from one store, a cake from another and then carry on to this one to find a machine that was actually up and running.

So success at last, even if I didn’t get so much as a sniff of a slice for my trouble. But please, there are more birthdays coming up, can you at least get those machines serviced?