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A Man of a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

The Shop

I glanced at the summit of Ben Nevis, three hundred feet above. There was, sadly, no path. I had deviated from the main track and trekked some distance along the wrong gully. I was about to retrace my steps when I came upon an incongruous, glazed, aluminium door in the cliff. It slid open on my approach. I stepped through.

Before me lay a vast cavern, housing row upon row of laden shelves. I proceeded in amazement along a grocery-lined aisle, pausing at instant coffee. Briefly forgetting my bewilderment, I picked up a jar and glanced at the price - some four times more expensive than I usually paid?

‘Hello,’ said a voice behind me.

I turned in surprise to see a middle aged man in a supermarket uniform with the name ‘George’ on his lapel badge.

‘Would you like to buy some coffee?’ George enquired.

‘It’s a bit expensive,’ I pointed out.

‘Absurdly so,’ he concurred.

I replaced the jar. ‘What is this place?’

‘It’s a shop,’ said George, surprised at having to state the obvious. ‘It’s got the largest range of stock in the UK – everything from coffee to cars.’

‘I imagine you don’t get many customers?’

‘Just the occasional lost walker,’ George confirmed. ‘And no one buys anything at these prices.’

‘Then what’s the point?’ I gestured around me.

‘Special offers,’ George explained. ‘Before any UK product can be sold at a discounted price, it must be on sale for a month at the original, higher price. One item of each product is put on sale here for that month.’ He paused for thought. ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’

‘How much?’ I cautiously queried.


George led the way past garden equipment, electrical goods and fashion, around building materials and through the car showroom to where some chairs and tables stood beside a row of kiosks.

I sat down as my guide poured tea. The sign on the nearest kiosk read ‘North Korean Government Complaints Department’.

George anticipated my question: ‘The shop serves other functions. For example, all North Koreans who wish to complain about their government must do so here, in person.’

‘Do many come?’ I queried.

‘Not so far – some problem with exit visas. British Government departments are represented here too.’ He gestured towards another kiosk. ‘People who wish to appeal against refusal of disability benefits have to present their cases at that counter.’

‘How do they expect a disabled person to reach a concealed cave near the top of Ben Nevis?’

‘Exactly!’ he continued as he gave me my tea. ‘That’s the clever bit. Any cases presented here are proven bogus!’ He sat down. ‘All asylum claims must now be lodged here too.’

‘Where’s the counter for asylum seekers?’ I said, looking around me.

‘I’m not sure,’ George admitted. ‘I’ve never been there. It’s somewhere much deeper inside the mountain. I believe it’s down a pothole and beyond several freezing, water filled sumps.’

I consulted my watch. ‘Thanks for the tea,’ I said, ‘but I must go or I won’t reach the summit and complete my decent before nightfall.’

As I rejoined the main track, visibility was decreasing. I had already lost sight of the doorway, and, as I glanced back, its gully was also vanishing, Shangri-la-like, into the mist.