Yesterday I went shopping in town. Not a big town, a town not a city. I live in a rural area on the outskirts of a village and most of my day-to-day shopping – bread and butter, tins of beans and bags of potatoes and veg is usually done in the small market town two miles down the road.
Yesterday I went into a larger town and only after I’d done it did I realise just what to experience would be like. I’d forgotten what it feels like to be surrounded by people you don’t know. For various reasons I’d not been far outside my local area – I suppose what some people would call my “comfort zone” for quite a while.
I’d forgotten what the larger department stores were like and just how difficult they could be to navigate. One thing that struck me and that now really worries me is that there is no indication of the nearest exit. When I’ve been in a public place -anything from a small village hall to a sports arena or a theatre one of the first things an organiser does is point out the emergency exits and tell you what to do and where to go if a fire alarm sounds. I could see no evidence of this in the department stores I visited. Yes, there were signs, plenty of them, but they only told me where the food hall, the lingerie department, the restaurant, the children’s wear etc were located. Nothing as far as I could see indicated which way was OUT.
If the fire alarm had sounded I would have been totally lost and wandering futilely round the different departments. We are told not to use the lifts in a fire. I don’t know if the same applies to the escalators – do they get automatically switched off when the alarm goes? Do customers have to find stairs to escape and what about those, like myself at the moment, who can’t walk fast or run down a flight of stairs?
I can only hope that if the stores had to be cleared members of staff would run round shouting “This way…this way out…follow me!” and lead the customers to safety. Even then, would I be able to fight my way out or would I be mown down by crowds of shoppers behaving worse than they do on the first day of the January sales?