Marks & Spencer threw a big bathful of icy cold water over hopes that the high street downturn will not turn into a full-blown consumer spending strike last week.

Newly-knighted Sir Stuart Rose had his worst day as a chief executive of the company that is recorded the bellwether of the high street on Wednesday when he had to announce a 2.2 per cent drop in Christmas sales.

The market reacted in typical knee-jerk style by wiping some £1.5 billion, or 20 per cent, off M&S's value.

Sir Stuart dumped the blame for his woes firmly on the shoulders of his customers. Times are bad in retail, he wailed. The economy's got a bit of a cold, he whinged.

Here's a challenge for Sir Stuart - who, it has to be said, has done wonders for Marks & Sparks in recent years, restoring from takeover target to something close to its old status as the country's leading retailer.

The challenge is this: come to your branch in Birmingham and try to get to served in anything like a reasonable time.

Last time I tried to spend money in the menswear department (the Christmas rush was just building up) I queued for so long at the only cash desk that was open that I lost the will to live.

Two people were serving, but they seemed to be engrossed in a private conversation. The customer at the head of the queue seemed to have stripped out the tableware shelves and was having every item scanned and wrapped.

About a dozen of us were left standing like wallflowers hoping that somebody would offer to relieve us of our cash After nearly 20 minutes of waiting I gave up, returned my purchases (a pair of pyjamas, since you ask) to the rack and walked out.

From the state of the floor I wasn't the only one that day; discarded goods were all over the place.

The food hall was little better. Most checkouts were shut the day I shopped there and the queues for those that were open stretched halfway back down the stores.

Incidentally, Sir Stuart, what on earth is the point of stripping your food shelves of staples weeks before Christmas and filling them with fancy season delicacies with use-by dates that expired days, if not weeks, before the event?

M&S is not the only culprit in the stuff the customer stakes. A long wait at the medicines counter in Boots last week was due to the fact that the two assistants meant to be serving there had simply walked way.

It was left to more conscientious, but harrassed, staff from other counters to get the queue moving.

I admit to being a bad shopper. I know what I want to buy, I want to be able to find it quickly, pay for it quickly and to be out of the store just as fast. Only in bookshops do I linger long over the wares, but then I nearly always buy something by way of a browsing tax.

If Sir Stuart Rose wants to stop people like me voting with their feet he must give us faster, more efficient and friendlier service otherwise he really will have a sales recession on his hands.