Shop Days #7: The Chinese (Mini)Supermarket

Kim Lien
One of an occasional series where we get to see what it’s like being behind the counter for a day…
Well it is still technically the Chinese New Year, and so we thought we’d have a chat with our Vietnamese/Chinese neighbours.
Kim Lien (who is Chinese but was born in Vietnam) is a sort of oriental Mrs. Shopkeeper. She works silly long hours, but patently enjoys every moment in her little retail universe. Her family all help her (you can see Mummy Lien and daughter Naomi in the picture there), but it is Kim who is tied to the till, the public face of the business. She has been many things – a factory boss, a restaurateur – but this is her first actual shop.
Your day starts… We open at 10.30, but I often have to start earlier, running around to collect supplies
What do you eat? We have no room to cook in the shop, so we subsist on instant noodles and food from the many local takeaways
Best bits of the job? It is a privilege to be able to interact with the local community, both Chinese and otherwise.
Worst bits of the job? We are a small-but-growing enterprise, and I have got to that frustrating stage where I need staff but cannot afford to pay anyone. So I have an increasing work load and am spending more and more hours in the shop.
Would you want your children to follow you into the trade? I’d be delighted if Naomi came to join me. She already helps out.
Your day ends? We shut at 7-ish, but often leave much later.
Back room secret? Stock, stock and more stock I am afraid. A lot of noodles.
Tell us a trick of the trade… Non-oriental people seem very nervous when they come in to the shop. You should talk to the shopkeeper more, ask for their help with ingredients. We like to help…
Gong Hey Fat Choy – or rather, Chuc Mung Nam Moi (in Vietnamese)! Happy Year of the Monkey!

The Country Store: A Guest Post from a Country Store Shopper

How lovely to have a guest contributor. Karen Resta is one of Mrs.S.’ best-friends-that-she’s-never-met – yes, a Facebook friend. She’s a clever and sassy New Yorker most of the time (and a cracking writer – you can see more of her stuff here) – but she spent a good few years in a wee corner of West Virginia, and this reflects her time there…

There’s always the guy who walks out of the tiny food store with the screened-in front and the peeling white paint the moment I walk in. He might be tall and lanky, or he might be short and skinny, but he’s never fat – the reason being that he works on a farm baling hay, fixing the vehicles that break, handling the cattle and the crops. Late fall, he’s got a crumpled brown paper bag of apples in his hand. Late summer, he’s got that same small crumpled brown bag of Scuppernong grapes, so sweet their aroma strikes you from ten feet away. But each time -every time – he’s also got a chunk of something glaring yellow and red in his other hand, wrapped tight in cheap shiny plastic wrap.

He’s always there, that guy, though he may not always be the exact same guy,but he looks right into my eyes, I mean right into my eyes, unashamedly, without hesitation or covertness of any sort whatsoever and he smiles the sweetest damn smile. His smile holds the beauty of a simplicity rarely seen outside these parts, outside places “like this”, like this place you now call home but that’s not really home. There’s no measurement, no conniving, no wondering, in that smile.

In that smile, I’m the girl sitting on the haystack, laughing as the colt skitters sideways from the cat jumping up out of the tall grass to surprise it. In that smile, his eyes say in a straightforward manner, without any twisting torturously around as if under a sharp pin: I’m a good man. His eyes say this without question for he knows he is, without question. The sun rises, the sun sets. The world is as it has been for some long time here and it won’t change too quick, no need to worry about this that or the other thing. Hay grows and is cut. Calving season arrives with reminders of life and death as some calves live, some die – some rise and grow, some falter, and each one is a small perfect thing of beauty, at least for that one shining moment. That smile of his says he’s a man who likes you as a woman, without question. It says,”I’ll cherish you.” And you know he would, for it shows in that smile, without question. He’d cherish you – and how often does that happen.

Inside the dusky store a piece of bright yellow and red hoop cheese waits to be cut with the heavy battered steel knife from the huge round as big around as your arms could stretch, sitting right there on the square wooden chopping block, the table draped with flowered felt-backed plastic tablecloth. Most people don’t leave without a piece of this cheese (if they’re smart) to quickly pull off its wrapper to devour it crumble by slightly oily, rich, biting, heavenly torn-off crumble right there in the car.

On the drive home it’s best to go up the other road, the straight one – not the wildly twisted one overlooking pastures and wide valleys stretching far as the eye can see I took to get here, the road that makes the car almost fall off the side of the mountain as it edges past any other approaching vehicle. There’s the painted sign that’s almost illegible (you’d have to know it was there to know it was there) for the Cashmere Coon Hunt Club, where guys meet Friday nights to drink beer, talking over the day sometime soon when they’ll head out with their dogs to hunt raccoons . . . sometime soon . . . then past more hills, more tiny square houses off in the distance, more cows, more murky green-edged ponds. It’s time to go home, which is not – really – here. It’s time to go back to a place of belonging more closely than here. I’ll savor those jagged bits of torn-off cheese chunks all the long drive home, till bit by bit the hypnotic, acidic, dense buttery haunting taste is done with but never forgotten. Home might just be where the heart is – and sometimes you can taste it – no matter how you’re dressed.

The Patron Saints of Shopkeeping

st.expediteNo – we haven’t made this up. Of course shopkeepers have a patron saint. In fact there are legions of us across the world, and so we actually have two saints looking after us. Would you like to meet them? Of course you would.

The first saint dude is a chap called Expeditus – but you can call him Saint Expedite if you’re in a hurry (obscure pun intended). He was a relatively unknown figure in history – a 4th Century (AD) Armenian soldier in the Roman army who converted to Christianity and was martyred by the Emperor Diocletian (on April 19th, which is now his saints day). On the eve of his conversion, medieval urban legend has him decrying the words of a crow, ‘Cras!’ (Tomorrow!) by squashing said bird underfoot (bit squishy we imagine) and retorting, “Hodie!” (Today!) – hence his popular depiction to the right.

A lot of fun was had in the 18th and 19th centuries over a wonderful misunderstanding: when the Catholic church took to dispatching relics to different and august institutions, various religious organisations received parcels marked ‘EXPEDITE’ (as in the French and general European term for ‘SEND QUICKLY’) and got themselves all excited thinking they’d gotten themselves some actual saint bones. Scepticism as to the merits of his sanctity ran so high that in the early 20th century there was a minor papal conspiracy to get him de-listed as a saint dude – but this only served to increase his popularity with the masses, and he has more or less cult status these days as he’s regarded as the lord of the fast buck. Many impoverished or gambling peeps (especially in South America for some reason) set up a shrine of sorts to him, offering a glass of water, some fresh flowers, a slice of pound cake (surely a pun) and a red candle. Who do? Voo doo. Right on.

Anyway, we will give him the benefit of the doubt. And some pound cake. Especially if it turns out that he looked more like this image than the traditional portrayal above (shh – don’t tell Mr. Shopkeeper).

The second cornershopkeeping saint is San Martin Caballero, another 4th century soldier boy who converted to the Early Church. This chap didn’t get into too much trouble however, and ended up as Bishop of Tours. A charming tale recounts how he passed a ragged beggar in the road one day. As the weather was a bit chilly, the soon-to-be-holy one cut his cloak in two and gave half to the beggar to keep warm: St. Martin is thus seen as the passing stranger who gives hope to those in need.

How does he end up as a shopkeeping hero? Well… every random passer-by has the potential to become a customer, help the shopkeeper in need (aka bored shopkeeper doing sudoku behind the counter) and boost their livelihood.

St. Martin’s saints day is November 11th.

So here’s the thing: shouldn’t we move to get April 19th and November 11th set up as shopkeepers’ holidays? Surely, if the banks can have hols, so can we. Furthermore (thinking aloud here: walk with us), if we’re a nation of shopkeepers, shouldn’t we have an annual yippee-kay-yay shopkeeping festival on one of those days? You know this makes sense. We’ll get a petition together….

Nation of Shoplooters? Absolutely Not!

Well it’s been a funny week. A week in which half the country seems to have devolved from a Nation of Shopkeepers into a Nation of Shoplooters. Just as it seemed that the high street was making a come back, and that small shopkeepers had finally received recognition as an endangered species, swarms of snarling, half-human kids come along and trash it all. We know. We were in the middle of it all. We saw their faces. We’ve written about it all at some length here (but we’re not going to dwell on it).
Except. These kids are in the minority. And the UK’s reaction to the riots in the last few days has been exemplary. Heartwarming. We’re not even going to begin to try and analyse what triggered it all. Everyone has a theory – we have been discussing it over the shop counter for the last few days, and sociologists will undoubtedly be debating it for years to come. One of the best (most helpful) things we’ve read comes from the very lovely Camila Batmanghelidjh.
Leaving the negative aspects aside, what this has proved, in fact, is how very much this country loves its high streets and small shops. Tales of armies of broom-wielding citizens helping to clear up, and communities rallying round businesses and households which have been hit hard.
We were very lucky: apart from lost takings, our shop remained unscathed. But we have been overwhelmed by the reaction of our own customers, who, realising we were, er, on the front line, have been e-mailing/ringing/popping in to check up on us. And everyone wants to know how they can help.
Well you can all help: not just us, but every corner shop in the country. The best thing you can do to help repair the community and the high street, beyond the obvious amd immediate clearing up, is to keep using it and to shop locally. To reclaim your neighbourhood, and show that you are not afraid to shop there. To encourage others to shop there too. Many shopkeepers in the affected areas will be left feeling winded: first there’s a recession, and then this outbreak of criminality. Even if their businesses were not physically damaged, it would be easy for them to feel defeated, and wondering what the point is, and contemplating closure. And if shops close, the high streets will die, and then we’ll all be left in our little boxes, shopping on-line, rarely seeing each other, unaware even of who our neighbours are. The community will die.
Supermarkets have a place, and indeed many of the multiples were targeted and torched by looters, but they will recover. Not all small, independent shops will. Spread the local love, people. Go see your corner shopkeeper. Go shop.

Cornershop Book Review #2: Cornershop, by Roopa Farooki

In which we look at the Corner Shop in ‘literature’…
In the interests of academic research and a more interesting blogsite, we have recently taken to reading the odd book whilst propping up the counter. Not any old pulp fiction, we’ll have you know: there are strict criteria. The book must be about shop life. We wanted to know how the corner shopkeeper is being portrayed out there, and set the record straight if necessary. This exercise is also, of course, a very good way of lending gravitas to the shopkeeper’s image….
Synopsis: Laid back widower Zaki runs his Hammersmith cornershop in a very hands-off kind of way, more interested in form at the local bookies or the female form in general, rarely connecting with his successful solicitor son. His grandson, Lucky, however is a frequent visitor to the shop on account of his crush on Portia, Zaki’s shop girl. Lucky also has another passion: football. And he is by all accounts rather good at it.
Lucky’s parents are rather less content: father Jinan is career focused, whilst mother Delphine is a bored housewife wondering whether to rekindle the flames of lost passion with Zaki. Confused yet? Hey, most lives are a bit confusing, and this book is indeed full of lives. But to say more would be to give too much away.
This is a story of luck, and destiny, fulfilment and disappointment, and family-shaped complications.
Real Shop Cred: What it is not is a story about cornershop keeping. In fact, the concept is mentioned in very disparaging comments throughout the novel:

My father…was a shopkeeper and he made me one too. I wanted my son to be something different, something creative. He didn’t become a shopkeeper at least, but he became a lawyer. Almost as bad.

This tone only served to aggravate your reviewer, as we are sure you will understand. The cornershop is seen as the swallower of dreams, a last resort, a punishment to inflict upon the next generation. Little of the action in this book actually takes place in or involves shops, and what little there is lies more in the realms of retail fantasy. Zaki is apparently able to walk in and out of his shop without ever seeming to lock it up, stock it, cash up or anything else – would that real shops were that easy to run. So Cornershop scores a lowly 1 out of 10 on the Real Shop Credometer.
Buy, Borrow or Avoid: Well, for all its lack of real-shop-cred, and anti-retail snobbery, we have to say this is a storming good read. Ms. Farooki is a smashing writer, who dishes out an almost un-put-downable, fairy-tale-esque drama, and we would say BUY. Er, unless you are a fellow shopkeeper.

Corner Shop Film Review #2: The Shop Around the Corner

In which we look at the corner shop in the movies….
In the interests of academic research and a more interesting blogsite, we have recently taken to watching the odd DVD in the back room. Not any old DVD, we’ll have you know: there are strict criteria. The film must be about shop life. We wanted to know how the corner shopkeeper is being portrayed out there, and set the record straight if necessary. This exercise is also, of course, a very good way of whiling a quiet Sunday afternoon….
Synopsis: The Shop Around the Corner (1940) is a classic romantic comedy, backed by a cracking script and full of old-fashioned charm. It is based on a play by Miklos Laszlo, which also spawned the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail. Of which more at another time. Maybe.
It is not a complicated plot. And the setting is delightfully simple: most of the action takes place at Matuschek’s, a Budapest gift shop which never entirely manages to look like anything more than the MGM studios. Senior shop assistant Alfred Kralik (played by a very young James Stewart: is Nicholas Cage a relative of his, by the way, as they are awfully similar…) cannot seem to get on with flighty young upstart Klara Novak (aka 40s blonde bombshell Margaret Sullavan), and they bicker constantly behind the counter. Coincidentally they are both conducting relationships by correspondence, and are both anxious to meet their mysterious pen pals…neither of them realising that they are in fact romancing each other. Alfred is fired from his job on a misunderstanding, and thus when he goes finally to meet his unknown belle and realises it is Klara, he is too ashamed to identify himself. Suffice it to say that he is eventually exonerated and appointed as manager…and you can probably guess the rest.
The comedy element comes not from the (almost Shakespearean: discuss) storyline, or from the action (which betrays its theatrical beginnings) but from the throw-away one-liners and gentle satire contained in the script itself. The focus on the saleability of a rather vulgar musical cigarette box is genius.
Real shop cred: Well in spite of the Hollywood fakery of it all, and the fact that it is set in a snowy and seemingly distant past, we’re going to give it 7/10 on the cred-ometer. It offers a fine protrayal of the subtle bitching and also camaraderie enjoyed by shop staff then and now, together with a wry look at the frailty of store hierarchy. But we like it best of all for the way it suggests that shopkeeping is a profession of which one should be proud, and that those working at Matuschek’s all count themselves lucky to have a job at all. Can we not get back to this ethos? Where did it all go wrong, eh?
Buy, rent, cadge or avoid? Well, we bought it with a view to giving it to our mother (who would like you to know that she was too young to have seen it the first time round): £5.98 seemed small price to pay to transport not one but two ladies to that special misty place occupied by 1940s matinee material. It has to be said that when Mrs. Shopkeeper was about 8 years old her parents installed a coulour telly at home. A week later they sent it back, as the junior Mrs. S. did not seem to have noticed the difference. So the fact that this film is in BLACK and WHITE did not bother her a jot. Mr. S. was, however, appalled.

Corner Shop Film Review #1: Le Fils d’Epicier (The Grocer’s Son)

In which we look at the corner shop in the movies….
In the interests of academic research and a more interesting blogsite, we have recently taken to watching the odd DVD in the back room. Not any old DVD, we’ll have you know: there are strict criteria. The film must be about shop life. We wanted to know how the corner shopkeeper is being portrayed out there, and set the record straight if necessary. This exercise is also, of course, a very good way of whiling a quiet bank holiday afternoon….
Synopsis:The Grocer’s Son (2007) is a cracking little French movie, somewhere between family drama and romantic comedy. Yes, it has subtitles. It tells the story of Antoine (played laconically by Nicolas Cazale), a bit of a bum, who moves back home from Paris to Provence to run his family’s mobile grocery business after his father has a heart attack. His motivation is a bit sus, as it turns out: he brings with him the lovely Claire (Clotilde Hesme), conspicuously to help her with her studies, although it is apparent to the viewer that he’s really into her. The drama of the piece stems from the the tense relationships within the Sforza famille: Antoine is no prodigal son. The dynamics within the family are well observed, and there are moments of genuine pain in the film. But the piece is saved by the blossoming romance between Antoine and Claire, and Antoine’s struggle to build a working relationship with his father’s round of crusty and irrascible pensioners. Highlights? Liliane Rovere is wonderful in the role of Lucienne, one of Antoine’s battier customers. And the Provencale countryside also gets close to stealing the show: pure scenery porn.
Real shop cred: Well apart from the fact that this particular shop is set against a backdrop of bucolic perfection (and most corner shops, like aren’t), we have to give it 8/10 on the cred-ometer. The portrayal of the subtle tug of war that is shopkeeper v. customer relations, the importance of the shopkeeper to the community, the effects that running a shop can have on family life and the joy that it can bring – these are all well done. The overall message of the film is that there is indeed an art to running a shop, and that shoplife is a state of mind. This cornershop keeper approves.
Buy, rent, cadge or avoid? One to cadge. Although we bought, because it was cheap enough, and are jolly glad that we did. It is not that we would want to watch it again and again, but it is a classy and entertaining piece, one which we will be happy to pass around (have you noticed that there are some films which one would never dream of lending to anyone, and others which seem to be created just for sharing?). It is always good to have a few arty foreign films on your DVD shelves anyway, as it ups your viewing credibility, and mollifies the damning effects of that Buffy boxset….

A pretty gallery of shops for you…

We have decided that we really need to tell you about our friend Emily. Actually, we have never met her, although we did interview her for Londonist a little while ago. But it is only a matter of time before we meet. You see Emily has a rather fun hobby. She takes pictures. Of shop fronts. We’ve picked out some that grabbed our attention, but there are thousands more on her amazing website. You have probably realised that the corner shopkeeper refers to state of mind and a manner of trading as much as anything, so you will bear with our inclusion of some emporia which are not actually on corners.

We reckon that if we play our cards right she might come and photograph our shop one day. In the meantime, her archive of London shopfronts is dead impressive. It is reassuring to know that at least one photographer is chronicling the state of London’s highstreets today. And that she is not only picking on the prettiest, tidiest, chi-chi-est shopfronts. In fact, more often than not, she seeks out the unloved, peeling and dilapidated ones, or the ones with an obvious story to tell. Emily – we love what you do. Please keep it up!
You can also see her work here.
If you have any shop photos to share, well send ’em on in.

The Cat and the Cake. By Vida Adamczewski.

We think this story is awesome. No, we didn’t write it. It is actually written by our favourite 13 year old customer, Vida. And came about as a result of her own kitten taking a shining to a box of fresh Persepolis Persian pastries.
It illustrates three things. One is the elaborate metaphors and strange idioms with which Farsi is peppered, and which, for the most part, don’t translate very well. Not that I am implying that Vida can’t translate very well, as the story is patently written in English: it is rather because we suspect that she was inspired by a passage from Persia in Peckham, wherein there is a section on the perils of literal translation from Persian.
Secondly, it reveals Vida to be an exceptionally talented writer: let’s hope she keeps it up.
Most importantly perhaps it shows that cornershops really are rather magical little places. With magical customers, such as ones that go away and come back with the gift of a story to share. We thought it was just us that could see the potential, that could feel the stories rolling around the walls and tapping on the window…but now we know that y’all can see it too.
So: who else has a shop story to tell?

Chapter One: a Matter of Urgency

The telephone had been ringing for ten or so minutes before Mrs Brown answered it. The telephone hardly ever rang and the sound had been so unfamiliar it had taken quite a while for Mrs Brown to realize what she was listening to. But now she had answered it and the dreadful trill had stopped, number 65 felt normal again.
“Hello,” Mrs Brown didn’t know what to say next, and it seemed like the person on the other end of the receiver didn’t know either. “Mrs Brown speaking,” silence. “Would you like to talk to Mr Brown? Because I’m afraid he’s just popped out.”
“No thank you, you’ll do just fine.” Mrs Brown almost dropped the phone she was so startled.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” Mrs Brown whispered anxiously.
“Well, er, what, um, is it?”
“It is a matter of some urgency!”
“No, no, I meant what can I do for you?”
“Ah, well. I heard you are looking for a kitten.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Ah, good. I have one for you. Can you come and get him this afternoon.”
“That’s a bit too soon, I don’t even know what breed -,”
“Good, good. 1:30 then. I live above the Iranian food store. Good Bye!” Mrs Brown slammed the phone down.
“Really, people are so insensitive these days.”

Chapter Two: Above the Iranian food store

Mrs Brown stood outside the Iranian food store looking for a side entrance to the flat above. However apparently no such door existed, and so she went into the shop to ask for directions.

The shop was full all sorts of things; bottles of perfume; crystallized sugar sticks; silver teapots; nuts; nougat; silk scarves; beautiful, hand woven carpets; berries; incense. Mrs Brown tottered round looking at all these foreign treasures, never had she seen the like. She took a scarf from the shelf and wrapped it round her, then she took an open perfume bottle and spritzed some of the sweet liquid around herself, she danced around a bit and every now and again she would put a pistachio in her mouth or smell some slowly smoking incense.
“You seem like a butterfly trapped by the sun and the sea, can I help you?” the man spoke very fast and then cocked his head to one side. Mrs Brown tentatively removed the scarf and patted her hair down.
“The monkey’s been caught at its tricks!” he smiled a big wide smile. Humiliated Mrs Brown desperately tried to change the subject
“Do you work here?”
“Yes, I’m Aladdin in his cave.”
“Right, do you know how I get to the flat upstairs?”
“You know?”
“No, do you know?”
“Know what?”
“How to get upstairs?”
“Yes, I was taught that when I was only a child. Weren’t you?”
“I don’t know!” Mrs Brown was near shouting.
“Oh dear. Why are you so swallowed by the wasp nest?”
“I’m not. I just need to know how I get to the flat upstairs!” she was near tears now.
“Oh, you’re here for the kitten! My flat’s just up those stairs. I’ll be a shadow on the mirror.”

Mrs Brown walked anxiously up the stairs, she wasn’t quite sure what a ‘shadow on the mirror’ meant. She came to a curtain in rich Persian silk, decorated with several characters in a very beautiful garden. She pulled it aside and walked into a highly decorated attic room. The walls were white and the ceiling had a mosaic in bright colours stretching right across it. Incense was burning and lying on the floor were Persian carpets. A silk covered sofa with a complicated woven throw over it stood in the centre of the room and was surrounded by books and plates. Mrs Brown stood in wonder and confusion by the door looking at everything.

And then she felt the soft warm body of a cat weaving it’s way around her legs, it’s purring was soft and deep. She looked down. It was just a normal, English tabby. She sighed in relief. She had half been expecting a thin, balding cat which had huge red eyes.
“Ah, you have met. He is cat dancing.”
“Oh. I was thinking of calling him Oscar.”
“Hehehe. He does not have a name, call him Oscar if you must. I dare say he’ll be a bee killer dressed as a flower.” Mrs Brown ignored this strange figure of speech, to her it made no sense and what is the point of listening if you are listening to ridiculous gibberish.

“Can I take him now, do you have some food left over for him? It’s just I won’t be able to pick any up until tomorrow.” They were now standing once more in the shop and she was holding the kitten who was almost fast asleep.
“Here you are.” He handed her a box.
“Thank you so much.”
“No need to thank the dead money spider.” He smiled as she left.

Chapter Three: A Mistake or a Blessing?

Mrs Brown put the kitten down and called her husband. He came slowly down the stairs. He yawned and looked at the kitten who was striding round the hall licking his lips and swishing his long striped tail.
“You got one then.” He was about to turn around and go back upstairs but Mrs Brown stopped him,
“I called him Oscar.”
“Great” Mr Brown wasn’t in the least excited.
“You’re a bundle of laughs aren’t you.”
“Actually I’m exhausted. I spent all day slaving away and I went and picked up the kids for you.”
“let’s not argue.”
“We’re not.”
“I’m going to feed him now.”
“Goodnight dear.” Mrs Brown was about to speak but he had already gone upstairs. She looked at the clock in the kitchen as she got down a bowl for the cat.
“It’s only half four.”

She opened the box and looked inside. She groaned. The man had given her a selection of neatly crafted Persian pastries instead of kitten food.
“Sorry Oscar, it look’s like left over peas tonight.” But when she turned around Oscar was licking his lips and the pastry box was empty…

Mrs Brown picked up the kitten and put him outside.
“Bad Oscar, Bad.” She looked at the box and shook her head as she put it in the recycling. “Still, I don’t think I would have eaten those anyway, so I suppose it was better than wasting them. Maybe now I won’t have to give him leftovers and I can feel like I’m disciplining him at the same time.”

Chapter Four: Eleanor’s cake

The next day Mrs Brown went out and bought some kitten food.
“That ought to sort him out.” But she also got some eggs, flour, sugar and butter. “I do hope this is enough for Eleanor’s cake.” She said when she got to the car. Eleanor was one of two girls. She was the older and had never been fond of cats so having a cat in the house for her birthday meant she had asked Mrs Brown for a larger, tastier cake than normal.

Mrs Brown spent the rest of the day making a perfect, light , fluffy Victoria sponge. It was sandwiched together with organic strawberry jam, strawberries and whipped cream. She had iced it with sweet whipped cream and decorated it with little sugar roses and piped ‘Happy Birthday Eleanor’ on the top in pale pink. Mrs Brown had spent hours making and decorating it. She had even made a spare. It was two layers of chocolate sponge, sandwiched together with chocolate butter icing, iced with chocolate butter icing and decorated with grated chocolate, chocolate curls and chocolate chips. She put the spare on a plate and covered it with a net to keep the bugs out. And then she tenderly placed the original on a glass cake stand and gingerly covered it with a large net so it didn’t touch the icing. Both stood on the side blocked from view by some tea towels tactfully hung round the section of the kitchen where the cakes stood.

Then Mrs Brown took Oscar’s bowl and filled it with kitten food.
“Here Kitty, Kitty. Oscar! Dinner time, there’s a good cat.” She smiled and walked into the dining room.

Mrs Brown had just finished laying the table with the best rose china and pink napkins she could find when Eleanor came in.
“Happy Birthday! We’ll have your birthday tea when you’re changed and I’ve finished making some sandwiches. By the way which sort of sandwiches would you like?” Eleanor smiled and kissed her mum.
“I like cucumber.”

Mrs Brown made twenty small cucumber sandwiches. She used biscuit cutters to make them heart shaped and placed them all on a rose china plate.
“Five each. That should be enough as we’re having cake as well.” She was completely relaxed. Everything was fine.

When the time came for the cake, Mrs Brown went into the kitchen and removed the tea towels. The chocolate cake was missing. Mrs Brown gulped. She closed her eyes and removed the cover on the proper cake.
She screamed.

Mr Brown and both the girls came running in and saw Oscar sitting on the cake stand covered in cream and surrounded by crumbs. Blobs of chocolate were dotted on his creamy fur.

“You know he hasn’t eaten any of this kitten food.” Mr Brown said.
“Saving space for Eleanor’s cake!” Lucy (the other girl) giggled.
“It is not funny! I hate cats! I hate them! I do, I do, I hate them!” screamed Eleanor.
“I’m so sorry Elly.” Mrs Brown tried to rub Eleanor’s shoulder but she just ran up stairs and slammed her bedroom door. Mrs Brown looked at Oscar. “Bad cat. Bad, Bad, Bad. You naughty, naughty thing. Out, Now!” she threw him outside and stared at him for a minute. He had left a creamy mark on her hands. “Bad cat!”
Mr Brown, Mrs Brown and Lucy looked at him and Oscar seemed to smile and then he licked his lips.

Chapter Five: A pastry a day keeps the doctor away

Mrs Brown sat in the car. A silent Mr brown sat next to her with a cross looking cat on his lap. In the back Lucy and Eleanor sat in silence. Mrs Brown put the car into drive and drove out of the driveway. She headed towards the Iranian food store. It was drizzling and the silence remained unbroken. She parked outside the shop. It was closed.
The family went to the door and knocked.

The man from the shop heard the knocking and looked out his window.
“Oh. The sleeping fox is woken from his well fed sleep.” He slipped into his dressing gown and slippers. As he padded down the stairs and to the door he began collecting sugary pastries in a box.

He was quietly singing Top Cat as he answered the door. “Yes he’s a chief, he’s a king, But above everything, He’s the most tip top, Top Cat.”
“Top cat indeed!” said Mrs Brown, “You may have him back.”
“Ah, but madam, I do not want him.” Mr Brown interrupted
“Kind Sir, This cat is a menace. He ate two whole birthday cakes that my wife prepared for my daughter yesterday, and he lives upon nothing but cake.”
“And pastries!” corrected Lucy. Eleanor stamped on her toe. “Ow! You stood on my toe!”
“Ah, parrot talk!” the girls looked at him in surprise. “You never asked if he was a good cat. And she did not stand, she crushed your toe. But anyhow, this cat is a true purr-sian.” Mrs Brown shook her head.
“No, he’s a monster.”
“Who said he wasn’t that too.” The man took the cat, “I’m sorry. I’ve been a spider round my web. He is a goat in the sheep, the ostrich amongst the chickens, the wolf among the dogs.” He brought forward the pastry box. Put two on the floor for Oscar and handed the rest to Eleanor. “To make up for you birthday cake.”
“How did you know it was my cake?” he just tapped his nose. “mmmm. These are good, better than any cake!”

And as always, at the end of the story, Oscar happily ate pastries with the Brown’s and everyone lived happily ever after. Until Oscar discovered the wonders of spaghetti…