Wherein Mr. and Mrs. Shopkeeper intermittently record the ins and outs, and ups and downs, and side to sides of running a corner shop in 21st Century London.
May 17th, 2014. The Blackboards…
Mrs. Shopkeeper likes blackboards. She’d quite happily dispense with all other forms of communication if she could just be left alone with her chalks. Mr.S. suspects some sort of deprivation at nursery school is behind this fixation: the truth is that Mrs.S.’ normal handwriting is pretty atrocious, and she finds the business of pretty coloured pastel writing sticks endlessly appealing.
To this extent the forecourt and interior of the shop are covered with chalked annotations and messages, ranging from the A-Board to the handheld, and from the everso-childlike to the actually-rather-funny. Most of the neighbourhood rather enjoy her scribblings, although you will always find naysayers and NIMBYists who would rather the streets were sanitised and stripped of character. To be fair, she does sometimes take liberties with the position of her A-Boards, nudging them down towards the kerb when they should be tucked up nearer her awning. But her justification for this is that she is brightening the neighbourhood and making people smile.
So she was less than impressed when a man with a clipboard arrived today and handed her a letter addressed to ‘the business owner’. This action in itself did not of course generate undue offence, but the contents of the letter caused her to mutate through several shades of beetroot. Some puffed-up panjandrum at the local transport authority had determined that a ‘zero-tolerance policy on A-Boards would somehow improve traffic flow.
This would not do. Oh no, this would not do at all…
March 29th, 2014. The Shopsitter…
Shopkeeping is in Mrs. Shopkeeper’s blood. Granny Shopkeeper had a quirky decorating shop for 12 years. Would you like to see it? Of course you would. It’s now an estate agents. It did very well until Asda opened nearby and started selling paint and wallpaper. Then as soon as Granny S. sold her shop, Asda stopped selling decorating bits and bobs too, meaning that the area is no longer served by any DIY shops at all. Such is the evil of supermarketification. Ho hum.
Granny S. was subsequently in charge of the home-ware department at a branch of Debenhams for around twenty years, wherein even the top management came to realise that things were to be run her way or not at all. Discreet bossiness is also in the blood.
So it is only natural that, although soon-to-be-octogenarian and largely retired from retail life, Granny S. should be brought out of the closet to run Mr. and Mrs. S’ shop on special occasions. Thus it was today, when Mr. and Mrs. Shopkeeper had to pop out for a couple of hours. Mrs.S. had unsuccessfully dispatched Mr.S. to buy himself some more work trousers: he had come back with a new jacket, three DVDs and some badly made, eyebrow-raising underwear for his wife…but no sign of any trousers (apart from the ones he was wearing, natch). So Mrs.S. had decided to supervise, necessitating a rare joint outing. Surely Granny Shopkeeper would be all right in the shop for just two hours? Mr. Patel had agreed to keep an eye on her: he had proved most useful at this sort of operation since acquiring a telescope a month or so ago.
When they got back from their shopping foray – brandishing a new dress for Mrs.S. as well as the requisite trousers for Mr.S. and a huge Mothering Sunday bouquet for Granny S.- everything looked hunky dory. Granny S. was sitting behind the counter with Master Shopcat on her lap. But Mrs.S. was somewhat surprised to see Mr.Patel with Robert, the street’s pet drunk, sitting in the backroom playing cards. Poker, no less. Seems Mr.Patel had noticed the latter approaching the shop and had headed over to help. Granny S. had thrashed them both at cards to prove her street-wise-ness. They were now playing for 2nd place.
The other thing that seemed odd was the that the tinned food in aisle 6 didn’t look quite the way Mrs.S. had left it. It did, admittedly, look very nice. But not quite right. Closer inspection revealed that it had all been rearranged according to the colour of the labels. Granny S. had clearly spent too long working with towels and paints….
Finally, the shop’s CCTV monitor didn’t seem to be showing the shop any more. It was, instead, showing Neighbours with Polish subtitles. This is what happens when you ask customers to help you re-programme anything. Granny S. couldn’t possibly have missed Neighbours, now could she?
Mr. and Mrs. S. both grinned and breathed a sigh of relief. All in all they had probably gotten off lightly. Granny S. had patently enjoyed herself, and almost smiled when Robert gave her a peck on the cheek as he left. Mr. Shopkeeper found himself wondering whether the experience could pass as his mother-in-law’s Mothers Day treat…
March 3rd, 2014. The Games Shopkeepers Play…
To while the corner-shaped day away, it is a well known fact that cornershop staff play games with each other. We’re not talking tiddlywinks or Grand Theft Auto, but rather, mind games. Some are subtle, whilst others are childish in the extreme – but they all serve to alleviate the potential tedium of life in a retail goldfish bowl.
Mr. and Mrs. Shopkeeper are no exception. In fact, the small detail that they are married serves only to magnify the elaborate lengths to which they go in the name of playfulness.
The current bout of games started two days ago with the disappearance of Mrs. S’ Guatemalan dream dolls. Now she’s very attached to her dream dollies, and sleeps with them under her pillow every night. Mr. S. professes to tolerate this as the practice is at worst harmless, and his wife is at worst batty. A frantic search under the bed and a cross-examination of Master Shopcat failed to reveal the missing figures.
A poltergeist was clearly at work, as that very evening Mr. S. was trying to find the last disc of his new Game of Thrones boxset and it had vanished. Pouf! No last episode to watch.
“How very mysterious!” said Mrs. S., attempting to arch her eyebrow in a magnificent gurning motion.
“Quite,” said Mr. S., looking quite shocked. Surely not even a poltergeist would stoop that low?
The plot thickened today when Mrs. Shopkeeper was unable to locate her lucky Smurf. The Smurf had been in the shop from the day it opened, a child’s trophy from some dire fast food chain, and she associated it with good trading and happy shop vibes. Mrs. S. loves relics. The bits and bobs of daily life that customers leave behind in the shop. She has a pet theory that they all mean something, these fragments of other existences, and that one day she will be called upon to present them all like so many talismans against some as yet unapparent high street armageddon. Mr. S. thinks she reads too much fantasy fiction.
Mr.S. comforted her as she was obviously distressed (or possibly fuming), and helped her look for it briefly. But he was quickly distracted as he checked his mobile phone, only to discover someone had blocked Candy Crush on his Facebook account. He went very very quiet. And Mrs.S. just exploded with delight. This was a very, very rare win for her. Mr.S. had to concede. What a busy happy evening they had, worry dolls and boxsets all.
But Mr. S. was already hatching another plan…
January 17th, 2014. A Boxset Too Far…
Mr. Shopkeeper is of course practically perfect in every way, but Mrs. S. does sometimes question his box set habit (try saying that after you’ve had a few). Now there’s nothing wrong with watching telly as a pastime: Mrs.S. has been known to do it herself – AND she owns all of the Highlander series AND The Professionals on DVD. But whereas she might watch something of a blue moon, and savours each episode as a rare treat, Mr.S goes for overkill. He sits up late, late, late at night, long after the bedding hour for cornershopkeepers, and one episode is never enough. Mrs.S. has on occasion found him fast-a-zzzz in his television chair in the wee small hours, which delights her as she is then able to rib him about his ‘old-manly’ habits.
January is always the worst month for this, as of course trade is a little quieter following the Christmas rush: ‘We deserve to take it a bit easier for a few weeks…’ he shrugs. And then of course his Christmas stocking is inevitably filled with DVDs which he then feels compelled to watch.
So far so endearing, you might think. The problem is that Mr.Shopkeeper is a bit like Mr. Ben in as much as he totally adopts the mannerisms of whatever he is watching. So when he was working his way through Spartacus, Mrs. Shopkeeper found she was getting called wench a lot, and Mr.S. took to summoning her with a clap of the hands. The Tudors saw a lot of unnecessary belching, and Mrs. S. was left to marvel (as indeed was Master Shopcat) at the odd bone she found tossed behind the dresser. Today saw Mr.S. feigning a Jersey accent (quite atrociously we should add), but the mystery was only really solved when he invited a wannabe haggler to ‘Make us an offer we can’t refuse…’ Mr.Shopkeeper had clearly embarked on the Sopranos complete series. Mrs. S sighed: it was going to be a long month. Mind you, she had always fancied herself as someone’s ‘moll’… She would have to get her nails painted.
January 4th, 2014. A Battle of Wills…
The box arrived just before Christmas. A panic-driven order of stuff that had unexpectedly been flying off the shelves. Of course as soon as fresh supplies arrived, the demand dropped. And the last two days before Christmas had been very everso busy. So the box stayed there. On the floor. Right next to its designated shelf home.
Now Mrs. Shopkeeper is not actually known for her tidiness. Cleanliness maybe. But not tidiness. It can sometimes take her weeks to put an item away in the shop. She refutes all accusations of laziness by explaining that ‘the vibes have to be right’: it is no good doing something if you don’t have the right urge to do it. Mr.S. quietly blames the yoga for this apparent new age daffiness, but as in every other way it seems to do his wife a power of good, he refrains from saying so. She also puts forward the argument that leaving non-edible goods half unpacked, still wrapped in newspaper, gives the customer a more exciting retail experience. Put the thrill of discovering something peeking out tantalisingly in one corner of the shop together with a certain affected vagueness from the shopkeeper on price and provenance, and the keen shopper will feel that they have really scored a bargain. Sceptical as Mr. Shopkeeper was at first, he had to admit that this latter ‘tactic’ seemed to work, although he drew the line when Mrs.S. suggested enhancing the effect with the addition of spray-on dust.
But this particular arrival contained not handicrafts but condiments. And Mrs.S. had already declared that she does not like putting said item away as it doesn’t form proper stacks and wibble-wobbles over. So there it sat, an unspoken challenge, waiting to see who would cave in first and pop it away.
As luck would have it their curiously enjoyable inter-marital shelf-stacking impasse was complete ruined today by Mrs. Farquhar’s little boy, who came in and ‘unpacked’ the box all over the floor whilst his somewhat lackadaisical mother browsed. The shopkeepers had the last laugh however, as Mrs. Farquhar went off very content at having purchased a partially-newspaper-wrapped tea set she had found in the darkest recesses of the shop. She had haggled Mrs.S. down to fifty quid for it: what a result….
April 19th 2013. The Photoshoot…
Truth to tell, Mrs. Shopkeeper is aware of her own gullibility. She reckons (privately) that it adds to her waif-like charm. On the other hand, Mr. Shopkeeper (privately) reckons she’s a complete numpty a lot of the time. Whatever the case, it is not a trait that Mrs. S. affects: she is genuinely ingenuous (try saying that when you’ve had a few Babychams). Nor is it entirely due to her innate stupidity: it is, more often than not, owing to her cock-eyed optimism. She really wants to believe everything she is told.
So when a national magazine called and asked if they could send a scout to plan a fashion photoshoot in the shop, she was all shades of jump-up-and-down excited.
“Just imagine…” she said to Mr. S.
“Pfft,” he said, as he rarely knew how to respond whenever she said “…”. “How much will they pay us?” he asked, as an afterthought.
“It’s not about the money,” she cried, horrified. “It’s about the publicity.”
“We’re a shop, my little sugar puff,” he replied. “It is always about the money. And it is customary to pay businesses for interruption of trade etc.”
This was several weeks ago, and the scout had been, muttered words that sounded like “quaint” and “quirky”, chatted a lot on his mobile phone and gone. And after several e-mails and a lot of form filling, today had been set as the day for the shoot. The shop was to remain open throughout (so at least Mr. Shopkeeper could not berate her for losing business) and they had promised ‘minimal disruption’ (which meant that Master Shopcat would similarly not have a paw to stand on if he complained). Mrs. S. had had an Icelandic facial, a Brazilian manicure and an Australian pedicure just for good measure. “Just in case,” she told her friends, although she thought it unlikely that a barefoot shot of the shopkeeper would be required. In fact she had her suspicions that no shots at all of the shopkeeper would be required.
The ‘minimal disruption comprised five camera-and-lighting men, two wardrobey-make-uppy people, two models, and a small, nervous, rattish looking man who seemed to be in charge. The shop’s back room was filled with discarded coats, empty tech cases and the unmistakeably awful aroma of celebrity-endorsed perfume. Mr. S. had gone out on delivery with an annoying smirk on his face, leaving Mrs. S. to dish out cups of tea and try to keep out of their way.
The models had been provided with Hilda Ogden style scarves and feather dusters (wtf was that all about?) to wave about as they posed with stacks of tins and draped themselves ridiculously across the counter. It was all slightly comical and very surreal, but all in all Mrs. Shopkeeper thought it was going quite well until she heard the rattish boss person talking on his phone.
“The real shopkeeper’s a real high street character, Bob. Shall I get a couple of background shots of her just for the contrast, like?” What did he want her to do – gurn for the camera? Pfft.
Mrs. S. could feel the hackles on the back of her neck rising. And she suddenly wished Mr. S. would come home early and get rid of them all. “Ghastly types,” she told him later. “You were, as always, quite correct in your judgment. Still,” she added with a brave smile, “it was all good experience. And they did spend a hundred quid or so.”
March 28th 2013. The Trade Magazine…
The postman arrived early today. Before the shop opened. Which gave Mrs. Shopkeeper the chance to scan through the mail over her (organic, ethically traded, free from) Cocoa Pops. She always looks out for the post personages, ready to do a rolling breakfall out of the door so as to rifle through their stash, thus to check that the letters hadn’t become muddled again: she’s heartily fed up with having to redeliver all the mis-delivered mail herself. She does wish they’d stick with the same postman, preferably one who could read and who didn’t intimidate by wearing DMs and military camouflage shorts…
Today brought a squidgy package for Mr.S. (though busting with curiosity Mrs.S. would never dream of opening anything not addressed to her…and anyway she could always check his e-mail to see what he’d been buying recently), some bills, a free gold plastic fork for Master Shopcat’s gourmet suppers (ffs, whatever next?), around twenty A5 2013 calendars courtesy of some shop-glazeing (sic) company, and a new glossy called the Deli Tri-Weekly Digest addressed to ‘Mrs.Stopkeeper’ (sic). Although the marketing and mailing team on this publication clearly needed a little more experience, Mrs.S. had reached that breakfast zone only attained by those who habitually consume far too much in the morning (porridge comas are not unusual in her case) and decided to flick through the magazine whilst she waited for her brekkie to go down.
Trade magazines usually get recycled straight into cat litter liners or padding for mail order, and Mrs.Shopkeeper had not in truth read any for a very long time. The cover was alluring enough, with a picture of a rustic barrow full of market garden produce and the heading ‘Keep it Local’. The editorial was a little less jolly, exhorting small shopkeepers to ‘diversify or die’, accompanied with dire trade predictions for a sextuple-dip recession. The same page featured ads for a new shopkeeper counselling service, and a green belt rest home aimed at retired retailers. Hmm.
But then on the second double spread there was an astonishing success story: the reader was introduced to Mildred and Monty, retired bankers who had opened a wee food shop in their picture-book-pretty home town of SunsetVille. After just two years they had bought another ten shops, now employed forty grinning staff, and still found time to make their own perfect pasties, play perfect hosts at monthly charity events, and grow herbs on their perfectly neat smallholding.
“We don’t know why we wasted so much time in the financial sector,” joke the couple, “Food retailing is clearly where the money is….”
Mrs. S. was surprised to notice that her knuckles had whitened around the edge of the mag: she had not realised it was so cold in the flat. The sixth page featured news of a super new solar-powered deli-fridge range with touch-screen glass which customers could synch with their phones as well as use to marry ingredients on display behind the glass with recommended recipes and nutritional information. The starter price was £10,345 excl., but this was expected to drop over the next year. Mr. & Mrs. Shopkeeper’s chiller cabinet was a £500 second-hand job that they had been nursing with remedial gas fixes for the last five years. Chiller-cabinet envy, dear readers: it’s a thing.
Mrs. S. felt a sudden and inexplicable urge to change the cat litter and waved gaily at Mildred as the latter vanished under a pile of fuller’s earth. Useful things, these trade mags.
Christmas 2012: The gap in posting is temporary. Honestly. The diary will restart in February. In the meantime Mr. and Mrs. Shopkeeper wish you a till-jingling, jolly, merry Christmas, and a corner-shaped 2013.…
AUTUMN 2012: In which Mrs. Shopkeeper becomes very lazy. The diary will resume presently…
August 31st 2012: A Game of Cards…
Today saw Mr. Shopkeeper looking surprisingly jaunty. For this evening he was scheduled to host a game of cards. He and ‘the boys’ meet every couple of months or so to do, well, manly things. Manly things involving pizza, and wine, and a couple of DVDs. The same sort of things, in fact, that Mrs. Shopkeeper deploys on her girls nights in. The only difference in fact is that pack of cards.
Today is the first time that he has actually hosted this testosterone-laden knees-up, and around lunchtime he suddenly and rather sweetly came over all house-proud. Firstly he appeared wearing Mrs.S. pink rubber gloves. And then he brought the hoover down into the shop with all its fittings to ask Mrs.S. what they were all for. He looked genuinely appalled when she confessed that she only ever used one nozzle (Master Shopcat didn’t seem to like any of the other ones), and proceeded to sit down in the middle of the sales floor and play with all the pieces until he’d worked out the precise function of each. Mrs. S. was then duly summoned for a demo so that she too could appreciate the finer points of textured vacuuming.
After a lot of thumping upstairs, he finally appeared looking pleased with himself.
“Now, about tonight…” he ventured.
Mrs.S. knew where this conversation was going. The normal arrangement for ‘boys nights’ was that the ‘hostess’ went somewhere else for the night. Thus, she supposed, to enhance the ‘manliness’ of the evening, although their corresponding ‘girls’ nights’ didn’t require anything like the same degree of exclusivity. The problem for Mr. and Mrs.S. was that Mrs.S. had to open the shop early the next day, and it was completely daft for her to go off to a friend’s house for the night. And she certainly wasn’t going to take a room above the Market Arms for the night: what would the neighbours think? And so she was going to stay put. Very very quietly and discreetly put.
“I know,” she said. “I’ll be quiet. They’ll never know I’m still home. I’ll use the headphones on the telly, and I’ll make a picnic to eat in our bedroom. Just make sure they actually all go home tonight.”
He still looked worried, but gave her ‘good wifey’ type squeeze.
And so when she shut the shop this evening, she raced upstairs to prepare for her ‘confinement’. Mr. S. had made her a little platter of nibbles, and prepared both a wee flagon of wine and a flask of herb tea for her: she was touched, although a little bit of her was thinking that really it was the least he could do. She flew in and out of the shower, and then ‘retired’ to their bedroom.
It wasn’t long before his four chums arrived, and judging by the chatter they were having a jolly good time. Mrs.S. tried snoozing, but of course the fact that her access to the loo was limited meant that all that she could think of was spending a penny. So she opened their bedroom door a crack and looked along the landing. The height of the back of the couch and the dresser meant that if she crawled she would be well hidden from the boys (who seemed to be listening to her Donna Summer Greatest Hits LP – wtf?), and the bathroom did seem to be vacant, and so squatting down she sprinted along the hallway and quietly locked herself in the bathroom. She was very quick. Really quick. So it really wasn’t fair that just as she was about to crawl back in to the bedroom someone knocked on the door.
In retrospect her actions next were not particularly rational. But she was tired. And so she waited until the knocking stopped, very quietly unlocked the bathroom door, and then hopped out of the bathroom window: it was only a short swing over on to the back steps, whereupon she could get back into the flat via the kitchen/back door. She’d done it before in reverse after locking herself out one day.
She hadn’t counted on ‘the boys’ all being in the kitchen at the time (supervising the defrosting of the pizzas, perhaps), and it was only minutes before one of them cleared his throat.
“Ah, um, any idea why your wife is hanging from the balustrade in her nightie?”
They would laugh about it later on. Much later on.
August 20th 2012: A Dubious Compliment and a Complaint…
Mrs.Shopkeeper was ironing in the backroom of the shop today when Robert entered. Robert is one of the High Street’s pet drunks: in all, the shopkeepers therein share two and a half. There is apparently some ancient statute in Britain that sets out the quota of drunkards per footage of retail frontage, as every high street across the land seems to have about the same number of these inebriated but jolly fellows.
Robert is harmless enough, but does have the gift of the gab, hailing as he does from Dublin’s fair city. He only comes in if he sees the shop is empty or that Mrs. S. is behind the counter: Mr. S. is not quite as indulgent as Mrs.S. and so the local miscreants tend to avoid him. Mrs. S. spotted him on the CCTV and greeted him from the back of the shop, which had Robert spinning in confusion in farcical Shakespearian fashion. Emerging into the main shop she greeted him, remembering to stand upwind, and asked him how she could help.
She is fond of many of the oddballs and social misfits that come into the shop as in spite of their personal pain and unsociable habits they are mostly gifted with either a conscious or sub-conscious gift of self-parody. They are also, for the most part, highly intelligent, if not always intelligible. After more that ten years shopkeeping Mrs. Shopkeeper has assumed an almost Zen-like approach to her profession, and regards these little encounters as bitter-sweet comic interludes in her day.
Today Robert was more inebriated than usual, and took Mrs.S’ hands between his not-entirely clean fingers.
“Did anyone ever tell you that you have eyes like the Liffy and a complexion the colour of the Wicklow Mountains?”
Mrs. S. managed to extract herself, not entirely sure whether she had just received a compliment, just as a very imperious looking lady walked into the shop. She retreated behind her counter, thus to meet imperious with like, and discreetly reached for the anti-bac hand rub, hoping Robert would see himself off the premises.
The lady wasted no time in getting to the point.
“I bought these crisps in your store, and they are mouldy. I want to know what you are going to do about it,” she said in a voice which would have made the Snow Queen sound like Mini Mouse. And she slapped a tube of potato snacks on the counter together with the receipt therein. The offending items did indeed seem to be abnormally green.
Now Mrs. S. is quite the mistress of the flippant reply and the subtle brush off, but she is also a conscientious and caring business owner. And she realised that the sort of person that keeps their receipt for a packet of crisps is a force to be reckoned with. So she assumed what she hoped was a shocked expression and immediately expressed her sympathy for the shopper and proffered a full refund.
Now there are three types of complainer in the world of retail. There’s the professional grumbler, the sort will make a big deal out of barely perceptible issue and that spend their lives in the queue at customer services, know their rights and can almost make a living out of the compensation reaped therein. They rarely bother contacting the retailer but go straight to environmental health, or casualty, or weights and measures, or trading standards. Encounters with these are thankfully few in the indie world.
And then there is the permanently aggrieved soul: the sort of person who genuinely believes that life has dealt him a bad card and is constantly trying to get one back at fate. These people will complain just to have a voice, to register their distress at the awfulness of everything, to prove a point (even if they have forgotten what the original argument was). These plaintiffs just need someone to sympathise and soothe their retail angst. As soon as they think that the shopkeeper has heard them out and grovelled enough, they usually back off. They are annoying and tricksy to deal with, but encounters therein usually last but a few minutes and everyone ends up happy.
And then there are those with a genuine complaint. The customers who have bought something which is patently below par and unacceptable. The vast majority of the population, when confronted with something that isn’t right, do the decent thing and go back to the shop where they bought it. Most of them just want a refund, or to know that it won’t happen again. Many of them are so nice that they don’t even ask for a refund, but rather ‘just want to let the shopkeeper know’. Occasionally some of them want compensation, for their wasted time or inconvenience.
The imperious lady today seemed to fall into the latter category, and Mrs. S. happily refunded her money and gave her a replacement item free of charge. When the customer smiled she look a lot less imperious and Mrs. S. was subconsciously breathing a sigh of relief when Robert came up behind the customer and said in his booming Irish voice, “Madame, has anyone ever told you that you look like Cú Chulainn’s horse on a midnight rampage? Oh I love me a strong woman!”
“Robert!” said Mrs. S., through clenched teeth.
She often thought how much easier it would be to admit just one customer at a time…
July 26th 2012: The Torch…
So today the Olympic Torch was due to go along the High Street. The HISTA had been muttering about it for weeks. What to do…what to do?
Flora Flowers had confessed to a hidden passion (of which Mrs. S. had always suspected she had many) for mariachi music, and produced a former paramour who plays in a mariachi band. These revelations had left Mrs. ABC at an uncharacteristic loss for words: had she have lived a century earlier she mostly likely would have had an attack of the vapours. Anyway, said band were now all set up at the top of the High Street ready to greet the torch cavalcade.
Mr. Patel and his family had set up a Pakistani feast in front of their greengrocers, and they were all ready to dish out dinky £1 pots of anonymous-looking-but-very-hot Lahore curry. The breeze carried the aroma for a very long way.
Finally Mrs. S. had ‘persuaded’ her pet Mummer and Morris Dancers to come and perform at her end of the High Street.
This had all seemed like a good idea at the planning stage, but when Mr. and Mrs. S peeped out at 9.30am, they suddenly realised that it was not, perhaps, the most co-ordinated of welcoming committees. In fact Mr. S. just burst out laughing.
“So let me get this straight. We are greeting the 2012 Olympic torch with Mariachi, curry and Morris dancers?” he spluttered. “Oh well, at least all the traders have more-or-less matching bunting. Pink and purple: such pretty colours.” He had deliveries to do and so rushed off before the roads started closing and he got stuck.
The torch was due to arrive around mid-morning, and by around 10am you could hardly hear the tinkle of Morris Men so loud was the crowd. Mrs. S. was, for the most part, deeply and uncharacteristically sceptical about the Games, but still had a pocket full of tissues should she be able to tap into some hidden resource of sporting patriotism at the last minute. After about half an hour of standing on the shop ladder trying to look welcoming, she felt a little restless and so went in to put the kettle on. A sudden increase in crowd noise propelled her to the front of the shop again, where she was just in time to witness the convoy of commercial vehicles bearing scantily clad corporate molls who were dishing out bits of carelessly sourced plastic merchandise. She had a sudden urge to cry, but not for any of the right reasons, and she wasn’t entirely sure that she could have explained her emotions at that moment to anyone anyway. She just felt that there was something very wrong with the whole set up. She had paid for the Morris men out of her own pocket, and doubted that the Olympics were going to bring them any extra trade whatsoever.
“Torch schmorch,” she muttered (she had always been a fan of New York Jewish comedy), and went back to making her cup of tea. After about 10 minutes she re-emerged to applaud her really rather lovely Mummer group. The Torch and its attachments were long gone.
Later that evening, as Mrs. S. was shutting the flat’s windows to keep out the lingering smell of curry, Mr.S. asked Mrs.S. how it had all gone. He was once again left marvelling at his strange wife’s strange foibles. She rarely lost her rag with anyone, but when she did stomp her little shopkeeping feet he always found it in equal measures beguiling and comical. Although he always pretended to find her indomitable and ferocious. Of course he did.
July 7th 2012: A dog and a baby…
Mrs. Shopkeeper would really like one general rule for children and animals in the shop: they can come in as long as they will fit in your pocket/handbag. She is of course obliged to admit perambulators, as she is not keen to foster a curmudgeonly image, and on the QT has even be known to play peek-a-boo with the quirkier pram occupants (who invariably scream, as Mrs. S. is very fond of peek-a-boo and enters into it with perhaps a little too much vigour). She does recognise that most of those riding in prams are innocent, and that the worst anti-shop crimes are committed by those pushing them. She holds militant pram owners in very low esteem: the sort who have bought four wheel drive models and then tut as they try to squeeze all the way along aisle three, failing to apologise as they send all manner of detergents flying.
In her defence it should also be said that the slightly older children who do make it through her careful screening process to gain admission to the shop are rewarded with toys, an in-house treasure hunt, and a lollipop for good behaviour. But many fail the admission process and have to be left tethered outside.
Today she was left a little discombobulated on two counts by patent flaunting of the rules. Firstly a pram-wielding lady came a-rapping on the door, indicating that she required Mrs. S. to hold the door open for her. Mrs. S. mimed confusion through the glass panels, just to make the woman go through the whole gesturing thing again, but eventually gave in and opened the shop door. The woman then clicked her tongue, presumably to express her disapproval of the shop’s step (Mrs. S. does actually have a patent ramp for wheelchair users, but rarely gets it out for pram-types). She then parked the vehicle (a double buggy, laden with shopping) in front of the till and asked Mrs. S. to watch it while she shopped. Mrs. S. refrained from using her usual not-very funny quip, “Why? Does it do tricks?”
Mrs. S. resumed her suduko (which was hidden under an article about the voyage of Ibn Battuta, as she felt this lent her more gravitas), but jumped visibly when the pram barked at her. Peering through the rain-shield, she made out the form of a far-from-cute, snarly looking Pekinese. She was not impressed: the shop is mostly a food shop, and doggies are not good for business. Furthermore, Master Shopcat would have been furious should he have decided to pay a visit. She decided to bite her tongue, not least because the woman seemed to be spending a bit of money.
Just as she had completed another box of her puzzle, a scatty looking woman came in and thrust a baby on the counter.
“You’ll hold her, won’t you? I won’t be long,” she pleaded.
Mrs. S. had no choice but to dangle the child, who looked as if it was about to scream. Now Mrs. Shopkeeper really doesn’t do babies. She is, to be honest, scared of breaking them. Just then the illicit dog started barking again, and the baby dissolved into inconsolable blubbing. At which point the owners of both reappeared looking indignant. Simultaneously, Mr. S. walked in, took one look at his wife’s panic stricken/cross face and roared with laughter.
June 27th 2012: A Visit from the Step-Shop-Kids…
Today Mr. and Mrs. S had a rare visit from the Steps.
Mr. Shopkeeper’s progeny hate the shop with a passion which frankly beggars belief. It was opened when they were still quite small: you know, of an age where they flitted from obnoxious to cute and back again before you could say ‘don’t touch the till‘.
To be fair, for the first couple of years it held a kind of novelty and fascination for them. At that time they still enjoyed ‘playing shop’, hiding the price gun from Mrs. S. (what sport!), popping random ‘SALE’ stickers on everything (including Mr. S), weighing things on the weighing machine (including Master Shopcat, who had hitherto carefully avoided letting anyone know how much he weighed), and, best of all, playing with the till. The till held some king of irresistible attraction for them, and Mrs. S. would often find one of them just gazing at it, longingly. To a child, it is to be presumed, the till is effectively a machine that produces money, which in turn buys ice cream, so perhaps it is not that hard to fathom the allure. Mr. S., like most fathers in his position, just hid, only intervening when he suspected tears or tempers were flaring.
At first, in her role as wicked step-mother (at which, it has to be said, she is awfully good), Mrs. Shopkeeper would hide the keys for the till and fume when she couldn’t find the price gun. Then she decided that the whole shop thing could be ‘educational’ for them, and so she started to encourage the squids to add baskets of groceries up, and to talk to them about ethical trading and nutrition. She was actually quite hurt that they didn’t seem to pay a lot of attention, and puzzled when they started to skulk in the back room rather than play shops. Finally she decided that they could be quite useful, and offered them a semi-decent pocket money wage to help her out. But by then they had descended into the dark ages of teenagerdom and were fundamentally disinterested in anything that remotely related to their parents, step or otherwise.
Their hatred of the cornershop stems from the fact they feel that it has stopped them from enjoying so much stuff with Mr. and Mrs. S. (of whom they are inordinately fond, in spite of all of her attempts to lock them in the stock cupboard over the years). And this is a reasonable observation. Shop kids are often collected from school a little late whilst last minute customers are served, and spend half of their school holidays in the backroom doing jigsaws (OK, playing on their Nintendos), and family hols are taken either just with one parent, or are crammed into odd dates to fit in with the person covering the shop whilst they are away. As far as they are concerned, the shop stole some of their childhood, even though Mr. and Mrs. S. had done some really spectacular things with them over the years. And even if it is the same shop that paid for much of their childhood, they are not going to forgive it easily.
Anyway, they both arrived today looking worryingly happy (well, they are nearly out of their teens now, and are allowed to smile occasionally), apparently not needing money for anything, and seemingly with nothing awful to confess. Elder step-shop-kid had brought a new fella for her father’s inspection, and even this passed off surprisingly well. Mr. S. suggested they shut the shop for lunch and a jolly time was had by all.
In the evening, as Mr. S. was cashing up, Mrs. S. heard him sigh heavily. Which is not something he does very often. When he is unhappy he usually just goes quiet, or growls.
“What’s up my precious?” she asked. “We had a lovely day, no?”
“That’s just it,” he said, pulling what he thought was a sad face, although Mrs. S. is usually unable to distinguish his sad face from his clown face. “My babies are growing up. Didn’t you notice? They didn’t do anything wrong. No arguments. No ‘Whatever’. It’s so sad.”
“That, my beloved, has to be the most girlie statement ever uttered by a bloke,” she replied, ruffling his tiny patch of hair affectionately….
June 19th 2012: In Which Mrs. S. Pines a Bit And Master Shopcat doesn’t.…
Mr. S. has been away for just three days, and has actually only gone for six nights, and yet Mrs. S. is behaving like a 21st Century Dido, pining and looking out to sea. Well, she would have been had the shop been anywhere near the sea. It should also be added that she has no intention of setting herself alight and floating out into the wine-dark night. Much as she loves Mr. S. and all that.
Most of the first day she spent behind the counter, staring wistfully into space, sighing every so often. She still couldn’t believe that he’d actually gone. She’d tried hiding his underwear to prevent him leaving, but he just found and repacked it, giving her one of those looks that he normally reserves for the cat. Anyway, her blubbering finally stopped when Granny Shopkeeper rang, told her to stop being such a ‘pathetic cow’ and reminded her about all those nice singing army wives who really do have the right to pine for their husbands.
Master Shopcat (after he’d recovered from the shock of seeing a suitcase being packed and vanishing, and once he realised that Mrs. S. was still there) was behaving like a complete prat. You’d think that he’d realise, when Mrs. S cuddles him and her eyes leak and make his fur wet, that she needs extra attention rather than batting around the head. And rather than sleep in compact fashion on Mr. S’ side of the bed, Master S. is now sleeping right in the middle, causing Mrs. S. to have to sleep kind of curled around him.
On the second day Mrs. Shopkeeper decided to stop being quite so pathetic, and called a couple of girlfriends. She soon had a rather jolly pasta and prosecco evening organised, and so when Mr. S. rang to see how she was (how the shop was doing), she managed to sound upbeat. Until he floored her by telling her how much he was missing her, and that she provides ‘more interesting company’ than the chaps. Praise indeed. Unfortunately this uncharacteristic gush on his part had the effect of making her feel immediately guilty for enjoying herself, and so her girlie night fizzled a bit after that.
Today she hit the internet for consolation, buying books, and a ridiculous harem outfit and booking herself for one of her occasional spa treats for two days after Mr. S. was due back. And she felt a bit better too after a chat with some of her fellow shopkeepers, one of whom said that he had not been able to go away with his wife for around nine years.
Shopkeeping is undeniably a rewarding and joyous profession, but it also takes its toll.
June 11th 2012: Mr. Shopkeeper’s Jolly…
Mr. Shopkeeper is planning a bit of a boys’ trip away. He often talks about the need to do more ‘things with chaps’, but rarely actually bothers to do anything about it. On this occasion he seems intent on going. And Mrs. S. is really rather miffed. Even though she knows that he will miss her, and that he will bring her a suitcase full of surprisingly well chosen gifts, and that he will probably call her every evening. Because, you see, she really is quite fond of him.
Whilst Mr. S. is a regular Alpha male, and likes to think that he wears the shopkeeping trousers, it is plain to all that know him that he is really a bit of a teddy bear, and isn’t really into traditional ‘manly’ pursuits. Notwithstanding his penchant for killing things on the computer, and a natural flair for DIY, he eschews the finer masculine things in life such as cricket-rugby-football, and drinking-’til-you’re-unconscious, and tinkering-with-things. Most of his interests come back to eating, preferably in the sun, by a pool. Which is what he plans to do this trip. Apparently.
Both he and Mrs. S. know that he doesn’t really want to go. He is just doing it to exert his, well, independence. So he can say that he is indeed ‘one of the lads’. And maybe a little bit to get back at Mrs. S. for her annual girlie jamborees to Center Parcs. Although he is on a sticky wicket with this train of thought as Mrs. S. goes for three nights, and to Wiltshire, and he is planning a whole week away, in Cyprus.
Anyway, until today Mrs. S. had humoured him in his discussions of the issue, but had steadfastly refused to take him seriously. Then around midday she got a call from him to ask the name of their holiday insurers. This was a worrying development implying a degree of maturity and determination. Being a good wife she immediately began to consider what clothes he would need ironed and ready to take. And reminded herself that she likes more active holidays than he was planning anyway. She also wrote an extensive list of all the self-indulgent things that she could do while he was away. Finally, she burst into tears.
After a while, she took a deep breath, made a cup of tea and rang her one of her girlfriends. “Hey, you know that two week horse-riding safari round Iceland that we’ve been dreaming about it….?”
Seems that revenge, albeit of the loving variety, is a dish best served at sub-Arctic temperatures.
June 3rd 2012: A Jubilee…
As she has previously confessed, Mrs. Shopkeeper is a closet royalist. She’d be a more overt royalist, as she does indeed get quite passionate about matters of pomp and pageantry, and being a bit of what Mr. S. calls a ‘silly moo’ has been known to get quite emotional on the rare occasions that she has seen royalty in the flesh. In fact, when the Queen’s cavalcade passed down the High Street to open the new art gallery wing a year or so ago Mrs. S. curtsied and burst into tears simultaneously. Quite a feat, but silly moo indeed.
Anyway, the reason that she wears her monarchist badge anywhere but her sleeve is simply because she is a shopkeeper. And shopkeepers really need to sit on the fence. They can talk animatedly about life, the universe and everything to customers for hours on end, but you’ll never find them sounding off about religion or politics. Customers come into the shop full of steam about something controversial (albeit often entirely random): a good shopkeeper will listen, make appropriate noises and give the punter the impression that they have had a really good debate without actually saying anything at all. Because whatever the shopkeeper is, it can be guaranteed that at least fifty percent of his customers are the opposite. And most businesses simply cannot afford to alienate half their customers.
Mr. and Mrs. Shopkeeper’s shop is in what might be deemed a ‘republican’ area. And whilst for HM the Q’s Diamond Jubilee Flora Flowers has gone heavy on roses and irises and white carnations (as she would), most of the shops have gone with a slightly muted royal theme. Mrs. ABC is displaying sycophantic messages of goodwill on posters in the window (one of them even features the word ‘Ma’am’), as she reckoned that ‘few of these anti-monarchists can actually read’. The Wimpy has some head-office-issue bunting up, and Mr. Singh has a window of regal ales rejoicing in such titles as Rolling Red Regina, and Lord Charles’ Wallow. Mrs. S. has contented herself with more subtle homage to her monarch by clever juxtaposition of items in her window: goods with pictures of horses on, tartan biscuit boxes, random things from Buckingham… It is truly an awful display, but she feels smug in the knowledge that she has expressed herself without upsetting anyone. She has also taken to working in a kilt with a blue neck scarf: Mr. S. has told her that she looks for all the world like ‘one of those officious air hostesses who should have retired a wee while back’, but she just smiles serenely and shows him where the nearest safety exit is.
Mrs. S. dragged her gas-powered telly into the shop for the afternoon so that she could watch continuous coverage of the goings on in Central London. Astonishingly, she actually got to see most of it: the streets were deserted. A rousing cheer from the Market Arms at the moment of the Queen’s appearance led her to believe that there were perhaps more closet royalists in the area than she had previously thought…
Mr. S. for his part, being from foreign-shire, has never stopped marvelling at the extraordinary eccentricity of the British, and has come to the conclusion that nowhere are things battier than on the nation’s high streets.
May 24th 2012: In which Mr. & Mrs. Shopkeeper prepare for a trip…
Ah. The Shopkeeper’s Trip. Second only to the Royal Corps thereof for logistical manoeuvres. It’s not about the packing (although goodness only knows Mrs. Shopkeeper makes a luggage mountain out of a just-pack-a-rucksack molehill). Nor is it about arranging for someone to feed Master Shopcat (who quite often decides to travel with them anyway). It is rather about getting proper coverage for the shop.
Each time (which really isn’t very often) that Mr. & Mrs. S. want to vanish in tandem for more than a night, there is at least a week of muttering, list-writing, phone-calling, pre-ordering, re-ordering and more list-writing. There’s a list of orders for things to arrive while they’re away, a list of emergency phone numbers, a list of ‘dodgy’ characters to look out for, a list of what to say when so-and-so telephones, a list of perishable things to ensure are merchandised in date order, a list of things to check at the open and close of each day, a list of who owes what (even though they ‘never give credit’), and a master list of lists.
Mr. Shopkeeper’s brother is the one usually appointed as Guardian of the Lists. Thus it is this time. Although they are not going for another two days (and are only actually away for three days), he dutifully turned up today to go through stuff. As he always looks like he is about to snigger when Mrs. S. is handing over the lists, she usually proceeds to re-enact and recite some of them with much hand-flapping (her portrayal of the aforementioned dodgy punters is particularly commendable), to ensure that things are understood. To his credit her brother-in-law looked for all the world as if he was patiently making notes on his Blackberry, although he was in fact texting the manager of his football team about Sunday’s match, pausing to nod every so often to indicate that he was listening.
Mr. S. reckons it would actually be infinitely easier just to close the shop for a couple of weeks a year and do all of their gallivanting in that period. But Mrs. S. goes all sad looking at the thought of all those disappointed customers. And she does have a point; you can spend years cultivating a customer, and yet it takes very little for them to defect elsewhere. Like to ABC Cost Slashers. And that would not do at all. Furthermore, Master Shopcat would almost certainly refuse to go into ‘kennels’ and there were only so many places where he could tag along too.
These arguments notwithstanding, as he watched his wife agonise over frocks to pack that evening, Mr. S. was left wondering if it wasn’t the actual business of preparing to go away that created the illusion that they really needed a holiday…
May 16th 2012: Another HISTA meeting looms. And Mr. S. buys a new machine…
Mrs. Shopkeeper has for a while now been quietly collecting singers, auditioning jesters and enlisting artists to perform at the Histaval (High Street Traders Association Festival, in case you had forgotten), which she wants to schedule for the middle of August. She hasn’t actually got the official backing of the other ‘officers’ yet, but she is determined, as ‘morale officer’ to steamroller the motion through if necessary. Today saw her trying to find the most suitable act to bring along to next week’s meeting, the aim being to wow the committee into submission. Most of her redoubtable organisational efforts have been conducted from the back room of the shop, and she has of course told Mr. S. as little about it as possible. Events with logistical connotations seem to cause him unnecessary anxiety.
So he was a little surprised when he entered the shop at lunchtime to find a Morris dancer jiggling by the jam section, and a Mummer changing in the back room. It was unfortunate that of a troupe of six Morris men only one was free to perform next Thursday lunchtime, and of the ten members of Maud’s Medieval Mummers similarly only one could attend. However, judging by the way that Maud was flirting with Morris, a merger was surely imminent, and the two were confident that they could jointly put on quite a show for the HISTA.
Mr. Shopkeeper was happily distracted by the apparent arrival of a parcel however, and so even the sight of semi-clad female dragon in his inner-sanctum failed to rile him. He even smiled at Mrs. S. when she began to explain about the HISTAVAL.
It was Mrs. S. turn to be curious: what could he possibly have bought that would induce such insouciance on his part? The box was far too big to contain DVDs or video games…
Grinning from ear to ear he ripped open the box to produce a second hand semi-professional comb-binding machine. “It was a steal at £36.00,” he offered by way of explanation. Mrs. S. knew far better than to deflate his buoyant mood by observing that as a corner shop they didn’t actually produce an awful lot of reports that needed binding. Besides, it would make for such very professional proposals to put before Flora Flowers and Mrs. ABC at the meeting.
“Well done, Honey Bunch,” she said, affectionately. “That WAS a good price.”
She left him absent-mindedly binding a pile of junk mail together and went to find her performers, whom, it seemed, were in the process of arranging an ‘evening practice session’ at Morris’ house. She beamed at them as they left: how she loved it when the shop was so full of positive energy…
May 8th 2012: In which a pigeon causes a degree of chaos…
Mr. Shopkeeper pulled up outside the shop today just in time to see his wife running out into the street looking distraught (well, to be honest daffy was the first adjective that sprung to his mind). He leapt out of his van and rushed to comfort her, as any full time husband would, only to hear her mutter the words “It’s dead, it’s dead!” in apparently her very best Margaret Rutherford voice.
“Sweetie, what’s dead?” he asked, full of concern.
“That pigoen!” she gasped, pointing at a pile of feathers in the road. “A car just hit it. Oh, it’s so sad,” she sobbed.
With that she moved towards the former pigeon cautiously. Mr. S had to agree that it did seem to be rather dead, and went to get some plastic gloves and a box to put it in, thus to curtail his wife’s disproportionate hysteria. He would dispose of it somewhere ‘thoughtfully’ later.
Mrs. Shopkeeper is very fond of birds. Mr. S. had cottoned on to this fact fairly early on in their relationship when he espied her owl collection, and was formally introduced to Doris, a stuffed tawny owl. “I’d never buy a stuffed animal,” she’d reassured him, “It’s just that she was given to me when I was a child.” He wasn’t sure how reassuring this was, but accepted it good naturedly enough. Mrs. S. is oft to be found chattering to starlings, or gazing fixedly at a bush here or a chimney there like a professional twitcher, and she seems to have a never-ending source of crumbs to scatter. And so when one of the feathered fraternity lies fallen, she is always upset. Mr. S. is only thankful that the existence of Master Shopcat, who is equally fond of birds, precludes the acquisition of a pet feathery thing.
Mrs. S. had quietened down a little. But she didn’t want Mr. S. to chuck it in the rubbish later (which he had to admit had been his plan). Instead she would call the RSPCA and ask them to come and collect the dead bird. Much to his surprise they agreed, and so he put the box on the back doorstep of the shop until they arrived.
An hour later, as Mr. S. was inspecting some new samples and Mrs. S. was serving a customer, there was the most awful kerfuffle at the back of the shop. Master Shopcat seemed to have discovered and opened the box bearing the deceased pigeon, and the pigeon was none too pleased. This was clear from its terrified fluttering as it flew into the shop and landed on the counter. Not very dead at all. Mrs. S. looked as upset as when she had thought the thing was a goner, but this was possibly owing to the pigeon poo that was now on her counter.
“Who said the thing was dead? It looks alive to me!” observed the RSPCA man as he walked in with perfect timing.
“Probably the same man that thought the white owl was stuffed,” muttered Mrs. S., obscurely. She is good at muttering obscurely.
Master Shopcat had been advancing through the shop, but was apprehended swiftly by Mr. S., and yowled at the indignity of being picked up by the scruff of his neck in front of a pigeon. A pigeon! He’d never live it down.
The pidgy was popped in a proper, secure pigoen box: the nice man said he’d check it over and release it somewhere else later that day.
“Best put the kettle on then,” said Mrs. S.
April 25th 2012: The Art Students…
Owing to their proximity to the local art college Mr. and Mrs. S. do get odd students passing through. They come with their carefully ripped clothing, casually edgy rucksacks, random piercings and a surfeit of trendy accessories. Timidly they ask if they may sketch tins of beans or do lithographs of jars of Nescafe. Occasionally one of them comes up with a really engaging idea: Mrs. S.’ personal favourite was the mousey looking waif who wanted to make a new product out of all the bits of plastic left behind from a block of carrier bags. Mr. Shopkeeper was particularly fond of the young man who filmed Mrs. S. for a whole day, and then turned it into installation art by playing it backwards at high speed, apparently thus to highlight Britain’s nostalgic yearning for the high streets of yore. He got weeks of mileage out of it, telling everyone how much more efficient Mrs. S. is when she works backwards.
Today a trio of eager but nervous girlies came in clutching cameras and a video camera and sketchpads. Their remit was apparently to ‘capture the essence of commerce in a range of mediums’. Their solution was for one of them to sit sketching a shelf of goods, whilst the one with a camera photographed her together with the goods behind her, whilst the third video-ed the one with the camera and the counter, which was behind camera-girl. This was fine in essence, except they proceeded to do it for over an hour, creating in the process a cumbersome mini-roundabout in the shop.
They looked so sincere that Mrs. S. didn’t have the heart to disturb them as she circumnavigated them for the fourth time in five minutes. “They’re art students,” she kept explaining to her customers. “Ah, I see,” they all replied, with knowing smiles.
When the customers had left, Mrs. S. went and rummaged for her own camera and proceeded discreetly to snap the students. She reckoned if she got it blown up as a poster, and gave it a fancy French title (l’Ecole de Vie, perhaps) she could frame it and sell it. If Mr. S. could have his bric-a-brac corner, she could certainly have an ironic art niche somewhere…
April 17th 2012: The Sale…
“I think we should have a sale!” declared Mr. Shopkeeper, over breakfast this morning.
“We’re mostly a food shop. A food ‘sale’ would imply that we are selling lots of slightly-after-best-before stuff, no?” said Mrs. Shopkeeper, popping another mouthful of kipper into her mouth.
“Well, there’s those boxes of things you found in the basement. The ones from my old market stall. They are vile, admittedly. But neither you nor I have the time for car boot sales, nor the patience to faff around with eBay. So let’s put them all in baskets in one corner…and flog them,” he replied through a mouthful of toast. He finds that the bulk consumption of carbohydrates on Mrs. S.’ kipper mornings seems to take his mind off the fishy smell. “We’re a shop. Shops sell things to make money. If we can get some money for them then we should. It’s not like they’re second hand or anything.”
“But they’re all so, well, non-U. Um, vulgar,” Mrs. S. was searching for the right word whilst Mr. S. enjoyed her discomfort. “Tacky. That’s what I meant. Tacky!” She got up to clear the breakfast things away. This fluffy breakfast together business was part of a new project of hers to make Mr. S. eat more healthily, although in fact it was just causing both of them to eat more. A lot more.
“The china swans aren’t that bad,” argued Mr. S. “And the porcelain costume dolls will probably sell. Not sure about the gold plastic fibre optic Cinderella carriages though. But you’ll give it a go, yes?”
Mrs. S. would give it a go. Yes. But on her terms. By the end of the afternoon a small table had appeared at the very back of the shop bearing the words “Mr. Shopkeeper’s Retro Corner. All items half price or less 🙂 ”
April 7th 2012: In which Mrs. S. visits a trade fair…
Periodically Mrs. Shopkeeper goes just a little bit (more) off the rails (than usual) and decides that something needs to be done. These decisions are always accompanied by a lot of huffing and puffing, and invariably a lot of stuff gets moved around and thrown away. Mr. S. always bears these announcements with the same fortitude that he applies to all of his wife’s foibles: anything that causes her to jettison some of the amazing quantity of tut that she accumulates has to be applauded.
The something that needed to be done on this occasion apparently consisted of buying a new shop counter, as the current one is no longer ‘suitable’. Mr. S. had a suspicion that ‘suitable’ comprised one that would accommodate Master Shopcat’s favourite basket, but he wisely kept schtum on the issue. He also quite correctly made the link between the pronouncement (which was actually made last week) and the arrival of an invitation to a retail trade show. He was full of admiration for the people that organised these events: it takes real skill indeed to sell stuff to a bunch of jaded shopkeepers who’ve already seen all your tricks and know your sales shpiel by heart. Anyway, today was the day that Mrs. Shopkeeper trotted off to said trade fair to conduct a reccie of available counters and ‘gather information’.
She arrived home at around 6.30 looking very pleased with herself indeed, albeit heavily laden with stuff. Mr. Shopkeeper obligingly popped the kettle on while she started unloading her goodie bags. She had 10 free coffee sachets, 1 brochure on colour changing canopies, a wind-up singing till-topper (don’t ask), 3 brochures on pretty packaging materials, a tea towel bearing the legend ‘happiness is corner-shaped’, 4 rolls of free price labels that don’t actually fit into the shop’s price gun, 3 pencils and a half-eaten bag of prawn cocktail crisps. Oh, and a t-shirt for him with the words
‘I’m the boss!
Unless you’re trying to sell something in which case I no speak Englis I just work here’
written on it, which he had to admit he rather liked.
“Um, and the info on a new counter?” he ventured, not unkindly.
“Oh we don’t need one of those!” Mrs. S. replied. “I reckon it just needs a new coat of paint and a tidy.” And with that she gathered together her day’s spoils and filed them all under said counter. “It was a good day out, though,” she added, with the conviction of someone who had done something that needed to be done.
Mr. S. just smiled.
March 27th 2012: The Plus One…
Mrs. Shopkeeper prides herself on being ‘a good wife’. She never expects Mr. S. to help around the house (and is always delighted therefore when he does, which is actually quite often). She goes through the motions of deferring to him in public (although everyone knows who is really in charge), and bends over backwards to compliment his fragile male ego.
For her carefully calculated wifely diligence, she is rewarded with a degree of affection and loyalty to which other lady shopkeepers can only aspire. But sometimes things go wrong.
As the shop is mostly her concern, many of the business letters which arrive daily (of which, you should note, all the ones marked ‘to the business owner’ are lobbed straight into the wastepaper basket) are addressed to her. This rarely raises any problems. But today brought an invitation. It was addressed to Mrs. Shopkeeper, and suggested that she might want to bring a ‘Plus 1’. Now admittedly the invite was to a crushingly boring sounding Chamber of Commerce reception in some concrete monstrosity at a ridiculous time of day, so the RSVP was certain to be in the negative. This would all have been fine, but the shop got busy, and Mrs. S. did not have time to answer and shred the offending missive before Mr. S. arrived.
“Plus 1?” boomed Mr. Shopkeeper’s voice from the other side of the shop. The ladies at the till fell silent, and Mrs. S.curled her toes in worried anticipation. “Why this is splendid!” He was positively chortling, and so Mrs. S. breathed out and carried on serving.
“So you don’t mind?” asked Mrs. S. when the shop was empty. “I’m sure it’s just because they don’t know your name.”
“I love it!” he beamed. “It means that I can go along as your anonymous guest, devoid of responsibility to behave. Your mother already treats me as your plus one so the concept is hardly new, but I wonder how many other areas of the business we can extend this to…”
This proclamation has left Mrs. S. feeling deeply perturbed, although she is at a loss to explain why. Seems her husband still has the capacity to surprise her after all these years…
March 11th 2012: Mr. Shopkeeper and the Gym…
Mrs. S. was standing in a corner this morning chatting to a lady about the relative density of concentrated orange juice, as you do, when she noticed Mr. Shopkeeper discreetly flexing his muscles in front of the mirror by the door. Dismissing it as a quaint throwback to the days of male dominance she thought nothing of it.
Until about half an hour later when he sunk very slowly out of sight behind the till and then reappeared very slowly, as if he was on a cartoon-style elevator.
And then after another quarter of an hour she caught him apparently looking for something on the floor. Being very good-wifely, she dived down to help him locate whatever he had lost, only to see him reach for his toes, fail to make contact and straighten up again.
“Um, are we feeling all right?” she asked, placing a hand theatrically on his forehead to test for fever.
“I am going to get fit,” he said, and smiled nervously at her. “And I’ve booked for an ‘induction’ at the gym. But I’m worried I won’t be good enough…” The smile vanished as he trailed off.
“Silly snookums,” said Mrs. S., trying to sound soothing rather than patronising. “There is no good and bad at the gym – it’s just about doing what works for you. And ignoring the posers on the weights section. Touching your toes is an overrated skill with limited social applications, so I wouldn’t worry about that. I think it is highly commendable that you have signed up.” And then, as a brilliant afterthought, she added “Of course, we’ll need to get you some shiny new sports gear…”
At this Mr. Shopkeeper positively beamed. Mrs. S. never ceases to marvel at at the needy-yet-predictable nature of the male ego. She refrained from telling her best-beloved that if he perhaps did more around the shop, he would get just as good a workout as at the gym, and she would charge him but a fraction of the cost….
March 5th 2012: The Man from Health and Safety…
Mrs. Shopkeeper had a visit this morning. From a man with a clipboard. Now you may not know this, but it is well known fact amongst the shopkeeping fraternity that men with clipboards always spell trouble. They usually come from the council or one of the utilities. And thus they use them as a badge of office, as if the very act of bearing a piece of laminated cardboard raises them above normal mortals, when in fact many of them turn out to be pusillanimous nincompoops.
This particular pusillanimous nincompoop turned out to be from a council sub-contractor (Safetrain Ltd, according to his card), which was even worse: a small man with bureaucratic aspirations. And he had come to talk to her about health and safety training. Which was as good as telling her that he had come to mouth obscenities at her, as she does not usually allow the H & S words to be spoken in her shop. Seems some hitherto-undipped-into-pocket of EU funding had been discovered to cover the costs of staff H & S training, and this quango-esque individual was trying to flog the concept to local traders, undoubtedly for a handsome commission.
Having secured a minimally polite greeting from her, he began his sales pitch.
“I see you have a number of redflag areas in your store Mrs. …?” She was not going to give him the satisfaction of letting him have her name, and if he was any good at his job he’d have a list of local business owners anyway.
“You may call me Mrs. Shopkeeper,” said Mrs. S. “I presume ‘redflag’ is new-speak for what you would call dangerous?”
“Indeed. Your staff, by law, should be trained on how to identify these and minimise the risks. And you will need to complete the risk assessment document 300X.”
“We don’t have any staff,” she replied, smiling. “And we are on top of our redflags.” Determined to deflate him even more, she then took him on a redflag tour of her shop, pointing out the wire stretching from the wall to the blow heater, the raised chip in the tile (pictured), the fraying wire on the blender, the sharp corners on the shelving unit (with its sign saying ‘POTENTIALLY OUCHY’), the steep front step (with its sign saying ‘STEEP STEP’), the basket of nuts on the counter (with its sign saying ‘DANGER: MAY CONTAIN NUTS’) and the smouldering stick of incense in the office.
“Well, you should still ensure that you are properly trained,” said the Safetrain man. “The funding applies to business owners too.”
“With all due respect there is no way that we are going on a course to learn how to manage issues that are of our own making. And Mr. Shopkeeper made the ultimate risk assessment the day that he married me. How many local traders have you conned into signing up for this anyway?”
“Well,” he cleared his throat, “The off licence are very interested. And the funeral directors at the end of the street.”
The thought of health and safety in the context of a funeral parlour caused her to titter.
“Well I wish you well. Now good day,” she said, not unkindly. “Oh, and do mind the step.”
February 20th 2012: The Telephone…
Mr. Shopkeeper is very fond of his technology. Well, he’s a boy, so he would be, now wouldn’t he? He has a mega-giga-byte computer (thus to enable him to kill things in quadrophonic surround sound) which ‘his mate’ built for him. And he has a Blu-Ray home cinema set-up which utterly mystifies Mrs. S. (but which Master Shopcat loves on account of both the string-like wiring, and the warmth emitted by the DVD player, which apparently makes a splendid evening snooze-spot). And he has an obtrusive video camera that seems to follow them round everywhere. But his pride and joy is his state-of-the-art 29G phone. He always makes sure he has the latest upgrade, the most happening apps, the most young-executive leather case.
Mrs. Shopkeeper accepts this foible of her husband’s, as she believes in that old chestnut about boys and their toys. She finds his enthusiasm sweet, and beams proudly when he talks specifications and speed. Until, that is, that he expects her to join in, to affect an understanding of said technology, or, worse, pretend to enjoy playing with such.
Today was the day that he collected his much anticipated new iPhone. Mrs. S. kind of figured that he would be huddled in the corner of the office all day tapping at the screen and grinning quietly, and so when he announced that it was time for her to have an upgrade, she was quite startled. Mrs. S.’ mobile phone is a magnificent twelve years old: it works like a dream, although not very often as she usually has it turned off. She knows how to change the jingle on it, and how to text (just about), and add numbers to the phone book. And that is that, for that is all she needs to know. Because, as she is never tired of pointing out, she is a shopkeeper. If someone wants to communicate with her, she is behind her counter pretty much seven days a week. And when she is not behind her counter she is all done with communication.
“I’m going to give you my old phone!” said Mr. S. “It will make your life so much easier!” he continued, full knowing that she would put up a fight.
“Why? Does it talk to salesmen, run the shop to give me a day off, organise the stock rotation and clean the fridges for me?” she asked, perhaps a little sharply.
“You can use it just like a baby computer,” he persisted, “And it takes pictures. And it has fifty built-in ring-tones…”
“Hmm. We’ll see.” This was clearly her final word on the matter. But encouragingly she did use it ring him later (from downstairs) to tell him that he would be making dinner that evening.
Little did he know that in her mind it was just a very posh intercom.
February 2nd 2012: The Strip Club…
Of course Mrs. S. has known about the proposed strip club for quite some time. She does read the rather boring missives from the council, you see. She took the plans with a pinch of salt: the designated building was one of those which changes hands every five minutes anyway, and so even if permission was granted for change of use, she was sure that it would not last. Might even generate a little excitement along the high street, boost the night time economy, at least help her to sell extra ciggies and chewing gum. Most of her fellow shopkeepers were similarly unperturbed. After all, nothing could be as riotous as the bingo hall (which was shut down after an ugly incident involving a pencil, a toupee and a chair leg).
Anyway, today this very serious, rather spotty young pigeon-like woman popped in clutching an attache case.
“I’ve come about the strip club,” she said.
Mrs. S. stifled a snigger. This woman did not look like a pole-dancer, private or otherwise.
“I’m Prudence Smythers, your councillor for this ward,” said the pigeon, smiling (well, kind of) and extending her hand.
Mrs. S. shook the woman’s hand, but couldn’t help thinking that she was just too young to be called Prudence or Smythers.
“We have a councillor?” replied Mrs. Shopkeeper, without thinking. It was probably rather rude, but in truth she had written many letters campaigning on various issues in the past, and this was the first time a councillor had deigned to visit her shop. It was true that the parade was in one of the less salubrious parts of the borough, but surely that should have generated more civic effort rather than less?
Prudence Pigeon’s smile thinned, visibly. “You have three councillors!” she announced. “And we’re all very worried about the plans for this club. The poor school children up the road, the parking issues it will create, the denigration of women, the crime! You must be worried sick about it, being so close…”
Mrs. S. drew breath. “Ah. Public morality is threatened. Would this be the public who swear, spit and urinate in the street, no longer have the common decency to say hello to shopkeepers, rarely help little old ladies in the street, wear their trousers half down and their vest tops half up, and seem to have little respect for anything? Or would this be the public who have four cars in their driveway, live the other side of the railway, and only cross it twice a year when they experience supermarket fail? Because the first category will probably not even notice a new ‘club’ in the area, and the second bunch have no right to object until they actually start using their high street a bit more. If you are talking about the regular public who shop in the high street, and the shopkeepers who work here every day: well, we will reserve judgement until the club is up and running.”
She drew another breath. “Furthermore, to address the points you made. The ‘strippers’ will probably have to be protected from the ‘poor school children’ up the road, whose language and behaviour is at best colourful. If it creates parking issues we will have had a result, as the council has proved to be spectacularly blind to the problem until now. As to the denigration of women, well this is hardly a new problem: the titillation of men by women goes back to Eve. The difference now is that this is quite often a career choice for women, and that many regard themselves as artistes. And as for the crime? Really, I believe that a few louche men in the area are the least of our worries. The extra traffic might even drive down existing criminal activity.”
And then to finish… “The strip club has my full support!” This wasn’t strictly true, but Mrs. S. could not abide hypocrisy, especially as demonstrated by those in public office.
“Er, have you ever considered running for council?” asked Prudence, quietly.
January 25th 2012: A Power Cut…
Being a bit international, like, Mrs. Shopkeeper has lived abroad. And Mr. Shopkeeper is actually from abroad. So they know how things operate, you know, ‘over there’.
The truth is that things usually operate a lot better over there than they do over here. Over here ought to be really efficient, as befits what is still a relatively well-known and well developed island in the 1st World in the 21st Century. But it isn’t. Stuff breaks too often. People don’t do what they’re meant to do. Utilities are frequently inutile.
And so today, when all the lights went out, and the till faded, and the music died, Mrs. Shopkeeper, who has been known to jump at her own reflection in the mirror, barely raised an eyebrow. She reached under the counter for her pot of important things and produced a few candle stubs. These she lit using the lighter which she keeps by the door (this in order that she can swiftly head off any ‘unfortunates’ who wander in waving unlit cigarette butts which they’ve just discovered on the pavement), and then she headed off to the rear of the shop to locate the somewhat startled customers who had been browsing therein. KEEP CALM and CARRY ON and all that.
A quick look outside confirmed that the other shops in the row had also lost power, and as there were no little workmen in sight she had to assume that there was some sort of major ‘outage’ somewhere else in the town. ‘Outage’ seems to be a general inutilities word for when some silly sod has accidentally cut through a cable somewhere. She did briefly contemplate calling the electricity company and venting some spleen, but as spleen-venting usually left her feeling tearful for the rest of the day she contented herself with making angry bunny shadow-puppets on the wall behind the till.
In fact a wee power cut was little inconvenience to Mr. and Mrs. S. – the shop’s fridges held their temperature for a good few hours, the till could be opened manually, they were both quite good at sums, and they had an antique manual credit card processor. And in the flat their hot water and cooker were all gas operated. Sorted. For Ali’s Best Meats, or the fishmonger, power cuts were very bad news indeed. The worst thing about it all was that the inutilities only paid compensation after 24 hours of outage. Mrs. S. reckoned that they should at least send all the affected traders flowers and Nurofen each time it happened.
Today the High Street traders were subjected to a mere hour of powerlessness. Barely enough time to muster any real anger, let alone for Mrs. Shopkeeper to start planning a nice romantic candle lit supper…
January 20th 2012: In which someone offers to regenerate Mrs. Shopkeeper…
Mrs. S. has been busy writing letters on behalf of the HISTA (see below) for some time now. To this councillor or that. Requesting pretty things. Nice things to brighten up the High Street. Flower baskets. A sculpture or two. New rubbish bins. Money too, as money is always good. The next meeting of the HISTA is but a few weeks away, and she is very aware of the fact that she has little to show for her breezy Pollyanna-esque rhetoric. She was even starting to wonder if a more pedantic, plodding approach, a la Mrs. ABC., might actually trump her own jolly, upbeat methods. It is, after all, just about quotia and box ticking, and neither councillors nor their computer programmes could be expected to show any imagination with regard to the issue.
So today when a little man from the Planning and Regeneration Department popped in with a clipboard, she assumed that it was about the sign that she’s had painted on the front of the shop. It reads “Happiness is Cornershaped”, and so it can hardly be called offensive – but she suspected that she should probably have applied for permission first.
She was therefore very surprised when the little man cleared his throat in a manner that only council officials can muster.
“Your letter was debated at the last Council Meeting, and it was agreed that the High Street should receive some funding,” he informed her a sit-com-nasally twang. “You’ve been chosen to be regenerated.”
This caused Mr. S. to splutter into his coffee. In his book, regeneration could only mean one thing: his wife was to be assimilated into the council Borg Cube. It also caused Mrs. Shopkeeper to giggle: was there a council spa somewhere offering rejuvenating treatments for tired traders?
Once they had recovered their composure, the officer explained that as EEC funding was involved they would like to make an official presentation of the money so that they could document it. He used big words such as heritage, and sustainable, and conservation, mostly randomly as far as Mrs. S. could determine, which he seemed to be reading off his clipboard. This would have been appropriate had he have been talking about a historic thoroughfare, but in fact the high street in question consisted of two rows of particularly nasty examples of 50s – 70s architecture featuring a lamentable amount of mock Tudor beams. Anyway, the upshot of it all was that Mrs. S. was to dress in her finest civic costume for a photo shoot on Monday next, wherein one of those ridiculous oversized cheques would be presented to the HISTA.
After the little council man left, a big grin spread across Mrs. S.’ face. Mrs. ABC would never forgive her for this oneupshopkeepership. And then, just as suddenly, she began to frown. It was just a small detail, but as far as she knew the HISTA didn’t even have a treasurer, let alone a bank account…
January 5th 2012: A Pair of Anniversaries…
Today is kind of a big deal in the Shopkeeper household. You see it is the anniversary of both the shop opening, and Mr. and Mrs. S. tying the knot. In different years of course. Just in case you thought that they opened the shop and got married on the same day. That would patently have been silly.
The shop was opened exactly ten years ago, and as it is their joint creation they both take much pride in celebrating its birthday each year. Even though it is but a barely-profitable and slightly comical cornershop in suburbia. So each year there are balloons and jelly and ice cream for the customers, and usually a few special offers of the BOGOF variety. Cake is taken round to all the neighbouring shops (much to their general bemusement). And Master Shopcat gets to wear a ridiculous bow round his neck. All good stuff.
The wedding thing came about because of the shop thing. Mr. and Mrs. Shopkeeper had been quite happily ‘living in sin’ (as Granny Shopkeeper loved to put it) for many a year, but five years after opening the shop they suddenly realised they hadn’t had a holiday since pre-cornershop days. The only way they can draft in emergency family cover (which normally involves emotional blackmail, heavy coercion and the cashing in of all of one’s favours) was in the case of a real emergency (which they wouldn’t wish on anyone), or a really big occasion. Mr. S.’ brother (whose actual job is a bit of a mystery) really doesn’t like working in the shop (it is just so damaging to his street cred), but does usually cave in once a year on the understanding that Mr. and Mrs. S. babysit for a commensurate number of evenings in return. Anyway, the conversation between Mr. and Mrs. S. went roughly as follows:
Mrs. S.: Y’know, I don’t want to sound like a broken record or anything…but I think you really really need a holiday.
Mr. S: You mean YOU want a holiday.
Mrs. S.: I do indeed – but that is not what I meant. You’re tired. I know this because I found your electric screwdriver in the fridge yesterday, and the butter in your toolbox.
Mr. S.: Do we have to talk about this again? We need to build up trade and then we can afford to take on staff and then when they’re trained maybe we can manage a day or two somewhere.
Mrs. S.: *wheedling voice* But if your brother knew how important it was…
Mr. S.: He’s busy. Not quite sure what doing, but hey. And important is relative. It’s not like we’re getting married or anything… *bites lip, realising what he’s just said*
Mrs. S. *trying to look coquettish* Well of course not. What a terrible idea that would be, eh?
“I’ve heard the Caribbean’s nice in January….”
And so it came about. Mrs. S. spent 6 months assembling a wedding on-line, and Mr. S. worked very very hard on his delivery business, and together they baby-sat night after night after night. All because the lady wanted a holiday. Mr. S. really does love her, silly sausage though she is most of the time.
Today was their fifth wedding anniversary. And although they couldn’t quite manage the trip to New York about which Mrs. S. had been hinting, they laid in some nice steak, and some pink fizz. And tried to work out what stunt they would need to pull in order to take another holiday…
December 25th & 26th 2011: In which the shop closes for two whole days…
Mr. and Mrs. Shopkeeper open their shop for around 362 days a year. They shut on Christmas day and Boxing Day. And then there’s usually one day a year when someone somewhere gets married and they can’t get find any reason to refuse the invitation therein. And so the 25th and 26th should be much cherished days of rest for them, albeit festive, bauble-adorned rest.
Except, somehow, this never happens.
This year Granny Shopkeeper decided she would come and stay. To save Mr. and Mrs. S. the hassle of having to visit her. This decision was at the very last minute followed by the announcement by Mr. S.’ family – parents, brothers, nephews, distant cousins and all – that they would accept the invitation for lunch on Christmas Day too. This puzzled both of them for a while, but eventually the invitation was traced back to a throwaway comment by Mr. S. the previous Easter. In all, twenty guests were coming to help Mr. and Mrs. S. have a restful Christmas.
So Christmas Eve saw Mrs. S. scarpering round making up the spare room, peeling spuds, disguising sprouts (for let’s face it – who likes the things?), opening packets of mince pies and popping them in her cake tin so they look home made, and polishing cutlery. She also spent a while in the attic making a lot of noise before appearing with a big armful of cellophane wrapped boxes. There were mugs with coffee in them, mugs with marshmallows in them, mugs with shaving foam in them, mugs with toys in them and mugs with cupcake moulds in them. These were dumped in front of Mr. Shopkeeper, who was rather cross at this interruption to the Only Fools and Horses Christmas Special Repeat, and he was instructed which one to wrap and for whom.
“Er, wasn’t I given this last Christmas by Mr. Singh the Offy?” enquired Mr. S., holding up a miniature whisky in a mug.
“So?” replied Mrs. S., endeavouring to raise her eyebrows haughtily. This had the effect of making her look like she was really quite drunk, but Mr. S. knew better than to laugh. “We have nineteen unexpected guests for lunch tomorrow. I was planning to buy all their Christmas prezzies on Boxing Day, but I have not been given the luxury of time. So this is Operation Recycle.”
“But why on earth have we got so many flipping mugs?” Mr. S. asked.
“We’re shopkeepers.” replied his wife. “That is apparently what shopkeepers do all day – drink things out of mugs.”
“So would you like a cuppa?” he asked, pouring her a large glass of red wine.
“I love you too, Mr. Shopkeeper,” said Mrs. S. smiling for the first time all evening.
Christmas Day went off very well. Well, as well as could be expected when twenty two people sat down for lunch at a table designed for six, in a pokey two bedroom flat above a shop. Mrs. S. hid in the kitchen for most of the day with Master Shopcat, where she had her own stash of Cuvee Cornershop, and a mini-television so she could watch whatever she damn-well pleased whilst basting the joint, and where Master SC had his own supply of prawns. Everybody seemed to love their mugs, notwithstanding the fact that Mrs. S. realised that she had probably given Aunt Sarah back the mug that she had given to Mr. S. last year. When they had all gone home, and Granny Shopkeeper was tucked up in bed, and Master Shopcat was asleep under the radiator, Mr. S. produced a little stocking for Mrs. S.
“I thought we weren’t giving each other gifts this year,” she said crossly, pulling out a little stocking of gifts for Mr. S.
For Mrs. S. there was a purple turbo-powered price gun, and a new bag (pictured), and a pair of theatre tickets for which she had (subtly) left the booking sheet all but completed on her laptop. For Mr. S. there were thermal socks, and aftershave, and an extension pack for his 2.638 version of the 2011 release of the Kill the Fuckers VIII in 3D, which he had absent mindedly circled in his Gaming Triweekly magazine.
It had been a good day.
7.30 am Boxing Day morning, and the shop phone started ringing. Worried that it was the alarm people, Mrs. S. answered it sleepily, failing to notice the giveaway mobile number.
“So what time are you opening today? All the other shops opened at 7am…” shrieked a voice at the other end.
“We’re closed today,” replied Mrs. S. “Like the sign says on the board by the door. Re-open on the 27th, at noon.”
“But I’m outside your shop now. I’ve travelled a long way to get here – I want to see your sale items,” said the voice.
“We’re not having a sale,” said Mrs. S. “Our prices are already very cheap. Have a good day. Come back tomorrow.” And with that she hung up, muttering.
This proved to be the first of many such calls, so they took the phone off the hook. Later, as Mrs. S. was on her way out to get some bits, just in time she noticed a car-ful of regulars lying in wait outside the shop. She doubled back inside, pulled up her hoodie, wrapped her face in a scarf, and did a rolling breakfall out the back way to avoid being detected.
Truly, she reflected, it seems shopkeepers aren’t allowed to have a day off.
December 6th – 24th 2011: Apologies…
Mrs. Shopkeeper would like to apologise for the temporary lapse in diary-keeping. This has everything to do with it being Christmas and she and Mr. S. being shopkeepers, and nothing to do with being lazy (well, maybe a little). (Mr. S. has long posited that shopkeepers who have time to keep daily diaries are probably shoddy shopkeepers or woefully un-busy.) Anyway: normal service will be resumed shortly.
December 5th 2011: On hampers.…
Now here’s the thing. Mrs. Shopkeeper may love Christmas. But she’s not really very good at it. If only it was just about tinsel and warm thoughts, she’d excel. But there is a definite art to seasonal merchandising and parcel wrapping, and Mrs. S. doesn’t have it. She shows not a scrap of aptititude in this department. But does it stop her trying…?
Today she decided that she was going to try and assemble some hampers. How hard could it be? So she purchased a selection of wickery things and stripey cardboard boxes, and a box of assorted ribbons. She also paid a quick visit to Flora Flowers and persuaded the latter to give her a great wad of cellophane.
The first thing she discovered was that you need an awful lot of padding to make your hamper contents sit up and look pretty. Mr. S. was quite perturbed when he noticed that bits of his newspaper were missing, but fortunately hardly noticed the sound of the office shredder whirring in the background. Her first effort comprised tea and biscuits and sugar and things, and looked rather good. Until she tried to wrap it. Mrs. S. rarely uses inappropriate language, but she ajudged her expletives on this occasion entirely appropriate, and convinced herself that the gentleman browsing behind the baked beans had not heard a word of it. She seemed to have used all of the cellophane and half a roll of sellotape on just one hamper…and it looked utterly ridiculous. Wrapping ribbon around it didn’t seem to help, nor did Mr. S.’ splutter of amusement from the office. And then she noticed the office scissors, proudly displayed right in the middle of the hamper.
Telling Mr. S. she was popping out for a mo, she bundled up all her hampery stuff in a basket, grabbed a large box of chocolates and fled to Flora’s shop. The chocolate bribe worked, and even though Mrs. S. had to endure an hour of Flora’s florid conversation she was pleased as punch with the results.
“Look!” she cried, rushing back to the shop to show Mr. S. the perfectly packed hampers.
“Look!” replied Mr. S., indicating a new sign which had appeared above the till….
November 30th 2011: Yuletide approaches. And so does the accountant.…
Mrs. Shopkeeper loves Christmas. The holly-jolliness of it all, the bright colours and tinselly add-ons, the general sense of bonhomie which prevails. Most of all she loves the fact that at Christmas you can get away with the sort of tackiness and kitsch that for the rest of the year would mark you out as being, well, vulgar.
So today saw her in a frenzy of rummaging as she tried to find the Christmas decorations, followed by snipping and cursing as she attempted to create some paper-chains out of old till rolls and felt-tips. Mr. Shopkeeper knew better than to try and slow the unstoppable machine that was his wife during the countdown to Christmas, and so sat in the backroom quietly fixing the paper chains that she broke along the way. He didn’t even raise an eyebrow when Mrs. S. popped a Santa’s Little Helper hat on his head, and tried very hard to blot out the opening riffs of Jive Bunny’s Christmas album. Mrs. S. actually assumed that he loved Christmas, mistaking his huge grin on Christmas morning for seasonal good cheer when in fact it was sheer relief that his wife had stopped behaving like a lametta-bedecked steamroller.
Anyway today he was procrastinating. The accountant is due to visit tomorrow to collect the quarterly VAT figures. Mr. Shopkeeper is very good with figures, and nothing short of prodigal at mathematics, but he is not very good at getting himself motivated. He quietly resented the government’s infliction of this chore on him, and held the firm belief that they should pay him for the time that he spent doing their paperwork. Mrs. Shopkeeper fortunately noticed him scowling in the general direction of the computer, and as soon as he had popped out for some fresh air (euphemism for a cigar) she dusted off the desk and made him a cup of tea, Earl Grey, hot (since seeing Captain Picard order this on the Enterprise NCC 1701-D, Mr. S. had made this drink his very own, often treating Mrs. S. like a surrogate replicator). Then she went to the office cupboard and produced a shiny new leather notebook, a fountain pen and two HB pencils, which she then laid out in front of the keyboard: finally she pulled out the office chair and plumped up the cushion.
The ruse worked. The sight of NEW STATIONERY was enough to draw him into office mode, and he set to it with a grin on his face. The pen and pencil and note pad were of course quite unneeded, but she notice him fondling the notepad occasionally.
“Boys and toys,” she muttered to herself, smiling indulgently as she replaced the batteries in her animatronic Santa…..
November 15th 2011: In which it is decided that times are hard…
Mrs. S. may go through an elaborate ritual of seeking Mr. Shopkeeper’s opinion on stuff and pretending to heed it, but it is quietly understood that she has virtual autonomy in the shop. Mr. S. only ever intervenes when he can see that his wife is struggling with something, or when she is making a plain old-fashioned balls-up of things. He is very careful not to give her the impression that he has her under observation, although in truth little escapes him.
So it was with trepidation that he sat Mrs. S. down for a little chat this morning. He had noticed that in the past three months Mrs. S. had been scheduling the Blonde to work alongside herself rather than covering time off. Which seemed a bit daft. At the same time the takings had been less than healthy, but he was hoping not to have to mention the money stuff to Mrs. S. as she usually paled and started looking fretful when he said the ‘t’ word.
“I can see that you get on quite well with Anya now,” he started. Immediately he realised that this was the wrong way to introduce the topic, as it contained an element of ‘I-told-you-so’. “What I meant was, you seem to enjoy having her in the shop. Rather than getting her to work when you’re not there. It’s either that or you don’t trust her. Um, any which way, it seems a bit silly, no? It’s like employing a master shopcat and miaowing yourself,” he concluded in his rather quaint but not-entirely-accurate vernacular.
This strange analogy at least made Mrs. S. smile. But she was still straight on to the defensive, as she always took any implied criticism completely personally. “I do like Anya,” she said, “But we work together sometimes in order to get specific little projects done. There are some things I just can’t to on my own…” she trailed off, trying not to look at the window where her latest little project, some entirely random Blue Peter-esque jam jar stencils, was displayed.
“We need either to take a bit more money, or to cut our expenses a tad,” continued Mr. Shopkeeper, resisting the temptation to ask his wife what on earth the stencils were all about. “It’s not your fault, Honeybunny: there is a recession on and everyone is suffering.” He waited for a reaction, full-knowing that to use terms of endearment during a so-called business conflab was pushing the acceptable bounds of intra-marriage emotional blackmail to the limit.
“I am not entirely stupid,” Mrs. S. answered, “I just act it. You want to let Anya go, then?”
“Er, well, not quite. But maybe we can use her more wisely… We’ll talk about it later,” he smiled. The Blonde was due in in twenty minutes and he did not want them all to have to work in a doomy gloomy atmosphere.
Anya actually turned up a little early, looking anxious.
“I need to talk to you both,” she said. They both immediately assumed she was going to tell them she was pregnant: Mrs. S. smiled, as they would not be able to fire her under those circumstances. “I have been offered a very good job back home,” she continued, “And I know it is short notice, but this will be my last week.”
Both of our shopkeepers were utterly flummoxed for a split second. Then Mr. S. beamed and gave her a hug. Mrs. S. beamed because Mr. S. was happy. And the Blonde beamed because that had all been much easier than she had thought….
November 7th 2011: Mrs. S.’ Annual Jaunt…
Once a year Mrs. Shopkeeper is actually permitted to detach herself completely from the bit of elastic that ties her to the till. Because once a year she goes on a girlie jamboree with five former school friends. The first year it happened Mr. S. was everso slightly appalled: it is a particular conceit of most men that they assume that their partners have nothing better to talk about with their girlfriends than their respective menfolk. This delusion can be both endearing and irritating, but it is one under which most women will happily allow their significant others to labour, as it lends the female gathering in question a degree of power and mystery. And it means that the menfolk in question are on their best behaviour for a while prior to the threatened meet-up.
Thus it was on Friday that Mr. Shopkeeper was up bright and early to make a cup of tea for his wife, and carry her case to the waiting taxi. Mrs. S. always finds herself strangely emotional at leaving her best-beloved, even if it is just for a day out, and even though she knows it’s pathetic. In retrospect flinging herself into his arms and choking back a sob was perhaps a slightly OTT display of affection, especially as she was only to be gone for three nights, and by all accounts would be having a spiffing time. There is, however, a kind of pathos in leaving a loved one behind which, for those of an over-imaginative disposition, can be almost unbearable. The thought of Mr. Shopkeeper dining alone, or gazing at the empty toothbrush rack, or talking to Master Shopcat more than usual: these things were nearly enough to make Mrs.S. want to stay. But not quite…
Of course as soon as she was on the train, she was filled with a woop-de-doop sense of adventure, although she did remember to send Mr. S. a fluffy little text message to tell him she was missing him already. Her destination was the same as every year, a wondrous green playground where she and the girls could indulge their inner tomboys, breathe the air, drink some plonk and not chat about their menfolk. Mrs. Teacher and Mrs. Audiologist collected her from the station, all of them grinning like seven year olds. Soon they were joined by Mrs. Midwife, Mrs. High-Flying Civil Servant (usually referred to as Mrs. Sheriff), and Mrs. Histopathologist (normally referred to as Mrs. Doctor, as it sounded less scary). Mrs. Shopkeeper loves to hear about her friends’ exciting jobs (well, excepting Mrs. Doctor, who was actually forbidden from tlaking about her work as they were all hypochondriacs), although she is usually more reticent to talk about her own working life. “It’s just a shop, you know…” However, both she and her chums know that a shopkeeper always has more stories to tell than anyone else.
In the meantime Mr. S. was indeed missing Mrs. S., for he does love his wife. But. Oh, the joy of dropping clothes on the floor, playing on his computer thingy ’til dawn, smoking indoors and eating fried eggs out of the pan: these were exquisite pleasures which he treasured by dint of their very rarity. He did of course remember to text Mrs. S. to tell her how very much he was missing her. Etcetera etcetera. And Master Shopcat reminded him to ‘feed the cat’.
After a delightful long weekend of climbing trees and cycling and reading and wistfully planning unfeasible little weekend breaks with Mr. S., Mrs. S. today found herself once again on the train. She was sad to leave her girlie haven, but the thought of seeing Mr. S. and putting her toothbrush back where it belonged was consolation enough. Mr. S., obviously, spent the day picking up dropped clothes and trying to get rid of the smell of smoke. And, on a whim, he cooked her dinner. They were happy shopkeepers this evening. Mr. S. even managed to look pleased with the squirrel-emblazoned sweatshirt Mrs.S. had kindly bought him…
October 30th 2011: Trick. Or treat.…
Mrs. Shopkeeper loves dressing up. There are some on the High Street who would say, not unkindly, that Mrs. S. is rarely to be seen out of fancy dress. She would, in truth, have been quite at home running Mr. Benn’s costume shop. And so naturally she loves Hallowe’en.
Jack-o-lanterns appear in the cornershop windows, Master Shopcat is allowed to stroll around the shop more (even though he is not black, and is over-familiar rather than just plain familiar), and Mrs. S. is seen sporting a range of odd(er than usual) garments. Mr. S. is his normal indulgent self with regard to all of this, especailly as it only lasts a day or so, and even agreed to lay in some jelly fangs and Dracula crisps. But he draws the line at dressing up himself.
The one thing about Hallowe’en that Mrs. S. doesn’t like, however, is how commercial the whole thing has become. How the multiples fill with aisles of ready made this and that, spooky bric-a-brac and tack for a lazy comsumer society. How few bother to make their own decorations/costumes. And how the US practice of trick or treating has become an insidious way for a child to bump up its pocket money. A trick or treating teenager is in fact one of the greatest menaces a shopkeeper can face. Best not ask her about her feelings on the issue, as she can be uncharacteristically vociferous, even when standing behind the till.
Anyway, this year she had a plan. A plan that she reckoned would leave everyone happy, and would mean that she did not have to lock the shop early for fear of teenage intimidation. She had opened an apple booth in one corner of the shop. Each child who entered the shop could bob for an apple, and then slice it or peel it (to see their future partners) or make it into a stamp (because Mrs. S. watched too much Blue Peter as a child). The Blonde was assigned the role of apple queen for the evening, and sported a fetching green wart.
So when the first two thirteen year old boys came in with their cries of ‘Trick or Treat’, Mrs. S. showed them what a lovely treat she had lined up for them. They looked utterly appalled. But they were, as Mrs. S. predicted, speechless. And very quickly turned to flee…
October 24th 2011: A school visit…
Mrs. S. gets on with pretty much all of her neighbours. Even Mrs. ABC, for what is life without a frisson of spice or the hint of a challenge? She makes an effort to get on with her non-retail neighbours too. The vicar pops in regularly for example, although he always looks slightly uneasy: Mrs. Shopkeeper is quietly convinced that he gets his weekly adrenalin from visiting a conspicuously foreign corner shop and playing the brave missionary abroad. Although it is of course hard to play brave missionary when chatting about the Archers over tea and cookies. She also gets on very well with the nurses from the doctors’ practice up the road. And then there is what she likes to call her outreach programme.
As far as Mr. Shopkeeper can see, this largely involves giving things to bazaars and as raffle prizes, and spending a long time chatting at the till to PTA types. But he knows such cynicism doesn’t wash with Mrs. S., and so he keeps his opinons to himself. Mrs. S. prefers to think of it as ‘reaching out to the educational sector’. It’s all to do with her belief that the business of shopkeeping is a dying art and should be encouraged and rehabilitated as a noble profession. Mr. S. secretly agrees with her on this, although that business in Trafalgar Square had been taking it a bit too far. Anyway, occasionally she is to be found giving talks to local schoolchildren about shop stuff, and then, once a year, said schoolchildren come into the shop. To learn how to shop, how to handle money and change, and occasionally to play on the till or to price things. Not all at once, mind you – that would clearly be barmy. Little groups of them, all under around 45cm tall Mr. S. reckons, which makes them mostly under 8 years old. Which is enough to send him running a mile (well, a kilometre – Mr. Shopkeeper doesn’t do imperial).
Usually the shop has notification that said parties will be visiting, but today they had had no such notice. And so the eager (and apparently twelve year old) teacher found Mrs. S. doing a Sudoku on a stool behind the spice rack, and Mr. S. randomly Googling sci-fi uniforms. Which was not the image that Mrs. S. would perhaps have chosen to present. Still, she quickly assumed her role as Mr. S. swiftly left the building.
It was all going swimmingly until a bright spark was heard to ask the teacher, “Mi-iss. Is the lady shopkeeper’s hair a wig?”
Mrs. S.’ smile froze. And then defrosted again. “Haven’t you seen a witch’s real hair before, little boy,” she asked, doing her best Maggie Smith impression, and winking….
October 14th 2011: The Drunk.…
Mrs. S. likes a tipple as much as the next shopkeeper. Actually, the next shopkeeper is a good Muslim, but maybe the one after next. Anyway, suffice it to say that she has no issues with people buying alcohol, consuming alcohol and getting a little merry therein. Live and let live and all that.
But like any shopkeeper she does have a problem with drunks when they cross the threshold of her shop. Shoplifters can be confronted (er, or not), or at least CCTVd and later arrested; rude people can be asked to leave (or one can at least poke one’s tongue out at them when they’re not looking); smelly customers can be (discreetly) sprayed (from behind), but drunks pose a problem. Because there is no reasoning with someone who has incomplete or no control of their faculties. And if they fall over in the shop, it is well nigh impossible to get them out again until they decide they want to leave.
Whilst appallingly sloth-like on many counts, Mrs. Shopkeeper actually has laser-sharp reflexes and heightened sensibilities when it comes to all things shop-shaped. Being a teensy bit of a comic geek, Mr. S. often jokes that she is the X-Woman of the cornershop world. Mrs. S. takes this to mean that he thinks she would look nice in Spandex, rather than implying that she is a mutant. Anyway, today even she was caught off-guard when a particularly inebriated fellow fell against the shop doorway.
Before she could vault over the counter and usher him back out, he had crossed the pivot point and tumbled into the shop, landing in a malodious, spluttering heap at her feet.
“Sh’afternoon,” he proclaimed, “Is no Engleesh. Polski.”
Well this was a helpful start. Not only was he plastered, they could not have communicated very well had he been sober. Most alarmingly, he looked as if he was about to use the hem of her skirt to with which to wipe his nose.
Stepping back in alarm, she replied, “Sh’morning. Is Engleesh. No Polski.”
He seemed to take this as a personal afront, and looked up at her with apparent tears in his eyes. “No Polski? Oh my Gott! No Polski!”
This was all a bit much for Mrs. S. to assimilate at 9.30 in the morning. Still, he did at least seem to be getting to his feet relatively steadily. Time to deploy the C-Plan. C for Close. As in – “I’m so sorry, we’re just closing for lunch. Why don’t you come back later/another year?” It was the safest method to eject unwanted souls from the shop without causing a bit of an incident. And Mrs. S. was very proud of it, as she had invented it all by herself. Even Mr. S. was impressed by its stunning simplicity and effectiveness.
So tapping her watch and rubbing her tummy (in itself a hard combination), she addressed her unwanted guest. “Sorry. Close now. Open tomorrow.”
And with that she produced her keys and her closed sign and marched imperiously to the door. Much to her relief he got the message, and, colliding only slightly with the door frame, lolloped off into the street. Swiftly she locked the door behind her and went to hide in the back room. Because sometimes THEY CAME BACK. The average drunk has an attention span of about a minute, and so after five minutes she was back behind her counter. Beaming with relief.
October 6th 2011: In which Mr. Shopkeeper unveils a surprise for Mrs. Shopkeeper…
Mrs. Shopkeeper has been away for a few days. Visiting relatives and that kind of thing. This evening upon her return she was very surprised and more than a little worried to see Mr. S. standing outside the shop waiting for her. Even more worrying was the fact that he was carrying a bunch of flowers, and held the taxi door open for her to alight.
This was only the fifth bouquet that he had bought her. Ever. Not that she was keeping tally or anything, but women have a built in meter for this kind of thing.
“Happy Anniversary, snookums!” he cried, giving her a smacker and simultaneously trying to take her bag for her, the which effort resulted in her toppling a tad, backwards into the taxi.
This would have been a wonderful (albeit clumsy) greeting, had not their anniversary been a couple of months previously. Mr. S. had already apologised for his forgetfulness on that occasion, so what on earth could all this be about?
“Eleven months ago to the day I made you a promise!” he announced, as they finally made it into the shop. “And now I have made good on it. But you need to shut your eyes…” he added, mysteriously.
And with that he guided her into the second half of the shop, where he commanded her to open her eyes.
Now Mrs. Shopkeeper has been with Mr. S. for long enough to know that the surprise was unlikely to be a rosy bower, or a gold jacuzzi. Notwithstanding the fact that either of those items would have looked a little odd in a cornershop. But he seemd so please with himself that she instinctively knew that it was not one of his more worrying shop initiatives.
So as she opened her eyes she smiled immediately. They were looking at a workbench, the purpose of which was not awfully apparent. But Mrs. S. knew, and remembered the promise to which Mr. S. was referring.
After their failure to secure a bread oven to make fresh bread each day, Mrs. S. had still secretly hankered after a deli counter of sorts. Not just to steal a march on Mrs. ABC, but to give her a little creative outlet, as she liked to put it. This was clearly the beginnings of her in-store kitchen. And Mr. Shopkeeper had clearly gone to lots of trouble to make room for it. Which clearly deserved a big hug. She smiled. And he smiled. And they decided to shut the shop a little early that evening….
August 28th 2011 – October 5th 2011: In which Mrs. Shopkeeper faffs around with a sponsored walk, a supper club and a book launch.…
August 27th 2011: In which Mrs. Shopkeeper is allowed to go to Cash & Carry…
Cash & Carry trips are Mr. Shopkeeper’s job.
It’s not that Mr. S. particularly likes going to Cash & Carry. It is, most often, a question of convenience: Mr. S. has a big business-like van, and Mrs. S. has a silly little pink mini. Mr. S. often passes this cash and carry or that on his rounds; for Mrs. S. such a trip constitutes a major outing. Hey, the arrangement simply suits them.
But occasionally Mrs. Shopkeeper feels the need to go herself. Just to keep her hand in, like. And as, like Mr. and Mrs. Weather, they are rarely seen out at the same time, today she embarked on such a mission whilst Mr. S. shopsat. She took the Blonde along, telling Mr. S. that such excursions are good for ‘staff morale’ and ‘character building’, and suggested that they could perhaps bond some more over a bacon butty in the cafe. Personally Mr. S. found the local branch of Makro demoralising and its layout was quite unfathomable (although he was quite partial to bacon butties), but he was not about to question Mrs. S.’ judgment, especially when she was about to drive off with the company chequebook.
Mrs. S., if she is quite honest, finds the matter of having a Cash & Carry card rather jolly. There are some things in life which, no matter how many times she does them, she still finds incredibly grown-up, and being able to shop at this big, trade-only warehouse is, oddly, one such. The fork-lift trucks, the raucous calls of the shelf-stackers, the sheer volume of goods in stock, the piles of pallets…these all add to the overall marvel of the place in her eyes. So she always approaches the place in a spirit of eager anticipation.
Displaying unusual powers of forward thinking, she always parks as near to the exit as possible. (Mr. Shopkeeper, on the other hand, has carpark issues, and often drives right until the end of an otherwise empty carpark until he finds the ‘right’ space.) It was only when she entered the building that she remembered that C & C was not always entirely agreeable.
“I’m sorry,” intoned the nasally lady at reception, “But you can only use that card on the third Thursday of the month, and only then if you are accompanied by a Ukranian circus artiste.” Well, that isn’t exactly what she said, but to Mrs. S.’ mind it may as well have been. In the end, after the production of Mrs. S.’ driving licence and her best forced smile, the two were allowed to enter.
The Blonde seemed impressed by the size of the place, but willingly helped Mrs. S. tick the items off her list: ciggies, loo paper, Marmite (never forget the Marmite), drinks, confectionery, supplies for Master Shopcat, whisky for Mr. S.. In fact Anya helped them to get round in record time: her sheer bloody blonde-ness brought shop-hands running from all directions to assist.
Then they ‘just had a little wander’, Mrs. S. was later to tell Mr. S. as he was finding a new hiding place for the chequebook. A wander that took them from their bacon butties, through the clothing department, the electronics section, past the perfume counter and ended up in stationery. And which somehow managed to fill a second trolley. A lot of it was Anya’s, of course. And some of the items were to sell in the shop. But the green laptop, Winter coat and luxury cat basket, all on when-it’s-gone-it’s-gone special offer: well, they were all down to Mrs. S. She so rarely has the opportunity to shop, after all….
The check-out at Makro is something to behold. Everything is scanned whilst still on the trolley, causing the cashier to contort, mutter and roll their eyes a lot. It is only at this point that the occasional visitor remembers that: a) prices in the shop floor are exclusive of VAT, and b) you never actually save any money by going there – it is all about availability and bulk. Oh, and maybe character building. The final check out procedure is clearly designed to be entertaining so that customers who would otherwise stand and scowl at their bill are merrily distracted. All the items on each trolley are recounted, item by item, by a dozy doorman who plainly doesn’t give a toss. It never fails to astonish Mrs. S.
All in all it was a happy outing for the two girls. Notwithstanding a nagging feeling in Mrs. S. that Mr. S. might not let her go again for a very long while…
August 19th 2011: The Second HISTA meeting…
The day had finally arrived for the second High Street Traders Meeting. It had been put off several times, but then the riots had occurred, and four days ago Mrs. ABC had sent out a splendid, troop-rallying, impassioned e-mail headed “OUR LIVELYHOODS ARE UNDER ATTACK!!! (sic)”, urgently summoning all the traders. The missive was so laden with melodrama, hyperbole and self-importance that Mrs. S. had actually printed it out and stuck it on her fridge, which afforded her a quick chuckle every time she visited the kitchen.
The Blonde had just returned from a dentistry student summer camp. Mrs. Shopkeeper was not entirely sure what that entailed, but she noted that it would seem to have involved plenty of strapless sun-bathing. Anyway, the shop was covered, and so at 11am Mrs. toddled along to the Wimpy, the Hista meeting’s chosen venue.
This proved to be a source of great entertainment, as the chairs in the Wimpy are actually all screwed to the floor, rendering the rearrangement of furniture impossible. Thus it was that the meeting’s attendees were left all facing in different directions, many with their backs to the Chair.
Mrs. S. arrived a few minutes early this time, clutching a pile of copies of her alternative manifesto. The plan was not to present it as a rival to Mrs. ABC’s agenda, but rather as a complementary and upbeat programme of action. She had already advised the Chair that she would like to address the assembly for a few minutes, and had rehearsed her oration in front of a dazed Mr. S. and a confused Master Shopcat the previous evening.
The meeting was a tad busier this time: in addition to previous attendees, the jeweller was there, seated near the front, being fussed over by Mrs. ABC: he was, Mrs. S. realised with a flash of illuminating cynicism, one of the victims of the recent trouble, and therefore a useful prop for the Chair to employ. The betting shop manager was there, and the landlord from the Market Arms, and Lewis, from the chippie, together with a greasy looking cub reporter from the local rag.
The meeting commenced with Flora Flowers whispering the minutes from the previous meeting: she had a thin, reedy voice, which Mrs. S. assumed must have come from years of talking to her plants. And then Mrs. ABC got to her plump little feet and began to address the meeting. Her opening “Friends, traders, countrymen!” utterance, in the spirit of Lady Bracknell, was so comical that Mrs. S. was glad she was facing the back of the room. The gist of Mrs. ABC’s ramble seemed to cover everything about which the Daily Mail had ever written editorial content: the moral decline blah blah youth of today blah blah video games blah blah. It was a triumph of irrelevant nonsense: Mrs. S. could see a few heads nodding, but suspected that this had more to do with nodding off than nodding in agreement.
When finally Mrs. ABC got around to the agenda, there was an audible sigh of relief. But here again she only had so much padding to offer. Flora Flowers had had but one reply to her council-lobbying letters, inviting them all to the next council meeting. Mr. Patel suggested under his breath that this was probably because Flora’s HISTA stationery (which she had designed thoughtfully to incorporate Liberty print floral swirls) may perhaps have been sending out the wrong message. Mrs. ABC, sensing a sudden lull in her oratorial wind, vowed that they would renew their letter-writing, and apparently as an afterthought, invited Mrs. S. to take the floor.
Mrs. Shopkeeper could not have asked for a better introduction. Her bouncy speech proposing the HISTAVAL (the High Street Traders Festival, if you will recall), creative graffiti, buskers, and generally more self-help measures went down a treat with the mesmerised traders. She cleverly worked in the local riots, by explaining that in order to engage local kids more the shopkeepers would have to be prepared to put a bit of work in and give something back. Her coup de grace was to offer to handle the relevant paperwork herself – applying for permission, funding etc. – as she did not want unnecessarily to burden Flora.
And that, she explained to Mr. S. later on that evening, was how she got co-opted on to the HISTA committee as morale officer. Mr. S. (a fairly out-of-the-closet Trekkie) sniggered at this, as the only other morale officer he had encountered was in fact Talaxian. Mrs. S. took his mirth as quiet acceptance of her new role, because it suited her so to do, and gave him a big clumsy hug….
August 13th 2011: A Birthday…
Mrs. Shopkeeper’s birthday. Seldom has so much effort gone into pretending that something is a non-event. Never have the words, “Oh, really, I don’t want anything. Please don’t go to any trouble…” been uttered with such ill-concealed insincerity. Mrs. S. truly believes the spiel she gives to other people, but those that know her well realise that it is all a load of well-meaning bunkum. Because, being a Leo and all that, Mrs. S. loves her birthday.
Unfortunately, Mrs. S. has very high expectations of the ‘no trouble’ that ‘no-one should go to’. She spends the rest of the year planning jolly little things for or involving other people (regardlesss of whether they are willing to be jolly therein), and lives half her life in away with the fairies (in the nicest possible sense). Which is just fine for Mr. S., as somehow Mrs.S. seems to get the important stuff in life done anyway. The only problem with this arrangement is when she actually faintly expects reciprocation: she completely fails to see why other people haven’t visited her corner of la la land, and despairs of their need for directions in order to get there.
You see, Mrs. S. always has her ideal birthday mapped out in her head, and assumes a wistful, carefree expression when planning it. But then…how to communicate this idea to Mr. S. without actually appearing demanding and spoilt? For in order that the birthday feels properly full of love and joy, she needs to be able to feel that someone else has arranged it just for her. If she arranges it herself, it is simply not the same.
To this end, Mr. and Mrs. S. play an elaborate annual game, wherein Mrs. S. starts to leave web pages open at a particular hotel booking page, magazines open on a review of a certain restaurant, and maps spread nonchalantly by the bed. Mr. S. struggles to work out which particular combination of treats are required, and wishes once again that his wife was simply a little more good-old-fashioned materialistic. He drags his feet, which Mrs. S. petulantly takes as a sign that he does not deem her worthy of said treats. And in a slight huff she books cinema tickets and a meal at the local Indian, telling him not to worry, and that she had only been messing with him.
Of course over dinner he extracts the real nature of her birthday plans, and readily agrees to them, knowing that as the birthday has all but passed, the onus to do any organising thereof will have shifted from him to the birthday girl herself. All he will have to do is pay for it, and pretend to enjoy it too: simple requirements compared with the business of unravelling for himself what would please her.
And so it was today. From an unpromising beginning, Mrs. S. was left grinning ear to ear, and marvelling at her clever husband.
Mr. S. is, after all, nuts about Mrs. S. Even if she drives him to distraction.
August 8th 2011: Riots!…
The HISTA (High Street Traders Association) is due to meet again in just a few days, and so Mrs. S. was busy rehearsing her alternative manifesto this morning. The thought of another hour discussing public lavatories is too much to bear. She is a mistress of the pregnant pause and the expansive hand gesture, and so is confident that the group will hear her out.
But mid-morning she got, shall we say, a little side-tracked. A phone call from the local press started it off: they wanted to know her opinion on rumours of a riot in the area. She immediately assumed that they were talking about the HISTA: had she missed something? Were there to be protests about the lack of local loos? And then it clicked: there had been unrest in parts of the town the night before, and some doomsayers had predicted that it would spread. Ever protective of her area, she was quick to pooh-pooh the idea: of course there would not be riots, it was inconceivable…
But then Mr. Patel walked in, looking deeply concerned. “Have you heard?” he asked.
“Don’t you start,” said Mrs. Shopkeeper. And then, “Heard what?”
“They’re on the way. Looters!” said her neighbour, tutting. “We’re shutting in half an hour, just to be safe.” And off he tootled.
This really was unacceptable. Mrs. S. had things to do this afternoon, and she wasn’t prepared to be looted while Mr. Shopkeeper was out. And this was, like, the suburbs. But at the same time a frisson of really-annoying-but-undeniable fear shuddered right through her. She went outside to survey the high street, and had to admit that something had changed. There was a strange hush, broken only by the sound of shutters being banged shut. People were scurrying rather than strolling. It was all, well, not quite right. And then she saw the three police vans cruising towards her end of the street. That jolted her out of her mood of denial: blackboards were brought in, and the blinds wound up, and the shutters cranked down before you could say Middle England. And quickly she called Mr. S., feeling a bit pathetic as she did so, just to fill him in. She wanted to be able to tell him to stay away, and she was really worried he wouldn’t be able to get through as they seemed to be closing the road, but instead she found herself blubbing about how much she loved him. Pathetic cow.
Well it all blew up very quickly after that. Yobs, and sirens, and banging and crashing. Breaking glass. Her neighbours’ shops being trashed. Mrs. S. went and found shop cat to cling on to: he would patently be so useful in an emergency. She was torn between standing crossly behind the shutters or hiding upstairs and playing the Sound of Music at full volume to make it all go away. She knew that their shutters were pretty secure, but still she whimpered. And when the back door rattled she choked back a scream. Mean really – surely she was made of sterner stuff. Turned out it was Mr. S. who had broken every speed limit in town AND climbed a fence to race back to his wifey-poos. Big hugs.
It was a long night, spent clutching the proverbial baseball bat, a fire extinguisher, and Master Shopcat’s travel basket.
In the morning, that same eerie hush. Mr. and Mrs. S. crept outside to survey their little world. It was, thank goodness, largely unchanged. But Flora’s Flowers were strewn all over the place. And the jeweller had been utterly trashed. Mrs. S. rushed to where the jewweller was standing, wringing his hands. He’d been trying to sell his shop for months, and now this.
“We’ll sort it out,” she found herself saying, inanely. “I’ll go and put the kettle on,” she added. Within minutes she was back with tea, and a broom, and some sturdy gloves. Mrs. ABC, she could see, was already helping Flora gather her wares together. They waved, and smiled, and Mrs. S. experienced an uncharacteristic soft fuzzy moment towards her otherwise irritating neighbour.
Well this would most certainly give them something else to talk about at the committee meeting, she found herself thinking.
August 5th 2011: The Cupboard…
Mr. Shopkeeper is really awfully good at DIY. He has a natural flare for these things. Oh the logic, the forward planning…
Well, this afternoon saw Mr. Shopkeeper with a cupboard to assemble in the shop. Fortunately there were plenty of pairs of hands around to help, and none of them belonged to Mrs. S., who was tied up putting deliveries away. He was well stuck into the project when he heard Mrs. S. clearly her throat anxiously behind him. He’d heard that noise many times before, and it usually meant business. Turning to smile at her he raised an eyebrow, as he knew that little further invitation was required: whatever it was that she had to say would not brook any further delay.
“Um, I think the doors are upside down,” she almost whispered, really loathe to upset what had been quite a happy little furniture building party. “And, er, I think you might have bought the freestanding version rather than the wall-mounted one. I’ll go and put the kettle on…” The last part was rushed, as she didn’t want to hang around to see their crestfallen little faces. She fled to go and try to scowl at the kettle. Except of course that the whole thing really was quite funny….
July 31st 2011: A Warm Spell…
Hot weather does of course do wonders for drink, charcoal and ice cream sales. But it also means that the shopkeeper has constantly to be vigilant, making sure that fridges are up to speed, that vulnerable goods are kept out of sunlight, and that the shop offers a bearable environment in which to browse.
Of the two ‘extremes’ of weather, Mrs. S. (and Master Shopcat) finds the warm stuff far harder to bear. Mr. Shopkeeper on the other hand would rather hibernate through the Winter months, having a generally SAD disposition. He seems annoyingly unaffected by the heat, always looking as cool as a pickled cucumber. Mrs. Shopkeeper is one of those fragile souls whose every body change shows in their face. If she is cold she obligingly turns blue, if she is cross you will see her redden with displeasure, and if she is hot she simply turns a shiny pink. Today saw her glowing profusely, her skin decidedly moist, and even her ears were pink. This predictably acted as a trigger, causing every customer to enter the shop to remark, “Hot, isn’t it?” One kind soul even went and bought her an ice lolly (from a rival shop – but it’s the thought that counts, no?).
She often considers erecting a hammock under the awning, but the idea of gently wafted particulates on the breeze, and the constant rumble of white vans and artics thundering past would deter all but the hardiest. But since opening the shop, Mrs. S. has reached one rather comforting conclusion, which is that once one reaches melting point, the only way is cooler.
July 22nd 2011: The Arrival of a Cold…
All Mrs. Shopkeeper did was to go out for a few hours. Leaving Mr. S. in charge. Just while she popped into the centre of town and back. It should have been quite a simple matter. Even though he wasn’t best pleased about it. But Friday afternoons are generally quiet, and she’d left him with a nice plate of sandwiches and some special juice with hidden, shopkeeper-fortifying herbs and minerals.
She got back at seven o’clock, with a respectable amount of carrier bags (enough to justify the trip, but not so many as to make Mr. S. check his credit card statments too zealously). And the shop was empty. Not only were there no customers, but there was also no sign of Mr. Shopkeeper.
And then she heard an almost human-sounding groan emanating from the back room. Alarmed, she waved her brolly above her head (a misguided teenage attempt to learn Kendo in the church hall was perhaps to pay dividends after all) and stormed through the tasteful plastic strip curtain thingy that divided the room from the shop. Only to find Mr. S. sprawled in the office arm chair, a box of tissues balanced on his knees, head in his hands. He had, she realised cynically, been able to see her entry to the shop, which was why he had not sprung forward in shopkeeper mode. But he did, nevertheless, look very poorly.
“I tink I’ve got a code,” he uttered.
“I tink you probably have,” replied Mrs. S. “But I’ve only been out five hours. How on earth did you manage that?”
“Sorry, I’ve let you down,” he said meekly, full knowing that no woman can resist the charms of a poorly and apologetic husband, notwithstanding the fact that Mrs. S. was still trying to assess whether this was a bout of man flu or a real snuffle. It looked as if she would have to postpone playing with her parcels until Lemsip had been made, brows had been soothed, and chicken soup was on the boil.
“Let’s shut the shop early and get you home. Poor baby,” Mrs. S. added, because, whilst men rarely make a fuss if something’s really wrong, they do like to be fussed over if there is just something a teensy bit wrong. This is a comfortable game, with defined rules, which is played by couples up and down the land.
Unfortunately on this particular evening, Mrs. S. broke the rules. Because as she was closing the shutters, and much to the disappointment of Mr. S., she too sneezed….
July 4th 2011: The Bin Man…
Like most shopkeepers Mrs. S. has the utmost respect for the gentlemen and ladies of the street. The road washers, and the street sweepers, and the refuse collectors, and the light repair men. The graffiti removers, the police, the lollypop man, the drain clearers, the line painters (well, white line painters are OK – the red and yellow line painters are not quite as welcome). Even the street wardens, occasionally. No, not traffic wardens – they are rarely respected by anyone, although their mothers probably love them. This ‘team’ may not actually know each other, but somehow pull together to keep the high street functioning, clean, running. And this is important for those trying to ply a trade therein.
But today, unusually, Mrs. S. had a bit of a run in with one of them. Quite distraught she was by the end of it, to the extent that she could be found stabbing the corner of the counter repeatedly with her scissors (which Mr. S. carefully confiscated).
It all began with a sack of domestic refuse (from the flat above the shop) which Mrs. S. had put out late at night, mindful not to soil the streetscape during the day with unsightly black bags. In the morning a little man was waiting outside the shop for her (it is Mrs. S.’ wont to describe most council officials bearing clipboards as ‘little men’ regardless of actual size). She reluctantly let him in (although she generally has little truck with people who lie in wait for her as she opens up), whereupon he showed her his ID card revealing that he did indeed work for the council: the ‘environmental street crime squad’ no less. Mrs. S. giggled slightly at this, as it was just such an unnecessarily grand title for what seemed to be a bin man.
He also produced a polaroid snap of her rubbish. “Could you confirm this is yours?” he asked.
“No, it isn’t,” she replied. “It was, but then I gave it to you.”
This was probably the wrong thing to say. The man seemed to be utterly devoid of humour.
“Could you tell me why you left commercial waste in the street last night? This is an offence punishable by fine.”
“I most certainly did not leave my shop rubbish in the street,” protested Mrs. S. “We have a wheelie bin a the back. A pretty pink one,” she added.
“Then how can you explain this?” demanded the little rubbish man (who was getting smaller and smaller in Mrs. S.’ estimation as the conversation progressed). And he pointed to an empty food wrapper with the shop name on it.
“Quite simply,” smiled Mrs. S. “We live upstairs. We run a lovely shop, and the food is so nice that occasionally we take it home and eat it. And then we put the wrapper in the bin.”
“Hmm,” hmmed the inspector. “Well, what about this?” And he gesticulated at one corner of the black sack where a tiny piece of empty price gun roll was protruding.
“It was almost certainly thrust into my pocket when the shop got busy. And then discarded when I emptied my pockets at home. Am I being penalised for living above my shop?” Mrs. S. was getting very riled now. “Because this feels very much like victimisation to me. Do you fine Tesco for every bit of wrapper that you find in black bin bags around the country? And do you really have nothing more gainful to do than to go through my rubbish in the dead of night?”
This was perhaps further than she should have gone, but there were one or two customers in the shop who seemed to be enjoying her soapbox performance and she was loath to disappoint them.
The rubbish man looked grim. “It is my job to ensure that the streets are cleaned whilst obtaining best value for the tax payer,” he quoted from some training manual. “This is a first offence, so you may get away with it. You will be hearing from my superior in due time,” he said, and with that he snatched back his photo and walked out.
Those in the shop at that moment were later to swear blind that they had heard the shopkeeper growl….
June 25th 2011: In Which Mrs. Shopkeeper Joins the Worried Well…
Now it’s all very well talking to customers. It’s a good thing, in fact – one can learn so much. And it is patently one of Mrs. Shopkeeper’s bestest bits of her job, what with her being so very good at chatting. Trouble is, there is never any telling what customers are going to talk about. Which is a shame, as Mr. Shopkeeper really would quite like to censor some of his lovely lady’s conversations.
Ah now, don’t go jumping on your feminist bandwagons. Mrs. S. is as emancipated as the next shopkeeper, and the idea of Mr. S. trying to exert any control over his wife is, frankly, farcical. But he is of the opinion that she really should not be allowed to talk about health. Well, about illness at least. Mrs. S. couldn’t agree more. She really doesn’t like the topic, and refuses to buy any magazines or newspapers with health stories/scares on the cover.
But you know how it is: one minute you’re talking to someone about the weather, or the price of frozen concentrated orange juice, and the next the conversation has slid surreptitiously over to the other party’s recent hemmorrhoid operation, or cholesterol levels, or their hereditory syndrome (in the hierarchy of hypochondria, the person with a verifiable syndrome is king). The worst ailversations involve a person’s ‘condition’ wherein the discussion thereof requires lowered tones, and much frowning, but the nature of which is never actually specified. The words “Well, you know how it is,” and “Can you imagine?” are bandied about, with Mrs. S. not knowing, not wanting to know, but unfortunately being only too capable of imagining. Oh, and then there’s that killer throwaway line at the end….”Would you like to see my scar?” This usually leads Mrs. S. to feign sudden recollection of something boiling on the stove at the back.
The upshot of all this proffered medical information (too much, oh there is just too much of it out there) is that on a bad day Mrs. S. slowly starts to sicken with imagined symptoms. Just as if all her customers are miserable of a morning, by the afternoon she too is morose. It’s only natural, no? Anyway, she is all too aware of the allure of symptom checking on-line, and ever since she developed psychosomatic Congalese hippo-flu Mr. S. has put an absolute ban on her perusal of anything remotely medical on the internet.
Thus it was today. A gent insisted on showing her his triple heart bypass scar, with the words, “It all started with just a little chest tingle, you know…” Mr. S. came home from his rounds to find Mrs. S. looking fretful and contemplating a pack of soluble aspirin. He resorted to threatening her in the same voice he reserved for Shopcat, and told her that if she didn’t cut the crap he’d be marching her straight to the vet.
June 13th 2011: The Child…
Mr. Shopkeeper always knows when AN INCIDENT has happened in the shop when he spies a new sign therein. The appearance of this one gave him a clue as to the nature of the day that Mrs. Shopkeeper had had:
It had all started with a shriek from the Blonde, who was getting ready to go off duty after a morning shift. She had been changing in the back room when a small boy had butted in and shouted, “Look, Mummy – titties!”
Notwithstanding the fact that it was quite funny, Mrs. S. felt sorry for Anya (of whom she had grown peculiarly fond), and thought it right to exude indignance at the matter. The child’s mother seemed genuinely contrite, if a little weary, and appeared to take the boy in hand.
A few moments later (when, it transpired, the child had been prevented from going back into the back room, where presumably he was in search of more titties), there was the sound of a scuffle, and the child screamed, “I hate you!” at the top of his voice, before pushing over a large display of tins. Mrs. S. flew to the relevant section of the shop to find the poor mother scrabbling around trying to repair the damage, and the spoilt brat throwing a right paddy.. What a to-do!
Against her better judgment (which was urging her to bind the child with box tape and attach it to the lamp post outside the shop), and out of consideration for the desperate mother, Mrs. S resorted to blackmail, which is invariably the best policy in these circumstances. A lolly was produced, followed by a tissue for a snotty nose, and a cup of sweet tea for the mother.
After the pair had left and Anya had kindly helped her clear up, Mrs. S. was left to wonder at the sheer burden of some parents. And she also fleetingly wondered why she had given up smoking.
June 7th 2011: The Yogi…
Mrs. Shopkeeper is pretty high-streetwise. Most of the time. She can spot a real crim coming a mile away, and as these very diary entries have shown, she does not tolerate fools lightly. But she does have a retail Achilles heel. Oh yes. And it is not one she is proud of. In fact, she has never mentioned this in public before. She is S-U-P-E-R-S-T-I-T-I-O-U-S. Or what Mr. S. calls a ‘bit of a silly moo’.
It is quite hard for shopkeepers to hide. They are pretty much sitting targets for all and sundry. This includes some of life’s more creative street vendors. It always used to be (proper, old-fashioned) gypsies, vending lucky heather. Mrs. S. was so worried about being cursed (not to mention spat at) that she always purchased their little sprigs and crossed their palms with silver. Well, it’s been a while since the high street has seen any heather. But there’s a new type of wandering salesperson in town. The Yogi!
They just look like your average respectable Sikh about town, so it is quite hard to detect them until they are standing in front of your counter. And they are holding out their little card. Which tells you of their psychic powers and extraordinary fortune-telling abilities.
Now Mrs. S. certainly didn’t want her fortune told today. Even when the Yogi standing in front of her kept saying, “Very nice lady, very lucky lady.” But terrified that he would curse her if she sent him packing, she said “No, no thank you. Have a biscuit!” And she smiled and tried to get him out of the door.
But he wasn’t having any of it. “No no, good lady, you have something more for me. I have this holy stone. Look, I bless for you. £5 only.”
And with that he spat on the stone and dropped it into her hand.
This is how Mrs. S. came to own a holy and slightly soggy jelly bean. How she was to record it in petty cash she knew not….
June 2nd 2011: A bad thing. And a journalist.…
Today a bad thing happened outside the shop.
Mrs. Shopkeeper came downstairs to open the shop to find the whole thing behind police stickertape stuff. She tried to leave the premises to open her shutters and a very officious looking PC barked at her “Hold it right there!” She wasn’t sure what it was she was meant to hold, as she had nothing in her hands: surely he didn’t want her to put her hands up?
“This is a crime scene,” said the plod, who was, Mrs. S. was horrified to realise, very young.
“Oh dear,” said Mrs. S, referring at one and the same time to the concept of bad things happening and to the thought that she was (at a pinch) old enough to be the PC’s aunt.
It seemed that there had been some serious fisticuffs in the high street in the wee small hours, and a young lad had been struck with a bottle and left fighting for his life. Arrests had already been made, but they had to be thorough. You know.
“Goodness. I do hope he will be OK,” she offered. She also offered the policeman a cup of tea: he seemed so very cross-looking. He declined, but at least gave her a slight smile.
“If you could just stay inside until we have finished our investigations,” he said, “We should be done in about an hour, and then you can open.”
So Mrs. S. set herself to pottering-but-not-really-doing-anything, dusting this and that, waiting for news. She really was very upset to think that someone had been hurt, and tried to think positive healing thoughts for him the way that her yoga teacher had told her to do. She was so disturbed that she failed derive gratification from the sight of a frantically curious Mrs. ABC ‘yoo-hooing’ at her from behind the stickertape.
After not one but two hours, the young PC came to tell her that the coast was clear. And that the lad was also in the clear. Mrs. Shopkeeper was so pleased she nearly hugged him, although the incident would remain as a nasty, niggling cloud in her shop consciousness for some time.
As soon as she opened the shop filled up. But not with customers, oh no. With pesky rubberneckers, wanting to know what happened.
“Of course I was so worried for you,” cooed Mrs. ABC, raising an eyebrow as if to coax out the inside story which she was sure Mrs. S. could recount. Mrs. S. of course did not have ‘the inside story’ but she was quite happy to invent one for Mrs. ABC’s benefit. She had just got to details of the sabre used in the attack when the door bell jingled again, and in came a tall chappy with a notepad.
“Blah blah Evening News'” he announced, and held out his card.
“Mrs. Shopkeeper,” said Mrs. Shopkeeper, and handed him a recipe sheet.
“Just wondering if you could tell me what happened here last night,” he said. “Did you see anything? What colour was the boy?”
“Sorry to disappoint, but I saw nothing at all, although I heard the boy was blue and yellow,” said Mrs. S. through gritted teeth (she hates this rush to determine the colour of victims, like it makes a difference). “But I have just finished telling Mrs. ABC here what I heard happened, and I am sure that she will be happy to share the details with you,” she said, as she ushered them both out of the shop.
“Nosy buggers,” she muttered.
May 29th 2011: Some relatives…
Having friends or relatives visit you when you are a shopkeeper always presents a dilemma. When the visit is first announced, it seems like such a good idea. Well, they’re your friends or family, so it is to be presumed that you like them, right? The event will brighten your day, distract you from your shelf-borne toils, and give you a chance to show off your wares.
And they in turn look forward to the visit: they will feel in some small way that they are doing you a favour by patronising your store, and, whilst never admitting to such, will assume that they will get some version of the red carpet treatment.
This theoretical denouement works if you are very organised, or if your surname is Sainsbury and you’ve kind of left your shelf-stacking days behind. But if you are Mrs. Shopkeeper and it is the Blonde’s day off, then things are a tad more difficult.
Today Mr. Shopkeeper’s distant cousin came along for a visit, with his family in tow. Typically Mr. S. was doing some mysteriously urgent out-of-town deliveries. Anyway, as said cousins apparently live in America, Mrs. S. felt under pressure to ‘show them a good time’. How she was meant to do that in a corner shop she knew not (although she has recently written to Red Letter Days suggesting that they partner with her in offering a new ‘experience’: that of Shelf Stacker for a Day’). But she had filled the kettle, set out some exceedingly good cakes, prepared some souvenir goody bags, donned her second best pinny, and written a blackboard explaining that she would, uncharacteristically, be shutting for half an hour for lunch.
Now the trouble is, unless you are a fellow shopkeeper or under seven years old, most shops are not actually all that interesting after the first perusal. Especially if you are there to visit, rather than buy. But as the shop is to all intents and purposes the shopkeeper’s world, any implication from the visitor that they are bored is seen as very poor form, inviting the obvious retort, “Well I spend ten hours a day here and it is good enough for me…”
The cousins arrived at about 10.30, just as the shop was opening, and Mrs. S.’ heart sank. She could hardly take them out for lunch that early: what on earth was she to do with them for two hours? The shop was fairly busy, meaning that she could neither engage with the relatives, nor give the customers the attention that they needed. Fortunately she remembered that the local art gallery had a free exhibition: it was only after she had dispatched them thither that she recalled that the show was actually deeply anti-US. They returned looking bemused within twenty five minutes, so she sat them down in the back room whilst she flew around doing shoppy things. Every time she checked in on them, they were just sitting there, looking at each other. It did not help that one of them was a petulant teenager. This was not going well.
At noon she could bear it no longer and deployed her blackboard, swiftly ushering the relatives up the road to the Market Arms whilst rabbiting inanely to them about British pubs and ploughmen’s lunches. They refused to sample the pub’s impressive range of real ale or things-with-chips-on-the-side, and nibbled at toasted sandwiches, still looking bemused. Mrs. S. had gone into overdrive by now, talking enough for all of them, increasingly desperate to find something that would interest them: she found she was actually lecturing them about the decline of the high street, the history of her high street and the pleasure of shopkeeping.
It was only when she came back from the loo and found them all talking in rapid Spanish that the peso dropped. Mr. S. had not specified which bit of America they lived in (Mexico, as it turned out), and whilst his cousin spoke English well enough, his wife and daughter had patently not understood a word of Mrs. S. rants. She flushed crimson with embarassment and started blustering an apology, but the cousin just smiled and said it had all been very interesting, but that they had to dash as they were due to visit another relative in Watford. He had further embarassed her by paying the bill while she had been away from the table. Oh what a to-do.
Mr. S., she decided, was grounded. No more out-of-town anything. AND no more relatives visiting on Anya’s day off.
May 20th 2011: The Inspectors…
The odd inspection is all part and parcel of modern shopkeeping. Mrs. Shopkeeper knows this. She also knows that her corner establishment conforms in every required way. Well, at least in measurable and inspectable ways. It is in every other respect utterly bonkers, but this is beside the point.
So Trading Standards, Environmental Health, Customs (VAT) and (Customs) Immigration, Council (Rates) and Tax should all be welcome. As should the police, street wardens and the fire safety man.
So she is at a loss to explain why they all make her feel sick to the core with imagined nerves, and experience irrational guilt for some crime or offence which she simply has not committed. She maintains that it is because she grew up in a time where respect for authority was instilled with state issued orange drink and Janet and John, even though she is aware that by this very assertion she is possibly showing her age. But her agitation when these inspectorial bods are in the shop goes way beyond the bounds of ‘respect’.
We are talking clammy palms, butterfly tummy, light sweat across the forehead, and a distinctly more cack-handed demeanour than usual. Things get dropped, words get stammered, and she develops a twitch. Mr. S. is utterly bemused by this behaviour in his law-abiding, see-a-fiver-on-the-floor-and-take-it-to-the-police-station wife. It would be rather funny, except, well, these occasional visitors are inspectors. Who need to be impressed and whose boxes need to be ticked. Neither of which will happen when Mrs. S. is making like an Essex gangster’s moll, perhaps one who’s just been nabbed by Interpol at his des-casa in Malaga.
Today was the turn of the Immigration Squad (squad?), who hadn’t been before. Mrs. S. had kind of been expecting them one day, on account of the fact that all the other shops had been raided (raided?), and in theory she did run an ethnic corner shop. She had not expected that they would arrive with dogs (dogs?), although these were restrained outside. Just as well: Shop Cat would not have been impressed.
Embarassingly, two of them stood across the doorway (oh-the-shame), barring the entry of puzzled customers. Although in her customary state of nerves, Mrs. S. had to resist the urge to call out something very flippant to them. In retrospect, she realised that his apparent ‘bust’ would probably only add to their street cred locally.
They swarmed in and straight through towards the back of the property, startling Mr. S. who was trying to fix his van in the warehouse. Mrs. S. stood looking wretched in the shop, her gaze inexorably drawn towards the backroom of the shop, as if she had ten illegal workers in there. This caused one of the very grim looking inspectors to charge in to said backroom, startling Shop Cat in the process. And when the phone rang, she found she was talking in a funny voice and covering the mouthpiece. Really, she simply does not know how to act cool.
The squad had soon established that there was absolutely no-one else on the premises, and withdrew, leaving Mrs. S. clutching a bit of paper explaining the raid, shaking like a leaf and wondering whether it was too early for a brandy and port….
May 4th 2011: Mr. Shopkeeper displays some odd behaviour…
Mr. S. is normally a modest man, but rarely lacks confidence. One of their cookier customers reckons that it is because he is Aries with Jupiter rising: Mrs. Shopkeeper hasn’t yet seen any evidence of the Jupiter bit, rising or otherwise, but accepts the fact that as fire signs Arians are usually, well, fiery. And confident.
For the record, Mrs. S. does not publicly hold any truck with horoscopes: it would clash with what she perceives to be her trendy, shopkeeper-about-town image. But she is secretly as agog as the next former Jackie reader for her weekly fix of spurious predictions. Her public disdain leaves her having to scour buses for discarded free newspapers, or dabbling on-line when no-one is looking.
Anyway, over the last few days Mrs. S. has noticed that Mr. Shopkeeper has been a little quiet. She also caught him peering in the mirror on a couple of occasions. But she only started seriously to worry when she found him with his hands on her SPF Factor 528 night cream. This, at £25.00 a pot, merited a confrontation.
“Are you feeling alright, my little chick pea?” she ventured, smiling encouragingly, placing the lid firmly back on the jar.
“Yes yes, just fine,” he said. “You look so young and beautiful, and I was just wondering if this was your secret.” Mrs. S. was terrified by this apparently lame statement, and immediately stepped forward to place a hand on her husband’s surely-fevered forehead.
“Now I know there is something wrong!” she cried.
This called for tea and a chat. It transpired that some brat had called Mr. S. ‘Grandpops’ in the shop the previous week, and this had triggered a bout of self-doubt and anxiety the like of which Mrs S. had not previously seen in her spouse. Somehow, hugging him and telling him he was her little snookum-wookum didn’t really seem to fit the bill here. Offering to bar the brat in question did not seem to be very helpful either. Neither of them was going to use the words mid and life and crisis in juxtaposition, but it seemed fairly obvious to them both that this is what was brewing.
After an hour or so of serious brainstorming, Mrs. S. had talked Mr. S. out of buying a motorbike, taking up Kung Fu and having his chest waxed, and they were talking more realistically about quality time, and exercise, and having fun. Then she buggered it all up by mentioning the D word. As in diet. Mr. S.’ little face fell.
“See, I knew you didn’t love me any more,” was his puerile response.
Shopkeepers have feelings too, you know. And as they are perpetually at the mercy of a generally fairly rude public, it can take its toll. As a compromise, Mrs. S. told him she’d try and find him a nice male spa and some Tai Chi classes tomorrow. Wish her luck.
April 29th 2011: A wedding and some ants.…
Mrs. Shopkeeper is a bit of a closet royalist. Trouble with shopkeeping is that you learn to keep lots of things in the closet for fear of upsetting one customer or another. And in the name of cornershop zeitgeist you learn to affect a degree of trendy cynicism in respect of all sorts of things that you actually really rather like. But as today was the day of the royal wedding she was up early to unfurl her (very small) Union Jack, and warm up the gas-powered portable telly in the office. Mr. S., being a ‘real man’, does not watch weddings and went off to do some deliveries. Although he later displayed admirable knowledge of the clothes designers and protocol involved, leaving Mrs. S. with her suspicions.
She had decided to open the shop as usual, whilst expecting trade to be very quiet. In fact, when someone did pop in during the marriage vows, she ended up almost growling at them in a very unbecoming manner, and told them to serve themselves and leave the money on the counter. She was also rather cross to note that her eyes seemed to be leaking during the ceremony: it is very hard running a shop with smudged mascara – what would people think?
It was towards the end of the pageant that she saw a blur out of the corner of her eye. At first she thought it was the aforementioned mascara sticking to her lashes, but after a few blinks failed to make it go away, she went in for closer inspection. Leading from the office door to the filing cabinet, via the television cable and the coffee table, was a large column of ants.
Horrified she flew into the shop to check they had not taken over there as well: fortunately there was nothing in sight. Even as she was calling the pest controller (for she could hardly pour boiling water all over the office), she started itching. And twitching. Tentative examination of the attraction revealed it to be half a jam doughnut, which she remembered ramming in the filing cabinet two days before. She had come back from the gym, and was a little peckish: it’s just embarassing to be caught red handed, still in your jogging pants and stuffing your face, and so when the shop door jingled, the doughnut got jettisoned. Now the guilt came back two-fold as she viewed the little buggers carrying it off, sugar grain by sugar grain.
She had in fact handled it all quite well by the time Mr. Shopkeeper got back, and the black streak across the carpet had been vanquished by some magic squirty stuff. But she did that thing that girlies do when they realise that they don’t actually have to cope any more and burst into ant-driven tears. This made Mr. S. even more glad that he had not stayed home to watch the royal happening, but being a decent sort of chap, he consoled her by taking her out to watch him play the fruit machine up t’pub. Oh, the glamour.
April 27th 2011: The manifesto…
Mrs. Shopkeeper had tried to dismiss the HISTA (High Street Traders Assocation, if you will recall) meeting, but it hovered in her mind like a bee caught in a shop window, buzzing pathetically. She could not let such a drear manifesto determine the future of her stretch of the street, and so she resolved to write a more creative agenda to propose at the next meeting. At first she pondered a street party: with a certain royal event looming, this would have been a perfect way to celebrate the High Street and introduce the committee. But the small print revealed that street party licences would be granted in respect of parties for residents only. There was also the fact that the wedding is only two days hence.
But the idea of a party, a shop festival, had taken root. It was Mrs. S’ firm belief that people would respond to something shiny and positive, and that only by doing something for the community could they expect the community to give back to them. Mrs. S. can be irritatingly Pollyanna-esque at times. Anyway, thus the HISTAVAL was born. A bit of a knees-up, to be held in the Summer, with every shop participating in a way that they felt was appropriate to them. They could host an event, give out free stuff, decorate their outlets prettily, run a competition… The possibilities were endless. Mrs. S found herself smiling at the jolly potential of it all, and proceeded to gush at Mr. S. as he passed through the shop. Mr. S. opened and closed his mouth several times, but eventually decided to keep it closed: trying to stop Mrs. S. mid-gush was a task as foolhardy as trying to shut the Thames Barrier with a shoe horn.
At some stage during her impressive monologue, Mr. Shopkeeper realised that his wife had moved from the subject of a shop festival to the topic of designing out crime, and creative graffiti, and was looking to him for a response. For one teetering moment he was tempted to answer, “Yes, but not in the South,” but sense fortunately got the better of him and he settled for an almost-sincere, “Sounds very good, Honey-Bunch”. She seemed happy with this, as she turned back to her notepad and started scribbling again. By the time the shop shut she had produced her own seven-point plan wave at Mrs. ABC. It looks a bit like this:
- An annual Histaval to be created for mid-Summer;
- Quality graffiti to be commissioned to brighten up ‘grotspots’;
- Shops to form a high street watch group and work with the police;
- Local church hall and sports centre to be flattered and coaxed on to the committee as THEY HAVE BIG EMPTY CAR PARKS. AND LOOS (Mrs. S. is very pleased with this unusually devious ploy);
- A holistic (Mrs. S. loves that word) approach to be taken to improving the appearance of the high street/shop fronts;
- Buskers to be auditioned and granted licences for playing at either end of the high street;
- Traders unofficially to take more responsibility for the area of street outside their shops.
She was very much looking forward to the next committee meeting….
April 25th 2011: The Bank Holiday…
Corner shopkeepers have just the same expectations as everyone else when it comes to bank holidays. Even though they are working. The four days of a bank holiday weekend have a different feel to them, full of promise. The shopkeeper knows that he will not be troubled by silly phone calls from inarticulate salesmen, or badgered by suppliers for orders or payment, or bothered by hordes of rampaging school children. And because he is working at a time when most others are not, he ends up feeling virtuous, which in turn lends him an air of benificence.
Unfortunately, like most people, the shopkeeper rarely finds that his weekends live up to his expectations. And thus it was today for Mr. and Mrs. Shopkeeper. Mr. S. had set himself the target of gently going through his paperwork, revarnishing the shop counter and washing his van. Mrs. S. was hoping to rearrange her artefacts (which Mr. S. always took as a euphemism for not-doing-very-much-really), devise a new order sheet (which Mr. S. understood to mean mess-about-on-the-computer) and finish her ironing (which lives in the back room of the shop).
Now the thing with shops is that they would run so much more efficiently without customers. That is not to say that customers are unwelcome: quite the opposite. They are treasured guests for a small store, buzzing with potential for both human and financial interaction. But as any shopkeeper will tell you, if you are trying to do something major in the shop or the office, you can bet your bottom shilling that your day will be filled with customers looking to spend half an hour discussing the merits of spearmint chewing gum over peppermint chewing gum (at 36p), before settling for a packet of bubblegum (at 21p).
So it was that Mr. S. varnished one leg of the counter, filed half a tax return and hoovered the inside of Mrs. S.’ car. And Mrs. S. ditched the artefacts and the ironing and spent the whole day drifting fitfully on the computer in between selling gum. Both ended the weekend with a slight feeling of loss: where had the four days gone? They are both looking forward to Tuesday.
April 23rd 2011: In which till training commences.…
There was only so much shelf-stacking and tea-making that the Blonde could do. In order for her to be of any real use, Mr. and Mrs. Shopkeeper realised, she had to be trained on the till. Only that way would Mrs. S. be able to pop to the shops/gym/committee meetings.
Now Anya seemed very sweet, and Mrs. S. had no reason to doubt her trustworthiness. But as she had been a corner trader for a number of years, experience had taught her that you can really never be too careful with regard to matters of security. On the rare occasions that she had been shopkeeping alone of an evening, she had learned to give the illusion of having a team of beefy back-up by randomly calling out the odd remark to the (empty) back room, or fielding fictitious phone calls to the non-existent night watchman.
Whilst the shop had its own functional CCTV system, Mrs. S. decided that in order to enforce proper money-handling protocols she would let her staff know that they were being watched. From above. There was a small redundant fixture on the ceiling above the till which Mrs. S. told Anya was a sensor-operated camera (although she knew not if there was such a thing), set to record every till transaction. Mr. S. told Mrs. S. that she was completely batty. But he had decided to go along with it all for the time being.
The actual till is so simple that even Shopcat would’ve been able to operate it (had he had thumbs). In fact Mrs. Shopkeeper is a little embarassed by its simplicity, even though she had chosen it for that reason, and Mr. S. thinks it is ‘a bit Mickey Mouse’. It has but four departments: FOOD, DRINKS, CIGGIES, and THINGS THAT MRS. S. LIKES, and she uses the PLU buttons entirely randomly. In order to make the training procedure seem more professional, she decided to formalise the PLU system, and so set to with lots of little bits of paper to mark each button. By the time Anya came to assume her position behind the counter, the till was bedecked with more bits of paper than a London phone box, and Mrs. S. was able proudly to explain just how very hard it is to work the till, and how very seriously the role should be taken. Combine this with her exaggerated attempts to demonstrate how ‘the ceiling camera’ was working, and it is easy to see why Mr. Shopkeeper, unable to contain his mirth, retired to the warehouse for the afternoon.
Still, by the end of the day Mrs. Shopkeeper felt genuinely pleased. As far as she was concerned she now had a viable shop drone. And two half days a week of freedom.
April 18th 2011: The committee.…
Mrs. Shopkeeper eventually decided to attend the first traders meeting. “Just so we know what we’re dealing with,” she assured Mr. Shopkeeper. She secretly agreed with Mr. S. that meetings were a waste of time, especially when most stuff could so easily be done by e-mail. But e-mails just didn’t give one a platform for table-thumping and oratory.
So today saw her trundling along to the Riviera Cafe which was located strategically halfway between her shop and ABC. She’d never actually been into this establishment before, but was swift to observe that it was more dockside than riviera in tone. They’d sort of shuffled the tables to make it look like a meeting room, but the smell of stale cooking fat and cheap coffee somewhat tarnished the business-likeness of it all. Unsurprisingly, Mrs. ABC was already ensconced as Chair of the meeting. Her neighbour, Flora’s Flowers, was sitting next to her, looking very floral, clutching a notepad: that was presumably the minutes taken care of as well. Mrs. S. slipped in at the back of the assembly, nodding briefly at the front.
The turn out wasn’t very big: the chemist’s diminutive wife was there, and the man who worked in the strange furniture shop opposite ABC. Two market stall holders had turned up, and the deputy manager of the Wimpy was there, looking very uncomfortable to be perched in someone else’s plastic environment. Finally Mr. Singh from the offy on the corner and Mr. Patel from the greengrocers stood together by the door, as if ready for a quick get away.
Mrs. ABC made a grandiloquent speech about community, sticking together, lobbying the council, the recession…. Mrs. S. had never heard so many cliches presented so passionately. And then they got down to the agenda, which was handed round on little bits of paper. Heavy bullet points drew attention to the parade’s pressing issues:
- lack of a public loo!!!
- lack of propper street cleaning! (sic)
- lack of CCTV!
- lack of police on the beat!!
- lack of car park space!
- what to do about traders putting things on the pavment!! (sic)
- what to do about traders who play music too loudly!
- what to do about the unauthorised mural at the end of Fore Street!
What to do, what to do…. The exclamation marks presumably indicated the level of severity of Mrs. ABC’s complaints. Mrs. S. rummaged in her bag to find a pen. This was a prop so that she could pretend to make notes and thus keep her head down. It would not do to be seen to be laughing. Although actually Mrs. S. found the agenda really rather sad. What a negative list of grumbles they had produced! What a whinge bag Mrs. ABC seemed to be! Unfortunately she spoke with authority, and so many of the other traders could be seen nodding in agreement, and shaking their heads at appropriate moments.
The conclusion of the meeting was that Flora Flowers would write some STRONG LETTERS to local councillors. And after an appalling display of false modesty, Mrs. ABC was voted in officially as chair of the group, which, after great deliberation, was to call itself HISTA (High Street Traders Association).
Being naturally gracious, oft times against her better judgment, Mrs. S. rose to her feet at the end of the meeting to thank Mrs. ABC for bringing them all together in this way. And then she shot off, back to her own little retail haven.
She could not wait to divulge all to Mr. S. – it was, for once, worth his most condescending ‘I told you so’ look. Mrs. ABC did have some valid points, for sure. But Mrs. S. could not possibly allow this to be the definitive public voice of the high street. The game was afoot…
April 12th 2011: a worrying e-mail. And a detective.…
There is no getting away from the fact that Mrs. Shopkeeper is a busy bee. She likes to BE INVOLVED. Doesn’t like to be LEFT OUT. Mr. S., on the other hand, is quite content to sit on the sidelines, and learnt a long time ago that involvement usually means complications and headaches, followed eventually by extrication.
So when Mrs. S. received an e-mail today referring to a new committee of local traders, she was all for joining in, signing up. That is, until she read the small print. The e-mail was from the other corner shop. The one at the other end of the high street. This left her with a terrible dilemma. Should she jump and down with selfless glee and embrace the initiative? Ignore the invite and risk being left out? Or start a rival other-end-of-the-high-street committee?
Generally Mr. and Mrs. Shopkeeper love their neighbours. The feeling of camaraderie that exists in their parade of shops sits like a warm jumper on a chilly night (Mrs. S. loves colourful metaphors). Always popping in and out of each others stores they are, for a case of sugar or a spare till roll. They look out for each other. Gee, they even hug sometimes. But the other corner shop is different. At least, Mrs. Shopkeeper thinks so. For they stole her idea. And made it work.
Eighteen months ago, the trouble blew up. Mrs. S. had tried and failed to instal a bread oven so that they could offer fresh warm baguettes to their customers. She’d done all the PR, whetted appetites, designed little stickers to go on the bags….and then the bread company said that they could not fit the oven into the allocated space. Within three weeks, ABC Cost Slashers had the identical oven, and the smell of freshly baked dough fairly wafted down the high street to taunt Mrs. S. every morning (this is probably an exaggeration, as ABC is actually nearly 1km along the road). This was a loaf too far for Mrs. S., and she had been quietly, indiscernibly simmering about it ever since. Not that they are rivals or anything: ABC is a regular cornershop, whilst Mr. and Mrs. S pride themselves on being, well, different.
She knew better than to ask Mr. S. about this, as he would simply have informed her that shopkeepers who have time to sit on committees cannot be keeping very good shops.
As she was stewing over this very difficult issue, a sinister looking man walked in. He looked so edgy and was so full of forced nonchalance and contrived street cred that she decided at once that he had to be either a novice crook or a nervous policeman. “Hello. Don’t worry – I am not a shoplifter,” said the sinister man, presumably noticing that Mrs. S. was studying him closely on the CCTV, “I’m a police detective. Just keeping an eye on someone opposite. You don’t mind do you?” And with that he half concealed himself behind one of the shelf units in the window and appeared to study a tin of baked beans with great concentration. He may as well have had a sign over his head saying ‘undercover cop’. But oh the thrill of it: the shop had its very own stake out. (Little things like this pass for great excitement in the microcosm that is a shop.)
After about two hours, wherein the detective must have memorised the calorific content of most of the cans on the shelf, and Mrs. S. had made the statutory three cups of tea that a visitor could expect (and she had run out of polite police conversation), she was starting to worry. It was near closing time: should she lock him in? Could he be trusted? Should she stay open late just so he could keep detecting things? The novelty of the stake out had quite worn off. She resorted to deploying guest plan B, which was a secret code that she and Mr. S. had invented to initiate steps to encourage over-staying guests to take their leave. Fortunately the policeman was quite perspicacious, and noticed when the lights had gone out and that she was standing by the door with her coat on. With a brief nod he sidled conspicuously out into the night….
April 11th 2011: in which the blonde commences training…
Now because Mrs. Shopkeeper is a Leo, she has it in mind that she must be a very good leader. A famous androgenous astologer on the internet said so, therefore it must be so. In truth she is a bit rubbish at delegation, and so the hapless trainee who finds herself working alongside her has to put up with the somewhat comical scenario of Mrs. S. doing tasks herself and then complaining that she never gets any help. There is also the slight problem that Mrs. S. was born without a scrap of commonsense or logic, and so following any of her ‘systems’ requires enormous patience and an ability to think out of the box (to put it kindly).
On this day, however, she was determined to show Mr. S. that she could do so much better with a little help, and so she had resolved to be as professional-yet-friendly as possible in her new capacity as boss. She spent longer than normal choosing her work outfit, and eventually settled for a sporty ensemble (which she hoped implied that she was fit, funky and on the ball) overlaid with a tailored jacket and air-hostess scarf (which she thought looked rather managerial). It was probably a coincidence that the outfit was also in Mr. S.’ favourite colour, and that she was wearing his favourite perfume. In spite of this sartorial confidence, she was disconcerted to find that she felt slightly nervous in anticipation of someone else invading her private
She was therefore visibly relieved when Anya arrived in sensible-but-smart jeans and a t-shirt (which looked rather junior-staff, Mrs. S. noted with approval), looking enthusiastic. Even better was the blonde’s apparent delight in being asked to polish counters and stock shelves, and her offer to make tea every hour or so. The final seal of approbation was given when the blonde started talking about her fiance (a plumber! how useful!) and how she loved nothing better than to spend her evenings cooking for him. The half day session was over before Mrs. Shopkeeper could say Nurdin and Peacock. Whether any actual training had taken place is debatable, but a degree of bonding had occurred.
Suffice it to say that Mr. S. enjoyed the benefits later that evening in the form of a splendid steak and mushroom pie and his favourite continental beer.
April 10th 2011: a shop assistant is recruited, and Mrs. Shopkeeper becomes quite discombobulated…
Mrs. Shopkeeper has for some time now been hinting that she would quite like a little shop fairy to help with little shop tasks. And maybe to give her an afternoon off every now and then, without her having to go through the elaborate ritual of soliciting that favour from Mr. S. Just part time. Just on a trial basis initially. After all, Mr. S. has his warehouse staff….
What Mrs. S. doesn’t realise is that she is not quite as easy to work with as she would like to think. Mr. S. is far too sweet to disabuse her of this, and so it usually comes over as if Mr. S. simply doesn’t want to help her out. There is also the small problem that the shop barely keeps Mrs. S. in expensive moisturising lotions and posh coffee, let alone its potential to support a proper set of staff wages.
However, in the spirit of marital harmony and out of sheer weariness at her imprecations, he decided today that perhaps they should give it a go. And so he mooted the idea to her, which elicited a squeal and a big bear hug of gratitude. Rather rashly, they agreed that they would give the next legal, clean looking job seeker to wander into the shop a go. And as they get around five job applicants a day banging on the door, they figured that they would not have to wait too long.
It was mid-afternoon before the next candidate came into the shop. Unfortunately Mrs. Shopkeeper was at the time filling the kettle ‘out the back’, and so was not able to forestall the matter: by the time she got back to the counter bearing mugs of shop tea, the deed had been done. She just caught Mr. S. saying, “Ah, here’s her indoors…” (a lapse of judgment on Mr. S’ part for which would later pay) and then she spotted her. A blonde. A tall, willowy blonde.
“Darling, this is our new assistant, Anya!” beamed Mr. S., looking unfathomably pleased with himself. “She’s from Lithuania, and is studying to be a dental nurse,” he added, helpfully.
Mrs. Shopkeeper opened and closed her mouth several times before deciding that graciousness was the best option and proffering her hand. The blonde shook it vigorously, and in perfect English averred her passion for all things quaint, corner-shaped and British.
“Anya will do two half days a week for you. And she starts tomorrow,” said Mr. S., in a done-and-dusted kind of way.
“Lovely,” responded Mrs. S., in a we’ll-see-about-that-kind-of-way.
“Wonderful!” said the blonde, and tottered out.
Mrs. Shopkeeper was left to ponder whether it had been an extraordinarily good day. Or a very worrying one.
April 2nd 2011: in which Mr. Shopkeeper takes control of the till.…
Mrs. Shopkeeper often forgets that she’s running a business. She can be annoyingly vague about matters involving petty cash (‘it’s petty, isn’t it?’), and is very, uh, informal about monies owed by this customer or that (‘they’ll drop it in next time they’re passing’). It’s (mostly) all such jolly good fun, and (most of) the customers are jolly good fun too: some days it seems to Mr. S. that the shop is run part as an art installation, and part as a social club.
Fortunately Mr. S. is a bit better at business than his partner, and so occasionally he gently reminds Mrs. S. of the chief reason she is there. He doesn’t like to do it too often, as her pathetic, panic-stricken face is capable of spoiling his entire day. Anyway, today was one of his ‘go ahead’ days, when he decided to put a new system in place. To BALANCE THE TILL (he spoke very slowly when he told Mrs. S. of his aims and objectives to stave off her habit of playing dumb on such occasions). He had already devised a sheet to fill in, and in his estimation it would only ten minutes extra of her day, but would ultimately save them hundreds of pounds a month in forgotten bits and bobs. The theory was that the very exercise of confronting till shortcomings would compel Mrs. S. to make darn well sure that it balanced. To the penny. Every night.
Much to Mr. Shopkeeper’s amazement, and on reflection worry, Mrs. Shopkeeper agreed to implement the changes without a quibble, and even recommended some minor tweaks to his spreadsheet. This was even more disquieting than her customary silent rebellion: she was either poorly or plotting some shop matter so great or so devious that she needed to build all the good will that she could. Which niggle succeeded in spoiling his entire day anyway…
March the Thirtieth, 2011: Mrs. Shopkeeper re-appears after a hiatus which strangely coincided with the Iranian New Year……
Mrs. S. was feeling just soooo guilty today when she sat once again in front of her shop diary. Had it really been over two weeks since her last entry? She resolved there and then to be more diligent. And to ensure that Mr. S. felt similar remorse and resolve.
Today saw Mrs. S. fielding a number of rather exciting phone calls. Being a glass-half-full kind of retailer, she is the sort who will rejoice at every opportunity and only see the downside of stuff when it is too late. Or when Mr. S. is kind enough to point it out to her. As a result of which she normally reserves squee-happy-hand-flappy news for as long as possible. The thought of all those newly opened doors and fresh possibilities is enough to give her a nice warm glow, untarnished by practical considerations, for hours on end.
The phone call that particularly did it for her today was from a glossy magazine wanting to use the shop as a backdrop for a photoshoot. Mrs. S. did not quite catch the name of the magazine, and was too shy to ask them to repreat it for fear of looking uncool. But she was sure it was glossy as the lady at the other end had a glossy-too-much-nail-polish kind of voice, clipped but with just a hint of Thames Estuary if you strained to listen at the end of each word. She was also unable to relay to Mr. S just how much the mag would pay towards loss of takings during the shoot. He prevailed upon her to use the ‘last few numbers called’ facility on the telephone and dial the bound-to-be-central-London number from which the mystery publication had called.
She went very quiet and put the phone down immediately. “It was the answer phone of the Corner Shop Tri-Weekly,” she said, weakly. “In Hackney.”
March the Eleventh, 2011: Mr. Shopkeeper gives Mrs. Shopkeeper the afternoon off…
Now to be fair to Mrs. Shopkeeper, she does work a lot of hours. And she is an uncomplaining, good-natured soul. Most of the time. But when she decides that she wants to GO SOMEWHERE, or becomes fixed on DOING SOMETHING, unfortunately there is usually little that can be done until she GETS HER OWN WAY. This is, Mr. Shopkeeper often reminds himself, probably part of the ‘for worse’ package that he signed up for when he agreed to the ‘for better’ bits of Mrs. S.
Matters usually begin innocently enough. A new play is detected in the review columns, or a band that only performs every half century advertises a concert, or an irresistibly good spa offer pops into Mrs. S’ inbox. The seed of a germ of a thought is formed. And then it gets watered – by other reviews, or through talking to friends, or by the entirely coincidental appearance of ‘the idea’ in another format, on telly or spontaneously mentioned by customers, which Mrs. S always takes to be ‘a sign’. A sign that she should go. The idea swims into focus, and becomes a jolly good plan; one that is good enough to present to Mr. Shopkeeper. He can always see when a plan is approaching, and for the most part finds the process amusing. For a prologue, Mrs. S. always comes and sits next to him and smiles agreeably whilst discussing something completely neutral. And then there is an elaborate story of why ‘the plan’ is needed/would be a good thing to do. And then finally the finer details of the plan are unveiled
Now sometimes these plans actually involve Mr. S., and these are the ones he dreads the most: the weekend away in the country, or anything for which Mrs. S. has to deploy the words ‘culturally enlightening’… But quite often she’s got stuff all worked out without him, and he is required merely to cover the shop for her while she indulges.
Such was his involvement today. He suspected that a spa was involved, as the missus went off serenely devoid of the usual levels of make-up. He would not dream of admitting as much, but he secretly enjoyed being left to play in the shop for the afternoon, and took great pleasure in making oh-so-subtle changes that would take Mrs. S. days to discover. Levelling piles of things, rendering straight that which had been wonky, ‘losing’ some items of stock and giving prominence to others, and listening to his stash of 80s trash pop CDs without any interference.
So dinner at Shopkeeper Towers on this evening was a jolly and mellow affair, with both Mr. and Mrs. (who was glowing in the manner that only an expensive hot sugar scrub could bestow) having spent a very merry few hours each doing their thing.
March the Sixth, 2011: A lot of stuff arrives. And a mouse.…
Busy busy days. Stock-checking. Ordering. Spring cleaning. And not enough diary keeping.
Today a sortie to the airport by Mr. Shopkeeper saw the shop floor all but covered in boxes. Mrs. S. is as good as the next multi-tasking 21st Century super-woman at getting stuff done, but the sheer volume of new stock left her spinning. Every time she emptied a box, another one appeared. Very Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
After a couple of hours of shelf-stacking hell, she had just made herself a nice cup of soothing green tea with acai (as it had been trending that day on Twitter) and was standing by the open shop door bisto-ing the almost spring-like, fragrant-but-particulate-laden air, when something very small shot by her ankles and headed straight into the shop. After the requisite squeal, she swiftly shut the door, sure as sure could be that it had been a mouse. A quick search failed to find the critter, if indeed that was what it was, and so she summonsed a reluctant and surprised Shopcat (who is not normally allowed into the shop, no sirree). He managed to break several things before secreting himself under the counter and refusing to come out again. Mrs. S. was starting to panic just a little (even though she professed a love for all things small and furry). It was as she was serving a couple of ladies that she noticed something moving on the floor. Before you could say Stuart Little, she’d dropped an upturned box on top of the wayfaring rodent, uttering a very phoney sounding “Oops!” along with a “Don’t worry, I’ll pick it up later!”, and just prayed-oh-prayed that it wouldn’t move. No sooner than she had ushered the ladies out of the shop, Shopcat started to show an interest in the box. With a swipe of the paw he had lifted it and retrieved the mouse…which he promptly trotted into the office and deposited on Mrs. S’ chair.
The mouse had frozen in terror in the meantime, meaning that she was able to pick it up with a carrier bag and gently carry it back outside whence the little bugger had come.
Later she was able to reflect what jolly japes the life of a shopkeeper could throw up. Sadly she knew for certain that no-one would believe her if she tried to recount the matter.
March the Third, 2011: Mr. Shopkeeper has one of his ideas. And Mrs. Shopkeeper hides.…
Mr. Shopkeeper, being the proprietor, does like to be, well, proprietorial. This is entirely Mrs. S’ doing: when Mr. S. had initially proposed opening an emporium, she had made it very clear that she really did not want to be a shopkeeper. Of course from within about thirty seconds of raising the shutter on the very first day of trading she was totally smitten with the whole shop thing, but by then it was too late: in that subtle, unspoken way that couples have of allocating tasks and responsibilities, the shop was understood to belong Mr. Shopkeeper. It was his baby.
And so when he cleared his throat, in proprietorial fashion (along with several other telltale mannerisms: the extra-vigorous stirring of his tea, purposeful circumnavigations of the shop, or the disappearance of Mrs. S’ prized pink tape measure) Mrs. S. braced herself for a pronouncement.
There had been many ideas over the years. From the do-able (more fridges, electric shutters, pretty lights) to the just plain daft (a secret hydraulic lift to convey vehicles to a car park in the basement, although in defence of Mr. S this was after a particularly traumatic run-in with a traffic warden).
Today saw Mr. Shopkeeper pacing up and down in front of Mrs. S.’ book corner. Terrified that her favourite area of the shop was under threat, and anxious at all costs to avoid a discussion thereof, and without any careful consideration as to her options, she dived under the counter and held her breath. Hoping, praying, that he would get distracted. And that no customers would come in and find her sitting on the floor under the till. To make sure that she would not be found out, and only vaguely aware of how daft she looked, she rammed her sunglasses on for good measure.
As she had hoped, after a few minutes his telephone rang, and he wandered off to talk big business in the office. The book shelf was safe…for now.
March the Second, 2011: In which Mr. Shopkeeper has a bad back. And Mrs. Shopkeeper becomes very assertive…
It is all well and good having a warehouse full of shiny new goodies to sell. But the reality of the task of having to sell it all, and the fact of having unloaded it all, case by case, sets in very quickly, like a thumping business-shaped hangover. Mr. Shopkeeper had already, on yester evening, applied his very best shot at emotional blackmail to solicit a soothing back massage from Mrs. S. (a predictable act, which she saw coming a mile away, but to which she assuaged graciously on the grounds that it was really rather sweet), and today he was inevitably laid up with a bad back. No manner of ‘oh-my-poor-baby’s seemed to have an effect, and Mrs. S was seriously considering the fact that it might actually require genuine medical assessment for once. But then she became rather distracted….
A sales personage presumed to enter the premises without having read the Cold Callers’ Charter taped to the front door. A hush fell across the sales floor, and even Mr. S, from his semi-reclined pose in the back room, sat up to get a better view. Mrs. Shopkeeper is probably not as sweet and mild mannered as many people would think, but she truly is not possessed of a temper. That is not to say that she cannot make grown men weep, as this poor telecom worker was about to discover.
She waited until he was almost level with the till before looking up and removing her glasses with a theatricality and imperiousness which implied that she had been watching far too much Mapp and Lucia. “Yes?” she intoned, in a way that made Mr. S. rather glad that he was married to her rather than trying to purvey something to her.
“And how are you today, my friend?” began the chirpy chappy, already clearly feeling uncomfortable as his ill-fitting attire, earring and bitten nails were all appraised by the woman behind the till.
“As far as I know, we have not even been introduced, let alone assumed something resembling friendship,” replied Mrs. S, with a deceptively encouraging smile. “But pray, tell me, what is it that you are here to try and sell?”
“Oh I’m not here to try and sell you anything. I just want to help you run your business in the most efficient way….” This was almost too much for Mrs. S. It was becoming apparent to the staff and Mr. S that she did not even want to play with this prey. He was to be dispatched as swiftly as she could manage.
“Well, it is either electricity or telecoms, judging by your suit and bling shoes,” she interrupted. “And we’re alright for both at the moment thank you.” The glasses went back on again, to indicate that the ‘interview’ was over.
The young man drew breath. In the back room Mr. S tutted, and grinned in anticpation of the ‘kill’. “I work with XLN, and we are cutting peoples’ phone bills in half all over the country. If you’ll just give me a few minutes of your time…” stammered the salesman, who now seemed to be perspiring gently.
“We are arranging for our telephone to be cut off and investing the savings in stationery,” countered Mrs. S. “Letter writing is a dying art, but such a better way of communicating, don’t you think?”
Shiny-suit slumped a little, smiled a little, and slouched to the door. As it jingled shut, there was an audible murmur around the shop as everyone breathed out.
Mrs. Shopkeeper rushed back to attend to her poor, wounded beloved.
March the First, 2011: a lorry of goodies arrives, and Mr. Shopkeeper becomes very jolly…
Mr. Shopkeeper is not content to do a cash and carry run once a week to stock up on choice Happy Shopper and Best Price comestibles. Not for him the jolly jaunts to Macro (although the bacon sarnies there are second to none), or the quick pop to Bookers. No: he likes to bring things from source. Good things, nice things, pretty things, fresh things. In large quantities.
Today was all about unloading one such lorry. Mrs. S. found some old warehouse clothes for Mr. S. Which he promptly ignored in favour of his new designer jacket and trainers: one has to look like a business person when one is doing such big business after all. And then Mrs. Shopkeeper laid out a nice healthy lorry-unloading breakfast for Mr. S., full of slow-release carbs and nourishing fruity bits. Which he also ignored in favour of a sausage butty. By this time Mrs. S. was feeling less than fluffy, and was thinking small corner-shaped thoughts instead of big business thoughts. But, determined to be good-wifely, she beamed with what she hoped was an encouraging manner as the lorry pulled in, and clapped with glee as the first crates came out, unscathed. Mr. S. says that part of the thrill of importing one’s own shop merchandise comes from not knowing whether the goods will reach you in one piece, untampered with by customs officials and merry jack tars. Mrs. S, unsure if he is joking, usually grins uneasily when he makes this sort of comment.
The lorry was in the end unloaded in record time, some invaluable assistance having been lent by the Shopkeepers’ neighbours. Which rather stymied Mrs. S’ plans to apply a facemask, run a long bath, open a bottle of something, and tarry a while on Facebook. Ho hum. Nevertheless she was delighted to see Mr. S. off-duty early (and very jolly on account of having such a full warehouse), and she rapidly revised her evening schedule to include the appropriately appreciative reception of tales of lifting bravado, stacking glory, and stocktaking supremacy.
February 28th, 2011: some things are fixed, and a new confidence trickster comes to town…
Mrs. Shopkeeper really doesn’t like Mondays. Which is odd, as the shop is open seven days a week, and so all days should really feel about the same. The phone rings too much, and most of this is to do with sales persons, and this forces Mrs. S to reveal a rather unpleasant and unbecomingly sarcastic side to her otherwise genial nature. This in turn usually causes Mr. Shopkeeper to be grateful that he is not a salesperson, and reminds him of the importance of presentation when he wants something from his wife.
Having said this, some good things came out of this Monday. The taciturn and inscrutable shutter-fixer-men arrived in a neon van and proceeded to make a lot of metallic noise, which had Shopcat hiding under the office table in truly pathetic fear. Mrs. S arranged for four cups of regulation workmen’s tea, and watched sternly as four regulation lavatory breaks were duly taken. However, within half an hour the offending shutter was going up and down at the press of a button. Would but that all things were as easy.
Unfortunately the shutter enigneers seemed to possess no knowledge of stereo or till repair, and so Mrs. S. set upon the latter with a hammer. This too now seems to be fixed. The audio system will however have to wait for another day.
The day’s other highlight was provided by a rather incoherent conman who failed to recognise Mrs. S’ very best ‘I saw you coming a mile away, dickhead’ demeanour. He picked up a pack of gum, waving a crumpled tenner in the general direction of the till. The usual trick is to wait until the till is open and the note has gone into the drawer, and then to make a lot of noise, swear blind that he gave you a twenty, grab a load of money from the till in fake disgust and head off. Mrs. S. made a great show of holding the tenner up to the CCTV and her colleagues, before placing it on the counter and then solemnly counting out the change. The inexperienced thief seemed utterly appalled, and actually threw his gum back in frustration as he left. Tosser.
February 27th, 2011: wherein things break…
Sundays are just the nicest shop days. Customers have had a good night out, a good lie in, and a good breakfast by the time they get to visit ye olde cornershoppe. They don’t have work ringing every five seconds, or frantic text messages to send. They feel self-indulgent, and chilled. So Mrs. Shopkeeper was looking forward to her shop day today. The whole rigmarole of winding down the awnings, and positioning the blackboards outside, and arranging produce temptingly on the counter: these may be chores on other days, but on a Sunday they seem like a pleasure. Mrs. S was even whistling merrily to her favourite Black Sabbath ditty when things started. To go. Wrong.
Firstly it was the shutter which didn’t seem to want to budge more than half way. Ho hum: there is always the windy-uppy pole to help one do it manually (fnar fnar). But this was not all that was sent to test Mrs. S. on this blustery morning. The shop’s CD player, perhaps in sympathy with the errant shutter, decided to play no more than ten minute bursts of music before having to lie down for an hour. And then to complete a trilogy of irksome technology fails, the new-ish till started to go on the blink, spouting miles of receipt for every can of coke and box of matches.
Now all of this would have be bad enough, but for the fact that Mrs. S., like many a lady-corner-shopkeeper up and down the country in a similar situation, developed a irrational feeling that it was probably all her fault. Even though it wasn’t. So she spent a wretched hour or two before Mr. Shopkeeper’s arrival on the premises wondering what she had done to trigger these irritations, and devising ever more complicated scenarios to absolve her of her imagined guilt. The till was the object that gave her most anxiety, for she had over-ridden Mr. S on the issue and purchased a cheaper (less complicated, with less scary buttons) model, which she now suspected was perhaps not designed for prolonged shop abuse. What a to-do..
As it turned out, it was Mr. S’ turn to be benificent: on Saturday night he is allowed to stay up extra late killing things in some sort of online beano. This seems greatly to enhance his sense of well-being, to the extent that he was able to survey his semi-functional emporium with just a hint of frustration, and give his missus a reassuring squeeze. Sundays are a good day indeed.
February 26th, 2011: a beatific smile and a basket full of fingers…
Saturday! Mrs. Shopkeeper’s yoga morning! Everyone benefits from this arrangement, as Mrs. S is then able to bestow a beatific, superior smile upon one and all for most of the rest of the day. And beatific-ness is a good thing for a shopkeeper to exude, especially on busy bustley high streets.
Of course, Mr. Shopkeeper never fails to panic when he clocks the wife’s abnormally serene smile, immediately assuming something is wrong. A broken fridge? Trouble with the weights and measures man? A rejection of last week’s parking ticket appeal? Tssk – such cynicism. Mrs. S once tried to put him through some yoga moves, but after Shopcat jumped on his back whilst Mr. S was doing something called a ‘downward dog’ a line was drawn under the subject. Mr. Shopkeeper does not do yoga.
Of course, the beatific smile becomes a little jaded by around 4 o’clock. And by that time Mrs. S’ chakras are starting to stiffen. It may or may not have had something to do with a large group of very small people that came into the shop today, but Mr. Shopkeeper could tell that Mrs. S had stiff chakras when he spotted a new sign in the shop. She was also spotted doing strange bendy exercises behind the till, which patently would have seemed very comical to the passers-by on the No. 37 outside.
Unilateral plans devised by Mrs. S to attend the annual shopkeepers’ rave were thus foresaken in favour of a hot bath and a mug of something soothing. Much to Mr. S’ general relief.
© The Corner Shopkeeper 2011