Friday, 29 January 2010

Candidate: One Shop Girl

When I have children I’ll tell them to be plumbers.

I’ll hide their notebooks and give them plastic tools to play with.

I’ll tell them to get their hands dirty, do something practical.

‘But Mummy, I want to write stories like you!’

‘Don’t be silly, look how poor Mummy is!’

And I’ll thrust a spanner into my son's hand.

‘You can be anything you want my darling. Be a mechanic! Be a pilot! Be a lawyer if you must.’

But there’ll be no writing and certainly no poetry.

Oh don’t worry about me.

I’m not going to stop scribbling. I’m just a little disheartened by the work to money relationship there is in the creative world.

Writing at home this week has been a luxury, interrupted by moments of panic which led me to Google temping agencies.

I registered with one and up popped the dreaded SKILLS form.

I simply had to tick the box beside each skill I had.

I ran down the list and felt a growing sense of unease.

For instance: Audio Typing.

Yes I’ve done it once before.

It’s just typing what someone says, right?

But how skillful am I supposed to be at it?

For instance, what if the person speaking has a strong Jamaican accent?

Or a thick Irish accent for that matter.

We have lovely clients in Ireland but after they’ve said, ‘top of the morning to you’ the rest is guess work.

In a pub on Wednesday I stared at this man for five minutes, trying to work out what language he was speaking.

He was talking non-stop and it was strange because his friends seemed to understand him perfectly but were replying to him in English.

And then I caught him say ‘wee’ a few times and it hit me. He was Scottish!

Well, if I’d been asked to type what he was saying I would’ve ended up with nothing more than a blank page covered with wee...wee...wee....

So no, I decided not to tick beside audio-typing.

Next Skill...Touch typing

Well, here we go again.

It depends, how skillful? How fast do you need me to be?

I don’t look at my keyboard when I write but that’s because my trusty laptop knows me and I know her.

On other people’s computer however, like Macs, my fingers become clumsy and it takes three goes to spell my own name.

To cut the story short, my skills form didn’t fill up too well.

Come on, I thought. I have other skills. I could probably describe a tomato pretty well.


No, son, put the pen down. Writing will turn you into an emotionally unstable nutcase.

‘Like you Mummy?’


‘So why are you doing it?’

It’s like a crazy love affair. All passion and not much sense.

I couldn’t stop if I tried.

If only I’d wanted to be a plumber!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

GUEST BLOGGER: Alfie 'the King of DIY'

My name in the book is "Alfie",
I did ask for a more dynamic name like Chuck or Rocky but the powers at be said Alfie was more in keeping with my character and seeing it was also the name of my favourite uncle,I didn't mind a bit.
Working in the shop is challenging because I never know what I'm going to repair or create next.
It could be making a table lamp out of an old diving helmet or rewiring a turn of the last century French chandelier.
It could even be drilling out a deer antler, which smelt like ageing sweaty toenails.
And if you want to know how I know what old sweaty toenails smell like, put it down to a miss-spent youth.
Oh well, the customer is always right (but generally confused) I find.
All I know is if something stands still for more than 30 seconds in the shop it will have 3 meters of cable shoved up it and 2 light bulbs attached with a 3amp plug.
Passersby on Tower Bridge Road don’t always realise what a big part small local shops play in the community, not only for supplying goods but also as a place where people can stop off for a bit of a chat about local issues and generally get things off their chests (and you can’t do that in Tesco’s or B&Q).
It's a case of "use us or lose us" and I'm afraid a lot of the little places are going. Anyway I'm getting off my Soap box now.
By the way I could make a lamp out of that if I put my thinking cap on.
I do love a challenge.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Shop Girl 'the Writer'

I’ve taken the week off to work on a novel idea.
It’s a story with two voices.
I can’t tell you much more because I don’t know a lot more.
I set my alarm for 15 minutes and write from the point of view of my first character.
I set my alarm again and write from the point of view of my second character.
I do this over and over for two hours until lack of knowledge makes my fingers slow down and I start to wonder many things, like how easy would it be for a Cuban to move to Spain?
And, what might my Cuban Mum cook for dinner?
When I was backpacking in Cuba I remember one of their specials was a plate of shredded pork, appetisingly named, ‘Old Clothes’ .
Velvet and I chewed our way through it and promised ourselves that before we left the island we’d splash out on a lobster.
Instead, after days of awful food in La Habana, we came across an Italian restaurant and, I’m ashamed to say, splashed out a lot of money on a plate of spaghetti and a bottle of wine (or two).
It might have been cheaper if we hadn’t been so merry and mistakenly left a massive tip; easily the biggest tip of my life.
Would my Cuban Mum have eaten ‘Old Clothes’ at home?
These and many more questions prompt me on a trip through Google.
Operation: Find out all about Cuba.
I’m not sure. I’m hoping it’ll make sense in the end.
I open a blog profile of a Cuban living in Barcelona.
Her English isn’t too good. She’s written,
Interests: Friends chips.
She’d registered to the site in 2006 so by now she might even be in a relation chip.
I try to send her a message but it asks me to ‘Sign In’ so I look elsewhere.
Writing for long periods of time disorientates me and as I create fictional lives I start to feel disconnected from my own.
This means it’s time to start looking for a job.
I’m still Shopgirling on a Saturday, which keeps me interacting with fellow humans and supposedly sane, although I have my doubts about the latter.
Last Saturday, I was in the window changing the display when I heard a cry of ‘”It’s open!”
A little girl came in all by herself.
She walked around the shop inspecting our lights and of course I felt like I had to say something.
“So, when you’re older and have your own house, are you going to have a big chandelier?”
What a consumerist thought to feed an eight year old; I half-wished I could take it back.
My miniature customer wasn’t amused.
She looked at me with disdain and walked haughtily out of the door.
Like I said, a dose of quality interaction to keep me sane.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

GUEST BLOGGER: My brother, the Original Shop Boy

When I was a kid people would tell me about how cool their cat was, what tricks their dog could do and how well spoken their parrot was. I had snails and lizards and stick insects. The only trick my lizards could do was lose their tail when stressed, a habit I’m glad I never picked up, my snails ate lettuce and my stick insects were brown and sticky.

I hatched the stick insect eggs next to the hot water tank in the house, but never remembered having left them there, and therefore an army of minute stick insects would guard the warm towels, night and day, before dying of boredom or starvation, whichever came first.

Now lizards don’t come for free in London, as many of you might know. London and Mexico differ in many ways, the most distinctive difference between the two countries being a lack of wild lizards in London, and the fact that Argos UK doesn’t accept Pesos.

All residents of London city have to work for their lizards, and I was no exception. I was the original shop boy. While my sister worked for point horror books and Unibrow Monthly Magazine subscriptions, I enthusiastically put lamps together, knowing that after a month of screwing light arms (not as much fun as it sounds, it’s the bit that sticks out from the middle of the light and holds a bulb), my father would drive me to Hackney to choose a lizard.

What attracted me to Lizards? Everyone knows dogs can’t stand halogen bulbs, but lizards love them. I linked my animal passions to my job, clearly showing my genius at a young age. If I had been running a bone shop, I’m sure I would have bought a dog. However I know dogs are expensive and I would have had to screw hundreds of bones together, I don’t know if I would have had the patience. Food for thought, I’m sure you’ll all agree.

Did my work justify a lizard you ask? Let me give you an insight. To wire a light fitting from scratch , you must first grapple with “The Chain”, the most important tool in the shop. To get cables through the fitting’s arm, you need to tie the cables onto a chain you then dangle it through the arm hole (read that carefully, if you are reading this out loud), until you are able to pull the chain through(followed by the cables) to the other end of the arm. A major part of this operation involved cables jammed somewhere in the light, “The Chain” broken in pieces inside the arm, and tears of frustration rolling down your cheek. No one could deny that this was undoubtedly worthy of a small to medium sized lizard.

At the time, I believed “The Chain” to be a professional tool designed for light construction workers worldwide, and, like me, they were all in their shops swinging light arms over their heads in frustration by their chain in attempts to dislodge it and buy a lizard.

Now, 15 years later, I realize it was the chain used to pull a plug out of our bath. I realize emptying a bath was difficult as a child because the chain was being used to pull cables through an arm in our little light shop. Still, if it meant I could have a lizard, I would wrestle with a plug any day of the week.

NB Find out more about Oriol 'Oli' Benet, a DJ and freestyle rollerblader here and here

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Shop Girl Out of London

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It’s likely the cheap accommodation I mentioned is cheap for a reason.
My future flatmate did some research last week.
Turns out there might not be any heating and it could be in a building about to be demolished.
“Hey you could rename your blog ‘Squat Girl’,” my brother said, when I told him.
I worried for a while then I flew to Barcelona to help my parents clear out the family house.
Discomfort is an inevitable part of this process.
Discomfort increases when a stray cat comes in and pees against the coffee table leaving a yellow puddle on the floor.
It made my nose itch and I decided on the spot that I was allergic to cats, which isn’t a problem because I’ve never wanted one.
The only pet I’ll have is a guinea-pig and that’s when I have kids. They won’t have a choice.
But seriously, how bad can these flats really be? I wondered, as I drowned my temper and the cat pee in bleach.
The clear-out unearths old photos, letters and over fifteen years of diaries.
I’m concerned as I read them. I seem to have spent most of my young life feeling love-sick.
The writing is so familiarly dramatic that I start to worry I haven’t developed at all since I was ten.
Luckily I’ve developed externally.
My mum says she wore false eyelashes when she was a teenager so you’d think she’d have been conscientious enough to notice her own daughter’s monobrow.
No such luck.
She was lenient compared to my friends’ mums, which should’ve been a good thing.
Instead it lead me to dye my hair bright orange.
Bright orange hair combined with a dark brown monobrow is unsurprisingly hideous.
It’s a miracle I ever had a boyfriend.
Anyway, the holiday hasn’t been all cat's pee and clearing.
We celebrated the coming of the Three Kings at my Godmother/Auntie's with a paella for forty people.
There never is forty people so everyone goes away with a Tupperware full.
Pity the Date couldn’t make it; as a hardcore carnivore he would’ve really appreciated it.
Next time, eh?
There’s something about Barcelona.
After a few days I always start to wonder why I’m not living here.