Tuesday 30 December 2008

Shop Girl New Year's Preparations

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to be less messy and more organised.
I buy myself a half price calendar and a diary on my way to work.
That should do the trick, I think.
The shop also needs a New Year face lift. I set to work changing the ceiling display; this involves a lot of stretching, weight-lifting and going up and down the ladder.
I like being up the ladder. It gives me a feeling of being above it all.
That said, on the top rung, when you’re holding a heavy light in each hand, your hair caught on a string of crystal and you realise you’re about to sneeze, that perspective goes out the window.
“Do you need a hand?” Patrick, the retired street sweeper, calls up to me.
“No I’m fine!” I say.
I sneeze and nearly topple off the ladder.
“She’s an independent woman,” he says, to no one in particular.
I think he means stubborn.
Patrick has been popping in and out of the shop for years. He used to say a quick hello and give us a doughnut but since he lost his wife a couple of months ago, he’s taken to stopping by for longer. Mum helps him out with some of the forms he has to send off. He never wants tea, just a cup of water, the ‘good stuff’, he calls it.
He sits by the counter and comments on the world while I continue shifting light fittings around. It’s quite a work-out, which is why I’m not too bothered about adding ‘get fit’ to my list of resolutions.
To be honest, I haven’t really got a list of resolutions yet.
I’m an all or nothing sort of person and if I put pen to paper I’ll get depressed by the insurmountable challenges I’ll inevitably set myself.
I thought about New Year changes this morning as I grieved for the items I’d carelessly lost in a club on Saturday after I’d had one too many.
I sobbed into my coffee and thought, ‘Idiot.’
And I decided to give up drinking forever.
Then I thought six months was a more achievable target.
But then I thought it might get a bit dull for my friends and my date, so maybe I would give it up for just three months.
Or perhaps I would only drink on weekends.
But of course that would contradict the point of not drinking, which was to have mental clarity so I could write more on weekends.
I balance on one foot and do the ‘lunging tortoise’ yoga move, or whatever is it, to hang the lights onto the ceiling hooks. I pull my hair free and get down from the ladder.
Anthony, the local evangelical healer man is at the door and I let him in.
“Merry Christmas Princess Emma,” he says, beaming. “The Holy Spirit told me to come here and get white vinyl paint.”
“Vinyl paint? He should’ve sent you to the Builder’s Merchant,” I tell him.
He walks up to the counter to where my Mum is tidying up.
“Yes, but they are closed,” he says.
“I think the Holy Spirit should’ve got you up and out a bit earlier,” Mum says, looking at her watch.
But Mum being Mum, she goes upstairs and has a look anyway. And lo and behold, she finds a full pot of white vinyl paint, although she thinks it’s gone off and says it smells funny.
Anthony is delighted.
“Have a blessed and happy New Year!” he cries, as he leaves.
“You too,” I say, meaning it.
I go back up my ladder and my perspective changes once more; I give up all thoughts of punishing resolutions and carry on sorting out the ceiling.

Sunday 21 December 2008

Shop Girl at Christmas

I’m not going out tonight because I’m conserving energy.
It’s Christmas and you never know what’s going to happen.
This morning I walked into the shop and it was littered with reindeers.
They were all over the place; collapsed, decapitated and with their cables trailing between their legs.
They’d been delivered the night before.
It was a massacre.
We managed to force their heads in place and plug them in.
They were lovely lit up.
Mum sorted out their mechanisms so their heads moved up and down or side to side.
One of them fell over every time it looked left.
Another one seemed a bit arthritic and creaked every time it looked up from its grazing position.
They attracted a lot of love.
“This is what we need,” one woman said, after telling us that her bearded dragon had laid twenty three eggs, “Pets that plug in.”
By lunch time we’d sold them all.
On a normal Saturday I would’ve felt quite tired. But I hadn’t gone out dancing the night before as I’d planned to, even though my cousin and I had just got new dance shoes.
Our grandparents, avid dancers themselves, had given us extra money for Christmas on the understanding we bought proper shoes.
We’d gone to that specialist dance shop on the corner of St Martin’s Lane.
“Go in with attitude,” the local Salsa addict had warned us.
But the shop assistant wasn’t a snob and didn’t test us on our dancing abilities.
Neither did she mind us trying out all the shoes in the shop; although she might’ve stopped us if we’d asked for the ballet tutus.
We’d thought to buy an understated pair; perhaps some discreet black ones.
We walked out with sparkly, gold sandals.
Mine even has a diamante buckle on the front.
Our intention to go dancing was pretty strong.
But Christmas is unpredictable.
At 10pm we find ourselves in my local church.
My fingers are covered in gold paint because I’m rubbing stars onto a deep, blue sky that my brother helped put up with drawing pins.
They've used pins because all the faith in the world wouldn’t have kept the heavens up with double-sided tape on those damp walls.
We cut out huge silhouettes of famous London Monuments.
My brother’s girlfriend cuts out Tower Bridge and my neighbour does Big Ben.
It’s not what the parishioners are going to expect.
Some won’t know what to think when they see baby Jesus so near Canary Wharf.
But expectations are not supposed to be fulfilled so easily.
And Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if there were no surprises.

Monday 15 December 2008

Shop Girl Bling-a-Ling

My parents are doing the Christmas decorations.
I’m not talking about hanging baubles on the tree or stringing fairy lights across the curtains.
This isn’t about tinsel and little angels.
This is serious stuff.
Papa has been painting the living room all day.
Mum is about to drill holes in the wall to put up new wall lights.
We are finally putting a crystal chandelier in our house.
Bling Bling - go those sleigh bells.
“I bet you’ve got lovely lights in your house,” people say.
When you’re in the business, the lights in your own home are the last thing you worry about.
In the past we’ve taken lights off our walls to satisfy customers searching for a perfect match.
This is a new experience.
I’m very excited about getting our own bit of razzle-dazzle.
I’d be even more excited if mum turned off the electrics before she started drilling. But she won’t because then Papa won’t be able to see where he’s painting.
She knocks on the wall.
“Is it wood? Does that sound like wood?”
“Cardboard,” my dad said.
“I love you mum,” I say.
She starts drilling and my legs go funny.
I head into the kitchen and make tea for everyone.
I don’t need to ask if they want tea or coffee because I’ve already made coffee twice today.
Since my date gave me my coffee machine I’ve never been so enthusiastic about making anyone a drink in my life.
Neither have I bought so much milk in my life or made so much mess.
This morning I used three glasses, two mugs and a pile of spoons.
“Delicious,” Mum said.
“The bubbles are cold,” Papa said.
I whisked his cup away and made another one, using up a few more glasses, mugs and spoons.
“Interesting,” he said. “It’s cold on top and hot below.”
“That’s what latte’s are like,” Mum said, draining her mug.
Two cups of tea later, the chandelier frames are in place.
Mum and I nip to the shop to get the crystals. It feels strange to be in there on a Sunday doing something for ourselves.
We take the long route home scouting for Christmas trees but we don’t see any.
I used to feel like I was the only one who cared about putting up the Christmas trimmings.
It always felt a bit touch and go and each year I worried it would never happen.
“When I was little we didn’t put the decorations up until Christmas Eve,” Mum insists every year.
Rainbows spread across the wall as I hang the crystals on our new light.
My dad keeps on painting, occasionally checking the football scores.
I know we’ll get a tree and baubles and some little angels sooner or later.
Tomorrow we’ll put a crib in the shop window, complete with mini fire, chickens and a squirrel.
I don’t know why I always get so anxious; it always comes together in the end.
That’s the magic of Christmas.

Monday 8 December 2008

Shop Girl Blogged Off

I won’t be a famous novelist because I’ll be delivering a light fitting.
We won’t charge for the delivery since we just want the customer to love us and not go to John Lewis. The customer won’t offer to pay for the delivery because they assume that’s what little shop people do on a Saturday night.
Mum and I will drive around in the dark listening to Magic FM, singing along to the good ones and imitating the husky presenter’s voice.
Please call in with your magic moment... she whispers.
But we’re not having a magic moment so we won’t call in.
My idea of a magic moment is sitting in the sun with a cold beer and a bag of crisps.
When that happens, I’ll call in.
Meanwhile I’ll grieve for the ‘night in’ that never happened.
Because I look forward to ‘nights in’ like kids look forward to Christmas.
Staying at home is my only hope to make it as a writer. Staying at home and chaining myself to the computer.
When the chance passes me by I’m overwhelmed with frustration.
I want to throw pens around and spill ink.
On Saturday night, I spill a cup of tea over a Christmas card I’ve spent ages making and go to bed.
But there’s still Sunday.
Mum bursts into my bedroom early morning.
“What have you done with my glove?”
“No,” I say, pulling my duvet over my nose.
“I’ve got lemon, fennel, normal...”
“No, I’ve got my coffee machine.”
“But don’t you want a hot drink first?”
I suppose an early start is always good.
After all, there are so many things I want to achieve today, apart from a novel, screen-play, short story and this blog.
For starters, I’m going to clean out my underwear drawer and reclaim the five minutes a-day wasted releasing my knickers from knotted tights.
Mum wheels her suitcase to the door and kisses me goodbye. She’s off to see my dad and I’ll have the whole day to potter about by myself.
After the door has slammed I wait for a knock.
She never leaves without coming back at least once to get something she’s forgotten.
When I think she’s not coming back, I run upstairs to the loo.
There’s a knock.
I groan and hurry back downstairs.
Mum is on the door step.
“I don’t know where my passport is!” she says.
I won’t be a famous novelist because I’ll be looking for a passport.
And when I stop looking for the passport, I’ll see my Mum still looking for the passport and I’ll start looking for it again.
Then when I finally find the passport, ten hours later, I’ll sit down at my laptop and grieve for my lost day.
And throwing pens about and spilling ink won’t help one bit.

(Poster compliments of The Independent - can be purchased from The Imperial War Museum)

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Shop Girl's Birthday Butterflies

An old boyfriend once said to me,
‘We are born with two fears: fear of falling and fear of loud noises. The rest,’ he said, ‘are all learnt.’
There are a lot of things I haven’t learnt to fear, like spiders, blisters, flying and odd socks.
There are even more things that I have learnt to fear; gum disease, wet dogs, every horror film ever made, rats, fluffy hair, getting too drunk, failing to write and my birthday.
The last one is a bit silly but I’m an anxious sort of person. I jump each time my mobile rings even when I’m calling myself to find out where it is.
And every year as my birthday creeps nearer, my tummy fills with steel butterflies.
I think I have to prove something. I think I should’ve published a book by now.
I worry I’ll talk too much, drink too much, cry, fall over, start a fight and end up throwing my jewellery down the drain in protest against something or other.
Worse perhaps, I think everyone will forget.
On Saturday afternoon, the day before my birthday I get a surprise visit to my shop from my friend, the local salsa addict. He went to see Treasure Island last week. He brings me a birthday card, a salsa CD and the ingredients to make ‘grog’.
It’s such a treat.
Rum, cinnamon, lemonade and a dash of lime – the shop counter turns into a bar with old Cuban music playing in the background. There’s always time for a dance and even though Mum and I have a lot of work before we can leave, I feel happy.

A steel butterfly goes up in smoke.
After work I go to my Auntie’s party, who is re-celebrating her birthday, along with four other friends who’ve all had important birthdays that year.
I bring the date along.
My cousin is so much fun on the dance floor. He watches her and sees what I see.
“She’s brilliant,” he says.
We dance together and I don’t tread on his feet.
It’s nearly my birthday.
He gives me a coffee machine.
He’s wrapped it up.
I love unwrapping presents almost as much as I like getting them.
Bye bye another butterfly.
My old school mate and ex-fellow shop girl, is unfailingly reliable and arrives early to save a couch in the pub where we’re having a Sunday Lunch.
It’s a magic couch.
I feel so grateful to share it with everyone.
There are a lot of things I’ve learnt to fear.
But one of them won’t be my birthday anymore.
Cheers to you all.