Monday 30 March 2009

Shop Girl Back to Work

I’m back at the shop.
No more holidays planned for the year.
I’m knuckling down.

My neighbour's in too; he's drilling holes in a light fitting so we can hang crystal drops off it.
“Did you miss me?” I ask.
“I didn’t throw anything,” he says.
The holiday blues hit me and I decide to move to Valencia.
Rosie feels the same.
“I could get a job in a supermarket,” she says.
Perhaps we should wait a year.
Meanwhile I’ll focus on changing the window display with Mum and clearing stock. It’s been a quiet week and it’s time for action.
“I’m going to reduce a pile of picture frames,” I say.
Mum works on another dimension.
“We need to hold the lights we want to sell in our mind,” she says. “You know, make them conscious.”
That’s easier than physically holding them, which is what I’m soon doing.
We’re going to move the large gold chandelier into the spotlight.
It’s a meter wide and hangs on two chains.
We call it ‘the boat’; it’s a real bling bargain.
“It would look good over a snooker table,” people say.
But clearly no one has a snooker table because it’s still in our shop.
Its crystal strings catch on my jumper.
“Hang on,” Mum says, and goes underneath to take some of the weight.
I move down the ladder, knock my shins on the metal rung.
My legs buckle and I fall forward on my knees onto the top step.
“There’s no need to swear,” Mum says, as the chandelier swings precariously to one side.
And then I get the giggles.
I can’t help myself.
The chandelier shakes against me.
I’m aware that if I don’t pull myself together I could drop the whole thing.
Still holding it above her head, Mum peers through the crystal and wonders what’s wrong with me.
Then we hear a tap on the closed door.
It’s Papa, not great timing but at least he’s waiting to be let in.
Yesterday Mum saw me up the ladder while she was outside, even waved at me, then she thrust open the door nearly throwing me off.
“Maaaam!” I’d cried as the ladder had rocked and my life had flashed before me.
Not my life up until that moment but my life as it would be if fell.
Another deep breath and we lift the bling boat into place.
Papa comes in and suggests we put a different light there instead.
We don’t offer him tea.
I move the ladder away and a customer comes in.
He’s looking for a picture frame.
“I need a 10” by 12”,” he says.
“10” by 8” is my largest.”
“Will it fit?”
“Not if the picture is 10” by 12”.”
“It is.”
“Unless you can cut a bit off...”
He leaves the shop looking disappointed but returns ten minutes later.
“Give me your biggest 10” by 8”,” he says.
I’d almost forgotten what this place was like.
But I’m back now; back to being Shop Girl.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Shop Girl at Las Fallas

Time to write?
Not even a text message.
“Go! Go! Go!” our host cried, as my cousin and I chased after him down the streets of Castellón.
In December, Spanish Sergi had bought a table lamp in my shop.
We’d chatted about his hometown for a while and he’d ended up inviting us over.
It was perfect being only an hour away from Valencia where Rosie and I had already planned to see Las Fallas* (pronounced * fal-yas).
Las Fallas is every pyromaniac’s dream.
It’s a festival that laughs in the face of health and safety inspectors all over the world; perhaps English ones most of all.
Kids exchange footballs for firecrackers.
Grown-ups smoke beside unlit fireworks.
Monumental sculptures, decorating both city and villages, are sent up in flames.
Sergi wasn’t going to let Castellón be overshadowed by its bigger neighbour though.
Sleep had no place in our host’s plans, who was so energetic he put the Duracell bunny to shame.
Three hours after we’d crashed into our beds, we were woken with a latin radio station turned up to breaking point.
“Go! Go! Go!”
It was the midday fire cracker show and Baila La Bamba on top volume was nothing to the explosions we were about to hear.
“No! Don’t cover them!” Sergi said, as our hands rushed to our ears. “Open your mouths or you’ll go deaf.”
The bangs shook our insides as we clung on to each other.
I thought about my date, a sound engineer whose ears were his livelihood.
Rosie thought of her grandparents surviving through the blitz.
But there was no time to dwell on these things.
Onwards we went, to a sun drenched square where everyone drank shots of pink Lambrusco and ate monkey nuts.
So many monkey nuts.
Try saying Pamplona with your mouth full of them; in fact try saying Pamplona with your mouth full of anything.
Ah, the things my cousin and I learnt.
We marched to the edge of the city to see artists working on the Gaiatas; beautiful hand crafted monuments, six meters high and packed out with flashing light bulbs.
They welcomed us with cava; we got so merry we ended up signing their overalls.
And just when we were about to crack from exhaustion we left Castellón and headed to Pego, a small village outside Valencia.
Our next host was Josep. He was a fallero artist we’d met walking the Camino de Santiago.
Sculptures, he called them, when people didn’t understand what fallas were.
Compositions, some as high as five storey buildings, full of colourful figurines.
But they’re more than that; they’re stories, busy with characters, meaning and magic.
They set up a marquee beside two of them and doled out beer and monkey nuts.
The girls dressed in traditional dress; elaborate crinoline skirts and princess Leia hair do’s.
The band never slept and our dancing turned into aerobics as the days turned to nights.
At more than one point, Rosie hijacked the drums.
I think it might be her calling.
And then on the third day, the group of falleros set up a barrier around the two fallas outside the marquee.
They wound strips of firecrackers around all those brightly coloured creations and poured petrol over them.
Two fire men turned up.
The fallera queen stepped forward to light the taper.
“Don’t do it!” Rosie said.
“You’re all crazy!” I said.
And suddenly the firecrackers exploded and fireworks shot into the air and the whole thing went up in flames.
Just like that.
A year’s work reduced to ashes.
“The new year starts now,” Josep said, with more than a trace of sadness.
But there was joy too.
It was another opportunity; another chance to do something for the pure love of it.
Monkey Nuts.
But brilliant.

Sunday 15 March 2009

Shop Girl Lets Off Steam

People are starting to notice we exist.
Some even realise we’re closing down.
A few make sympathetic faces at us.
“Oh dear, did the recession get you?”
I know they’ve only popped in because their friend is in the bakers buying a sausage roll.
“Nope, it didn’t get us,” I say. “We’ve been meaning to do this for years.”
Then I get the urge to make something up. Like, say we’re moving to Peru to breed llamas.
Most of the locals don’t believe we’re closing down.
I’m no longer certain of anything.
The thing is, what with being noticed, we’re finally selling some lights.
It’s not enough to warrant opening another check out or putting a ‘queue here’ sign outside the door. Nothing as dramatic as that.
The only shop that needs one of those signs is the pie an’ mash shop.
People are out there at 10 in the morning, excited at the prospect of jellied eels.
I don’t think I’ll ever feel that way about jellied eels.
Having said that, I promised P, my old school mate, I’d try them before we closed.
I can’t back out, especially now that the pie an’ mash bloke has smiled at me and said good morning for the first time ever.
I’ve been waiting all my life for the pie an’ mash man to say good morning to me. Every day I pass by him as he leans against the green shutters, smoking an interminable roll up.
I tried to smile at him months ago but he just narrowed his eyes at me.
Now the hostility has truly gone and I feel at ease with the whole street.
Well, nearly.
It’s the window cleaner.
I can’t help it. Every time I see him I feel irritated.
It’s the way he huffs and puffs outside the shop when I haven’t put the shutter up.
It’s not like I don’t put it up on purpose.
Our shutter isn’t the fancy electric type. It’s probably the oldest shutter on the street. Even the mysterious wig shop next door has an electric shutter.
She can put her shutter up whilst giggling on the phone because all she has to do is press a button. I, on the other hand have to ask a passerby with a bit of muscle to help me with mine.
The window cleaner can’t do it because he can’t lift his arm; which might be a clue to why he does such a rubbish job of cleaning our windows.
When he arrives I go outside to see if I can get some help.
My only shutter-lifting candidates are two skinny blokes who look stoned.
I hesitate then ask the younger of the two.
Between us both we manage to lift it.
Relieved, I head inside.
After a while I see the same young bloke talking to the window cleaner.
I get the impression he’s asking him for money. As much as I dislike the window cleaner, I feel bad that he might be getting hassled while cleaning my windows.
“Was he asking you for money?” I ask, as he walks through the door.
“What?” he snaps.
Maybe he’s misheard me.
“That bloke....I wasn’t going to ask him to help because he looked a bit spaced out.”
“He was only talking to me!” he cries, missing my concern.
My intention to be friendly starts to fail.
“Calm down, I thought he was asking you for money.”
“He wasn’t asking me for any money, he was just talking to me.”
“Right, good, fine. I just thought he looked a bit spaced out that’s all.”
“It’s his job!” he cried. “He’s probably tired! He doesn’t just sit at the counter taking money all day like you.”
At this point, I completely lose the plot.
“You have no idea what we do in here!” I yell.
And then I tell him to go.
“You don’t need to be like that love,” he smirks. “Start again, shall we?”
I’m seething.
“We can start again next week!” I say, through gritted teeth.
I shut the door behind him.
Then I lock it and go upstairs.
CLOSED, until the kettle has boiled.

Saturday 7 March 2009

Shop Girl with a bit of Mustard

I have a go at putting my blog on My Space.
I’m trying to be pro-active. You know, go global.
My profile looks like a take-away menu designed with an etch-a-sketch.
“Shop Girl,” my brother scoffs. “You’re more like Cave Girl.”
My computer skills are the worst he’s seen.
“Go back to playing with rocks then build up to pen and paper,” he says.
I swear at my laptop, sob a little then go back to bed and fall asleep sniffing my pillow.
The next day I’m tired and grumpy.
A customer brings me in a ginger bread man first thing in the morning.
I don’t think all this sugar is doing me any good but I start nibbling at its head anyway.
I’m down to its smartie belly button when Connie walks in wearing her big red cloak.
She’s combed and lacquered her hair into a silver quiff; her nails are bright pink.
“Wow!” I say, “Where’ve you been all this time?”
I haven't seen her for months. She’s been coming in every other week since the shop opened
When I was little I found her monologues so boring I’d run upstairs and sit in the stock room until I heard her leave.
I’ve warmed to her over the years.
In fact, I’m surprised at how relieved I am to see her. I was beginning to wonder if she’d popped off.
“Ginger bread man?” I say, offering her its remaining leg. “Customers keep bringing me cakes.”
“Because you got nothing on you,” she says, cocking her nose up at the gingery amputation, “you’re like one of them anorexits.”
I’m expecting her to go on auto pilot after that and tell me about her blood tests, the time they shoved a camera through her groin, every steak and kidney pie she’s ever defrosted and the curtain tiebacks her friend once bought her in Bristol.
“I’ve had a cold since the 20th December,” she says.
“That’s a long time.”
Then she lifts up her top and shows me how the coughing has affected her hiatus hernia.
“They think I’ve split open my stomach,” she says.
I don’t really understand how she’s still standing with a split open stomach.
“Doesn’t it hurt?” I ask.
“Of course it hurts. I got a taxi to the doctors, didn’t I?”
I get distracted by the white-haired hippie who’s gleefully running her fingers through all the crystal.
I want to slap her hand.
“Yes, it is crystal!” I call out.
That only seems to egg her on.
“Oh it’s lovely,” she gushes, and sends a chandelier into a spin.
I rush over to stop it, inwardly groaning.
“Can you not do that?”
“Oh sorry!”
Next she delves into the boxes of odd crystal we’re sorting out by the counter. She holds one up by the wall then drops it.
“Oh sorry!” she says again.
Connie rolls her eyes; she doesn’t like nonsense.
Actually, I reckon Connie scares a few people.
Not me though.
I can see something now that I couldn’t see when I was little. I can see someone needing company.
When the hyper-active woman has gone, Connie tells me about her blood tests and about the time they shoved a camera through her groin.
She tells me about the steak and kidney pie she had with boiled potatoes, carrots and a bit of mustard.
She tells me about the curtain tiebacks her friend bought her once in Bristol.
“I’ll bring them in next time,” she says.
I start to tell her I’ve already seen them but then change my mind.
One more time won’t hurt.