Thursday 30 July 2009

Shop Girl vs Speedy the Squirrel

August is rubbish for lighting shops. It’s too bright.
Instead of hanging around in the quiet to answer the occasional inquiry of ‘Do you sell hoover bags?’ I’ve decided to escape to the sunshine.
I can’t wait for my holiday.
I need a break to restore my love for humanity.
I’m going with the date, which is exciting because he’s finally going to meet my brother, who he’s convinced I’ve invented.
My brother isn’t fictitious and I’m hoping they’ll get on.
While I’ve been waiting to get away from my little shop I’ve turned increasingly to the garden.
I’m not a very good gardener but I remember learning it was good to deadhead flowers, to take the dried ones off so you get even more.
Last week I deadheaded the flowers on the chilli plant.
“Where do you think the chillis come from then?” Mum cried, when I told her. “Didn’t you do biology?”
Luckily I left a few flowers on and can now see a green chilli peeking through.
“I thought cayenne chillis were supposed to be red,” I told Petra. “I called it Rogelio, R for red.”
“They go red later.”
Ah, yes, I thought. Like tomatoes.
I haven’t named all my plants. I stopped when I saw all the carrot shoots.
Maybe I could call them all by one name.
I’m just amazed seeds grow into things. Learning through doing is definitely the way forward.
I’ve been warned about slugs and bugs but so far I haven’t noticed either.
The only problem is a squirrel.
It’s a squirrel that has always hung around our garden, a clumsy moron who can’t get across the fence without falling off.
Let’s call him Speedy, for now.
Speedy nicked both my little squashes and left them half nibbled at the other end of the garden.
Later, I found he’d also dug up my unborn French green beans.
I'd toyed with the idea before but these events confirmed it: Squirrels are just good-looking rats.
We are now officially at war.
Last week I threw a piece of wood at Speedy.
Speedy skipped a few inches away then turned back and sniffed the piece of wood.
Next I threw a rock at Speedy.
Speedy skipped away then turned back and sniffed the rock.
“I’m not feeding you, you idiot!”
He inched towards me, salivating.
I retreated into the house, defeated for the time being.
Yesterday brought some good news though.
A friend told me she’d had the same problem and had used a trap to great effect. She’d caught five squirrels, one by one, and had driven them off to a far away park, never to return.
“All you’ve got to do is put a bit of chocolate in it.”
This friend is going to lend me her trap and when I catch Speedy, I’m going to take him North of the River.
“That’s exactly the upgrade he wants,” the date said, never missing a chance to compare his lah-di-dah neighbourhood with my ‘grittier’ one.
Well if he prefers posh squirrels then good for him.
So there we are. Speedy is going to North London.
If he ever reappears...
Maybe he got wind of my plan...
I haven’t seen him for two days.
I'm almost starting to miss him.
Perhaps he beat me to it and caught the tube.

Thursday 23 July 2009

Shop Girl: Blast from the Past

She’s on a mission and she’s annoyed.
Her heels bang across the wood floor as she strides up to the counter.
Fading blonde hair and big red hoops.
She lays the plastic bag in front of me and starts to pull something out.
“I bought this ‘ere ten years ago,” she barks, “and yesterday it fell off the wall.”
I must’ve misheard her.
“I was upstairs and I thought a bomb ‘ad gone off.”
Did she actually say ten years?
I look at the blast from the past; an alabaster wall bracket from my childhood.
“It must’ve just been stuck on with glue,” she says, “and I paid good money for these, about sixty quid and that was the reduced price.”
“Wow,” I murmur, “you’d pay a lot of money for these now.”
“I know,” she says, missing the point.
I handle the broken pieces with care, test whether they will slot smoothly together.
“If it’d gone through my telly I would be asking money for it.”
I was 15 years old when she bought these wall brackets. I was in school in Spain. I blink away an image of the old playground and look at her.
There’s no way I’m apologising.
“Good job you're still ‘ere,” she continues.
What a pity we are, I think.
“I need you to get another one,” she says. “I’ve got two and I need them to match.”
“I’m not sure that’s going to be possible.”
These wall brackets belong to an era of craftsmanship that disappeared a long time ago.
We have reminders of that time still hanging from the ceiling: fittings with heavy glass shades, twisted cast brass arms, leafy details, verdi gris finishes and one last alabaster bowl.
“Or maybe you can fix it so you can’t see the cracks.”
Some of the aggression has left her voice, possibly because I’m being so calm.
I’ve no idea how I’m being so calm.
I take her number. I say I’ll ring her when I find out what can be done.
I just want her to get out of my shop.
“Let me take your number too,” she says. And I know she’s the type to ring every morning and nag.
When she goes it builds up, what I should’ve said and what I should’ve done.
How long have you had your car? I could’ve said. What about your telly? And your kitchen? Sofa? Curtains? Hand bag? Hair cut? Will you try to take them back when they conk out?I picture things getting out of control, the arrival of the large husband, gut squeezed into a football shirt, then the son, daughter and son-in-law all taking turns to brandish the baseball bat and demand compensation.
“You should’ve asked her for the receipt,” the date says when I tell him. He wouldn’t take this rubbish so why should I?
She rings me the next morning.
“I was thinking if you fix it, it might come unstuck again,” she says.
“Yes, it might.”
Perhaps in another ten years.
“Well that’s no good.”
“To be fair,” I say, “they’ve done pretty well for ten years.”
“That’s not the point. They should last as long as I need them, be it 20 years or the rest of my life.”
Is it a mark of detachment that I’m not yelling reason down the phone at her?
I don’t think so.
Maybe I’m saving it up for when she next comes in;
the calm before the storm.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Shop Girl Anti Climax

The glass shade was perfect, not a chip on it.
“It was on display,” she said, levelling her eyes at me. “I want a discount.”
It wasn’t even dusty, which was strange.
“You buy everything off display in clothes shops.”
She ignored that.
“Give me a better price.”
“It’s already on sale. I’m not arguing.”
“You think this is arguing?”
I expected her to roll up her sleeves and start punching me.
Perhaps I’d have felt something if she had.
Because I just didn’t care.
I hadn’t cared for days.
The week after the film crew had left, I’d felt empty.
I felt like I’d been left behind.
I thought about new missions, new goals.
I spent an evening weeding our garden aka ‘jungle’.
“I’ll plant vegetables,” I told everyone.
For a few days I focused on finishing my book.
‘We’ll let you know if you need to make any changes,’ the editor replied once I’d sent it.
And the next day I was back behind the counter stringing crystal beads.
Nothing had changed.
I was still a broke shop girl working in her Mum’s shop.
I wanted to curl up and hibernate.
“How are you?” a customer asked.
I could see it happening. I was going to become one of those moody sales assistants, the ones who make your day a little bit worse.
I locked the door of the shop and went upstairs.
I sat on a chair in the office and waited.
Papa told me it was what he used to do when he was younger. He would sit in his armchair until he’d forgotten why he’d felt so wound up in the first place.
I soon realised I’d have to sit there all week if it was going to work for me.
Of course I couldn’t do that because I had a shop to run.
I went downstairs and an elderly lady came in.
“Oh what a shame you’re closing down,” she said, shaking her head. “You’ve been here ages.”
Yes, we had been there ages.
And I was cracking.
It was only a matter of time before I was offered a glass of wine on an empty stomach, which would unleash the wrath of the mighty drama queen that lay dozing within.
A then a man came in with a box.
POT PLANTS, it said.
“It’s not. It’s got to be a lamp,” I told him.
“Maybe it’s a present,” he mumbled, before walking out.
“It’s definitely a lamp,” I said to myself.
I slit the tape and opened up the flaps to find all these leaves stretching up towards me.
Pot plants, for me. Inside was a card signed by my family.
‘To our favourite shop girl...’ it said.
I felt the spark, the familiar glimmer of possibility.
A woman came in to browse.
“Look at my plants!”
She wandered over.
“Oh, very nice,” she said, peering into the box. “Are you selling them?”
“No, I’m going to plant them!”
It’s amazing how one minute the world is ending but the next it’s only just beginning.
Sometimes, you’ve just got to wait a bit.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Shop Girl Blowing in the Wind

It’s summer in the shop.
The sun above me is a 300 watt halogen up-lighter.
“Don’t you get hot in ‘ere with all these lights?” a customer asks.
It wouldn’t be so bad if they gave me a tan. But they don’t, they’re just hot.
I decide to give up jeans.
From now on I’m only going to wear pretty, light-weight skirts.
I skip over to the Dress Shop and buy two short, flowery ones.
On my first day of wearing one a delivery man comes with a 1.2m² box which doesn’t fit through the shop door.
“Don’t you have a back entrance?” he asks.
So he leaves me and the box outside the shop and drives away.
It’s a windy day and my skirt swells like a plastic bag then flies up.
I hold it down at the front but then to my horror, the back shoot ups.
There’s a wolf whistle from a passing van and I hurry inside.
I ring Mum to tell her about the box.
“Keep an eye on it,” she says.
But I want to do more than that so I go back outside with a Stanley knife.
The wind plays at the hem of my skirt and I feel nervous.
I stand between my shop window and the box and lean over it to cut through the sellotape. As I lift open one of the flaps, a gust of wind whips the polystyrene pellets out of the box and sends a flurry of them down the street.
“Aaah!” I cry, and press down on the box before another artificial snow storm can escape.
While I’m trying to stick down the sellotape a whoosh of air swoops under my skirt and reveals my knickers to a second passing van.
Red-cheeked, I go back inside and ring Mum again.
“15 minutes,” she says.
When she arrives, we cut a hole in the side of the box. We tilt the box so the pellets fall through the hole into a bag.
It’s slow work but finally we empty it enough to get the huge light out and leave the remains of the freak snowstorm to blow away down the street.
We cut the box down so it’s small enough to fit through the door. After that I get inside the box and shovel the rest of the polystyrene pellets into bags.
Skirts aren’t ideal for the shop but they’re still a lot cooler than trousers so I persevere.
I wear one on my day off. It’s a date and we’re going somewhere posh to celebrate a year together.
The wind starts as I’m walking towards the tube station.
It’s sudden and so strong. My skirt begins to flap and I grab onto one side and hurry on through the gates.
On that single journey I notice the tube cultivates its own wind.
It’s at the top of escalators and outside the lifts.
It teases you when you change platforms and chases you down the emergency stairs.
The worst thing is, in my local station, the wind is most powerful by the ticket machines.
When I come back from my indulgent date I go straight over to top up my oyster card. It’s forward thinking because I know I’ll have to catch a bus later.
The wind tears around me like a tornado. My skirt beats about my ears.
I try to hold it between my legs but it flies up at the back. I try to hold it over my bottom but then it blows up at the front.
I battle to keep it down as I push a two pound coin into the slot. But it’s hopeless.
I feel like the whole world is watching me squeaking in panic and failing to cover myself up.
I give up trying to feed more money into the machine and hurry to finish the transaction. I need to press my pass against the machine to register the £2. I let go of my skirt to flick my pass at the sensor, then without checking the screen I rush out of the station towards calmer streets.
When I get on the bus, my pass makes a negative bleep.
“You have no money on it,” the driver says.
I’m dismayed. Wearing a skirt has lost me two whole pounds.
“Blow that, I would’ve let everyone see my knickers,” Mum says, when I tell her.
It dawns on me how right she is.
“Next time I will.”