Friday 25 September 2009

Shop Girls Reunited

My old school friend, Petra, comes to work with me for two days.
I feel sick on the first morning and lie sprawled out across the grubby floor of the stockroom, until a customer has a problem and I have to come back down again.
I perk up after that and it’s like the good old days.
Because working with Petra is so much better than working alone.
When I work alone, I sense the approaching clutches of insanity.
With Petra, we have fun whilst being productive.
We drink hot cups of tea while googling her engagement ring.
Well, her boyfriend will need help choosing one some day and it’s good to be prepared.
She doesn’t find her dream ring but I come across a beauty for £35,000.
A customer comes in stopping me from clicking ‘buy it now!’
He’s short and red-faced and talks like he’s in a hurry.
“Plain lights, you can’t get them anymore.”
I point at a simple glass dish suspension.
“What about that?”
“No, I need it flush.”
“You can get flush ones anywhere,” I say
“Yes, well, I found some after a while but now I need three other lights."
“But you can’t get plain lights anywhere.”
He points at a shelf of spotlights.
“Like those, you can’t get them anymore.”
“They’re there.”
“You can’t get them in halogen.”
“They are halogen.”
“Are they?” He looks momentarily taken aback. “But I mean them but different. Without that bit.”
“Without the ceiling plate? You need that to fix it up.”
“I want ones without it. Not even the architectural people do it.”
Because they don’t exist?
“If you’ve got your state of the art sofa,” he continues, “and your state of the art telly then you don’t want all this.”
And he waves a dismissive hand at all our sparking crystal.
“Some people do. It’s nice to be a bit eclectic,” I say, feeling defensive.
“Not the people I’m talking about.”
“Smart telly, smart sofa and spotlights, it sounds a bit," I can't stop myself, "well, a bit boring.”
“Yeah but then throw in your abstract painting.”
And you get your very own office to live in.
“But you can’t get plain lights anymore,” he says, shaking his head.
“What about recessed lights?” I say.
But I’m not sure he wants his search to come to an end, ever.
“Good luck,” I say, as he leaves.
Petra and I clean chandeliers, taking it in turns to wash batches of crystal in the kitchen upstairs.
One of the lights is made up entirely of huge crystal balls.
They project glittering rainbows as we lay them out over the counter.
We’ve been around this shop since we were little but we still get excited about switching on a newly cleaned chandelier.
Work and play; the balance is so much better with a fellow Shop Girl.
At the end of the day I stick my head under the tap until my hair is soaked through. It’s been a fluffy mess for too long now.
I sit on a stool and Petra lays down newspaper around me.
“How much?”
I suggest an inch, she suggests four.
After she’s cut my hair, we pull down the shop shutters and have a beer on the roof.
Two great shopgirling days.
I’ll miss her tomorrow.

Saturday 19 September 2009

Shop Girl Eyes Wide Open

Let me tell you how to outmanoeuvre a mosquito.
There’s no need to chase it around the room brandishing a rolled up newspaper.
When you hear one buzzing in your ear, don’t switch on the light.
Simply shine the light of your mobile phone against a wall.
The mosquito won’t be able to resist the allure of that lit space.
It will land there, over and over again, until you have succeeded to splat it with your nearest weapon, in my case, a folded bank statement.
The mosquito I annihilated last night was enormous and would’ve made a great blood donor.
I rolled it up in a tissue and dropped it in my empty sherry glass.
“That’ll put you to sleep,” Mum had said, about the sherry.
But it didn’t.
I sat in bed reading the last pages of Isabel Allende’s book, ‘Paula’.
It’s so honest, so personal
She wrote it while her daughter was in a coma with the intention of giving it to her when she woke up.
It’s about her family history which takes the reader through Chile, Venezuela and finally, California.
I’ve never cried so much reading a book and it definitely wasn’t the sherry.
Love, pain, family, adventure, magic – her writing gives birth to a life, so vivid, that I found myself in bed dreaming eyes wide open, reliving it.
I think I’ve fallen in love with her.
She’s a romantic, like me, and irrational. She’s impulsive, makes mistakes, but it doesn’t matter because inside her is this infinite well of love for her family.
I imagine her home is a warm place, where everyone is welcome, where voices in Spanish and English, exchange stories around the kitchen table, in a space filled with the delicious aroma of cooking.
THIS is the vision I have of my future home.
It’s irrelevant that I don’t like cooking, or that I couldn’t write if there were people in my house all the time, something which would drive me nuts.
My publisher must be despairing as she reads this.
“Blog about your book!” she said.
And here I am writing about someone else’s.
I don’t sleep for a few hours after I’ve finished the book.
I think.
I savour moments in the past.
I think about the future.
Occasionally I fall into the present again, and I remember I’m supposed to sleeping.
But I can’t let go of the pictures in my mind, the questions I have.
The next morning I wake up late and rush, rush, rush until I’m nearing the shop.
In the newsagent I buy an exercise book.
Maybe I’ll sleep if I write a diary again.
I wrote a diary for ten years and only stopped when I started the blog.
Yes, I’ll write for me again.
I’ll write badly, with long sentences and lots of superlatives. I’ll be soppy, grumpy, passionate, angry, happy, over the top.
And after I’ve exhausted all the words in my head, just maybe, I’ll fall asleep.

Friday 11 September 2009

Shop Girl Story

The nicest thing happened to me today.
A customer came in and bought a bulb for £1.00.
Wait, that wasn’t the best bit, although it pays for half a Greggs’ sandwich.
I had a BLT by the way. (That’s ‘bacon, lettuce and tomato’ for my foreign readers).
I’ve been waiting for them to make a BLT for four years. Up until now they’ve always added chicken.
Bacon and Chicken. They don’t match in life and even less in death.
‘Too cold,’ Mum always says, about their sandwiches.
And then we splurge on a Parma ham Panini, which Mum prefers on ciabatta and tells them to squash really hard.
Back to the woman who bought the bulb, the highlight of my day.
‘I love your blog,’ she said.
And a light came on inside me.
A 100 watt bulb, to be precise.
A bulb which may be banned according to the Evening Standard but a bulb that I will keep defending in this blog as the best light in the world, apart from inner light, which we don’t sell.
‘I left a comment when that guy said horrible things about your blog,’ she continued.
She meant that Californian bloke, back in April who said I was one of the ‘most uninteresting and mundane’ people he’d ever encountered.
I’d felt so touched when people had left supportive comments and sent me e-mails.
She told me her daughter was too star struck to come into the shop.
‘No!’ I cried, gobsmacked.
She must’ve been exaggerating. Stardom seems a very long way off.
I’ve spent the last three days covered in dust.
I thought the shop needed a make-over so step by step, I’ve re-hung the ceiling.
After my customer of the £1.00 bulb goes l feel like a different person.
Refreshed, renewed and like everything makes sense again.
You see, I didn’t post my last blog because it was too melancholy.
Mid-twenties angst and all that.
‘It’s underrated,’ Rosie says. She’s also been suffering from it.
It’s not as well documented as the mid-life crisis but obviously it’s real because we’ve both had it.
My cousin’s antidote to the crisis is to go travelling.
‘Interesting,’ I say, when she tells me over dinner. ‘When?’
Customers come in and talk to me. They talk about their illnesses, their family, houses, debts, retirement.
Last week I might’ve glazed over but today I listen.
I listen because the lady of the £1.00 bulb has awakened my excitement for the Shop Girl story.
Without people there’s no story.
‘Which country are you going to first?’ I ask my cousin.
Supposedly we’ll be closed in January.
I’m not yet sure what will happen to Shop Girl.
But I know it’ll be okay.
After all there must be lots of stories to be had in India.

Tuesday 1 September 2009

Shop Girl HaHa

It’s my first day in the shop after three weeks away.
A customer comes in to buy a picture frame.
“I’m glad your back,” he says.
I can’t stop myself.
I’m not.”
I don’t know why he looks so surprised.
“You’re not?”
Of course I’m not, I think, I was on holiday!
“Well,” I say, feeling a bit ungracious, “it’s alright really.”
He laughs.
I laugh.
It reminds me of when my brother and I were little, how we’d watch the exchange between Mum and the customers and wonder why adults laughed at just about anything.
Do you need a light bulb?
Yes, haha, I do as it happens, haha
Haha, What watt?
What what?
I mean Watt, haha, what watt?
Oh haha, I see.

Now I know it’s because adults often feel awkward.
After he leaves, I set the timer to 15 minutes and start to clear the shop counter. Mum started this timer system. It almost guarantees you get something done because you’re not allowed to get distracted until the alarm bleeps.
It’s a good system when I’m all over the place.
Holidays have that effect on me.
I feel restless.
Part of me wants to go to Guatemala and the other half wants to settle down and have a nice house.
A couple come in to buy spot lights. They ask about bulbs.
I’m honest.
I tell them what they shouldn’t buy.
“How much is this one?”
They hold up a smart square spotlight.
“25 pounds down from 70.”
The woman curls her lip and gives me that familiar look.
“Is that the best price?”
“Can’t you do any better?” she whines. “I’m paying for it...”
Which has got to be the worst reason anyone’s ever given me to get a good price.
The top 3 most common reasons are:
1) I am a very good customer
2) I will come back and buy lots more when I finish building my house
3) I only have X amount on me.
But reduce it because I’m paying for it? That’s unheard of.
“Well, I’ve had to pay for it too,” I say.
They decide on a different spotlight. It’s the last one of the series and is on display.
“I’ll get it,” the man says, as I go up the ladder to unscrew it.
“That’s okay. I like being up ladders.”
One screw falls to the floor.
“I’ll get it,” the man says.
The other one slithers down my top.
“I’ll get it,” the man says.
Haha. We all laugh at that.
They’re a cheerful couple and after they’ve gone I feel more upbeat.
I set my alarm again and for fifteen minutes I don’t want to be anywhere else.