Whatever Did We Do Before Supermarkets?

WHATEVER DID WE DO BEFORE SUPERMARKETS?

(Confessions of a Shopkeeper)

JULIE VALENTINE

1986
(re-typed 2006)

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PREVIEW

The year is 1976, F W Woolworth and Marks & Spencer have been around for a number of years and Tesco have secured and been trading from a number of small, single shop units in most Town High Streets and were just beginning to build purpose-made units on the edge of town.

Husband and Wife team George and Mabel decided to take a risk and in 1971 bought a lease of their local corner shop with 9 years remaining, paying a low annual rent. They had been trading in the shop since then.

This shop was well known in the locality for stocking nearly everything you could need, including rat poison, and for being open every day, including Sunday morning. Most town centre shops closed on a Wednesday afternoon and did not open on Sunday but George and Mabel were confident that they would manage, with good staff, to keep the shop’s good will and reputation and continue to trade well and in profit.

To say the least they were both a little naïve, but Mabel had a good sense of humour, which it was hoped would carry them through the adverse times.
George was 5’ 10” tall, aged 40 years, of average weight for his height, wore glasses designed in the 1960’s with black rims and his hair was greying and slightly thinning on top.

Mabel, was 5’ 9” tall, aged 30 years, motherly build, would not admit to needing glasses, although she did and her hair was short and curly, turning prematurely grey at the sides. She always wore trousers and a blue nylon overall that buttoned down the front, with a top pocket over her ample left breast.

The staff, inherited with the shop comprised:

Grace, 5’ 6” tall, aged 55, grey hair, overweight who hated the customers and the Health Inspector, sometimes she didn’t even like herself. Worked Monday – Saturday.

Sheila, 5’ 5” tall, aged 35, short, bleached blond hair, common speaking, nouveau riche having won the football pools, did not need to work but was bored at home. Knew almost everyone who came in the shop and their business. Worked Monday – Friday.

Adrian, 5’6” tall and still growing, his trousers always looked as though they had argued with his feet and hovered somewhere above his ankles, cheerful cheeky chappy, always helpful to the customers. Worked Friday evening and Saturday.

Jenny, 5’ 2” tall, hopefully still growing although it was not obvious, square set, attractive with dark hair. Worked Saturday and Sunday morning.

This story sets out a Saturday in the life of this shop and its staff.

Names and dates have been changed to protect the innocent, but the incidents related were recorded and are true, although they did not take place all on the same day as is indicated within this narrative.

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So the tale begins :

A SATURDAY IN MAY

The shrill notes of the radio alarm roused me from my well-earned night’s sleep. As the wife of a local shopkeeper and partner in the business, as well as the mother of two young children, there was never a spare moment in the day and every second that could be stolen to remain in bed was taken unrepentantly.

The shop, our pride and joy, was only small in comparison to the larger supermarkets that had recently opened up on the outskirts of town but the customers ensured that we were kept on our toes and I ensured the staff were kept on theirs.

George, my husband, who was forty years old, although he would only admit to thirty-five, had risen early for the past five years to drive to market to buy fresh greengrocery, the mainstay of the business. Just recently though he was beginning to feel and look older and very tired. He was well known to the wholesalers on the market and had a working arrangement with them that he phoned his requirements for the next day to them and collected everything the following morning at a more reasonable hour. They were more than happy to provide this service and I am sure we always paid that little bit extra for it. The later start in the morning more than compensated for the slight loss in profit.

My name is Mabel, and although I was only thirty years of age, I was not afraid to admit it. After all, who was I fooling, I was overweight according to all the health charts, had short curly, greying hair and my only failing was that I would not admit to needing glasses and a diet sheet.

As the screeching strains of pop music exuding from the radio began to grate on my newly awakened brain, I decided the easiest way to obtain temporary relief was to put the kettle on in the kitchen. So, on the way downstairs, I called for the children to get up and use the bathroom first, whilst I, on reaching the kitchen didn’t know where to start first.

The most sensible thing to do was feed the cat, who, once certain that someone was awake and moving, insisted on his breakfast, just in case you happened to have forgotten he was there. Having fed the cat and got him out from under my feet, I turned my attention to the kettle. In order to fill the kettle I had to remove some of the previous evening’s washing up from the sink so the kettle would fit under the tap. This done, I started to make the first cup of tea of the day. I’m never really sure if this is the best, or whether it’s the one just before staggering up the stairs to bed at the end of the day.

Whilst I waited for the kettle to boil I rinsed a few of the dishes under the tap and suddenly recalled one of my actions of the previous day. I wondered whether it would rebound on me in any way.

One of our staff, a middle-aged lady who, like me, always wore trousers in the shop despite, or as she stated in spite of her size and because she did not want to be caught bending or up a ladder (Logically I’m sure she is right), was overheard discussing with another member of staff, her fear of mice.

Well…… when I had been at the wholesaler’s the previous day, they were selling a new line in the toy section. Yes, you’ve guessed, I bought one of those toy mice, which looked and felt real, and before she had left for home that evening I had popped it into her coat pocket. Her husband gave her a lift home every Friday evening so I knew she wouldn’t need to go in her pocket for the small change she always kept there for the bus.

The kettle boiled noisily and again all thought of this matter was swept from my mind as I hurried everybody to get ready for music school and work. Thank heavens the cat went back to sleep after his breakfast, I could not have coped with him as well.
With the children seen off to the bus to take them to Saturday Music School, I thought of getting myself ready for work. This didn’t take long because there was no need to dress up for the shop as handling the greengrocery and packing cases was very dirty work and not really suitable for a ‘lady’. I gave up all hope of being one of those the first day we took over the shop when I laddered two pairs of new tights, broke three finger nails and didn’t manage to brush my hair or retouch my make-up all day.

Once dressed, suitably fed and watered, I was able to drag my weary and stiff body out of the chair and make my way to work and another busy day without a break.

I used to smoke before I started to work in the shop, but the incessant pressure of work and the inability to smoke in the shop because of health and safety regulations meant that I could only have the satisfaction of a puff in the evening, by then, of course, I was too tired to taste and enjoy it anyway. Ultimately I didn’t even realise that I had given it up.

On the way to the shop, the matter of the mouse came back into my mind. Grace, the shop assistant, was usually at the shop before me in the morning but occasionally, if the bus was delayed in traffic, she arrived just after. That morning, the traffic must have been particularly heavy and she obviously hadn’t arrived because I could see the lights of the shop were still off as I approached.

I unlocked the door and pulled in the heavy trays of bread that had been left in the doorway by the baker at about 5 o’clock so we had some bread to start the day. Usually a sheet of polythene covered these because the dog opposite liked to use my doorway for his early morning toilet, but for some reason, that morning the polythene was missing.

Whilst I was out in the storeroom switching on the main shop lights, I heard a raised voice in the shop.

‘Gertcha, bloody dogs, why do people chuck them out in the mornings instead of keeping them under control?’

I recognised the voice as that belonging to a local policeman who was a dog handler. He had arrived at the doorway about the same time as the dog opposite and just as it was about to balance on three legs, the order of the policeman’s boot had been presented and the dog launched on his way.

‘We’ll see what the dog does tomorrow; perhaps he will have learnt his lesson this morning and will in future obey the law.’

Jack, the policeman, put his wife’s weekend order on the front counter and left me alone in the shop to start preparing for the busy day ahead. It appeared that I had just got the bread into the shop in time and I didn’t notice the dog limping up the road.

As I was taking the empty bread trays outside for the baker to collect later, on his return, I noticed Grace crossing the road. She was walking quite slowly and drawing heavily on a cigarette, which was unusual for her, particularly as she was a bit late. I got on with preparing the greengrocery display, which always took quite a long time and waited for Grace to arrive.

As she neared the shop I could see that she was really not her normal self. She looked quite pale and drawn, so when she came in, I asked her what was wrong.

‘What’s wrong? I’ll tell you what’s wrong. I’m going to murder that boy Adrian, put both my hands round his throat and throttle him ‘till he goes purple in the face.’

Instantly I remembered the mouse I had put in her coat pocket the night before and, with relief, realised that she had blamed the young boy who worked for me, and not me. Thank heavens for that, he was sure to deny it, of course, because he hadn’t done it. All his protestations of innocence would convince her that he was guilty. Feigning innocence of any possible problem, I asked her why she was going to throttle poor Adrian.

‘The little so and so only put a furry mouse in my coat pocket last night and when I was at the bus stop this morning and saw the bus coming, I put my hand in my pocket to get my fare out, felt the mouse, screamed, nearly fainted and the poor driver had to delay the bus, calm me down and he wouldn’t leave until I felt better, so everyone was late, and the traffic was bad. That’s why I’m going to throttle Adrian.’

Phew! I was not under any circumstances going to own up to putting the mouse in her pocket now. Poor Adrian would be arriving any minute, his usual happy self, totally oblivious of the traumas he was supposed to have caused. Oh dear, that will teach me not to play pranks.

I told Grace to go put the kettle on and make herself a cup of tea to calm her nerves; really I needed one to calm mine.

As she went to hang up her coat and make some tea, Adrian came bouncing merrily along in front of the shop, whistling to himself. He came into the shop with a cheery ‘ Good Morning’ as usual and asked what he should do first. I’m afraid I warned him the first thing he should do was to keep our Grace happy and keep out of her way. As I explained the situation to him, Grace heard his voice and came out from the stockroom, teacup in hand. She chased him round the shop trying to box his ears, but of course, Adrian, being much younger and more agile, was not easily caught, and escaped to the back of the shop to help me with the greengrocery. I could see that not much work was going to be done that day.

Grace calmed down slowly and started to make up the orders for delivery. She pottered around picking up items to put in the boxes, muttering to herself under her breath and taking the occasional swipe at Adrian if he forgot and got too close to her, but he managed to side-step every time.

As usual, Jenny, the other Saturday person was late for work. Even at her tender age of fourteen, she seemed to lead a very full and active social life. She was a lovely girl, short, square-set with a head of thick dark hair, which she cut herself in the fashion of the sixties. To go with this she always wore flat shoes and thick black tights and the thickest, blackest eye make-up since Dusty Springfield. Despite repeated hints and direct requests to remedy the problem, she unfortunately always smelt of B.O. I never could understand this because in other ways she was so finicky. Perhaps she had no sense of smell. Anyway, she wandered in through the door at 8.40 am, ten minutes late as usual, offered her apologies and disappeared out the back of the shop, presumably to see if the teapot was still warm.

I could hear Adrian telling Jenny about Grace and the mouse and her asking him if in fact he had put the mouse there. His abject denial didn’t convince her either, because she knew it was just the sort of thing he might do and she knew he worked for a couple of hours on Friday night to stack the shelves and it was quite feasible for him to have done it and anyway, who else was there who might have done it? As I listened to this conversation in the back of the shop, Grace was still muttering under her breath because, of course, she could hear as well. I didn’t know how long I would be able to last out without confessing. They say confession is good for the soul.

With Adrian’s spasmodic help, because of course he was still avidly avoiding the flailing arm of Grace, the display of greengrocery was finished, just in time for the early morning rush of customers.

A friend of mine, who used to take my daughter to playschool with her little girl, popped into the shop on her way to the hairdresser. She looked harassed and explained that her husband was at work that morning, her daughter staying with a friend and she had come out of the house, latching the door and leaving her keys on the kitchen table.

I reassured her that we would be able to sort something out when she got back from the hairdresser, lent her some money as her purse was also on the table and carried on with totalling up the till for the customer I was still serving.

About ten minutes later, Jack, the policeman came into the shop with his wife. She picked up a few more items to be added to her shopping list and brought me her bill for totalling while her shopping was put in the car. As we chatted away I told her about the dog.

‘Oh yes, Jack won’t stand any nonsense like that from animals, he might be a dog handler but he would never let one of his dogs do something like that’.

I pressed the total on the till. It showed £9.99. I just didn’t believe it and pressed it again just to be sure. 999, I couldn’t have done that if I’d tried. I told her to have the receipt framed or sent to the Police Magazine. Amazing!

After the next frenzied hour or so of serving customers, Jenny was asked to see if the kettle still worked, but never to be known before or since, Adrian actually offered to make the tea. Either he was trying to get as far away from Grace as possible, or he thought his offer to make the tea would help pacify her a little. If my memory was right, I believed the reason Jenny always made the tea was because Adrian’s tea tasted so bad even he preferred not to drink it. Oh well, so long as it was wet and warm I would drink virtually anything, anytime and at that moment I was gasping. A glance at the clock showed that it would soon be time for the staff to start their lunch breaks.

George had been back at the shop for an hour but had not fully heard the story of the mouse from Grace. Once Adrian’s peace offering had been made and poured out, she took a brief respite from the customers and the orders and related the story to George. It had, of course, become embellished more on each telling, but was still quite a good story to hear. George found it hard not to laugh, and choked on his tea when Grace began to relate what happened at the bus stop. In the end he had to laugh. Grace was not amused and went back to making up the orders that were still coming in for delivery. Although I hadn’t said anything to George, he knew instantly that Adrian hadn’t been the perpetrator of this crime and that it was me who had put the mouse in Grace’s pocket. But he didn’t say a word.

It was not easy to ignore a queue of customers and continue making up the orders on Saturdays. People would give you such appealing looks, begging you to leave what you were doing to serve them. Just as George put down his empty teacup, my friend returned with her hair all stiff and her face all pink from the heat of the dryer. I asked George to run her home and see if he could get in through the kitchen window she said she had left open. So off they went together in the old ford van we used for the market trips.

Grace took one final swipe at Adrian on her way to lunch and the two youngsters and I coped as best we could with the lunchtime rush.

That day the cup final was being played and was on television and most of the local wives had come out to get the rolls and cans of beer for their husbands, having managed to get some extra money out of them to go shopping and keep the kids out of the way for the afternoon. Great, I’ll have to try that sometime. Extra money is always good.

George returned looking very pleased with himself. Obviously he’d had little difficulty getting into the house, the only problem now was whether to tell him …. He took little interest in my friends as they didn’t go fishing but, after all, my friend’s husband was a policeman and George had just broken into his house. No, I didn’t think I should say anything to him, either the strong arm of the law would arrive to cart George away, or my friend would keep her mouth shut about locking herself out and needing a burglar, which was more likely because if she did it again and her husband had locks put on all the windows, she would never be able to get in again even with George’s help.

Adrian’s lunch was timed to coincide with the lull in the rush of customers, so he went off to enjoy his fish & chips, his ‘Saturday Special’. There was always another rush just before closing time because people always forgot to pick up something from the supermarket that had recently opened in town but it was too far to go back just for the odd item.

As Adrian left, Grace returned from her brief lunch break which was spent with a friend who lives round the corner from the shop. She started to sort out the deliveries with George. The customer flow had died down almost to nil as the football had started, so I sent Jenny off to her lunch early.

I started to freshen up the greengrocery display ready for the afternoon. Sophie, an old lady who lived with her husband across the road from the shop in accommodation especially for the elderly, came staggering into the shop. I turned round to see who had entered and just could not believe my eyes. The sight was that of a bent old lady still in her floral printed nightdress and unbuttoned housecoat, bedroom slippers walked down at the heel and with her long grey hair escaping the restriction of the bun she usually wore.

Sophie waved her walking stick in the air as she came in, causing me to take a quick step backwards to avoid being hit in the face. She pointed it in the general direction of the Off Licence a few doors away and demanded to know what time it opened. She’d got a long wait because it had only just closed for the afternoon. I pointed to my clock and explained this to her but she became adamant that it would open again in a few minutes and she would therefore wait in my shop.

More customers entered the shop and stared at Sophie rather strangely. I didn’t recognise them as locals and wasn’t sure if they would stay and shop with us, so I quickly fetched a stool from the store room, put it in a corner and guided Sophie to the stool and sat her down, daring her to move.

This type of thing always happened when I was on my own in the shop. I served the couple that had in fact waited patiently then turned my attention back to the problem of Sophie. She looked quite safe perched on the stool in the corner, leaning on her stick, so I took the opportunity to pop out the back and called Grace into the shop.

I went over to Sophie and talked to her like a child, scolded her for being naughty coming out in her nightdress and being an utter nuisance to other people. I firmly took her arm and guided her out of the shop door, across the road in front of a kindly motorist who’s swift appraisal of the situation helped me to keep her moving in a straight line and in through the front door of the block of flats where she lived.

Sophie’s husband did not even know she had gone, the front door of their flat was open to the world. He was sitting at a table in front of the window with a shoebox in front of him counting piles of old pennies, thrupenny bits and sixpences. It was then I understood where he got all the old coins that he kept trying to spend in our shop. This was obviously his life savings. Usually we just took the old coins if his shopping didn’t amount to much but other times we just had to refuse. I didn’t think he really understood the difference between £.s.d and new pence and found it very confusing if we asked him for thirty-four pence, or something like that. That’s decimalisation for you.

Once Sophie was soundly tucked up back in her bed with a cup of tea that I’d made, I left them to themselves, closed the door and returned to the shop in the hope that I wouldn’t end up living like that, a mere existence.

When I arrived back at the shop Grace was in a state again. This time I just couldn’t believe it myself. Apparently she had been finishing off the greengrocery display I had started and when she came through from the stockroom she saw two little girls of about ten or eleven searching for something for their mum. She had helped them to find it and went to the till to ring it up and give them change. Just as she had been about to take the change from the till something moved and caught her eye.

Beside the till, on the counter, was a little white mouse with pink eyes, flicking whiskers and a long pinkish tail, nosing its way round the side of the till. Grace, of course, screamed! It was more than she could stand after the events of the morning. The whole shop was in uproar. George, who had just arrived back to pick up some more deliveries, was out the back and came running, thinking it must be a hold-up or something, the customer who had only just come in and gone round the other side of the shop, also rushed forward colliding with George in the process and Grace just stood there, shaking and screaming.

One of the girls picked up the mouse and very sheepishly apologised for having put it there, saying she didn’t think it would move. She explained that it was her pet mouse that she kept in her pocket when she went out and had left it on the counter when her friend called her to go round the other side of the shop. George ushered Grace out back before serving the girls and then helped the other customer.

When I eventually got back from Sophie’s, Grace was back on the hot, sweet tea and a cigarette. I think she was really ready for a double whiskey but unfortunately the Off Licence was closed. What a day she was having?

Adrian returned from lunch looking searchingly for Grace to make sure she wasn’t lurking behind one of the shelf units to catch him unawares. I quickly told him about the real mouse and said I thought Grace had probably forgotten about the other one in her coat, at least I hoped she had.

Adrian smelt strongly of the fish, chips, vinegar and tomato sauce he had eaten for lunch and it made me feel quite hungry. I sorted out some damaged fruit from the display and took it out the back of the shop for a few minutes rest. This wasn’t to be though as Adrian called me urgently back into the shop.

‘I’m really sorry; I can’t understand what this lady wants. I think she is foreign, Welsh, or something, anyway can you serve her?’

Yes, Adrian, thank you very much, that’s all I need at the moment, brain strain. I approached the lady and asked if I could help her. She shook her head in dismay, shrugged her shoulders and said something in a tongue totally unknown to me. I was sure it wasn’t Welsh though but as my ears became attuned to the accent, I believed it to be Italian, yes, definitely Italian, and I didn’t speak a word of it but then neither did I speak any Welsh.

I tried to get a look at her shopping list. That didn’t help much as it was written in Italian as well.

Universal sign language appeared to be the only means of communication. I tried that. I picked up an apple and showed it to her. Oh good, she could understand. She didn’t want apples, she pointed to the bananas and showed me four fingers. At this point I wasn’t sure whether bananas were sold in quantity or by weight abroad so took a chance and broke off four bananas from the hand. Good, that was the right decision, and then I tried the next thing. She pointed to the potatoes and put up three fingers this time. Now what should I do? I remembered somewhere at the back of my mind that on the continent they worked in kilos. What was a kilo in English weight, or did she just want three potatoes. I started to put some potatoes on the scales, hesitating at three, but as she made no move to stop me there, I continued to three pounds, and stopped. She was shaking her head and indicating that she wanted more.
Adrian came to the rescue at this juncture, with a bag of sugar in his hand. He showed me that a kilo was equivalent to just over two pounds, so if I put six pounds on the scales, the foreign girl could indicate if it was enough. This was getting easier.

Once we had worked out what a kilo was it became simple until she asked for a demi-kilo of oranges and we had another problem as citrus fruit is sold so much each in England, but obviously not so in Italy.

Without thinking, I asked her in French if she spoke French. She replied in as bad French as I had asked, that her mother spoke French but she didn’t speak it very well. This didn’t help much as her mother was in Italy but I did make a mental note to bring my English/French dictionary to the shop on Monday, just in case this young lady came in again. With her sent happily on her way, the shop again settled down to a nice quiet afternoon.

Because Jenny’s timekeeping was notoriously bad, little notice was taken of her being late back from lunch. We always assumed that after eating, it took her so long to freshen up the eye make-up and lipstick that this was the cause of her lateness. That day George saw fit to comment that Jenny must be late from lunch as she was running round the corner. Now Jenny didn’t run ……. at least not because she was late back for work.

She arrived in the shop, completely out of breath and couldn’t get the words out to tell us what had upset her but it didn’t stop her waving her right hand and pointing back the way she had come. Eventually her breathing became less laboured and she told us that she had come through the passageway, just round the corner, on her way back to the shop and a ‘flasher’ had stopped her. She told us she had just pushed him to one side, all 5 ‘ 2” of her and ran.

George said he would telephone the Police for her and asked if she thought she would recognise him again. She was so upset that she said.

‘I didn’t even look at his face, but I think I would recognise the rest of him, he looked a bit like Adrian’.

Not realising what she had said, she was surprised when we all laughed, as this was a serious matter. George said he wondered what part the Police would wish displayed in a line-up, if it ever came to that, as she had not looked at his face. Then Jenny smiled despite her tender 14 years, she realised what we were laughing at, of course, and she had brothers!

Jenny told us that the man had not touched her, in fact she had pushed him, and that she could not give a good description so she did not really want to report it to the Police. She did promise us that she would not use the alley for a few weeks and we promised to mention the man to our customers and to Jack when he next came in. On went the kettle again for more hot, sweet tea. I’m not sure that we could have offered whiskey to a 14 year old even if the Off Licence had been open.

I went back into the shop in time to hear Nora, a local home help who regularly called in for shopping for her elderly people, telling Grace about one of the ‘ole boys’ she had visited the day before.

‘ ‘e actually accused me to me face of stealin’ his trousas. I told ‘im I don’t wear trousas, so ‘e said I’d taken ‘em for me ‘usband. You know me ‘usband don’t yer ‘e’s 6’ 3” tall and this ole boy is all of 5’ 2”? It’s just too reedicalous for words, I’m gonna take me ‘usband round there if ‘e says any more abowt it, I expect ‘e’s shoved ‘em under ‘is bed or somewhere, I’ll ‘ave a look on Mondee.’

At that point, I heard George, usually pretty even-tempered, explode in the back of the shop after serving a male customer. I therefore moved back to hear his gripe.

‘Bloody fool, when I asked him if he had a bag for the 15 lbs of potatoes he’d just asked me for, he told me he had the car outside, he didn’t need a bag. I just asked him to bring the car in so I could put them in the boot. Idiot !! I don’t know how you serve some of the people round here.’ Well I had to, didn’t I, George was never around he was usually at the market or the wholesaler or off fishing with our accountant.

It really was turning into one of those days, I would be glad to get home and have a hot bath, after I’d cooked a meal, fed the kids, got them to bed, oh yes, and fed the cat, of course.

As the normal evening trade hadn’t picked up, due probably to the big match that afternoon, George decided that we had all had enough and asked Adrian and Jenny to start packing away the greengrocery, which was stored in the cold room every night.

Grace was told she could put her coat on and try to catch the 10-minutes-to bus and I think that was the first time she had smiled all day. When she came back fully coated and with laden shopping bag, she turned to me and said,

‘You’re lucky I didn’t leave today you know. I’ve been thinking about that mouse in my pocket and I think you put it there. It’s just your wicked sense of humour, little Adrian, is a sod but he wouldn’t do anything like that.’

Well, what could I say, I had to admit that it had been me who perpetrated that dastardly deed, but I told her I hadn’t realised it would upset her so much and apologised sincerely. She smiled, gave me a hug and said she would see me Monday morning.

Adrian was very relieved and said it was good she knew because he was fed up with dodging round corners and I should have owned up earlier, for his sake if nobody else’s. All’s well that ends well, Grace has gone off happier because she knew who ‘done’ it, and she did manage to catch the 10-minutes-to bus as well. She would certainly have something to tell her family when she got home. I’ve got a feeling that George must have had a quiet word with her out of my earshot and told her it was me.

Adrian and Jenny finished off clearing the greengrocery, swept the floor and washed up the cups. They were hovering about, so George paid them and told them they could go as well. There wasn’t a car or pedestrian to be seen so I locked the door and started totalling the till. We noted that Adrian had walked with Jenny along the main road, away from the alley to see her home, the opposite direction to where he lived. Such a nice boy, even if his legs were longer than his trousers.

There was a loud banging as I was counting the money with my back to the locked shop door. George came through from the back and opened the door. I wondered though whether he had done the right thing. There was a man standing there in black leather motorbike gear with a black helmet and visor still pulled down and unpolished black leather boots with side buckles. He stood blocking my exit from the cash desk so I could not walk through the back of the shop with the day’s takings.

In a muffled voice he asked whether we had a loaf of bread left. George took the last remaining sliced loaf from the shelf and told him that he was lucky. The man was very grateful, paid and started to leave the shop. He muttered a ‘goodnight and thank you’ and I replied that perhaps next time he came in we could see his face. He turned and apologised profusely saying that he could see we were closing and did not want to delay us any longer, but that next time he would be sure to take it off if we could stand to look at his face. I felt sure he must have been in the shop before to have given an answer like that, so I smiled and he left with a wave of his hand.

The loaf of bread had been squeezed into his unzipped leather jacket.

George said he’d had enough for the day and I certainly had so we set off for home with the weekend’s shopping in the back of the van.

The two children had been home since 2.30 pm and had managed to make every cup and plate in the house dirty again and left them in the sink for me to wash up. There was no point in even mentioning this to them as they just accused me of nagging and I got upset at having to shout at them. I had become resigned to the fact that I was merely a servant in life and would never aspire to anything better.

The cat managed to wrap himself round George’s legs as he staggered in through the front door carrying the shopping and ended up getting trodden on and cursed. Again, the easiest way to deal with the cat was to feed him, I suppose I should be grateful that it was always me who did this and I had the benefit of his wet kisses every morning, five minutes before the alarm went off. The cat that is, not George.

Despite the bags of food brought from the shop, I decided that we should have a takeaway from the local Chinese that night as it had been such a trying day and I didn’t have the energy to stand and cook.

‘That will make a change Mum’ said the kids in unison. ‘We had fish & chips on Wednesday, McDonalds on Thursday, Monday and Tuesday we ate out and you and dad had egg & chips or salad, yesterday it was a sacrificial offering, we weren’t quite sure what, so takeaway will suit us fine, at least that way we know what we’re eating and have a fair chance of some decent food’.

My hand came up for a quick cuff round their ear’s, they must have been practising that speech to both get it so word perfect, alternating the days of the week between them, but instead it flopped to my side and I had to laugh. At least they were growing up with a good sense of humour, what more could I ask …. that they learn to cook? I had no energy left to deliver even a passing shot and after all, how could I argue with the truth.

‘Don’t eat all the Mars bars! I’m going to run a bath. You lot can sort the dinner out, so order what you like. If I’m not down in half an hour, pull the plug to drain the water, cover me with a duvet and don’t tell the cat where I am.’

zzz zzz Do Not Disturb zzz zzz

~~~   ~~~   ~~~

(Total word count 6797)

See also : Good Staff Relations

https://julievparsons.wordpress.com/memoirs-of-a-shopkeeper/good-staff-relations/

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