One of my lads at the shop was terribly grumpy. He looked like someone had sneezed in his pudding.
His mother was a pillar of the community and he’d been in an awful huff about it for some years.
A monosyllabic boy, his trousers hung loosely from his angular hips, exposing the designer label from his jockey shorts. He grunted at customers, sat on the till counter and made terrible coffee.
One summer evening, the sky was full of almond-white clouds and a bunch of older kids from the primary school had deposited themselves outside the shop, on a picnic bench.
We had a policy of not selling energy drinks to children under the age of fourteen. There was no law in place about the sale of energy drinks, but it had been determined by our head office that we didn’t need the hassle of kids who, only a year or two before, couldn’t really handle Lucozade, bouncing around the premises, off their tiny little heads on Red Bull.
My grumpy boy decided that the shop’s policy was no fun. Since the Red Bull six-pack was part of a new promotion, he thought it would be a bit of a giggle to let this collective of thirsty ten year olds buy up a whole shelf.
They were still laughing and jittering around when I closed up three hours later.
My grumpy lad became more respectful, and made better coffee, when he discovered weed.
Occasionally, we had a customer who yelled at the staff. More accurately, they were yelling at something in their own lives that had gone wrong, and the staff happened to be there when the customer erupted.
There’s nothing like a company uniform to boil the blood.
I protected the lads from the angry customers, the crying customers and the awkwardly-flirting customers. In turn, the lads swept and mopped the shop floor, and served on the till. The boys at the shop were mine.
When one of them had his tonsils out, and sent his father to the shop for Attitude magazine, I was there to find it, bag it and not explain it.
During the day, when my boss took charge, there were mostly women on staff and they weren’t mine.
Often, in the mornings, head office would send an email with promotion details, new shelf layouts and fresh barcodes. It had always been the practise that, on discovering a barcode which had failed, the item would be removed from the shelf until a new barcode had been procured. One afternoon, closing in on Christmas, one of the shop girls rang through a twelve-pack of beers, which should have been on promotion for around a tenner, and found it was coming up priced 15p.
When my boss went to clear the shelf, it was empty. The shop girls had bought the lot. I think they even got staff discount.
It’s quite a conservative village, so when our magazine supplier sent us titles of a somewhat racy character, they never made it out of the delivery tub.
We would check them off from the delivery note, and then put them straight back in the box, with the previous editions of saleable, disappointingly wholesome publications.
A lady came in, woolly haired and horn-rimmed glasses, fluffy like everybody’s granny, desperately seeking something. She wanted a couple of adult titles, she told us.
“Stocking fillers,” she explained. “One for my husband, one for my son. Do you carry Asian Babes?”
Another lady was going on holiday for two weeks, and leaving her three cats with her daughter until her return.
She wanted pouches of cat food, all different flavours, for her daughter to feed them.
“How many pouches would you like?” I asked her, not knowing how much you need to feed a cat, given that they can feed themselves.
“Eighty. Yes, I think eighty.”
Advice to cat owners: If you’re going away and buying a large quantity of cat food, please note – people will think you’re going to eat it yourself.
We had a terrible winter, that seemed unending, in 2008. The broccoli crop had failed. Spindly, little women came to the shop, only buying enough food for the day because “you never know” and got the shock of their lives.
One weak-looking floret weighed and priced at £2.80. The broccoli was going for £6.67 per kilo. We could buy it in cheaper from Arizona. Which we did.
Devon got drenched, part of Cornwall washed away, and the broccoli didn’t make it.
During that autumn, we had so much flooding. It was borderline Biblical. The nearest town moved several inches to the east.
Years before, my dad had removed a section of wall from the front porch, and ran a concrete ramp up from the drive to the new gap. My mother was in a wheelchair and the couple of steps up to the house were steep enough to require crampons and a sherpa.
My dad also put in an extra stretch of wall – as a handrail, and put in a wooden floor to level out the porch itself. No more dip, my mother was delighted as she could be pushed from the driveway straight to the front door without any associated grunting noises.
However, the porch floor was in one piece. With the years and the weather, it had started to warp. A semi-constant puddle had formed in the middle of the wood and showed no signs of abating. Indeed, it almost put a couple of district nurses in Monday-morning traction.
It was when we had the flooding that I decided to replace the porch floor.
My father was the carpenter. He was the one with skills. I had a friend who sold decking.
So, I measured up, bought the decking, and set to work removing the solid floor my dear old dad had fitted with such loving attention. The floor was ridiculously heavy. I’d worked at the shop for quite some time and lugged sacks of potatoes round for much of the day, but I couldn’t lift it. Instead, I dug through my father’s tool chest and found a circular saw.
This is not the recommended method of using a circular saw. Cannot underline that enough. Do not do what I did. I sat the saw-blade on the middle of one edge, stood either side of it and set it going.
I could have lost a foot.
Ultimately, it was my frustration at not being big and butch enough to lift the floor that made me behave so recklessly. I got away with it, but that is by no means an endorsement.
Old floor out, new floor in, and a message left for posterity on a wood block underneath – Currently working at the shop. Fingers crossed, not for long, PB.
A few days later, a lady broke through the pouring rain and rushed, drippingly, into the shop.
The lady asked me how I’d coped in the flooding. I replied that I was lucky and had been spared the worst of it.
Every other house on my side of the road was set back behind the stream, the waters were coming up and floating their front doormats, my poor neighbours were running up and down their stairs, rescuing electrical equipment from becoming details in a tiresome insurance claim.
She understood, she told me. She had been my next door neighbour for fourteen years.
We had never spoken. In fact, I don’t think I’d even seen her before.
It can be hard to tell. People are quiet in Devon.