Monday, 28 December 2009

A Very New Year for Shop Girl


Merry belated Christmas!
I hope your sock drawer has been replenished.
Mine has.
My current socks have grey stars on them.
They had grey stars on them yesterday too.
And the day before.
In fact I don't know why I'm still wearing the same ones. I could've put the spotty ones on instead.
Writing at Christmas is heavy going.
Too much food.
Today it's been twiglets. I can't get enough of them.
The New Year on the other hand promises lots of constructive activity.
Exciting things are on the horizon.
No don't be silly, the shop isn't going quite yet.
Give it till March.
But Shop Girl is.
I'm flying off in a new direction.
"How will you write if you aren't in the shop?" people cry.
The shop has been an indispensable source of inspiration for my writing this year but I'm almost certain I can continue writing if I'm not there.
Erase 'almost'.
I'm leaving home too and moving in with an artist friend somewhere in London.
We're registering with an organisation which looks after empty properties and rents them out cheap.
Tomorrow we'll stick pins in a map.
It's not voodoo; it's optimism.
The time has come for me to look for my next plot.
I can't wait to wake up in the morning and think: "Today I can write all day!"
Soon I shall be broke and looking for a new job.
Doing what?
I've no idea.
This New Year is going to be an adventure for more than just me.
One of my favourite characters, cousin Rosie, is heading off around the world and I want to wish her good luck.
As for me I've no intention of abandoning this blog.
It's been an amazing year but the Shop Girl story is far from over.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Wintry Shop Girl


I'm relying on 1200 watts for my survival.
They come from a dusty halogen heater that glows at my knees.
I'm wearing so many layers I can't move.
Because I can't move, I'm getting even colder.
Outside it's snowing.
Pretty.
But cold.
And there's not a customer in sight.
I'm wearing long, black, fingerless gloves which make me feel like a miser from a Charles Dickens'.
Or a robber.
Hunched over the counter, I count out my booty. Crystal beads for my mini suspension.
I'm making small chandeliers that fit directly over a bulb; potential sparkling presents for Christmas.
I've made three already and am enjoying the rhythm.
That said, there is a draft running through the building and I'm not sure how much longer I can go on.
I google the health benefits of being cold.
There are none, unless you are up to the neck in icy water. (No thanks)
I chain-drink hot tea.
Soup.
Then more tea.
When I think I can take it no more, a young man comes in and says the magic words.
"Will you marry me?"
No, not those words.
The magic ones.
The only words that can warm me up right now.
"I'd like to buy your book."
And it's like a heater is turned on inside me and the feeling comes back to my fingers.
I find the pen that makes my signature look the best.
Black ink, thin point.
"What's your name?"
"Emil," he says.
"Oh!" I say, "like me, but a boy version!"
Yes, I have a way with words.
He leaves and I am happy.
I have 1200 watts and a kettle.
And if I get really cold again I can always click on the publisher's best seller list.
Seeing 'Shop Girl Diaries' right at the top warms me up every time.
Thanks so much to you all for buying it.
(You know who you are.)

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Shop Girl Back to Reality


The funny thing is, barterers probably think I'm pleased to see them.
They come in looking so smug.
"Remember me?" they say.
How could I forget? I think. I'm still recovering.
They believe they're about to make my day.
I'm talking about the customers who reappear every few years, battle to the death over a price, pay by credit card then leave me feeling like I've been robbed.
Today a familiar unrelenting barterer reached a new low.
He tried to barter over my book.
"You know me," he said, as he flicked through it, "I like a good price."
I felt a chill run down my spine.
Oh no...
No, no, no...
"That book took me more than a year of blood, sweat and tears."
He looked unconvinced.
He turned to the last pages and started to read.
After a while he returned the book to the window display.
"I might come back."
The glamour of last week's book launch is truly over.
I'm back behind the counter, stringing beads together and apologising for goods that haven't arrived.
To be honest, they haven't arrived because they were ordered late because I've been too distracted.
You could say that lately I've been a bad shop girl.
It's difficult to take customers seriously sometimes.
Like the woman who pointed at a light this afternoon and said she'd need two when she moved house.
"When are you moving?" I asked.
"Maybe next year, maybe the one after... I don't know yet. Do you think you'll have them then?"
At the same time another woman was trying to describe the problem with her chandelier. Not one she'd bought from us but one that had been passed down through generations.
"I cleaned it and now it has a skin," she said.
"A skin?"
"Yes, like a skin."
"The plating has come off?"
"No."
"I've only got gold cleaner," I told her, "but that won't be any good."
I was obviously not helping but she just didn't want to leave.
"Like a skin," she kept saying.
I told her to call back next week when Mum was around.
After that I made a cup of tea.
You can always rely on tea to improve a situation.
I've also discovered a sense of commmunity does wonders too.
The Dress Shop Man bought my book today. He's going to display them in his shop as is Manze's, the famous pie n' mash shop.
Ah, pie n' mash... that's one off my list!
You'll know what I mean when you read the book.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Shop Girl is Launched




The Big day had come:
The Launch of 'Shop Girl Diaries'.
My nerves were momentarily eased by the successful match of my new tights with the dress.
It's those little details that really niggle.
As the Chines proverb goes, 'it's not the mountain that wears you out but the grain of sand in your shoe.'
Wait...Sand?
My shoes were full of grit.
But I was not alone.
The launch team were all there looking gorgeous though it was pelting with rain.
At this point I must thank Brian and Liz, ex-lighting geniuses, who swapped selling chandeliers for a marsh in Wales where they count migrating birds.
Thanks to their donation there was wine for everyone.
But there wasn't only wine.
Oh no.
Michael, from The Woolpack, who'd previously planned to donate winter Pimms was unperturbed by the museum's rule of no coloured drinks.
He set to work with his alchemy kit and came up with hot, white, winter punch.
What a treat - except I didn't have any because I was too afraid of getting drunk.
There wasn't much chance of that though because I was so busy signing people's books!
I see a blank page and I have to fill it.
So instead of just signing I wrote an essay in each one.
I was thrilled to have so many people there as excited by Shop Girl as I am.
Thanks to Alison and Di from the Fashion and Textiles Museum everything ran seamlessly.
Over 100 people came to the launch and the buzz was incredible.
61 books sold!
I thought I'd be so nervous when the time came to speak.
But I looked around me and saw these people were my family, friends, readers and fellow enthusiasts.
So I opened my mouth and trusted the right thing would come out.
I don't know what I said, I'm still waiting for the video, but I know I meant every word.
I'd almost opted not to read from my book but I'm glad I did. People laughed in the right places and some tell me they've been laughing since reading on trains and planes.
It was a wonderful night and I only wish I could do it all over again to talk to all those I didn't get chance to speak to.
Thank you all for coming and making it such a special evening.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Shop Girl Special Delivery


8 o’clock Monday morning.
I’m sleepy and have no intention of moving until the last minute (which is 9.19, if I don’t wash my hair).
Mum comes into my room. I reluctantly turn and open my eyes.
She’s holding a long brown box.
Suddenly I’m wide awake.
Because I know exactly what’s inside it.
“Oh my God,” I say, jumping up and taking it from her.
“This is it.”
“This is crazy.”
She looks on as I fight to open the box which has clearly been sealed with super glue.
I tug and pull and bite until finally I manage to rip it open.
And there I am, staring back at myself from the book cover of my first published book.
Can I write that again?
My first published book!
Not an image posted on my blog, but the real 3D version.
It’s so smart and smooth and...
“Square,” Mum says, “good shape.”
It’s beautiful and I feel so happy and so proud of it.
“Almost too good to sell,” I say, holding it close.
Across the country Postmen are loading up their red bags with little brown boxes. People could be reading me now in a cafe on their lunch break, or maybe with their legs up on the sofa with a cup of tea.
What an exciting and scary thought!
I hope you’re enjoying it if you’re one of them.
If not, then check out my video for proof that it exists.
I apologise in advance for these 2 minutes of dodgy recording!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Shop Girl on the Case


Today we visited the Fashion and Textile Museum.
Me, Petra and the Date.
We wanted to be certain everything would run smoothly on the night.
The launch is all I think about and have done for weeks. Every minute of the day.
I'm e-mailing as if it's just been invented, spreading the word with the efficiency of a tummy bug.
Of the many things I've learnt this week, the most important is this:
When organising a book launch don't assume anything.
For instance: don't assume the colour of the wine you've ordered is compatible with the venue.
"Nothing red," our contact said.
I wasn't sure what she meant at first.
We weren't allowed to wear red?
But my launch dress was red!
I couldn't believe she was referring to wine.
"We're having red and white," I said, to clarify.
"No, there can't be any red."
I gazed at her blankly.
Did she hate red that much?
Couldn't she just ignore the people drinking it?
"There can only be white drinks," she explained, "because of the exhibition."
I'd only just upped the wine order. It was being processed at that very moment.
My mind went into a panic as I wondered how I could stop it.
"Usually we only have white wine or champagne," she continued.
Champagne...
I held on to that thought for a moment.
Then let it go.
We headed to The Woolpack after that and coaxed the owner, Michael, out of his office.
"You're joking!" he gasped, looking dumbfounded. "What do you mean only white drinks?"
He'd promised us 20 litres of hot Pimms.
That was now out of the question.
"What about Vodka?" we wondered.
"Mixed with?"
"Gin?"
Thoughtful silence.
"What about soft drinks?" he asked.
The museum had suggested Elderflower cordial.
"That's alright if you like flowers."
Despite the hiccup, we left the Woolpack feeling confident we'd find an alternative.
Next Stop: My Shop.
Petra, theatre designer by trade, has been determined to give this lauch a wow-factor ever since she found out I was getting published.
Petra plus Mum and you get a pretty dynamic team.
Within ten minutes, they'd put together a mock-up of a very elegant, free standing chandelier.
Now, cross an artist, designer, an electrician, paint and lots of crystal... and you get a decoration that sums up the Shop Girl experience.
Excited?
I am.


BTW Petra, real name Piera Lizzeri, is a Rada Theatre Design Graduate, for all those theatre directors in need of a creative genius.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Shop Girl Book Launch Preparations



If you're thinking about asking me for a free book, please reconsider.
I’m not about to make a fortune and head off into the sunset in a Ferrari.
For a start, I can’t drive.
I’ve tried to drive.
My brother took me to a car park.
I mixed up the brake with the accelerator and almost ran over a couple and their dog.
Neither am I about to move from Mum’s house into some vast mansion with state of the art lamps that switch on when you blink.
“Oh, you’re going to go off and make millions,” customers say, after reading my interview in the Southwark News that’s now sellotaped to the shop window.
“Not really,” I say.
My bedroom is so small you’d mistake it for a walk-in cupboard. The Date even suggested I use my tiny bed for kindling wood in our Guy Fawkes’s bonfire.
I’m not moaning, I’m just trying to offer some perspective.
Give a guess, how many books do you think are being printed?
Because this being published lark is all very new to me.
It’s not just about writing a book, it’s getting it out there.
The Date designed me some Shop Girl postcards and the publishers agreed to finance the printing.
On Monday, I loaded my rucksack with my postcards and feeling somewhat apprehensive, I headed to the South Bank.
I walked along the river from Bermondsey to Waterloo distributing them.
Only one cafe said ‘no’. (The posh ‘illy’ one. )
“What’s it for?” some staff asked.
“I’m promoting a local book*,” I stammered. (*What does that even mean?)
Mostly they nodded and asked no more.
Your book?” a man in a trendy bar wanted to know, comparing the neat picture on the card with the messy haired version in front of him.
“Uh, yes...,” I said, and for a moment I felt genuinely surprised that it was mine.
As my rucksack got lighter I felt happier.
By the time I reached Waterloo Bridge the weight was off my shoulders in more ways than one.
Now for my next challenge:
The Book Launch.
Yesterday I learned that the publishers don’t fund book launches.
Reaction: Panic! (and the following thoughts:)


1) I’m going to have to use up all my savings!

2) What savings?!

3) I don’t have savings!

4) No one will buy my book unless they’ve had a drink!

5) It’s just going to be a room full of books and people looking for their free glass of wine!

6) I’ll have to tell everyone to forget my birthday and support the cause instead! (typical, late November/December birthday money was designed for other people's Christmas presents or book launches!)

7) And forget that new launch dress!



Today I’m much calmer.
I’ve summoned the creative powers of my friends and family.
Tonight all three of us are meeting.
May the force be with us.


*The Book Launch is on Wed 2nd Dec, from 7pm at the Fashion and Textile Museum, Bermondsey St, London SE1. All welcome. RSVP to emily@emilybenet.com






Friday, 30 October 2009

**Halloween Special** Shop Girl Unleashed


The Spirit of Halloween snatched my soul today and replaced it with a low-energy light bulb.
It flickered.
On.
And Off.
The wolves of my mind were restless.
They clawed at shadows as I sipped a potion of caffeine and milk (no sugar).
I cursed: ‘Damn.’
And indulged in dark thoughts, such as: I am trapped in a glass cage.
The door chimes rang and a middle-aged couple walked into the shop.
Their souls were blinding 300 watt halogens.
They told me they were visitors to London and drew up to the counter, where I stood pinning crystal beads together, like this:
Put pin in crystal
Curl end of pin
Put pin in crystal
Curl end of pin

“Oh,” the lady said, her bright eyes widening. “I bet you love doing that.”
I looked at her and considered lying.
“No I hate it,” I said.
I thought the truth would set me free.
It didn’t.
It just made a nice lady feel uncomfortable.
“Well, it’s not so bad,” I said, trying to backtrack.
They left and in came a man who wanted a BIG BIG light for the price of a teeny weeny light.
He entreated me with puppy dog eyes.
“Please,” he whined.
The wolves howled inside me
Lucky for him, he left unscathed, and I returned to my perch to continue stringing bead after bead like this:
Put pin in crystal
Curl end of pin
Put pin in crystal
Curl end of pin

I searched for my soul on e-bay but it wasn’t there.
Too much shadow, I suppose.
The wolves were growing evermore impatient to get out.
They could sense the Spirit of Halloween.
A woman burst in wearing gold glitter stilettos, followed by a shorter man with a shaved head.
“Don’t mind us,” she said, “We’re both pissed.”
I stared at them.
“Why not come back when you’re not pissed?” I suggested.
The man saved himself and left the shop.
But she was foolish.
“I’m not leaving until I’ve bought something,” she said.
For a while I watched her tottering about the shop, so close to breaking so many things.
Then suddenly I thought: ‘Sod this’
I unleashed those hungry wolves and in the last flicker of my replacement soul, I watched them gobble her up.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The Hands of Shop Girl

Some readers may remember me saying that when I left the shop, I’d get my nails done.
That I’d get a manicure and a stick-on diamante.
Since I haven’t left the shop my hands are still rubbish.
Pinning crystal involves washing them every half an hour and that, combined with the cold weather, leads to dry, cracking skin.
On Saturday, my date, disgusted with my granny hands, shoved me towards a vendor selling expensive moisturiser.
She took one look at them and shook her head.
“No, you don’t need moisturiser.”
She shook her head some more.
“What did you do to them?”
She turned them this way and that, looking for an explanation.
“Do you play tennis? Do you ride a motor bike?”
“No,” I said. “Not that I know of.”
Then she led me over to the sink and made me scrub them with hardcore exfoliation salts.
They felt lovely after that, as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
Not that I’ve ever touched one.
“How much does this cost?” I asked, enjoying the feel of my new-found skin.
“30 pounds.”
Ah.
That was half the winter coat I’d come out to buy.
She tried to tempt me with a discount and for once I saw it from the customers’ point of view.
Sometimes, despite the great offer, you can’t justify spending that much.
And then my wonderful date told me to stop being silly and bought the pot of salts for me.
Suddenly I've the potential of having beautiful hands.
I’ve started wearing gloves in the garden.
Although that’s more to do with the stinging nettles I merrily pulled out last week.
I thought they were mint.
The stings turned into red spots and lasted the entire day.
Yes, I’m still gardening, still working on those carrots I mentioned a few months ago.
Connie came into the shop and I told her about them.
“I don’t know when they’ll be ready,” I sighed.
“Well, the bloke on telly said it’s when you can see the top.”
So after work, I went home to inspect them.
I dusted the soil away from under those green scraggly leaves and noted with excitement, the small orange beginnings of a carrot.
Of course I pulled it straight out of the ground, all 3 centimetres of it.
“It looks like a radish,” Petra said, when she saw the photo.
“You should put it back in,” the Date said.
It was smaller than expected but at least it smelt like a carrot.
I’ll wait a little longer before I touch the rest.
Meanwhile if you’re wondering why I’m talking about hand cream and carrots, it’s because the Southwark News has succeeded in blowing my cover, and I’m not sure how to proceed with writing about my customers...

Monday, 12 October 2009

Shop Girl vs The Fear

I approach newspaper editors as if they were someone I fancy.
My heart pounds in my ears when I dial their number and I always hesitate before punching in the last digit.
Sometimes I hang up before the phone rings.
Then I consider an alternative strategy.
I’ll send an e-mail instead, knowing it will go straight to their Junk mail.
This is the side of me I have to reason firmly with.
“What’s the worst that can happen?” I say.
The ‘shy me’ throws a strop and says she isn’t ready.
Last week I was sick and didn’t ring anyone at all.
Alone in my shop I felt pretty sorry for myself.
A customer came in and I burst into tears.
This is not a selling technique I recommend for lights or books.
“Go home!” he said, so I did.
I tried to make soup.
The vegetables softened to a pulp but the rice refused to cook.
I crunched on the wholemeal grains as I watched Master Chef, wishing I could pull the dishes out of the telly.
For the entire week I slept on the sofa, believing my bed to be cursed by Moktezuma, an Aztec king.
But he must’ve cursed the sofa too because I couldn’t get to sleep on that either.

A customer suggested I ring the doctors to see if I had swine flu; another reckoned I had tonsillitis.
I wasn’t convinced I was suffering from either and waited.
The only good thing about being tired is you stop worrying.
All you can think about is sleep and soup and lemsip.
One morning that week, I woke up and without thinking, I rang my local paper.
To my surprise, the editor listened.
An hour later a journalist rang me back.
“Can I come over to your shop and interview you?”
I was still in pyjamas.
“Yes!” I said, “I’m on my way round!”
Soon she was at the shop counter, writing down my answers in short hand, which looked like hieroglyphics.
I like reading interviews.
What are you most afraid of?
They often ask that one in the Sunday magazines.
I’d say: I’m most afraid of being afraid.
And I’d probably think I was being a bit clever.
This Thursday I’ll be in the Southwark News.
With a bit more courage, who knows how far Shop Girl could go.

PS. I’m open to any good promotion ideas!

Monday, 5 October 2009

Shop Girl's Book

I’ve written a book.
You’ll never guess what it’s about.
It’s called, ‘Shop Girl Diaries’.
It all began on the Southbank over a pizza and a glass of wine with the Date.
It was the second time we’d ever met.
“I want to write a blog about my shop but I don’t want to write daily,” I announced.
“Write weekly then,” he said.
“Oh, can you do that?”
A week later I began the blog you’re now reading. That was over a year ago.
I’d always wanted to get our shop on paper and for three years I wrote a novel set in a lighting shop. It never felt quite right though and in the end I used the back of it as scrap paper.
In January my blog reached an editor at Salt Publishing, who asked me to turn it into a book.
Three people read the manuscript I sent off: My cousin, my Aunt and my Mum’s good friend.
“Are you sure you shouldn’t read it before it’s published?” I asked the Date. “You might want to change things.”
My book is very honest.
It’s the whole story; love, crystal and burning ambition.
“I wouldn’t change anything you write,” he said, “and besides it’s all true.”
It’s too late now anyway. It will soon be ready.
This December ‘Shop Girl Diaries’ will be out in the shops.
The next step is actually selling it.
I’m realising there’s a lot more to being a writer than writing.
To be honest I’d happily hide in a corner and get on with my next book.
But I mustn’t.
I’ve got to find my voice on the telephone.
I’ve got to persuade people to take an interest in me.
Radio stations, newspapers, television...
My tummy tightens just thinking about what I’ve got to do.
After reading ‘Paula’, I wrote to the author, Isabel Allende.
I thanked her for inspiring me and reminding me what I loved about writing. I also told her about my own Shop Girl story.
I didn’t expect her to reply and was very excited when she did.
She wished me good luck and gave me an important message:
“Don’t be shy."
With that piece of advice in mind, I ask you to consider making your Christmas shopping very easy this year and buying my book for everyone you know.
Cheeky?
Perhaps...
Shy?
Not at all!

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."
“Right.”
“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.
Yet.
‘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?’
‘January.’
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.
‘India.’
‘Interesting.’
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?”
“Yep.”
“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.







Friday, 21 August 2009

Shop Girl's Creative Reflections


I’m in a little Catalan village in the mountains.
It’s dark and the cows are sleeping.
The murmurs of voices float over from the terrace of the local bar.
Apart from that, it’s very still.
My brother left for the city today. He took the Date with him and dropped him off at the airport.
“You’ll be able to write lots now,” the Date said.
It’s quieter than ever and I’m already missing their banter.
After they’d gone, I sat on the balcony and scribbled in my notebook, hoping for a good idea.
Some novelists say all you have to do is find one great character then your novel will develop naturally.
This afternoon I started with a character called Billy.
Billy saw his girlfriend cheating on him with his best friend. He saw them through the window of a cafe and he got so angry he imagined doing all sorts of horrible things to the pair of them.
He would’ve offloaded to his flatmate but his flatmate was sleeping.
His flatmate slept a lot because... he’d won the lottery and didn’t need to work.
No... because he worked as a security guard in a nightclub.
No, I know, because he was getting over a nasty break-up himself and was so depressed he only got up occasionally and only then to fry an egg.
Mmm...
I stopped writing and shut my notebook.
“Short stories,” the Date had insisted the night before. “Write short stories.”
But I’m not sure Billy could even be developed in a haiku let alone a short story.
I’ll just have to keep scribbling and see where it takes me.
Maybe it’s all this sun I’ve been basking in.
It’s quite a change from the halogen up-lighter I’m used to sitting under in the shop.
Ah, the shop.
I haven’t thought about it in a while. Perhaps that’s the problem.
What if I can’t think of a plot unless I’m in the shop?
What if without the shop my imagination fails and Billy and his flatmate are all I can muster?
Scary thought.
I’m going to move my chair into the sun and reflect on this problem.
It’s so beautiful here.
Mountains fade to blue in the distance.
The still lake is a sparkling mirror beneath them.
Do I really have to go back behind the counter to get a story?
Surrounded by all this, surely I must be able to think up something half decent?
And if not, well, perhaps Billy isn’t so bad after all.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Shop Girl: The Bells! The Bells!


As shops go, we’re a little random.
Crystal chandeliers are our speciality:
“Gold plated, not gold spray paint,” we say, “they won’t tarnish.”
“What about in the Caribbean?”
“No one can guarantee that,” we admit, “too salty.”
Still, we’ve sent a lot of lights over there and those customers keep coming back.

On the other hand, we also sell latte whisks for £1.00.
“Good for omelettes as well as milk,” I say.
And big brass bells.
Some of these bells have Titanic engraved on them and some are plain.
“Are they from the real Titanic?” people ask.
I’m always tempted to say yes.
“I think they’d be more than fifty pounds if they were.”
Generally, customers are tentative about ringing the bells.
“Go on,” Mum says, when she watches them gently tugging at the bell chord. “Give it a good ring.”
The Nigerian business man who came in yesterday didn’t need any encouragement.
Smart in a suit and tie, he walked over to the two bells left on display and he rang the first bell with gusto.
We looked at him and smiled.
Then he rang the second bell as loudly. It was a deeper sound than the first.
“They’re slightly different, aren’t they?” Mum said.
“Are they different?”
He frowned then rang the first bell again and then the second.
“Which is better?”
“Well it’s whatever sound you prefer.”
He rang them as hard he could and the dongs started to feel like they were inside my head.
“You should join a bell ringing club,” Mum said.
He rubbed his jaw thoughtfully.
“Which is bigger?”
“They’re the same.”
He rang them again, doubtfully. He didn’t want to make a mistake.
I stepped forward with a measuring tape and confirmed they were the same size.
“Give me one for thirty pounds,” he said.
“No, they’re really cheap. Go to Greenwich and you’ll see miniature ones for seventy pounds.”
“I only have thirty pounds.”
Mum and I looked at each other. We were having a Sale after all.
“We’ll do them for forty five,” I said.
“But I want two.”
“So it’s ninety.”
“I only have sixty pounds.”
He started ringing them again as another customer came in with a pack of bulbs.
“Do you sell these?”
Mum addressed the bulb man while I stood by the two bells, ready with my screwdriver in case the bell man should want me to take one off the wall.
“They are Pickwick bulbs,” the customer said.
“Pickwick?”
“Yes Pickwick.”
“We don’t do them,” Mum said, “but they’re lovely.”
They were of the candle shaped variety.
“Yes they are, aren’t they?” the man said enthusiastically.
The business man was ringing the bells again.
“They’re looking for bell ringers at Southwark Cathedral,” the bulb man said. “What’s it called again?”
As the business man went to ring the second bell my hand instinctively went to hold the chord. But I caught myself, let it go and allowed him to ring the bell with energy.
“Pickwick,” Mum murmured.
“Yes, Pickwick.”
The bell man dealt three twenty pound notes onto the counter.
“Give me two for sixty.”
We all have our limits and this man had just found ours.
“Would you work for free?” Mum cried.
“Of course,” he said, “I am a Christian.”
I spluttered into my hand. He struck me as the kind of person who’d sell tickets to heaven.
But then again, I’m of the cynical variety.
Mum was momentarily flummoxed.
“Well I do a lot of free work myself but this is a shop!”
“Campanology,” the bulb man said, “that’s what it’s called.”
In the end the business man did buy a bell and we tied it up in a plastic bag so he’d resist a final dong on his way out.

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.
Carlotta.
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.
“Alive.”
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.
“Yes.”
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.
“No.”
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.
Hoots.
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.”

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Shop Girl: Take 1, Camera, Action!


“How much do you want this?” my brother had asked me, back in September.
“More than anything.”
And he’d rolled up his sleeves and launched into a speech on how to promote my blog.
I took his advice and one quiet day from behind the counter, I started leaving my link on internet sites, including SE1, a local forum.
Chloe Thomas, a TV director and producer, mailed me a few days later.
My blog had got her thinking.
She asked me if I fancied a cup of tea.
I did.
We had two beers and Chloe set out her vision and asked me to turn the blog into a screenplay.
And so began the Shop Girl Blog film project.
I’d never written a script before.
The date earned gold stars by giving me a master class. He gave me the screenplay of The Usual Suspects to follow as we watched it on the telly. He explained what should be included and what could be left out. He also gave me a script-writing template. If he hadn’t done that I’d still be back-spacing or trying to centre the dialogue for the first few lines.
Draft 1 followed.
Then 2, 3, 4, 5, 6....
7, 8, 9, 10
11, 12
And lucky 13.
Chloe roped in all her contacts and Cassandra King organised the casting.
I’d never been to a casting. It was a bit like being in the shop; lots of random people coming in and talking to you without buying anything.
But I was touched so many people turned up to the audition.
After the first day of casting I went to see the date feeling emotional.
It didn’t help that I hadn’t eaten lunch.
“Some of them came from such a long way,” I sobbed.
“That’s what actors do darr-ling."
“They ju-uh, ju-uh, ju-uh...”
“Are you okay?”
“They ju-uh came to read Shop Girl.”
“That’s a good thing darr-ling.”
On the second day of casting I made sure I’d eaten before.
This time I left the studio happy and excited. We’d found our cast.
Meetings followed; the shop was blitzed.
On Friday, we opened up at 6.30 am, which was quite something for our shop.
Four hours earlier Petra, who’d undertaken to be the entire Art Department, had been ironing costumes while Mum and I had cleared up.
And so it began.
The camera crew arrived with all their equipment.
The date arrived to do sound with the boom operator.
“Have you said hello to yourself yet?” he asked.
I looked over at Shop Girl and suddenly felt shy.
It wasn’t weird having someone play me as everyone thought it might be. It was only weird when I had to show her how to pin crystal.
“I could get into this,” she said, “come on Emily, I can help, give me stuff to do.”
Her pinning wasn’t bad but she wasn’t fussy about what she pinned to what. That said, a bit more training and I’d happily leave her in the shop while I go on holiday.
I never realised how intense filming is, how many takes are taken and angles covered. I sympathised with Natalie, in charge of continuity, since we were moving lights all the time to accommodate the camera and boom.
In spite of the notice that had been on the door for days, a few regulars did turn up. Veronica came in hoping to sell some more second hand jewellery.
“Sorry, we’re closed for filming,” I told her.
She looked irritated, “Well how long are you going to be? I’ve got this bracelet here...”
“Two days.”
Later she caught Mum and pushed a denim jacket into her hands.
“You can pay me next week if you like it,” she said.
Connie called in too.
“What are they filming for?”
“I’m not sure.”
“What do you mean you’re not sure?”
“Some advert, I think.”
It’d been ambitious to film the script in two days but the crew and cast managed to pull it off, stepping over the anticipated filming time by only 1 hour.
For those two intense days of filming it felt like my shop was its own universe and everything in it mattered.
It was an amazing feeling to be part of the crew and I can’t wait to share it with all you Shop Girl readers.
Thanks from the heart to all those who made it happen and for all those that are reading:

And now for the credits:

Executive Producers – Damon Beesley and Iain Morris
Head of Production and Catering – Leo Martin
Director / Producer – Chloe Thomas
Producer – John Kennedy
Writer – Emily Benet
Editor – Mick Johnson
Production Designer – Piera Lizzeri
1st Assistant Director – Christine Luby
2nd Assistant Director – Rhianna Andrews
Driver/ Runner – Colin Phillips
Director of Photography – Justin Evans
1st Camera Assistant – Dan West
2nd Camera Assistant – Tom Williams
Sound Recordist (day 1) – Juan Diego Sánchez
Boom Operator – Laura Fairbanks
Sound Recordist (day 2) – Richard Munns
Boom Operator – Raul Dias
Casting Director – Cassandra King
Script Supervisor – Natalie Scicluna
Costume Designer – Piera Lizzeri
Costume Assistant – Claire Wardoper
Make-up & Hair Designer - Emma Maris
Make-up & Hair Designer – Jennifer Nash

And thanks to all the actors –

Shop Girl – Katy Wix
Mum – Annette Badland
Ali – Davood Ghadami
Rose – Leila Hoffman
Mr Roberts – Rhod Culbertson
Danny – Blake Harrison
Guardian Seller - Kourush Mavaei
Belle – Lou Conran
Raf – Paul Sharma
Lucus – Jeff Leach
Postman - Dave Shelley

And a massive thanks to my wonderful family for all their love and support -

Mum – Jill Benet
Papa – Antonio Benet
My Brother – Oriol Benet
My Auntie – Keri Hacker

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Grumpy Shop Girl


Some customers bring out the best in me and some bring out my dark side.
I’m not like the sales assistants I saw in Canada. They were so unfaltering in their happiness I wondered if they were on prozac.
My customers wouldn’t take me seriously if I told them to ‘have a nice day’ all the time.
“How much?” Mr Francis says, pointing at a state of the art lamp.
Mr Francis, the haggler, is one of those who stir my inner monster.
“195,” I say.
“What about my discount?”
“Look, I could’ve said 250, then you’d have said 200, then I’d have said 240 and so on, for half an hour, but I didn’t, I’m too busy.”
He looks at me and smiles.
“150?”
“No,” I say and I turn back to pinning crystal at the counter.
Mr Francis as ever, promises to return next week with money to pay off for the last bargain I shouldn’t have given him.
Another man comes in and points up at a sparkling chandelier near the door. It’s an ornate fitting, loaded with dazzling crystal balls.
“This says 1000 pounds reduced to 700 pounds,” he says.
“Yes?”
“I bought the same one for 700 dollars.”
“It probably isn’t the same.”
“It is.”
“Crystal and plating often vary in quality,” I start to explain.
“It’s the same. And I got it for 700 dollars.”
What does he want me to say?
“Lucky you.”
He looks at me and frowns.
“Excuse me?”
“You got a good price,” I say, “so you’re lucky.”
He leaves after that, with no intention of coming back.
The thing is, on the sixth day of being in the shop, a part of you fades.
A part of you loses all interest.
A woman comes in and pouts at me.
“Why are you closing?”
“We don’t want to sell to the public,” I say.
“Oh,” she says, taken aback. “That’s not very nice.”
“I didn’t mean it like that...”
She waits for me to tell her how much fun the public really are.
“We’ll still be doing wholesale,” I say.
“Oh,” she brightens. “So you’ll be on the internet?”
“No.”
She frowns.
“Well, yes, we will be on the internet...”
“Right.”
“But not to you.”
“Oh.”
The local salsa addict comes to see me near closing time.
He’d predicted I’d be ‘bored and lonely’ by this point. He brings music and jaffa cakes and I start to cheer up.
I take my flip flops off and dance barefoot.
“Aren’t you worried about bits of glass on the floor?” he asks.
“Nope.”
Mr Salsa attends 8 dance classes a week so I’m not worried about him treading on my toes either.
“This is just what I needed,” I say, as I click into a cha cha.
Afterwards I clean the soles of my feet with window cleaner and we have a home-made piña colada with coconut juice from the newsagent.
I suppose I’d started taking it all a bit too seriously. But it's
nothing music and dancing can’t cure.
Perhaps this is what the shop girls do in Canada.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Shop Girl Dum Di Dum


Without realising it, I missed the 80’s.
In fact, I also missed the 90’s.
Sitting in the park, Rosie and my date tried to include me in a film quiz.
They hummed theme tunes, quoted legendary lines.
“Come on, it’s a classic!” my date cried in disbelief, every time I shrugged.
I picked at the grass; nothing remotely near the tip of my tongue.
“Okay, easy one,” the date said, and breathed into his hand, “Luke, I am your father.”“Star wars?” I said.
They clapped and I felt relieved.
It’s not just films; it’s music too.
Two decades of culture lost to me.
I used to listen to the radio in the shop but stopped when I grew tired of the same old five songs.
Problem is we don’t have many CDs in the shop either.
It’s lucky we don’t mind repetition; it goes well with the crystal pinning.
Last year we played the sound track of the Motor Cycle Diaries over and over, until one morning I found a customer had posted three CD’s through our letter box.
“Thought you needed a change,” he said, when I saw him.
Mum’s didgeridoo music wasn’t much of a hit either .
“What the hell is this?” a customer complained. “It’s like having your head drilled out.”
My taste in music is equally suspect.
I love cheesy Latin stuff; the kind of music where the main singer is always dying of love but always lives to write the next song.
When customers come in, I often lower the volume, embarrassed by the lyrics even though they probably wouldn’t be able to understand them.
Recently, my date introduced me to spotify.
It’s a program that lets you find any music you like at a click of the mouse. No downloading, no complications.
The only downside is a few advert breaks.
Usually it’s just a certain ‘Jonathan’ saying, ‘Hi from spotify’, but sometimes it’s a bit more.
A fellow twenty-something came into my shop last week and as usual, I discreetly turned the music down.
But then it was really quiet.
Too quiet.
So I thought, sod it, better cheesy music than this awkward silence.
I turned the volume back up just as a spotify advert came on.
‘We all love music, especially in the bedroom...’
I panicked, not sure what was coming next, and went to switch it off but instead switched it on full blast.
‘Say YES to SAFE SEX!’Great message but not the one I’d planned to give to this young man who was already looking a little nervous.
The silence that followed was even more uncomfortable.
“Oh spotify,” my friend Velvet, said casually, “I’ve known about it for ages.”
Typical, another thing I’d missed.
But it was new to Rosie.
“Are you ready?” I said, when I rang her. “I’m going to give you a gift.”
Now she says it’s changed her life.
We’re forever texting names of songs back and forward.
Perhaps this is how I’m finally going get some music education.
And perhaps not.
I wonder why I care so much anyway.
Only yesterday a customer came in who I hadn’t seen in a long time.
“You closing?” he said.
“Eventually.”
“Oh that’s a shame. I enjoy the music in here.”
I grinned and not so discreetly, turned the volume up.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Shop Girl in Sequins


I go upstairs and make two cups of tea.
I don’t know why I make two; I’m on my own today.
I chuck the milk carton in the bin outside and notice the man from the wig shop, looking cool in sunglasses.
I’ve never asked him to put my shutter up before. He seems the type who’d think it was beneath him. But when I do he’s very obliging.
“You need a strong man around,” he says, “ask me whenever you need help.”
What a find, I think, and go back to my teas.
The first is weak.
The second is cold.
Veronica comes in and I realise I’ve started something off. She now knows I’m capable of buying her jewellery.
“Mummy not here?”
“Not today.”
She looks slightly disappointed.
“What size are you?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve got a dress here.”
I’m blinded as she pulls out this glittering blue number, covered top to bottom in sequins.
“Oh, wow,” I say, struggling for words. “I don’t think it’s Mum’s thing.”
“You try it.”
“I don’t think I’d wear it.”
“Just try it.”
“But really, I wouldn’t...”
“Let’s just see how it looks.”
It’ll only be a moment, I tell myself. Veronica won’t give up unless I do.
The dress is really heavy.
I step into it and pull it up over my jeans. It’s so tight I can hardly move my legs.
It’s like being stuck inside a tube of toothpaste.
“Oh yes, it looks gorgeous on you,” Veronica says.
A tube of toothpaste covered in sequins.
The phone rings and I suddenly realise I’m in my shop dressed up like a drag queen.
What was I thinking?
I pull down the straps as I pick up the phone.
“Is that accounts?” a woman asks.
“Uh ...accounts is... away.”
Veronica comes around the counter, right up to me.
“You need to try it on without your top,” she says, and then tries to lift my top off.
The dress is stuck around my hips.
“I see,” the woman says.
I wriggle and the dress slides down, pushing my knees together. I fall forward and catch myself on the counter still hanging onto the phone.
The dress drops around my ankles.
“Do we owe you something?”
“You could wear it to a nice party,” Veronica says.
I pull my top back down.
“Or a dinner.”
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” the woman says, and gives me the amount.
“Right, I’ll sort it out tomorrow.”
“Thank you.”
I hang up and hand the dress back.
“It’s not really my style.”
“It’s only 20 pounds, it was 150...” Veronica pushes.
I catch myself thinking about my friend’s hen party.
“No, really,” I say, gathering my wits. “It’s not me.”
“I know it’s a bit over the top,” she says, “but I think you and your Mum should be a bit a bit more over the top...”
“Well...”
“I have to say it,” she says. “I think you’re both too conservative.”
This is news.
Is that the impression I give?
She starts getting her bags of jewellery out.
And I don’t know how she does it.
But after she’s gone, I look at my reflection in the mirror and run my finger over the new necklace. It’s a blue heart pendent with a big bling diamante inside it. On a gold chain.
And I think, maybe if I look at it long enough, I’ll start to like it.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Shop Girl and the Local Economy


It’s been a difficult week for independent businesses.
The pub across the road has been boarded up.
“We’ve been hearing all sorts of reasons why,” confides the owner of the cafe, lowering his voice. “Infestation of bats, apparently.”
“Bats? I hope we don’t get them!”
“No, not bats! Rats!”
And that’s just one of the possibilities.
An inside source tells me they’re refurbishing. But either they’ve boarded it all up with the builders within or they haven’t started yet.
I go to the ‘all and everything’ African shop to get some disposable table cloths and find a bailiffs notice stuck on the door. Where am I going to find a disposable table cloth now?
It’s sad. The owner could never find anything you wanted but he was a nice guy.
Back at the shop we have our own problems.
A lanky white-haired man strides in with a bottle of white spirit under his arm.
“Now, am I right in thinking you sell hoover bags?”
“Nope, try a few doors up.”
An Indian man holds up a memory card from a camera.
“Photo?”
“Nope, try a few doors up.”
A black man comes in carrying a folder.
“Do you do shipping?”
“Nope, but you could try a few doors down.”
Veronica creeps up on me on Friday with her endless bags of second hand jewellery.
A more mysterious regular customer had come in only moments before.
He’s a Nigerian lawyer and journalist who appears every few years to, in his words, ‘monitor’ my progress.
“That sounds creepy,” I say. “I’m going to blog about you now just in case you turn out to be a psycho.”
Lately I’ve forgotten how I’m supposed to talk to customers.
Veronica ignores the lawyer sitting on the stool by the counter and proceeds to shows me her wares.
“I haven’t got any money,” I say.
But she passes me the silver earrings anyway. I’m surprised to find I really quite like them.
“You won’t see another pair like it,” she says.
A couple come in and are looking at a chandelier. I’ve seen them before and sense they're probably quite serious about buying. We need a sale and I want to help but between the lawyer in front of me and Veronica at the side, I’m locked in.
“Okay, I’ll have them,” I say.
I think by buying the earrings Veronica will go and I’ll have a bit more space to sell something of my own.
No such luck.
“Have a look at this necklace,” she says.
“Hang on.”
I squeeze passed her to answer a few of the couple’s questions before leaving them to deliberate.
The thing is, the necklace is lovely too.
“Vintage,” she declares.
And cheap.
So I buy the necklace and off she goes.
The lawyer stays where he is.
“Do you want anything?” I ask him
“No.
“Bulbs?”
“No.”
So I leave him be and attend fully to the couple.
Then Veronica marches back in.
“Can I use your phone?” she says. “It’s a free number.”
I hand her the phone because it’s quicker than not giving it to her.
“There’s no dialling tone. Can you have a go?”
“I need to help these customers.”
“Let me try,” the lawyer says.
“No, she’ll do it for me,” Veronica says.
The couple glance at each other; confused or worried, I don’t know which.
I expect they’ll escape now, while they still can.
My counter is under siege, I can’t get in front of it or behind it.
“It’s free,” Veronica keeps saying. “I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t.”
It’s one of those moments when I wonder if my life will ever make any sense.
“We’ll take it,” the couple say.
“Great!”
But maybe it doesn’t have to.