The Shop Near The Railway Bridge
This memory has been somewhat of a puzzle to me for a number of years until just lately when a programme on T.V. helped provide an explanation; thus I am now able to relate what I recall with a clearer mind. I guess the biggest puzzle now is 'what on Earth is Jamie doing in a suit' ! Was I going to an interview? Going to try and 'join up'?…Maybe heading for a first date? I have to admit that at this stage I still don't know though I feel it was something to do with work or a job.
I walk into the shop, a little indignant still; not only have I had to find it as I'm not going on one of my usual routes today but also I want to look – and more importantly feel grown-up – and there's Mother getting me to do errands like a little boy! On the other hand, she doesn't know where I'm going today, so its not really her fault…
My age is now between 15 and 16 and anyone can tell I'm trying to appear adult because I'm wearing an uncomfortable smart suit and a serious-looking cap. Underneath my wet hair is so tidy and combed that its feels as if it's glued down to my skull whereas normally it's quite unruly. The suit is just black with a few extremely thin white stripes running down it and it makes me seen skinny which I don't enjoy either; the cap is grey and slightly too large. It really belongs to my brother William but I've figured, since he's away at college, he won't miss it just this once.
I gaze round the shop while I wait for the shortish bespectacled man at the counter to finish what he's doing and serve me. It has two big display windows, one each side of the entrance and the bare shop floor is just a little, in width, off being about fourteen feet square. Centrally, at the back, behind he man, it looks as if there was once a service hatch that is now blocked off with a sort of notice-board covering it. Could this once have been a pub or inn of some sort? Interior doors stand each side of the board, the left; I sense is to the back stairs and a ground floor office so I assume the other leads to a stockroom. One door is the same mid-brown as most of the paintwork inside or out; the other as if it is new-ish or has just been roughly sanded-down, its naked wood holding an unexpected brightness compared to its rather dull comrade.
In fact, the entire shop exudes a kind of dimness once you step more than a foot away from its bleak windows but , in the few times I've been here before, I haven't noticed its weight so much. The floor is very dusty, as are the shelves and, if it wasn't for the owner and an enquiringly expressioned lady who ducks in from the suppose-ed stockroom doorway, you could easily believe no one has been in here for years. Its not exactly spooky – more sinisterly disconcerting, if 'sinister' isn't too strong a word.
Some of the goods for sale live on the two levels of shelves that run on either side of the room. These tend to be small stuff; - boxes of 'Sunlight soap' (no posh 'Pears' here), washing soda, Oxo tins and 'Brasso'. Other stock, bigger sacks, boxes or occasionally small crates, stands on the floor. These hold beans, for example, or lined versions contain grain and sugar. You could probably buy most everyday stuff you want in this shop but, strangely, none of it ever looks very appealing. I think it's because of that dim dustiness again.
It is at ceiling level where you will at last find something fascinating, and indeed shiny! A fetching/carrying system built from what looks like overgrown Mecca no and somehow worked by buttons behind the counter:- I suppose its run by electricity as more and more places are getting it put on these days if they can afford or find it practical – Not all do. The system involves what I can only describe as tracks or rails suspended from the 3 ceiling itself from which a holder (leather for smaller items or amounts and wooden or a tin bucket for large) dangles for the requested items to be placed into before another button is pressed and the holder glides back to the counter! There is a second set of tracks running from there to the stockroom but I have never seen that work so I assume they must be either incomplete or faulty.
Behind the counter itself, the woman weighs goods, slices bacon or salt blocks and makes those intriguing bags from a previously flat sheet of brown paper. I've tried to do those myself and they always leak, but like all shop-constructed ones, her never do and I can never work out how they manage it.
Contemplating this, I ask for Mother's sugar which is drawn from a sack on the right of the front door and decide to have a few semi-'new' potatoes from the back-left corner. The man grunts sullenly while the woman does the weighing and packaging, and he persuades the already ancient (definitely NOT electrical) till to co-operate with him so I can pay.
With my purchases tucked under my elbow, I head gratefully outside, past the exterior brown paint into a street that seems amazingly bright despite its dark inner-city grime and brick-work. I seem to be heading to wards a park and am now much more cheerful.