Diary of a Provincial Shopkeeper
Unreliable musings on life in retail, with enormous thanks to the quite brilliant EM Delafield for the source material.
Unreliable musings on life in retail, with enormous thanks to the quite brilliant EM Delafield for the source material.
Am feeling much encouraged by sunshine and blue skies.
Any conversation with customers now involving some discussion of foreign travel. Am v enthusiastic about these vicarious trips. Last week Miami. This week Lisbon. Next week Seychelles. Have even enjoyed adventures in Namibia in customised vehicle (quite the intrepid voyager) and am looking forward to weekend in Helsinki. Much chat about Puglia, Cote d’Azur and Greek islands and have just heard plans re. business trip to Mexico. Find enthusiasm takes form of extensive internet research, itinerary planning and failure to grasp that am not, in real actual fact, going on any sort of trip myself. Resolve to put said holiday conversations to commercial purpose and plan series of website stories based around global jetsetting and essential outfits for said destinations.
Acronyms in modern life proving challenging. Do we have enough SLGs for the season? Have no idea, as what even is SLG?
Rob’s lockdown infatuation with Henry the Hoover eclipsed by new obsession with steam cleaner. Online forums with fellow lovers of waterbased cleansing and much nurturing behaviour in form of distilled vinegar irrigation and purified water infusion. Trust Sandie equally nurtured as wedding date rapidly approaches.
Personal orders arrive for the season. Others have made wise choices in Spring 22 fashion. All colleagues look v chic and are perfect advertisement for modish destination that is The Hambledon. I look as if a. have been upholstered in industrial quantities of mylar b. am trying out as linebacker for San Francisco 49ers c. am quite, quite mad. Resolve next time to choose clothes to fit actual body. Not body of imagined person some 30 years younger, 6 inches taller with less enthusiasm for sweetened baked goods.
New phone system installed. All well and good but struggling with answerphone. Have taken to reading message transcripts instead as involves fewer buttons but does make markedly less sense. Struggle with identity of Either Straws Burger (fast food magnate?), Jamie from Depressed (if it’s a place, I don’t want to go there) and am longing to find the Richard Gere Baby Department (working with babygrows in life after Pretty Woman?).
Hambledon ghostbusting team continues to investigate Basement poltergeist. Video evidence via CCTV submitted for review. Division in the ranks. Rob, Finn, Rich and Lucy’s nephew Cody convinced by spectral activity. Others more willing to cite wonky shelf and draught.
Email request for opportunity to dress Fat Boy Slim’s son Woody for Ibizan tour. Rob’s response:
‘I’ll need two flights to the island for the opening parties and Norman to play a 3 hour set at my wedding party.’
Only two flights? Harsh.
And welcome Laurie. First Kansan on staff. Disappointingly no sign of red shoes and small dog.
w/c 27th December - Review of the year
January – And so begins our lockdown online frenzy. Much learnt from 2020 with regard to packing stations, back ache and RSI. New fulfilment centre opens (reconfigured attic space with added light bulbs and Ikea desks). Sellotape, bubble wrap and brown paper in quantity. Disco ball very much retained for impromptu dancing.
February – Decide Sunny Side Up will be theme for SS21 season. Jasper makes playlist. Victoria makes pinboard (lockdown coping mechanisms to rival banana bread and sourdough). We continue packing parcels.
March – Sunny Side Up masks slipping (just these masks, full PPE engaged chez Hambledon). Continue packing parcels. Longing to see real, actual customers.
April – Shop reopens to degree of excitement not previously seen in history. Jess, Lara and Carolyn join team. Jess working weekends only. Bereft Monday to Friday. Lara bringing much needed calm and cheer. Carolyn quite madly overqualified for parcel packing. Keep adding to her workload as proving inordinately capable of all things.
May - Some fashion appointments restart in the real. Happily reacquainted with alternative food universe. Delighted eating peanuts and crisps for breakfast, chocolate biscuits for lunch and tea and various machined coffees at all hours. Some fashion appointments continue virtually. Travel to New York (v swish showroom with immaculate staff); travel to East London (immaculate John Pritchard and trusty ring light for flattering Zoom experience); travel to Essex and head upstairs to Les’s bedroom (Les on bed showing collection of shoes, more intimate than usual agent/client relationship).
June – Guillaume, teenage Swiss second cousin once removed in law (if family tree serves right) comes to stay to improve already impeccable English. Put him to work in Menswear. Learns fashion lexicon from Mr Adams (many wordsfor selvedge, texture and elevation).
July – Emily starts as Womenswear Runner. Who knew such a person essential to life? Am now pressed to imagine things without her. Key skills required: tidying and smiling. Supplementary skill proves to be immaculate dressing of store mannequins. In other news v taken with Euros. Invite Rob, Rich and delightful Katie and Sandie round to watch final. Spend much time behind sofa biting fingernails and weeping. Feel have revealed too much of self to staff.
August – Boys go camping with Snow Peak. Girls invited but plead pressing prior engagements. All staff v jealous upon boys’ return. Had imagined wet weekend on Dartmoor with soggy sleeping bag. Trip was in fact upscale beano to blindingly beautiful North Downs with extensive catering and immaculate, if tented, sleeping quarters.
September – Rob takes much needed holiday. Rob returns from much needed holiday in possession of fiancee. Much celebration.
October – Await delivery of our Christmas decorations. Continue to blame Suez, weather and Brexit, though none of these actually to blame. Customs impounds consignment as peanut butter bauble constitutes risk (on grounds of health, safety or good taste I couldn’t say).
November – Delivery of Christmas decorations. And much else besides. Mayhem.
December – Calculate annual spend on skinny cappuccinos and resolve to give up caffeine for 2022 in effort to pay off mortgage. Christmas Market markedly marvellous, sans ice rink (and extended family groups and coach parties). Bid extremely fond farewell to Hambledoners off to pastures new. Love and thanks to Bella, Odina and this year’s crop of Christmas elves James, Max and Kate.
And onwards - Finn has made spreadsheet titled New Year New You. Intend to stick to her resolutions for 2022. Balk slightly at ‘Do Something with Suppressed People’ as this sounds autocratic (Finn can be bit bossy). But like the sound of ‘LinkPop’ though fear it may involve karaoke. Wish us luck. And wishing you all the very, very, extremely best for next year.
w/c December 6th:In the Thick of It
Christmas has arrived and not before time. Despaired of decorations ever arriving from Valentine (not name of person but fantastically name of place in deepest Nebraska) as packages were impounded by UK customs for several weeks. Ordinarily would blame Brexit, get on high horse, gallop around a bit and weep. As goods from United States, where trade agreements long since in place, had no recourse but to weep and make daily phone calls to UPS. All finally resolved when customs admitted that peanut butter not a foodstuff when in form (albeit highly realistic) of glass bauble. Feel reindeer decoration might also have raised alarm with authorities as contravening rules for importation of livestock. And sugared plums might have raised eyebrows as perishable risk.
Seasonal delivery drivers experiencing particular challenges: to whit loading bay closures and vindictive traffic wardens. Have written to council in grumpy voice in show of solidarity. Was however unable to help driver of large palletised delivery who appeared at shop on foot, and sans van, demanding goods entrance (unable to assist as very much have no goods entrance). Much hilarity from driver re. back entrance, back passage &c (hilarity not appreciated by posse of Hambledoners who are of subtler comedic mettle). Driver reappeared at shop 30 mins later, again on foot and still sans van, demanding turn by turn navigation to front door. Very much taken with Lottie and keen to invite her to his cab as personal sat nav assistant. Invitation quite firmly rejected. Driver reappeared at shop still on foot, several hours later, somewhat dishevelled and most definitely sans van, having mislaid his vehicle somewhere in the city. Driver last seen wandering city streets, scratching head and wailing.
Tis the season for minor ailments. Staff absent with coughs and colds. Also think BMA might like to investigate new diseases particular to shop. Scratchy eyes: symptomatic of Datti Eye-tis (Bellerose fans will understand); excessive sneezing: symptomatic of Glitter-nosis (Cody Foster sparkle a possible source, Lucy v susceptible); frostbite (not strictly speaking a brand spanking new medical condition): result of much too welcoming wide open door policy. Ground floor staffers at greatest risk in spite of recent outlay on electric heaters and brandy.
Am collecting compliments, and otherwise, from new visitors. Winchester awash with Christmas Market customers unfamiliar with life at The Hambledon. Feel we peaked at ‘like Collette in Paris but curated just for me’. Equally buoyed by ‘my favourite shop ever’. And ‘just like Habitat’ had certain retro appeal. Less charmed by ‘Are you just open for Christmas dear?’ and appalled by comparisons with Lush (apparently favourably intended, though not kindly taken) as customer believed all decorations to be bath bombs.
Boobs and willy sales continue apace. Such is the scale of enthusiasm for genitalia (albeit in keyring form), that am thinking of rebranding shop as Winchester Ann Summers and retiring to Costa Brava. Am intrigued to know which staff will stay on at new concern.
w/c October 18th : Preparing for the C Word
Am not (fellow Hambledoners may choose to disagree) a grinch on matter of festive season but 2021 is proving trying in extreme. Shortage of drivers, fuel, boats, canals, materials and correct paperwork leading to shortage of own hair and fuse in direct correlation. Resolve to feign high spirits in hope of rallying troops.
Investigate contents of garage in hope of finding festive wherewithal. Ancient counter of quite ludicrous dimensions (housing garden waste, much neglected camping equipment and box of Playmobil) proves most likely candidate. View size of car boot in relation to said counter and feel decidedly gloomy about prospect of delivering furniture to shop. Resolve to fashion roadworthy vehicle of own construction involving counter, sack truck and collection of bungees of assorted size. Am reminded of Boyle’s Law from O Level Physics as believe extension of bungees no longer proportionate to load applied, elastic limit having long since been exceeded. Give up and text very nice man with large van.
Lose many days trying to find old floral curtains on popular auction site in attempt to disguise structural limitations of counter. In vivid imagination have now remodelled window treatments of several French chateaux, an English country estate and a number of bijou London pied à terres with extremely exotic drapery. For job in hand, settle on more domestic scale vintage Sanderson, formerly seen in semi detached in Penge.
Trip to Brewers to find paint of perfect colour for Christmas theme. All names suggest wet weekend on Dartmoor and inspire no seasonal fervour. Piddling down in Croscombe? Torrential deluge in Launton? Windswept in Winslade? Upon disappointing application of tester pots to wall, rethink choice and opt for Palladian 5: greener than 4, lighter than 6, more historically appropriate than Arts and Crafts 11 and no suggestion of disappointing holiday in West of England. Richard dons red paper onesie to begin DIY works. Looks less like professional painter decorator and more like slender Santa who has mislaid his hat.
Make trip to lock up. May have used beeper to open security roller blind more times than strictly necessary (think it’s the feeling of power). Feel less omnipotent tripping over old clothes rails and boxes of shoes in effort to find outsize Christmas wreath.
Stocking fillers begin to arrive. Make first sale of Holy Booble notebook (yes, notebook with boobs on cover) to a Satanist. Feel this is much neglected customer demographic at The Hambledon. Make note to investigate additional products for this market.
In other, very happy news Mr Rob Adams of this very parish is to be married. For consistency would much like to continue writing in Provincial Shopkeeper tone of voice but am actually too excited and delighted, and frankly gobsmacked to keep up the pretence of my 1930s impersonation. Huge congratulations Rob and Sandie. And all the flippin’ love from all of us.
w/c August 16th : Love and Marriage
Am thinking of retraining as marriage counsellor. Cannot claim expertise from personal experience as am often very cross with own husband but have years of observing marital situations on shop floor which might inform new career. Recent half price sale highlighting troughs and peeks of matrimonial state. To wit, Couple no. 1: Visit by wife before sale day to try dress; subsequent phone call by wife before sale day for advance sale price (denied); subsequent phone call by wife for advance sale price as moving house and indisposed on sale day (ditto); subsequent visit by wife with husband for advance sale price as moving house and husband recent surgical case (ditto); subsequent conversation with husband and wife re. sale price; husband (obedient, if convalescent) subsequently first in queue in rain on sale day. Surgery rendering running up the stairs to secure dress somewhat difficult but dress at sale price secured. Couple no 2: phone call from husband (couple recently decamped to Yorkshire and commute to shop proving difficult) to buy jewellery to thank wife for nursing, and cleaning, duties in face of extreme nosebleed. Message dictated for accompanying card sufficient to bring forth moist eyes in hardened shop staff. Days later wife arrives in shop on first day of sale. Husband’s gift of jewellery surpassed by his surprise gift of train travel and Winchester hotel stay to enable discount shopping at The Hambledon. True love.
Am renowned for little but do have reputation for hiding in face of celebrity. Richard E Grant and an attic cupboard are stuff of shop legend. NB He was not in the cupboard. Found much to occupy in stock room when H B-C (Crown filming at the Cathedral) dancing to Dolly Parton on Womenswear Floor. Would have hidden from Mia Wasikowska but found impossible to believe that it was she buying large quantities of socks. Last week news of Mary Portas in fitting room reaches my desk. Decide to brave shop floor as keen to discuss state of High Street, Grimsey Review and importance of independent retail to economy. Find Mary has already left building. Am disappointed as had much to say on pressing subject of shops.
A guide to Hambledoners through recent birthdays: Finn enjoys Colin the Caterpillar (most definitely M&S varietal) and Fizz (preferably French or award winning British sparkler which may share name with this very establishment). Expects full staff attendance, enthusiastic singing, witty repartee and opens gifts with extensive vocal reaction and description of each. Tears may accompany. I enjoy Fizz. Take gifts home for quiet reaction to each. Lucy enjoys pint of lager beer in company of dog. Gifts left in flat.
Lucy has acquired a motor vehicle. This is news because a. Lucy passed her test in 1997 b. has not been behind wheel in quarter of century c. has recently had extensive driving lessons in environs of Lyme Regis, involving picnics, full circle reversing and instruction in meaning of terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ d. has house in West Dorset to which access by public transport means has, to date, proved challenging.
w/c June 14th : Buying and Selling
Am frightening the horses. Made customer remove item of clothing immediately as she looked like Grayson Perry. Made same customer remove sweater as looked unspeakably boring. Also made same customer adjust bra straps to give perkier appearance to bosom. Noticed other customers in fitting room retiring to safety behind the curtains, fearful of adverse comments relating to body image and resemblance to Turner Prize winning artists if they ventured into communal space. Felt thus compelled to introduce customer as my much loved and inordinately stylish mother with whom I speak frankly and plainly. Much sympathy and admiration expressed to mother for her gracious tolerance in face of daughter. A degree of tutting and head shaking expressed to me.
V pleased to be back in London for buying appointments. Am now ranking agents and design studios according to catering provision as, since lock down, have reverted to eating habits of young child on four hourly feeds. Impromptu sandwich much beyond lunchtime followed by evening drinks in sunlit garden of private members club currently in the lead. Am just saying.
Much excitement at latest Zoom call (scheduled time EST 10am). In glamorous setting of stuffy stockroom in SO23, surrounded by staff lunch boxes, broken hangers and old coats, buyers ineffectually attempt chilly sang froid for meeting with stylish, but potentially frosty, New Yorkers in slightly more glamorous setting of enormous loft showroom in Soho, NY. Assorted models of giraffe dimensions wandering in and out of shot, minions quietly minioning and all manner of beautiful dresses wafting. Sang froid very quickly lost to excited exclamations and audible squeals which causes online staff working in attic to rush in offering medical assistance.
Think wise idea for customers to bring wallet to shop: transactions generally relying on exchange of money for goods. Customers with funds generally in stronger position re. shopkeepers. Weighty basket of potential homewares purchases from new Hambledon visitor is steadily whittled away as said visitor has forgotten credit card and finds her friend neither enthusiastic over quality of potential purchases nor willing to lend funds to satisfy her shopping habit. Leaves shop rather sheepishly with a sea salt soap and a water pistol paid for with dusty coins at the bottom of her bag.
Will attempt to leave Brexit topic for my appearance on Question Time. But have much to say about deliveries from Europe and very little is positive. Find working on project with major Danish homeware brand has tested will to live. Danish homeware brand broadly good. Danish homeware brand’s shipping agent broadly very poor. Excuses for lack of delivery ranging from lorry too big; van too small; Winchester roads too narrow; working day too short; shop closed (Really? At 11am on a Monday?). Truth finally revealed. Shipping agent has lost palette at depot and is fearful of consequences with Danes, who, it is true, can be forthright when challenged.
In other news, much commotion on ground floor as Rob discovers spider (apparently of unnatural size and threat) hidden in tee shirt. Thought screaming was Cathy Berberian auditioning for soprano part in outlandish opera but seems spiders will bring out Rob’s full vocal range.
w/c April 26th: Technology and Bureaucracy Get the Better of Us
Attempting to live in grown up, digital age. New till system installed and is already making recommendations for products we should sell. Think this disrespectful and rude. Suggestions based on customer search history rather than ineffable skill of retail buyer, garnered over years of trial, experience and impeccable taste. Suicide apparently on this list (auto correct on Suicoke sandals possible culprit). Think will not be inclined, nor indeed able, to offer this service.
Finn spending aeons troubleshooting new system. Names of Shopify support staff bear close resemblance to rival band of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Finn in reliable super hero hands when aided by Mozart, Aloysius and Genesis. Think she feels underwhelmed when supported by Hannah, Lauren and Henry. Have yet to study whether outlandish name directly correlates to level of service offered. Have actually better things to do.
Brexit currently removing any leisure hours. C79 form from HMRC covered in multiple number codes for ports of entry, item and shipper (all printed on v jazzy anti forgery paper which makes it unspeakably hard to read and apt to bring on headache) sadly bears no relation to multiple number codes on supplier invoices. Cross referencing therefore quite tricky and VAT therefore quite tricky to reclaim. Am buying a monocle, anti migraine pills and giving bookkeeper a payrise.
Brexit also causing difficulties with deliveries. Many shipments now languishing in UPS facility in Wolverhampton, pending paperwork or funds or depressing combination of both. All further complicated by delivery drivers’ failure to navigate narrow Winchester streets in 44 tonne artic. And reluctance to trundle contents of 44 tonne artic on sack truck around the narrow, albeit scenic, streets of said historic city.
Meeting with Rosie, our digital strategist. Monthly visit to show us graphs with lines going in assorted directions and numbers variously in red or green. Think we aspire to colour green and near vertical lines in the ascendant. Leave meeting with homework and resolve to write 500 words of meaningful content with copious relevant links which Google (it apparently makes point of reading my oeuvre) will appreciate. Shortly afterwards resolve to write 500 words with relevant link or two. Shortly afterwards have lie down and resolve to ask Amy to take some more photographs as believe visual content infinitely more engaging.
In other news, commercial bribes from stationery supplier, once in form of v small Lion Bar, now escalated to enormous quantity of Kit Kats (one benefit of large outlay on cardboard boxes for online orders). Detective work ongoing as to where said Kit Kats now are as no longer in the kitchen cupboard.
Odina, ever solicitous, but perhaps somewhat short sighted and unfamiliar with new mannequins, makes urgent approach to pair of etiolated models (standing singularly tall, straight and unmoving on First Floor) with offers of help on their shopping dilemmas. Both unsurprisingly unforthcoming in response.
Rob and Rich launch first film in our series ‘What’s in the Bag?’. Rob, acting as Graham Norton/Michael Parkinson, hosts interview focussing on trousers and basketballs. Offer Rob contract to host further episodes, focussing on dresses, vases and moisturiser.
“One minute I’m furloughed, the next minute I’ve got my own series”.
w/c April 5th: Getting Ready for 12th
Shop is absolute shambles. Phil the Cardboard has injured ribs in fall from conservatory. Recycling collection delayed and cardboard accumulation makes navigation around shop v difficult. Mountains of Hartford delivered. Feel the backlog of shipments in the Suez canal is as nothing to Spring 21 deliveries here. Unrivalled dust and fluff everywhere. Unrivalled random objects, useful to life but not daily necessity, needing permanent and safe storage. Currently taking up residence on shop floor, causing serious trip hazard. Quantity of coffee mugs and tea cups left around is a startling, and irritating, multiple of actual staff available in building to drink hot beverage. Feel it time to take matters in hand. Must get back on track in time for Glorious Twelfth.
The Big Tidy Begins
Rowan has been here installing new till system. He has keys, lights, ID and assorted accoutrements on heavy duty lanyard plus very bright head torch. We are in extremely safe hands. He has also cut the wire to the heater as deemed it unsafe. And lectured Harriett on ladder protocol. As I say, we’re in very safe hands.
Rob has spent much of the week with new best friend Henry. Henry follows him around everywhere. V happy to encourage this new love interest while floors are dusty and leaves need sucking out of basement but think it time Rob got real dog companion as relationship with electrical device beginning to show signs of obsession
Harriett is busy with art project for window. Rendering gingham onto vast sheets of lining paper. Vinyl matt, primary school poster paint and box of old oil pastels make task challenging. Full range of art paints essential to us at this moment but not sure current lockdown restrictions are in agreement.
Lucy and Joe working on Sale area in Project Space. Joe’s capacity to take home orphan items of questionable use and value rivalled only by Finn’s.
Remove peg board directories. Hope customers will be able to find way around without this aid.
Have taken storage unit for excess clutter. Like to call it a ‘lock up’ and pretend am character in The Sweeney. Is filled with limbless mannequins, running rails and past season fashion. Think not the material of crime drama but feel quite spooked when unloading trolley and start working on script merging retail and horror. New genre?
Richard usually has proper job running online fulfilment. Has been seconded this week as painter decorator for reopening. Is worryingly happy in his paper onesie from Brewers. His proficiency with white emulsion coupled with Rob’s fanatical cleaning of glass lampshades renders shop almost too bright for human eyes.
Annie has new skill as physicist. Appears to have understood Fourth Dimension and recreated it on First Floor. Space found from said dimension to accommodate impressive quantities of Spring womenswear collections, whilst maintaining semblance of beauty and order. Rob has achieved similar results in Basement with less physics and more judicious folding.
Begins to feel somewhat like The Hambledon, only cleaner and tidier and fuller. Am immensely grateful to everyone for v v hard work. Just missing one vital element. Trust shop customers will make reappearance on Monday as have missed inordinately.
w/c March 22nd
Call with Lottie. Ask her to consider swift return to work. Offer to turn Basement stockroom into creche with poltergeist as childminder. She agrees enthusiastically. Should I be worried about baby Margot? Finn in the building today troubleshooting website. Every order is duplicating itself multiple times, like some rogue genetic mutation. Apparently we took over £1,000,000 this weekend. I can attest that we did not. Bank manager will back me up on this.
Refitting the web fulfilment office (actually creepy attic) with new packing tables. Joe and I attempt to carry large box of new furniture up the stairs. Joe’s trousers do not survive this particular journey. Must hide the sweetie jar. Feel this boy’s dietary habits are fast declining whilst waistline decline not so rapid.
Sim filming Rob and t shirts. Rob is revisiting his Ibiza days with music to put everyone in the mood. Some of us most definitely in a mood, if not the mood.
Final Zoom call of the buying season. Lucy waves to camera at outset and is then disembodied voice as preternaturally fearful of all forms of photography. I stand slightly to the side. We use Annie as first line of defence and put her in the middle. Fashion agent using his phone for the call. Much of the appointment is spent being whirled around showroom looking at floor, ceiling and agent’s feet, very little looking at actual clothes. Finish feeling bilious and dazed and unsure what we have actually bought.