Wednesday, 2 April 2008

The Shop

My loyalties are torn between the three local shops that sit on my doorstep. Each has its own charms, detriments and complications. This wasn't a problem at my old flat. There we had only one shop. My relationship with them was occasionally fraught, sometimes pleasant - but always safe in the knowledge that I had no choice. It was the only shop and to boycott them over some trivial discretion would be destructive to my own life with barely a blemish on theirs. This entire reliance offered me a certain amount of satisfaction.

Now I have three shops. All pretty much selling the same things and all very close to each other. In one case inches apart. My preference usually falls on the one that is furthest away. I don't know why. The utter disdain offered to me by the usual shopkeeper provides me with comfort. I know I will never be drawn into a conversation about the poor quality of local teens or the relative merits of a local footballing team. 'Would you like a bag?' is his only query. I never do want a bag, due to environmental guilt. But I also never remember to bring a bag, so always try to cradle my groceries in my arms in an unlikely tribute to popular children's variety show Crackerjack (Crackerjack!). My character is further lessened in the shopkeepers’ eyes at this display.

The problem with this shop is two-fold. Firstly its hours. It seems to open at 4 in the morning and close by early afternoon. I'm not sure why. There aren't any local mines or dairies that need to be sold comestibles at that early hour. But those are its terms and we have to abide. Also, it doesn't sell booze. There is an off-licence next door, but this is also in my bad books as I once found the door locked and the clerk standing outside smoking a fag. 'I'll just be a few minutes' she told me, preferring to smoke than serve.

Then there are the two shops that are next to each other. There must be a history between the two, each seems to ignore the other, there is never a mention, but animosity reigns. There is a large one and a small one. I am not a fan of the large one. This is because I was shortchanged there on New Years Day when, in the throes of a massive hangover, I bought a Lucozade and a chocolate bar of some description. Noticing my poor condition, they decided, correctly, that this idiot would never check his change, which of course I didn't. Once the aberration was discovered, I was too damaged to do anything about it.

So I boycotted it. But sometimes I have to go in there as it has items not stocked by the small shop. I also have my problems with the small shop. The shop is run by a couple. The lady is perfectly fine. It’s her husband. He's a nervous sort and freakishly nice. Nice to the point of sarcasm. I really can't decide is his over-reaching obsequiousness is sincere or part of a long-running, inter-marital joke with myself as the stooge. Sometimes I dart back in there immediately after my purchase, to see if I can catch them laughing. But this just makes me appear slightly deranged.

It really is over the top. He once thanked me when I handed him some bananas to be weighed. Why thank me? What did I do? Not hurl them at his face? Not do a comedy dance with them before thrusting them up each of his nostrils? There followed a volley of 'thank yous'. He thanked me after each stage of the purchase, handing him the item, the bag request, taking the money, returning the change, leaving. Each step of the journey punctuated by a thank you. He always seems to be on the point of nervous collapse.

This display puts me on edge. So I avoid it if I can. But then I feel guilty. If I visit one of the other shops, I feel guilty about deserting the small one. I even feel guilty when walking by, on some purely innocent venture, just in case they spot me and think I'm shopping elsewhere. And if I do shop elsewhere, I have to somehow attempt to disguise or secrete the purchases about my person, while in their view.

If it all gets too much, I go to the garage. This is quite a trek away, but offers little emotional strain. And I like the smell of petrol.

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