In this basically adult-free world that I inhabit, for most of the day, I have become more aware of the grown-ups I do meet. I’m afraid to say, approximately 90% of them are shop-assistants. I don’t think any of them, apart from my beautician, know me by name, but they definitely know my face -they must. I do have my favourites – the butchers who talk so much I’m backing out the door, nodding, to get away; the ladies in Tesco that offer to pack my fruit and veg when the groceries are piling up at the end of the conveyor belt; the baker who smiles so much at me I’m convinced she is either deliriously cheerful all the time, or a little bit mad; the fruit shop man, now gone, whose gruffness presented a challenge to me, and who I never got more than a few words out of; the electricity reading guy always amused by my inability to open the cupboards to show the meter. I’m sure I’ve missed out a few of my likeable favourites, but I wish they could know how much they’re appreciated by people like me.
The bad ones, well, I try not to think of them, but they still niggle into the bad memory space in my head. The most recent was a woman behind the till in the hospital newsagents. You would have thought it was requirement to be pleasant in such an upleasant place, but I think the environment had won her over. She grumped at me about asking for change, she gave off at others for not standing in line, she hit the buttons on the till as if they too were against her, and she tutted at me for putting down a magazine so I could pick up the coins that she had so unhelpfully placed on top of my fiver (don’t you just hate that?). That was an encounter I would rather not repeat. Alongside her, I’ll put the two dour brothers that ran a sweetie shop when I was a child, the girl that chatted to her friend behind the counter while I waited to be served, the pushy door-to-door salesman who wouldn’t get the message, and, of course, the many others who made my day just a little bit worse for having brushed shoulders with them.
So, my conclusion is: never belittle the role of a shopkeeper, because they have your day’s happiness in their hands. Who else really does?