Silly Saturday – Cyber Shopping
If you have recently come out of isolation, albeit briefly before we’re all in lockdown again, you will have noticed that shopping is now very different. Perhaps you will look back nostalgically to those months of cyber shopping. I got an email yesterday from the Co Op ‘We have missed you, please come back.’
I have been back, but they didn’t recognise me in real life; even with a mask on I am not quite the anonymous self who ordered twice a week. On line shopping with our local Co Op was fun, not at all like the big supermarket chains, more like a game. At the start you had to spend £15 to get free delivery, but could not have more than 20 items, this gradually increased to 30 items, but still delivered by scooter. There were always plenty of delivery slots and I though smugly of all those people staying up till Sunday midnight, desperate to get any slot with Tesco or Sainsbury in the coming week. Of course, with the limit on number of items the cosy Co Op was not likely to suit those needing a big family shop. The website was a challenging computer game; you could always get chocolate, but not necessarily what you needed for dinner. It was vital to think outside the box. Type in baked beans, no luck. It was weeks before I discovered that typing in Heinz revealed beans and such Covid comfort food as tomato soup. The website did improve over the months, with the layout involving less scrolling down, but keeping the fun of guessing whether you should tap onto ‘Get Inspired’ ‘Food Cupboard’ or ‘Bakery and Cakes’. If you forgot to check your emails with updates on how your order was progressing, there was the fun of not knowing if you would get everything on your list, or perhaps an unwanted substitute.
So what is it like at real shops now? Don’t forget the mask… the rest of the rules seem to vary from shop to shop; another game to play, with arrows to follow and circles with footprints to stand on. Don’t mix up the bottle for sanitizing your basket handles with the hand gel. Move out of the way once you have swiped you card ( cash is out, except at the greengrocers ) to make safe space for the next person. But that little row of chairs where you used to sort out your bags and make sure your purse was put away has gone; don’t have a medical incident, that was where shoppers who had a funny turn were seated as they waited for the ambulance!
How will you get on at shopping centres? Those benches where husbands were parked while waiting for wives to finish in the shop or come out of the Ladies are gone. There is nowhere to rest your heavy bags and meet up at the arranged time. In town will department stores ever be the same again? Restaurants and toilets closed, no meeting friends or relaxing with coffee and scones while you check you phone, or if you are a writer, do some people watching and scribbling.
It is nice to once again see what you are buying, but will you be going on line or out to the shops in the near future?
Friday Christmas Fiction – I Isabella
When Ollie started at Mulburys’, work brightened up and so did the windows. He arrived just in time to create the Christmas window displays and he brought new ideas.
‘Every window tells a story,’ he would say to the other window dressers. ‘Most of your window shoppers could never afford the dresses in the window or the houses the models appear to live in. But we’re going to make them feel they could one day… that’s the magic of Christmas.’
It seemed natural that Ollie and I would become close. Ollie knew how to treat a lady and my confidence grew as I worked with him. ‘Nobody leaves Izzie in the corner,’ he would joke.
True to his word, Ollie had created a story which started at the side of Mulburys’, opposite the tube station. An old man sat at his computer, Skyping. On his mantelpiece were plenty of cards and photos – photos that matched the moving pictures on the computer screen. The next few windows took shoppers around the world and around Mulburys’ until they reached the main entrance. Scenes of the old man’s family getting ready for Christmas, a BBQ somewhere hot, a ski hut somewhere very cold, a cruise ship; every scene so realistic, but always with glamorous women dressed in Mulbury outfits, from bikinis to winter coats.
On the other side of the main entrance was the busy airport scene, followed by the airliner up in the clouds with Father Christmas waving as he passed by. The window on the corner showed a street scene, Christmas trees in windows and the old man taking his dog for a walk, looking longingly at the bright windows. How the children loved these scenes; to find out who was in the plane they were directed upstairs to the Christmas grotto. I was dressed as the glamorous elf welcoming children and adults to the final scene, bigger than any window could accommodate. The old man opens his front door and surprise, surprise all his family have arrived.
In the middle of December Ollie bought himself a shiny new red car and parked it at the front of Mulburys’ in the ‘ten minutes only pick up zone.’ Just long enough for us to look admiringly from the window. There was much amused chatter about the new traffic zones; single occupant cars were banned from the city centre, everyone had to be seen to be car sharing.
‘No probs,’ said Ollie, ‘I shall give Izzie a lift.’
I was as surprised as everyone else, or rather they were amused. Ollie knew what my circumstances were, but gave no hint that I had no home to have a lift to.
Like the gentleman he was, he helped me into the leather passenger seat. ‘Well, darling Isabella, how jealous other drivers will be when they see my glamorous girlfriend.’
I couldn’t help smiling, I thought we were just good friends; any physical closeness had been within the confines of the store windows. How I enjoyed the drive, looking out at the Christmas lights, watching the busy pavements as shoppers and workers made their way home.
Ollie’s flat was not in a smart building, but as he helped me up the narrow staircase and opened his front door I was delighted to see the interior decor had the same style as Mulburys’.
‘I can tell from your enigmatic smile that you like it Isabella, but it hasn’t been a real home till now, with you here.’
He sat me down on the comfortable sofa. ‘Relax and watch television while I rustle up something to eat.’
And so my evenings were no longer lonely, Ollie and I had the same easy relationship we had at work, but I had to admit I preferred it when we were alone. At the weekend he had a few friends round, not from work, people I didn’t know. They seemed to enjoy their visit and laughed and talked a lot.
‘So this is the delectable Isabella, the mystery woman I saw you with at the traffic lights.’
‘Yes, the woman of my dreams.’
‘Has she got a sister?’
‘She has actually, but I’m not going to introduce her, she’s too good for you.’
After a few visits, I began to realise I was different, I thought I must have one of those syndromes. I couldn’t really join in the conversations, never quite understood what they were talking about, although it was obvious they were often talking about me.
Other times I felt totally ignored. Like when Joe from work dropped in looking rather wobbly, I thought he was never going to leave. I think Ollie was fed up with him but too polite to say so. Joe went on and on about someone called Milly.
‘How am I going to get through Christmas, I was going to propose to her, now she’ll be in New York with Miles.’
‘You’re best off without her mate, she’s a bitch, we could all see that except you. I know it’s unbearable, I’ve been there, but it will get better. Reckon I’m the lucky one. Isabella would never look at another man and would never utter a word to hurt my feelings.’
I almost blushed at his words, but I wondered where it was that he had been and how did words hurt your feelings.
‘You don’t know how I feel Ollie, you have a wooden heart, just like your cold girlfriend there.’
I glared at the awful Joe, so different from the Joe we knew at work. I was not cold, never felt the cold; that’s why I was happy to wear the low cut sleeveless dresses Ollie loved to see me in.
Christmas Eve came and Ollie was going to a party.
‘Sorry to leave you by yourself Izzie, but I know you don’t enjoy parties. Come and sit by the window and look at the lights, have you seen the great big tree in the garden opposite? Tomorrow it will just be us, no work, we’ll watch sentimental Christmas telly together.’
A few merrymakers passed by and waved to me, I almost felt as if I was back in the shop window. When at last Ollie came home he was a bit wobbly, but his hands were as gentle as they were at work when he undressed me.
‘I bought you some new lingerie, well actually I pinched it from work. You and me go well together, two lonely souls. Won’t you tell me truly what you think, do you love me? If I wished hard enough, in ten minutes time at the stroke of midnight would you talk to me, would the blood run warm in your veins?’
I did not understand his words, but I was just glad to have Ollie home again, where he belonged, with me. But for some reason I wasn’t keeping him cheerful, there was water running down his cheeks, like the dreadful Joe had that time, but with Ollie I wanted to reach out and hold him. For a moment a strange feeling came over me, just below the neckline of the lovely red lacy garment. But as the clock on television started to strike twelve I felt cold for the first time.
Ollie turned away from me and covered his face, then turned back. ‘It didn’t work, did it? Beautiful cold Isabella, this isn’t a fairy tale, you will never be a real woman. On Boxing Day I shall take you back to the shop window where you belong, in time for the sales.’
This story was first published two years ago on line at Thanet Writers.
Today I’m putting it in to Stevie Turner’s Christmas Short Story contest. Stevie runs a monthly contest at her blog.
Friday Flash Fiction – Christmas Department
All Annie wanted was a new winter coat, but to reach Ladies Clothing she first had to fight her way through the Christmas Department… and it was only November the first. Lurid pinks and purples, gaudy gold and silver glitter for as far as the eye could see. Grinning reindeer, misshapen polar bears, fluffy mongrels and ugly kittens; a zoofull of cheap toys, not cheap to buy, just cheaply made.
She pictured the crates full of creatures arriving at the store, multiplied them by all the other stores in the country, envisioned a container full of crates, thought of the container ships she saw at the docks, piled high enough to topple over and sink. She saw a whole ship of stuffed animals, an ocean full of container ships ploughing through the waves bringing an endless supply of Christmas tack.
Annie continued her walk, still no sign of clothes racks, but a forest of excess packaging enabling gormless customers to be charged ten times the usual amount for a mug or pair of boxer shorts. Boxes, cartons, tins and tubs full of the most useless things, with the odd chocolate or packet of shortbread thrown in; crossword toilet paper, pink fluffy covers for mobile phones, ipads and ears. She thought she had seen everything till she arrived at ‘Gifts for Your Best Friend’; Father Christmas and ballet outfits for your dog and stockings for your cat to hang up.
The winter coat was forgotten and Annie’s blood pressure was soaring as she stepped onto the escalator, narrowly avoiding dangling decorations. As she ascended through the floors she blended in with other shoppers and none of them would have guessed her secret.
‘Excuse me Madam,’ said a young lady ‘this floor is staff only, offices and the managerial suite.’
‘It’s the manager I wish to see.’
‘Do you have an appointment?’
Annie showed her a small card.
‘Certainly, I’ll show you straight through.’
Annie sailed through the door before the girl had a chance to knock.
‘Get rid of the tat.’
The middle aged man behind the large desk stood up in surprise. He had only just heard the chain of stores had been saved from going into receivership and had no idea who the anonymous buyer might be.
When Annie had her surprise win on the Pan European Mega Autumn Lottery she had been overwhelmed. All she needed was a new coat, but she had always fancied owning a little shop…
‘The Very Useful Shop…’
‘Pardon’ said the confused manager.
‘That’s what I shall call the company, once we’ve done a few alterations… you can start by having all that stuff downstairs packed up and sent back where it came from.’
By early December Annie had been nominated for Woman’s Hour ‘Woman of Power’ and was a guest on ‘Newsnight.’
‘How many container ships were sent back?’ asked the presenter.
‘Enough for the world to get the message.’
‘Did you spare a thought for the livelihood of the people who worked in the factories?’
‘Certainly, I bought the factories; I pay the staff a living wage and we have taken on new staff to cope with the alterations. The Very Useful Factory Company is up and running.’
At Annie’s local shopping centre and in scenes repeated around the country, the pound shops, Christmas bazaars, calendar and card shops were empty. Everyone was flocking to The Very Useful Shop and the most popular department was Make and Take; the local news filmed customers of all ages cutting and pasting cards, painting pottery, knitting scarves and creating new garments from recycled clothes. Piped music was banned and customers were entertained by local choirs, hand bell ringers and a grand piano.
Rival businesses queried whether it was still a shop, but the Ombudsman reported that customers paid for the high quality raw materials and the delicious food served in the Meet and Eat restaurant.
Ministers from various departments came to visit and so too did several Archbishops. It was rumoured that the Queen was planning to film part of her Christmas Speech there, but more exciting for the children was the news that The Real Father Christmas was coming to visit.
‘Christmas Department’ was a runner up in 5 Minute Fiction’s Christmas competition 2012 and was featured on Christmas Eve in the on line Story Advent Calendar.
It rounds up the collection of stories in Hallows and Heretics – twenty four tales to take you through the year.
Friday Flash Fiction 240 – Secret Garden
The ground floors of department stores are bright, white and overpower you with a nauseous mix of perfumes. On board the yacht I have a stomach of iron, but I was not looking forward to hunting for my sister’s favourite perfume.
A young man, with more make up than the girl assistants, came skillying up.
‘Good afternoon Madam, may I help?’
For a moment I was so fascinated I could not answer. He looked like a beautiful slender doll, high cheek bones, rosebud lips, hair spiked immaculately and dressed totally in black. His charm was enough to make me, in my jeans and anorak, feel I was as entitled as any other woman to grace these hallowed halls of beauty. He laughed when I confessed my predicament. I had forgotten the name of the perfume.
‘Can’t you phone or text her?’
‘She’s just started a three hour exam and I’ve got to get back to the harbour while the tide’s high.’ I looked at the shelves full of elegant boxes, none of the names jogged my memory.
‘Treat yourself instead; what do you miss most out at sea?’
I was talked into buying an expensive tiny bottle.
In my cabin I cautiously removed the delicate stopper, sniffed and was transported to a walled garden I had visited as a child. A summer scent never recaptured until now. How was such a scent created? How did the young man choose so perfectly?