Suspended.

Whilst you’ve all got that Friday feeling, I have a little tale from my Confessions of a Shop Assistant series…

Suspender

Suspended.

One thing I wasn’t quite prepared to encounter during my days as a servant to the fashion whims of Knightsbridge was how rapidly a customer would transform from absolute stranger, to someone whose deep and dark secrets were comfortably and very willingly divulged…

The first time I was to experience this was just moments after an endearing and elegant elderly lady ambled through our door. The kind of woman one would expect to be hiding a stash of Werther’s Originals in her handbag, she was looking for something special for her grandson’s graduation. Her everyday shopping attire consisted of pearl strings and finely tailored Chanel, so I set about finding something worthy for her to try.

After leading her to the changing room, I loitered outside the curtain, waiting to be beckoned by her for some assistance. After several minutes of silence I enquired as to her progress, and after a few further moments of quiet, I heard her whisper that she was about to step into the first of my choices. Referring to me as ‘dear’, she definitely reminded me of my late grandmother.

Just moments after assuring me of her wellbeing, a high pitched squeal prompted me to turn around, just as she grabbed the changing room curtain, pulling it down with her body as it hit the wooden floorboards with a resonant thump.

My jaw was not the only one to follow her journey to the floor, as my fellow workers stood as statues, trying to comprehend the sight of this snowy haired lady, sat amidst our curtains, in a black boned basque, gold clasped suspenders and lace topped stockings, her fragility drowning amidst a sea of velvet and lace.

Whether my hasty dive towards her stemmed from the worry of injury or in an attempt to rescue her dignity I don’t know, but I hauled the curtains from the floor and cloaked them around her.

With a shake of the head and brush of the hair from her face, she turned to the gaping mouths and howled in her little voice.

“Well there’s something you don’t see every day.”

More in a lifetime I’d say.

 

 

Thank you to the Daily Post for the photo prompt.

A Class of Their Own

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Once I had left the limits of the salacious Soho I found another job to wage against the destitute reality of studentdom. I got an upgrade, to a designer boutique that shimmered amidst the golden glow of Knightsbridge.

One may have thought that with this geographical change I would welcome an absence of the strange behaviour I was used to, but as it turns out, these customers were in a class of their very own…

Whether it just came with the territory, or it was a contributing aspect of their extreme wealth, a lot of the ladies I was to come across (many of them officially Lady’s) were not bashful when it came to a spot of bartering. My past negotiations over pennies in the souks of Marrakesh were to seem trivial when compared to the haggling hands of this new calibre of customer.

Consistently I was asked if a ‘better price’ dangled within my grasp, a question to which my taut lipped smile would plead futility but there was, without fail, those who wouldn’t accept ‘no’ as a satisfactory response. Admittedly my smiles were consistently counterfeit, especially when my mind compared my morning’s tube journey spent thrust between a greasy window and a clammy chap, to the spacious back seat of a Bentley, which would typically unload said customer just a Louboutin clad foot from our front door.

With the bargain hunter’s beady eyes closely watching I would repeat the laborious process of telephoning every tier of the management ladder that towered above me, nodding and smiling with the receiver shoved tight against my ear for fear that they would hear what a “money grabbing, tight fisted, miser” the powers that be actually thought they were.

For all the trouble it may have gotten me in I was often tempted to accidentally-on-purpose nudge the loudspeaker button and watch contentedly as the bartering customer made an embarrassed getaway, never to be seen again.

That said, knowing the thought process of this particular breed, this would only have armed them with ample bargaining power to get what they really hunted for.

A conclusion would only be achieved after an explicit no from the company MD, at which point the Louis Vuitton purse would be presented from the Chanel handbag, and the bank card would grudgingly be thrust into my hand… and I could guarantee that it would always say Coutts.

Out of all Proportion.

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The Soho factor seemed to influence many a customer of this decidedly girly boutique. Whether it was the nature of the clothes, or the nature of the area, we seemed to attract a certain amount of unwanted attention of the male variety.

My first insight into this world came courtesy of a man in his fifties, who was looking to buy a gift for his so called girlfriend. I hoped she was more of a trophy sweetheart than his age equivalent, seeing that our clothes would have embarked on their voyage to mutton parading as lamb on any woman a day past twenty five.

As he thumbed our threads, indiscreetly perusing mine at the same time, I asked him what size his girlfriend was.

Nonchalantly he replied, his answer followed by an impolite demand that I try on the get up he had selected. Towards me he thrust the most miniscule skirt we stocked, and a barely there bikini top.

Horrified at the prospect of having to parade around in what barely constituted clothing, giving this tactless visitor grounds to be gawking, I informed him that my size was really rather far removed from that of his girlfriend. He grimaced and urged the clothes into my arms regardless.

“Try.” He commanded, whilst waving towards the fitting room and stunning my painstakingly composed manner with a tiny tap to my derriere.

As a vivid vision of me thwacking him across the cheek invaded my head, I grappled for a moment with what would have been my inherent response had this not been my place of work.

Eyeballing his unaffected stare it was through gritted teeth that I asked him where his girlfriend was. Awkwardly, his gaze averted to his feet, disappointed at my reaction.

“You’re not going to try them.” It was more a realisation than a question as he sheepishly hung his head, sidestepping my gaze.

“No.” I replied. “Definitely not.”

With that he let out a small, high pitched groan and wandered hastily out of the door.

Bright Lights Brighter Characters.

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Once I had traded my cosy countryside existence for a city life in London to attend university, I knew that my encounters would only get all the more peculiar…

It was promptly after my first footsteps into The London College of Fashion that I realised the floorboards of this university were very much their own catwalk and consequently my wardrobe was a very sad sight indeed. A part time job was most definitely required in order to fund this newfound student lifestyle and to at least attempt at keeping up with the fashion forward Joneses.

My first job in the big city saw me looking after a unique boutique just on the outskirts of Soho, a place that is home to many of the more colourful among us.

Much of my time was whiled away perusing the pages of the glossies, gushing over the latest enviable wares from fashion houses such as Chanel and McQueen, which, on my part time wage and a student loan, I could only endeavor to replicate by stretching to the Topshop copycat.

If I was graced with the delight of human interaction it was typically with a pink adorned girly girl, due to the saccharine infused, fairytale nature of the clothing we had on offer. It was for this very reason that anyone with a desire for something other than a glitter, ribbon, or pom pom festooned item of clothing soon stood out, from the moment their scheming hand settled on the door handle.

I was to become privy to all sorts of alien requests, one most notably from a notorious male celebrity who asked me if I could outfit him with a balaclava. It was rather a perplexing question when you took into account our windows decked with butterflies, soft pink chiffons and mannequins with blonde 1930’s curls. Seemingly quite surprised when I informed him that we didn’t sell such an item, he asked if I could recommend a shop that did. Needless to say the only advice I could offer consisted of a visit to the PVC and rubber bondage specialists in the heart of Soho. I wondered if I had smacked the proverbial nail on the head when he sheepishly laughed and retreated from my shop, heading in that very direction.

Whispers in the morning

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In a tiny town such as the one where this particular baby boutique was based, the same familiar faces were often churned up in the daily grind. No one was more memorable however, than the lady who features in my next story…

 

Nestled next to the children’s shop was a quaint tea house that made its fortune though yummy mummy caffeine doses and senior specials. It was on my first working weekday that I was going about my morning routine when I heard a high-pitched sound surfacing from outside. After ignoring it for a second or two, I was coerced into caring when it grew several decibels, and it dawned on me that it was someone attempting to sing. Regrettably this voice was neither soothing nor relaxing, but once I had conquered the initial prickly pierce to the ears it was somewhat entertaining.

I wandered over to the window in an attempt to see from whom this jumbled up version of Fly Me To The Moon was coming from. I’m not entirely sure of where my expectations existed, but they certainly weren’t to be found in the image I was about to set eyes on… A white haired lady dressed in a polka dot patterned dress and soft soled shoes. Contently she sat with her mug of tea, oblivious to the stares of the other, calmer, coffee morning customers.

After watching her for a while, attempting to guess her choice of song every time a new melody hit the airwaves – a much meaner feat that it sounds – I noticed that I was the only local who had been distracted by this ruckus. This, and a few consecutive days of being presented with the same act,informed me that this was no alien presence of a weekday morning. This lady, whether one liked it or not, came hand in hand with the OAP coffee break.

I also quickly learnt that her morning routine would include an amble around my shop. She would open the door, I would greet her, she would ignore me, but she would murmur tales of a troubled past beneath her breath. Besides her piercing warbles, these whispers were the only thing I would ever hear leave her mouth. It was perhaps her only means of stopping the memories, for when she wasn’t whispering she would sing, and when she wasn’t singing she would whisper, there was never a moment of silence in between.

She would go from garment to garment, grazing fine velour with greasy fingers and often leaving traces of ketchup behind. Then she would walk away ahead of audible trails of wind, prompting me to realise why there was a can of air freshener behind the till.

Until one day she stopped. Her clockwork routine was no longer inclusive of me or my efforts of cleaning in her wake. I must say it was a relief. Nevertheless, to this day she still attends every coffee morning, eats her over 60’s special and sings. Some days fairly loudly, other days rather softly, I guess it depends on how haunting her whispers are that day.

Forget me not.

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I started my first retail job in a children’s shop at the innocent age of sixteen. Apart from having to tidy up after masses of misbehaving little ones, it became the norm of a Saturday job for a teenager funding her first summer holiday away from the eyes of a watchful parent or two. As was expected, I witnessed the odd tantrum, whether it was courtesy of a little girl not getting the party dress that she wanted, or a boisterous toddler not in appreciation of the smart outfit he had to wear for a weekend wedding in the country. Nevertheless this story comes from a new mother not quite keeping her eye on the ball, or her baby for that matter…

 

The boutique’s tumbling displays stretched around a wooden playpen. As was a mother’s prerogative to shop, so was a child’s to be entertained whilst waiting.

The playpen was filled with various second hand toys that reminded me of my childhood; the Fisher Price phone, the Playmobil house and a pack of wobbling Weebles.

After browsing for some time, the latest dithering stressed mother had decided to go for a coffee and return caffeine fuelled and decision made. I thanked her and went about tidying the chaos she’d left in her indecisiveness.

As I wandered towards the aforementioned mess I noticed the strap of a handbag snaking across the floor. Quickly seizing the bag, I ran out the door to see if I could set eyes upon its owner. She was, of course, nowhere to be seen. Ambling back into the shop I bent down to place it behind the counter in the hope that she would realise and return to collect it. As I did so, a noise emanated from behind me, in the direction of the playpen. I slowly stood up and turned around with trepidation to come face to face with a smiling toddler chewing on Mr Potato Head’s arm.

Panic washed over me as I wondered if the woman had expected a complimentary babysitting service alongside her coffee and decision time.

Nevertheless, amidst my horror and alarm, the little bright-eyed toddler was seemingly unbothered by the fact his mother had walked away without him, and more concerned that Mr Potato Head’s body wouldn’t completely fit in his dribbling mouth.

After what felt like a lifetime, but actually transpired to be just ten minutes, a panic stricken mother ran into the shop at full speed.

“My baby, my baby, I am so so sorry!”

“He’s fine” I replied, hauling his body out of the playpen as she took hold of his face, simultaneously inspecting him and giving him kisses in a bid to wipe away the guilt.

“You left your handbag too” I said, gesturing towards the bag I had found.

Embarrassed, she walked over to pick up the handbag and placed it on her toddler’s pushchair. After apologising profusely, she paid for her gift and went to open the door, checking she had all her belongings tucked up safely into the buggy. As her foot touched the pavement, she gave a knowing smile, rolled her eyes and came back to my side of the counter.

I somewhat begrudgingly passed the child into her arms as she apologised again and strapped him into his seat. As she left I couldn’t help but worry about what little adventure he may be subjected to next.