We’re all feeling a bit peculiar, it’s been an extremely eventful few days that has affected all of us. The first thing was the one I was being mysterious about.
I’m sorry, but I need to go back eight years. This whole thing may take more than a day. Sorry, no one ever said I didn’t give a full explanation.
Eight years ago, Al was working in a shop in Norwich. He’d been living in a flat for a few years, then his landlady decided to sell up and he had to leave. He couldn’t find anywhere as nice for an affordable rent, so moved home while he looked. His job was not that interesting, but he’d decided he liked a retail business and was looking for something better. He had savings. He was only interested in a shop selling things people needed, not luxuries. He liked a constant throughput, not one lucrative customer per day.
Back home, my mother was ill. Very ill and getting worse. She had been to the doctor, who was very concerned and suggested hospital tests might be in order; he was going on holiday for a week and that was about how long it would take to arrange.
Ro was about to start university.
I was in the throes of major upheavals at the village school. I can’t tell you about it, but I can tell you that, at the beginning of June, the chairman of governors, a dear friend as well as a respected colleague, had dropped dead at the age of 62. It was shattering, and I was vice-chairman to boot. Things came to a head in early September, where a chairman’s casting vote was the right decision, as has been proved, but controversial.
That’s the background. Now, the greengrocer, for ten years, had been Derek. A lovely man, we’d been friends all that time, in a shopkeeper/customer way. His daughter had been ill and her cancer had returned in a more aggressive form. He and his wife decided to go to Scotland to nurse her for as long as it took, and both to give up their businesses. He put a sign up to say the shop would close in a week’s time. The Sage saw it. He knew the landlords, who had previously run the shop themselves, and went to get the key. Now, the Sage is a subtle man. He said to me, that the upstairs might suit Al as a bedsit. So, I went with him to have a look. It was out of the question. Far too small, and couldn’t be separated from the shop as the store-room was also the corridor to the stairs. I said so. But, what a fabulous location, I said. In a few minutes, I had Al as a greengrocer. Of course, so had had the Sage already, but he tests an idea by letting me think of it independently.
About 11.45, Al came home and was greeted by an excited me, who explained the whole story and is not subtle at all. He and his father went to look. They came home. “I’m interested,” Al said. “How long have I got to make a decision?”
I promise, we hadn’t rehearsed, but the Sage and I simultaneously looked at our watches. “Ah”, said Al. “I’ll tell you in the morning”.
So, at 9 o’clock the next morning, Al decided to buy the shop and he and his father went to negotiate with the owners. Terms were agreed and they went to tell Derek. I went in to town later and was slightly startled to be hugged and kissed by a very emotional Derek, who was thrilled. Eileen and Jean were asked to stay on, having been given notice a few days before, and they agreed that they could cope with afternoons while Al served out his notice at his job. We employed someone to help clean and paint the shop, which was closed for one week only. It closed on 7th September and reopened on 16th September, a Monday. Al’s first order cost £250 – he’d forgotten a few things, but we all laughed at the thought of stocking a whole shop for that sum.
In the meantime, I phoned the doctor to tell him my mother was much worse, and asked if it was worth her going into hospital. He was startled. “It was a week ago”, he said. I said that she was so ill that it might be kinder to spare her. Somehow, however, she lurched out on the day before my birthday to buy me a present. It’s hard to believe that I can’t remember now what that was. She went into hospital on the 11th.
Of course, poor old Ro was getting ready for university, and not a lot of support he got from us. I explained to him that there was not room for us to think – anything he wanted us to do, we’d do, but we weren’t able to think for him and he’d have to tell us.
Crumbs, darlings, I knew this would be complicated and long-winded, I’m so sorry. I am leaving whole lots out, I promise. And it is relevant – well, it is in regard to the events of the last few days.