The Devil is in the Retail
Updated: Feb 6
My upcoming novel (please hurry up) is about retail and murder. Write what you know? Well, I've tons of experience in retail, and I'm working hard on the murder.
Retail Experience #1
Paula's Hair Fashions.
My retail career started in a side street near Leeds Kirkgate Market. I was an immature fourteen-year-old who looked about twelve.
Paula's Hair Fashions catered for the older lady who had a shampoo and set once a week, and in the days in between, maintained the edifice with a hard-core industrial spray.
For the Saturday-girl position, I faced competition. Who wouldn't want to wash stiff, lacquered hair, make tea for twenty at a time, and be a general dogsbody for £2 a day? It came down to a trial between me and the sister of one of the hairstylists. We worked an unpaid Saturday together. May the best sister win!
I shook with nerves all day, but still performed better than the sister. Nevertheless, she got the job. If I'd known of nepotism back then, I might have cited it when returning my nylon overall. The rejection hit hard, and I cried all the way home.
One week later, I got a call from Maureen, the manageress. 'It didn't work out with the other girl, come in on Saturday.'
Orange-faced Maureen, with her whippet figure, coal-black beehive and heavily kohled eyes, ran the show. The way she stripped hair from a brush, made my insides turn. Perched on a high stool behind the Formica counter, she guarded the till, controlled the appointments, and yelled out her orders. All done with a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth.
Everyone smoked. Each stylist shared an overflowing ashtray with their client. They puffed away under a permanent cloud. Every now and then, the rising tide of bleach and perming solutions would start a round of hacking coughs.
Radio 1 blared throughout the salon, everyone shouted the same stock phrases, and nobody listened. Mouse-like, I scuttled between them all, clutching my tray of chipped, stained mugs.
I hated the job. My slightly older friend had qualified for a work permit. She queened it at Woolworths, earning three times as much. And, she worked on the pick n mix counter. Life wasn't fair.
At least when making the drinks I could hide in the corner behind the wonky partition. I didn't mind being on the top floor either where the clients flicked through Woman's Weekly under the spaceship dryers. But downstairs, my hands shook as I tried to wash hair. Brandishing a rubber hose contraption that fitted onto each tap, I could have wept in frustration at the dribbles that came out. One minute freezing cold, the next scalding hot. The customers seemed to think it was my fault. My dad said they needed to get their water pressure fixed. Try telling Maureen that.
A month in, I had to ask Maureen for a Saturday off. My stomach clenched all day at the prospect. I just couldn't seem to find the right time to approach her or the words to use. Never mind, I consoled myself when I ran for the bus, I'll ring her during the week. Each day I put it off. Why hadn't I considered phoning would be much worse? Face to face, she'd known who I was. But on the phone, she'd probably say, Carole, Carole who – forgetting they had that Saturday mouse?
Of course, I never phoned and never went back, but considered myself a failure for years.
The Murder Before Merangs will be coming soon to a device near you. If you're in the least bit interested, please click here