Monday, 10 March 2014
Storylines and characters from the charity shop by Mary Smith
I worked for Oxfam for a number of years as an organiser for a cluster of seven or so shops, which raised money for the overseas projects Oxfam supported. I loved my work and have fond memories of both it and the people I met, many of whom were shop volunteers, some of whom were customers. I thought I’d share a few snapshots of some those characters – feel free to choose any and develop them as you see fit! Names have been changed to protect the guilty.
Patricia was a terribly posh volunteer who entertained us with scurrilous stories about the landed gentry and other members of the upper classes she would meet at the various royal garden parties to which she seemed to be always being invited. Patricia had an alcohol problem and smoked like a chimney. On one occasion she was working in the back of the shop putting clothes for recycling into black bin liners which, when full were piled up to be collected. Patricia climbed up the mountain of sacks to add one more to the top of the pile, slipped and slithered down, passing out, dead drunk at the bottom. I seem to remember it was about 11 o’clock in the morning. When she had pneumonia and was confined to bed she would wait until her husband had gone out then bump on her bottom down the stairs to smoke an illicit cigarette (kept no doubt in a silver cigarette box) then crawl, gasping for breath, back upstairs.
Another volunteer, Helen was such a softie she couldn’t bear to go near the big open market in the run up to Christmas because the sight of all the plucked turkeys hanging up made her cry. She volunteered to work in the Oxfam shop because she wanted to raise money for the poor people in Africa and India – so they would stay there!
One volunteer struggled to balance her till roll and cash receipts after the introduction of electronic tills. Every time she was on duty the till roll showed quite ridiculous amounts of money. She swore she was entering the correct amount for each sale. I watched her one day and she was indeed very accurate in pressing in the right amount. Then, I spotted what was happening. Molly was extremely well endowed and any time she leant over the counter towards a customer her boobs would ring up yet another sale of a few thousand quid!
A cross dresser frequented one shop because he said the volunteers did make him feel uncomfortable as they did in another, not-to-be-named-here charity shop. The volunteers used to lay aside dresses, skirts and blouses they would fit – and suit – Pearl. He did always moan there were never any high heels to fit his size ten feet.
In another shop we moved the large mirror which leant against the wall in the fitting room and an avalanche of price tickets fell out. Thieves had been taking clothes into the fitting room, putting them, removing the price tickets and presumably putting their own clothes on top. The volunteers were indignant about people stealing from charity until one volunteer gave them pause for thought by saying she thought if people were so poor they had to steal from a charity shop we should be offering them discounts or even give them clothes for free.
An extremely scruffy man walked into a shop and asked to try on a pair of shoes. The shop volunteer noticed he had holes in his socks as she watched him try on the shoes. They were too small and he handed them back. Just before he reached the door her returned, asked to borrow a pair of scissors, which the bemused shop assistant, with some reluctance, handed over. He sat down in the window, removed his own shoes and proceeded to cut his toenails. Finished, he tried on the shoes he wanted and declared they fit just fine.
I’m stopping here, not because I have run out of character but there is a danger this blog post might go on forever!