I would like to address some issues raised in my latest short story, Foul-Hooked. It tells the story of a record shop employee, Andy, and his unscrupulous ways. The intention was to combine a new fictional story with these Tales From A Record Shop. I work in a record shop, part-time, have done for a long time, and so I have a practical experience of dealing with customers – these ones I talk about in these recollections do truly all exist, no matter how far-fetched (okay, so I do embellish. A bit.) Put quite simply, Andy is not me: his beliefs, the way he deals with customers, his dishonesty and thievery, peeing on his trousers (although I have torn my jeans on the racks more than once!). I really enjoyed him being dished out his just desserts, and I’d look at him just like the policemen did. He’s a scumbag. But I would like to make it very clear that he is based on no one I have ever met. Both of the customers, however, are based on real-life people. But we’ll come to them.
In the story, Andy delivers orders to a local old lady. This is something that I have done in the past, and here is where I got the idea for the story. There is a retirement home about a ten minute walk from the shop, near to the Post Office that I drop off the mail. It’s no great diversion to go there; I don’t want to appear mercenary at all, don’t consider myself to be. I have always been happy to offer to deliver orders to a couple of our elderly customers by hand. It is rewarding, in a way, saving them the effort of the journey down the road. I like to do it. It was a long while ago that I first came up for the idea of the story, when I witnessed for myself how an old dear would openly go to her sideboard and pull out a wodge of cash in front of me – and I hope that I’m not supply any varmints with ideas here, because you will go to prison. It’s crazy how trusting she was, but this is a generation who didn’t have to lock the doors at night. I’ve always thought just how simple it would be to thieve – again: I have never even been tempted; I believe that very nasty things should be done to those who “prey on the elderly”.
Here is someone who does prey on the elderly, though. Do you agree with Andy that he has a self-satisfied smile?
Disclaimer: This is a joke. I do not believe that André Rieu preys on the elderly at all, just that he likes to cash in on their dedication to his “fiddling”. He keeps them entertained, and they reward him directly from their sideboard drawers.
The next thing that I’d really like to mention is taking money from the cash register. I’ve always wondered why people would, as we’ve all heard of people who have lost their jobs just for a few beer tokens. How highly do you value your job? I mean, you are paid, right? I get a few incentives: the odd free record or CD, a few promos, tickets to things. (When you go up to the desk at a venue and say that you’re an invited guest by Virgin EMI – “my name’s on the list. And how do I get to Norah Jones’s dressing room? Oh! Just a ticket. Silly me” – you do tend to feel quite important.) So I’m rewarded well enough. Andy didn’t even really need the cash, but it was there, an opportunity, and he took it. He fell into a well and kept feeding from the bottom, until he could only see walls around him. He foul-hooked himself.
Next let’s lighten the tone and chat about prison. Elder abuse is a real thing. Every day people are taking advantage of the vulnerable, and I hope that it makes you feel as sick as I do. Physical and sexual elder abuse speak for themselves – so let’s not – but financial and psychological elder abuse you might feel like you’re getting away with. Here’s a hint: you never will. Andy had a pattern of this. In the shop at the beginning of the story, he took advantage of a batty old dear, Miss Phipps. He took a superior intellectual high ground and used it against Miss Phipps psychologically, twisting her words to the point of confusion . . . and then he robbed her. Both are forms of abuse. It frequently surprises me how little perception of things some customers appear to have, which does lend them a vulnerability. And, like Andy, I do wonder how they get by in the world. But to actually be cruel enough to tease them, assuming that they also might not have feelings? I’d like to think not. By the tone of some of previous stories, I do feel that maybe a little justification of the reality is relevant. Always remember: it’s fiction! (Inspiredbytrueevents, cough.) And anyway, I would never publish someone’s real name in these tales – pretty close to it, mind, but it’s not my intention to name and shame; the shame would be on me!
Speaking of which, with regards to the description of a prison interior, let’s just say that I went on a school trip to have a look around. If André’s solicitors get on to me then I’ll be probably be able to update that section.
Here’s a little something to help settle you back down again: André just chilling outside his castle.
And I’m not saying that it was bought by ill-gotten gains, from sideboards or elsewhere. He’s a hardworking man!
Before you start to think that I’m a nice guy with high moral values, let’s now mention those two customers that Andy deals with. After all, that’s what these tales are for! The first customer was, as mentioned, Miss Phipps. I don’t go in for all that “you sold it to me”, “no, you bought it” but I do like the English language. Andy’s argument is extraneous, at best. You wouldn’t actually say it to a moron, I mean customer (relax, okay, again it’s just a joke)! But what does get me, and does happen, is when customers return something and say, ‘You’ve already sold this to me. I’ve already got it!’ Then I feel quite justified to say, ‘I assume that you mean that you’ve already bought it. I mean, I remember almost everything that you’ve bought, truly I do, but I can’t possibly remember everything that you’ve already got at home. In future I’d be really happy to help check in your house before you buy anything, just in case of duplication, if you’d like? Or maybe, alternatively, you could check before buying it!’ I’d never actually say that, in full, but sometimes you have to let people know that they’re being a little foolish. No? I mean, they could start with, ‘I’ve already got this,’ and then I’d simply think that they’re an idiot. More justification required? I’ve done this myself, okay, so I’m an idiot too. Just relax.
So the reality: this funny, quirky little lady, “Miss Phipps”, wanted to return an André Rieu DVD that she’d bought – because it was a documentary, not music. She came straight in and was really aggressive. From the story, you get the idea. She just wanted a refund; André had already received his remuneration. But what was really funny – and true – is that she came back a week later and bought the next one in the series; more of André wandering around and occasionally fiddling in public. Really, I quite like “Miss Phipps”. She is absolutely bonkers but there’s no harm at all in her being a little different. In fact, that’s probably why I quite like her. Although she does spit all over the goddam place.
The second customer is “Mr Wilkinson”. He’ll phone out of the blue and go straight in, assuming that you know who he is and what he’s talking about. Another strange-but-true, Mr Wilkinson is not the only customer who phones to check that we’ve placed his order. Think about that. Do you feel exasperated? Say he phones on a Tuesday; we’ll say that he’ll receive his order by the end of the week; he’ll phone on a Wednesday to check on the status of it. I’ve never been able to fathom any more sense of it than that these people truly do have too much time on their hands. One of the record companies have even phoned me before to tell me that one of our customers had phoned them to check that we’d placed our order!
I like to dream up businesses or companies that might have similar situations with their customers. So, imagine a builder who has just received the plans from their architect and a green light to commence work. The foundations are laid and the brick delivery has just arrived. The builder receives a call just as he’s about to lay the first brick. He puts the brick down and instead answers the phone. “You built my house yet?” a voice squawks. It’s just like when the ringing telephone interrupts Basil Fawlty from hanging the moose’s head on the wall. His wife Cybil is on the other end of the line.
“I was just doing it, you stupid woman. I just put it down to come here and be reminded by you to do something that I’m already doing . . . Anything else? I mean, would you like the hotel moved a bit to the left?”
I don’t really want to be like Basil Fawlty. So you could just suffer it. Or have a little fun with it. Like: ‘Are you certain that you placed an order? . . . I can’t see it on the screen here . . . Just kidding, I was just doing it [you dick].” But the [dick] stays in your mouth, so to speak. It seems that customers actually quite like that. (No, not that! The just kidding part.)
So I’m not really like Andy at all. Personally I wouldn’t shop anywhere where I thought that someone could even think those things, let alone do those things – unless they were for use in fictional short stories or whimsical tales. And I also don’t play computer games, on my phone or otherwise – I had to research the Candy Crush Saga part and quickly lost interest, so sorry if I got it wrong.
One last note to mention is where Andy is reminded that he laughed at a customer when they asked for a Whitney Houston CD. Hmmm. A little confession here. Of course I wouldn’t ever laugh at a customer, but sometimes I think that I’m being funny, and really I’m not – if I’m ever. A really nice guy, a regular, recently asked for the new Rick Astley release. I said that he’d be relieved to hear that it was currently out-of-stock, assuming that he’d been asked to get it for his wife, or for Miss Phipps, or something . . . It wasn’t.
Because the tone of this tale is, at times, quite serious, I thought that I’d finish on a joke that I made up.
André Rieu walks into a retirement home with his fiddle . . .
Actually, I’d better not.