Bank Holiday in a Pencil Shop

 Gentle persistent rain falls on fleshy jungle leaves, sounding like polite theatre applause. It’s humid in the rainforest, sticky and uncomfortable. But Genre Philips is used to it, he’s been all over the world and experienced all kinds of discomfort for his job, he’s a professional. The archetypal explorer in his linen suit, machete at hand, thrashing at vines and undergrowth in his determination to find exactly what he wants. There’s a lot riding on his efforts. Multinational companies, contracts and businessmen, and the entire future of the pencil retail industry propel him on through inhospitable terrain and incredible hardship in order that he advance human progress. The sweat rolls from his gritty brow as he pushes aside one last jungle creeper, finding himself in a clearing so far from human habitation as to make him one of the very first to stand right here, right on this spot.         A smile creases his face.

         ‘Genre Philips’, he says to himself, ‘You’ve done it again’.

 

A career in retail has its own highs and lows, as any other job might. Seldom does the incredible sacrifice of working tirelessly to feed customer demand get recognised by those who have never had to endure the exquisite pain of working on bank holidays. There are perks, of course, such as slightly reduced hours and no scheduled deliveries, but these are outweighed by the stinginess of head office when it comes to coughing up for extra cover. Bank holidays are usually staffed by one or two soulless suckers who, by dint of rota and sheer bad luck, find themselves spending what might otherwise be a day of relaxation and laziness in doing what they might do any other day of the week. That is to say, feeding the shopping habits of the public, standing around with hands on hips looking at a shop completely devoid of any customers at all.

         Sandra calls in with a migraine and I am left as the only member of staff on duty.

         Which doesn’t upset me in the least. I know that not many people will want to go out on a bank holiday and purchase pencils. When you work in a shop that sells only pencils, you really are aiming yourself towards a very narrow market at the best of times, and a bank holiday is seldom a good time, let alone one of the best. At least I can get things done, like cleaning the shelves and rearranging all of the pencils, making sure not to spend too much time looking out of the window in the morning so that at least I’ve got something to do in the afternoon. The only problem, of course, comes with wanting to go to the toilet.

         Not much happens for the first half hour. The town is dead and a steady rain falls from the steel grey sky. The shop, with all of its retail gaiety, sits useless and humming, fluorescent lights emphasising the fantastic array of pencils just to me. All this effort, I tell myself. All of the thinking and the exuberance gathered over a lifetime of retail management went in to creating the branding and the display methods of the pencils here, just so that nobody will look at any of them. Society, I tell myself – (getting philosophical, all of a sudden) – can be so very wasteful. All that effort and thinking might otherwise have gone in to something useful.

         From the corner of my eye I note that some people have stopped outside of the shop. They are chatting among themselves, two older ladies in purple anoraks sheltering under an umbrella. How nice, I tell myself. They seem so agile, so animated, it’s good that they can still summon such enthusiasm for life at their age. Ten minutes later I realise that they are still there, still just as animated, both of them with their backs to the plate glass window looking out at the street. I then notice that one of them is carrying a large cardboard sign.

         Hmmm.

         ‘What is it?’, I ask, popping my head out of the door.

         ‘Bastard’, one of them says.

         ‘Can I help you?’

         ‘You are a symbol’, the other one says, ‘Of the greed and bloodshed which causes heartache and loss among the poorest people of the world, while lining the pockets of those who are already millionaires’.

         ‘In a pencil shop?’, I ask.

         Two of them. One has a long grey pony tail, the other a very rather fetching and quite retro blue rinse. The one with the blue rinse has her hood up. The one without the blue rinse stands proud in the rain, occasionally crouching down under the umbrella.

         ‘You know what you’ve done’.

         I try to think back. There seems so much that someone might protest about, standing outside a pencil shop, from the increasing reliance on computers and tablets to the ever-controversial introduction of the first Super HB waterproof mega pencil, one bite of which, according to the pencil consumer magazines, might result in instant death.

         ‘You’re going to have to remind me’, I tell them.

         ‘This company’, pony tail says, ‘And the other companies with which it engages, is systematically destroying vast areas of rainforest in order to manufacture yet more pencils. And we’re here to put a stop to it, or at least, dent some of the profits that your uncaring, heartless organisation might make on a bank holiday’.

         I want to tell them that any company which hires me is already well on its way to denting its profit margins.

         ‘It’s pouring with rain’, I tell them.

         ‘Climate change’, blue rinse says. ‘Which can also be linked to the deforestation caused by the public’s seemingly insatiable appetite for new pencils’.

         She’s got a point, of course. Just like our pencils.

         ‘Let’s have a look at your sign’, I tell them.

         They turn it so that I can get a better look. It reads, ‘Don’t shop here if you want pencils because this company is implicit in the destruction of the rainforest because that’s where they get their wood from to make their pencils from’.

         ‘Snappy’, I tell them.

         ‘Thank you’.

         ‘Let me know if you’d like a cup of tea at any time’.

 

The morning progresses and not much happens. The presence of the old ladies out the front of the shop is somewhat unsettling. For all the faults of the company and the emotional turmoil of a career in retail, it’s still a little insulting to have someone take offence to the way in which it operates, even if their concerns are quite valid. The tenacity of the old ladies is remarkable, huddling together when the wind picks up and the rain starts blowing horizontally. I try to tune them out and go about my normal duties, which includes dusting the displays of pencils and mopping the floor whenever anyone comes in with a dripping umbrella. I sell two pencils in an hour. It’s actually not a bad day.

         And then my mind starts to wander. I recall the man I saw the other day, wearing a pair of spats. I’d always wondered what a spat looked like, and now I felt I’d learned something interesting.

         I sit down on a stool behind the till. Ordinarily, sitting down behind the counter would be frowned on by senior management, but the fact remains that both The Manager and the Area Manager will be enjoying their days off and not even thinking about how things are going. The chance of either of them walking in is very remote indeed.

         A large man enters the shop. I recognise him as one of our regular customers, a lecturer at a nearby university who lives locally and often pops in. He has an enormous belly and sideburns to match, the top pocket of his tweed jacket full of pens and pencils.

         He stops halfway down the first aisle and picks up a packet of pencils. He puts on a pair of pince nez glasses and reads the small print of the packet intently. Suddenly, a deep opera voice fills the shop and he starts to sing to the pencils.

     

   ‘Oh pencils, oh pencils,

I love you so much!

You shall make me

A wonderful bunch!

Oh pencils oh pencils

You shall be

On the top of my desk

And used often by me!’

 

         He does this every time he comes in. I often wonder if he realises he’s doing it at all. Once we tried to ask him whether he’d had a background in opera but he’d mumbled something about needing to save his voice, and that life itself was a never-ending opera. He picks up a packet of assorted rubbers.

 

‘Oh wondrous rubbers, both fat and thin!

You shall not erase the mistakes I have within!

Oh you I shall depend to make problems go away,

That I may live to carry on in this way’.

 

              He now scrutinises a bag of pencil sharpeners.

 

‘Pencil sharpeners of beauty,

A wonderful sight,

You shall sharpen my pencils,

Oh what a delight,

So new in your packaging,

So spotless and clean,

You and me make a formidable team!’

 

         Opera Man is at the counter now. I keep having to tell myself, ‘Don’t mention his signing, don’t mention his singing, just take the money and say goodbye’.

         ‘Nice spot of weather’, I tell him, in that ironic jocular sort of way that retail staff often use.

         ‘Ooooooooo, yes it is’, warbles Opera Man.

         ‘That’s one pound ninety four’.

         ‘And heeeeere’s a five pound note!’

         Opera Man wipes his immense forehead with a handkerchief.

         ‘Here’s your change’.

         ‘Thaaaaaank-youuuuuu!’

         Opera Man takes his purchases and leaves, to a chorus of abuse from the old ladies outside.

         The shop is deserted once again. There’s a strange quietness in the air now that the Opera Man has gone. It’s as if the whole place has breathed out a sigh of relief. The lone shopping trolley stands in the corner, a strange object which harks back to a time of enthusiasm and optimism when the Manager thought that the pencil shop would be so busy that people needed shopping trolleys. I get up and I push it along, down one of the aisles, just to see if the slope in the floor has got any worse during all of this damp weather. It goes running off on its own and picks up speed, comes to a limp halt next to a display of pencils decorated with penguins. I can hear the rain pelting now against the plate glass window. For the sake of scientific discovery, I use the shopping trolley two more times in order to discover exactly where the floor slopes.

         Someone comes in.

         ‘Morning!’

         It’s the compulsive shoplifter. Every shop has one. She’s a haggard, downtrodden-looking woman, carrying a large, bulky shopping bag which she presses tight to her chest. The last time she came in she made off with a pencil, and them time before that she made off with two pencils, each time outwitting all the staff. The bulky shopping bag was the reason why she could be challenged about the theft of the pencils, because once they enter that cavernous space, there’s every chance that they might never be seen without a citizen’s arrest and a search warrant. But everything about her is suspicious. She wanders around the shop, flitting from aisle to aisle, picking things up and putting them back, and normally, once she’s swiped whatever it is that she’s come in for, she’ll walk out of the door as fast as she possibly can.

         But I feel bad in suspecting her. She might not be a shoplifter at all. It’s just the Manager who says that she’s a shoplifter, because the Manager says ‘You can tell by her behaviour’. She might be innocent, perhaps too afraid or embarrassed to make those first faltering steps into owning a pencil.

         In any case I follow her around, keeping track behind her while at the same time pretending to be checking stock levels. She moves fast, zipping from one display to the next and watching my progress from the corner of her eyes. I am determined that today shall be the day when the question of her innocence is solved once and for all, that I should catch her in the act of stealing pencils, or else satisfy myself that she’s as weird as Opera Man. She watches me as I make an imaginary list of things that the first aisle needs, then watches me again as I pretend to tidy some shelves. I follow her closely, and I watch as she reaches out for one of the most expensive pencils in the whole shop – the Super Silver HB Special from the company’s very own Unique Collection – when the door opens.

         ‘Cooo-eeee, love!’, an old lady says. ‘I’ve just been speaking to the ladies out the front. When are they going to get their cup of tea?’

         Distracted, she slips out of the door as fast as she can.

         ‘Well, thank you!’, I tell her. ‘Thank you very much!’

         I recognise the lady who’s just come in. She’s a regular, not that she ever buys anything. She’s a regular in that she regularly comes in. She has compensated for her little mouth by enlarging it ten times with lipstick, she has a face so powdered that it looks like a freshly rolled out lump of puff pastry on a floured surface. But most worryingly, she is permanently cleaning out both of her ears at once with cotton buds, one in each hand. She is the infamous Ear Wax Lady.

         ‘They’re nothing to do with the shop’.

         ‘I thought they were friends of yours’.

         ‘They’re just . . . Spectators’.

         ‘Nasty weather, isn’t it?’

         ‘Typical bank holiday’.

         ‘Bank holiday, is it? I didn’t even realise. But that’s what happens when you’re retired, I suppose’.

         ‘You know, I’d almost caught a shoplifter when you came in’.

         She keeps on digging her way into her ears with the cotton buds. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Even after all these years, it strikes me as a little bit strange. You think you’d get used to regular customers, with their little foibles, but nothing can quite prepare you for the strangeness of the Ear Wax Lady. Not even Opera Man.

         ‘How are you, today?’

         ‘Well, dear’, she says, without stopping her cotton bud routine. ‘Life is like the warning on the box of cotton buds. Its says Do not stick too far into the inner ear. Yet sometimes, you have to push that extra bit harder’.

         You have to. She’s right. She’s hit the philosophy of life right on the head. She goes out there into the world trying to make every moment as pleasurable as possible. It’s people like the Ear Wax Lady who make the world go round.

         ‘Now tell me’, she says. ‘Where are your biscuits?’

         ‘We don’t stock biscuits’.

         ‘And what about cough sweets?’

         ‘We don’t stock cough sweets. We only sell pencils’.

         ‘Ah, yes. I keep forgetting. That’s the trouble, when you’re digging away like this. Sometimes you forget about the small details’.

         The Ear Wax Lady departs.

         Nothing happens for a very long time. I sit at the counter again and I start to ponder on the questions that have perplexed me for most of my life. If it’s minus thirty degrees and you walk into a freezer which is kept at minus five degrees, does it feel any warmer? If everybody in the world jumped up and down at the same moment, would the planet shift on its axis? How many times has a single droplet of water been drunk since the start of time? Does light erode? Does nothing exciting ever happen in a pencil shop on a bank holiday?

         The door opens.

         Two men come in. They’re wearing long, dark coats. I can tell immediately that they’re not here to buy pencils. Gaunt, unsmiling, and wearing sunglasses and pork pie hats, one of them looks round the shop while the other one comes over to me at the till. Part of me wonders if they’re from the council, but then I see how expensive their suits are, and how incredibly menacing the looks on their faces.

         ‘You in charge, here?’

         ‘For today, yes’.

         ‘Nice place’.

         ‘Thanks’.

         ‘Shame to see anything bad happen to it’.

         ‘Yes, it would be’.

         ‘Shame to see it disassembled’.

         ‘Eh?’

         ‘I said, shame to see it disassembled’.

         ‘I heard’.

         He bends closer. He’s older than his clothing hints. Behind the sunglasses and the hat, I see the wrinkled features of a man well into his eighties.

         ‘You see, I run a small insurance company’.

         ‘Oh, yes’.

         I find myself sounding as if I’m at home chatting with a door-to-door toilet cleaner salesman.

         ‘And you pay me a certain amount each week. Otherwise, you may get a visit from the boys, and we don’t want that to happen now, do we?’

         He’s close enough to me for me to hear the whine of his hearing aid.

         ‘Ah, I see. And these . . Boys. How old are these . . .’. I gulp, somewhat audibly. ‘Boys?’

         ‘I’ll just say, they’ve left middle school’.

         ‘Hur hur’, I say, in attempt to laugh, but it comes out as more of a dry croak. ‘Hurk’.

         ‘I’ll bid you a good day’.

         He swaggers out with his accomplice, and then he swaggers back in again.

         ‘Forgot my walking stick’.

         He swaggers back out, past the protestors.

         I knew it. I knew something like this would happen. The omens were everywhere, now that I look back. How else can some of the businesses in this town survive without the protection of such shady individuals? I feel my heart rate increasing as I realise the trouble that I might now get myself in to, just by working in a shop which sells pencils. Worst case scenarios drift before my mind, of the company refusing to pay up to their demands and of me being abducted, driven out along the coast past the pier and up into the wilds, the cliffs, the pouring rain, the rural hinterlands where nobody would find my body for days. Sweat starts rolling down the side of my face. Retail, that’s what the careers advisor at school said. Retails is just the sort of career that you might want to head in to. Nothing bad ever happens in retail, it’s all just facts and figures and customer service, unpacking boxes and keeping delivery notes. That’s all retail is.

         They didn’t mention death.

         ‘Down to the pencil shop!’, the protestors outside begin to chant. ‘Down to the pencil shop!’

         I manage to relax. But I can’t relax for long. The shop, with all of its familiarity, suddenly seems the most harmful place in the world. The man, whose features I barely saw underneath those sunglasses and that hat, the man who leaned across the counter and whispered to me, his breath smelling of garlic and mints, like a portent of death, evil incarnate threatening at any moment to ‘send the boys round’. I take several deep breaths and I try to think that it all might be some magnificent hoax, a joke played by someone I once upset because I wouldn’t give them a refund on a pencil sharpener. That’s what it is, I tell myself, eventually. A hoax. That’s what it’s got to be.

         The door opens and a young man comes in.

         ‘Lamp shades?’

         ‘Pardon?’

         ‘Lamp shades?’

         ‘We don’t sell lamp shades, I’m afraid’.

         ‘There used to be a shop right here which sold lamp shades’.

         ‘That was about twelve years ago. It shut down, I’m afraid’.

         ‘So, no lamp shades, then?’

         ‘No’.

         ‘Don’t know why I bother, some times’, he says.

         And he leaves.

         I get up and I walk around. It’s amazing that I haven’t needed to go to the toilet yet. That’s usually one of the first things which happens when you’re looking after a shop all day. And the moment you really need to go very badly, that’s when it suddenly packs out with customers. It’s uncanny. But today, on a rainy, dead bank holiday : nothing.

         I can’t get the image of the men in the dark suits out of my mind. I reach under the counter for the Manager’s Manual, but there’s nothing in there about dealing with The Mob. In fact, the only thing under M in the Manager’s Manual is ‘Managing Stock’, and once you get to that page it just says, ‘Refer to section on Stock Management’. The page which it refers to just says, ‘Refer to section on Managing Stock’. But there’s nothing about ‘Managing the Mob’.

         I tell myself that I’m being silly. There’s no harm, here. That’s what I decide. Nothing bad will happen to me, because even if the mob did want their money, there’s hardly enough in the till to pay them. Opera Man spent one pound ninety four, and there’s a forty quid float, out of which I took fifty pence to buy some milk. I decide that the best strategy might be just to buy them off with the promise of a cup of tea and a couple of free pencils.

         An artist comes in.

         At last! I perk up a bit. He’s wearing a beret, sat at a jaunty angle. He even has little goatee beard.

         ‘Pencils?’, he asks.

         ‘Thousands of them!’

         He goes over to the displays and he browses. There’s something comforting about him, not only the promise that he might actually spend some money, but also the contrast he makes with the other people who have been in. His face betrays a kindly benevolence, considered and at one with the world, so unlike anyone else in the retail sector.

         ‘Can I help with anything?’

         ‘I’m looking for pencils. Pencils of every description. I’ve got quite a big order, I’m afraid. I don’t want to take you from your tasks’.

         ‘Not a problem’.

         He takes a basket and begins to fill it up.

         ‘We’ve had a new shipment in. These ones, here’. I hold up one of the new red pencils which I’d filled one of the shelves with. ‘They’re really good. They’re . . . red’.

         ‘Ah, magnificent!, the artist replies. ‘A masterpiece of understatement! The element of organised chaos and maelstrom in everyday life. That unconscious note of unhappiness with the colour red, our unwillingness to comply with that mental red stop light which appears in our heads. It’s a fantastic achievement, my dear friend. However, I shant be purchasing it’.

         I like the way he talks.

         ‘What do you think of this place?’

         ‘I see this building as representing the ruins that the commercial world has become. It’s a cry for help, isn’t it? The broken and missing roof tiles refer to a lack of or thinning hair. The sloping floor here, standing for the unsteady ground on which we all stand. The crack in the corner of the window indicates the need we have once our eyesight begins to diminish of wearing glasses or some other visual aid. You know this morning I saw a cow in a field and I thought, yes, that cow, standing there, that’s its job, that’s its purpose. And the aircraft I saw flying overhead, showing that even in that agricultural scene, one cannot escape the modern world. It is pitiful, is it not? But its pitiful nature makes it superb. A part of that old broken world which lies deep within us all’.

         I have no idea what he’s talking about, but his basket is getting more and more full, and my brain begins to tot up what his purchase might come to. Excitement builds, because this might make it all worth while. The Opera Man, the Ear Wax Lady, the mob, the protestors, even the man who wanted lamp shades, all of that was endured just because of this one sale.

         ‘Oh, what’s this?’

         ‘What’s what?’

         ‘What’s this, here?’

         He points in to the corner of the shop.

         ‘Looks like someone’s shopping’.

         Except that it doesn’t. It looks like a suspect package. Something wrapped up and left on the floor with a note attached. I think once again of the mobsters and the one who went off looking round the shop while I talked to the old man. One of them could easily have put it there, ready t enact some kind of revenge in case their demands were refused. Or perhaps it might have been someone on behalf of the protestors, using violence and terrorism to publicise their concerns. I look through the window at the two old ladies. Could they really have planted a bomb?

         ‘It looks a bit suspicious’, the artist says.

         ‘Well don’t worry about that. Tell me, what other pencils are you looking for at the moment?’

         ‘I don’t really think I . . .’.

         ‘Yes?’

         ‘I don’t think I ought to be here, not with that’.

         He points again.

         ‘Ignore it. It’s just someone’s shopping’.

         ‘I’m a sensitive soul. I’m an artist. I can’t be where there’s danger, that’s not the sort of person I am. How can I ever make the world a better place if I’m blown to smithereens? Sorry, but I must go’.

         ‘No’.

         He flings his basket to the floor and races out of the shop.

         The two old ladies outside cheer.

         Again, my heart rate increases. I go to the aisle and I pick up the item. It’s wrapped in paper and the note attached says, ‘Do not touch’. I bring it over to the counter at the exact moment that a feeling of lightheadedness comes over me. What a fool I have been! I should have left it where it was, not even touched it! And now it’s in my hands, and it could explode at any minute!

         I breathe quickly. Short gasps. Again, sweat starts to roll down the side of my face.

         Everything which happens next is just instinct.

         With the least amount of movement possible, I wrap one of my legs around the support of the nearby table. Slowly but surely, I drag the table towards me, trying not to make any sudden movements. It takes a couple of minutes, millimeter by millimetre, but soon the table is placed flush against the wall directly underneath the telephone.

         The next thing I do is to kick off a shoe, which is harder than it sounds when you’re not wanting to make any sudden movements. This, too, takes about five minutes, but once its done I’m able to use my foot to kick at a display of pencils until one of them falls on the floor. I then manage to pick this up with my foot, then angle it in such a way as to press the button which turns on the kettle, which I’d earlier placed on top of the table at the start of my shift.

         A minute or so later the kettle begins to boil and the steam from the spout rises up. Using the pencil to keep the kettle boiling by switching the switch back on whenever it goes off, I am able to make the telephone on the wall begin to glisten with moisture until, at long last, the receiver falls off.

         Using a spare finger, I hook the lead of the telephone receiver and draw it towards the suspect package, pulling the lead ever tighter until it is wrapped around the handles of the bag, and then in one smart maneouvre I drop the package and grab the telephone receiver lead so that the package is now suspended in mid air, one hand still supporting it so as to leave the other hand free.

         Using this free hand, I reach out and grab the long wooden pole which we use for opening the high windows. Using the pole with one hand, I grab the fire extinguisher and pull it along to where I am trapped behind the counter with the bomb, now hanging from the telephone lead.

         The sweat is rolling down my face and in to my eyes. I put the pole down and drag the waste paper bin towards me, placing it directly underneath the suspended suspect package.

         At this moment the door opens again.

         My heart sinks.

         It’s the men in suits again. Except this time, there’s six of them. Six men in dark suits, sunglasses, pork pie hats, and some of them are carrying mallets. The situation could possibly not get any worse.

         ‘All right, lads?’, the old man says. ‘This is the place. We’ve not heard anything about their demands. In fact it looks like they’ve scarpered. You know what you have to do’.

         I close my eyes. They might find me at any moment. If the bomb doesn’t go off, then they will abduct me, take me out into the hills and the dales around the town.

         ‘Ready, boys?’

         ‘Sure, boss’.

         ‘Please’, I whisper. ‘Please’.

         But none of them can hear me. With one hand still holding the package, the other now edging me away from everything underneath the counter where I can watch them through the gap between the fittings, I feel useless and trapped in a hopeless situation.

         ‘Where do you want us to start dissembling?’, one of them asks.

         ‘Wherever you decide. Let’s start with that display of pencils’.

         I frown. I look closer through the gap between the till unit and the display stand. It seems that they’re all over eighty.

         ‘OK, lads. Here we go. It’s been a few years since we’ve done this, but it’s something that never goes away’.

         The old man takes a mallet and raises it into the air to smash one of the display stands. But the effort is too much and he has to put it down. He tries to pick it up again, but something lets go in his back and he drops it to the floor, clutching the base of his spine.

         One of the men picks up a chair and then has to put it down again.

         One of them picks up a pencil and tries to snap it, but the effort is too much and he has to have a sit down and a bit of a breather.

         One of them takes two paces into the shop and has to lean against the wall. He rummages in his pockets and puts a couple of pills into his mouth.

         Their leader is up again, he goes over to the giant novelty pencil which stands in the corner of the shop and tries to tear it from its base, but it’s obviously more stronger than him. He lifts both feet off the ground and finds himself gently swinging back and forth like Tarzan in an old folk’s home. He has to be rescued by one of his accomplices.

         Within two minutes, the ‘boys’ are reduced to sitting, leaning or lying down, wheezing and groaning. One by one they stagger from the shop.

         ‘Well, I managed to send them packing’, I tell myself.

         But the adventure is not over yet. With my free hand I pick up the fire extinguisher, and in one very quick movement I drop the suspect package into the waste paper bin while simultaneously squirting the contents of the fire extinguisher on top of the probable bomb. At long last, when it’s obvious that the package has been well and truly doused, I am able to finish and lean back against the wall, floods of relief causing me to feel almost dizzy with delayed shock.

         The package floats there, in the water-filled bin. Gingerly, I reach down and peel back a layer to see what might lie inside.

         Pencils.

         New pencils, from head office. Left on the shop floor. And that’s when I recognise the writing on the note as being that of my boss. Leave here, it had said. For me to put on the shelves if I got bored. Because that’s what happens on a bank holiday. People get bored.

 

I take the old ladies a cup of tea and some biscuits. They’re very thankful, and I tell them that I will be shutting the shop an hour earlier than usual, you know, what with it being a bank holiday and everything. One of them asks me if it’s been a busy day and I say no, no it hasn’t. We only took one pound and ninety four pence.

         ‘In that case’, she replies, ‘Our protest has been worth it’.

         I ask them exactly how bad the deforestation is out in the jungle, and how I might play a small part in combating it, you know, in honour of their protest.

         ‘Do everything you can’, they reply, ‘To make sure that the shop doesn’t keep taking the huge amounts that it currently is. There’s more to life than retail, you know. It is the most thankless of careers’.

         ‘Did you happen to see anything going on in here today?’, I ask. ‘I mean . . Anything at all?’

         ‘Not really. It didn’t look like anything interesting was going on’.

 

Genre Philips gets out his ruler and measures the height of a sapling. The hot tropical sun beats down and the air is thick with insects and the hooting of various monkeys. He gets out his clipboard and writes down some calculations, only for his pencil to snap. He stands there for a couple of moments, disbelieving, then lets out a long, low laugh which echoes back from dense vegetation. Soon, he tells himself. Soon, people will be able to just throw pencils away, and it wont mean a thing, and nobody will ever realise that he went to such lengths to make their world a better place. But before then, before that fantastic time arrives, when people are able to just reach out and touch fate, before that time, there will be much work to be done.

         Most of the heroes of the world are invisible 

 

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