I don’t think I have made any ground breaking steps and I possibly sure that for every step I have made forward with this project I am maybe taking three steps back however even little fairy steps are better than no steps at all.
I managed last Friday to talk to my lady who had a close connection with the shopkeeper who unfortunately passed before I could engage him in this project. This highlighted for me the vulnerability of the topic and the fragility of the nature of my course of enquiry. Time is very much of the essence when the shops and those that run them are of a certain age, the fact that they have managed a business for so many years is a tribute to them. I think even more so in the economic climate that we find ourselves in when the town High Street is in decline in many local areas.
When I asked my lady if he had many customers, she told me hardly any. Having been friend with Cyril the Squirrel since around 2008 she has been a constant companion to him in his gift shop. Watching the world go by and having a good laugh, usually at unsuspecting passers by from the confines of the shop window.
Their first dialogue opened with my lady telling Cyril “ You must have been a copper in a previous life!” As he watched her like a hawk on the afternoon she happened to come across his shop.
His response was “ You must’ve been a witch and would she like some batteries for her broomstick?” He watched her leave and asked if he would see her again, she told him “don’t look at what you can’t afford.” With that a friendship was forged. My lady was a constant visitor to the shop.
My lady has a fantastic memory of the town, born and bred here she is one of those characters who is ingrained within the community. I didn’t pry into her personal history I knew from her open and frank nature she is someone who has had hard times and relies on food banks and local community groups that provide breakfast. A petit lady she comes as someone who can stick up for herself and her friends and Cyril was one of them.
She spoke to Cyril during our conversation, turning sideways as if he maybe sitting on her shoulder. I asked her if he had a regular routine with opening the shop, she candidly replied “did he bollocks!” She went on to tell me how she would always check on the shop for him on a Sunday as she passed through town to ensure no windows had been smashed by Saturday night revellers and once discovered he’d opened the shop on a Sunday. This was as she revealed the early indications of a man with Dementia. At 81 years old he still got up and carried on with the business. I asked her why hw hadn’t retired and she replied as if mimicking him “What else am I going to do, sit at home and vegetate!”
He may not have had the most regular of opening hours as he got older, but my lady informed me that he always had lunch at 12.30
Fond of a Haslet and pickle roll or perhaps cheese and bunion as she animatedly informed me, another of their little in jokes. Or often they would drive to Marks And Spencer’s on the way home and he would enjoy the little sherry trifles and beef and Stilton pie from there.
When asked to describe her relationship she simply said “total insanity” and we paused for a minute and I saw the great sadness in her eyes. It has only been a couple of months since his passing and I could see the huge hole it had left in her life.
She carries around a picture of him, Cyril, a young police cadets in 1957-a fine figure of a man who went on to be a police officer in the town until 1973. That was when he opened his shop. His wife Pam, the only love of his life had looked after her parents toy shop and when they passed Pam and Cyril ran the gift shop but had taken on all the stock from the other shops run by Pams parents.
Cyril and been interested in high end gifts and porcelain over the years it had included dolls and toys and even children’s clothes remnants of stock left behind. He hadn’t bought any stock in years but my lady assured me he would also bring things from his garage. When I asked about the sheers amount of stuff she said “I’ll tell you a story”
Back in 1983 a couple had come into the shop looking for a cuckoo clock Cyril liked to go out of his way for people and ordered a cuckoo clock, but of course this was in the day before Amazon and EBay, Cyril couldn’t order just one clock he had to order 6 so thinking it would be a good investment he got the clock, sold the one and was left with the five as dust collectors. He may have sold one other and my lady was given another one, however she has never heard it working “the destruction booklet”was all in Chinese and Cyril couldn’t recall how he’d managed to get the original up and running as it was so long ago.
Just as my lady saw the copper in him, he prided himself on being a vigilant shopkeeper, it was sad to hear the story of a distraction theft that happened in his store some six years before. He had sold a foreign couple in the store a beanie babie for their child who was with them, a young boy. It was a pound and they paid with a twenty pound note. The woman then asked to see something off of the top shelf while the father and son remained at the counter, when he had fetched the item down the lady said it wasn’t what she was looking for and they left. He knew the minute they went something was wrong and headed back behind the counter. The tin in which he kept the paper money was gone and the precious coins he kept in the tin too. He took off in his car, locking the shop in order to find them. My lady spotted him in his car and he pulled over to tell her “ I’ve been had”. She said he wasn’t himself after that, that they had “ruffled his tree” he was quite embarrassed and didn’t want to report it to the police especially having been a copper. But the did and my lady told me they could paper the wall in letter from Lincolnshire police telling them how they have not successfully brought them to justice. Cyril’s shop not being the only ones hit that day.
My lady painted a full picture of this policeman come shop keeper, with a passion for brass bands and nothing he would like better than a night at the proms. They went to the theatre together last year to watch Christmas memories at the local arts centre and both joined in the singing, it’s on again this year but my lady doesn’t think she’ll go on her own.
One thing that strikes me now is the unique friendship that these two formed. Cyril left no children and his wife passed some years before, my lady now has Cyril’s cat Molly. The shop and Cyril gave my lady her routine and ritual in looking out for him and breaking up his day with her visits, she brought the outside world inside that shop. Cyril who couldn’t do anything else but be in the shop had someone to inject personality and life into a faded and worn shop that still retained an element of quality and dignity despite the dust and from the sound of it he looked after her too, the pair of them finding great comfort from the other’s company and humour. I know she will feel his loss greatly.