A _ SPECIMEN DAY
BY A SMALL SHOPKEEPER.
[In response to requests we have been publishing a few of the articles, describing a characteristic day's work or experience, which were sent in for a' recent competition in the "Spectator. The following article is the last of the series.] MY day extends from 7.30 a.m. to 9.30 p.m.. the opening hohr being self-imposed and necessary in order successfully to earn my living in the* midst of great competition, being the proprietor of a small retail general store in a Slum area' in a large city. • MY early customers are generally the same people, day by day ; young men, labourers, for cigarettes ; women in declining years, from a Salvation Army HoStel hard by, for snuff to clear their'theuity 'heads ; children for bunches of firewood to kindle the ImiSehold fires for the cooking of the small 'quantities Of "cheap bacon, indifferent eggs or oatmeal Which they have already purchased, or obtained on credit elsewhere..
I remove my shutters, uncover my goods* and kindle my own fire in the intervals of attending to these, and My breakfast is well on the way to preparation by the time the children are passing on their way to school ; bid I may not commence the consumption of my porridge until I have supplied a variety of needs, consisting 'of lead pencils; slate' pencils and an assortment of 'con- fectionery in halfpenny lots.
There 'is a lull between the passing of the children and the arrival of the adults on their way to business, during which I consume my meal. '
. Some of the business people are my customers, mostly men, for tobacco, matches and cigarettes. Their remarks are stereotyped and refer to the weather and the dullness of business. Business, among business men, is always said to-be dull, but in the presence of a layman, prosperous if the latter be not a borrower, and I have caught the disease, for my replies too are stereotyped. Clerks and typists are above me, I imagine, and patronize the more showy premises in keeping with their attire and demeanour. Some, however, 'poorer in appearance and goods but richer in character, call in for " Wild Woodbine" cigarettes (of military fame), and obtain them sometimes on credit, for they are generally honest men.
So to the hours that are quiet, those between 9.30 and 12.30, when I do most of my cleaning and the ordering of fresh goods.
Commercial travellers are interviewed, those tried in the past and well known to me entrusted with their usual orders and courteously 'and quickly dismissed ; whilst new callers are' treated with reserve and' guarded comment ; and the trick salesmen, with showy and cheap goods, despatched immediately ; all this whilst diminutive customers, too young- for the School-room, are purchasing "'9:- ha'penny worth o' sweeties and a ha'penny back " sometimes with only a halfpenny in their 'possession 'whilst a half ounce of black tobacco is weighed out to a needy looking drawer Of the " dole," or a penny packet of tea to a non-economical slattern or, as usually happens, thank God ! to a tidy struggling economical housewife. It may be that a beggar walks in, assuming his professional air beforehand, to pitch his usual tale of having walked for miles and not tasted food for days, the while he pollutes. the atmosphere by the diffusion of the fumes of stale liquor from his stomach ; these I have become accustomed to deal with in an apparently hard-hearted manner, because of their numbers and the 'similarity of their tiles.: Beggars are attracted by the ever:onen door of the small shopiceePer, while the householder dwells in security behind closed portals ; and the dweller in the mansion remains immune because of his formidable frontage of wood and stone, his footmen and the police.
So the hours are traced till 12.30, when mill-girls pass on their way to dinner to return about half an hour later on their way to resume work; when business men and clerks begin to come along on their, way to lunch. The mill-girls buy sweets in penny and twopenny worths ; and small twopenny boxes of face-powder and face- cream with which to complete the spoliation of their complexions, already much tried in the work room atmosphere. Most of the money earned by these girls is spent upon dress, part of which I contribute in the form of cheap artificial silk stockings at one shilling and fourpence halfpenny per pair and " fancy " ,garters at sixpence-halfpenny per pair. , . .
The dull monotony of all this, my usual day, is happily relieved by the visit of one at leaSt . of my few, but regularly visiting; friends., It may be Father --, the French Jesuit priest, editor and writer, who advises me _ .
regarding my spare-tinie hobby of short-story . writing ; or Mr.--, a medical student, also a student of short- story writing, who comes to compare notes and to discuss experiences in general, done 'mid the continual interrup- tion of attending to customers ; or Mr. showman and odd-jobber, on is not the least interesting, by any consideration, on accOunt of his humble. occupation. I must say that short-story writing interests me vastly more than shopkeeping, but, as the latter earns me .My daily bread and leaves me little time for the successful pursuit of the former, I aril not likely 'soon to alter my main occupation.