About a month ago, I stepped out onto the street and looked at the new business that had opened next door. That kind of place won’t last long here, I said to myself, retreating back into my own shop. Sitting down amongst the Le Creuset casseroles, Emma Bridgewater cake tins and Tefal pans, I mused on the decline of our high street: when I first opened my shop twenty years ago we had an opticians and two butchers, several banks and a women’s shoe shop. Now we have a riot of charity shops, and even a pound shop. Our brace of tea rooms cling on, but it can only be a matter of time before someone like Nero or Starbucks move in. And as if things weren’t bad enough, now I have to ply my trade next to a tattoo parlour.
I bit the bullet after a week and took him two mugs as a welcome. I didn’t think he’d be into Cath Kidson, so gave him a pair saying “Keep Calm And Drink Tea.” . He seemed grateful, but we struggled to make much conversation – I doubt we have much in common and my eyes were continually drawn to his tattoos. Great big swirls the colour of my varicose veins down one arm and some kind of a Celtic cross on the other.
From what I could tell, their trade didn’t seem too brisk for a while. But then one Wednesday my friend Jenny rushed in, with a glint in her eye. “Have you heard what’s happening next door?”
“Oh, has he gone out of business?” I asked, thinking it wasn’t completely unexpected.
“No, he’s running an Over-Fifty Friday. He gives you 50% off. Look,” she said, holding up her hand. On the inside of her wrist she bore the legend “George”, in what I had to admit was rather impressive calligraphy. “I just thought that we’ve married for so long, it seemed like a nice thing to do.”
I tried not to look too shocked, but over the past few weeks I’ve started to wonder what’s happened to this town. His gamble seems to have been a great success, with long queues of middle-aged residents waiting for his services. My friends have got names and exotic symbols on their arms, legs and who knows where else. I watch them whilst I sit next to the till, sketching pictures on the sheaves of paper meant for wrapping purchases. Maybe I should pop next door and ask him what he thinks of my designs.