Some stories are funny stories. Some stories are sad stories. Some stories just give you little insights into human nature and the human condition.
I experienced all of the above in the OXFAM shop last week.
Early in my shift, an elderly man struggled into the shop with a huge suitcase on wheels, the sort of case that you sometimes see on luggage carousels and that make you wonder how anyone can manoeuvre them around the airport, let alone get them to a final destination.
The gentleman came up to the counter and told me that he had some things to donate. He then proceeded to open the case and, in the middle of the shop, handed over what were clearly the clothes of his late wife.
I wished I could have taken him into a back room to enable him to make his donation with some degree of privacy, but the sorting room in the shop where I work is in the cellar down an awkward set of stone steps and I was on my own in the shop.
When we had transferred all of his wife’s effects into plastic sacks, he thanked me for my help and said that he hoped some good would come of his donation. Then he left, pulling his suitcase behind him.
A hour or so later another customer came in – this time an elderly lady. She browsed the racks for a while and came to the counter with a very attractive cashmere cardigan that she had found. I think it was priced at £10.99 and she was clearly very pleased with her purchase.
Unfortunately she hadn’t reckoned with the incompetent assistant who was serving her. For reasons that I still don’t understand, every button that I pressed on the wretched till seemed to disobey me and to mock my efforts to retrieve the situation. I explained that it was only my second morning in the shop, apologised profusely for holding her up and promised to get it right eventually.
The lady was very patient and pleasant, but did ask me to hurry up as she had to get to the nursing home to visit her husband. As I fumbled and fumed, she went on to tell me that she had looked after her husband for fourteen years as he gradually descended into dementia but that his condition had now become unmanageable. She herself was seventy nine years old and couldn’t physically look after her husband any longer, which was why he had had to go into nursing care. “The home is costing nearly £1000 a week,” she explained, “so I shouldn’t really be buying cashmere cardigans, but sometimes you just need something to life your spirits, don’t you?”
At this point the cash register decided to co-operate, I took the lady’s money and she off she went to visit her husband.
I was beginning to wonder if I had the emotional resilience to survive life in an OXFAM shop.
Then half an hour later, the mood lightened. Apart from clothing and handbags and shoes, the shop offers a range of what I would describe as cheap and cheerful costume jewelry. A young woman came in and asked to have a look as some of the bracelets that were in a glass cabinet next to the till. She selected a few pieces and tried them on. She was then seized by the agonies of indecision. She asked my opinion.
Now I consider myself to be an expert on a whole range of subjects. If you want to know the date of the first performance of The Mikado or the names of the capital cities of Africa or, indeed, the prepositions in German that take the accusative, then I’m your man. But when it comes to the aesthetics of artificial diamonds or pearls that have never seen the bottom of an ocean, I have to admit that I am out of my depth.
Still racked by doubt, she asked for a few more pieces to be laid out on the counter for her to consider. After several minutes she had a flash of inspiration. She reached into her bag and took out a brand-new pair of elbow-length white gloves, which she proceeded to put on.
One by one, the assembled bracelets and bangles were displayed against the flattering background of the white gloves. Genius! It soon became clear that the very first one she had looked at, an impressive array of glass diamonds in a setting that looked a bit like silver, was the obvious front-runner. I gave my professional opinion that the bracelet set the gloves off beautifully and the job was done. The decision made, the rest of the priceless items went back in to the glass cabinet, the till, for once, did as it was told and the young women left the shop, very happy with her new acquisition.
OXFAM was £1.99 richer!
There are worse ways of spending a Tuesday morning.