Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

'Good morning, sir!' said Wendy: black shirt, green craftsman's apron. The idea of having a person loitering by the entrance to greet and welcome the customer has spread from trendy California-based clothing-chain outlet Hollister to the DIY megastores. Whereas the Hollister's fashionable fluffers are nature's last word on female pulchritude, Wendy's attraction was that she probably does what it says on the tin, and would be a lot more comfortable to lie on.

I was acting chauffeur for two elderly cousins, combined age 174, both unsteady on their feet, listing to port, disoriented, flatulent, myopic, deaf, inarticulate, forgetful, yet hell-bent on shopping for garden furniture.

I shooed them in through the automatic sliding doors, and on past the effusive Wendy.

It was a table and chairs they were seeking, ideally made of illegally logged rainforest timber, assembled by indentured labour, and sold on to the general public for next to nothing.

Immediately in front of us, stretching away to the horizon, beyond which the curvature of the earth obscured the fullest extent of the range, were acres and acres of garden furniture set out in little circles beneath sunshades and awnings. All I had to do now was gently realign them and aim them at it, like a greyhound slipper at a coursing meeting.

That done, I turned to Wendy. I was Hank Marvin, I said. Did she know anywhere in the area where I could get a coffee and a bite to eat? Wendy knew the perfect place, she said, not three minutes' walk from where we stood. In fact she'd go as far as to say it was her favourite place to go and eat in all the world. If she could afford it, she'd go there every day. But she could only afford to treat herself once a week. She always had scrambled eggs on toast and a cup of coffee and it was always lovely. But what she liked most about the place was that they always 'treated you nice' and 'they left you alone'. You could sit on for a while after your meal and look out of the window without feeling they wanted to get rid of you.

Wendy was pleased to give me emphatic directions to her favourite place, illustrating them by turning her whole body to face east, then south, then west. I revolved simultaneously with her to imprint them on my mind. …

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