I dislike visiting the library in St Augustine Street. Rundown and grubby, the pungent air announces mouldy age; furniture is beige and unloved; the nameless staff appear tired and broken.
As a repository of excellence and knowledge, it is not what I expect in a modern world.
Need alone forced me, twice weekly, through the door. Armed with coffee and dreams, game face on, I’d sit in a smelly booth, staring at my untouched notebook.
This mausoleum of misery was still a refuge from the cowboy boyfriend, and his nasty put downs.
When I met Toby at our theatre group, he was a brilliant light in a fog of disillusionment. The group, once a haven of joy in a bleak world, lost first our enthusiastic director, then several inspiring actors; leading to a gloomy and disheartened ensemble. Toby was my reason for staying.
I was slow to realise that Toby was bad news. Praise turned to taunts, encouragement to disparagement. Toby was toxic and I was in trouble.
I’d joined the group not as an actor, but aspiring writer. The creative process between the writer and director was exhilarating; the pleasure of hearing your words spoken by such talented people, shared with an appreciative audience, was uplifting.
Toby was a star from the start. My male characters began to emulate Toby and fit him like a glove. Which came first; Toby the person or Toby the protagonist? Was art imitating life? I was no longer sure. Then life began to blight the page and I turned away from the star.
My friends knew first, as usually seems the case. I fought what was obvious. Clichéd, and so blind. It took the closing down of our group, now left alone with Toby, to illuminate the danger I was in.
Writing had been both solace and enchantment; it now became a weapon. Cutting words and phrases; bloody intention and madness. Words to defend, to deflect; to destroy.
Each evening I return home to see what new damage has been inflicted on the once glorious love. Fresh wounds; old scars; a man subdued and diminishing.
In the dingy cubicle, I clench my pen, bend to the page and scratch out my revenge.
Once upon a time, I was a retail store owner – operator of a brick and mortar bookshop. It was a labour of love for this book tragic!
The Australian Booksellers Association doesn’t consider an independent bookshop viable in a town whose population is approximately 5,000. Our town was the regional centre for up to 15,000 people; but that was still considered a challenge.
I continued to work part-time with my husband in our Farm Management Advisory business, while working full-time in the bookshop. Usually, I employed one other staff member for Saturdays and occasional backup – but unless I was out of town or on holidays you would find me at the bookshop.
I didn’t take a salary. I did buy a lot of books at cost price. So many books came across my counter that it was irresistible!
I loved that shop! So did the town, my kids and my husband. We only ran it for five years, with a stock turnover goal of three to four times a year. Annual turnover grew from $80,000 in Year 1 to $250,000 in Year 5.
There are many ways to measure success in business – and I guess No. 1 would be profit. Because why else are you in business? Otherwise, it eats into funds available to you and your family. And our children were still young enough that every cent counted.
My husband was making a good living and the bookshop met its own costs, provided a welcome service to the town, employment for one other person – and I was in heaven!
That is a success story to me!
Since that experience, I’ve had a hyper-awareness (particularly around Christmas) of the stresses and pressures that retailers face. I feel it in my heart as I observe the ebb and flow, comings and goings of retail business around me.
Take a moment yourself to notice and sympathise amid your Christmas retail splurge. See the shops that are rocking it? There are many people browsing or queuing; overwhelmed staff tending to urgent and often impatient customers.
But at the end of the day, there is satisfaction. Sales are up, wages and overheads covered, and perhaps there’s a profit. They haven’t overstocked but stocked enough. Another Christmas survived; perhaps another to look forward to.
Now take a 360 degree look around the mall, arcade or high street you’re standing in. How many other shops can you see that are quiet? I don’t know why they’re quieter; perhaps it is just that they’ve a niche market. Maybe their product isn’t the current fashion.
Perhaps, Christmas is not their season to shine.
How have they marketed? Do they present in an appealing way? Is there enough stock, offering the abundance of choice we all expect and demand?
Are these businesses just tired and can’t find the juice to work at it anymore?
In retail, the need to earn your big bucks at seasonal times, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, mother and father days to name some – and the abundance of choice we now have and expect – have lead to the demise of the retail specialist. In my opinion.
We need more reasons nowadays to give a storefront retailer our attention and they need our business, more and more.
Giving ‘added value’ can be a winner for the business and a welcome draw for the customer. Done well!
Think books and chocolates; and booklights, bookmarks, book bean bags, audio books, tv tie-in products, stationery! Behold, budding author; notebooks!
For a bookshop, all these products add to the book experience – reading, writing, comfort, enjoyment and relevancy. Still specialists, but adding value for the customer, with more reasons for us to enter the store, stick around and buy.
When done badly though, it can be too confusing. Something in the window draws your attention, but when you scan it seems there’s no continuity or consistency. Lack of a clear theme can be straight up off-putting. Do you even bother to enter.
If you do, try asking a question about or around that product. Chances are that the salesperson doesn’t know anything past the price, what they have in stock and whether they can order more. They won’t be able to engage much deeper than that, or promise anything else.
A good bookshop, however, with the right tools can really connect with you over that book, or author. How many books has that author written, and in what format? The due date of his next novel might already be in the system. The salesperson may also be able to tell you if the wholesaler still has stock and how many; yes, tools can be that good!
Somebody on the staff will enthuse with you about the author or the book itself. They’ll introduce you to other authors that you may enjoy, based on this one purchase. And they could set you on the path to a heavenly journey of years duration with somebody new.
If they’re a quality specialist bookshop. You won’t have this experience with a Target or Kmart store, you can be sure of that; on any product.
I would caution you though. However good your bookshop is – don’t expect too much extra engagement with staff in the week leading up to Christmas. They are exhausted, they are pulling their hair out, they’ve had too many negative experiences already to even face the good customer, and they just plain don’t have time! 😊
I have digressed.
I personally see those empty, quieter shops and I feel for them. Imagine them watching all the flowing traffic passing them by into competitor stores, and their hearts breaking.
Imagine, spirits lifting at footsteps, at bodies heading their way, only for their spirits to drop when the steps stop short; or walk right on by.
For a while, shops open with excitement and hope; but as the weeks go by and the time opportunity winds down, despondency sets in. The shopkeeper will either hang on longer each day hoping to catch the late shopper or will begin to close early and give up.
Come the New Year, there are now a few empty spaces in your mall, arcade or high street. Come the next Christmas season there is less competition, fewer brick and mortar stores, fewer opportunities to be tactile with your product choice, less human interaction, reduced liveliness in your mall, arcade or high street of choice.
My heart hurts as I observe the shops in my wanderings. Consumerism is not good for the soul. But it does give livelihood and meaning to the modern retail business and employment to many – especially the young and under skilled.
One day, the consumer of my generation and older will look around and miss the days when we could touch that dress, pick up that book, spray on the sample perfume – and talk to someone.
In another generation, shopping online will be the norm! And only the oldies will remember how it used to be. Another generation of the young ‘won’t get it’. They won’t understand what the fuss was about; won’t know what they’re missing.
For all that there must be positives to a total consumer market operating in the cloud, the heart and soul connection will be lost.
Okay; we can buy what we want in one million different colours, at great prices, in a speedy and convenient manner. A drone will deliver and ‘happily’ collect and return the product when it is not quite what you expected.
But at what cost to the spirit of humanity.
AND at what expense to the environment. Packaging!
It has happened again! I’m out for a meal on my own and the wait staff check with everyone else in the restaurant. Are you okay? Do you need anything else? And they don’t visit me!
Why is that, I keep wondering? Is it my resting bitch face? Am I giving out a vibe? I don’t mean to.
Perhaps it is because I’m reading a book. Head down, clearly engrossed, not looking around. Maybe that’s the message they’re reading. She’s obviously happy enough. She’s engaged in her own pleasure. And if she wanted something, we’d soon know.
I am reading, but I’m also observing.
The older couple near me. How he keeps offering menu choices to his wife, but she isn’t interested in any of them. She wants fish, but not the cod. Too fishy!
The younger South African couple who make many comments ‘under their breath’ about:
a) the size of their meal (too big)
b) the tea strainer not working (leaves in their tea).
Asking the waitress:
a) for a better strainer
b) for another serviette; and
c) to take away their food.
The man who has brought his grandson into the pub, sits at the bar and orders sandwiches and water. School must be out early.
A fellow on his own, drinking beers and watching sports TV.
And the ladies nearby who could be a bookclub. They’re winding up, but talking books as they depart. Makes me think to mention to the TLC (Treasured Ladies Club) about making one Saturday a month a book meeting.
While I pause reading to write these observations on my phone, the waitress has asked a new patron how she can help, but still not looked over to me 😀
Recently, I brunched with two friends, one of whom was annoyed at how often the staff bothered us, while we were conversing! The restaurant wasn’t busy, so perhaps the staff just had time on their hands. But they can’t win, can they? 😀
Oh, here we go. A very lovely Irish lad has offered to wrap up my leftovers, no bother. “Thank you,” say I. “And I’ll have a cappuccino to take away, please.”
P.S. When clearing plates for the older couple I mentioned above, their waitress threw out the standard “Hope you enjoyed the food?” Cod lady wasn’t happy. Her plate was almost completely empty, but something was just not nice.
The waitress (and her husband) were embarrassed. I was not surprised!
BEST PLACES TO EAT IN GALWAY – FOOD + SERVICE
Marmalade Bakery (Best Coffee). Also make and sell their own bread, sweet and savoury cakes and scones.
Cupan Tae (Great Tea). Huge and interesting range of teas. Also serve brunch and afternoon tea. I love their courgette cake and coffee and walnut cake.
Black Cat, Salthill (Tapas). Good food and atmosphere, great service.
Dough Bros (Pizza). Delicious thin crust pizzas with unusual toppings, excellent service and good atmosphere. Won many awards.
Gourmet Tart Co (Lunch salads/wraps). Also do delicious biscuits and quick meals.
Petit Delice (Pattiserie). French cakes and pastries. Also really nice baguette/sandwich bar.
Gourmet Food Co, Salthill (Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner). Very popular. All meals large and excellent. Make a great cocktail special too!
An Pucan (Gastro Pub). All round casually excellent. Very busy. Very attentive staff. Excellent food. Loved their Jameson Black Barrel BBQ Sauce with Cashel Blue Cheese Dip.
The simple pleasure of a belly laugh! What a physical experience it can be.
What brings on that kind of laughter for you, dear reader? Does it happen often?
It takes a lot for me to laugh out loud. I’m more of a quiet smiler. Sometimes the smile is so quiet, you could think I was unaffected. I often ‘feel’ the smile in my head and know that it isn’t showing on the outside.
Watching movies often brings out a noisy laugh. Usually over slapstick comedy. I consider slapstick as physical comedy; somebody has fallen, for example. I laugh and laugh like a sicko! There is nothing very subtle about my sense of humour 😀 I’ll find myself laughing so hard that I can’t catch my breath. Sometimes, it is scary because it seems I’ll never get it back. I think this is because I struggle to let myself be loud and my natural inclination is to stuff it back in.
Graham Norton makes me laugh. I love his show. I chuckle my way through it, up to and including the red chair! Graham is very clever at bringing his guests right along, sharing with us their unusual stories and cracking us up.
I laugh with my husband, unexpectedly. Not because I don’t expect to laugh with him, but perhaps because a moment ago life was staid. Nothing particularly outstanding was happening. And then, something is said – we’re on the same wavelength and something clicks – then we’re both bent over in raptures of laughter. Take a peek at each other and again we’re falling around. If you’re lucky enough to have that kind of bond with somebody, then you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
I’m naturally a very serious person. I laugh with people I can relax with. That includes my children and my sisters. There are only a few friends that I’ll find myself laughing with.
I didn’t grow up with a wider network of family. It was always Mum and Dad and my siblings. All aunties and cousins lived in another country. And so, I didn’t develop strong bonds there.
My husband and I just spent a day with a cousin and his wife. We’ve been developing friendship over the last few years, mainly via Facebook; and we visited with them in 2013. But we laughed and laughed this weekend. It was very natural and friendly; non-judgmental laughing at each other and ourselves. A lightening of spirit experience.
The endorphins released from laughing are real. You can feel the release and relaxation after a good bout of laughter. It must be why there are laughter therapy classes, why comedians are so popular and why everyone loves the Simpsons! 😀
If you’ve read this, hopefully you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about and you enjoy loud and proud laughter regularly. If you don’t get enough laughs – search it out! What makes you laugh?
I’m including a link here to something that still makes me laugh. I hope you’ll get a good chuckle out of it too.