As North Americans might say, this is a doozy.
After a recent viral tweet featured tales of hallionary from HMV, among hundreds of retail-related trials and tribulations, I was reminded of a woman from Ballymena.
I’d half-forgotten much of the story, then remembered that I had passed it onto the much-missed Manuel from Belfast’s very own Well Done Fillet what feels like a lifetime ago.
It appears this may actually have been the first thing I published and I published it under a pseudonym. Written as Punksatonyphil, this thing ended up being dramatised for the Julian Worricker Radio Four show You & Yours, quite the hit it was too.
That it was delivered by plummy English actors shall forever grate me, that they read it wrong and had the bride as the main character suggests it was prepared in a hurry.
It is, amazingly, still available online, it’s here around the 49-minute mark, you’ll hear Manuel, not me. Nevermind though, I’ve included the full horrid tale, replete with accounting books, boy racers and Philomena Begley (almost) verbatim, below…
From January 12, 2012, I bring you, Whose shoes?
Years ago I worked in a shoe shop in a rural town in South Antrim. It’s a big enough town, there are a few pubs, a couple of shopping centres and a church hall or two.
The shop I worked in wasn’t Harrods, not by a long shot.
It was on a fairly regular main street filled with boy racers, elderly folk with baskets on wheels and about seven other shoe shops. One day we counted how many circuits one particular boy racer did of the town, setting up a staff rota to ensure accuracy. He passed 57 times in one afternoon. This is no lie.
The manager of the shop was a gentle soul nearing retirement, watching his days (and boy racers) whiz by while thinking of the pleasures of backgammon and Philomena Begley, although these things may not be related.
He had remarkable systems in place to make sure nothing ever went wrong, there was a specific set of rules for the stockroom, one for the shop floor and another for any financial dealings with customers.
He also had a wonderful stammer.
On this particular day, I was idly moving shoes on a shelf while thinking of my other life as a rock star in order to avoid work. Our esteemed manager was reviewing his accounts behind the till. These accounts, stretching back at least 10 years, were all distilled and listed in a book he had in his possession since he joined the firm, this was the holy grail of shoe shop accounting, not to be touched upon pain of death.
My first performance at Wembley (sold out, with support from REM) was interrupted by a rather loud lady in a black fur coat coming into the shop in the midst of what seemed like a hurricane. I saw the plastic bag in her hand.
I knew what was coming.
As our dear manager was turning a page in his beloved book, the clearly furious woman brought the bag over her shoulder and threw it onto the counter at a ferocious rate, catching the page being turned and ripping it beautifully and poetically down the middle, somewhere between cash in and expenses.
I could see the horror in our managers face.
This lady, with all her fur and money, had the tongue of a welder.
She launched into a tirade that lasted nigh on 15 minutes.
She told us of how long she had taken to plan her outfit for the wedding, how beautiful the bride looked, how wonderful the weather was and then she unleashed hell as she recounted the untold horror of her shoes falling apart.
She spoke of tears, tantrums, distress signals, emergency calls and borrowed sandals.
Now, our dear manager listened, nodded, hummed and haa’d in all the right places. He was courteous and respectful as I expected he would be. While this lady screamed at him from across the counter I watched as he opened the bag, opened the box and inspected the horrid, devastated shoes therein.
He looked up, giving me the briefest of smiles and a nod before slowly and delicately wrapping the shoes up, placing them back in the box and putting the box back in the bag.
I had no idea what was going on.
He listened intently until this woman had either finished her story or ran out of breath, to be honest, I was so confused, I’m not sure which came first.
Our manager apologised as one would imagine he might.
He offered his hope that the shoe fiasco hadn’t ruined the day, he asked how the bride and groom were and wished them and the wider family circle well.
Our lovely customer, having calmed somewhat from her earlier fury, asked what exactly he might do to undo the horror of that fateful day.
With his wonderful gentle stammer, our manager apologised and said he could do nothing, that in a situation such as this, his hands were tied.
He apologised again and told the lady that if there were ever be a resolution to this horror story, she should go to the shoe shop next door where she’d bought them.