All human life is here

09 August, 2007

Expect the unexpected when you work in a shop. It invariably happens

Working in a shop is a strange way to make a living. In a normal job, you get on with it, safe from the intrusions of whoever happens to be passing. How much livelier would the average office be if passers-by popped in to use the photocopier, or have their tax returns scrutinised by Dave in accounts? Much livelier, but possibly a touch less productive. If you have a shop, you have to believe anyone who comes in will buy something, from a packet of cigarette papers to a bottle of Krug, and if nobody comes in, it's goodbye. But there's no telling who will come in, what they will want, and whether you will be able to help them.

Over the past few years, we've seen everything - from people too drunk to speak, to someone having a full-blown grand mal seizure, to someone with clear mental health issues who had recently stopped their medication.

This last person was particularly interesting to me. Both my parents worked in psychiatric medicine

and, as a keen amateur psychologist (for which read "I have an interesting degree, but haven't used it"), I could sense there was something amiss as she chatted to an invisible friend . She tried to buy an array of pretty strong Belgian beer, and I asked her if she thought it might interfere with any medicine she was taking. "Oh, I've stopped taking my tablets, they make me feel too dopey," was the reply.

OK, so now I have to explain

that I'm not going to sell her any beer. Hmmm. We eventually compromised on some 2.5 per cent abv fruit beers - not ideal, but the best I could do under the circumstances.

The latest person keeping us on our toes is a 40(ish)-year-old woman with Down's syndrome, and some of the learning difficulties that can go along with this condition. She occasionally buys beer, but more often cigarettes and chocolate. She's been coming to see us more and more lately, as unfortunately it seems she's been barred from other local shops on account of her disruptive behaviour. Everyone here has had a taste of her temper, and I have to say it's pretty intimidating. It's usually sparked off by her not having enough money to buy what she wants. We try to explain the nature of commerce, the exchange of goods for money, but sadly she struggles with that concept. "Oh, come on!" is her little phrase, accompanied by a shake of the hand. Eventually this escalates into shouting, blocking the doorway, worrying customers, leaving, pushing rubbish through the letterbox, and blocking the door again.

But I refuse to be intimidated. I go outside and gently but firmly ask her what the matter is. I explain she needs a little more money to buy chocolate. Does she have a little more money? "I've only got coppers at home" she says ruefully. Well, coppers are money, I say. She shoots me a surprised look. "I've got loads," she says, and goes home to get some, returning a couple of minutes later with a handful. She's still a bit short of funds, but we sell her some chocolate anyway. The next time I see her, she says: "It's OK, I've got money," and I'm pleased that I made the effort with our care in the community programme.

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