I work Saturdays in a shop on H____ Road in Hull. Let’s call the shop Oddbury’s. Every Saturday I write down the funny things I hear. These are real conversations with real people about the things they’re buying and what they mean to them. Names have been changed to protect people’s identities. Paul is my co – worker.
Saturday 27th February 2016, 3.32 a.m. Jim 62, works in a secondhand electricals shop, Paul 59, shop assistant, Assi (Ahsan) owner 45, Anka 22, works in a potato processing factory.
Assi carries two very large boxes from his van which is parked on the pavement outside the shop. They are so large that he cannot fit through the door so he gets wedged in it.
Paul: Oh look busy. Here comes India’s answer to Alan Sugar.
Assi is struggling furiously in the doorway: Anyone gonna’ give me hand here or what?
Neither Paul nor Jim move a muscle. Jim is leaning on the counter and rolling a cigarette. He glances at Paul. Paul is meticulously rearranging boxes of cigarette papers on the counter so that they are all stacked neatly. He glances at Jim. They both glance at me.
After wrestling the boxes through the doorway they are placed in front of the counter. Assi sits down on one of them and dabs his brow with a handkerchief. He is of indeterminate age but on one of his birth certificates it says that he was born in 1969.
Assi: Got some quality stuff to go out Paul.
Paul: Did you get any mouse traps off that guy?
Assi: No. No mouse traps.
Paul: Tsk! I told you Assi. There’s an infestation of mice down here at the moment. People are coming in every day asking for mouse traps. I promised that woman with the three legged cat that I’d get her some.
Assi: Who was that?
Paul: That woman whose cat had to have it’s back leg amputated. It can’t keep up with the mice anymore.
Assi: Oh her! Yeah, she’s been coming in everyday asking about mouse traps. Mouse traps this mouse traps bloody that.
Paul: But you didn’t get any?
Assi: No, I didn’t get any today cos the thing is the guy who I know who gets me the mouse traps was in Leeds today so I’ve phoned him but then he didn’t phone me back but I spoke to his brother but his brother works out at Huddersfield but he’s in Leeds so you know, so you know… so no. but I got these instead:
He opens one of the boxes with a pen – knife and folds back the lid.
Assi: Thomas the Tank Engine innit?!
He hands around boxes containing models of small, blue plastic trains. The trains are blue but that is their only resemblance to Thomas the Tank Engine. It’s face looks more like someone has painted a picture of Edwina Curry on the front of a train.
Paul: Well that’s not gonna kill a fucking mouse.
Assi: What? No, these is for the kids train sets you know? They love it all this Thomas and the Tank Engine and all that. My little niece, she’s always watchin’ it on the telly.
Jim: Here – have you seen this? What does that say?
He hands one of the boxes to Assi and indicates the writing on it.
Assi: (squinting) I ain’t got no glasses with me today. Had to drive back from Goole at about ten mile an hour ‘cos I couldn’t see the friggin’ road. Track train or something… here Paul… read this.
Paul: (sighing loudly) ‘This happy little track – train is coming in your tunnel!’
Jim: Say what?
Paul: (Puts his glasses on) That’s what is says – ‘This happy little track – train is coming in your tunnel.’ Are you sure these are Thomas the Tank Assi?
Assi: Polish version innit? It’s the Polish version of Thomas, that’s why they were cheap. Got em off a Polish guy who has a stall on the Saturday market. He couldn’t sell ’em so…
Paul shakes his head: We needed mouse traps and dusters and wire brushes and stuff like that – things people have been asking for. All the stuff I put on that list for you.
Assi: Alright, alright… fucking hell Paul. Keep your hair on innit? I don’t know what’s got into you at the moment. Menopause or something.
Paul: What’s in that other box?
Assi: Freddy Mercury statues.
Paul: What?! Just what we need… How much are you putting them out for?
Paul: (incredulous) A tenner? More like two – fifty.
Assi: Two – fifty! Don’t be ridiculous Paul. That’s bloody ridiculous man. People round here haven’t got two hundred and fifty quid in their back pocket. Not unless they’ve ram – raided Natwest.
Paul: I meant two pound fifty!
Jim: (singing) I want to break free…
Paul: Well the door’s over there. Fuck off and break free out of it.
Anka enters the shop. Jim directs his singing at her and she hurries out of his way.
Assi opens the second box and pulls out a statuette of a man with black hair and a thick mustache. The figure is wearing a dinner jacket and bow tie. There is nothing to indicate that it is a statue of Freddy Mercury. It could be any man with black hair and a mustache.
Assi: (to me) Ludo, can we clear a space for these? Somewhere prominent you know? Maybe clear out some of these dog foods and stuff and have them here near the counter innit, where people can see them?
Paul: I thought you said these were Freddy Mercury? Looks more like Cliff Thorburn.
Jim: Who the snooker player? (Taking the figure from Assi and inspecting it) it’s got some writing on the bottom but it’s in foreign.
Paul: You couldn’t read it if it was in English!
Jim: That’s true… Looks more like Magnum P.I. though than Freddy Mercury.
Paul: Tom Selleck…
Jim: No, he was a cop in America, called Magnum. Don’t know what the P. and the I stood for. Phil or Pat probably… I mean, we’re going back a bit…
Paul: He was played by Tom Selleck! (Under his breath): God this is like working in a fucking old folks home.
Assi: Nah, the guy who sold me ’em told me it was Freddy Mercury. Looks a bit like Tom Selleck but it’s actually Freddy Mercury. Says so on the bottom innit?
Paul: But it’s written in Polish or something…
Assi: Yeah, it says Freddy Mercury statue. The guy told me.
Anka approaches the counter. She looks at the statue and points at it. She says something in a foreign language.
Jim: My sentiments entirely my darling. What beautiful eyes you have.
Anka says something to Jim.
Jim: You Polish?
He shows her the base of the statue. She nods and laughs.
Anka (holding up one figure): One.
Assi: One of these? (To Jim and Paul): see what did I tell you? The Polish love Freddy Mercury.
Paul: Do they?
Assi: What are you talking about? Queen! One of the biggest bands in Poland! Wait ’till she tells her friends about these. They’ll all be putting them on the… what’s that thing called above the fire…
Paul: They’ll be putting them on the fire.
Jim: The mantelpiece.
Assi: They’ll all have them on the mantelpiece! (To Anka he exclaims loudly) No Polish home is complete without a statue of Freddy Mercury. Isn’t that right lovie?
She is a bit startled but shows him the base of the statue and says something in Polish.
Assi: Speaking very slowly and a bit too loudly): Top quality. Royal Dolchester – top brand. Royal! By appointment to the royalty. Prince Charles has got a couple of these. Do you know Prince Charles? (He puts his fingers behind his ears so that they stick out).
Anka looks very puzzled.
After much sign language and use of google translator it is determined that the statues are actually of a Nobel Prize winning Polish politician called Lech Wałęsa.
Anka says of her purchase: I will give it to my husband as a joke. It is so bad.
Says Assi: We can just put a sticker over the bottom innit? People won’t know any different. Just say it’s Freddy Mercury. Or Cliff Thorburn. Depends which one sells better. Some people are into snooker. Some people like music. Some people like both! They’ll probably buy two innit?
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