Keeping Busy With Home Improvements

After several decades occupied with managing a corner shop and restaurant, you’d think that I’d earned myself a break.

Retirement’s a funny thing. Many people yearn for a time when they can ‘quit their day job’ and pursue the hobbies and passions that they’ve put on the back burner for the majority of their lives. Although I’d had similar plans of following more of the cricket, perhaps even playing a little myself, nothing of the sort has happened.

After watching Afghanistan thoroughly beat my team (on home soil nonetheless!) I didn’t feel much like watching any more cricket, so I turned off the TV and looked to the rest of the house for activity.


Pival and I have never been fans of home making. We were raised to keep our house tidy and clean (which for some people is more than enough) but we’d never invested in making it anything more than what it is: a 2.5-bedroom terraced house in Rotherham.

Busy with the business, we’d let the old place fall into disrepair somewhat. Now that I was spending more time in the home, the little imperfections in the decor were starting to become more apparent.

My wife must’ve thought I was losing my marbles. When she came back from visiting the girls, I was systematically checking the walls for scuffs and marks, tutting to myself as I took down notes. The whole house would need a few coats of paint – a job that would no doubt take me months to complete.


Our kitchen, renovated 10 years ago, was starting to show it’s age too. Bangladeshis know how to make the most of their kitchen spaces and ours is no exception. Every cupboard was packed with utensils and pans, worn from many meals cooking. Thanks to our experience in the catering industry we’d had good practice at cleaning, though it could probably use a good scrub nonetheless.

Most noticeably of all, our windows and door have got very tatty. The wooden frames of the single glazed windows have been serving us well for over half a century. Even though we’ve tried to look after them, treating them bi-annually with varnish and paint, they look like they’ve been hanging round since the turn of the 20th Century!


Energy efficient double glazing will help us save money in the long run (I can’t believe we’ve waited this long to get PVC!) and should hopefully smarten up the front of the house for the neighbours. I’ll be sad to see the front door go, it’s been a staple of my living experience for years now, but everything must change eventually.

Of course, I won’t be doing any of this work myself. I’m a retired man in his 80s and the least experienced window fitter. I always enjoy having workmen in the house to chat to and it’s always good to have some company whilst you paint.

With this Indian summer well and truly over, we best get to it soon, otherwise we’ll be a little exposed to the harsh Northern breeze and we’ll have snow drifting in the living room!


Keeping A Clean Kitchen

I remember a time before dishwashers.

By opening with this statement, I understand that I’m in danger of making myself sound terribly old. Almost as old as my husband, who’s a good 6 years older than I. Still – it’s true.

washing-dishesBack in the late 50s, the role of a woman in the household was very different to what it is now.

Travelling from Dhaka, a city that was once ruled with a strict patriarchal grip, it felt almost liberating for me. 18 years old, recently married and happily employed in a position that I would never have been able to occupy back in Bangladesh (at the time): I was living a life of hard work and happiness.

But, there was also a lot of washing up to do.

At the time, it was a given that the woman of the house was in charge of keeping the home clean. When it was just Shib and I, this was not so hard. We would use one pot to cook our Niramish (a plain vegetable curry) and eat from the little bowls each night. However, when the girls came along and we got into the habit of inviting more friends and neighbours around each night – the dishes began to stack up in a most alarming fashion.

There were some nights, when the eating had gone on for so long, that I had to ask Shib to help me with the dishes. He would never object, but would always seem so lost with a dish cloth in his hand. I remember doubling up with laughter at the focus he would afford what was, to me at least, such a mundane task. With an unpractised hand he would swipe at the pots and pans, having little impact on the grime – whilst his face was contorted into all manners of grimaces as he concentrated on the task at hand.


It’s a good thing we had so much practice at deep cleaning back in the swinging 60s as, a few decades later, we were going to need those skills again – but for much different reasons.

Come the year 2000, my darling Shib had ‘retired’ from running both Apuro and the corner shop (although I was well aware that he still snuck off to do the odd shift behind the till). This left me in charge of taking the company in a new direction. With both our businesses making good money, I had not had to do any deep cleaning in a long time – but it looked like my time was about to come again.

With our expansion into the catering industry came some particularly sticky challenges.

Travelling the length of England, usually on the weekends, we would take Bangladeshi Chefs, waiting staff and most of our specialist equipment into hotel kitchens and attempt to recreate the dishes of our home country.

Gas hobs could always be relied on upon to be in condition, but ovens were always another matter. In the early days, we would always leave a few hours ahead of schedule – pack two large canisters of oven cleaner and make sure that cleaning those greasy holes was the first thing on our agenda. Now, of course, you won’t find me on my hands and knees scrubbing a filthy oven. In today’s modern age there is a service or product for every problem. (


I’m briefly coming out of retirement next month to provide catering for an old Rotherham friend who’s move down South. Now, instead of bringing my knee pads and spray with me to the event – I’ll just call up an oven cleaning service in Reading and get them to do all the hard work for me!

Thankfully, my cleaning days are long behind me now. We’ve had a dishwasher installed in the little terrace house that my husband and I have owned since 1958. Although it gets most of the job done, from time to time I’ll catch Shib furiously scrubbing a pan – and he’ll send me into fits of laughter, as if we were back in our twenties again.

This old dog might still be learning new tricks, but washing dishes definitely isn’t one of them.

A Shopkeeper’s ‘Retirement’

An old adage goes: ‘There is no rest for the wicked’.

Although my life, I believe, has been a relatively devout one – in my twilight years I have found that my hands have now become fuller than ever before. It would appear that even for the penitent there is little rest.

Having stepped down from running Apuro all the way back in 1996, I’ve been in the privileged position of being able to enjoy 20 years of blissful ‘retirement’. Now at the ripe age of 83, I’m a good 15 years older than my Father was when he passed. This doesn’t make me ponder my mortality – far from it – it makes me appreciate every single day I have on this Earth.

Having been a shop keeper for the best part of 40 years, the first issue I had in approaching retirement was breaking from all the little rituals that you get into the habit of performing. Opening the shutters, counting the registers, facing up stock. All of these small mundane tasks, over the course of a few decades, had become part of a comforting selection of behaviour that empowered my sense of ownership of the store.


Full disclosure: I do still sneak back into the shop for the occasional shift.

They don’t need the help really. Barry, a local boy who has grown up to be a wonderful shop keeper in his own right, knows his trade and manages the store like a military operation. It’s a testament to his kindness that he allows me to work the till for a few hours each week. Managing a corner shop puts you into contact with dozens of local people on a daily basis – it was these small friendships that I missed, whilst in the midst of my retirement.

The minutiae of Rotherham life is not something that you can experience from the outside. You couldn’t just sit on a park bench and engage with the local people, you must gain their trust first with good conversation and thoughtful questions.

In some ways, this town has changed very little since my arrival in 1958.

The young men and women, in the surrounding neighbourhood, still drink at the same pubs that their parents met in. They still visit the same Chip Shop, run by Frank Chapham (a local businessman whose ‘workaholic’ status is even more renowned than mine). The next day, when they are hung over, they still come into my shop to buy their chocolates and soft drinks, to soothe their aching heads. Small shuffling steps and low murmurs signal their presence. Some of these patrons have been buying confectionery from me since they were tiny mites, with sweaty pennies clenched in their fists.

Us on our first visit back home after we move to the UK. Circa. 1967
Us on our first visit back home after we moved to the UK. Circa. 1967

They wander through the automatic doors of my store, in their pajamas mostly – some do not even wear any socks or shoes on their feet. I understand, for the more discerning shopkeeper, this kind of clientèle might be seen as slightly undesirable. I have a great affection for every one of them. Their bare feet, soiled by the filthy pavements of the streets, leave little marks on the white tiles. Their sweaty palms are now holding the hands of another, and this reminds me of my wife. How inseparable we were as children and how we’ve stayed together for longer than most of our parents lived.

Rotherham may be a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Dhaka, but it will forever hold a place in my heart as the town that I watched grow up.

From penny sweet snatching toddlers to shyly shuffling teenagers.