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.
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.