A Lit­tle Bit Of Fes­tive Spirit

Work­ing in a depart­ment store at Christ­mas was not as much fun as So­phie had ex­pected. How could she cheer things up?

The People's Friend - - News - by Eirin Thomp­son

WHEN So­phie was of­fered the job of Christ­mas temp at Allen’s Depart­ment Store, she was thrilled.

It would be ex­cit­ing to be sur­rounded by all the fes­tive mer­chan­dise, im­mersed in a Christ­mas shop­per’s par­adise.

The cus­tomers, she imag­ined, would be abuzz with sea­sonal ex­cite­ment. And, if the queues were long, they’d be of­fered choco­late treats and moved along quickly by the ex­tra staff like her, brought in to en­sure every­one was happy, even at the busiest time of year.

Oh, dear. How wrong could she have been?

Christ­mas shop­pers, it turned out, weren’t full of peace and good­will at all. They were a crotch­ety bunch, who grew steadily more grumpy as the cal­en­dar crept closer and closer to De­cem­ber 25.

“It’s not you, it’s them,” Linda, an ex­pe­ri­enced su­per­vi­sor, told her. “It’s like this ev­ery De­cem­ber.

“Too many bod­ies in one shop, too many warm lay­ers of cloth­ing to be in­side, too many things on their list, too much money need­ing spent.”

“But that’s aw­ful!” “We’ve had a go at all sorts to make it bet­ter,” Linda said for­lornly. “But if we try to spread out the shop­ping days by dis­play­ing the sea­sonal goods ear­lier, we’re ac­cused of start­ing Christ­mas too soon.

“If we keep the shop cooler, then peo­ple com­plain that it’s too cold in the chang­ing-rooms. “We can’t win.” There was one thing that filled So­phie with cheer, though, and that was the sight of Ol­lie from menswear cut­ting through her depart­ment ev­ery time he went to the staff can­teen for his break.

Ol­lie was tall and blond, and So­phie wasn’t the only per­son who no­ticed him – even some of the cus­tomers couldn’t help star­ing.

If So­phie was a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed at the lack of Christ­mas cheer that went with the job, she was de­ter­mined not to waste her time there.

As well as earn­ing her a de­cent bit of money, the job fit­ted well around her timetable as a busi­ness stud­ies stu­dent – plus it gave her the chance to learn all she could about the depart­ment store model.

So­phie kept a note­book, the front sec­tion of which she used to scrib­ble down all her ob­ser­va­tions. At the back, she wrote about Ol­lie.

Over the weeks, So­phie gained a great deal of ex­pe­ri­ence, lis­ten­ing care­fully to the staff and the cus­tomers and jot­ting down her find­ings in her note­book at the first op­por­tu­nity.

No mat­ter how much time she spent on her ap­pear­ance be­fore work, though, and no mat­ter how many ex­cuses she found to make lit­tle vis­its to the menswear depart­ment, she didn’t get a sec­ond look from Ol­lie.

“It’s not for the want of try­ing,” Linda ob­served, as So­phie gazed at his slen­der back dis­ap­pear­ing through the “Staff Only” doors.

“Oh, dear, am I that ob­vi­ous?” So­phie asked.

“To me, yes,” Linda replied. “But Ol­lie’s not your typ­i­cal guy. He’s mar­ried to the store, if you ask me. He doesn’t no­tice girls – even nice ones like you, pet.

“I’ve seen it all be­fore: when the Christ­mas staff come in, they all fancy him. He’s com­pletely obliv­i­ous. I don’t know what you’d have

to do to get his at­ten­tion.”

So­phie didn’t know, ei­ther, and tried not to waste too much more time think­ing about it.

Then, with­out warn­ing, she found her­self called to the man­ager’s of­fice.

Mrs Dobson was not a typ­i­cally aus­tere fig­ure. When she sailed around the shop floor, ad­just­ing dis­plays by minute amounts here and there, she al­ways had a smile and a greet­ing for her team.

But every­one agreed that you def­i­nitely didn’t want to get into her bad books.

So­phie tried des­per­ately to think what she might have done wrong. Had she un­wit­tingly been rude to a cus­tomer, or short-changed some­one? Surely she wasn’t ac­cused of some­thing worse!

“So­phie,” Mrs Dobson be­gan. “Thank you for com­ing to see me. I’m sure you’ve lots to do in home­wares, but I wanted to have a lit­tle chat.

“First of all, you must for­give me. I’ve been a lit­tle bit cheeky.”

So­phie was baf­fled. “A doc­u­ment has found its way into my hands,” the man­ager said. “And, on in­spec­tion, I would have to con­cede that it is clearly a pri­vate doc­u­ment. Yet the con­tent is of such value to me, and to this or­gan­i­sa­tion, that I was com­pelled to read it in full.

“I am speak­ing, So­phie, of a green-backed note­book. I be­lieve you know it.”

Oh, no! Surely not. So­phie had been scrib­bling down her lat­est ideas only a lit­tle while ago, dur­ing her lunch-break.

How im­pu­dent her sug­ges­tions for im­prov­ing the busi­ness must seem to some­one as ex­pe­ri­enced as Mrs Dobson. This was a night­mare.

“It fell from the flap of your bag as you crossed the menswear depart­ment,” Mrs Dobson ex­plained. “The young man who saw tried to get your at­ten­tion, but you didn’t hear him, and he couldn’t leave his cus­tomer. He didn’t know your name, so he looked in­side.

“He’s a bright spark, too, and he im­me­di­ately recog­nised the value of what he was read­ing, so he brought it to my at­ten­tion.”

A bright spark in the com­pany work­ing in menswear? One who didn’t know So­phie’s name? It could only be one per­son.

The night­mare grew darker as So­phie imag­ined him read­ing the notes at the back of the book.

“Don’t look so wor­ried, So­phie,” Mrs Dobson said. “You’re not in trou­ble. I’m very im­pressed with some of your ideas, and I’m go­ing to get as many as pos­si­ble up and run­ning im­me­di­ately, in time for the busiest spell of Christ­mas shop­ping.”

Well, that was some­thing.

Far from be­ing of­fended, Mrs Dobson seemed pleased. But it didn’t do any­thing to ease the em­bar­rass­ment of Ol­lie hav­ing seen her strictly pri­vate thoughts about him.

Ar­riv­ing at work the next morn­ing, So­phie was amazed to find the empty shop unit be­side the front door had its shut­ters up, lights on, and was clearly open for busi­ness.

She saw it had been fit­ted out with shiny clothes rails and a smart new counter top, be­hind which stood a girl she recog­nised as an­other one of the temps.

The girl spot­ted her look­ing and waved.

So­phie had a few min­utes to spare, so she ven­tured in.

“I be­lieve this was your idea,” the girl said with a smile. “It’s a coat-check fa­cil­ity for Allen’s cus­tomers, so they don’t get so hot and both­ered in the store. The sig­nage should be up by lunchtime.”

Mrs Dobson cer­tainly moved fast. With a tiny glow of pride, So­phie made her way into the main store.

What was that they were play­ing? It didn’t sound like the usual in-store Christ­mas record­ing.

As she ap­proached the es­ca­la­tor, she found a big sec­tion of floor had been cleared near to where the worst queues usu­ally formed, and in it sat a string quar­tet.

They were stu­dents from the lo­cal col­lege – an­other of So­phie’s ideas.

Up­stairs she found some more per­form­ers – a gag­gle of ex­cited pri­mary school chil­dren decked in rein­deer antlers and tin­sel, gear­ing up to sing by the tills.

Their teacher gave them a start­ing note and they were off, two tall boys shak­ing mara­cas as they sang out “The Ca­lypso Carol”.

This was amaz­ing! “That gen­tle­man just told me we’re the one shop with a lit­tle bit of fes­tive spirit,” Linda told her later. “That’s your do­ing, So­phie. You should pat your­self on the back.”

More col­leagues told her sim­i­lar sto­ries as the day went on, but there was one per­son whom she hadn’t yet set eyes on, much to her re­lief. Ol­lie.

But then the “Staff Only” doors swung open, and in he walked.

“So­phie. Hi,” he said, mak­ing straight to­wards her.

“Hi,” So­phie said anx­iously.

“I’ve been up­stairs all morn­ing with Mrs Dobson. We’ve been watch­ing the shop floor on CCTV, and it’s amaz­ing. The cus­tomers look happy and the staff seem more re­laxed.

“We al­ready know from the of­fice that our tak­ings for the morn­ing are well up on what we would ex­pect, and the word in the can­teen is that ev­ery­body’s en­joy­ing the changes.”

“That’s great.” So­phie smiled. “Look, I guess you’re the per­son who found my note­book, so I imag­ine you know what’s in­side it . . .”

“Ah, yes. Sorry about that. I re­ally only meant to see if there was a name, so I could re­turn it, but it was im­me­di­ately clear that the ideas were ab­so­lute dy­na­mite, and I had to share them with Mrs D.”

“And those other ideas . . .” So­phie had to put it out there – to clear the air – or she’d never be able to face work­ing with Ol­lie again. “At the back of the book?”

“There were more ideas at the back of the book?” Ol­lie seemed sur­prised. “I never thought of look­ing there. I bet they’re bril­liant, too. Can I see?”

“My note­book’s at home now,” So­phie replied. She was re­lieved it was the truth. “But I could type them up, and bring them in to­mor­row?”

Not those ex­act ideas, of course. But she’d come up with some­thing.

“Ex­cel­lent. You know, I al­ways wanted to work in a big depart­ment store at Christ­mas, and I’ve done three here, as a trainee man­ager. I’ve loved all of them – I love this place – but this is shap­ing up to be the best Christ­mas yet.

“So many of the temps just come and go, but I re­ally hope you stay, So­phie. You’ve got great in­stincts, and you’d be a real as­set.”

“Thanks,” So­phie replied, her re­lief turn­ing to plea­sure.

“It’s so amaz­ing to find some­one who cares about Allen’s as much as I do,” Ol­lie went on. “Do you think maybe I could sit with you at the staff Christ­mas din­ner on Satur­day night?

“If you’re not al­ready go­ing with some­one else, of course. We could go for a quiet drink af­ter­wards, if you’re not ex­hausted.”

Linda popped her head over a stack of pil­lows be­hind them.

“That sounds like an idea you should have writ­ten in your book, So­phie!” she said with a wink. ■

So­phie would never be able to face work­ing with Ol­lie again

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