There being no opportunities to practice being a lounge lizard or a Roman Emperor in 1990s County Durham (or that’s what Miss Roddam said anyway) I put in for sixth form work experience in a bookshop.
I was expecting WH Smith but instead I got Durham Cathedral’s gift shop. Which did sell books it’s true but wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Disaapointment turned to wonder though as on arriving at the appointed hour to meet the manager I realised that the first hour of my day would be spent wandering around unsupervised in the precincts of the best building in the world bar none. Such solitude in the most powerful of religious settings led even this determined teenage atheist to wonder if He didn’t exist after all.
The rest of my duties consisted mostly of long periods of boredom when the odd pensioner or tourist would wander in and buy some postcards. This was interspersed with intense bouts of policing when the shop was invaded by hordes of schoolkids finally liberated from learning about the life of St. Cuthbert to plunder the stock while their teachers grabbed a crafty fag before getting the minibus home.
After a couple of days of packed lunches a friend and I (who had got the sweet gig of working the Our Price counter) decided to treat ourselves to a sit down lunch. We chose an Italian on Elvet Bridge whose name escapes me (Emilio’s?) and took their lunch special of pizza and a glass of wine for whatever the equivalent of £10 was in those days.
I’m pretty sure we upped the glass to a bottle to share so by the time I got back up the hill to the big church I was pretty refreshed. And full of pizza. The shop being empty I was master of the counter.
My fingers idled across the top of the counter, arranging tattle and straightening up books. What’s this under the counter though? A button? I pushed the button. Nothing happened. Oh well, I turned to my book for a while.
Ten minutes later an exhausted, red-faced copper arrived at the door.
Gasping for breath, he squeezed out a panting, ‘What’s the matter?’
‘… err, nothing?’
‘The alarm, the panic alarm son, did you push it?’
At this point the penny dropped. In such a place of holiness I had no choice but to tell the truth.
‘I didn’t know there was one.’
I mean, it wasn’t exactly a lie was it? But worse was to follow.
The manageress arrived. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘The panic alarm, did you press the panic alarm?’
‘No, I did not. Did you Geoffrey?
‘I don’t think so.’
She fixed me with a stare. I was steadfast under scrutiny. The policeman had just recovered his breath but lost his temper. It is a very steep hill to the Cathedral from town. It was the moment of truth.
She turned to the young PC. ‘That bloody thing’s allus going off, I don’t know what we have it for! Tell them to get it checked, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.’
I waited for God to take some vengeance on me for this injustice. Nothing happened. Neitzsche was right after all.
To see other restaurants I’ve been to (possibly near you!) go to the GoogleMap …
Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).