Bathtime Story

24 10 2010

Rub-a-dub-dub-art-within-constraints-in-a-tub

My first fail. Just three businesses in and I met resistance. I’d cockily strolled into Bathstore at 33 Essex Road at about midday on a Saturday. I asked one of the harried looking members of staff if I could speak to the manager to ask him a few strange questions. My jovial approach didn’t really go down well.

He told me this was a really bad time and I would be best off coming in on Monday but whatever the case to call by phone on Monday to check that this was OK. This wasn’t great news. Short of taking a day off work there’s no way I could get there during the week so it would have to be a weekend. Suitably chastened I went home and formulated a plan.

It wasn’t exactly cunning. I waited until the next Saturday and went in straight after they’d opened. Fear gripped me as the same member of staff got up to say hello. I could see the store was already busy with customers milling about and one sitting at the service desk. I hoped he didn’t remember me. I didn’t bother waiting for the intro and just asked for the manager. Invited to go to the end of the desk the manager looked up. Handshake, quirky intro, detail. A faultless triple play and he invited me to sit down.

I saw him mentally asking the following questions:

a)    Is this bloke a fucking psycho and should I fear for my life?

b)   Is this going to make me look stupid?

c)    Is this going to take all day?

d)   None of the above

It’s so great to see that once people have got over their initial suspicion by establishing that the answer is ‘d)’ then they generally couldn’t be more friendly and helpful. This was indeed the case with John Williams, manager of Bathstore Islington.

Meet the John Williams that didn't compose the score to Star Wars

I opened with some of the standard questions. Bathstore has been there four years and John thought it was part of a new build so there hadn’t been anything in there before. Well, obviously there had been but as yet no one has been able to tell my what. It’s becoming a bit of a mystery. In about fifteen businesses time I’ll be at the Library. I’m hoping they might be able to shed some light on things. Bathstore is on the corner of Essex Road and Gaskin Street and the block in which it sits extends a long way back. This is a sizeable plot so it was either a large group of houses and shops or a massive single building. If the latter, then it would have been a big deal when it was knocked down. Maybe I need to find some older Essex Road residents, everyone I’ve met so far has been pretty young.

John and I talked about the different places that he and the team went to on Essex Road. He seemed to find the question a bit odd and I had to prompt him a bit but he listed of a string of places that they went including the sandwich shop next to the record shop (looks nice but at my current rate I won’t be visiting until 2016), The Queens Head pub and Giraffe. Just like everyone else he spoke warmly about Giraffe, clearly a local favourite. He also mentioned the hardware shop but couldn’t remember the name. ‘SX Hardware’ I said. At that very moment I was gripped by the searingly obvious revelation that SX was short for Essex. I paused momentarily, dealing with this piece of gargantuan dumbness on my part and then carried on chatting.

When we started talking about how John arrived at work I uncovered a fascinating little quirk. He described the journey as ‘coming up from Angel’ Everyone else I’ve met so far describes that direction as down and coming from the Hackney end as up. This feels like some sort of fantastic psychological discovery that goes deep into the heart of how we perceive our space. Maybe the world’s population could be divided into those who think the journey between two ends of a non-descript street in North London should be described as up and those who don’t. We should organise our political parties and institutions along these lines immediately.

Back in the real world I needed to buy something. When I explained this to John, a customer at the next desk overheard and suggested I could pay for her new shower room. I declined this kind offer and settled on a shower hose for nine pounds, not a suite by any means but still my most expensive purchase yet. John went to great lengths to explain that it would work on pretty much any shower in the world, including all of those along Essex Road.

So after a difficult start with a refusal, my trip to Bathstore ended up being great. I genuinely enjoyed meeting John and was touched when he made my receipt out to ‘The Essex Road Experience’. Every time I get a friendly reaction on this project it’s a little treat. A tiny reminder that for all the world’s ills, people are on the whole really nice and keen to help, however random the request.

  • Business has been there since – 2006
  • Guaranteed cumulative years in business – 14
  • Previous business was – nobody knew
  • Five people work there
  • Interviewee arrives there by tube to Angel then walks
  • I bought a 1.5m Shower Flex Doublelock for £9
  • Cumulative spend – £19.00

Hose the fucking daddy now?

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