Sunday, 7 May 2017

Why be ashamed of giving to charity?

 Thanks to the late artist and photographer Derek Biddulph.

Sitting outside a pub, watching Galway City walk by, happy as a scribbler in a daze when

“Mind if I join you?”

“No, not at all.”

“I know you to see you around. English, aren’t you? Nothing against the English. Have to say though, you’re far more snobby than we are! It’s your class structure, ‘cos we don’t have it. But what I really hate is people who force their opinions on you, time and time again.”


“You know the sort, just go on and on about the same thing repeatedly. Drives me nuts.”

“Me too!”

“Why would someone want to say the same thing, over and over again? Makes no sense. If you’ve made your point well enough, leave it, move on.”

Glancing over to make sure he wasn’t wearing a badge declaring  

I Love Irony, I shot a little hostility his way, in the form of a hissed impatient whisper.

“Couldn’t have put it better myself.”

Made no difference. On he went about snobs and people repeating themselves, until I let go of the rope, drifting off into my ocean of memories.

Snobs in Galway? I remember them, back when I was running a charity shop on Abbeygate Street.

My favourite customer used to arrive in the shop like the scent of Jasmine on a Summer breeze.

“Hello! Lovely morning isn’t it! Pretty soon now it’ll be afternoon. Then it’s evening and then well, night, I suppose. I hope so anyway. I mean, what would happen if it was morning right after evening? Just wouldn’t do at all! What was that? Oh yes, Spring is coming. Sure, it’s just like Winter, but with longer evenings.”

Succinct and indisputable.
The woman was a genius.

Working in retail involves making completely uncontroversial smalltalk all day, with a smile on your face. You might think that the weather affects everyone equally, but I was deeply disappointed to find out that here it was not as safe a subject as it had been In London’s shops.

I greet another customer.

“Hello there! Lovely day, isn’t it?”

“Well, no! It’s bitter! Bitterly cold, so it is. And the rain. It’s not right, not rain like this, not at this time of year. Something's wrong, let me tell you. I know! Oh yes, I know about these things.”

I like my job, so resist the temptation to scream:

“What the hell are you talking about? This is Galway for crying out loud! It rains all the bleedin’ time here!”

Thousands of meteorological opinions were aired in that shop, but only one managed to scare the hell out of me. It was uttered during the week of Solemn Novena, and perchance its perpetrator had been a little overawed by her visit to the Cathedral.

“Lovely day, isn’t it?”

“No it is not. It is raining and cold. We are all sinners.”

I just stood there, absolutely dumbstruck. Neither the time nor the place to enter into theological debate, I thought long and hard and came up with no other option: her inference was that it was raining and cold because we were all sinners, and therefore God was punishing us with bad weather.


Having a shop in Galway was a wonderful experience. As a blow-in, I love Galwegians, and the flow of mostly middle-aged women who came into my shop offered me a connection to the everyday lives of locals.

There were lonely souls who stopped in to chat and a laugh, and it was my pleasure to entertain and be entertained.

Others were genuinely stressed out and broke, reliant on our cheap clothing. My heart went out to them as they rushed around the rails
simultaneously crowd-controlling their kids
no time to stop.

On Saturdays we enjoyed a completely different crowd, in from the country for the day. I called them my ‘Gorgeous Mob’, because they were so devoid of ugly urban pretension, they had no qualms whatsoever about enjoying themselves as they bought second-hand clothes.

They just prowled the shop muttering
“Ooooh that’s gorgeous, gorgeous, really gorgeous!”

There was also something wonderful about the people who brought in bags of their unwanted clothes and then proceeded to buy more clothes. Their sheer absence of snobbery was refreshing. ‘Here’s some stuff I don’t want, and now I think I’ll buy some stuff some other people didn’t want.’

Simple and, for some reason, immensely reassuring.

Then there were the snobs. Those who, for some unrealistic reason, thought themselves better than others.

I’d spot one a mile off, flitting quickly around the shop floor, flicking her fingers disapprovingly along the rails as she walks by.

She doesn’t really need to be here, you understand. She just wants to see how the other half lives and - ohhh, is that dress really only £2.99? Well, okay, I suppose I’ll take it, but I'll probably never wear it, and please could you put it into this Moons carrier bag?

At this point I explain that our carrier bags are plain, so she has no need to feel stigmatised for visiting us lowly pathetic trogs.

Well, I didn’t exactly put it like that, but I sorely wanted to.

Instead I remind Her Snobness that it’s all for a good cause, and the tiny little piece of over made-up face that sticks out of her fur coat and foul hat smiles down at me and says:

“S’pose ‘tis, yah. That’s nice isn’t it? Now please, wrap it in that plain bag and then put it into my Moons bag.”

Fighting the desire to spit in her face and tell her never to sully my hovel of a store again, I settle instead for the smarmy smile of the pissed-off professional:

“Thanks. See you again. Lovely day, isn’t it?”

©Charlie Adley

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