Christmas meant different things to different people at Murrays -department store of distinction. The beautiful old shop seemed meant for Christmas. The oak fixtures and fittings, the tiered gallery and carved pillars warm in the glowing colours cast down through the stained glass cupola.
For owner and managing director Miss Murray herself, it was a time of nostalgia. It was important to her that the old traditions were maintained: the overnight appearance of the giant Christmas tree after weeks of secret planning, the choice of colour theme, the scents perfuming the old shop and the annual invitation to the choir to sing around the different departments followed by a boisterous party in the staff canteen. Generally speaking though, it was a time when she remembered the old days and those who had gone before: bitter sweet memories.
For Mr McElvey the accounts director, it was a vital time of year. He eagerly and anxiously awaited the arrival of the daily sales figures which could expect to be hugely inflated at this time of year but, equally, could be disappointing. He well remembered with a shudder the last Christmas of the 1960s when a flu epidemic, affecting both customers and staff, decimated takings. As usual, he worked late and came in early every day as the social side of Christmas meant nothing to him. He took Christmas Day and Boxing Day off with a bad grace and only because the shop was closed for those two days. He bitterly resented the loss of trade.
In Personnel, charming Mrs Pegram welcomed Christmas. She enjoyed the change of routine that Christmas involved. Organising the staff Christmas party, bonuses and the sending out of hundreds of Christmas cards was all part of her job and she was happy to do it.
Less happy were the departmental buyers. Christmas was the ultimate test of their buying skills. Would the items that they had purchased on Murrays’ account be what the customers wanted that year? Would they be left with far too much stock to be disposed of in the January sales? It was a big worry for them. They all recollected the disastrous year when Mr Mortimer in Fancy Goods and Notions had overstocked in novelty toothbrush holders and was left trying to sell them for years after. The departmental managers also generally struggled with staffing in December and January. Temporary staff were not as reliable as the regulars and those that promised to be in the day after Boxing Day frequently let them down. To be down in staff at sale time could be calamitous.
Barry Hughes and his team from Security were on red alert: Christmas was “showtime” for shop lifters. He patrolled the shop bestowing hard looks on innocent elderly ladies and unnerving upstanding members of the legal profession doing last minute Christmas shopping for their wives and secretaries. Meanwhile, gangs of thieves casually lifted items at will quite unnoticed until the shop closed. Wails of shock could be heard as staff in various departments suddenly realised that choice items were missing: each had thought that another had sold the articles concerned. Mr McElvey and Barry had many an uncomfortable meeting around that time.
However, Christmas was not such a fraught time for younger members of staff. Miss Collins from Perfumery and Miss Glover from China and Glass positively revelled in it. Childlike, they had rushed to see the giant Christmas tree that so mysteriously appeared overnight in the Grand Hall the month before. They nagged and nagged fruitlessly at the younger male staff who had been involved in its enigmatic arrival. The secret of the Christmas tree was kept from generation to generation. The youngsters loved the atmosphere generated in the store by the excited customers and enjoyed being busy. The days rushed by and they were tired out by evening. Not tired out enough however, to plan for the annual staff party in the Canteen. Great discussions went on regarding crucial topics such as what to wear, who should speak to who and all the usual excitements of youngsters in anticipation of such festivity.
As the great day drew nearer, the shop became busier and busier. The tills rang out a merry tune (almost merry enough to cheer up Mr McElvey.) The stock reduced visibly in each department. Barry and his men patrolled on trusting no one and suspecting everyone.
The shoplifting continued unabated.
Down on the shop floor, Miss Collins and Miss Glover’s excitement reached fever pitch. Would Flash Harry Ferguson take the opportunity to pop the question under the Christmas tree after the staff party? Miss Collins, could hardly contain her excitement.
Eventually, on the 24th December, the bell rang to intimate that the shop would close in five minutes. As the last customers trailed out the whole store heaved an almost audible sigh of relief. It was over. The Christmas rush was finally over and the staff in the various departments throughout the building had time to draw breath for a short while before the desperate days of the January sales assailed them.
Upstairs in the Board Room, Miss Murray and Mrs Pegram allowed themselves a small sherry under the disapproving eyes of the paintings of old Mr Murray and (very) old Mr Murray. Mr McElvey wanted to see the final sales figures before he allowed himself to relax sufficiently to enjoy a vintage Amontillado. Mr Soames and Mr Philipson, the other directors, joined the ladies. Barry Hughes from Security, entering the room in a rush grasped a glass then tried to stand as near as possible to Mrs Pegram who, herself shifted almost imperceptibly away from him. They all felt the need to gather strength before venturing tentatively into the staff canteen where the party would be held. Already the sounds of excited staff members swelled audibly as people arrived up from their departments.
Eventually, Mr McElvey burst into the Board Room grasping a sheet of paper. “We’ve done it!” he called out in extremely uncharacteristic excitement. “We’ve beaten our record year of 1977!”
“Excellent news Ian. Well done everyone,” said Miss Murray looking round at her management team. “Now let’s go and share that with the staff.”
He sighed. It had to be done.
Visibly gathering themselves, they walked across the landing to the canteen door. Music was thumping out but over that they could hear ragged cheers and burst of “For they are jolly good fellows.”
Frowning slightly Miss Murray pushed open the door and was almost repelled by the wall of noise, heat and excitement that hit her. A flushed Miss Glover passing by the door turned back and croaked drunkenly,
“Hiya Miss Murray! He’s done it again. Harry’s engaged again. It’s Christmas,” and weaved her way uncertainly at the agitated urgings of the China dept. staff.
Miss Murray looked at Mrs Pegram with raised eyebrows and sighed. Flash Harry Ferguson proposed to another girl? Another Christmas tradition at Murrays.
Murrays, Department Store of Distinction, wishes all our customers (and readers) a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!