Assured Attention- (to animals!)

The attentive reader will have noted that the first book in this series: ‘Our Best Attention’ featured a variety of animals: an embarrassing dog, a quiet cat, some cheeky monkeys (always the best!), chinchillas, quail and a Mynah bird. The little monkey draped over the title was a clue to the inclusion of animals.

In Book 2 ‘Assured Attention’, there are cats again, one, Bluebell, is Miss Murray’s own pet but a new visitor to Murrays ‘Department Store of Distinction’ has a chapter of her own.  This time it is she who adorns the title of the new book. Look out for the little Birman. Not all the staff at Murrays will have only two legs by the end of the book.

A dog features too. This time a rather depressed collie. Sad you might think,  however, he has a starring and unexpected role in a staff selection dilemma. Warning- its not what you might expect!

‘Assured Attention’ is available for pre order on Amazon Kindle and will be released to coincide with the official launch on 31st July.

Telling (Edinburgh) Tales!

edinburgh library

 

 

Central Library, Edinburgh.

Life is full of surprises it would seem. Librarian hath spoken unto librarian with the result that I was invited to view the Jenners archive at the Central Library in Edinburgh. Obviously, my novel, ‘Our Best Attention,’ is fiction but its location in a large department store was inspired by my time working in Jenners in Princes St, Edinburgh. I loved working there and it has long remained in my memory. However, the memories contained in the archive went back many, many years before I was born.

Among  the items I looked at was a complete inventory of the building from top to bottom. I was intrigued to find the ratio of shop floor space to the building as a whole to be really quite small. Only the first two floors were open to customers. The other four floors contained the staff bedrooms ( I found 102 of these!) staff dining rooms and a three bed sick room and medical room along with many workrooms and rooms with various other uses. Although this was a professionally produced inventory carried out by a London firm, it was unfortunately undated. Very frustrating. However, by careful cross referencing it looks like it must have been produced about 1906.

I also loved looking at the Christmas catalogues which dated back to 1902.  There was so much to look at in the archive that I plan several return visits.

I’m going to be talking about my novel and the background to it at the Central library “Edinburgh Tales” session on 21st September.  Look out for further information on the Eventbrite website.

Our Best Attention- Social History!

Surprise

Well who’d have thought it? Not me anyway. I just wrote the stories as stories. However, at a recent  author event where the reminiscences came thick and fast from the audience, it was pointed out that ‘Our Best Attention,’ my novel set in a department store in the 1970s, was social history.

The book described a setting, a staff group and customers that are now, sadly, long gone. The loss of the whole ethos of service to customers and care for and about staff seems to have disappeared almost without trace in our modern world of minimum wage, zero hours contracts and, of course the internet.

Specific aspects of the book were pointed out to me. For example, the legion of ladies left without potential husbands after the first world war: no families, children or grandchildren for them. So sad. Miss McPherson in the chapter, “The Bequest,” is really a tribute to these often very kindly women. The concept of “Model Gowns,” the unquestioning ubiquity of a “Furs” department, and the employment of war disabled staff have all disappeared. No one starts their “wedding china” off any more with the hope of adding to it throughout a long married life.  Can staff members simply arrange for a family member to be employed these days? Mrs Da Costa could in “The Square Peg” and Mr Soames did in “Operation Limelight”. Even the language has changed: no one is asked to “Come forward Miss Glover” as in “Storm in the Teacups” or even to always refer to each other so formally as always to use surnames.

Changed days and not always for the better.

 

A Look to the Future?

BinocularsIts all go at Murray’s -department store of distinction. Book 2 is well under way. For readers keen to find out how our various friends among the staff and customers are getting on here’s a wee peep into the future.

Miss Murray and Mrs Pegram go on holiday: will it turn out to be a busman’s one?  Difficult  Mr Da Costa from Model Gowns finds a fine romance. The Tea Room ladies get up to more (barely legal) tricks and Barry Hughes, head of security, continues much as usual and struggles to get to the bottom of another crime potentially affecting the entire future of the shop.

Some new characters turn up in different departments and we meet the first winner of the “Margaret Murray Prize for Staff Initiative.” There’s an afternoon at the staff garden party at Rosehill and a few surprising arrivals- not all two legged ones.

The store itself is under scrutiny by a documentary crew. The final outcome is a surprise for someone: Murrays serves a good helping of ‘come uppance’ for one deserving person.

Until Book 2 is published there will be the occasional short story here to keep people up to date with developments in the best store in Edinburgh.

Jock’s Instant Sunshine

 There was no doubt about it. It had been a miserable start to the year. The city had been swathed in clouds for months and a thin miserable drizzle had kept people indoors unless they really had to go out. Takings were down at Murrays –department store of distinction in Edinburgh’s Princes Street. Now things were even worse as a late fall of snow had taken everyone by their annual surprise. This heavy wet covering of snow gave no indication of clearing and gradually the glass roof of the Grand Hall in Murrays was encased in a thick blanket of the icy stuff. This cast a pall of gloom over the galleries and departments under the usually beautiful stained glass arc.

This pall of gloom enveloped Mr McElvey in Accounts too. He bemoaned the loss of revenue from sales but also the increased expense incurred by the reduction in natural light and increased heating costs. He groaned to Miss Murray,

“We can’t sustain this level of overheads for much longer. Staff sickness levels have increased too. I think they just can’t be bothered to turn up to stand about all day.”

Miss Murray ignored his doom laden prognostications as she usually tried to but couldn’t help worrying a little herself. It certainly was a depressing Spring.

In the Canteen, Barry, the head of Security, was entertaining his (sole) friend Jock the lift operator with the only poem he had ever managed to retain in his head:

“The spring is sprung, the grass is riz.

I wonder where the boidie is.

They say the boidie’s on the wing.

But that’s absoid. The wing is on the boid.”

Jock nodded politely as he always did when Barry recited this. He had heard it time and again as Barry liked to parade his imagined erudition.

Jock usually managed to present a cheerful face to his passengers, as he thought of the ladies who used his lift. They almost invariably ignored him though which, as ever, he accepted with a quiet smile. This year was different somehow. Everybody seemed to be so miserable. The noticeably fewer customers, the dimmer quality of light, the sneezes and coughs that echoed around the galleries from staff and customers alike had managed to penetrate even his good humour.

As Barry droned on about some imagined slight, Jock let his thoughts wander to how he could try to cheer everyone up. It would have to be simple, inexpensive and permitted by the Management. He looked up with a sudden smile. He had had an idea. Mumbling his excuses to Barry he stood up and made his way out of the crowded canteen. Barry paused in full flow to look at the disappearing back of his friend as he left via the rear entrance which led to the management corridor.

Mrs Pegram from Personnel listened to Jock’s request in amusement then declared that his idea was sound. Better than sound really and authorised that he proceed to carry out his plans as soon as possible.

The next morning when the lift door opened on the ground floor to admit four depressed looking ladies, there were gasps of surprise.

“Oh my!” one lady couldn’t help saying, “Look at this! Just look at it!”

Listening staff in Menswear looked up too late as the lift doors closed.

Inside the ladies smiled broadly as they regarded the bright yellow, crepe paper decked walls, the cerulean blue ceiling and the little row of plastic daffodils neatly pinned all around the walls at floor level. When the door opened on the second floor the bright flash of yellow caught the attention of staff all round the gallery. Smiles lit up as the ladies left the lift and infectiously cheered staff as the customers moved around the various departments. The lift moved onwards and upwards bearing its now cheery cargo. As the door opened at each floor it was as if there was a bright burst of sunlight. Everyone was talking about it. Strangers in the lift smiled to each other as they entered and there was a marked increase in general chat throughout the store. The sudden elevation in mood throughout the building over the next few days translated itself into increased sales thus improving even Mr McElvey’s finance focused state of mind.

In the Canteen at Barry was at first rather resentful of Jock’s sudden popularity. As staff members from various departments passed their table they made positive comments to Jock, some just patting him on the back others thanking him for cheering them up. Jock nodded modestly. Eventually, Barry came round and deciding to somehow grab some credit intoned loudly to anyone in earshot,

“Well the boidies may not be on the wing but Spring has certainly sprung at Murrays!”