Thursday, 26 July 2012

The best customer in the world

This morning when I arrived at work there was a message flashing on our shop answering machine:

"Hello to my friends at the bookshop.  It's David ----- here.  I wanted to say thank you for the card you've sent to me.  And I want to say an extra thank you for going to the trouble of finding one with a lovely Land Rover and farm animals.  It's very touching...  *sneeze*... *pause while he tries to work out how to hang up his mobile*...*end of message*"

Today is our favourite customer's birthday.  His name is David, and he's got fluffy hair and a curly beard and the twinkliest, cheekiest little face you've ever seen outside an Enid Blyton story.  Back when we were first refurbishing the shop we used to leave the door open so locals could pop in and say hello; David was our first visitor, and ordered a book from us before we'd even opened!

Since then he's been a firm fixture in the shop.  He has so many health problems and struggles to get around sometimes, but he comes down whenever he can and sits in one of our red tub chairs, catching us up on his sons' exploits and talking about his life and waxing lyrical about his favourite things: animals, rallying, chickens, Land Rovers and biscuits.  He's a joy to listen to, so funny and down-to-earth and enthusiastic about life.  Sometimes we bring him a cup of tea and a biscuit or two so he can take his tablets, and secretly we love it because it means he'll stay and chat a bit longer.

The card he sent when the bookshop turned three this year.  He's separated from Joan but still sees her all the time because she helps him with things when he can't manage...

He's not as old as he looks, but he lives in a little flat in a warden-monitored building, and he's definitely a bit eccentric.  But he's so generous and has the warmest heart of anyone I've ever met.  I rang him this morning when I got that message, and he went into raptures over the card, and was very excited because another had just arrived in the post.  He's been invited to tea with Joan and the family tonight and he's hoping there might be blueberry cheesecake.  Then he got a bit quiet and said again how touched he was by the card - and when I said, "We love you David, you know that!" there was a sudden silence and he got all choked.  After I put the phone down I found myself welling up, and Mum did too.

It's people like David that make the fairly thankless job of running a shop worthwhile.  Sure, it's great being surrounded by books all day, but all the books in the world can't save you when your head's aching and kids are throwing tantrums and people are moaning in stage whispers and you're exhausted.  But when David appears at the door, I can feel a smile spreading across my face, and it's like the world falls back to rights for a few minutes.  I remember that there's someone out there who really appreciates what we do, and makes a special effort to come here for books and chatter, and who remembers our shop birthday, and who brings us shortbread at Christmas, and who knows when we're ringing him because no one else does, and who told us he'd make room for us at his tiny flat if we ever got caught out in the snow, and who brings photos for us to look at, and who cuts out magazine articles he thinks we'll like, and who shares his life with us as generously and openly as we try to share ours with him.  

THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is what it's all about.