You only notice the musty smell if you’re unfortunate enough to get stuck in a queue back past the bread plinth, towards the shanty town of chest freezers (the sliding doors are the backbone of each ageing unit rather than the doorway to claim Aunt Bessie’s Apple Pies and out of date Fab lollies). From the darker corner, six people deep in the line of dipsomaniacs, the mildew becomes noticeable, the shelves seem more yellow than cream and dust hangs on the rim of metal tins, clogging the air as winter jackets brush past the weeping shelves.
I’m only here tonight because of the Galaxy Ripple ad. Mid-Coronation Street it appeared on screen, filling the new television that we worship. It’s dazzling, succulent. The chocolate almost jumps out of the screen at us, tempting us with its devilish charms. God knows what would have happened if it we actually used the Freeview HD we’d paid for.
Sarah turns slowly, that little puppy dog grin. In slippers and pyjamas I know she’s going to suggest that it would be impossible for her to undertake Operation Chocolate. It’s a difficult rescue job, and we trade the usual jokes and ironic jibes as I jump out of the chair and pick my discarded jacket from the floor. My keys are lost, thrown astray earlier as we unpacked the ASDA bags. It’s one of those nights: late from work, raining and much easier to grab a make-your-own pizza before falling onto the sofa.
The stone-throw walk reminds me that autumn is in full swing: its pitch black, wet and I need to zip up to my neck to keep the wind off my chest. Raindrops are highlighted in spectacular fashion in the headlight of a stationary car, just as another roaring vehicle ducks up the raised kerb behind me. A woman darts into the shop as I get closer, running to avoid a soaking.
The Corner Shop is our 9pm saver. Whenever we need tomato puree, it’s there for us. Whenever we’ve drunk the lemonade dry or forgotten eggs for a weekend breakfast, it’s there for us. (If they stocked olives they’d make a killing from us on Saturday nights when we have the nibbles.)
At the counter sweets and crisps are busting out of every crevice: industrial boxes of Space Raiders nearly touch the false ceiling. Haribo is shoulder high and cigarettes are a Tsunami wave descending from behind the till to consume all waiting shoppers. Those queuing are all lining up for 20 Lambert’s and a miniature bottle of their favourite tipple. A few grab leccy or a loaf of bread.
I always feel sorry for the couple that run the Corner Shop. They’re open 7 while 10 every day, including Sunday. They employ no staff and they fit in the cash and carry run around the pre-school rush. The shops glass frontage is shattered weekly (usually a stone or perhaps a cricket bat on occasion). Their six year delay on the National Lottery machine waiting list must have dampened their spirits. On dark, drenched evenings like tonight the shop can be intimidating, everyone purchasing a vice of some kind, half of them looking to nick it if possible. It can’t be the easiest existence in the country, though I doubt it’s the worst.
So how can I blame the proprietor when he cheekily jokes with the customers, convincing them to upgrade from a 5cl bottle of Jack Daniels to the larger option. “Want a half size bottle” he says, “Might as well, the missus isn’t away often, have the night off!”. The young man, stuffing cigarettes and a mini-vodka in his pocket, agrees. “Yeah, you’re right” he chuckles. “And I’m off work tomorrow”.
The queue ebbs and flows, the banter carries on much the same, in-jokes with loyal customers, all booze related. I fumble for enough change to cover a Mint Aero and disappear before I succumb to a temptation worse than chocolate.