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The Plum King

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  • The Plum King

    Let's cast our minds back to 1994, the first year of our occupation of the current premises. Also, bear in mind that this was Autumn (Fall for the colonials). The British soft fruit season was drawing to a close, and many was the cry about the brevity of the season for Victoria plums. I'll not bore you with details of this variety, for there is always Google for the curious. Suffice it to say, there are only about six weeks when they are available, and many was the person who wandered by saying "I'll get some of those next week." None of them did, for they go out of season quickly.

    As the world turns, the season comes to an end, and this is where the Plum King comes in. Rather, he came into the shop one afternoon when only I was in, and he started to expound on the succulence of his plums.

    I can hear the sniggers from the peanut gallery already. Stop it - you'll go blind.

    "My plum tree," he said, almost begging me. "It has had a wondrous year. Never before have I seen such big and beautiful plums as are on my tree."

    Non-plussed, I watched him with interest. "And?" I asked, for the Boss was out. I never was much of a gardener, so if anyone wanted to boast about their plums, especially if they were obviously of retirement age, it was his department.

    "Victoria plums," he confided. "They are the biggest and best that I have ever seen!"

    "Oh, right," was all I could say.

    After a while, he got around to telling me that he was willing to sell them to us. My message was simple: "Talk to the Boss." I had to repeat this several times.

    The Boss came back from feeding the bank manager, and the Plum King, as he was already known, came in to repeat his routine ad nauseum. Even after the Boss said "Sure, we'll take some," the Plum King kept extolling the virtues of these plums. As far as we were concerned, the season was over, and we could charge what we liked (within reason) for something that only we had.

    The Plum King eventually got around to telling us where he lived (half a mile from the shop and on our way home) and that we should just bring boxes because they were ready for us.

    Easy money? Well, that's what we thought. We got to his house that evening, and he took us to his tree and said, "There they are." By 'ready' he meant that we had to pick them. We'd been on the go for twelve hours by this point, but we shrugged and got on with it.

    Picking plums is easy, until the Plum King intervenes. "You're picking all the biggest and the best!" he screamed in indignation.

    We looked up from where we were working. "Well, yes," the Boss said. "They've got to be good to sell on, otherwise they're no good to us."

    "What about those wonderful windfalls?" the Plum King demanded, pointing at a particularly scrawny specimen on the ground.

    I picked it up, turned it over, and showed him the rotten half. I let it fall, just as fast as his expectations, and got on with the work.

    We finished and had four full boxes to show for our effort. "Let's get them weighed," the Plum King said, heading for his car. The Boss and I exchanged the sort of look of 'get him off our backs' and headed back to the shop where the scales were. The Plum King beat us there.

    We weighed them up and worked out the price of ten pounds (about fifteen US dollars at the time). "Hmm," said the Plum King, rubbing his chin. "I could almost afford a steak for that."

    I work with meat and had done so for a while by that point. If he was paying more than ten pounds for one steak, I was in the wrong shop.

    Suffice it to say, we went back for more in a week or so. Once again, he was at the shop to weigh them before we were, but on the third visit, he said it would have to be the last load, because his wife wanted to make jam. Fair enough, thought we, for they were distinctly softening by then.

    One week later, his gardener (our milkman's day job) told us that the Plum King was trying to give them away, but nobody was taking them. Laugh? We nearly did.

    This wasn't the end of the Plum King, though. Over the next few years, we saw him regularly parking his car in just the position to make it awkward for people to get their cars through the parking area. He would buy a newspaper and sit there, reading it, until someone blocked the passage. At that point, he would look around in indignation and shock, and begin trying to drive away, sounding his horn in righteous fury.

    Suffice it to say, he rarely came into our place. Only twice in nine years he came in to buy something, and that was all. We weren't concerned.

    Time takes its toll on all things, the Plum King included. His son started to drive him up to the parade, where he would take advantage of the stick he used to walk with to stand in front of cars and tell them it was their fault for wanting to drive in a parking area. Even now, he didn't shop with us. We didn't miss him.

    The day came when he was delivered his Electric Buggy of Death (tm). This instrument of the harshest forces of nature is a useful device in the hands of responsible person, but he used it as a weapon.

    It had two speeds - stop and full-throttle. Stop was rarely used, and usually only when he'd come off a kerb too quickly and the device had fallen to pieces. Full-throttle was his normal speed. Small children, animals, men, women, articulated lorries - all these and more became accustomed to the scream of his buggy's whine as he attempted to break the sound barrier. His neighbours had to look both ways with excruciating care before stepping onto the pavement (sidewalk). Prowling paedophiles went under his wheels in the same way that unsuspecting baby birds did. Everyone on the pavement was merely an inconvenience.

    I nearly forgot to mention that full-throttle was occasionally dog-choking speed on the occasions his son allowed the Plum King to take his dog for a walk. It wasn't a pretty sight, but the son, who isn't a pleasant person either, put a stop to that one.

    The Plum King parking his Electric Death Buggy was occasionally entertaining. He once stared in shock at a car that had parked outside the chemist. He went in, unsteadily, to berate the driver, a lady of pronounced pregnancy, about how inconsiderate she was to park outside the shop where she was parking. Loud? We could hear him from next door, and that's saying something.

    His crowning moment, though, came when he tried to shop with us for the third time in nine years. As it happened, our milkman (his gardener) was in at the time the Plum King's buggy screeched to a halt.

    He peered around before staggering over to where the Boss lurked, scowling.

    "I want your smallest pot of your thinnest cream," the Plum King demanded. We knew him for an Economist and were not suprised by this demand.

    The Boss took the cream from the fridge and placed it on the counter. He rang it into the till. "Thirty-nine pence, please," he said. (That's roughly sixty US cents).

    The Plum King stared around in shock. He was mortified. "Haven't you got anything less expensive?" he demanded.

    I watched on with interest. There were several options the Boss could use, and I was trying to secondguess him.

    A) He could point out that the price for that product had remained the same for nearly a decade.

    B) He could point out that the Plum King may be able to get it cheaper, so why didn't he go elsewhere to do so?

    C) He could point out that the Plum King was not a regular customer, and therefore we had no interest in keeping him happy.

    D) He could point out that farmers were often paid less than the cost of production for raw milk, and the Plum King ought to take it up with the dairies.

    E) He could point out that the Plum King's pension would have gone up every year, while our wages had been frozen, or even diminished, for the last five years.

    I watched as the Boss put the cream back in the fridge and rang the sale back out of the till.

    "Fuck off," he said, turning to walk to the back of the shop.

    Ah, good old option F.

    The Plum King stared around, but only saw the milkman and I laughing. He staggered off to run some poor, unsuspecting soul down, and has never been in the shop since.

    He occasionally goes by the shop as of the time of writing, but only with the intention of being laughed at when his Electric Buggy of Death (tm) falls to pieces.


  • #2
    Ah, the classic eccentric English gentelman... plum crazy.


    • #3
      Well, I'll be plummed! There was plenty of juice in that one.


      • #4
        Vengence ever was so sweet.
        Ridiculous 2009 Predictions: Evil Queen will beat Martha Stewart to death with a muffin pan. All hail Evil Queen! (Some things don't need elaboration.....) -- Jester

        Ridiculous 2010 Predictions: Evil Queen, after escaping prison for last years prediction, goes out and waffle irons Rachel Ray to death. -- SG15Z

        Ridiculous 2011 Prediction: Evil Queen will beat Gordon Ramsay over the head with a cast-iron skillet. -- FireHeart


        • #5
          This is... exquisitey written, my good man! I regret delaying the reading of this tale based solely on its length. I felt as if back in school with my paperback reader, reading a tale from one such as Philip K. Dick, but more believable; Ernest Hemingway, but more modern; Kurt Vonnegut, but more likable.

          Forgive me if the above seems insincere, for I mean every word. As a man who has told literature that "we some time apart," it is refreshing to enjoy a short piece like this that was the staple of my early education.

          On a seperate note, the whole experience is enhanced tenfold when one imagines the scene in a sepia-toned filmy look, with a single narrative voice speaking, without acting, for all characters and events. Of course, as is fitting, the voice has a British accent.

          ~ It is a beautiful day to be dizzy!


          • #6
            Quoth Rapscallion View Post
            Ah, good old option F.
            I think I'll start using "Option F" as a code for customers I'd like to say that too. (Not that I swear at customers, the closes I've come was "Same to you" when they swear at me)


            • #7
              I'm going to have to steal permanently borrow "Option F" myself.
              Unseen but seeing
              oh dear, now they're masquerading as sane-KiaKat
              There isn't enough interpretive dance in the workplace these days-Irv
              3rd shift needs love, too
              RIP, mo bhrionglóid