I swagger into Waterstones with a smile on my face, a cheeky wink to the lovely Sikh lady and I head confidently over to the “Comic” section. In front of me is the Incredible Hulk, I tilt it forward, reach behind and………….it’s gone!
Do you ever hide things in shops? You know when you’ve not quite made up your mind on an item and there are less than 5 on the shelf? When you don’t want to risk it being bought by some bloody “customer” while you mull it over? So you hide it in the shop – cunningly.
I do. I admit it. I do it all the time, I check to make sure that no-one is looking and then I bury it. For later.
I am a retail squirrel.
Books and films are my “nuts” – I even hide them in different genres to maximise the chances of them being there when I finally make a decision. I will take a thriller and shove it deep into the bowels of Jilly Cooper, safe in the knowledge that no-one else will find it there. Then I can continue my day, safe in the knowledge I have outsmarted my fellow customers. It’s guerrilla shopping. Maybe you do it with clothes? Take the last top in your size and discreetly shove it somewhere else? For later. Knowing that nine times out of ten you won’t even bother to go back for it but feeling curiously smug nonetheless.
But the thing is, I HAVE bothered to go back and the book that I’d squirreled away behind the Incredible Hulk is no longer here!
Maybe a member of staff has noticed it was in the wrong place and returned it!
I stay calm and, as casually as possible, I go back to where it should be, hardback fiction, it’s not there either! This is outrageous! I have gone to the time and trouble of hiding the last copy (in another genre no less) and somehow it has still escaped my cunning squirrel-like grasp!
Someone has messed with my nuts!
I am about to storm out of the shop when something occurs to me and I approach the counter and the lovely Sikh lady.
“Hello, I’m looking for the new one by Sebastian Faulks?”
“Oh yes, let me just check for you on the computer. Yes, it says we have one copy left”
“Is it possible that it’s just been bought?”
“Not really, the system updates after a couple of minutes and I don’t remember selling one. Is it not where it’s meant to be?”
“No” I say and I give the lovely Sikh lady my saddest look.
“Sorry,” she says “sometimes people hide them for later. I spend half my life putting things back where they belong!”
I look shocked and then appalled.
“Do they really? I am shocked and then appalled at such behaviour!”
“Seriously, it’s like they don’t realise you can just reserve a copy and we’ll keep it behind the till”
“Those idiot squirrels!” I say
She looks slightly confused by this so I thank her and back away from the counter.
So it seems I am up against another retail squirrel, one who has yet to return to his (or her) nuts – the game is afoot!
Like all great detectives (notably Basil – the great mouse detective), all I need to do now is put myself in the mind of a squirrel. I cannot resist this challenge – I can claw back my nuts from underneath the nose of my enemy. I realise I am making a clawing motion in front of the lovely Sikh lady, she looks a bit worried.
“Squirrels” I whisper to her by way of explanation.
There are certain things in my favour here: the book is hardback and won’t fit on the normal shelves, this rules out vast swathes of the bookshop. The only places you could hide it are either the oversized comics’ section (where I’d hidden it – cunningly) or one of the hardback tables. My first stop is the bowels of Jilly Cooper but it’s not there, neither is it buried in Jackie Collins. I have a discreet rummage around in Salman Rushdie and then Jamie Oliver – nowhere to be seen. I find it 5 minutes later under Terry Pratchett and return to the till.
“Oh you found it” says the lovely Sikh lady.
“Yes,” I say “Can I reserve it please?”
“Oh, yes, of course you can” she replies.
I swagger back out of the shop with a smile on my face, I will probably buy that book.