Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Hidden Surprises

As a part of my job I have to visit shops. I know that sounds like a ruse that what I actually mean is that I "go shopping", but it's not nearly as decadent as that. I inspect the building rather than the merchandise.

Of course, sometimes the merchandise gets in the way and I have to give it a passing glance ...

The customer facing bit of a High Street shop - the actual SHOP bit of a shop - is usually pretty slick. It's all co-ordinating corporate brainwashing. Wall colours that co-ordinate beautifully with the flooring which is accentuated by the clothes rails, which is emphasised by the music, which make you aspire to wear the clothes which will make you part of this beautiful world. Oh yes! The front-of-house is usually a glittering display of loveliness.

When I was young, I was always desperately curious about doors in shops that say "staff only" or "do not enter" or have those number pads on the doors. Well now I get walk through those doors. And you know what? I was missing nothing!

I've been in basements that have ceilings about five and a half feet from the floors (I'm six feet tall). I've stood in cellars that are apparently damp, to be told later that sometimes the sewage pipes back up. I've stood in kitchens and staff rooms in which listeria must be rife, judging by the way the mugs are fused together in the sink. I've walked up staircases in which every other step is rotten (and some of the others in between). I've walked into attic rooms and had to duck as a flock of pigeons make for the broken window. I've knocked on a wall to see if it sounded solid and had to jump back when a lump of it dropped off. I've leaped holes in floors and come face to face with mice. Take it from me. Back of house is Not Nice.

Today I had to visit a shop where, on arrival, I explained that I'd need to see the whole building. "Would you like to go to the first floor?" Yes. Everywhere. "What about the second floor?" Yes please. I'd like to go everywhere. "The basement?" YURRRS (It sounds like that when you say it through gritted teeth). But my heart sank - the more floors there are, the less pleasant it's likely to get.

The ground floor was typically neat and clean. The basement was, inevitably, damp and spider infested. The staff room on the second floor was knee deep in back issues of Heat magazine and empty coke cans. The kitchen was a food poisoning scare waiting to happen. The back room which "we never really go in" was inch deep bird shit. So far, nothing out of the ordinary.

But the first floor stock room was quite, quite fabulous. (Forgive the slightly grainy photos - I only had my phone with me).

It was the ceiling that I noticed first. I don't think I've seen anything as lovely, in the most extravagant stately homes of England. It was a lovely duck-egg blue, and covered with the most fabulous designs. Curlicues and twiddles stretched from the central rose, and radiated to lovely vases of flowers and bowls of fruit and deer and dogs and birds. It was just beautiful.

Then I noticed the fireplace! I hadn't seen it at first because boxes and crates were leaning against it. But there, standing about six feet tall, on the back wall, was the most lovely carved fireplace.

This was a fabulous room, designed
to be used by grand people for a grand purpose. This room was showing off. It was sticking two fingers up at other rooms and blowing raspberries at them. This room was magnificent!

And just when I thought that it was the antithesis of the stock room, a mouse ran across the floor, and I came back to earth. A stock room, it seems, is still a stock room, however romantic the setting.


  1. That is a gorgeous ceiling and fireplace. Even with the mouse I could move into "the stockroom".

  2. OMG that is gorgeous. How old was the building?

  3. That does look like the most incredible ceiling and fireplace, what a shame it is now just a stock room. I too had always wanted to enter the rooms marked for staff only when I was younger, but as you say, when you get the chance it is never as lovely as you imagined it would be!

  4. That ceiling is amazing. I adore that colour and oh, to have a proper swanky fireplace instead of our rather austere one.

    Not the mice, though. I can live without those. *shudders at memory of rats*

  5. How sad. A room like that deserves way better treatment.... absolutely gorgeous!!!

    You are very brave my dear. Far braver than I (which isn't much).

  6. What a lovely discovery... Imagine finding this too - gx

  7. wow, beautiful ceiling. Stock rooms and staff rooms are discusting, mine is tidy a lot of the time but is a total health hazzard :(


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