May 21st – Teremar’s Day of Alternate Management

Today Mr Gaston Teremar is going on holiday. He does not allow himself any other day of the year off. The shop needs to be looked after. It’s very important that the shop is looked after. Mr Teremar is going to go to the beach, he is going to stroll along the shoreline, and he is going to look out at the sea for a while. He might get an ice cream if the weather is nice. He is definitely going to get a plate of chips and some haddock because it’s not a holiday without chips and haddock.

Mr Teremar’s daughter, Heltspar Teremar, is running the shop today as a favour to the old man. Close? What if someone wanted to buy something? The only time Gaston closes the shop is Revolution Day. He lives in the little flat above, where he rises at seven each morning and readies himself for opening. He’s washed and fed and dressed by 8:30, although the coffee is still brewing, so he takes it downstairs with him and sets it on the counter, taking care not to spill any on the stairs (despite the fact that there are plenty of stains on the stripy stair carpet which mark the passing of more youthful, less careful days).

After he has dusted the dolls and toys, lit all the spotlights, opened up the shutters and doors, he stands, not sits mind you – stands, behind the wooden counter and sips his coffee. At about 10ish Urlam the postwoman drops by with the papers and whatever book he’s ordered from the library. She used to bring him tools and parts and materials too but she hasn’t for a few years. ‘Good thing, too,’ she says ‘it was all a bit heavy, did my back in and I’m not as young as I used to be!’ Urlam is 34; there will be a joke about age.

There is a workbench besides the counter, drawers neatly packed with tools, spigots, cogs, balsa wood and aluminium sheets, glue and wire. There is a soldering iron and a collection of old circuit boards and motors. In small crusted pots sat in a little holder are a number of paints. None of it has been used in some time. Gaston used to sit and work there all day making new toys, stopping only when customers came in, which was often. He has enough toys now, he says, boxes of them, out the back. There’s no need for any more.

Occasionally a customer might come in, browse a little. Mr Teremar will greet them kindly, crouching and speaking quietly with children. He’s a very good natured man, never angry, but he’s a little strange about the glass cabinet at the back. If you ask him to unlock it he might notice a toy out of place the other side of the shop, or pretend he didn’t hear. If you ask him again he will open it, but ask that you don’t wind or shake any of the toys inside. ‘They make a dreadful noise,’ he says, ‘and I have a bit of a headache.’ He moves a little wooden duck further towards the back of the cabinet. But he’s very kind, very patient.

The shop gets maybe three visitors a day, but perhaps as many as fifteen when it’s busy. Today there will be significantly more people there, and many many children. This isn’t because people dislike or avoid Mr Teremar, or that they particularly love Heltspar. There’s no special party organised in her father’s absence, like a naughty teenager. Nobody says it, but there is one simple reason that more people come to the toy shop today; Heltspar makes it fun again. She makes it like the untidy days of old when Mr Teremar would run about the shop, scattering cogs and wood shavings in his wake, making the voices of toys for children, pulling sweets from behind their ears, the sound of clockwork and noisy electronic toys intermingling with laughter and giggles. Heltspar makes it like the days of her childhood, when behind everything was a buoyancy, a magical zest to the simplest of things.

Mr Teremar eats his haddock today with a studied sense of justification, of righteousness, as if he is preparing his case, showing to the world that he doesn’t feel guilty for treating himself; he is on holiday, after all. At one time he might have had a beer too, but he usually doesn’t feel much like beer these days. The walk is long and he brings his book to read whilst he eats his fish and chips. He watches the sea birds carefully, but with a seeming nonchalance. ‘Albatrosses mate for life, you know,’ he might say, seemingly to nobody. He makes sure that he tires himself out before he gets home, an easier task than it once was.

Heltspar makes sure that she’s cleared up nicely before he gets back, replacing sold toys with back stock, and returning the noisy toys to their cabinet. Before she leaves she writes a note detailing the day’s takings and places it carefully by the till. She’ll talk to him tomorrow, or the next day. She’s an only child so they’re close, the two of them, close enough for her to understand what today means to him.

Before he ascends the coffee-stained stairs, to his single bed in the box room, surrounded by boxes of toys, he stops in two places. First he stands by the cabinet and says a few words to the wooden duck, snippets that have passed around his head in the day or maybe just a greeting, like normal. The duck is called Percy, and was the last toy he made. Secondly he stands at the doorway of the main bedroom, looking in at the well-dusted ornaments, mementos of a long life, at that rug they bought in 1968, at the starched white sheets of the double bed. He stays there for slightly too long.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Iterative Instruments
  • The Festival of Snorkelling
  • A Dance for the Divine Essence