A Family Affair: We row because we're so close
Monday 11 January 1999
I had never thought of Claudia running the scooter shop. I felt that it wasn't the sort of thing for a female to do. Sometimes there can be a lot of verbal, with teenagers swearing. It's not that they mean anything bad - you wouldn't say anything on your own - but you can't accept it if your daughter is there.
So it can be difficult. Claudia came to the shop about a year ago. It's been in the family since just after the [Second World] War. I took over when my father died in 1950. We sell and service Piaggio scooters which makes the Vespa range. I didn't try to persuade Claudia to work here. She had been working at a beautician's and she also ran a lingerie shop. She's brainy, not like me - she has six O levels - but she wanted to come.
On television I know we are always rowing, but we get on well really. It's just that sometimes she comes in late in the morning. We row about that. She is very flamboyant. That's not wrong - but it gets on my wick. She's a modern sales person. I'm the old style. She laughs with the customers. But I won't laugh when I'm trying to make a sale.
She tells the mechanics to do something without asking me. She orders parts - too many as far as I am concerned - without informing me. She has been here 12 months and, to be honest, I didn't expect her to be this good so soon. She has taken over some of my responsibilities. She overwhelms me because she is doing everything too quickly. She came in to help with the selling and now she is running the place.
Claudia was a wonderful child. She never played up. We never had sleepless nights with her. She was very inquisitive - she got that off me. She isn't scared to have a go. It was her idea to let the television cameras in, because she's not shy.
I suppose I've got stubborn. You do as you get older. I still think this isn't a place for a woman to run on her own. There is a lot of responsibility. There are eight male mechanics and they need a bit of prompting by a man. Maybe they would ignore a young lady. It's very different from a lingerie shop.
I've said I would retire at 65, but I think I'll find that hard. I've been on scooters since I was 16. I relate to the teenagers who come in here, because I feel like I am one of them. I still go on the odd run to Margate but I don't wear Mod suits. Mine wouldn't fit me. I've still got my handmade winklepickers. My feet are too big for them now.
Claudia is very special to me. We're a Continental family from Sardinia. Very close knit. Maybe that's why we row so much.
Dad didn't want me to work in the shop. He didn't think it was a place for a woman. He is an old-fashioned, traditional gentleman. When I was a child he did everything with me. We went all over the country in a VW caravanette at weekends. He taught me how to ride a bicycle. But I didn't get a scooter. My brother got one. Maybe it was because of the way I drive a car. Or maybe it was just because I was a girl.
He is not totally sexist. He doesn't want me in the kitchen and he wanted something better for me than a greasy shop. He was accepted for St Martin's College of Art, but he left to help my grandad with the business. He knows that I am creative too, so maybe he wanted me to do something along those lines.
This past year has been a time of big changes. Last January I left my flat, cut my hair short, split up from my previous relationship, and started at college learning how to sing. I was reborn in a way. I've been learning about a new me that I have kept hidden from myself and the world.
I saw how busy the shop was becoming, how stressed Dad was, and I was worried about him. He had a heart attack a few years ago and I felt that if I didn't help then it might happen again. The job is interesting. I've never sold anything like this before. I was a tomboy as a child, and I like working with men. They're more straightforward than women.
Of course I fight a lot with my Dad. You can see that watching Paddington Green. The tempers fly and the emotions run high. He doesn't let me get involved and do things I know I can do. Just bits of stock ordering, pricing up. He is used to doing these things himself. But he doesn't realise how busy the shop is. That is frustrating.
He is good with people and his experience with bikes is phenomenal, but my forte is organisation and sales.
I'm more than capable, but if you have been running the show it is hard to give it up, particularly to a woman. I know he feels overwhelmed, but I'm like that because, if I'm not, he won't change. And if he doesn't, then I feel that something will go wrong. So I may be increasing his stress a bit, but time is not on my side. All he has to do is expand the business a bit, and things would get better.
I've tried talking quietly to him, but it doesn't work. I get so upset that I have to scream and shout, but sometimes I have to to get my point across.
We're both stubborn. But I'm not trying to top him. I never could. But I have youth on my side. With my Nineties' ideas and his knowledge we can have a really good shop. None of the changes I want are detrimental to what he is doing. If I have anything of value I want to give it to Mum and Dad.
Although we shout at each other, we still love each other. I don't think it will stop us working together. I know when I'm wrong and he is beginning to know when he is wrong. He is beginning to compromise.
I've got my own scooter now.
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