"Most Christmas presents are sold marked `Batteries Not Supplied'," says the proprietor, Roy Glasshouse. "And most people do remember to buy batteries in good time. But that leaves about half a million people who don't remember to buy batteries. Of them,a good proportion find themselves knocking at our door on Christmas Day."
The first call was from a young man called Jeremy. He called at 5am. He was wearing a Father Christmas outfit. He had two cardboard cut-out reindeer in his car. He did not seem entirely sober.
"Need two batteries for this Monster Power Blaster thingy," he said somewhat indistinctly, waving a large package.
"Four actually," said Roy, inspecting the outside. "Four `C' size. Here you are, sir. Up early, sir?"
"Am I?" said the young man. "No, I don't think I am. I think I'm up late. Far too late. Actually, I was just going to bed at the time. Wife stopped me just as I was getting undressed and said, `Have you done the children's stocking?' I hadn't, of course.
Then we realised we hadn't remembered the batteries. Wife said, `I cut that item out of the paper two weeks ago about the shop that opens only on Christmas Day for batteries and stuck it on the kitchen wall'. So here I am. Another thing. She said to me as I left, `Ask the man if he's got any parsley, I think we're out of parsley'. You haven't got any ...?"
"No, sir. Don't do edibles. Just batteries."
We watched him waver away down the road.
"It would make sense for me to stock all the things that people run out of at Christmas," said Roy. "Wrapping paper, sticky tape, candles, sprigs of holly, etc. But life's too short. There is, in fact, a shop on the South Circular Road called All Day Christmas Cooking Supply Shop. But I didn't like to tell him. Didn't think he'd make it in his state."
From then to midday it was a stream of penitent and relieved customers, buying batteries for mini-computers, for torches, for toy cars, for boys' things that flashed lights and for girls' dolls that said, "I want a divorce, honey, and I want it now". Business was very brisk indeed. But Roy found time to talk to me about what he calls low battery-consciousness.
"People find it very diffficult to talk about batteries," said Roy. "I don't mean that they are embarrassed. Well, they are embarrassed sometimes. But generally they just don't know the names of batteries. What complicates things is that they all have two different names. The LR6 is also the AA, and so on. But people just say things like, `Oh, I need four of those pencil-thin batteries they use in torches', or, `Four of those fat square ones we always used to have in the kitchen radio'. Then I have to do the guessing. I mean, you wouldn't go to a car showroom and say, `I want one of those little red ones with four wheels and two doors that go brrm, brrm, brrm,' would you? So why do they do it with batteries?"
"Excuse me," said a young girl, "but I need four batteries for my new hair-curling kit. I'm not sure what they're called but they're the same as I've got in my portable hair dryer." Roy looked at me and said nothing.
Round about lunchtime we got the first people whose Christmas tree lights had failed. Round about 5.30pm I expected Roy to close, but it turned out he stayed open all evening.
"One thing puzzles me," I said. "You said that occasionally people were embarrassed when buying batteries. I haven't seen anyone ..."
"You will," he said. That evening we saw a furtive series of people who had been given sex aids for Christmas, with batteries not supplied. At midnight Roy locked up with a sigh of relief.
"All over for another year?"
"You're joking," said Roy. "Tomorrow I reopen as `The Boxing Day Emergency Present-Mending Service Centre'.We open every day of the year, but always under a different name."
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