18 - Blue Shelves and a New Leaf


18 – Blue Shelves and a New Leaf

If most people thought it was quite a nice day he thought it a rubbish day. “Looks likely to rain.” Was a probable response. Most people thought a nice relaxing holiday was worth every penny but he thought it a waste. “Better things for money”. Normally said. Most people thought being happy and cheerful was a nice way to be but he thought it stupid. “What is there to be cheerful about.” Was the unhappy response.  As you can tell Totally Strange was quite a miserable person. Always seemed to think the worst of everything. The opposite of the natural consensus. There was no reason. It was just his way.

Antony Strange was such a serious chap. Just to look at him would confirm the truth of this. Haphazard as his hair was it did have structure albeit lacking a touch of proper grooming. It was combed forward almost to his eyes the purpose probably to conceal the deep frown lines that permanently penetrated his forehead. His eyes had a sad tired way about them. Mouth turned down at the edges preventing any hope of a smile forming. A patch of worn old skin had formed on his chin due to many hours rested on the knuckles of his right hand, moving slightly back and forth deep in penetrating thought. Clothes complimented his moods. Drab, colourless and ill-fitting. Likely bought from Charity Shops. In any event certainly very cheap.

That is why people called him Totally Strange because he was just Totally Strange. They were polite to him. They had no reason not to be. “Good morning Mr Strange.” Mrs Humphreys would say as she passed him in the street. She was not at all surprised by the “humph” reply. That was perfectly normal. Most people felt the same way as Mrs Humphreys. Just because he was strange did not mean he should be cast out. Avoided. There were two people who dreaded his appearance though. Mr Bull the landlord of The Restful Place inn. He was fed up with the “beer’s off again” when he was renowned for the clearest beer in the neighbourhood. And the “nothing restful about this place” one too many times. Then there is Mrs Perkins in the local shop who has nothing fresh and only stale bread. “I suppose I will have to buy this stale old bread again.” When Mr Perkins had been up since five in the morning baking. Mrs Perkins hated him coming in kept a careful watch hoping, but always failing, to get the closed sign up and the door locked before his arrival. But although he was strange he was not stupid and knew Mrs Perkin’s mind. He crept up upon her accelerating through the door before she could react.

It was obvious to everyone that Antony was single. They knew there was probably not a woman alive who would be able to survive any length of time under the constant ridicule such an arrangement would no doubt contain. He had a sister who was perfectly normal. Married with two children. Lovely children who did not mind being in Antony’s company. To much surprise he looked after them when their parents went out for an evening. They knew his ways. What to expect. He treated them with respect and consideration. Played games. Taught them cribbage and dominos. Enjoyed the spark they gave him.

Lived in a small house on the hill. Totally neglected. Had not seen a lick of paint for years. Although similarly neglected the inside was clean and tidy the one concession in his depressed life. All assumed his problems were the result of a deep seated depression probably extending back to some past event. Perhaps his childhood but his sister offered no clues. Nobody knew if he worked. He had no car. No obvious wealth.  Some wanted to help. Mrs Humphreys even knocked on his door to check he was alright when he had not been seen for a while. “Had a cold. Been in bed” was the gruff reply. But that was enough for Mrs Humphreys she had satisfied herself that he was still his normal self, uninspiring as it was.

On warm days when he might even concede some improvement in the weather he could be seen on a shaded bench in the park. Most times he was just sitting, thinking, head in hands or rested on knuckles. Occasionally he had been spotted with a notebook furiously scribbling. Nobody could see what he was writing but the rapid and random movements suggested nothing other than exaggerated doodling.

One day he arrived in Mrs Perkin’s shop having yet again evaded all her scrutiny. He slouched in with his small shopping bag and selected the best fruit, vegetables and bread. In the corner a man was constructing a set of shelves. Blue powder coated metal with about eighteen inch spacings, roughly four feet wide and six feet high. There were hooks about fifteen inches above each shelf. Four to each shelf. The back was vertical but the front was tapered leaning backwards at about a ten degree angle. Across the top was a six inch high metal plate with a narrow wooden frame clearly intended for a name banner. The front edge of the shelves also were encased in a similar section of wood giving the display a very pleasing and professional design. Antony stood watching seeming intrigued. To the amazement of Mrs Perkins she heard “good job. That looks very nice. Very nice indeed.” With that Antony left.

“Well I have never heard the like” she muttered to the workman “to my recollection he has never said a kind word to anyone. Always wrapped up in himself. No patience. Sometimes so rude.”
“Don’t know about that madam. Not from round here. All I do is erect these here units where I’m told. What’re they for anyway?”
“Not sure the stock arrives later in the week. All I know is it costs me nothing except a bit of space. The stock is sale and return. There is an agreed price for each item but I only send payment monthly for those sold. Seems odd but I am told it will bring in customers so why not.”

Two weeks later Antony Strange is back in the shop. This time there is no sneaking, he boldly walks through the door. “Good morning Mrs Perkins what a lovely day and how are you on this fine morning?” He is wearing an extremely smart grey suit, white shirt, blue tie and freshly polished black shoes. Looks an absolute picture. His hair is now expertly groomed, his furrowed brow gone. A perfect smile. Freshly shaved face. Still had the worn chin. That unfortunately was permanent. Mrs Perkins is motionless. Momentarily speechless. Shocked and amazed. Recovers slightly.
“Morning. You are looking very smart Mr Strange. So unusual.”
“New leaf Mrs Perkins. New leaf. Amends to make. Want to make amends. To everyone. To you especially. You and Mr Perkins work hard. Have the best fresh produce. Mr Perkin’s bread is excellent.”
“Thank you Mr Strange. Thank you. This is so refreshing. We were all losing hope for you.”
“I am now fine Mrs Perkins. Fine indeed. Been released and renewed. I see you have a new display. Looks very smart. Very smart to be sure. How do you find it.”
“Fantastic Mr Strange. Fantastic. I have sold all the stock twice and have more already arrived. So efficient. I am just about to restock the shelves. I have many more customers who buy other than these items. My turnover and profits are up and without increasing my outlay.”
“Well so pleased you are doing well. I am off now. Things to do.”

After he left Mrs Perkins started filling the shelves. She looked at the banner she had fixed to the top panel. STRANGE GADGETS. She looked at the items. There were all sorts. Odd looking contraptions that all worked. She had tried them all. They were innovative. Things to open, to close, to peel, to cut. All well-made and inexpensive. Simple. Everything to help make people’s everyday lives easier. With each delivery there is something new. The latest creation.
It then occurred to her. The name. STRANGE GADGETS. They were strange but the name. She had not thought before. A coincidence?

Antony Strange had dedicated his life to developing solutions to everyday problems. He had been self-obsessed, so wrapped up in his thoughts that any intrusion was an irritation. Then his work concluded, investment secured, the development stage complete, a nationwide roll out and finally the fruits of his ambitions flooded in. No longer did all his wealth need to be invested in his many projects. He had a surplus. A large surplus. He invested it in the local community. The school, the hospital, the youth organisations all benefited. His house was transformed. All those people who had endured his moods agreed that was all worthwhile. A price worth paying for the improvement every one of them felt in their lives.

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