Okay, as I've received the gentlest of reproofs from the Chairwoman, a woman I care for very much, I'll carry on tonight with the explanation.
It's not a complicated story at all, but it's hard to explain just how emotional we were at that time. A new chapter was opening for Al as a self-employed shopkeeper, for Ro as a university student, I was in the middle of a really complicated situation as a school governor and my mother was desperately ill. She was jaundiced and weak and I thought she was dying. She was dying. She went into hospital the day after my birthday and none of us expected her home.
Al opened the shop on the 16th and loved it at once. He had to give a month's notice at his other employment, so worked in the mornings in his shop and in the afternoons and evenings in Norwich. At least I had a meal for him in the evenings. My mother had an endoscopy, and we were summoned to the hospital for the results - Wink was with us, of course. It was a very young doctor, obviously being given some practice at handing out bad news. He couldn't say the 'th' sound, so he kept telling us about a growf on her pancreas. They found stomach ulcers too, and had given her two units of blood, and her bile duct was blocked, which had caused the jaundice. They had put in a stent to open it up.
It was explained that there was nothing to be done, it was too far advanced and she was too weak. She might have a few days or weeks. One day I may write more about this, but I'm only explaining the whole situation here as a background, it isn't the actual story. Suffice it to say that, remarkably, she rallied enough to return home after a few days and was amazingly well for another six months. She finally died on 17th March, which was the longest estimate of life she'd been given.
I was falling apart, rather, though saying I could cope. Ro got ready to leave and his father took him to university in Lancaster - hundreds of miles away. I think he'd chosen it for that reason. Ro had an awful migraine on the day he left and could barely function. The Sage left him in bed in the hall of residence.
Al was doing really well, especially bearing in mind his double-shifting. After the first week, he said "I don't know why people say being self-employed is stressful. I think it's wonderful". Bless.
I've given you enough background, I think, to appreciate the emotion and commitment we all felt at that time. The first winter was incredibly hard for Al, but he never complained. I gave him tights to wear under his jeans for warmth. There was a lot of hard physical work, especially at Christmas. In fact, Christmas has revolved around the shop for the last seven years. The two days before, Al goes in hours early to get orders ready and the days are incredibly busy. Squiffany's first Christmas, she had croup all night and they phoned NHS Direct on Christmas morning (too polite to bother anyone until 6am). Al then phoned us. "Don't worry when an ambulance arrives," he said, "the paramedics are going to assess her."
For eight years, Al has loved his work, but it's been hard and the hours are not good for a family, as he's always open all day on Saturday. He'd come to the reluctant conclusion that he would have to consider doing another job, but he still felt a big commitment to the people in the town. There used to be several greengrocers here - four, even when he started - but now he's the only one. He hoped to find a tenant to take it on as a going concern.
A couple of weeks ago, he arrived to find the tills empty. He left a float of £25 in each, normally, but sometimes there was more in change - he reckoned there was probably £75-£80 that night. There had been no break-in. The obvious suspect was one of the delivery drivers. He phoned both his wholesalers, who vouched for their men - he knew one of them well, but the other firm had had a series of temps over the last few months. However, it wasn't one of them that night.
Al changed the locks, but was very upset at the breach of trust. It was just after that when he went on holiday. I took all the money home each night. Last Thursday, he arrived for work and couldn't unlock the door. There had been an attempt to force it, which had bent the lock.
We have no proof, but we suspect that it was one of the temps who had had a key made, and had been helping himself to small amounts of money for a while - Al had kept thinking he'd made mistakes in accounting at the time - but, once he'd left, he had no reason for caution and had emptied the tills. A couple of weeks later, he tried again and tried to force the door.
For Al, it was the last straw. He seemed quite calm when I went in to see him as he waited for the police, but after the door had been opened he put up a sign inviting people to help themselves. There was a box for money if anyone wanted to pay, but he wanted the shop cleared. By the end of the day, it was, almost.
Dilly and I were at home, feeling quite stunned.
There is more, but that's enough for one day. Toodle-pip, darlings.