Document 565

The Fower Quarters: 20 - Missing the Bus

Author(s): Sheena Blackhall

Copyright holder(s): Sheena Blackhall


Wear and tear. That was the reason Dolly Emslie applied to Fairberry's for a job. Plain old-fashioned, no-frills wear and tear. It all started one night in November, shortly after she had slipped under her duvet for her nightly fix of sleep, her appointed draught of Lethe. Like toothache it had been - persistent as a rat gnawing through a wooden board, remorseless as a dripping tap, nippy as the slow, excruciating formation of water into an icicle. Except that her teeth were as sound as Ailsa Craig and the ache had been located a little to the left of her right knee cap.

Menopausal friends, already in the grip of the disintegration process, delivered wise counsels. Alleviation, they declared, lay in homeopathy. Salvation could be found in Royal Jelly, that rare substance fed by the hive to the omnipotent Queen, their great, bloated, throbbing, fertile monarch. This magical panacea, they promised, cured everything, from arthritis, infertility, and anxiety, to indigestion and athlete's foot. The fact that Dolly Emslie had never seen an arthritic bee with indigestion or athlete's feet was proof positive, so they avowed, of the product's efficacy.

Middle age brought a running battle with the ravages of time. It was like painting the Forth Road Bridge; no sooner had you finished on one part than bits started flaking off somewhere else. Whole shoals of cod were slaughtered on the altar of lubrication, each bottle of fish oil squeezed dry so that the menopausal rheumaticky limbs of the western world might turn more easily in their rusty sockets. Well, Dolly Emslie had swallowed so much fish oil that she began to dream that she was sprouting fins. Another school of thought extolled the virtues of green-lipped mussel extract. She imagined the green lips of the mussel spluttering angrily as its extract was extracted: the product tasted putrid - but anything that tasted so vile must be doing her good, she reasoned.

Dolly ate garlic copiously to prod a sluggish circulation into life and to unclog her arteries. Then she added devil's claw, as recommended by African witchdoctors, to soothe her various other aches and pains. Despite its fearsome name, it came packaged innocuously in brown pellets like rabbits' droppings. She took iron, moreover, to stimulate her red corpuscles, and calcium to rebuild her crumbling skeletal scaffolding. To soothe her jangled nerves, she bathed in a brew of herbs that would have asphyxiated a whole harem, and she ate oysters to revive her wilting interest in Mr Emslie's amorous attentions.

"Nature's telling you to slow down," her husband told her. "Get a nice wee job nearer home. Try Fairberry's. Get a check-out position. Nice discount; decent pay. Sedentary, too. Should be a pushover for someone like you, dear, with the gift of the gab. Fairberry's are having a recruiting drive this week. Make an appointment. Have an interview. Get a life." It was quite true. Fairberry's was convenient. They were good employers, too, apart from the uniform - a hideous mauve tunic, topped with a straw boater of the type beloved by male barber-shop quartets.

Mrs Emslie assumed the winning of a job at her local supermarket would be a mere formality, a fait accompli. After all, she was well-qualified and instantly available. She certainly wasn't about to burden Fairberry's with the fact that she was a fading flower. What went on in the cartilaginous privacy of her joints was sacrosanct, a matter between herself and her long-suffering doctor.

In the days of the slave trade, fraudulent traders had yanked tell-tale white hairs from their prisoners' heads prior to an inspection. Pre-sale, they had bleached their teeth and had devised a thousand and one swindles for perking up jaded or decaying merchandise. Today's job-market, in a century where ageism was rife, was not so far removed from the slave auction. However, nowadays there were kinder means on the shelves for concealing the ravages wrought by the menopause. Dolly had used them all. She wore contraptions to hoist sagging protuberances up, and others to squeeze excess parts in. Her wrinkles were moisturised, her hair was dyed and her cheeks were rouged. Her legs, with their vine-like trellis of veins, clumped like blue grapes at the ankles, were concealed by thick support tights. In subdued lighting and with a short-sighted interviewer, she might pass at a pinch for forty. It was not, after all, a high-profile job. It wasn't as if she'd applied to become managing director of ICI or Boots. Besides, there were several vacancies, not just one. They were doling the jobs out like sweeties, for God's sake, like bibles at a missionaries' picnic.

Entering the store on the allotted interview day, Dolly was greeted by a pert Human Resources Officer bearing a clip board, efficient as a butcher's electric slicer under her straw boater. She was the first executive staff member of Fairberry's Dolly had encountered. In her purple uniform, the HRO looked like a Cadbury's chocolate biscuit, all sweetness. The static of her tights crackled under her pinafore like tin foil being crumpled. Dolly found herself one of a sizeable group of would-be assistants.

"Good day, everybody," the HRO intoned meltingly, beaming an oleaginous grin at the assembled job seekers. "If you'd all like to take a seat, you'll find a tray, a pen, and a questionnaire ready for each candidate. You will watch a Fairberry's promotional video," she continued, warming to her theme like toffee bubbling in a pan, "after which you will complete the questionnaire. Thereafter there'll be a short interview with one of our under-managers. The Company will inform the successful applicants within the week. Fairberry's hope you will enjoy watching our video. The questionnaire you will complete has been designed to the highest current standards in psychometric testing. We expect our staff to be as good in quality as our groceries."

Dolly glanced to the left. A sixteen year old school-leaver was seated beside her. The girl had six rings through one ear, four through the other, one pierced nostril, a similarly treated eyebrow and a final ring impaled in her lip. These were the only visible parts of her anatomy. She had a small blue butterfly tattooed on her neck and her hair was all the colours of the rainbow. Dolly was astonished. She had seen tattoos on foreign seamen, navvies, convicts, and even rugby players, but never on a woman before, outside of a library book on tribes in the Congo.

To her right sat a muscular T-shirted woman in pink leggings that trussed her thighs so tightly they looked like two haunches of boiled ham. Her face wore a puzzled frown - evidently this was the first time she had been confronted by a questionnaire other than for DSS purposes or police checks.

"Bloody crap," she growled. Her voice was not unlike cold tea being strained through gravel. "Mean tae sae, I'm nae school kid. Ye dinna need a degree tae work a check-oot. I'm aff. You bams can bide here an play schoolies if ye wint." So saying, she strutted off. From the rear, her disapproving buttocks truly reminded Dolly Emslie of a porker's posterior. There were still two rows of assorted hopefuls left, to be sifted through the Fairberry's grading sieve. "Now that we are all seated," the Fairberry's HRO announced, "I'll start the video. Watch very closely. There'll be questions about it afterwards, when I stop the film."

A fanfare of canned music heralded the opening credits: "My Fairberry's Experience - Look and Learn". The documentary (if that was what it was) lasted twenty minutes. It would hardly have won an Oscar, but at least the camera had been in focus and the filmed tour of Fairberry's flagship store was thorough. At the end, the Cadbury's wrapper look-alike officer took out a stop watch. "Begin now," she told them, the words brusque as snapping off a portion of chocolate.

Dolly Emslie studied the questions closely. Loquacious by nature, she would never use one word where she could employ twenty. Her answers emerged like an egg released from its shell, spreading in all directions.

"How would you improve the fruit section?" demanded the opening question.

"I'd accentuate the lusciousness of the cucumber, the crispness of the lettuce, the vegetative ambience of the cabbage, by illuminating them all with a green glow. I'd arrange the fruit and veg. section according to colour, like an artist's palette. I'd bring design into the world of the humble carrot," scrawled Mrs Emslie, impassioned by her muse.

She squinted at the teenager's answer: "I'd take out the rottin apples," the girl had written, "and I'd fill up the empty shelves."

"What was wrong at the meat counter?" came next.

"Lack of visual imagery," wrote Dolly, the words spewing from her pen like bullets from a machine gun. "More symbolism needed in the labelling of products. International customers shop at Fairberry's and not all are fluent English speakers. Each item could benefit by having its price translated into Euros to make our European clients feel at home. And there is no Kosher meat for Jewish customers."

She cast a glance over the blue butterfly on her neighbour's neck. In painstaking printed letters, the girl had written, "Customer asked for 4 slices spam but butcher gave her 3."

Dolly Emslie snorted. Simplistic drivel. As obvious as a cherry on a trifle. New concepts in marketing strategy, that was what Fairberry's needed if they were to forge ahead in the current cut-throat climate of the new millennium.

"How would you improve the flow of customers through the store?" was the next probing query.

"Create play areas with Fairberry's nannies to contain the baby and toddler brigade, thereby stopping them from eating the groceries, poking them, pawing them, and smearing grease or other noxious substances over the shopping trolleys, thus disseminating germs and mayhem throughout the store," Mrs Emslie's pen scribbled with the speed of a forest fire raging through the paper.

She craned her neck to see the teenager's response: "Move the trolly out of isle 6 in case somewun trips." Intellectually and imaginatively quite impoverished, thought Dolly patronisingly. Then:

"What did you notice in the deep freeze section?"

Dolly's flying pen explained that the basic design was flawed, making it easy for customers to rest heavy metal baskets on the edge of the freezers and thereby scratching the metal surfaces. The Sherlock Holmes in Mrs Emslie smirked complacently. Fairberry's would be straining every sinew to sign up someone with her business acumen and marketing perspicacity. Today, check-out operative; tomorrow, head of publicity, design and advertising. She peeped at the youngster's questionnaire.

"Soap and detergint stored aside the frozen minse will make it taste bad." Dolly shrugged. The odd carton of Daz beside the bacon was small beer in comparison to the complete restructuring and refurbishing of the store. It was the difference between a dairymaid milking one cow and a farmer owning a whole new herd.

"Time's up!" cried the Fairberry's HRO.

"I've never tried for a job afore," the schoolgirl confessed to Dollie. "And I'm affa scared. I'm sure I'll screw up the interview."

"Not at all, dear," cooed Dolly patronisingly, secretly agreeing with the girl that her prospects were dire. "I'm sure you'll do very well."

Mrs Emslie was first to be summoned to the presence of the under-manager. He had a huge, floury face with round, rosy cheeks like two slices of salami. His eyes, watery behind new contact lenses, glittered like fish scales. The purple of his off-the-peg Fairberry's uniform gripped where it shouldn't and hung in folds where it ought to have been tight-fitting. A haggis forced into an hour glass wouldn't have looked more uncomfortable. His straw hat resembled a pancake precariously perched on an outcrop of stringy white hair, somewhat reminiscent of boiled spaghetti. He ushered Dolly into a seat and fired off a salvo of questions in rapid succession, like popcorn exploding in a pan. Then he scanned her completed questionnaire. His eyes shot up, then lowered again.

"You've replied in great depth to all our questions," he observed. "A person with such a grasp of market forces would be bored with a check-out position."

"No I wouldn't," countered Dolly, prickling. "I need the money as much as anyone else. And I work hard. I've got excellent references."

"I don't doubt it," he said soothingly, like a baker patting icing. "But the hours can be long. There can be awkward shifts. Even the young find it trying."

Ageism again. Well she'd soon net that red herring!

"I always think mature workers are a great asset to any firm," Dolly replied haughtily. "They bring experience, reliability, and punctuality to the workplace."

They also brought potential hysterectomies, varicose vein operations, piles and delusions of grandeur to the workplace, thought the under manager but wisely refrained from saying so. "We'll let you know within the week," he murmured, smart as a Swiss eclair.

The other job seekers waited in a ragged line outside his office, like a row of groceries sliding inexorably along a check-out conveyor belt. Mrs Emslie eyed them pityingly on her way out, coolly confident that the job was hers.

Two days later, she noticed that her supply of cheese was running low, so glided through the shining automatic doors at Fairberry's to pick up a few small items - she wouldn't do a proper shop, not till the job was officially hers, along with the famous Fairberry's discount which all staff enjoyed. Her groceries were lined up at the check-out point before she as much as glanced at the assistant. There was no mistaking the multiple piercings, and the blue butterfly. The young girl had pipped her at the post.

"Hello there," the youngster cried cheerily. "I got the job after all. It's wonderful, isn't it?" Then, with natural sensitivity, she cloaked her jubilation. "Oh, I'm so sorry they didn't hire you too," she said, genuinely sympathetic. "But something else will come along."

"Oh yes, my dear, I've plenty other fish to fry," Mis Emslie lied. That pyramid of baked bean tins towering behind her rival - Mrs Emslie profoundly wished it might topple over and entomb her, pierced eyebrows and all, in a slurry of tomato sauce. Storming out, coat flapping, grey hair straggling in the wind, she stamped towards the road and halted near a busy bus stop. An old man walking his dog misconstrued her pause by the kerb, assuming she was waiting for a bus.

"You'll hae a long wait, luv," he commiserated as his dog peed lavishly on a clump of Fairberry's roses. He then stated a fact of which Dolly Emslie was all too woefully aware.

"You see, you've just missed the bus!"

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Cite this Document

APA Style:

The Fower Quarters: 20 - Missing the Bus. 2024. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 16 April 2024, from

MLA Style:

"The Fower Quarters: 20 - Missing the Bus." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2024. Web. 16 April 2024.

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The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech, s.v., "The Fower Quarters: 20 - Missing the Bus," accessed 16 April 2024,

If your style guide prefers a single bibliography entry for this resource, we recommend:

The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. 2024. Glasgow: University of Glasgow.


Information about Document 565

The Fower Quarters: 20 - Missing the Bus


Text audience

General public
Audience size 100+

Text details

Method of composition Handwritten
Word count 2562

Text medium


Text publication details

Publisher GKB Enterprises
Publication year 2002
Place of publication Aberdeen
ISBN/ISSN 0952655462
Part of larger text
Contained in The Fower Quarters: Tales by Sheena Blackhall

Text type

Prose: fiction
Short story


Author details

Author id 112
Forenames Sheena
Surname Blackhall
Gender Female
Decade of birth 1940
Educational attainment University
Age left school 16
Upbringing/religious beliefs Brought up Protestant, now Buddhist
Occupation Writer and supply teacher
Place of birth Aberdeen
Region of birth Aberdeen
Birthplace CSD dialect area Abd
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Aberdeen
Region of residence Aberdeen
Residence CSD dialect area Abd
Country of residence Scotland
Father's occupation Manager of Deeside Omnibus Service
Father's place of birth Aboyne
Father's region of birth Aberdeen
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area Abd
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's occupation Private Secretary
Mother's place of birth Aberdeen
Mother's region of birth Aberdeen
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area Abd
Mother's country of birth Scotland


Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes
Gaelic; Scottish Gaelic Yes Yes Yes Yes Elementary. Gaelic choir. Poetry.
Scots Yes Yes Yes Yes