Take my advice and don’t shop locally.
You’re shocked? I know, everyone says that shopping locally will save the high street, crucial to stopping those capitalist conglomerates taking over the planet. Blah, blah, blah. Some people (you may know one of these people) even take the choice out of your hands and give you one of those ‘gift vouchers’, forcing you on to the crowded pavements of your own hometown, instead of buying cheap shoes online from the comfort of your bed at 3am.
You’re probably thinking that it doesn’t sound so bad, on paper, really—keep the village alive and all that. So let me explain my reasoning, with the briefest of backstory. Maybe after this you’ll agree with me, and you won’t feel so guilty at buying your flat-pack furniture and candles from a big blue warehouse, in future.
So, my mother died in labour, leaving me alone for a spell since my father had already bailed whilst I was in utero; it’s a pretty tragic start but it got better. I’ve always called my adoptive parents Mum and Dad, since they both filled this role brilliantly in the absence of both of my birth parents. I grew up in a loving home, so that absence has genuinely not been felt, though fate gave my mother, at least, no choice in the matter.
Fast-forward to now, where I’m living as a grown-up adult back in my hometown after a spell at university. Dad and I had been working on my family tree together and while he’d provided the details of his and Mum’s own lineages, he mistakenly seemed to think that I might want to add a living biological branch on my tree. I actually had zero interest in meeting him, though Dad said it was important for everyone to trace their true roots.
I felt more like putting weed killer on them, given half the chance. (Which incidentally is something you can buy cheaply in bulk, along with chainsaws, at the huge multinational DIY store situated just off the ring-road, instead of in the overpriced hardware store in town).
It turned out that my father hadn’t kicked me—his little surplus apple—very far away from the proverbial tree though, as Dad said that he was alive and well, running a fairly successful photography business in town. It's a small town, which in that instant shrunk into the pit of my stomach.
Why? I’d received a Christmas gift voucher for a family photoshoot, the kind you see advertised in the free newspaper at the bus station, which can be spent anywhere which provides the service. My husband eventually talked me out of going with one of the more professional firms operating in the city and opting for a smaller one closer to home. (You can probably see where this is heading but I'll keep you in suspense just a little
And anyway, since the whole thing was pre-paid we wouldn’t actually be spending anything. Shop locally, in a shop for locals, he said. We planned for some nice, staged shots around the house and garden with our son, to be later blown up onto a canvas or a mouse-mat or whatever, weather-permitting of course.
I didn’t know until Dad dropped his well-meaning but almighty bombshell, that the local photographer we had hired was my father.
I recall introducing him to my husband, his calm reassurance to us that the grey skies wouldn’t affect the photo quality—they didn’t. And his genuine warmth towards my son, the grandchild he never knew he had, successfully encouraging him to smile for the camera, something we had always experienced difficulty with ourselves.
It was the sort of positive experience that should result in repeat trade, crucial for small businesses like his. Capturing life's precious moments.
He’d no doubt expect us to draw in more customers through word-of-mouth, telling of a service provided by an apparently nice guy who takes some (admittedly) great photographs; you won’t hear any singing of his praises from me, though.
I’d never wanted to meet him, far less enter into a contract with him, allowing him into my house, to look at the evidence on our walls of so many happy memories. Occasions he could have been part of: first day of school; graduation; marriage—cherished photos which demonstrated that ours is a home where family is valued.
Family. I wonder now if he recognised anything of himself in me or my son; we certainly all have the same nose and overbite. Later, I let Dad know that I was extremely annoyed that he’d told me, especially since I'd never asked. But I accepted it was done with the best intentions, and it taught me a life lesson.
It was my own fault really, for allowing myself to be convinced to shop locally in the first place. At least I chose to order the digital prints (included with the voucher) and then print them online at my leisure for half the price he’d offered. I mean, there are literally hundreds of websites which will do this for you without risking any emotional conflict.
We’ve never needed to speak to each other again, and we won’t. Of course, it means I’ll never know if he knew who I am; and now that I think about it, I’ve maybe even got half-siblings lurking around town, perhaps working in the greasy café, one of the charity shops or the key-cutters. I can live with not knowing, honestly.
Surely now though you agree with me, no? Shop locally? You really can never know
what you might be letting yourself in for.
Andrew Anderson (he/him) is a writer from Bathgate, Scotland. His most recently published work can be found online at Selcouth Station Press, Five Minute Lit and The Drabble, and in print by Glittery Literary.