Ah, Woolworth’s – cheap make-up, vinyl singles and the mighty pick ‘n’ mix. I mourn your passing… In the ’80s and early ’90s any teenager worth their salt knew the layout of their local Woolworth’s like the back of their hand, if only to have an idea of the less risky places in store to shoplift. Or maybe that was just the folks I hung about with.
I’m on the Woolworth’s nostalgia trip because Artists Town, my coming of age tale featuring a type 1 diabetic heroine (so only a teensy bit autobiographical, right?) is now available on Kobo, Apple Books, Scribd et al. To give you a flavour of what’s the book’s like, here is an extract. It’s the early 1990s—so no mobile phones!—and teenage Daisy and her new best friend have just cycled ten miles to a nearby town which holds the promise of the afore-mentioned store…
Daisy’s legs weren’t co-operating with her brain. They didn’t seem to want to obey the ‘stand up’ command, trying to fold under her instead. She grasped the shelf, the movement causing Katrina to look up.
“What’s wi’ you?”
When Daisy didn’t respond at once, Katrina stopped what she was doing and grabbed her arm. “Oh! This is what your mum told me about!”
She sounded excited, but also far away. Daisy felt sweat gathering on her top lip and trickling down her back and the sides of her torso. Gross.
“Kat—Kit-Kat! Kitty…” What was her bloody name, what was the name she said Daisy should call her? She tried to remember. The name began with a ‘K’, she was sure, but the rest of it flickered out of reach.
Katrina took hold of Daisy’s arm and pushed her gently down to the floor. “Dextrosol, Daisy?”
Daisy shook her head. “Not, not…no hypo,” she said, her chin slumping onto her chest. Katrina crouched beside her and began to rifle through her jeans pockets and the backpack.
Finding nothing, she stood up. “Stay here. I’ll be right back!”
Their actions had attracted the attention of two older ladies nearby. “Do you think she’s drunk?” one asked the other, pointing at Daisy.
“Not…no…” Daisy muttered. It must have come out louder and angrier than she thought, as woman number one took her friend’s arm, and they both hurried away, shooting Daisy a dirty look over their shoulders.
Katrina was back, holding handfuls of pick and mix. “I didn’t know what to get to you, so I just went for the ones covered in sugar,” she said, kneeling next to Daisy. She’d picked cola bottles, jelly babies, shoestrings, bonbons and fizzy chips.
“Shut up!” Katrina said, pushing a cola bottle into Daisy’s mouth. “You’re hypo. Eat. Your mum said sometimes you don’t know when you’re low.”
By the time she’d forced the third cola bottle into Daisy, the shop’s manager had appeared. He’d brought a security guard with him too.
“Right, you two!” he barked. “You’ll be paying for those sweets, however many of them you’ve eaten. We don’t tolerate shoplifters here, and we’ll be calling the police to deal with the two of you. Get up!”
The security guard—a man who looked as if he could pick up Katrina and break her in two—began to take the sweets from Katrina’s hand.
She responded by punching him in the stomach. His eyes widened comically, and he let out an “Oof”, dropping the sweets he’d managed to take from Katrina and doubling up.
“Right!” the manager bellowed, stepping in between the security guard and Katrina. “That’s enough! I’m calling the police now to charge you with assault and theft.”
“No!” Daisy shouted, her mind finally pulling itself out of the swamp it had sunk into. “No! Not theft. I’m…”
The effort of talking exhausted her. She held out her left arm with its Medic Alert bracelet.
Katrina folded her arms. “My friend’s got diabetes. Her blood sugar level was low, so she needed sugar, and she didn’t have any on her. I got her some sweets because otherwise, she would have fainted and DIED.”
It was a bit of an exaggeration, but the manager’s expression softened, and he held out a hand to Daisy.
“Oh, oh…well. Let’s get you into the back office and get you something to drink. Johnny, can you get some more sweets for the young lady? No charge, of course!”
Daisy grasped his hand and pulled herself up slowly. Katrina smirked at the security guard, who glowered back at her.
Woolworth’s back office was a small, windowless room strewn with paper. The manager pressed two cups of tea on them, plenty more cola bottles and a promise that there was no harm done to the security guard. One wee lassie could hardly hurt a big, beefy guard, could she?
Daisy wolfed down too many sweets, the sugary coating of them sticking to her lips. The manager wrapped up the remaining cola bottles and handed them over, telling the girls to take care of themselves.
Outside the front of the shop, Daisy burst into laughter, the effort of it causing her to double up, hands on thighs.
“I can’t believe you punched that security guard! You nutter,” she stuttered, the words coming out in fits and bursts. Then, “No-one’s ever hit anyone for me before.”
Katrina smiled at that.
“Shall I give Kippy a call?” She pointed at their bikes. “Maybe you shouldn’t cycle back. Kippy can bring the work van. We can put the bikes in there.”
Daisy agreed, relieved at the prospect of not having to cycle back but dismayed at the thought of Kippy seeing her. She could feel sweat drying on her body, and she knew her face was scarlet.
Katrina must have seen something in her face. She held out a powder compact and a lip gloss. “Here you go. Put a bit of this on.”
“Where did you get that?” Daisy asked. The make-up looked suspiciously new, packaging still in place.
Taking her bike from where it lay against the wall, Katrina looked back at her and grinned.
“I nicked them when I took the sweets.”
If you’d like to buy the book, you can get it here.