Short Story: Silver Spoon Climate

‘It’s a challenging climate we live in these days.’

‘Certainly not as easy to make money as it used to be.’


Ever so serious are these poor business bods, and I’ve only just served their starter. Come now gentlemen, you have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. Oh! The places you’ll go! Direct, in my case, to table four who would like just one more perusal of the dessert menu if I would so kindly oblige.


‘So, that is just one Tarte au Citron, and the Clafoutis Aux Prunes to share. Is that all for you this afternoon, ladies?’


It is; and thank goodness because I am tired, so tired, and my shift finishes in just twenty-six minutes. Oh and my darling, no, I can’t stay for an extra hour to help you iron tablecloths because I just do not want to. I have a silver link necklace to finish and post out this evening that promises some decent exposure and a glowing review. The client always comes first. My clients, I mean, not yours.


Jeannie Barlent, twenty-six, self-employed fine art silversmith - and also long-term short-skirted waitress for posh nosh eating establishment on Jayde Street, SW10. No, I haven’t yet secured a bijoux central London premises, and yes, Grandmama, I do think that ‘the internet selling thing’ might in fact take off. Eighteen orders last month, to be precise. Twelve through promoted Instagram posts and 126 new followers. But the crème de la crème was the local artisan market where my stall attracted considerable interest, and no fewer than fourteen business cards were taken. Six people bought jewellery and, after costs, I made nearly One Hundred Great British Pounds. It was cold, yes, but I got four bracelets hammered whilst I sat there, and people always like to see the artiste in action.


***


‘Another bottle of the same, sir? Of course, I’ll bring that out for you now.’


Two hundred and forty-five pounds a bottle, this Cristal. That’s eight rings and five bracelets, without gift wrapping. What a terrible waste when they’re wasted. I do like his watch design though: a diamond affair. Not the jewel, the pattern. It might be something I could work into my new men’s designs. Small scale, perhaps printed on a ring. There’s something about a diamond as opposed to a square. Shows innovation. Pizazz. Did you know that people who use Chrome are more successful than people who use Safari or Internet Explorer? It’s nothing to do with the capabilities of their browser. It’s because these are the people took a moment to consider the alternative options and made an informed, conscious decision rather than letting their default search engine just ‘happen to them’. I personally use Ecosia. It plants trees whilst you search, which I think is quite nice.


***


It’s hot when I reach my studio. Don’t you dare call it a cupboard or I’ll spike you with my soldering poker. The pickling solution has gone off so I re-mix a new batch of my own chemical free blend – vinegar and salt, that’s all it is. I could bottle the stuff and sell it as ‘natural jewellery shiner’ because people will buy anything if it’s put in front of them in nice enough packaging. Now don’t tell me I haven’t got a business brain.


Mrs Annadale’s ring and bracelet set is almost complete. It’s a very sweet idea; a hammered ring for her little finger, and matching strip bracelets for her two young daughters. They’ll only be allowed to wear them on special occasions, I’ve been assured. I’m not sure my mother would have trusted me with real silver before the age of ten. Or twenty, for that matter. Still, I might market the idea as a package bundle – something to tug at the heartstrings. A sentimental memento to keep the family together; it’s a much subtler approach than real shackles and chains. I do hope it works for them.


My dear friend Sophie is coming round for a drink this evening and says she’ll bring her camera, to get some decent product shots for me.


‘It adds variety to my portfolio’ she says, ‘I’m happy to do you a complimentary shoot.’


I’ve seen her portfolio and know that the currency of this transaction is based purely on pity and wine. Still, a share on her social media could generate a new influx of followers and possibly convert to sales. I put the good rosé in the fridge and polish two glasses: an old industry habit.


By eight, I’ve set up the lighting in the kitchen and laid out my best pieces on some fabric samples I picked up at the weekend. ‘On brand’ because they’re a delicate mixture of rough hemp and black velvet. Rustic, but classy. Is that a thing? Sophie arrives with a gorgeous model in tow and re-arranges the whole display. The model is Karina, a floaty redhead from Bath with exceptionally well-formed fingers and a long, elegant neck. The pictures load straight to Soph’s laptop and oh my goodness they do look wonderful, even before editing.


‘You’re an absolute star, thank you so much’ I gush.


‘Oh, no problemo my lovely, the products sell themselves, honestly they are just stunning.’

How nice of her to say! Karina has to head off and I thank her for coming over, dispatching her into the night with a threaded toe ring and a stash of glossy business cards. I wonder if she was paid for her evening’s work.


Soph and I curl onto the sofa and her ‘professional photographer’ voice begins to soften. We brainstorm the practicalities of various sales outlets, but after a while I can tell that she’s lost interest. Changing the subject, she tells me about Mark’s brother being a nightmare and how her latest client left her with nearly three hundred pounds worth of MAC makeup.


‘It was like she was hinting at something, you know! I’m the one behind the camera, not in front of it. So rude!’


I sympathise with her, I really do. It must be so hard being gifted expensive cosmetics by your high-flying celebrity clients. I try not to be too cynical, and join in with my own tales about the hardships of unwanted offerings. A father-and-son lunch the other day, and the younger chap slips a twenty into my back pocket whilst I’m clearing the table! Imagine touching a waitress’s bum in front of your Dad. I might have expected it from the older gentleman, but this chap was in his twenties. Still, I’ve made a mental note to wear more skirts with an obvious back pocket from now on. Is that bad?


We chat until two in the morning, before I put Soph into a taxi and she promises to send over the pictures in the morning. I tell her no rush, and climb into bed to watch silversmith tutorials on YouTube. A true entrepreneur never stops learning. Where do I get these pretentious phrases? Probably an Instagram caption. I’ll double tap, just in case someone sees my brand name and wants to offer me an enormous commission or something. That would be lovely.


***


I’ve lost my brand new bloody ring somewhere in the kitchen, and the orders are coming in so thick and fast that there’s no time to look for it. Jaques the Sous Chef says he’ll keep an eye out, but I know that he’s not properly listened to my product description. It’s a three-band wave design: only just finished, because it took ages to get the waves looking like a gently rolling swell rather than a child’s squiggle.


My new work heels are slowly mutilating my little toes, so I’ve almost forgotten about the ring when Katarina storms into the kitchen during lunch service.


‘TELL ME that this is not your ring, Jeannie.’


Oh dear oh dear. It’s unmistakably my ring and I couldn’t be less delighted to see it. Three little waves are soiled with the remnants of a beige risotto that I can only imagine it has just been pulled from.


‘In her fucking lunch, Jeannie! God you’re lucky she didn’t choke.’


Now would not be the right time to point out that a ring is in fact mostly hole, and whilst I expect it would be uncomfortable, I highly doubt that it could cause full asphyxiation.


‘I shall go and apologise.’


I open the door to the restaurant before Katarina can raise her voice again. I recognise risotto lady immediately: we’re not busy and everyone in the room has witnessed the debacle. I gush my apologies in my most pleading, apologetic and helpless voice. The woman is actually quite cheerful and seems thrilled that her meal is going to be refunded. She’s eating with her daughter; a glamorous teenager who looks too much like the other woman to be anything other than her offspring.


Once I’ve said that I’m sorry in all the ways I can think of, and she’s forgiven me in all the ways she can think of, I retire to the bar where I busy myself polishing cutlery. I need to look fully occupied, but remain in the customer-facing part of the restaurant to avoid further scolding. One of the younger waiters attends to the mother and daughter, no doubt plying them with free desserts and wine. It’s Max, the new boy, and he turns to approach me with visible caution.


‘Uh, Jeannie, the daughter wants to know if she can have the ring?’

‘What?’

‘The girl, from that table with the, um, incident, you know…’

‘Yes, I know very well the table, Max.’

‘Well, could she have the ring?’

‘I don’t have it. Katarina had it in the kitchen.’


I’m being sharp with him but it’s not his fault. The whippersnapper swings through the passage door into the kitchen and does not reappear. Once every last piece of silverware has been polished beyond belief, I make the unavoidable trip backstage. I find Max rooting in the bins, poor boy. In uncharacteristic composure, Katarina tells me that my employment with this establishment has been terminated with immediate effect. Oh dear oh dear.


***


Festering in my unmade bed at ten thirty the next morning, I decide to cut all ties with my former place of work. I remove the company from my online profiles and unfollow them on every social media account I have. Being fired is a little bit like being dumped, and I need a clean break with firm rules for absolutely no online stalking. But I can’t help just checking to see how they’re coping without me. A new starter is being showcased, and tickets are on sale for the Valentine’s supper at £80 a head. ‘Oh it’s going to be such a gorgeous evening, you simply must come along! Table for two at eight-thirty? That’s all done for you madam.’

I head to my studio in pyjamas and start to work on a Valentine’s product of my own. Moving beyond the stereotypical heart motif, perhaps I’ll offer something of a personalised service and make-to-order. Brush up on my engraving skills and calligraphic lettering... I’ve got three and a half-weeks, that should be enough now that I’m a full-timer.


At twelve-thirty my doorbell rings and I curse myself for not having showered since yesterday morning. I consider getting up to answer, but decide against and continue to hammer a bracelet. Whacking at metal is highly therapeutic.


‘Jens! Open up!’

There’s a fist banging on my front door and I get up to let Sophie in.

‘I can hear you tapping away with your bloody hammers, let me in!’

‘I’m coming!’

I answer the door to her immaculate face, lit up like the screen she’s shoving towards me.

‘It’s your ring!’


***


An online influencer has shared a picture of yesterday’s wave-disaster ring, with a caption that praises my silversmithing and condemns my waitressing in equal measure. ‘Olivia’s Oceans’ is a not-for-profit based in Fulham, and the face behind the brand is unmistakably the daughter from lunch. By the time I emerge from the shower, Sophie has contacted Olivia and re-shared the post on my account.


‘Jens, we’ve got to just follow up on this post. It’s an amazing opportunity to promote the brand, and what have you got to lose?’


She’s also crafted a pitch for a potential product collaboration.


‘So, they’re an international climate change awareness charity, focused on India as far as I can tell. They’re no Greenpeace, but their following is growing and they’re using Olivia’s online presence to engage the young demographic. Gap year girls, uni graduates, that kind of vibe. She already sells silk scarves from upcycled saris in West Bengal, and I honestly thing your jewellery could be an amazing fit for them.’


She talks so fast that I nod on autopilot.


‘Wait, so how does that work?’


‘It’s up to you, but often brands collaborate to design a product; they’ll buy from you at trade price and then their profit goes to the charity, once they’ve covered costs.’

We spend the next thirty minutes researching Olivia, her mother, and the flooding issues they’re tackling in Bengal and Bangladesh. I haven’t felt this alive in months.


***


I’ve spent two weeks living and breathing the bloody oceans project and Olivia’s just called to tell me that she’s ‘so sorry but it just isn’t going to work out. We’ve found a local supplier in Bangladesh who can produce the product and benefit the local community. We just feel this is a better fit with our brand message.’


Rather cheaper to employ craftspeople over there too, I would imagine. Making my design. I’m so angry I don’t know what to do with myself. I almost consider going for a run. I’ve wasted two weeks, done nothing for my Valentine’s promotions, and now my design is being used by someone else. ‘We’d love to credit your work as our inspiration’ says Olivia. Well, thanks honey, I’m sure that’ll do a lot of good. My landlord will totally understand, I’ll just pay him in high-fives this month, I’m sure he’ll be fine with that.


Soph is absolutely fuming when I tell her and starts planning legal action. I tell her that really, a wavy piece of metal with a ‘OO’ centre isn’t exactly a trademark concept. There’s no case to be won, and I can’t afford the lawyers anyway.


‘It’s a challenging climate we live in these days.’

‘It’s certainly not as easy to make money as it used to be.’


***