There are three hours to go, on this busy Saturday shift. All day it's been cold, wet and windy outside, crowds of Christmas shoppers trudging grimly, doggedly, past the windows along the High Street, huddled in their faux-furriest winter coats, collars turned up.
The cabinets need dusting, stock needs replacing, little cards with tiny writing, with the names of gems, and prices. Kunzite pendant, £390. Stacking ring set in topaz, peridot, citrine, £25 each or £70 for three; size L.
The crystals glint, dazzling, sparking thoughts of faery-realms, winter wonderland, icy grottos, a dragon's secret hoard... labradorite pieces of all sizes and all qualities of labradoressence, and gigantic amethyst geodes, bumpy mystical grottoes, if you could shrink yourself down you could go into one and sit in a purple haze...
No time for fancy! Customers need gifts gift-boxing; layers of white tissue paper folded delicately in thirds, lengthways, then in half, then half again, and again... and again. "Would you like a receipt with that?"
One lone emerald pendant, a tiny thing of great beauty; pendants and bracelets and earrings in blue topaz and larimar, turquoises and aquamarines; clear quartzes as large as a large human eye, and thrice as clear and sparkling; an endless supply of rose quartz, bracelets and tiny carved angels and raw pieces and wands and points and pendulums; the pink-themed cabinet, that one, with ruby and ruby zoisite and morganite, named after JP Morgan....
Young and old are in a gift-buying frenzy; there are, after all, only three more weeks until Christmas! Everyone's sister, mother, friend, needs some pretty, sparkly, expensive accessory, in the little blue box and bag. Nobody ever knows anybody else's ring size - you're lucky if they know their own; but luckily there's a one month exchange policy (store credit only I'm afraid). So buy it anyway!
Moonstones are selling like there's some zeigeistish secret fashion of which I don't know - everyone wants one. More young men are wearing bling these days; which is lovely, I have always yearned for a world in which men felt freer to explore beauty and joy and gemstones; but it means you can't assume that a young male customer, browsing alone, taking photos on his phone of the gorgeous displays, is shopping for a girlfriend, mother, sister; no, when asked, he explains, he's picking out something for himself, he wants his sister to buy it for him for Christmas though!
"I want a moonstone for my sister - she's a Cancer, her birthday's June; that's her birthstone, right? She loves 'em, anyway."
Restock the earrings board - rinse, repeat; tidy the ring trays on the counter, so the price labels are on the underside.
The festive decor, fronds of fir taped up along the tops of cabinets and sides and surface of counters, keeps falling off, needing constant picking up and re-taping. The ends get trapped in the cabinet doors when opened and shut.
Dash to the Botanic Gardens on a fifteen minute break; dash back, warm hands with frantic rubbing over electric heater behind counter. Turn the volume down on the music - there are strict policies on music playlists here, "nothing spiritual" (order from head office) and especially no Enya! But Management has somehow snuck in O Holy Night:
"... Oh, night when Christ was born.
Truly He taught us to love one another.
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break,
For the slave is our brother...'
Think longingly of the glass of red wine that awaits with your dinner, gluten-free spag-bol, yum! Not as bad as it sounds anyway... and only another 2 and an half hours to go...
Hold up the blue topaz to your eye, so the world is a kaleidoscope of fractal, faceted blues with odd flashes of purple... trippy, prismatic, hypnotic...
A small boy comes in with his mother. Talk them through the fossils ranged all about the shop - they are struck by the orthoceras towers, 500, 000 million years old? Is that a typo on the hand-written label? "NO WAY!" says the mother. "NO WAY they can be that old!"
"Well, that's what it says..." (meekly).
She shops for gifts, for others and for herself. I take the boy to look at other crystals, rocks, geodes. Heavy shards of hard, glittering pyrite - we talk about how it is formed, in the core of the Earth; and how the colour variations of smokey quartzes reflect the glorious complexity of Nature, with the same pattern running through everything, despite the surface differences, "like leaves can be different shades of green, even though they're from the same tree. Or you get different leaves, looking different - but they're all from trees, so they have that in common. Like snowflakes, each unique. But all snowflakes too."
My manager is having to deal with ten different customers right now - I am the employee from hell, having a blast, babysitting this boy. Actually, we're more like two kids, bonding over crystals and fossils together.
He is allowed to choose one tumble stone from our sizeable selection. he can't decide - I get a shiv lingam pendulum for him to dowse with: "Relax your hand, let the pendulum make the decision for you," I say. "See how the direction it spins alters." I demonstrate. "Empty your mind. Notice whether the pendulum's orbit alters."
But his little arm is too tired, he has to strain to hold it up over the counter on which the tumbles are ranged, in their separate compartments, in a tray. So I choose or him - I pick chrysocolla, a beautiful green stone. "Stone of the Goddess," he reads from the label. He is taken by that. "Please will you write it out for me?" And I do.