They’re there most weekends, and pretty much every school holiday. Four sisters, between the ages of about seven and twelve, standing out front of the kennel-like council block opposite my flat. Where kids their age round here ought to be standing in stairwells playing crap music on their phones, lurking outside the shop at the end of Penn Road asking anyone and everyone to go in and buy them booze (who says yes to that, I wonder?), or at the very least dressing like jailbait and spitting on the buses, these excellent little capitalists have spent at least the last year and a half making what I suspect is a pretty respectable buck off passing trade.
They started by setting up a trestle table on the pavement by the bus stop, while some sulky-looking young mother with a pushchair apparently kept an eye on them from out front of the estate (though she may just have been loitering), but the business is obviously expanding. In recent times they’ve upgraded to a sort of mini-gazebo thing, and one or two of them stand, with the speculative smiles of itinerant preachers, on the opposite side of the road, ready to accost any souls like me who kid themselves that they are crafty by crossing over early.
The original pitch involved a large jar of sweets.
‘Excuse me, would you like to play a guessing game? It’s only 10p. You have to guess how many sweets are in the jar.’
‘What do I get if I win?’
‘And if I lose?’
‘We’ll give you some sweets.’
‘Ah sorry, I’ve got to keep an eye out for my bus.’
‘One of us’ll look out for it and shout you when it comes.’
‘Those are cool shades. You’re a cool dude.’
‘Come on cool dude, it’ll be fun, and you’ll get some sweets for the bus.’
I caved in the face of their expert salesmanship. The smallest one scuttled off to the bus stop a few yards down the road, while I fished around in my pocket.
‘I’ve only got 50p.’
‘We’ll give you five guesses then.’
‘Hang on, don’t I get some kind of discount for bulk buying? Like an extra guess?’
The head salesperson thought a moment.
‘We’ll give you a hint after each guess. Like warm, cold, warmer, colder…’
‘How about higher or lower instead?’ I was rather enjoying this bargaining, despite the fact that a ten-year-old kid was quite clearly getting the better of me.
I failed, of course, and they gave me two boiled sweets for my trouble. As a bonus, I was told I had to guess their names.
‘Five letters. One of the religious names.’
‘Religious names? Like a name from the bible?’
‘No, like from church. Do you go to church?’
‘You should, church is great. It’s like a big party all the time.’
‘Cool dude, your bus is here!’ Shouted the little one.
These days the Cally Road entrepreneurs have hit on a much less labour-intensive plan. They buy multi-packs of biscuits, split them up and sell them on at substantial profit. If the weather’s nice they sometimes flog Morrisons muffins. They probably make a fortune. I wonder if they know that the government is going after small businesses at the moment? Canny operators that they are, I shouldn’t suspect they are paying their VAT…