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Someone standing under a flyover near Brent Cross.

Picture by rootskontrolla: brixton underground

Mareka Kebile: Wordplay Consultant has a thriving business, a wardrobe full of smart suits, and pretty much the best job title in the world. What she doesn’t have — yet — is a storefront, so she walks along Brixton High Street, looking for attractive shops that display signs of incipient failure. Stockpiled inventory visible through back-room windows. Clothes shops whose wares hang on mismatched coathangers. Cafes with pictures of food above the counter, their colours faded to show yellow chicken, yellow chips, yellow mushy peas, yellow Pepsi. Raised voices after closing time, assistants who look like the reluctant daughters or nephews of the owners.

And at each struggling shop, she offers to help.

“No charge,” she says in BRIXTON CAKES. “I grew up around here, I live around the corner: this is my local high street! I’m just grateful for the chance to help out the community.”

“What is it you do, exactly?”

She smiles. “I’m a wordplay consultant. You know how some shops have a name that’s a bit silly, a bit attention-grabbing? Or there’s an ad that has a funny line? Maybe for a sale? That’s what I do. I help companies to develop wordplay for their store names and their special initiatives.”


“Well, sticking to bakeries, since that’s your area, MY CAKEY-BAKEY TART has been a big success. PLANET OF THE CREPES in Stoke Newington - and over in Dalston Kingsland, THE GREATEST CREPE. Locally there’s THE BIG SWEEP, they’re a very popular cleaning company.”

The couple who own the shop glance at each other, dubious.

“It may sound unlikely, but I’ve got an analysis here,” and she hands over a 115-page spiral-bound research document, “demonstrating that shops whose names are considered ‘funny’ are 65% less likely to fail within the first five years. Additionally, special offers with ‘funny’ taglines generate up to 170% more sales. And just from personal anecdote—well, my parents used to run a little masonry shop around the corner. It looked like it was going to go under, back in the early 90s, until I persuaded them to change the name. That’s,” and she smiles, “what set me on my path, really: that’s when I knew I wanted to be a wordplay consultant. They couldn’t keep the customers away, for years. They finally closed up voluntarily and retired to France in 2003.”

“And you… you think we should change our name?”

Mareka shrugs. “Well, I don’t know what business has been like for you lately,” she says, telling glossy lies: she’s been watching the empty shop all week, she’s seen them shake out the previous afternoon’s paper doilies and use them again to save a few pennies. “But if it sounds like something you’d be interested in, I’d be happy to work up a few suggestions and come back for a free hour’s consultancy. Say, next week?”

She buys a fruit scone as she leaves, accepting the second appointment time they suggest: it doesn’t do to look too eager. And back home, she gets out her yellow lined paper and her thin black pen, and sets to work.

“The trouble is,” she explains the next week, “your location. What you really need in a good shop name is something that’s relevant to what you do, but also where you are. And Brixton—well, I love it here, but there’s just no good names for a cake shop.”

“Oh,” the woman says.

“Well, thank you anyway,” the man adds.

“Of course,” Mareka says, “if you were somewhere else, the possibilities are endless. BATTERSEA FLOUR STATION. Baker Street would be a godsend, obviously. DOING THE LAMBETH TORTE, even, at a stretch. And there are plenty of shopfronts available at very reasonable prices nowadays. Here, I brought some brochures.”

“That’s kind of you, but we’re not going to move,” the woman says. “You’ve been very helpful, I’m sure, but—”

“Moving is difficult, I know,” Mareka says, “but you wouldn’t have too much trouble selling this place. In fact,” and she puts her briefcase of cash on the table, flips it open, “I’d be happy to take it off your hands myself.”

The room’s silent.

She’s tried too hard, again, she thinks. Moved too quickly. But she likes the shop so much! The ornamental cornices, the tiled floor! And the location, obviously. The bundled notes sit between them.

“I don’t think I understand,” the man says, “what’s going on here.”

She shuts the case. “I just thought you might want to sell your shop. Maybe, to me. I’ve been looking in this area, and, and…” She trails off. She’s been trying more orthodox means for six months now, and she’s just so sick of it; and she needs it to be here, it has to be Brixton, it has to be.

“Why?” the woman asks. “What’s so special about Brixton?”

“It’s, look, never mind,” Mareka says. “Nothing.” She slams the suitcase. “I’m going now, okay? I’m going and I’m taking my puns with me.”

“Your… puns?”

Mareka looks up, straight into the woman’s eyes, and freezes. For a moment, the room’s still.

“You’re not really from around here, are you?” the man asks.

“I, I’m going, okay?” She tries to get her papers together, drops some of them on the floor.

“You don’t live around the corner. You’re only interested for the name.”

She leaves the papers behind and runs out; ding-dong, the door says behind her.

Next week she walks past to see the BRIXTON CAKES sign on the ground. At the top of a sturdy ladder, the man is screwing BUNS OF BRIXTON into its place. She thinks about coming back later to put a brick through the window, cover it all in angry spraypaint, but she knows the statistics. The increase in profits will more than cover any acts of minor vandalism; she’s already lost.

Posted in Victoria Line. Tagged with , , .

3 Responses

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  1. Hannah said

    This is brilliant! … asks lots of questions. Why does it have to be Brixton? Why is it so significant for her? So she’s not really a wordplay consultant? The way she says ‘puns’ and then freezes like she’s given the game away prompts the man to suggest she’s not from around here and just wants it for the name - drugs?

  2. to those like Hannah, who don’t quite get the punchline.. think of The Clash

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Minor Delays: A Story For Every Station | Londonist linked to this post on June 28, 2011

    [...] Thanks to reader Ben Henley who brought to our attention Minor Delays: an entertaining and savagely ambitious project by writer Holly Gramazio, in which she is writing a short story named after every Tube and DLR station, in alphabetical order. She started in January this year, and is currently up to Brixton. [...]

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