I got a certificate tonight. Nothing fancy, you understand. A5 and on nice paper, the sort that is mottled as if it means something.
I remember working in WHSmiths in the 1990s after I left university under something of a cloud (or the absence of sunshine, at least). I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I had no direction, no focus. Leaving education for the first time in 13 years I was clueless about what being an adult meant. For me, at first, it meant a beige polyester skirt and a white striped blouse with someone else’s deodorant stains under the armpits.
As you can imagine, it wasn’t a glamorous life. I sold newspapers in the mornings; my hands were black with ink every day. I'd wash them in my break times, filling the sink with grey-brown water and trying to get the stains out of my whorls. Every day I’d try to convince that funny looking couple (she, fat with a watch strap so tight it looked like her hand was slowly suffocating, and he, skinny with a funny weaselly moustache and brown mackintosh) that they didn’t need a carrier bag for their Daily Express every day, did they? In the afternoons I’d sit at a lonely till, selling dull greetings cards and clicking my knuckles with boredom, a habit that has continued to this day.
Training consisted of learning how to work a till, where the spare carrier bags were kept and something that they called “good, better, best”. This signified the quality of stock and was a way of gently upselling to customers, making them think about what they were buying slightly differently. In those days WHSmith was a quality retailer, narrow minded and smartly kept like the best old brands. It provided A4 pads to legions of students as it always had done and I'm told I even sold one to my now husband, though I was probably too ashamed of my fall from grace to say hello to him in all my synthetic glory. Good, better, best, represented the brand so well then, with its aspirational products and its middle class attitude.
It seemed that everything fitted into this trio of nice niches. Sun, Daily Express, Telegraph. Bic, Waterman, Shaeffer. Simple. And so it was with paper, which definitely dates this to the last century. Good paper was the very standard plain white stuff, a thickly lined sheet tucked inside the back to help lop-sided writers to write neatly but otherwise very basic. Next was the “better” laid paper, plain again but slightly thicker and maybe with a Basildon Bond watermark visible in the dim fluorescent light of the shop. Then the “best”; the cream paper, mottled and watermarked and so thick you saved it for special occasions. This is the sort of paper my certificate is printed on.
I wasn’t expecting a certificate at all. I turned up, as usual. I drank my regulation pint of water, filled out the form, had my finger pricked and waited to be seen. I knew there’d be a cup of tea in it for me and a selection of biscuits (I’m partial to a mint Club but I also like a Custard Cream on occasion) and that was enough for me. I’m glad to let them have a pint of blood every once in a while; it gives me that feel good sensation without the need for tortuous exercise or having to beg people for sponsorship. But when I got called to the blue plastic bed and lifted myself up onto it, feet dangling off the end, I was handed a red A5 envelope by “Dan. Donor Carer”. Bronze Award it proclaimed.
I didn’t open it there and then – it felt sort of grabby and I like surprises – I saved it until I came home. Inside, as a thank you to me for ten pints of blood, was a certificate and a small, tasteful, enamelled badge. I'm proud of it. Being an adult I don't quite know what to do with the certificate; I don't think there's room on my mum's fridge for it but there's got to be space somewhere.
Really, though, ten pints isn’t much in the grand scheme of things. I wonder how many gets me to silver?
If you would like free biscuits see National Blood Service for sessions in your area.