So I work at a grocery store… I’ve written about it a lot in lockdown because what else is there to discuss? Life isn’t quite as vibrant as usual: big shocker.
And now, as my 12 week contract is coming to an end and we’re phasing out of lockdown, I thought I’d write about some of the madness I have experienced… Or more of my experience I should say, as I’ve already written a part one here, as well as an article for This is Brighton. It’s been a great source of content alright? Pretty much my only source of content actually.
So anyway, a little life recap… I came home from travelling the world, early March, keen to get a job, replenish my sad sad savings account, and wipe my debt over summer (the debt being my student overdraft). But unfortunately for me (and literally BILLIONS of other people), I came home to the beginnings of a pandemic. And a week later, the pubs shut, and my chance of getting another managerial pub job seemed pretty unlikely. Or any job in the hospitality industry for that matter. And of course, I couldn’t claim furlough money because I had been out of work for a few weeks too long. Bloody stupid travelling obsession.
After applying for every job on the first 5 pages of Indeed (along with universal credit, and a loan from my dad) I finally got a job in the form of a 12 week corona contract at a grocery store. I could have cried with happiness at this 15 hour per week job in a shop. That is how desperate I was.
Anyway, as it turns out, the job wasn’t too bad; I met some nice people and made enough money to keep me ticking over throughout lockdown. I would even say I enjoyed coming to work- there have been some hilarious times in that little shop.
There have also been some awkward moments, for instance being called Abbie by a manager for 8 hours straight, another being asked if I’m old enough to use the till (“errr…….I’m 24”) But either way, it’s been great to have something else to write about during lockdown other than being bored out my mind. In the words of the late, great Nora Ephron, “everything is copy”.
On the subject of awkwardness, there’s also been the classic misunderstanding/not being able to hear the customer, and awkwardly asking them to repeat themselves 900 times. I’m not very good with thick accents… It’s even worse when you literally don’t know what they’re on about: one South African guy asking me for a couple of ‘packets’. I charged him for 2 packs of tobacco but then told me he wanted 2 packets, and only 1 pouch of tobacco. Huh???? After some head-scratching as he kept yelling “PACKETS” at me, I finally realise he meant 2 plastic bags and handed them over. He continued to look at me like a complete freak of nature as I bagged the rest of his shopping up. 2 months on and I haven’t hear the word ‘packet’ used in that context since. Considering I’ve been giving out at least 100 of the damn things per shift, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not the weird one here.
But luckily for me (I guess), the awkward or dramatic moments make for better writing, so at least an uncomfortable situation makes for a story later on (hence why I’ve managed to create 2 blog posts and half a book about shit that goes on in pubs). But despite the madness from my pub work days, I did not expect so much drama to ensue from your average local shop: thieves left, right and centre I tell ya! One day the police came in 3 times during my shift! I don’t know if there’s a lot of kleptomaniacs in this part of Brighton or what. It would be quite surprising though, as the average age of customer is around 75.
But there’s been a fair few dodgy folk, starting with the lad that handed over a tightly rolled up tenner, like hmm, I wonder why that suss note won’t flatten. And in lockdown? There’s also the man that was clearly off his face on drugs muttering loudly and buying 6 large cartons of milk. Both of these men were completely harmless, and actually the milk-man was very polite and friendly, but it was quite a sight seeing him unable to control his limbs as he scanned through a cow’s worth of milk.
The bad boy shoplifters are the proper dodgy fuckers though. And I’m not talking about those who slip a block of cheese in their pocket for the thrill of it, I’m talking about when our steak shelf was constantly empty due to local thieves. Or when a lady found £100 worth of our booze stashed in her front garden from one sneaky robber, who missed the opportunity to return and grab his gear… Or worst of all, the repeat offenders, who punched my boss in the face, meaning he had to lock the door to the shop to avoid having the shit beaten out of him. He had to let the customers out the back exit through the warehouse.
If I’m honest, the shoplifters don’t bother me too much. I don’t have to look at the shop’s finances, or get smacked by a hooligan, so maybe I’m being selfish, but the people that really bother me, are those who cannot follow simple instructions: the concept of following arrows round a shop for example. Or even worse, liars and secret spillers “Oh I found this yogurt dropped and squished all over the floor” ….Or you dropped it…?
The worst was the extra thick double cream that was left to solidify and was a right old ball ache to scrub off the floor. I’d rather you just told me it was there yano? Although that cream not as bad as the chunky child vomit which happened last week, although I will say, it brought some excitement to an otherwise dull shift.
…OK after originally saying that it’s nice to not write about my boredom, I am going to now do exactly that. But what can I say, shop work gets boring sometimes! I can’t ever let myself get too mind-numbingly bored otherwise I’ll end up overthinking that embarrassing thing I said 10 years ago in my year 9 P.E. lesson. So I have found thrilling ways to keep myself busy… For example: you will probably know that the till systems have scales in the middle to weigh out the bananas etc., but you probably do not know what fun can be had trying to press the scales down to a round number and trying to keep as still as possible so the number stays the same. It’s near impossible, and in fact, just as boring as overthinking my life from 10 years ago.
Time goes at a weird pace on those long till shifts, I am never sure what time of day it is. It always feels like I’ve simultaneously been there all my life, and only 10 minutes. Another game I’ll play to speed time along is the “who’s my weekly shop twin” game… Usually anyone with oat milk and marmite, I’m instantly in love with. But it’s the guesswork that makes it so riveting. One lady who approached the till who I was certain would unload a basket matching my exact weekly shop… Until she loaded 2 steaks and a copy of the Daily Mail onto the counter *vomit*. But as much as I hate the Daily Mail and animals dying unnecessarily, the variations between each person’s basket is still of interest to me…. Because the thing about shop work is everyone does a weekly shop, and so you see every type of person in these shops. Customers ranging in age; in intelligence (don’t forget the Sun is the most popular paper in the UK), and everything else in between. There’s even a huge range in customers I’ve served condoms to (which is surprising in lockdown) including a seemingly embarrassed old man, and a very confident young guy who basically threw them at me as he caught my eye. Very uncomfortable moment.
But as I mentioned before, the older generation are rife in this part of town, and so there are more mobility scooters than any other Brighton based shops. But old people aren’t too bad as it turns out. They’re quite sweet really: I’ve served an older gentleman using a sock as a wallet, and another who had his PIN number written on the inside of his belt. My heart melts. I’ve also served many talkative older ladies, who clearly love coming to the shop for a catch up about daily life, or to sigh and roll their eyes at what the government has done this time. It’s nice to be part of so many peoples’ lives in this mad old time. The only downside to the oldies is their constant attempts to pay with old £1 coins. They’ve been out of circulation for years for goodness sake, and it’s happened to me 4 times in the past 3 weeks!
As my contract came to an end last wee, they asked me to stay on. ME. The girl that drops and wastes at least one thing per shift. Last week it was a big bottle of Micellar water. That stuff isn’t cheap you know. And I cannot even tell you how any times I’ve finished a shift stinking of milk because of my complete clumsiness. I don’t know what it is, the bottles just slip out my hands like fish and next thing I know I’m mopping up the chiller AGAIN. But anyway, I turned the job down for a better one, who then seemed to have vanished into thing air. So I have no ended up with neither, about 5 minutes before a probable financial crisis. Classic Amber.
So that is it, my life as an employed person, hopefully I will be hired again soon.
Thanks for reading what is essentially a Guardian long read about my life.