Full disclosure I don't work in Tesco but when I was trying to think of a funny title about working in a supermarket, particularly working in one during a global bloody pandemic, this made me laugh out loud. Don't judge me, I have no one else to laugh at my jokes at the moment so I'm pretty much acting as my own audience constantly. It's great and horrific all at once.
Anyway, back in March when my work started disappearing faster than a stray iPhone charger at a house party, I decided straight away to look for work. I thought, best case scenario, this is over with quickly and I leave the job in a month or two having recouped some of my lost earnings and done my bit to help out at a time when the extra hands were needed. Worst case scenario, this doesn't go away for a while but at least I have provided myself with a tiny bit of financial security and a job to keep me floating. I also figured if we found ourselves in Worst Case Scenario, and I hadn't found a job, then I envisaged it being much harder to find work in a few months time, as people who'd held off looking for work began to realise they couldn't go without any longer, but now we'd all be fighting for limited roles with even more people, as inevitable redundancies and job losses from every industry crept up and up.
I want to stress as well, I don't think I've done anything remarkable in getting a job. I think I've been sensible, like many others. I only mention this cause there's a worry when you're someone who's lost work in one industry and ended up working somewhere else, that when you talk about this people think you're after sympathy or noble points. These are probably the same people who when we were talking about being sad about losing our work, screamed at us to get a job. Now we've got one and are talking about that it's, OH YOU THINK YOU'RE SPECIAL DO YOU? WANT A MEDAL DO YOU? No, I want a stable income, Pamela. I was interviewed for an article right near the start of this and explicitly made this clear, cause I know what people are like. Sure enough, someone in the comments was straight in with 'dOeS sHe ThInK sHe'S sPecIal??' Big up the person who replied to that comment, directly copying the line from the article where I said 'I don't think I've done anything special.' People in comments sections are fucking NUISANCES.
Also, I was going through a break up. Break ups are shite, if life's a Christmas Dinner, break ups are a sprout that the dog steals off your plate then farts back out. I knew if I stayed at home, I'd wallow in my self pity, listening to Adele on a loop, neglecting basic hygiene and become surgically attached to my bed. I wanted to be busy, I wanted to be earning money, and I guess I wanted to feel like I had a purpose. Annoyingly, when all this kicked off, and people like me who'd lost their work lamented about it online, someone would usually snipe WELL THE SUPERMARKETS ARE HIRING. Aye, cheers again for the obvious Pamela. They are. And thousands of people are suddenly applying for those jobs. I did so many applications those first few weeks, and the thing I found most soul crushing was the fact the applications were obviously just standard forms, meaning they hadn't been designed in response to those applying during an actual crisis. It got to the point where after being faced yet again with the question 'Tell us why you want this job' I finally snapped and rather than write some saccharine bullshit about the sound of a till beeping being like music to my ears and having a deep love for refrigerated produce, I simply wrote 'I've lost all my income for the foreseeable because of a global pandemic and I am frankly desperate to work.' Funnily enough, Aldi never got back to me on that one.
Now middle class connections and nepotism in the comedy industry has long been a frustration of mine - when will I ever get a job or opportunity or a leg up based on the people I know, I cried! I'm not related to know anyone who works in TV or entertainment, I cried! Aye but I'm related to someone in a supermarket and finally my time came to use sweet sweet WORKING CLASS NEPOTISM BABY!
And so, in April, I started working in a supermarket where I've been (and continue to be) for the last nigh on 8 months. I feel like shop workers are some of the many unsung heroes this pandemic, they've worked throughout, had to put up with ever changing rules and ways of working, often facing the brunt of customers anger, aggression and frustration regarding said rules. I cannot stress enough - WE DO NOT MAKE THE RULES. Do you think we would actively choose to make our job more of a ball ache?? You don't wanna wear a mask for 10 minutes? I don't wanna wear one for 8 hours, but here we are!
I thought I'd write a daft little thing about the eight most annoying things/ things I've learned working in a busy supermarket for eight months. Eight? Why not a nice round ten?? Cause I'm kinda hoping this blog might lead to writing work and I know it's The Thing to write little listicles with a slightly obscure number of points in them. This is absolutely intended as a laugh before anyone has a whinge and goes 'well quit if you don't like it!!!' Nar Pamela, how did you get back in again, I'm not quitting a job when comedy is still but a distant memory ya weapon. Also I like staff discount, you'll have to pries that card from my cold dead hands.
THE CUSTOMER IS NOT ALWAYS RIGHT. In fact, the customer is frequently wrong. Often you have to stand there nodding and smiling, repeating the phrase 'I appreciate your frustration but...' while clenching your teeth into a fine powder, which you regret because you're the one who has to clean up the fine powder. I stand by my thought that everyone who works in a customer facing job should be allowed to have one day a year like The Purge but not for murder, we're just allowed to talk to customers how they talk to us, and see how they like it.
SPENDING YOUR WAGES AT WORK. 'I'm not gonna spend any money in this place this week' is a lie I tell myself on a daily basis. I am a weak little bitch who cannot walk past the reductions aisle, this weeks latest offers, or eye up something tasty coming towards me down the checkout belt (food based, not a man, I wish, in fact no it would be really impractical if a man was chugging towards me on my belt, how would I scan him??) without buying it after my shift. It's almost like the job is counter productive cause any money I make there, I seem to put straight back into the till.
DON'T LITERALLY PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS. This one is bad enough at best of times, but when we're living in a time where we're trying to avoid passing germs around like, well, literally like the plague - for the love of god please stop putting money in your mouth then paying the cashier with it. I'm sure if I licked all the 10ps before giving them out as your change you'd have something to say. I sat on the till one day and served a customer who I'd seen previously walking round the shop with his hands down his pants, followed by a customer who held her cash in her mouth before handing it into my clean little hands. I don't really want to have to catch chlamydia and COVID in the same shift, that's a rough day for sure.
DO YOU WORK HERE?? No, I just found a fleece in the bush on the way here and had some free time and a passion for filling fridges with chilled goods. Especially frustrating when I'm physically sat on a check out - nope, I don't work on here, I just fancied a sit down. In full uniform.
PLAYING HUMAN DODGEMS. Trying to get off the shop floor and away for your break / the sweet release of home, without getting cornered by somebody wanting help finding desiccated coconut or the bottled tears of Aunt Bessie is a daily challenge. Pick your route. Cross your fingers. Do not make eye contact. May the odds forever be in your favour.
FUSSPOTS. I will hold my hands up and admit that I used to be what I would call a fussy eater, and what my mother would call a pain in the arse. Working in the cafe of the supermarket, has officially stamped out any remaining fusspot flames that burned within me. Can I cut the fat off your bacon? But ... but I gave you a knife? I have 14 more breakfasts waiting to plate up, you have the tools, you can do it, I believe in you! Can you have your egg hard? But your friends wants hers soft. OK, sure - here you go! Oh no, this is wrong is it, when you said hard you meant harder than Grant Mitchell but not as hard as Bear Grylls. Forgive me, I am but a fool. Can you have your toast toasted to the exact shade of the first crisp autumnal leaf? Right... ok. Oh, and you have mushrooms on your plate but you forgot to ask for no mushrooms, and as telepathy isn't a skill I gained in lockdown I wasn't aware you didn't want mushrooms. ARE YOU ALLERGIC? NO? WELL PICK THEM OFF THEN THEY WON'T KILL YA. Uh oh, and there we have it ... after just a few months in the kitchen, I have become my mother.
TEN GREEN BOTTLES. This one stresses me out probably a disproportionately unnecessary amount but when people put their glass bottles, particularly alcohol bottles, stood upright on the checkout belt rather than lie them flat I want to confiscate the wine and neck it myself. The belt judders and shudders, especially when it comes to a stop so the bottles all come crashing down and fall over and I'm always terrified they're gonna smash. I mean, I'm not bothered the customer won't get their alcohol, serves them right for making my job harder, but any spilled alcohol is a delicious and devastating waste and it breaks my heart to think it might happen on my watch.
THE THICK OF IT. This one is my biggest bug bear of all, and I don't know if I can even be arsed to try write this one with a comical tone cause it winds me up so much - being spoken to like you're a piece of shit, people speaking to you with an air of disdain and the assumption you're thick because you're working a low paid shop job. I'm not thick. I've got two degrees (in drama, but shut your face.) I lost my work and I wanted to earn money and stand on my own two feet, I would have taken any job and I'm damn proud to be working. How dare you assume someone's thick, just cause they're not working as a brain doctor or a scientist or in the Apple store (those were literally the first three jobs that I perceive to be smart and I don't know what that says about me.) Tell you what, if you think you have such superior intelligence, how about you tootle off and come up with a cure for Coronavirus rather than treat a shopworker like shite? Also ... so what if someone is thick? Does that mean they're not worth of basic human decency and respect? Well done, you've spoken to someone working in stressful conditions so poorly and made them feel so shit that you've reduced them to tears, well done Captain Cockhead bet you're gonna go home and feel so proud of yourself. Melon. Jokes on you cause I'll just drink in every detail of your awful character and turn it into a mildly amusing anecdote on stage one day. REVENGE IS SWEET and served best via clumsily written jokes delivered with a cheeky glint in the eye and some Northern charm.
It's all fine and well having a joke about the annoying bits of working in a shop. But you know what, there are so many things that have been a positive working here, especially during such a tough time in my life, that I'd feel unfair not sharing those too. First and foremost, I'm grateful to have a job and an income at a time when so many others don't. I know that sounds very sincere, but if I'm perfectly honest I was worried what I originally wanted to put as first answer wasn't sincere enough - holy fuck everything is so cheap in the staff canteen. I don't think I've ever spent more than about £1.50 on a hot meal and I am very much on board.
I've also discovered you don't need a gym membership if you're on the tills, cause your arms get a hefty workout heaving across crates of beer or deceptively heavy sacks of charcoal (uh oh someone's on the Naughty List) and pet food. I've also accumulated some excellent free clothes in the form of my uniform, mainly not one but TWO high vis jackets. Double the jackets, double the visibility! I also have a FLEECE which might not be the height of fashion but it is warm and has pockets - and if there's one thing a girl loves it's clothes with pockets. I also have some non slip shoes for in the cafe but they're too big for me and everyone cracks up at me plodding about in shoes that look like actual clown shoes, but I am just happy to be raising a smile.
I know this might sound daft as well, but going back to a 'normal' job has reminded me how glorious it is to have AN ACTUAL SET PAY DAY. Obviously I've worked 'normal' jobs with pay days before, but until recently had been full time comedy for 3 years. where most of the time you seem to be spent chasing up payment for work I'd done weeks or months ago that was yet to be paid. How nice it is, to do a month of work, then ... on a designated day ... you are paid for ALL of the work you have done in one go. What an actual delight! For example, as I write this in November, I am ironically still owed for a bit of comedy I did in summer and in comparison I have had not one, not two, but three pay days from my day job since that gig. Imagine waiting that long to be paid from a 'regular' job, HR would be kicking off! I'd probably be on the front page of a local newspaper doing the classic Looking Angry Or Upset In A Newspaper facial expression.
Speaking of comedy, it's such a sociable job, and those first few weeks of lockdown, I missed chatting to people so much. But through my little supermarket job, I've had a constant stream of social interaction and met a whole bunch of lovely smashers, and I'm so appreciative of that. Although now, 95% of the time I refer to 'something my friend was saying,' I do mean 'something a customer who was nice to me said.' And that brings me to my last point - this job, the routine, the socializing and sense of belonging it has given me, and particularly the girls in the cafe I work with, have been invaluable for getting through these last few months. As someone who has previously largely worked with lads, how lucky I am to now spend my days with such an incredible bunch of fierce, fiesty and funny Geordie women who quite frankly take no shit. Oh, and by the way, anyone who still believes that women aren't funny, clearly hasn't spent a shift working in a supermarket cafe, it's a funnier place than some green rooms I've been in!
Also, I learned how to poach eggs while working in the cafe. Lovely ones at that. So if you need anyone to write some jokes or poach some yolks, I'm your gal.
tips jar - www.ko-fi.com/laurenpattison