It was the big Asda’s (or was it Tesco’s?) TEN year celebration in an out-of-town location, opposite the high school, where kids wearing that uniform were banned from entering during school hours. The store was built on the site of the old pit, where a few of the ex-miners who misspent their youth underground, now worked above gound, but still in the dark, on the very same spot, in the draughty warehouse or night stocking shelves. The store had recently been significantly extended and was now a flagship hyper-megastore, with a cafe, dry cleaners, hairdressers, travel agent, shoe shop, hot curry counter, pizza and rotisserie chicken bar, a discount bookshop as well as an electrical department to rival Currys.
I’d been taken off the checkouts, where I worked part-time, to become a full-time store guide for a few weeks. It was an easy job. The money was ok and the staff canteen did lovely school dinners. It was the same food as they sold in store, that we had at home. To be able to get a subsidised fried breakfast, hot lunch and another cooked meal at tea time was pure luxury. It was one of those satisfyingly great jobs I never realised was as good as it was, until after I’d left. I’d come home physically tired, sleep really well and get extra points for taking home some of those whoops products on their last use-by date. We got to try all sorts in our house. Croissants in a can that you bake yourself was probably the strangest thing.
A recce to get my bearings and memorise where stuff was on the shelves didn’t take that long. No further training required. I pretty much knew what I was doing for the next month. I wore a sash which said, ‘STORE GUIDE. HAPPY TO HELP’ The job was to walk round asking customers if they’d managed to find everything they needed. When they inevitably complained about “not bin able t’find ‘owt cos everything’s bin moved raand”, I would fetch the items they wanted. Sometimes they didn’t know exactly what they wanted, so I’d return with three brands of beans so they could choose.
Sometimes, I’d go in the back office and blow up a load of helium balloons, and if Angie was on Switch, I’d sing that Rolling Stones song to her, in a squeaky voice. I’ve never laughed so much at work since. Then, I’d walk around the store handing out promotional balloons to children, and whenever I saw some older kids, I’d give them the downlow on where the cheapest crisps, biscuits and pop were so they’d get maximum value for their pocket money. (Six bags of crisps for 33p, two litres of lemonade for 12p and some custard creams or bourbons for 29p. You can’t beat that kind of value. Every little helps and all that.) If it got busy I would “jump on the tills” for an hour. In the same way that some people sleep talk as if they’re still playing a POV shoot-em-up, I’m sure I used to dream about those infuriating scanner beeps in my sleep.
The newspapers and magazines were just by the entrance, and there was a whole family browsing the Disney videos and birthday cards. I saw a little girl stand up on tiptoe to try and stretch to reach one of the balloons on sticks, and heard her say wistfully, “I wish I had a balloon.” None of the family had seen me up to that point, so I walked up behind the girl and said in my best fairy godmother voice, “You wished for a balloon and your wish came true,” and I cheerfully handed the astonished child a balloon from my bunch. Her mother and I smiled at each other, and there might even have been a moist eye. The kid was saying something about magic, while her parents kept telling her how lucky she was, and that she should thank the nice lady. No-one should ever underestimate the joy of such a simple thing. People stand in the street selling them and whole cartoons are based on them lifting people up, up and away!
Years later I realised that my youth and inexperience had made me the willing mark in a recurring con. Every week, some of the lads I went to school with would buy a bottle of peach schnapps (it was the 80s) and pay at my till. I thought it was because I knew how old they were, so they wouldn’t have to prove their age, and also because they wanted to say hello to me. Then, the same lads would come back through my till a few minutes later saying they forgot to get some crisps, or pop or whatever. They’d show me the peach schnapps,which I naturally assumed was the one they had bought earlier, plus the receipt and then they would pay for the crisps.
It never occurred to me at the time, that they were hiding the original bottle in the car, coming back back into the shop, getting a second bottle pretending it was the same one, and simply sauntering out of the store, brazen as you like, with my blessing, unchallenged.
You live and learn.