Help Wanted

By L.A. Hilton

When I was twenty-two I had just finished university and was in an extremely difficult situation with regards to money and, indeed, any sense of where my life might be he2014-09-10 20.07.24 (1)ading. I took various jobs that were all low-paid and either consisted of not enough hours or of too many. The provincial northern town, which I called home, offered few opportunities for employment. It dawned on me that for the time-being I was limited to shops or factories; although many of my friends had moved to London this was something in which I desperately did not want to follow suit. The factories all seemed to pay well enough for me to continue paying the meagre rent I’d offered my parents and were all a short drive from their house. The work would be mind-numbingly dull but I was somebody who had discovered a quiet pleasure in being bored. I found that boredom was the polar opposite of stress, both feelings could manifest themselves as quiet desperation but boredom, more often than not, left me sleepy. Stress, on the other hand was something I dealt with terribly. My first job that summer was working in a very busy, high-street branch of Costa Coffee and, while the work was simple, it wasn’t always easy. The machines would routinely break down or work slower than the lunch-hour rush would require; people would shout and scream at me and I would have to ignore their complaints due to understaffing. I would be berated personally for the slow service. At this time I regularly considered the ways in which I had been a difficult customer in past retail situations and vowed to change my ways. I am confident that anybody who has ever worked in a shop will tell you that customers are terrible people who consider retail staff to be lesser humans; common sense and decency leaves them when they are on the verge of a purchase and you, the member of staff, are the only thing that stands between them and their goods. They presume that you want to screw them at every opportunity and this attitude of theirs, over time, leaves you feeling exactly that way. My father was a former miner and came from a family all of whom worked in the mines. He laughed heartily when I told him how difficult the work was and, when I tried to explain that the work itself wasn’t difficult – that I could make hundreds of coffees a day, but the customers were starting to give me a stomach ulcer – his explanation for the laughter was that I would have never lasted in the pits. He told me that I had no idea what hard graft really was and that shop work was probably the perfect job for somebody like me. I lasted only three months in the job – my nerves were so damaged that my hands were burnt from unsteadily holding hot beverages. My friend Louise, who had been back from London over summer, had just gone back to continue her work as an artist which meant that I had nobody (except for my laughing dad) to talk to about the problems. But this, by far, was not the worst working experience I had that year. Continue reading