August 1998. I'd just spent a fortnight recovering from a two-week holiday in Ibiza and was in desperate need of a job. I'd quit as a painter and decorator at the beginning of the summer to watch the World Cup. That job had paid £2 an hour no matter how many hours you did. I was doing 100 hours a week, and the boss was a cunt. All I did was sand, clean brushes in nitro mors and crash him fags.
I'd had plenty of jobs since the steelworks, some for a day, some for a week, and most of them were just simple labouring. I'd pretty much run out of options, and had even exhausted the local industrial estate after doing a runner from a microfilming job because of the noise from the cackling old biddies and walking out of a toolsetting job after 15 minutes because the bloke teaching me was a boring, racist, wanker.
It was time for something else. It was time to up my game. It was time for retail.
It was time for the car shop.
Piece of piss. The car shop was managed by my mate Dickie. Dickie had been my room-mate in Ibiza. Ours had been the drug room as it was poolside. It looked like a sweetshop from the outside due to the shutter and lack of balcony. For most of the holiday he suffered from sleep-paralysis, and I'd be occasionally woken by the disturbing, yet fucking hilarious, sight of him trying to say my name while rigid.
"Job's yours mate," he said. "You and Gene can share the assistant manager duties. Money is shit but all we really do is smoke and read."
Smoking / Reading
He wasn't wrong. On my first day, I re-read Post Office by Bukowski, chomped through 20 B&H gold and swilled at least 15 cups of shite coffee. I knew instantly that within a week I would be bringing my bong in. We had a little snooze area set up in the cupboard / office at the back of the shop and it looked quite tempting. Occasionally though, customers would come in, signalled to us by the beep of the door opening.
"Allriggghhht lads, I need an oil filter, two headlight bulbs and a bleeding wiper blade pronto like." Drives either a souped up Vauxhall Nova or his Mum's Fiesta
The patrons of Car Zone could be broken down into five distinct categories.
The silent man - All this bloke is after is an Air Filter. He knows the number, price and how to fit it. He doesn't want to be asked 'are you ok there mate?' and he certainly doesn't want to be offered a £300 Blaupunkt. Didn't stop me asking though, until I got the response,"I would be Ok, if you'd fuck off, leave me alone and just ring this up."
The lairy cunt - "Allriggghhht lads, I need an oil filter, two headlight bulbs and a bleeding wiper blade pronto like." Drives either a souped up Vauxhall Nova or his Mum's Fiesta. Rags it like an F1 car, wears sportswear, ripped jeans, has at least three earrings and usually carries a minimum of two underage girls in the back of his 'passion wagon'. And yes, he had the sticker. No, we never saw it rocking. Snap On Baseball cap optional. Always outstay their welcome, often try and get you out for a pint.
The flirty woman – Drives either a beamer or Jag and is married to a local ‘face’, who is both rich and psychopathic. Doesn’t actually need to come in, but does anyway. Wears thigh boots, short skirts and tops that cling to her massive, enhanced, bangers. Understands that we are highly aware that we can’t try it on and how that makes her far more alluring. Buys two air fresheners a week, stays for an hour and is the subject of much ribald chatter when she departs.
The OAP – Bless their cotton socks. Totter in clutching a scrap of paper and proceed to dither over the T-Cut. Always require windscreen wiper blades changing, often tell stories of their useless children.
The pikey – Not the current definition of pikey, that is applied to anyone with a neck tattoo, but an honest-to-goodness, tarmac-your-drive, live-in-a-caravan traveller. Always came in with three kids who pull everything off the shelves while they menacingly repeat…”how much for cash.”
“I’ve got something to tell you,” I said. “I’ve got something to tell you,” he replied. Unbeknown to each other we’d both been offering cash discounts. Lots of them
How much for cash (1)
What started as selling a bulb and not ringing it into the till so we could buy a packet of biscuits spiraled out of control. I was paid £540 a month. The owner of the company lived in a 50 room mansion, and the area managers earned £40k plus and drove nice cars. They refused me a pay rise of £40 and it begun. Offer any bloke a cash discount and he will take it. Offer five a day and you have some serious pocket money.
How much for cash (2)
A grotty flat, 4am on a Saturday morning. Dickie and I, gurning heavily, are sat chewing the fat four hours before work starts. “I’ve got something to tell you,” I said. “I’ve got something to tell you,” he replied. Unbeknown to each other we’d both been offering cash discounts. Lots of them. We both said we’d stop, neither of us did.
The cause and effect of the cash discounts. Never, in any job, have I taken so many drugs. Bongs for breakfast, a lunchtime spliff, E’s dropped at seven on a Friday night to make the last hour go quicker and coke on a Saturday morning to give us the power to deal with the customers and the supermarket employees who would come in and try and be our mates.
I walked down to find him unconscious with a can of gas clutched in his hands. I thought he’d fucking died.
Yow Now Dave.
The assistant manager of the neighbouring cheapo supermarket was a weird man who drove in from the dark heart of the Black Country every day. Fittingly, the first thing he ever said to me was thus. “Do you loike black girls Ow-win?” Before I could reply that I just liked women, he hit me with. “Sex with them is ayce, they av an extra mussle which grips your cock really ard. Like being trapped in a milking machine.”
If it wasn’t the supermarket staff, it was local dossers. One lad who I’d known for years came in one day and asked if he could sit in the back for a while. After I’d served a customer, I walked down to find him unconscious with a can of gas clutched in his hands. I thought he’d fucking died.
The tedium of the job was beyond anything I had yet to encounter. The first year was fine, but then Dickie had to go and cover the Ludlow branch because the manager had gone to prison and Gene had to go to Wolverhampton. I found myself in the shop alone five days out of six and was bored to tears. Trade was crap, I was sick of the itchy, branded, sweater and I still knew nothing about cars. Why we got away with the discounts for so long was because they had no idea how much stuff was in the shop. Every spare space, including the roof, was stuffed with stock dating back ten years. Then the new area manager, a man who told me ‘not to do it again’ after I had taken a week off when my Nan died early in 2000, ordered a root and branch stocktake.
We all quit, pronto, and the shop closed down a year later.
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