Saturday 18th July 2010. 2pm-10pm.
Arrived for work nearly an hour early clad in sweaty football training kit with lunch from Marks and Sparks.
The cash office Rottweiler, the high-pitched weekend supervisor and another member of staff were smoking outside the station. After trying to be amusing they left me alone and I basked in the pleasant sunshine until the beginning of my shift.
I was feeling tired after a kids mini World Cup tournament and a parents versus coaches football match. The first issue were my hours for next week. Basically my hours have been slashed like a round of austerity cuts. I have only 16 hours next week compared to 35-40 hours the previous 6 weeks. However, it’s not a bad thing because physically it is taking its toll.
The trouble-shooter is very well informed because all the weekend supervisors are Pakistani and they let him in on the secrets. The area manager has demanded that they trim £9000 off the monthly expenditure this month. That's after the King's assistant told me "it will be very busy from next week and there are loads of shifts available".
Anyway two hours on my own in the big unit with mounting queues and irate punters. An old woman of about 70 demanded that I produce more staff out of thin air. I told her that I couldn’t do that and she walked out of the shop calling me a "prat".
These staffing levels are ridiculous; I was the only member of staff in the whole unit and couldn't even help the punters. The French females were turning up by the dozen, and when the Polish Muslim arrived at 4pm I could start working my magic.
If I speak French they respond in English with smiles that could melt a pound of Presidente butter.
I had noticed out of the corner of my eye a buxom brunette of about 35 talking on her mobile in French. The shop happened to be quiet at this moment,
"Bonjour, comment allez vous?" I began
"Very well thank you, how are you?" she replied
"I would like a package of Marlboro menthols please" she continued.
"We are out of those,” I answered.
"Ok a package of Mayfair please" she said.
I couldn't understand her pronunciation of menthols. I taught her how to say menthols the English way and she was now blushing uncontrollably even though it was subtle. A quick scan of her hands provided me with evidence that she may have been attached but these days women wear rings just to warn off male suitors.
Our interaction continued for a couple of minutes and she left smiling as she disappeared back to Paris.
This was an ideal opportunity to find out more about this young attractive girl who wears incredible ornate Muslim head regalia. She wears lots of make up and is immaculate. It transpires she is studying art at college and is off to Egypt for two weeks holiday. I tried to establish if she was going away with her husband but she ignored the question. When she returns from Egypt it will be time for Ramadan. She has recently become devout but I didn't manage to dig anymore.
At approximately 6pm a young man, who was looking at music titles made a comment in a loud tone, "Bruce Springsteen is a legend". The Boss is on the front of one of the music monthlies.
The anorexic Indian graduate was plying her trade in the big unit and I realised that she must have an eating disorder as she only had a triple chocolate sundae for dinner.
Fortunately it was quiet in the unit so I told him how I saw The Boss in Dublin in 1988 and how it was a seminal moment in my life. He was very impressed and we then compared concerts and he repeated three times that he had seen Mark Knopfler live three times. I added that I saw Dire Straits at Earls Court in 1992. His favourite track was Sultans of Swing. I thought that there was something not quite right with this character.
As I was loading the fridges towards the end of the shift he appeared again and after jumping out from the crisps section said, "have you got Aspergers or a learning disability?"
"I don't suffer from any of those" I responded.
"I have Aspergers syndrome and they have given me a freedom pass,” he said proudly.
The anorexic Indian graduate was plying her trade in the big unit and I realised that she must have an eating disorder because she only had a triple chocolate sundae for dinner. She was anxious because her Dad was coming to collect her and he had been late the last couple of shifts. She is incredibly boring. In fact, none of the employees have any depth. I suppose that's why they work at the PLC. A mention must go to Victor the security guard who has been standing in for the Somalian. He is two years into a mechanical engineering degree and is in the Territorial Army. He wants to become an armourer when he qualifies. It was his last shift today and I gave him a hug and wished him well. A lovely bloke.
I walked to the bus stop and the anorexic Indian was waiting for her chauffeur to take her back to Hackney.
The Aspergers boy was walking outside the station looking vacant.
Tuesday 20th July 2010. 8am-12pm
It’s my first day of the week at work and because of the severe reduction of hours, the wind has been taken out of my sails yet again.
The Algerian, who was supervising all units on his own, sent me to the small unit, which is like being sent to detention. Nothing happens and when it does it’s a ten-minute flurry of activity. I didn't bother with TPS because there's no point. I don't benefit financially only the King and his assistant will. I was already planning what to say to the King's assistant about the hours when the Algerian summoned me to my usual berth.
I would be working with the white Algerian who has severe facial ticks. He is a player and has allegedly taken phone numbers from unattached female punters, who admittedly must be desperate. We analysed every nationality of punter and discussed the chances of "pulling" one of them. We both agreed that French women are comfortable with their sexuality and American girls are the most gullible.
He reads The Sun newspaper whilst waiting for punters and is a decent bloke. Nothing eventful happened on the tills so at midday I asked for an audience with the King's assistant.
She is the most ruthless woman in business that I have ever dealt with and in property I dealt with a few hard-nosed females. To survive in retail management as a woman you've got to have big cahunas.
I confronted her about the reduction in hours and she swatted me away like a school child in Year one. She quoted the terms of the contract and I countered with "I have mouths to feed and will this be the position for the rest of the summer?"
"We will give you as many hours as we can depending on costings and availability of shifts," she said. I requested next week’s hours, and I’m back to 30 hours, but I can see that I'm in for a rollercoaster ride for the next few weeks.
Wednesday 21st July 2010. 8am-12pm
Once again a short shift which is really affecting me. Even though next week it’s back to normal I don't feel a part of this place.
I got shunted to the small unit and finally spent some time with the woman I was rude to the other week. She doesn't say much, probably has nothing of interest in her life. However, she has been working here 30 hours a week for three years, which I suppose is commendable in some way.
I was summoned to the big unit and it worked out very well because I worked with Whoopi Goldberg. She is a slim black lady with dreadlocks but an unbelievable set of gnashers that make her resemble a horse.
Her big job today is changing the books over. The Algerian deposits three skips of new paperbacks into the unit with a chart list and some ‘buy one get one half price’ stickers and away she goes.
In the meantime I man the till and distribute stock from the cage all at the same time. I am off the next two days and can finally start my next project about the Cape Town underworld.
Saturday 24th July 2010. 2pm-10pm
Thursday and Friday off due to cut backs.
Physically I was under the weather after picking up some kind of bug from a fish and chip restaurant in Soho. I knew when they told me the fish is cooked in duck fat and palm oil that I was taking a risk.
I hadn't eaten properly all day when I arrived in the staff room to be greeted by the weekend Pakistani Mafia. They comprise the trouble-shooter, the anorexic Pakistani graduate and the two weekend supervisors of which one has a voice like a woman and is the same height as Napoleon Bonaparte.
I was summoned to the big unit and it worked out very well because I worked with Whoopi Goldberg. She is a slim black lady with dreadlocks but an unbelievable set of gnashers that make her resemble a horse. I'd seen her around but had never worked with her.
She is a player. Her communication with the punters is impressive and her levels of service are excellent. In fact the best employee I have met. It took a while to understand her sense of humour but we settled in well. Working with new employees for the first time is a bit like going on a blind date. You just don't know if you will get on with them.
I had to sign two more disclaimers. One regarding taking time off for sickness and one for handing out bounceback vouchers. I noticed Thursday's TPS results and 17 out of 22 staff failed to make the target. The Algerian had written in big letters in writing like a child "VERY BAD RESULTS" highlighted in pink. Napoleon drew my attention to this even though I wasn't working. I suggested to him that it’s no coincidence that nearly everyone failed to reach the target. If there were incentives this wouldn't happen. Quite simply no one can be bothered to sell.
Whoopi is a three-year veteran of the company and knows every angle possible. She works part time in a branch of the PLC at a major London hospital. Even though we may not enjoy what we do its important to maintain standards amidst the mediocrity.
At around 6pm there were some loud noises and laughing emanating from the staff room. Whoopi heard this and looked at me aggressively. She primed herself for action and said, "Lets sort these idiots out". She stormed into the staff room and allegedly told them to keep quiet and do some work. When I told her that I call them the "Pakistani Mafia" she laughed uncontrollably and showed her full set of horse teeth.
One punter asked me for a receipt for a purchase of one newspaper and when I told him we don't give receipts as standard practice he said "Its normal, its normal". Whoopi was fuming at this behaviour and it tapped into something inside her, probably irritability, restlessness and discontentment. She hates people who ask for receipts when making small purchases.
I managed to hold down a Cheddar ploughman's sandwich and soldiered on until 10pm.The final two hours were spent on my own but my usual banter was missing because of the illness and the spiritual malady. Somalian security is back and we get on well because he likes talking to me about football coaching and tactics. It can be difficult to understand him because of his weak English but he's a decent bloke just making the best of it and providing for his family.
Two more days off and then a week of early shifts beckons.
Click here for more Newsagent State of Mind
Click here for more stories about Life
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook