Saturday, 20 February 2010

Saturday Job

I started my first job on my 15th Birthday because that was the minimum legal age to work. My birthday fell on a Saturday that year and I had lined myself up with a Saturday job working at Boots the Chemist. (It's a drug store for my American readers.)

The shop was laid out differently than it is today with a cash till at the end of each island of shelves. I was given the soap and shampoo section. Being surrounded by so much soap made me sneeze. I would help anyone who needed it; finding the soap they required and take the money at the till. Those were the days of lots of shop staff and you could always find someone to help you.

Someone paid me with a £50 note and as I'd never seen one before, I doubted it was real money. The customer assured me it was, because he had just been paid with it. I felt foolish. Many years later I remember holding a £50 note that was part of a large amount that I'd got from the bank to pay for a car, and I said "I've never held a £50 note before in my life!" But then I recalled the incident at Boots and realised that I didn't consider the money I handled in that job to be real money because it didn't belong to me.

I was relieved a few weeks later to be 'promoted' to the chemist counter because that soap really irritated my nose. It was prestigious to be on the chemist counter because it was a responsible job. People would come and ask advice about what they could take for certain ailments. I just love giving advice and so I was in my element. Behind the counter there were lots of little drawers full of packets, jars and bottles of pills and creams. They were in alphabetical order. It didn't take me long to know where everything was and what it was for.

Of course the potions we sold were all 'over-the-counter' medicines and at one end was the pharmacy. Our job was also to take the prescriptions from the customers and process them for the pharmacist to fill.

At the pharmacy end there was also a box with little packets of condoms in. Durex was the brand name and I never heard the word condom mentioned. The chemist counter was not the official counter for condoms. That was the surgical counter in another part of the shop. However, some people would ask at our counter for them and the senior shop assistant, Mrs Kemp, told me that they were there to save embarrassment to the customer. I had no idea what these things were or what they were used for. I found out about this box when a customer asked me for a packet of Durex. I had not seen the name Durex in any of the drawers or on the display counter so I called to Mrs Kemp, who was usually at the Pharmacist end of the counter, "Where's the Durex?" She rushed up to me with the box, sold a packet to the customer and in a hushed tone told me where the box was kept.

My father told me he was friendly with the senior assistant on the surgical counter because he talked with her each time he went in. I wondered why he would frequent that counter. I hadn't noticed him using lots of Elastoplasts (Band Aids) when he was shaving. And I also wondered why he didn't ask me to get them with my discount on Saturdays. (I'm glad he didn't.)

I enjoyed working on Saturdays. I got £1.50 a day. My mum told me, "Now you're earning money you can pay for your toiletries and clothes." Boots was next to the market stalls and my first purchase was a little burnt orange velour jacket that zipped up. It cost £1 and was unlined and didn't keep me warm at all but it looked as if it might and it was stylish and modern. I was proud of that jacket because the clothes my mother bought me were definitely not stylish.

I worked on that counter each Saturday for three years. I sometimes worked in the school holidays too but preferred Saturdays because they were busier. It was quite a different job during the week. There was the stocking of the shelves and drawers, cleaning the counters and serving the odd customer should they wander in. I remember replenishing the counter when a customer came up wanting to be served and I was irritated at the interruption to my work, when I realised that if there were no customers, I wouldn't have a job. The days, being a slower pace would drag along and somehow I felt more tired. We would pull out a drawer and perch on the edge to take the weight off our feet - very uncomfortable. Occasionally someone would trap a packet of glucose sweets in a drawer to break it open. "Oh dear, we can't sell that now. Well, we may as well eat some."

During my last year there I was given charge of the gift vouchers which had been put at the far end of the chemist counter to the pharmacy. I was the chief seller and had to cash up the till each Saturday, but still serve the medicines. After doing this a few months the manager, who was the father of a girl in my class, told me that some company investigators were coming that day and wanted to interview me. "Someone's been stealing gift vouchers over a period of time. I don't think you've done it but you've been at work each time it's happened. So I have to let them interview you. I'm very sorry." I hadn't stole them, but I thought of the sweets I'd eaten and didn't feel very honest.

The grilling was terrible. There were three of them, one woman and two men. They told me repeatedly to confess, or it would be much worse for me later. I cried. A permanent member of staff from my counter gave me a cup of tea in the canteen and told me not to let anyone see me crying.

Near the end of the day the manager came to me and told me that Roseanne had confessed. She was based across the isle on the diabetics counter and often popped over to help out selling gift vouchers if we were all busy.

A few months later I was in the magistrates court with a group from school as part of a general studies class. The first case was a guy who drove with no bumper (fender) on his car to take his wife to her nursing job at an unearthly hour in the morning. He was acquitted with a warning. The second was Roseanne accused of stealing the gift vouchers! I was so shocked at the coincidence of this that I don't recall many details apart from her plea that she gave them to her poor family.