Editor’s note: Today on The Money Principle you can read the next instalment of Alex’s reflections on life, retail, shopping and life as a young unemployed man in the UK looking for work. The schedule is a bit disturbed but Alex was poorly last week.
I remember the hours spent working away in the summer months at an old job of mine as a stationery retail manager, and whilst the memories of working in a shop remain fond ones, my heart goes out to all those currently melting whilst trying to serve customers. Any work in hot temperatures is arduous and can become mind-boggling, but I’d say being polite to every heat-blushed face you see is a most tricky task when all you want to do is get back home and lie in a bath of ice.
These days almost all shops have air conditioning installed, which for around 9 months of year seems a pointless technology to possess here in cold and damp U.K. Yet, of course it is vital if you are to keep your employees conscious and indeed sell anything to anyone. Have you ever walked into a hot and sticky shop that has only a single, half-broken fan blowing warm air behind the tills? I have, and that’s how I had to co-manage the stationery shop. It was torture, but indeed I miss that torture to a certain extent. I definitely miss the wages at the end of a hard month’s work, freezing or boiling.
Days were often strange then. Periods of this searing heat usually lasts around a fortnight or less, until it typically cools down for a bit and we feel the mercy of rain pour. But in the heat the customers would only come in slowly and by the few, if not hardly at all. Everyone was out in the parks, in the beer gardens or in their own garden lounging around like beached whales. Or they were also working in a similar environment to mine at intermitting paces with no energy or rhythm as it becomes difficult to even complete simple tasks like stocking a shelf without going slightly mad with dehydration. For example, I have a vague memory of a man howling to himself in my shop one sunny mid-day. There wasn’t any obvious reason to for it, he just felt like howling. It could only have been the intensity of the sun-rays that made him behave so bizarrely, or perhaps something he enjoyed all year round in any weather.
And that’s all anyone would ever talk about; the weather. Every customer would stagger in probably looking for shade more than fresh stationery. The problem was that we didn’t really have much in the way of shade. We had to keep our doors wide open to let any muggy air in at all. The building itself was that old and sorry of its existence that we had no air conditioning fitted. I’m pretty sure that would go against human rights in this part of the world, but as we were so kindly informed at the time there was nothing that could be done. Nothing could be fixed, not even as a temporary solution, but the company still demanded we pushed sales. They still expected us to keep up our end of the bargain, even if it cost us our fragile sanities. One summer an area manager even did a visit of enquiry as to what had gone wrong with our sales. I’m not sure he ever really understood that in the hottest days of the year there are not too many crowds of people looking for office supplies. He argued that another store in Greater Manchester was doing pretty well. That store is in an indoor shopping centre and has full air conditioning. I tried not to laugh or cry, just nodded and whimpered in mild agreement.
It wasn’t all bad, though. Most days everyone was in a good mood, at least for the mornings, and there was often plenty of time to casually stand around and chat (This is not advisable to say in a job application form). But that is all we physically could do when the days were hottest. The girls behind the tills would stand still in protest if you tried to gear them up to do anything strenuous, and I didn’t blame them. Instead, like the sucker I am, I would probably do the majority of the workload. Though, this would only be in between chatting with adorable old folk coming in saying how hot it is as if we hadn’t noticed, which was much more enjoyable than a gang of children flooding in over-excited from too many sugary drinks. Yet still, it was all nice to be with my colleagues at the time. Even if some days were utterly unbearable, we kept each other going with bad jokes (mostly mine) and a lot of empathetic sighing and gigging with the sun engulfing us as it mocked us into madness. We survived, though. At least I believe I got through those periods without completely losing it.
(Help, I’m a fish).