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...I now hate all customers. My ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ are hissed through gritted teeth.

Kezia Richmond

As I write from a tiny corner behind the crisp stand in my deserted coffee shop, the clock ticks past 9am and happy hour has begun. No-one comes in to benefit from a reduced price cup of coffee, infact no-one will enter my shop for the next few hours, because it is, after all, a week day morning in a freezing cold February and if you have the time for a cup of coffee then you probably shouldn’t be able to afford it.

From the peak of Christmas we have hurtled down the roller coaster that is the world of retail, into the bleak trough that is February. Wedged in the troughiest bit of the trough in my 1960's Blackpool Pleasure Beach-rejected roller, (metaphorically, yeah?) is me and my existence in a deserted Wiltshire town centre, pondering life from behind the shop counter.

I mean people, we’re talking five customers an hour land here, and this much time on your own can do no person any good. Oh sure, coffee land is all trendies with their spiky hair dos and chain-y jewellery and aprons folded into the teeniest triangle over their image defining trousers and when they go home they smell faintly of coffee and frothy milk with a slight gleam in the eye from the free latte they necked on their break. Well, nope - not really. Behind that fake pine veneer lies the brutal world of ten hour working days, coffee stained hands and junkie style dependencies on caffeine - I mean there are even grains of the stuff floating in the air. There is no escape.

Yes, I hate my job. I thought my degree was boring. Compared with a job that has become so dull I am practising non-consensual telepathy on customers, it was a pure paradise of intellectual stimulation. I now hate all customers. My ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ are hissed through gritted teeth. My legs are so exhausted that I have to be careful how big a step I take for fear that they will snap into mind shattering cramp leaving me writhing on the shop floor. All this, coupled with an inordinate consumption of coffee finds me frustrated, wired and dangerously near to the point of explosion.

'I am bona fide, arms-folded, glaring at the customer, shop assistant of the month'.

Whilst my moaning is not the stuff of interesting reading, it perfectly illustrates what I have discovered this month. I have realised more than ever just how easy it is to become sucked into the stance of permanent indignation that is the lot of the average full time sales assistant. Sentences have begun to escape from mouth that should never, ever have been there, containing words like ‘sweetheart’ and ‘wrinkly old cow’. My back-stabbing, bitching and behind the back of the boss rude gesturing have scaled professional heights in the past four weeks. I am bona fide, arms-folded, glaring at the customer, shop assistant of the month at the moment and whilst I have not yet flobbed into someone’s drink, the thrill of the adrenaline rush tugs at me daily. So it was, until drama struck at the heart of my coffee empire. I could feel myself weakening against the pull of the Betty-brigade. I could feel the slow, incipient initiation into the shop-workers world beginning to take hold.

Then one of my favourite staff members was disposed of in an outrageous decision by Management and I was left, bristling with outrage and trying to decide on which side my Assistant Manager bread was buttered. I could have seized the opportunity and made a courageous and rather convenient show of solidarity in handing in my notice and stomping off in a blaze of red glory. And that really was the plan until nagging, whimpering thoughts of money assailed me. As much as I hate my job now, the thought of being unemployed or worst still, starting a new job, were far more terrifying. Having scoured the job section of my local paper and then numerous job web sites, I turned in desperation onto a site for Graduates. It was no real suprise to learn that whilst there are plenty of jobs for computer technicians, trainee engineers, C++ weirdoes etc., the only alternative for Arts wasters like me is a career as a Call Centre Op.

At least where I am, I have the means for physical, liquid based, revenge on unpleasant customers without a telephone being in the way. Stuck in my year out job hell, my lecture hall dreams of lazy, stress-free money-making jobs, funding mind altering, fantastical jaunts across the globe with perhaps a little career enhancing work-experience on the side seem completely naive. I don’t remember being warned of this, the actuality of life where you need proper money and a proper job to live. I remember, ‘Careers in the Media can be highly challenging.’ I can remember, ‘Competition for jobs can be fierce.’ I do not remember, ‘You’re having a larf aren’t you?’

In terms of life shattering revelations, this month has been a fruitful one. All of my hippie ideologies have been crushed in one foul swoop and I can no longer look myself in the eye and proclaim that I don’t care about money. It is shamefully important in my grand plan, whilst such things as sanity and personal dignity are fast taking second place. My moral stance has taken the form of grunting at my boss like a Kevin - you know, pretending accidentally on purpose not have heard her, calling her a fat cow to all the other staff, that kind of thing. I wish I could say I was ashamed of my immaturity, but I am putting it down to being overworked and exhausted. So, it’s not my fault. And, besides, it is a sign of solidarity. And I hate my job anyway. So, just get off my back alright?

However, as always, I have a plan. It involves giving up coffee, which is, after all, part of a world-wide conspiracy to keep you awake at all the wrong times of the day slowly sending you into a never ending spiral of caffeine uppers and hot chocolate downers. It involves going to bed at 9:30pm so that I can frighten people the next day with my amazing efficiency and shop cleaning abilities. It involves making myself a lean, mean coffee serving machine. Then, just at the point where I have made everyone doubt the continuation of the coffee empire without my presence in it, just when I have earned enough money to buy my car and fund a flight abroad, I’ll quit in the most amazingly theatrical style, flinging coffee beans into the air and disappearing into the sunset. It should take about a month, I’ll let you know how it goes.

© Kezia Richmond 2001
*This article was featured in the Guardian April 27th 2002
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