||GAP YEAR HELL
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 shouldnt
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, were 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 someones
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
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 dont 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, Youre having a larf arent 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 dont
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, its 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, Ill quit in the most amazingly theatrical
style, flinging coffee beans into the air and disappearing into the
sunset. It should take about a month, Ill let you know how it
© Kezia Richmond 2001
*This article was featured in the Guardian April 27th 2002
LIVES: Number 267
'The Way They Act, They Way They Carry Theirselves'
L.Hill Kezia Richmond