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Kezia Richmond

Welcome to my World
Christmas in the retail world brings a glow to the eyes of fat cat businessmen everywhere. As they pour over daily takings readings and sweep into shops delivering messages of good will and hard work from company H.Q., the message is clear. A year of preparation has delivered the goods to the shops and now it is the turn of Saturday staff across the country to put it in plastic bags whilst wearing tinsel in their hair, working late and generally pulling together for the common cause. Cynic, me?

Life in the fast-moving, ultra 2000 world of the espresso bar has left me somewhat completely and utterly knackered and looking a bit like last Christmas's carrier bag. Whilst nobody likes a Hazelnut Latte more than me, every now and then, when my patience wears thin, I hear myself uttering the phrase outlawed as pure blasphemy by all coffee shop empires: 'Why don't they just go home and make themselves a cup of tea for half the price?'

Dear reader, on behalf of Baristas everywhere, surely you appreciate that a cup of coffee can only be made so fast. I am sure you have never committed the cardinal customer sin of sighing heavily and rolling your eyes in impatience whilst your drink is being prepared, or your carefully chosen purchase placed in a bag. I certainly have, but I do it with a swagger because I am an Us, and I am absolutely allowed. Come on Tracy, Clare, Shaun whoever. Bag, money, receipt, smile, it ain't that hard and I can say that because I know. I am a medal owning veteran of the Christmas rush and have worked every year since I was fifteen. The sight of thousands of shoppers, sheeping it around town, laughing at novelty slippers, squawking at queue jumpers and generally being all clap-happy capitalist consumers shouldn't still bother me. In fact it doesn't really bother me, even when I have to queue for ten minutes to buy my lunch because people are busy stocking up on jellied almonds. Mine, is not a moral stance, but a personal grievance.

I love Christmas, I love presents, I love decorations, Christmas tele schedules, tackiness, classiness, everything except hideous Christmas nibbles. What is bothering me this year is not that it is hard work, it is the fact that as a rent-paying non-student, for the first time ever, I have no choice but to work. After last Christmas I swore that I would become a pacifist and avoid the battle ground that is December shopping. I would buy all my presents in mid-Summer with the wages earned from my highly lucrative Graduate job. Instead I have enrolled as an Officer in the coffee shop regiment and am currently leading my troop of school kids on to victory. Last Sunday, one fifteen year old buckled under the pressure and quit, storming out of the shop in a blaze of Lynx and hair gel. Part of me wanted to feed him through the grinder, part of me stood back and wistfully sighed, 'Look at him go; pure poetry'.

From behind the counter, the shopper's world, with their free weekends and disposable income, is a world of freedom. It is Them and Us. The shop counter is the final frontier Of course I could always leave the crazy world of coffee and head for the grey comfort of the office. At Xmas, this is tantamount to going A.W.O.L and probably really would result in me being shot, but fear of death is not my motivation for staying put. With every caffeine infused breath I take, memories of Supermarket Sweep and Old English Poetry are blasted from my mind to be replaced by sales figures and point of sale campaigns. My quasi-political stance against being cooped up in an office nine till five, serving as a minion in the great capitalist machine has led me instead, straight into the heart of consumer society and... I actually like it here. I may be haggard and ready to steam the head of the next customer who actually asks for decaf, (why??), but truthfully I am becoming obsessed with my job. I am staying late, I am checking figures, I am setting daily sales targets, I am talking about the staff, and all my worthy defence of the life of the Arts student is being replaced by a deep mistrust of anyone who has never done a solid days work.

There is nothing like the spirit of shop staff comradeship in the face of Christmas adversity to make you feel worthy. I can feel the spirit of war-time Britain surging within. Jerry wants coffee, Jerry gets it hot! The lure of a career in Marketing was becoming frighteningly real until the intervention of Peter Mandelson. When Mr. Mandelson visited our shop last week on a tour of the town, things began to fall back into place. He doesn't drink coffee so, when he declared that our nice, but rather standard machine hot chocolate was the best he tasted in years, even my proud boss began to doubt his sincerity. Mr Mandelson's visit, far from leaving the impression of a gracious visit by a powerful statesman, left only a deep suspicion in my mind about the real demands of a job where you don't even need to drink coffee. There are them and us, and then there are THEM and US.

In the real world, where my resolve to never have to bow and scrape to a Suit is wearing thin, I am beginning to doubt my own battle lines. I have even discovered some Arts v. Other Graduates common ground. My friend the successful I.T Graduate, e-mailed me to defend the right to study what you want, claiming that Arts degrees considered vital questions about life that would be lost if everyone simply studied for job security. Arts defended by a Techie?? Whilst Westminster M.Ps and mad Christmas shoppers fuel my desire to be on a hill top day-dreaming for hours, my smug, Arts are enlightened O.K! stance has been somewhat crushed by the compelling clarity of a computer scientist. Whilst I live to serve another cappuccino my conclusion for this month is: sorted is as sorted does.

© Kezia Richmond 2000

Also by Kezia

Gap Year Hell

What are Art Degrees For?

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