Monday, December 08, 2008


What happens to people on Facebook when they die? Who gets to log into their accounts to shut them down? Do friends, employers and relatives have to send an email to Facebook admin, demanding a pixellated switch-off? Do they have to answer security questions? Shovel more ID into the data bank? Or do the profiles just hang around forever? Dagmar is...enjoying the sun in Buenos Aires (3 hours ago). Have you ever sent a virtual birthday pint to a corpse? Who pokes the dead from their eternal slumber?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


(Inspired by Uncarved Blog's musings on the UK retailer's current financial nosedive - - AKA some more shit I need to exorcise before I can convince my case worker I'm fit to pass beyond the front door again)

A is for ADAMS, BRYAN. As in the scab-faced Canadian sad dad rocker, who released his tour de farce LP, 18 Til I Die, in the same year I landed a job at Woolworths, during a bout of penury. Oh, sorry, what's that? You're not familiar with this magnum opus? Well, us staffers had to endure the damn thing every day, to the point that the lyrics are tattooed all over my subconscious. I'd wake up in a sweat at 4am with The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You churning around in my head, like some evil Rohypnol-packing salesman trapped in a washing machine. 18 Til I Die? Yeah, that's 90s pop culture for you - a bunch of regressive adult babies, the bunch of 'em. Kurt Cobain blowing his head off after an argument with the wife. Elizabeth Wurtzel looking for courtly love down some inebriated slacker's jap's eye. Chris Evans marrying a teenager. And Bryan Adams, claiming he'll be 18, like, forever, maan! Well, he's managed to retain the chronic acne, I'll give him that. Fucking hell, Bryan Adams. Is this the first blog to namecheck the cunt?

B is for BEHIND THE COUNTER, by The Fall. Which sort of became my theme song around this time. They wouldn't let me play it in the store, though. Shit, Ubersupervisor Jenny wouldn't even agree to blast the first Specials album (nestling in the CD racks, priced £2.99) over the in-store PA. No, the wheels of Woolworths ran on a steady diet of Bryan Adams. Oh yeah, and Gina G, but more of that later. B is also for BOUNCY CASTLE (inflatable) and BAD BREATH (again, later).

C is for C60s, C90s and even the odd C120. It'll probably surprise you disgusting little teenage prissies to learn that, back in the old days, we didn't have the luxury of popping a CD-R into the side of a laptop ((which used to cost as much as a motorbike if you wanted one with more than 1MB)) and burning a load of wobbly dubstep mixes ((which didn't exist)) in the time it takes to polish off a bowl of Oatibix ((didn't exist)). No, if we wanted to make a tape for someone, we had to sit through the whole bloody album, and remember to hit 'pause' between changing sides. Trying to impress a potential paramour with a C60 of meaningful tunes would take about 9 hours. People used to whinge if you made them a tape and wrote the track listing on the card yourself - I'm serious! People used to actually want the track list accompanying the copy of Hardcore Junglistic Fever 2 in red biro - as if the fucking thing was now unplayable, cos you'd covered the card in BLUE Bic scrawl, having had the cheek to bother recording it for them in the first place - all four sides. Anyway, Woolworths had loads of these blank tapes in stock, they were always big sellers - TDK more so than Maxell, IIRC.

D is for DO YOU THINK YOU CAN ACTUALLY GET BACK ON TOPIC AND TALK ABOUT WOOLWORTHS? as well as DINGHY (inflatable), DOLLS and DUNG BREATH, a condition that affected Jenny the supervisor. Jenny was 22 and had risen in the ranks during her first year at the branch. She'd even employed her 45-year old mum as counter staff and used to delight in bossing her around. You know, her own mum. Oh Holy Jesus, Mary and all the Saints - thank fuck I was never close to my clan! I don't know if Jenny ever imagined I fancied her, because whenever she leaned in close I'd automatically drop my eyes and shift about uncomfortably. It was actually a strategic manouevre to avoid the sewer fug, but I wasn't about to get the sack (yet) by extolling the virtues of Colgate to her.

E is for EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL. I'll ensure you two cunts go "Missing" if I ever catch up with you....another in-store treat, played morning, noon and evening.

F is for FISHER PRICE TOYS - readily available in most Woolworths branches across the land. Who can forget the Fisher Price turntable? Or the rock guitar? Or the garage mechanic with the blue overalls and the acid smiley face? "STEP OUT UV THE MO-TAH...TECHNO! TECHNO! TECHNO! TECHNO!"

G is for GINA G. Every time I recall this Eurovision flop's seminal '96 anthem, I'm reminded of one of the managers, Steve, a self-satisfied Mr Stripey Tie in his early 30s. You know the type? Nice little fiance' tucked away, 'hey, a place for everything, and everything in its place!'. Likes to imagine he's one of the lads, but passes out after 3 pints of Tetley's. Probably churned out two kids before his first affair. Anyway, in between coming up with feckless ideas to revamp the store layout ((comparable to the 'Father Ted' episode where they attempt to clean up the living room)) and telling me to get my elbows off the counter ((but I wasn't even eating, sir!)), he'd hum-sing along to Ooh, aah, just a little bit. I hope all you popists are reading this. HE was your real leader - not Mel & Kim bunking the bus down Balls Pond Road. Steve, with his stripey tie, pedantic impotence and smug grin.

H is for HORNY MID-40s WOMEN, the majority of the store's employees. The amount of smut I'd was definitely one of the more bearable parts of the job. I can guarantee that there's never been an episode of Resonance FM's "Midnight Sex Chat" as raunchy as the conversation two of the women once had - about resuming horizontal jogging after giving birth. One of the old bags took a shine to me and would ask me what me and my (then) girlfriend got up to - cheeky wink, saucy nudge. "Oh, nothing much," I'd retort, to which they'd all go, "MMM..he's a shy one!" To which I'd reply, "No, really, it's nothing - the last time I saw her she asked me whether her new haircut makes her look like Yasmin Le Bon, and then she got depressed and told me to leave her alone."

I is for IDIOT CUSTOMERS. Woolies employees sometimes got a bad rap for appearing distant, cold and rude. Well, news for you, it's a fucking miracle they weren't snatching plastic water pistols off the shelves, filling them with hydochloric acid and rampaging round the store, squirting babies in the eye. We had to deal with some real tossers. Like the cantankerous old cow who reported me to Stripey Tie Steve for saying 'Cheers' after I'd served her. I was informed by Jenny ((yes, the incident was deemed serious enough to go to some kangaroo committee)) that We say CHEERS if we're working in a pub, not when we're serving customers in Woolworths!.

J is for JENNY'S MUM. Like I said, she worked with us common scum. What a fate - you wipe that bitch's shitty arse, keep her in food and clothes and toys for years, and then the ungrateful little doxy shoves you on the counter and promises you an employee gold star if you lick arse ((can't have smelt worse than her mouth)) for a month. I got the impression the mum didn't like her offspring much. Normally, dozy old maternal bats big up their kids' achievements but, every time Jenny was mentioned, the mum would just purse her lips as an opaque mist spread across her eyeballs.

K is for KIDS. Thousands of them. Getting money out of their own pockets and buying things for themselves. Little bastards. Should have been in school. Mouthy shits. Tried to run their infantile jokes past me. "Yeah, whatever," I'd reply, pointing at the 99p shapeless kids' T-shirts. "I heard your mum's coming in tomorrow to pick up some of those for you." Crushed the little fuckers. Speak to your elders with respect. Ninjaman wouldn't have stood for it, so neither did I.

L is for LEAVING EARLY. Never an option, I'm afraid.

M is for MATE WHO COMES IN WHEN HE FINDS OUT YOU'RE WORKING AT WOOLWORTHS. Tom thought this was hysterical and actually got a bus across town just to observe me having to be relatively civil to strangers. Now, if a friend does this to you, the important thing is - play it cool. When I was at school, some kid we knew called Alan was forced by his evil parents to get a Saturday job in a shoe shop. Can you imagine? Having to bend down and help kids (those bastards again!) try on shoes. We were kids ourselves, and we hated them even then. So, as good mates, we all turned up at his store one Saturday, waving shoes around and generally acting like twats. Now, if Alan had just laughed about it, been 'Alright, lads?',we'd have got bored and left after 2 minutes. Instead, he completely freaked out, turned bright red and kept hissing Please, go, just go away - which only encouraged us to carry on arseing about and shouting his name out, until the manager threatened to ring the fuzz.

So I just joked about with Tom, pretending not to be phased by the fact he was watching me trying (badly) to fold 99p shapeless kids' shirts for tutting mums. "Here, scan this," he said producing some CD he'd just bought from HMV. Sure enough, a price flashed up. The only problem was I then couldn't clear it, and had to get one of the Horny Mid-40s Women to delete the non-existent "ORBITAL IN-SIDES" transaction.

Unfortunately, Jenny spotted this and I was dragged aside for a brief lecture on how Woolworths employees are too busy serving their loyal customers to spend time fraternising with mates. She didn't mention that mates normally larked about "down the pub", but I could detect a pattern emerging.

N is for NEW EMPLOYEE. Jenny couldn't be arsed to sort me out a name badge, so I just wore one which said 'New Employee'. Suited me - my name was no other fucker's business anyway. Sadly, I didn't get any hot single mums coming to the counter, eyeing my tag, licking their lipgloss and growling, Let me guess...definitely not a it Tony...or Aidan?. No, I just got some fucking comedian deciding to enliven his shopping trip by blurting out, "THAT'S AN UNUSUAL NAME!", his chin wobbling with suppressed laughter.

"Sorry?" I asked.

"NEW!" he snickered. "NEW EMPLOYEE...a very unusal name!"

Maybe I should have made some shit joke back, like, "Yeah, I'm from Ohio." Instead, I just looked him in the eye and pressed my hand down on the scale while I was totting up his Pick'n'Mix total. He had to pay an extra 37p for his chocolate eclairs, I'll tell you that much, the wag. (See 'P')


P is for PICK'N'MIX. This is the only real taste of power a Woolworths employee ever gets in the store. You'd basically load customers' sweetie selections onto an electronic scale to calculate how much to charge them. By the way, this scale was extremely sensitive. Leaving your hand on the bagged up treats would easily push the price up. Alternatively, you could just defy the scale and enter a lower price, manually, if the desire took you.

I felt like God did when he smote Sodom. I had more power than Steve and Jenny could ever dream of. Give me jip, sir? That'll be an extra 40p. Call it 'rudeness tax'. My dad didn't fight alongside the unions in the 60s just so you could bark at his kids behind the counter. Be nice to me, and you'll get 50% off. Old tramp shuffles into the store, causing Jenny and Steve to grimace and the security guard to snarl. Tramp pops some Pick'N'Mix on the counter, fingers some shrapnel with filthy fingers and missing nails. That'll be 4p then, sir. You cunts get on with revamping the store, I'll run the Pick'N'Mix. Kid in a Rangers shirt? Sorry, but you've got to pay 25p extra. No football colours in the store, please. Read the signs. Ginger kid in a Celtic top? Why, I think you'll find we're doing a discount on the mini-Mars bars today. Call it 18p off. Really boring, non-descript customer? Let the scale decide, I won't intervene. Ad nauseam.

If you've ever bought Pick'N'Mix, I promise you this - you'll never know if you got short-changed or not. Ever. Loads of us must have been up to it.

Q is for QUEUES. These often occurred when I fucked up the till, and had to wait for Jenny or Steve to come back off lunch to help me re-set the bloody thing. The customers weren't too chuffed with yours truly, but how was I meant to know what to do? My training consisted of Jenny repeatedly telling me that she was the youngest person to make it as a supervisor in the branch's history.


S is for SHOPLIFTERS AND SECURITY GUARDS. Our store's security strikeforce comprised an extremely fat bloke in a brown uniform and an 'undercover' girl with a bob cut. Let's call them, for brevity's sake, George and Mildred. Anyway, George fancied Mildred and wanted her to see him as Mr Security 1996 - the hard bastard who broke thieves' fingers and always backed her up with 23 stone of, um, muscle, whenever her detective instinct paid off. Mildred saw him as an older, overweight letch and constantly dodged his advances as she milled around the racks - ALL DAY - pretending to be a customer.

Now, I'm not usually prone to bragging. When the good looks were being dished out, I'm afraid I was round the back of the warehouse, sneaking a quick fag with Simon Weston. But it was obvious that, as the only male in the store who wasn't George or Steve, she seriously fancied me. She'd come up to me every 15 minutes with an update of how she was doing, or which kid (always a kid, never an adult) she suspected of being a tea leaf. If it wasn't that, she'd be coming out with vague stuff, like, I really fancy going out tonight...but none of my mates want to...would be really good to go out...I hate staying in on Thursday nights...what do you reckon I should do? It really would be great to go out tonight..., ETC. I don't know if I was meant to take the bait and ask her out but, in any case, I was lumbered with a girl who wanted to be Yasmin Le Bon anyway. But I'd encourage Mildred cos it really got on George's wick. Me and the slobbering security behemoth were developing a slow-burning dislike for each other, and Mildred was the diamond bullet in my psychic Armalite. Sort of.

Sadly, Mildred was a tosser - I grew tired of her excited reports. Oh wow, a 7-year old is loitering around the stationery section. Exercise pad heist in progress! I'll nab him! she told me, smiling (she probably didn't say 'nab', I just chucked that word in for effect). George was well pleased, his hour had come. YES, YOU CAN SPEAK TO THAT SNOT BEHIND THE COUNTER, THE ONE WHO'S YOUNGER AND SKINNIER THAN ME, BUT WILL HE THROW HIS CARCASS OVER THAT THIEVING LITTLE TOERAG WHEN HE EXITS THE STORE? AND ALL BECAUSE I LOVE YOU, MILDRED. I DREAM OF BEING YOUR BODYGUARD. YOU IN YOUR CHECK TOP AND BABY SPICE TRAINERS, ON THE RED CARPET IN TINSELTOWN. ME BY YOUR SIDE, LUNGING AT PAPARAZZI, PUNCHING OUT OVER-ENTHUSIASTIC FANS. TAKING A BULLET FOR YOU. FORGET 'NEW EMPLOYEE' - COME WITH ME MILDRED. ONE DAY, WE'LL PATROL HARRODS TOGETHER.

Kid came up to the counter, looking as guilty as fuck. A really poor shoplifter. I had to let him know he was being watched. Just forget a life of crime; if you can't be confident stealing a bit of paper, you'll never progress to expensive cheeses in Sainsburys, let alone Matt Brinks. He went and put the pad back and returned with a felt tip. Paid for it, then left, dejected. I haven't got a paternal bone in my body, but I really felt for the brat, I don't know why. I could have adopted him there and then. Gone back to Yasmin and said, "Look, I've saved you all the pushing and pain. This is Gnasher, our son. Just put him up at your place. I'll visit at weekends and show him how to play football."

George waddled after the kid the moment he passed through the door. Mildred beamed, Knew it! George came back, empty-handed. THAT'S WIPED THE SMILES OFF YOUR CHOPS, YA BASTARDS I cackled into the till. I really wanted to take her out for a drink, go back to her place and then reveal that I'd tipped off the light-fingered guttersnipe. But I didn't and, shortly after, she was moved to another job, much to George's disgust.

T is for TOTAL CHAOS. Look, our branch had five people acting in managerial roles. They'd sit around and debate store revamps on a daily basis. Nobody knew what was going on. I could have literally moved all the baby clothes into the CD section and nobody would have batted an eyelid.

U is for UNIFORMS. They tried to make me wear a yellow shirt and blue tie. Yes, yellow! After my first day, I actually went and spunked my beer money on a white shirt and wore this, with an old tie I'd nicked from my dad (some groovy black and silver number - "ITALIAN SILK!" the old man used to roar, but the label on the back clearly says 'TOOTAL - TEL MACCLESFIELD 22242 - POLYESTER))and my flatmate Andy's trousers, in on my second day - just to be spared the uniform. "But I'm in a shirt and tie already, and that yellow shirt's given me a rash," I reasoned, and they couldn't really say anything to the contrary.

V is for VERY LONG POST - this was meant to be a quick piss-around.

W is for WORKERS. As usual, it's the counter staff who now have to face a shit Xmas and cut back on all the trimmings, while the boardroom tossers - who should have been regulating the fucking company and actually aggreeing viable store revamp strategies, instead of letting a bunch of gibbons enact their managerial fantasies and come up with 'gold star' employee rewards - simply nick the parachutes and scarper.

X is for X'd - one day, Jenny sat me down. "It's not really working, is it?" she said, as a waft of rancid eggs engulfed me. "No," I said. "We think it'd be best if you handed in your notice," she smiled. "Actually, you can go now, we'll pay you for the rest of the week."


Z is for...oh, bollocks! I need a can of Stella.

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