Rolling in the Aisles
I was on the early shift at the supermarket. 5 am start, through to midday. I hated the early shift. I hated all the shifts. But what could you do? The bills needed paying. And the bar tab. It kept the DWP off my back, too.
Weasel was standing outside when I arrived, stamping his feet against the cold. He handled the meat and fish counter. He was called Weasel because he looked like a weasel. Pointed face. Pointed canines. Wiry frame. He was alright, though. He nodded.
“Cold fucker, eh?”
The stars were still out. Every sane person was sleeping. Weasel sucked on his vape and blew a cloud from inside his hood.
“I wish this fucker would open up. I’ve rung three times.”
“Who’s duty manager today?”
He was called Cuntface because of the cut of his beard. And he was a cunt.
I took out my tin and rolled a smoke, cupping my hands around it for the heat. The other early guys arrived in ones and twos, huddling in around the door.
At 4.56 am, the shutters went up and Cuntface let us in.
“Morning, lads. Need to move it.”
4 minutes to get upstairs, kit up, clock on. Not even time for a piss. Weasel hung up his parka and put on his apron and cap. His face was the colour of raw steak. Road maps of spider veins ran across his cheeks. He took a bottle of sherry from his locker, took a long swig, straightened up.
“I can face it now.”
We swiped our cards and headed for the stairs. There was a mirror at the top with a sign:
APPEARANCE IS IMPORTANT.
UNIFORM CLEAN AND PRESSED?
HAIR NEAT OR TIED?
NAME BADGE ON AND STRAIGHT?
At the bottom, someone had Magic-Markered
Weasel took a look and grinned at himself.
“Go scare ’em the fuck away, you ugly bastard.”
We went down and started in.
There were two hours before the store opened at 7. In that time, I had to set up the Produce section as best I could. That meant getting as much of the previous day’s stuff out of the chiller as quickly as possible before the new delivery arrived around 5:30 am. Once that was there, it had to be my focus. 11 or 12 pallets, usually. It was made easier if the section had been prepped with a proper close-down the previous night – space made, etc. It depended who was on, and if there was time. Every job was time-limited. Load clearance, date checks, reductions, stock counts, waste. If you fell behind, you had no choice but to cut corners. They didn’t pay overtime. You still had to keep the shelves stocked, too. Some days it was no sooner out than it was gone. It was a slave camp. All for £8.20 an hour. When you clocked off, you felt like you’d been hit by a bus.
The chiller was still quite full and the delivery arrived early. The close-down was crap, too. Typical. I wheeled the pallets in and started. Cuntface kept walking past, checking. He always found something wrong.
“Straighten up those sacks of potatoes before someone trips on them.”
“Don’t leave that chilled stuff out for longer than 20 minutes.”
“You need to fill up the nuts as soon as you can.”
“Those salad shelves are a mess.”
“Why are you doing that when the fruit section’s empty?”
You always knew he was coming by the way he walked. A quick-step waddle, like a duck on speed. His legs only seemed to move from the knees, like they were tied together. All his weight was around his gut and arse, like he’d been wrung out at both ends. Word was his wife gave him a tough time at home. It made sense. He got his own back at work.
He shuffled off double-fast to shout at the bakery crew about the pies. Weasel was putting a tray of cod out. He gave me the wink.
“She ties him up and whips him, apparently. Not for a turn-on, but because he’s a cunt. He demands it. Imagine that.”
There wasn’t time to check the delivery as you put it out. You had to keep a mental note as best you could. Not easy with over 100 items, but you pretty soon got it. You ticked the delivery sheet afterwards and took it to the office. They had to have it by 10 am or you got a bollocking. If you were on your own, it was a push. But you still had to do it.
At 6:30 am, Lewis clocked in and came to give me a hand. He was the Produce supervisor. Only 23, but sound enough. He’d done the job since he was a Saturday boy. Worked it well and knew his stuff. Strong, too. Played quarterback for a local rugby club. Arms like flanks of beef. His tattoos took a lot of ink. He had a good brain and was wasted there, really. I hoped he’d find something better. But he seemed settled. His woman was pregnant with twins, anyway.
“Looking good, Harry,” he said.
He piled in with the main veg stands. Fresh energy. We’d soon be on top of it.
“Cuntface been around?”
“All the time.”
“Fuck him, mate.”
At 7, the doors opened and the early birds came in. Some had been waiting outside for at least 20 minutes. It made no sense to me. Why would anyone waste their life that way? Get up early on a bollock-freezing morning to get to a supermarket that was open all day before it was open? Most of them were pensioners, though. What else was there to do with what was left of it?
At 7:30, Lewis sent me up for breakfast. The canteen was warm and quiet. I got a double round of grilled cheese on toast and a mug of tea and sat at a table on my own. It all tasted good and it was a fucking relief. I looked at the paper. Death, war, violence. Nothing new. I looked at the cartoons. Even they weren’t funny.
Afterwards, I went down to the yard for a smoke. A few others were there, sitting on the steps, looking at their phones. It was trying to snow and the cold got right in. That was another thing. You could never find a comfortable temperature in the store. You were either sweating with the loads, or in the chiller. Produce was near the entrance, too, so a blast came in every time the doors opened.
I went for a quick piss before swiping back in. Weasel was in the locker room, having another swig. By the time he knocked off he was already half-cut. Whatever gets you through.
I spent the rest of the morning on reductions – scanning old bar codes, printing off new ones to stick over them. It was a long job on Produce because there was so much short-dated stuff to get through. The hand-helds we used were crap, too. The batteries would die, or they’d go offline. You’d have to find a manager to authorise codes. Cuntface always found a reason for a moan.
“If you people had to pay for these things yourselves, you’d treat them with more respect.”
One day, someone was going to embed one in his rectum. I could see it coming.
By 10:30, the place was heaving. It was much harder to work with so many people around. Trolley jams. People blocking the aisles, chatting. Kids whizzing round on scooters. Security was supposed to stop them, but they were always too busy. People tried all ways to smuggle things out. Open umbrellas. Poaching pockets. Stuff tucked inside newspapers. Bags of disposable nappies piled up around booze. Stuff stacked under trolleys so that check-out staff couldn’t see.
That was another thing, too. Check-outs at busy times. The dreaded tannoy.
“All available relief staff to check-outs, please.”
That meant all of us. Most tried to ignore it with so much else to do. So then they’d get to names.
“Harry Chadwick to check-outs, please.”
If you ignored that, you got a reprimand. Three of those meant a final warning. After that you were down the road. You just had to hope it didn’t last too long. In the afternoons was the worst. Counts to do in an hour. 300 items to check.
“Harry Chadwick to check-outs, please.”
And so on it went.
The morning went fast, at least. The mornings always did. I was still putting stuff out at 11:59. At 12:00 on the button, I stopped.
“Thanks for this morning, Harry,” Lewis said. “Good job.”
He was less than half my age. I was digging the roads when he was still in his dad’s nut-sack. But I didn’t mind. I knew he was straight in the way he meant it.
“You in tomorrow?”
“No. Day off.”
“Okay, mate. Enjoy.”
A whole day off.
I went up and swiped out. I put my coat on. Before I left, I grabbed a ready meal for dinner. Then it was over to the alcohol aisle. Weasel was already there – knocked off, too. His basket was loaded with 2 litre bottles of white cider, like a stack of torpedoes.
“We beat the cunts another day, H,” he said.
I picked up a half-bottle of store-brand scotch. I put it back and grabbed a bottle instead.
“That’s what I like to see,” said Weasel. “A proper decision being made.”
“Ah, well I’m off tomorrow, mate.”
We made our way to the check-outs.
“All available relief staff to check-outs, please.”
“Go fuck yourself,” said Weasel.
At home, I zapped the meal and ate it at the kitchen counter. Then I opened the scotch and poured myself a decent tumbler. I sat with it and wrote a little thing on my computer. I thought the lads would like it.
SHOPPING CODES FOR SUPERMARKET CUSTOMERS (AS OBSERVED BY A SUPERMARKET WORKER)
If you pick up a product anywhere in the store, then later decide you no longer want to buy it, it’s fine to put it anywhere at all other than back in the place where you picked it up. DVDs, for instance, can easily be placed between milk bottles or on a stack of apples. This also applies if you are less than 3 yards away from the original place. Chilled or frozen products can literally be placed anywhere other than a chiller or freezer. Conversely, tampons and teabags chill down quite well if you put them in with the pizzas or ice cream
Similarly, if you pick a whole basketful or trolley-full of shopping and then decide you want none of it, it’s okay to abandon the basket or trolley anywhere at all in the store – though preferably in the middle of an aisle where people can fall over it. Don’t worry – the staff will happily put it all back for you
If you see a product without a price, ask a member of staff if they could go and check the price for you. While they’re away doing this, put the product back on the shelf and go somewhere else
Never pick a bunch of bananas that’s exactly the right size for you. Always pick a bunch that has one too many bananas, then tear the excess banana off and leave it in the pile of single, torn-off bananas that no one else wants (they’re usually browner than the rest)
If you come to the ‘Reduced Items’ section and someone else is there in front of you, it’s okay to reach across them and take whatever you want without asking
If you have children, shout at them a lot
If the product you want has already been bought by all the people who managed to get to the store ahead of you, ask a member of staff why there aren’t any left, then complain that they don’t order enough
If you see a member of staff waiting to restock a shelf, place your trolley in front of it and stand for ages looking at a swede or a can of soup so as to stop them from doing their work
Never look left or right at a check-out queue in case you happen to see the person standing beside you who was actually there ahead of you (before you decided to join the queue at the wrong place) and who is now looking ready to rip your throat out.
Never care about anyone else in the store, ever – including the minimum-wage hacks who are there to serve you. Your interests are all that matter because the customer is always right.
I printed it off. I had another scotch. Then I went to bed.