Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Colleague in Focus: Alex

Alex? Alex? Who the fuck is Alex? (oh I dazzle myself with my own inventiveness) You might be wondering, considering he isn't mentioned in the Who's Who's entry. Well there's a reason for this. Until last week he was an unremarkable grocery assistant.

Prior to the sudden emergence of his true colours, however, there was only one vaguely interesting subject for blogging that linked to him. That was his perception of me. Which, I later discovered with horror, had been shared by most of the staff in Food Place at some point. He said he was "a bit scared" of me, that I was "kinda intimidating" and "thundery". And there's me thinking I had been successful in suppressing the aggressive side of my personality.

Of course, when you discover something like this about yourself, you tend to go around and ask for other peoples' opinions. First stop was Terry, the store manager. He confirmed what Alex said. My natural facial expression, he reckons, is "very frowny and confrontational". He did, thankfully, redeem me by saying "it all vanishes when you get talking to you though". Well, at least that's something. All snarl but neither bark nor bite.

Back to the point. What happened with Alex that's earned him the dubious honour of a dedicated blog entry? He's shown himself to be nothing but an immature little boy that's never got over having to leave his former profession of class clown. That's what.

It started one day last week. Me and Steven were in the staff room, eating dinner. I was engrossed in the newspaper, Steven was listening to his iPod. Don't you just hate people who can't respect other peoples' right to a bit of peace and quiet? Well you wouldn't like Alex. He came blasting in and started twittering away. And it wasn't the sort of twittering that you can just allow to fade into the background. He kept asking questions and demanding our attention. OK, minor irritation but he's bound to shut up soon.

But he didn't. And when the responses from me got drier and drier, he turned his attention to Steven. Now, Steven is a very quiet, sensitive sort of person. He wouldn't say boo to a goose, generally, and only comes out of his shell around his friends (like me - we've known each other for years).

So, anyways, Alex suddenly tore one of Steven's earphones out, put it to his own ear and shouted "what's this shite?". Steven's face flared bright red and he didn't answer - I saw red and felt my face forming the death stare at Alex.

He noticed and made a mock scared voice: "Ooooh Andrew's giving me the evils, doing his tough look".

I got madder. But, at the same time, I knew I had to be very careful. Being a supervisor, whether in the staff room or not, you can't react to things like that the same way you could outside of work. For that matter, none of the staff at Food Place can.

"If he wanted to share his musical taste with you, he'd bring a stereo to work. He's wearing earphones, so it's none of your business what he's listening to." It was the best I could come up with, but I delivered it with the death stare still in place. Alex's face looked a little flustered - he really doesn't like anybody coming back at him.

He tried to play it down. Maybe I did overreact a little bit to what he did and said, but it's one of my pet hates. People slagging off other peoples' choice in music or clothes. It makes the veins in my head throb. Smarmy little asses going round mocking what other people like. Don't you just want to knock their two eyes into one?

Alex didn't give up however. He tried to argue it out with me and it resulted in him asking me what music I liked (trying to move away from the mini-argument). I told him and added: "are you gonna slag that off then?" He gave me the 'is this for real or are you just joking?' look. He carried on trying to get me to be nice to him for a bit longer before leaving the room, under the pretense of going to his locker, and sitting elsewhere when he came back in.

That wasn't really a major incident. He did something, I thought it was out of order, stood up for Steven because I knew he wouldn't do it for himself and gave Alex some dirty looks. But the whole thing put me onto a bad footing with Alex.

[The song at the centre of this debate was Close to Me - The Cure. Had I known that at the time Alex would have got a tirade from me for bashing a brilliant song]

Throughout the rest of last week my dislike of him blossomed and bloomed. I started noticing small annoyances about him. His hairdo for one. It must take him hours to construct. And then I overheard him boasting to Lisa: "I can't even remember how many women I've slept with!" (He's 17!) He obviously thought this would make him look like something he isn't. Thankfully Lisa knocked him down by remarking that he'd made himself sound like "an easy man-slut".

And then came our public clash. On Saturday it was very busy and I called for till-trained staff. When only one person responded, I glanced up the aisles and called the names of the first staff-members I spotted. Alex was one of them. He came marching down.

"I'm busy, you'll have to call somebody else."

BUSY? You're facing-up dog food for Christ's sake! "Sorry Alex, there is no busy. If you're needed on tills, you're needed on tills."
"Well you're not doing much, you sit on."
"Alex, I'm a department supervisor asking you to get onto a till to get the queues down. If you have a problem with that request, then speak to Terry. He'll also tell you why designated front-end key holders can't sit on tills. Till six please."
Small tip: never get me on my high horse about till-trained staff calls. I won't stop rabbiting on for hours. And NEVER argue with me in front of waiting customers. Sit down, serve and shut up. This little disagreement took place right next to customers who were waiting for him to get on a till and serve them. If looks could kill, Alex would be dead.
Alex muttered "fucks sake" under his breath" and sauntered off to till six. He was trying to take his time removing the grab-lock, probably hoping the queues would vanish, but I went waltzing across and herded the customers over "TILL SIX IS OPENING! TILL SIX!"
When he got off the till, not five minutes later, he gave me a dirty look and said "see, you didn't even hardly need me."
"Alex, that's the point of calling all till trained staff. Everybody jumps on, the queues are gone in seconds and everyone can get back to their jobs."
"But I was busy."
"Well you'd better get back and get on with it then if it's so pressing and discuss your issues with Terry later..." he can tell you it's part of your job, like it or leave.
So he's well and truly riled me. Right up there with Cynthia now. Ugh. Enough about him.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


Why can't people just go out and get a job to earn their living, like everybody else? Would it be so difficult for them? No. So why do some people feel the need to go around stealing money? Do they think it's not theft, just because they're not physically sticking their hand in the till and taking it?

I'm referring to the dirty, evil con-artists that targeted our store today. It's a trick that's very widely reported across the retail industy which involves scumbags asking cashiers to change notes before diddling them into handing too much change over.

It's something that's stunningly easy to carry out. Basically, they buy something small with a £20 note. While the cashier is getting the change from the till drawer, they hand another note over and ask them to change it into pound coins whilst gibbering away so much the cashier loses track of what they're doing. By this time, they seize the moment of confusion and offer guidance as to what the cashier owes them, gibbering away to create yet more confusion, before walking away with £1o-30 too much (depending on how much they handed over).

There are no words for how low my opinion is of these fraudsters is. They deliberately go for the cashiers they believe look gullible enough to fall for it. They're polite and chatty to place themselves above suspicion. They know that any doubts in the cashier's mind will be offset by their desire not to look stupid by questioning what is going on. They're nothing but thieves.

We've started this week £30 down because of this. It's just a shame the cashier didn't get a grip on what had happened until it was too late. I certainly don't lay any blame on them though. The trick is amazingly easy to fall for - particularly when you've been on the checkouts for hours on end. You go into auto-pilot mode and it's, very often, too late by the time you realise you've been duped. It happened to me once not long after I started working at Food Place - never again. It's a very easy lesson to learn - change notes for nobody.

The crime wave at Food Place is beyond belief lately. This weekend alone we've stopped NINE people trying to walk out with trolleys full of unpaid-for goods. Each time the total was more than £150. Even on a quiet day you can spend half of your time investigating when the alarms go off at the doors. But lately even they've become unreliable. They've been sounding for no reason at all.

And then there's the ones that hide razor blades in boxes of cereal, stick reduction stickers over expensive products to get them for 7p and steal POS from the shelves to put it back on, weeks later, and claim items at special-offer prices.

Get a job you thieving arseholes! I'm not in a high spirited mood today. At this moment in time I'm so sick of Food Place I want to write out my notice and hurl it at Terry. But, no doubt, things will look better in the morning. I won't bore you with those problems - unless they persist.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Why is it, we can go for months on end without anything exciting happening and then, suddenly, it all comes at once?

Yesterday morning there was a fault with Food Place's heating system and the store began to fill with thin white smoke. There was a strong smell of burning and it was quickly evident that we needed to get out.

But the customers had different ideas. I put a tannoy call out that customers had to leave their shopping where it was and make their way to the car park immediately. What part of that is difficult to understand? We had people just continue shopping, fanning the smoke away from their face while they did it. Some went to the checkouts, intending on paying before they left. Perhaps they'd have got the message more clearly if I'd star-jumped along the aisles screaming "WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!".

It's just so selfish. They might not mind taking risks like that, but don't they realise that the staff can't leave until they've got everybody out? In the event, nobody did get hurt. But in emergencies, every second counts YOU MORONS!

Now, if that happened to you whilst you were shopping, and you were ushered out of the store, what would you do? Bear in mind you've seen the smoke, smelt the burning. Would you say it was very likely you would be let back in there any time soon? No, of course not. But what did the customers do? Went and sat in their cars and scowled at the staff standing at the emergency assembly point. I swear I lip-read one woman saying "look at them! Just stood there!".

Yes dear, we're just doing this for a laugh! We like standing outside in the pouring rain with our coats and car keys trapped inside the building! That said, we did our best. The duty managers were in touch with the emergency services, our operational support desk and the utility companies, so we were regularly touring the customers in their cars, keeping them updated.

But they were getting increasingly ratty. One of them exclaimed: "I've got a pound in my trolley in there! I'm not leaving without that!" I'd heard it all then. Do they think all the staff are rubbing their hands together at the thought of all the pound coins they can steal as a result of this? Do they really think we're not going to let them claim it back next time they visit? If I'd had a friggin' pound coin in my pocket I'd have thrown it at them.

They eventually gave up. One by one, they pulled out of the car park, scowling at us as they did. But those customers were only a quarter of the battle. Imagine the struggle we had trying to keep newly-arriving customers away. One old man pulled up in a car, got out, got a trolley, moved the advertising boards we'd blockaded the entrance with, and tried to prise the doors when they failed to open. Seriously mate, come on! Open your God-damned eyes! Do these people never ask themselves questions about what's going on around them? Do they even notice?

Three and a half hours. That's how long we were out there. We were finally OKed to go back inside just after 1pm, and a group of gossiping customers (who'd jumped to the conclusion the company was in administration and had closed all the stores indefinitely) tried to follow us in. Get a grip on reality you stupid fools! They actually thought that we were just going to let them straight back in without carrying out any sort of survey of the premises. For a start, we had to make sure all loose, uncovered food was removed from sale first.

So goodbye produce department.

The rest of the day was hell. I got around 20 extremely snotty phone calls. "Hello, have you reopened yet?" I felt like snapping: "No, we're not quite finished deliberately inconveniencing you yet." And then there was the people coming back for the £1 coins. I have never been regarded with such contempt in all my life! It was as though we'd done something absolutely awful to them. I actually said, to one whining customer, "Would you rather have stayed and choked? We had no idea what the smoke was, it could have been noxious, we acted in the interests of everybody's safety, what is the problem with that?"

As Basil Fawlty said: "I don't know why we bother, we should let you all burn."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Stop Bucking the Trend

Why can't customers just be reliable? OK, so I know they're going to moan, complain, cause complications and, generally, make my life hell. But why can't they co-ordinate themselves to do it?

What I'm alluding to are our store trading patterns. It goes without saying that Monday and Tuesday tend to be relatively quiet. Wednesday is usually very busy due to the town market dragging people from far and wide. Thursday is steady, Friday is similar to Wednesdays and Saturday and Sunday are hell on earth. Wednesday, Friday and weekends are easy to staff. It's simply a case of tapering the staff in until all the tills are full by 11am. Keep them full until 7pm and then taper everyone off until 10pm. Except Saturdays, when the trade declines to a mere trickle from 6pm onwards.

But just lately, stupid customers have been bucking all the trends of a normal Monday trade. Take yesterday. The entire population of the surrounding area decided to come shopping at 7pm, when we only had three till staff. I was the first person to end up sitting down and serving, followed closely by Steven being dragged, kicking and screaming, from dairy. This still didn't improve matters and Michaela had to be taken from the deli and Kieran had to abandon the shop-floor. When the queues still raged, Sean, who was managing the store, had no option but to hop on himself. So there we were. Virtually everybody in the store, all sat on checkouts.

And, it's not just me, but the customers are getting slowly snottier. I served at least five people yesterday who where too far up their own backsides to even respond to my friendly greeting. I took great delight in, totally overtly, pulling faces at them when they weren't looking. Got some chuckles from the people behind.

The whole store has an air of boring blandness about it because Kate is on holiday this week. I rely on her hilarious outbursts and comments to keep me going. And I don't have anybody's accent to mock. Kate is Scottish and I could spend all day imitating everything she says - badly. But she isn't much better at impersonating my broad south Wales accent (and I don't live there anymore before the Security Mafia teams of several supermarket chains narrow my location down to Pontypridd). Still, it keeps us amused.

Had a bizarre moment yesterday evening. I went into the cash office, and the sensor that normally triggers the lights to come on, failed. I went in and door closed behind me. Leaving me standing there in pitch darkness. For some reason, I was afraid to move - an action that would have solved the problem immediately. I think I was just wondering how close I was to smacking my face into the lock-box.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Telephone Queries and Anniversaries

Today has been a bizarre day for telephone calls. Normally customers come into the store and be annoying to my face, but today they launched a new offensive by phoning me.

Of course, it being a Sunday, we got the usual quarter-to-ten barrage of phone calls all asking the same thing. "What time do you open?" I swear it's the same voices every week. You'd think we just opened whenever we fancied. These, as ever, lasted for around half an hour. It was only later that the bizarre calls started.

Weird Phone Customer One
This one began with a bog-standard product query. I hate it when people do this. If I wanted to go and buy something, I would form a list in my mind of places that might sell it, and visit those places until I found what I was looking for. Why can't other people be this considerate? Still, if they're enquiring about a product, they're not complaining - which has to be a bonus.

This customer wanted aubergines. But not any old aubergines. They had to have been freshly delivered and "large". Well how vague. How am I supposed to know how big a "large" aubergine should be? My response was that we had some aubergines, delivered this morning, that were considerably larger than the smallest ones in the tray.

The caller just said: "Right. Erm. Thank you. I think I'll leave it at that," and hung up. Charming.

Weird Phone Customer Two
If you're going to call Food Place to complain, it does help if you find something to complain about first.

This call started as a query: "Were there any toilet rolls left behind at the tills?"

Ah, a simple query about a simple oversight that I can rectify and make somebody happy. I checked the book and yes, indeed, some toilet rolls had been left behind. Till eight to be precise, at 10:45am while Kerry was serving. I informed the customer they had been left behind, and asked if they'd been paid for?

"Well how will I know that?" she asked, in a tone that betrayed her doubts about my intelligence.

"If you have your receipt, that should tell you if you've been charged. If you haven't, you can come back and get them whenever's convenient for you or have them refunded."

"Well is that all?"

Well what the hell else do you want? A party to celebrate? "I'm sorry?" I use that question an awful lot when a customer is baffling me. It doesn't tend to get any sense out of them though.

"Is that all you're going to do about it. Would it not be an idea to make sure your staff are competent enough to notice things like this?"

You bitch! That incompetent member of staff you speak of, actually took the time to retrieve your left behind purchases and log them in the book should you return. They were looking after you damn it! It's not their fault you're a useless scatterbrain. "All I can do is apologise. The store is an extremely busy environment and oversights like this do happen. You might have dropped them on the floor or something, it most probably wasn't the cashier's fault."

She sighed and hung up. Good riddance to stinking' trash.

Weird Phone Customer Three
This one was a query about a receipt. Basically, a man came in and bought £11.31 worth of goods and cashed in a £3 win on a scratchcard which he asked to be taken off his bill. Leading to a total of £8.31 to pay. He handed over a ten pound note and was given £1.69 change. I know all this because I served him.

He rang to query his bill but was very incoherent. From his first sermon, I managed to deduce that he reckoned to have been shortchanged by £4. He spoke of having given £15 in cash. I knew he hadn't, but before I could say anything, he started babbling about the £3 instant win having been added to his bill rather than deducted. Knowing this to impossible, I began explaining what had actually happened.

He, evidently, couldn't make head nor tail of me and passed the phone to his wife. From what she said, I realised what was going on. She'd given him £15 to buy some shopping, he'd only spent £8.31 and the change he'd given her was £4 short. So where, in God's name, do I come into this? She wasn't budging from the idea that we'd conned her out of money so I offered to spot-check the till in question and give her a ring back.

I duly checked the till, which proved to be one penny over (the penny I found on the floor and put into the till). When I phoned back, I spoke to the wife of the piece, who said she'd been adding up the receipt and now understood it entirely. She said:

"I think my husband has used the change to sneakily buy cigarettes. So, the fact of the matter is, I won't be sending him shopping again."

NO! You fool! The fact of the matter is this: you have just wasted a good fifteen minutes of my time because of your problems with a lack of trust and honesty in your household!

Today also marks the sixth anniversary of my employment at Food Place. I was 15, wanted a Saturday job to get some pocket money, and had to get a work-permit from the Education Authority. It was only ever going to be part-time while I was studying. But I just sort of stayed there. Through my A-levels and through my gap-year. I had been planning on working weekends whilst at university, but when I decided I'd picked the wrong course, I left uni and went full-time until I could apply again. Only I didn't get round to it last year, so another year of full-time work ensued. (Fear not, I have applied this year and my place is secured and finance soon to be arranged).

Today also marks two years of Food Place trading under it's current banner. The store changed hands in December 2004 and we were converted to trade under the new company's format in February 2005. At first, we were all ready to leave. We hated it. But, once the dust settled, we soon seen the light. Retail employment is retail employment, regardless of which company you work for. They're all the same.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Colleague in Focus: Cynthia

I don't need an excuse to write anything about Cynthia, because she pisses me off every moment that I'm in her company.

Being in charge of personnel and having, last year, transferred all the staff details to the new computer system, I'm well informed about the past employment of every member of staff in Food Place. Cynthia's is particularly - well - long. A glance at it shows that she's had around 20 jobs since leaving school and most of them haven't lasted for more than 3 months. It's not hard to imagine why.

She began working at Food Place when it opened but, evidently, settled better than at any of her previous jobs. This, most likely, had a lot to do with the first store manager being soft as clart. She let the staff get away with murder and the place was a disaster within months of opening. Cynthia settled into her lovely little groove of doing whatever the hell she liked in those days, and hasn't changed since. Whenever new managers have attempted to get her in line, she's gone off on the sick and threatened legal action, before returning to continue just as she always has done.

Cynthia has a strange notion that everybody is interested in her latest phantom illness. Through time, we've been kept informed about every last detail of all her bodily organs, functions, systems and God knows what.

The truth is, she uses illness to escape having to do a scrap of work. She can't go on the checkouts because she gets panic attacks. She can't work on the shop floor because of her back ache. She can't work in the cash office (not that I'd want her to) because the smell of copper coins hurts her teeth. She can't work in admin or stock control because she's "susceptible to the effects of the sounds computers make" - apparently the humming disrupts her mental capacity to work! So what can she do?

Basically, she comes in, whenever she fancies, and wheels a stock truck around the store. She equips herself with a bucket of soapy water and a cloth, and a price-checking gun. What, exactly, she does with these articles I'm yet to fathom. She stops every passing customer to bore them with tales of her ailments and, once in a while, selects a random shelf and checks all the products are in-date.

If she's not talking about her family's genetic history of cancer, she's discussing Polish immigrants. "Those bloody poles, coming over here and taking our jobs!" Yes love, and there's me thinking that you are a total waste of 35 hours a week that could go to somebody who actually wants to work!

She thinks she's very tough and will look for any excuse to get into fights with people. Lorraine once jokingly called her a fool for ordering 50 cases of coleslaw instead of 5. I have never seen such a drama in all my life. "Don't you DARE speak to me like that! You think you're hard because you're a supervisor? I'll have you in the car park any day of the week missy!" Poor Lorraine didn't know where to put herself. All of that took place in front of customers and the manager at the time, Eliza, did nothing about it. I would have sacked her on the spot.

And then there's the issue of her chronic bitchiness, nosiness and tittle-tattling. She stays in touch with a lot of ex-supervisors and store staff and tells them all sorts of things that are none of anybodys business. And now and then, she'll invent a complete lie and spread that about. She once got herself into serious hot water by accusing two members of the management of having an affair. They were both happily married and had absolutely no interest in each other - in that sense. How she ever got away with that, I'll never know.

And I must stop talking about her, because I've burst my Stressball.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Team Building Joys

This week has been, in work-related-matters terms, quite average. But everything has been made ten times worse by the fact that I've been ill. But we're so short-staffed and hard-pushed at the moment, I haven't had the heart to stay off ill. I'm most certainly not working whilst ill for the benefit of the company, I just don't like letting my colleagues down.

On Tuesday a customer tutted and shot a filthy look when I coughed, whilst serving them, into my fleece sleeve. My fury knew no bounds. I'm still ranting about it to anybody who'll listen now. I felt like getting them in a head-lock and screaming at them, spit flying into their face, "How dare you! Do you think I'm not human or something? A robot? Would you rather I stayed at home and coughed in bed? No. You wouldn't. Because then you'd be standing there tutting because you had to queue for longer!"

Luckily my symptoms eased yesterday. Which was just as well because it was the glorious day of the Team Building Workshop. I have never been so patronised, insulted, humiliated and belittled in all my natural days. I'm sure they only made us do half of the exercises to have a good giggle at the photographs.

Basically, all the management team and supervisors in my Food Place branch had to attend this "day of fun" at our regional training offices - sixty-five miles away. With me being one of the designated drivers. If you knew anything about my navigating skills you'd be shuddering at the mere thought. Miraculously, for the first time in history, the directions from the AA website were accurate and didn't make reference to phantom roundabout exits. Cover staff from Ellenfoot were left babysitting our store.

The introduction presentation, at the start of the day, included testimonials from Food Place staff across the country, informing us how wonderfully useful and fun the whole day was going to be. I suspect these may have been false.

After introducing ourselves (to each other - the people we've worked with for God knows how many years), we congregated in the car park outside to play a team-building game. We were told this would be fun. It was actually highly embarrassing. We each had a tennis ball, and we had to pass them to the people opposite us, all at the same time. This sounds easy. But a bunch of balls thrown at the same time, in the same direction, are bound to collide. We spent more time darting across the car-park retrieving balls than anything else. And all this in full view of passing traffic.

Once back inside, we began another exercise. This time far more humiliating. We were divided into three groups, and we each had to produce and perform a song and dance routine all about how good our store was. Obviously, the first question raised was: "But what if our store isn't good?" The trainer-woman picked the teams for us and happened to put all the shy people into the same group. Which included me. So, ours was a complete and utter farce when it came to the performance and the recorded video footage has probably made us a national laughing stock amongst Food Place human resources teams.

All this I could cope with. To some extent. But the final practical exercise of the day was torture itself. A rug was placed on the floor. This rug was roughly 2 square metres in size and we were all instructed to stand upon it. All 15 of us. It was bad enough that we were all squashed in such close vicinity to each other. But then came the actual aim of the exercise. We had to flip the rug over, so we were all ended up standing on the reverse side of it, without any of us stepping off.

Oh my God. It was absolute hell on earth. We tried all manner of wacky ideas and most of them revolved around getting as many feet as possible off the rug. And the only way to do that was to lift people up. Being 5 feet, five inches tall and weighing a mere 10 stone, I was quickly selected to be one of the people hoisted into the air. My ribs are completely battered and shattered. By the end of it, I'd been on peoples' backs, lifted up by my armpits, raised onto the shoulders of the four tallest people, lifted up by my stomach. But, unfortunately, since the group also needed to spare half of the their energy to put to the task of flipping the rug, it meant everybody had to chip in with the lifting effort. Me, Lorraine and Sean ended up jammed in the middle, hoisted in the air, desperately trying to resist the urge to dive out and scream "THIS IS SO STUPID AND I REFUSE TO TAKE PART!" Everybody was sweaty by this point.

We eventually managed to pull it off. Two hours later. Not an experience I care to repeat.

Of course, it wasn't all practical "fun". There were lots of boring lectures, we played a game with Lego pieces and took personality tests. The last two, at least, were interesting and, somewhat, fun.

On the way back, the manager decided we were all going bowling. If my pride was damaged by the rituals of the day, it was certainly won back when I thrashed everybody in 4 out of 5 games.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Hall of Shame: Volume III

This incident took place long before I was in a position of responsibility. I was a lowly checkout assistant and, to boot, I was under-18. At the time, the company didn't pay 16 and 17 year olds at the same rate as older employees - I was probably earning little more than £3.00. So hardly in any sort of position to be dealing with the stroppier customers, wouldn't you think?

This is, however, a customer encounter that is remembered much more fondly than the other Hall of Shamers.

Round One
It's 23rd December. The store is heaving and the checkouts aren't a particularly nice place to be. We're all penned into our little cubicles, each with a queue snaking back so far, the end is out of sight. Everybody is totally fed up, staff and customers alike.

My till receipt roll starts to come through red, signalling it needs changed. Typically, there's none on my till, or any of the adjacent ones, so I apologise to the next customer and dash to get one from the cupboard. But I'm stopped in my tracks.

"Excuse me."

This isn't said as a kind opener to an impending verbal exchange. It comes across as more of a 'Oi! Shopboy!' greeting.

I smile politely at the woman before me. I can see by looking she's not the type I'd want to roll a red carpet out for. She's got a stupid hairdo, obviously the work of an overpriced, elite 'studio', and is wearing clothes that would pass in Los Angeles but look rather ridiculous in Food Place.

She takes an exaggerated breath and begins: "Two things." She gestures her hand, frowns and adopts the pose that people take on before launching into a 'this is OUTRAGEOUS!" tirade. "I've come here, with my children, for our shopping and there are no parent & child parking bays. Also, your cash dispenser is out of order. What are you going to do about it?"

Two things. Firstly, do I look like a manager? No. I'm a sloppy, cocky student worker who's got a queue of waiting customers to deal with. Secondly, who the hell are you? Speaking to people like that, you snotty bitch! Amazing how you can have such detailed thoughts in a mere split second.

"I'm afraid I'm serving on that till over there, I'll call the supervisor for you, it shouldn't take a moment."

She performs an over-the-top 'what a farce!' sigh, obviously done for dramatic effect, as though I've just told her that her hairdo is breaking the law.

I get back to my till and ring the bell. I carry on serving, thankfully the next customer isn't moody about being held up. But Mrs Lampshade Haircut isn't going away. She positions herself at the end of my till and taps her (fake) fingernails on the surface. Oh she's getting right on my wick alright.

Round Two
I thought, rather naïvely, that as soon as Annette arrived to deal with Mrs Lampshade Haircut, she would be out of my way and my brief dealings with the woman would be over. Not quite.

"Yes love?" Annette says on arrival. She's not the cheeriest of supervisors and is known for her habit of aggravating situations that are bad enough to begin with.

Mrs Lampshade raises an eyebrow, evidently thinking herself unsuited to the title of 'luv'. She should count herself lucky it wasn't 'doll'. Nevertheless, she begins by repeating her two complaints, only this time she adds a bit of a speech about having to guide her children across a car park 'teeming with traffic' because there were no special bays.

Annette is undiplomatic and straight-to-the-mark as ever: "Well I'm sorry love, but it's two days before Christmas and the schools are off. You're not the only one with kids. You can't just expect to get a place when we're as busy as this!"

I'm enjoying the unfolding scene from the relative safety of my seat behind the till.

Mrs Lampshade takes issue: "Excuse me, but were you speaking to me just then? I've never come across such rude people..."

"I'm not being rude love, I'm just saying - we're very busy, which is to be expected at this time of year!"

"And your cash dispenser? What about that? Do you not think it's a bit of a silly time to be getting that wrong?"

"What do you think this is love, a bank? We don't run that thing, it's only on our premises."

"Which makes it your responsibility! Is this a business you're running here or a circus? What kind of company lets the cash supply for their customers stop working on one of the busiest days of the year?"

"Ask NatWest darling."

The exchange continues. Much as I dislike working under Annette, I absolutely adore her manner with customers. I wish I had the cheek to be so shirty with them. Eventually, however, Mrs Lampshade tires of Annette's attitude and announces she's going to do her shopping because her children are tired! But, like most Hall of Shame candidates, doesn't leave without promising we haven't heard the last of the matter.

Round Three
And I certainly haven't heard the last of her.

About an hour later, her face appears amongst the sea of customers queuing to be served. When I first notice her, she's too far back to be able to tell whether she's in my queue and I pray to God she isn't. She is. Oh Jesus Christ, why do they all come back to haunt me? I'm due a break and get through the next ten minutes hoping cover arrives before Mrs Lampshade's turn.

It doesn't.

"Hi," I begin once she's got to the front. For once, I'm hoping a customer is rude and doesn't reply. In fact, I'd be happy if she totally blanked me, didn't say a word and never came back.

She shoots a look at me, giving it the eyebrow and pursed lips. She packs a couple of items before letting out a rant that's, clearly, been bursting to escape.

"Do you know something, I have never been in a shop like this. Where the staff think the customers are just cattle. If I'd gone to [insert swear word] none of this would have happened. I've never known such ignorant staff! It's completely ruined my Christmas up to now, coming here!"

What do you say to somebody like that? I know what I think about somebody like that. Piss off to [insert swear word] then you melodramatic, self-obsessed bitch.

"It's always a bit hectic at this time of year." That's the best I can come up with? I can't stand the bitch, so why be such a Judas to my own thoughts? Go on. Tell her what you think of her. Of course I don't.

"It's disgraceful. I won't be coming back in here ever again. I'm drained, my children are fed up. We just want to go home. Don't we Courtenay?" she says to her child, who's too young to dribble, let alone speak, "we're sick of these awful people aren't we?"

The customer behind is slightly gobsmacked. But by this point, I'm starting to see the comedy value Mrs Lampshade offers and couldn't care less that she classes me as awful.

"Well just you take note," she addresses me directly, "I won't be letting this go lightly. A big company like this isn't getting away with treating customers like this for much longer. Not when I've finished. That car park was like a minefield, and because of the complete lack of proper parking facilities, my children could have been hurt!"

OK, I'm now starting to think you're on drugs.

"Thanks very much now, have a nice Christmas," I say at the close of the transaction.

"I will, no thanks to this place."

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Audit Week & Ellenfoot Food Place

The low frequency of my posts this week has been, largely, due to it being audit week at work. It's not that I had to work overtime or anything. It's just that your brain gets fried when you have to spend hours analysing your own work - on top of actually continuing the work. By the time I've finished work, every night this week I've been practically in a coma with boredom.

They've had a system in place for two years now, which allows us to self audit. All the department leaders have to fill in a questionnaire about how their department is operating. When the store manager approves it, you type it all onto a digital version of the questionnaire, which gives you a percentage score and sends it off to the audit team for them to check. If they find you've been naughty and told fibs, they send somebody into the store to re-audit everything. So it doesn't pay to lie.

There's some questions you won't get away with lying about. For example: "Have at least three random till-checks been carried out each day?". The records on the computer answer this question. Lie, and the audit team will notice immediately. But there's some questions that rely on trust: "Do you empty the entire contents of the cash office safe and count everything back in when performing a safe count?" They can't prove either way if you do or don't. And this is where Terry and I differ. I would rather tell the truth. That way, if you're doing something wrong, the audit will highlight it and an 'Action point' is added. So you can improve. Lie, and within a few hours you forget that you're actually doing things wrong, and nothing will improve.

I carried out each audit before consulting Terry and I got scores of 76% for cash office and 68% for personnel. By the time Terry had finished tinkering and telling porkies the scores had inflated to 91% and 88%.

Ellenfoot Food Place, naturally, scored 95% or higher on all departments. I know as fact they're lying. Whenever I've gone in there for shopping, even without my critical eye on, I've picked up on literally tons of things they're doing wrong. Like POS with no prices on. POS with different prices to the one stated on the shelf ticket. And LOTS of missing prices. How do they get away with it? Because they're a blue-eyed store.

You might wonder why I get so irritated about Ellenfoot's lack of compliance with company policy. At the heart of the issue is the fact that I know how hard certain people work in my store to do things correctly. And still we get knocked down by auditors and never praised. Yet the Ellenfoot lot take the piss (in general, they do have some very good team members). Our EPOS team spend three hours each week sorting out the new shelf tickets when they arrive and getting them out to keep the prices correct. Ellenfoot throw them in the bin. They have supervisors for departments we operate using only basic-grade staff.

Ugh, they irritate me so much.

On a brighter note, I have two days off now. If I'm feeling sunnier tomorrow, I might be able to write something vaguely entertaining. Perhaps a new Hall of Shame addition.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Constant Interruptions

I feel like I've been running around today with somebody elses brain inside my skull. I haven't been able to focus on one task for longer than thirty seconds today without either drifting off to Planet Cuckoo or being interrupted.

It started first thing this morning. I'd barely got my key in the cash office door before people started bothering me about swipe cards. We have to swipe on and off at the start and end of our shifts. Because I'm the personnel body, it's up to me to sort it out when people forget. But what I can't drum into their skulls, no matter how hard I try, is that they don't need to tell me about it every single time! I simply print a report that highlights missed swipes. But it doesn't get through to them. They still come tottering up to me: "I forgot to swipe in this morning, so could you sort it..." and they look at me as if to say, ""

Later, I'd barely got to step two of the morning cash office procedure before Lynette appeared to announce her wages were wrong. Just when I thought I'd got through payday without a single query.

"F*****g hell, could you look at these F*****g wages for me, 'cause it looks like they're F*****g wrong and the F*****g council will be down on me like a F*****g ton of F*****g bricks!"

So I spent the next fifteen minutes investigating. All I managed to turn up is that she had an unknown absence logged on 22 January. And suddenly she remembered. She had to take the day off because her son was off sick from school. So her wages were correct after all. Thank you very much for wasting my time you dozy bint!

Just when I was getting going with my morning workload, an engineer turned up to service the cash office console. So, once again, I had to stop what I was doing. I decided to abandon that task until later, since I was getting nowhere fast. I know! I'll order missing shelf-tickets!

But that wasn't to be either. I could barely manage to get one shelving bay checked without a customer boring me with their problems or asking me where they could find suet. God's sake will you all just bog off!

When I finally got round to attempting to carry out the cash office routine again, Terry, the General Manager, started throwing spanners into the works. It really bugs me. He can leave me alone for weeks on end, never once questioning what I'm doing or ordering me to do silly tasks. But on the morning when I left my brain in bed, he decides to pounce.

"What are you doing now, are you busy?"

Why is it, when people ask you that, you can never find a way of telling them what you're doing that actually makes you sound as busy as you are? By the time I'd finished telling him, I'd convinced myself that I was just wasting time.

It got to ten o'clock and it suddenly dawned on me. I hadn't done the morning change run for the tills. Precisely two and a half seconds later the bell rang and, upon my response, I discovered all the cashiers wanted change immediately.

Now, the company doesn't like to make the change-run task easy for us. They refuse point-blank to let us keep a small supply of change in the lock-safe on the service desk. They insist that we must write down the orders for each till, go up to the cash office and bag up what each till needs and then transport it down the chutes.

And while I'm talking about the chutes, can anybody think of a way of getting cashiers to regularly send bank notes to the cash office? They just don't seem to grasp that it is not permissable to have £3million sitting in a cash drawer. In fact, it's plain stupid. They needn't come crying to me when they get robbed! All they have to do is, at regular intervals, empty excess notes into a pod, put it in the chute and press 'send'. What is so hard about that?

By the time I got the change run done and dusted, after several thousand interruptions, it was almost time for me to go for lunch. And after coming back from that food-break it was time to sort the cash banking out. And then I realised I still hadn't done the morning cash office procedure. So by the time all that was done, it was nearly time for me to go home. And I'd done precisely nothing all day.

Yet, I'm absolutely shattered and ready for bed.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Customers You Just Hate!

On the average week, our branch of Food Place will serve 22,000 customers. Of course, being a neighbourhood store, the majority of those will be repeat visits. I'd guess that we serve around 10,000 unique customers each week. And they all fall into distinct categories.

Only a very select few customers will ever be branded as 'Lovely Customers'. When the time arises I will, no doubt, blog about them.

The people who don't get on my nerves fall into the category named 'Tolerable Customers'. They may be pleasant, plain boring or just totally unremarkable. They respond when you speak to them, they pay promptly and don't get in the way. If they have a problem, they request your help politely and accept that it's rarely the fault of the member of staff they're talking to. It would be nice to think you could create an interesting blog entry discussing these people, to give them a mention if nothing else, but the fact is they're just boring.

But the bad customers - few of them as there may be - are categorised much more vigorously. It's not enough just to describe them as bad. Or infuriating. Or rude - because not all of them are rude. They have to be labelled in a way that demonstrates exactly why they get on my wick so much. Many of the offenders that spring to mind may fit into more than one category.

So without further ado, here is a discussion of the many different subcultures that exist within the 'Annoying Customers' society.

Just Plain Rude
If I'm serving you on a till and I say "hello", what do you say back? Yes, I know, it's common courtesy. But these people just don't do it. There I am wasting my breath on them when most of them can't even be bothered to look at me and at least smile. It's much less common for customers to have the cheek to leave without saying thank you. But there are some who dare it. Which means that a very small minority of customers don't acknowledge you at any point during your time with them. How very dare they.

No matter how nice a particular customer may be, they can ruin their reputation by dithering. I cannot abide it. Yes love, you might have all day to faff about, but we don't! It's far worse at the checkouts when they can bring a whole lane to a standstill, but it exists all over the store. People who treat the place like a community social club, for example. OK, so you haven't seen Gladys for 55 years but do you really need to stand, trolleys straddled across an aisle, reminiscing? Part of the problem is that most people are too reserved to say 'excuse me please'. So they try and squeeze their way past and run over somebodys foot or knock something flying. And it's all down to these stupid ditherers!

Parent and Child Types
For God's sake, why can't you leave your snotty, screaming, ugly children at home? Or with a babysitter. Anything that means the poor staff at Food Place don't have to put up with them. You're putting yourself through stress as well. Face it, who wants to have to keep running across the shop screaming "CAITLIN STOP IT!" and dragging urchins out of photo booths?

And then there's the kids that try to be helpful. And fail. They stick their faces right next to the products on the conveyor belt so I'm scared to pick anything up in case I smack them in the nose. They insist on picking each and every item up and handing it to you. THE BELT MOVES! And don't even start me on the ones that want to 'give the man the money'. They drop it everywhere or hand you two pence when you want twenty-five-pounds.

Argh, children.

Lazy Types
If anybody makes my blood boil it's the people who walk through the door and ask the first member of staff they see where the milk is. You haven't even looked you bone idol pillock! Or the ones that stand and watch you pack all their shopping for them, without lifting a finger to help. I always feel like getting all sarcastic on them: "Would you like me to drive you home and unpack it all for you?"

Drama Queens
Why do some people love to make a huge song and dance routine about nothing at all? Is it really going to hurt that much to wait thirty seconds while I help the previous customer get finished with their packing? You'd think so. They tut, tap their toes, look at their watch. And then you have people who get flustered for no reason at all. Yes, the shopping is coming down fast, but do you really think I'm not going to help you pack when I've done my bit on the till? Pull yourself together!

There's always somebody who thinks everybody else should get our of their way because they're 'in a rush'. Why the hell should they? If you've got lots to do and you haven't given yourself enough time to do it all, it's nobodys fault but your own! Why on earth have you stopped off a busy supermarket if you've got four minutes to spare before a dental appointment on the other side of town?

Just get out! I don't want to smell your brandy-breath, and have to pick the contents of your purse up from the floor, or have to clean the mess up when vomit everywhere. And stop trying to buy alcohol. You know we can't serve it to you when you're in that state.

If food place is too downmarket for you, go to Harrods - or shop online. If shopping is so below you, don't cast your shadow on our floor! And don't dare assume you're my superior. One of these types actually said to me: "If you'd studied harder at school you wouldn't be sitting on a till". And then there's the two old bats who come in and stand having conversations about "the local plebs". Go home and read your Daily Mail.


Those are the obvious ones. I'll update this post as and when more spring to mind.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

More Rude Customers

It's seven-fifteen in the evening and I'm getting very annoyed. We've been two members of staff down all day and haven't been coping particularly well. But all my hopes have been pinned on the trade dying off at around 6:30pm, as it always does on a Saturday. But not today.

It's got to seven o'clock and the tills are still ringing. Since we were short staffed for the kiosk, I've ended up stuck on there helping Kate get the lottery queue down. We're both very clearly stressed and tired, but we're doing the best we can. So the last thing we want is rude customers coming along and trying to centre all the drama on themselves...

Attempted Queue Jumper
This man appeared in the corner of my eye standing at the end of the kiosk. He waits for about four seconds before beginning to tap his fingers on the desk. This riles me. How DARE people behave like that! Use your manners and say 'excuse me' if you want something! I presume he's waiting for change for a trolley or something and once I've finished serving the customer I'm dealing with, I turn to him. "Can I help at all?"

"Twenty Lambert and Butler."

God damn it! I've tried a million times before to come up with a polite way of telling somebody they need to join the queue like everyone else, but it just cannot be done: "I'm sorry, you'll need to join the queue."


"If you want to buy cigarettes, you'll have to wait in the queue until your turn to be served." I'm trying to be nice, but I don't know why. He can see the queue. He knows he should be in it. He just thinks he's better than everyone else.

"F***s sake! I've been standing here waiting!"

"I'm sorry, you've only been there for thirty seconds - these people were here first. There's two of us serving, it'll only take a couple of minutes."

"Shove it up your f*****g arse!" He bangs his fist on the desk to emphasise his rage and stalks off.

The next part is a bit of a blur. The next person to come to my till from the queue is giving me the 'oh God, I feel so sorry for you having to deal with people like that' look but makes a supposed-to-be-funny remark about the lottery ticket they're handing me. I do the polite fake laugh to humour them and suddenly there's a loud voice in my other ear.

It's the queue-jumper. "Don't laugh! Don't you f*****g laugh at me!" He's pointing and giving me the death stare.

I was too stunned to muster up a response. What? The cheek of it! How dare he? I'm not even laughing at him!

"Looking at me like that you f*****g arsewipe, you'll only f*****g cross me once!" He starts to back away muttering obscenities under his breath.

Far from being intimidated I'm merely thinking Woah! I can blog about this! The people in the queue are surprised I'm not really reacting to being verbally abused in the middle of a supermarket. Meh, been there, done that, a hundred times.

Mrs Snot Mk2
But these things always come in twos. A few minutes after this drama - and a brief lull in custom for me and Kate to have a Megabitchfest about the guy - it's approaching 7.30pm. Which means one thing. The lottery is closing. Der, Der, DER! A fresh queue congregates all waiting to for their last-minute stab at being a millionaire.

We work our way through the customers but, inevitably, 7:30 comes and the lottery closes. It does this unceremoniously, as always, and simply refuses the first ticket we attempt to process after the closure. Kate is the unlucky one who has to break this to a waiting customer.

"Dang, sorry you've missed it, it's shut off." She's very to-the-point.

"I'm sorry?" It's a snobby woman. She looks like she's had a day of it and has been waiting for something to kick off about.

"The game closes at 7:30, you've just missed it I'm afraid." The other customers in the queue hear this and resign themselves to being workadays at least until Wednesday. Most of them depart.

But Snotty isn't giving up. "Well I'm very sorry madam, but I was standing in this queue at twenty-five-past, so you can just get it put through." This is a blatant lie. She's only been in the queue for a minute or so. And who does she think she is, calling perfect strangers madam in that tone?

Kate is apologetic, yet firm: "I can only apologise, the machine will not print tickets after seven-thirty."

"So you are telling me I can't put these on?" SHE CLICKS!

"I'm afraid not no," I chip in. There's no more customers and I have nothing better to do than get involved in other peoples' squabbles, "there has to be a deadline for it, and it's set at seven-thirty."

"So it's my fault you don't have enough staff on and I had to queue for ages?"

"There's only two tills on this kiosk, and there's two of us here, we couldn't possibly go any faster" Kate re-enters the debate. She's dropping her customer-service tone by now.

"Well I think this is terrible. You're being so petty-minded. I was here before the deadline, and you knew it! And you still closed it down on me!"

Is this woman bloody deaf? "We didn't close it. It closes itself, and there were other people behind you in the queue too." What, do you think we've just done this for a laugh?

She promises we haven't heard the end of this matter and leaves. Megabitchfest II time!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

"Every time I come in this Bloody Shop..."

Mrs Snot & The Clementines
It's been one of those hours where everything has gone tits up. Firstly, a cashier rings in sick five minutes before the start of her shift, everybody in the whole town decides to pack into Food Place at once, all the staff from every department are sat on checkouts - including me, the supervisor - and somebody goes and smashes a bottle of vinegar.

"Oh, oh, whoops! I'm ever so sorry."

"It's alright, don't worry about it - happens all the time..." I'll give you something to be sorry about you blundering fool! Can't you see this is hardly a convenient moment to start smashing the place to bits?!

After an hour like that, the last thing I want is an arrogant, cocky customer blaming me for things that aren't my fault. Dealing with them is not a pleasant experience at the best of times, never mind when you reek of vinegar. But whether I like it or not, a lady we shall call Mrs Snot, has chosen this moment to vent all the steam she's holding about Food Place.

She catches me off guard. Normally, you have at least five seconds to prepare when you see a situation emerging unless, that is, they sneak up on you. And she does just that. I've just finished a telephone conversation with a nice customer making enquiries about what brands of furniture polish we sell. Which is lucky really because the morale boost from that customers pleasant tone certainly helps with what's about to come.

"Excuse me, I've had enough of this place, every bloody time I come in here something is wrong, can't you get anything right? It's just constant, if it's not pricing it's rude staff or mouldy food, I'm just fed up!" Mrs Snot stops to catch her breath and I'm aware that I'm gawping at her, startled.

"I'm sorry, is there anything I can help with?" I muster upon regaining my senses.

"Well you could just scratch the surface by explaining to me why your products are in this state!" She produces a pack of Dairylea cheese triangles. The packaging is split.

"Oh, it most probably got damaged in transit, I can replace..."

"Well if it was damaged in transit, why didn't your staff pick up on it, aren't they trained?" Mrs Snot is seriously overreacting. Perhaps it doesn't come across so much in what she's saying, but the fact that she's almost in tears indicates the melodramatic tone.

"If we notice something is damaged, we remove it immediately, but we case fill here you see. The transit box is cut open and the whole case of products put onto the shelf - so that pack you have probably wasn't handled by the staff."

"This is exactly why I get annoyed with [Food Place], you have pathetic excuses for everything. You're actually trying to tell me that it's not your responsibility to check the quality of the goods on sale?" Mrs Snot is now making hand gestures to emphasise how useless we staff are."

I'm not in the mood to let her generalised assault on our job performance pass without defense: "We will always try to make sure products aren't going on sale when they're damaged, but we can't be everywhere at once. There's a lot of work to be done to operate this store and only a limited number of people to do it. We are only human and we can't spot every problem. But we will act when somebody points them out."

It's lost though. Mrs Snot has more fish to fry: "And while we're talking about problems," she rips out her receipt, "you're displaying a sign next to the Satsumas that they're buy one get one free. Nothing has been deducted from this bill, just nothing!" She hits the receipt for emphasis.

I take a glance and read: "Clementines 2@£1.22" I tell Mrs Snot that I'm going to check the sign for her, to humour her, but she decides it's necessary to follow me. I clearly cannot be trusted.

We arrive at the produce department and she lunges for the sign "SEE! Buy one get one free!" She turns to me with her 'well what do you have to say about this?' pose - eyes widened, lips pursed.

"Yes, the sign indicates Satsumas are buy one get one free, but you bought Clementines you see. And those aren't on offer." I, briefly, contemplate adopting her wide-eyed pose, but decide to remain as diplomatic as possible. I just know she's going to have an answer for this and it won't be 'oh I'm terribly sorry, my mistake!"

"So why on earth is the sign above the Clementines then?" Mrs Snot is on the brink of sobbing hysterically and throwing her shoes across the shop now.

"If you look at the shelf layout, the sign is below the Satsumas. It's the standard right across this store and any other supermarket to have the POS displaying the offer below the product."

"I don't want these, get me a refund so I can just get out of here!" She picks the Clementines out of her bag and drops them back onto the shelf.

I'm only too happy to get rid of her.

Why this incident irritated me
Firstly, would it be so hard for people to check their facts before making complaints? If I suspected I'd been charged incorrectly in a shop, my plan of action would be to return to the shelf, check I'd read the price/special offer correctly and check I'd bought the correct product. If I remained certain I'd been overcharged, I'd go to the desk, alert the member of staff about the pricing error and request a refund. That way nobody gets insulted or, in Mrs Snot's case, humiliated.

Why do people need to make a scene about such trivial matters? Does it really matter to them that much? Some of the emotion and bile that customers have when they complain is beyond imagining. I often wonder what sort of a difference they could make to this country if they directed their venom towards the things that really are a disgrace - the NHS cash crisis for one. I'm glad that this world has people that kick up a fuss and complain - but they should stop wasting it on trivial matters, hurling the flack at people that don't deserve it!

GGGgggRRRrrr I need sleep.