The third Monday of January is, according to pseudoscience, the most depressing day of the year. It’s a lucky bugger who hasn’t had at least one shit job in their career to date. We asked our writers to share their worst job experiences. They didn’t disappoint.
Tidying your house when you have kids, adding Pro-Plus to your decaf coffee or trying to reason with a Bieber fan: some activities are just pointless. I’d like to propose one of my teenage jobs for a pointlessness award.
Many of you will know that Staffordshire’s Stoke-on-Trent is a city famous for producing high quality and delicate china crockery. You may not be aware that it is also four and a half hours’ drive away from the small barn in central Scotland where I used to work packing it, to avoid it getting broken.
Let me run this by you again: delicate and famously fragile cups, saucers and plates were made, glazed and intricately decorated in Staffordshire, before being roughly stacked in crates, packed onto a truck and transported 260ish miles (the final mile by unTarmac-ed, unadopted road) to a draughty barn where we would sift through to see what had arrived in one piece and carefully pack it in bubble wrap, cardboard and paper so it didn’t get broken.
Even as I write this I am sure I must have missed some vital component in my memory of this story. Perhaps I have blanked out committing some terrible crime and this whole experience was diversionary activity to prevent me reoffending? Obviously these days it would make no economic sense to do this, so I assume the pottery is now trucked from The Potteries to actual China, for amnesiac, teenaged criminals there to deal with.
“I was subject to the sort of weird creepiness and aggression a teenaged woman alone in public all day and contractually obliged to be nice to strangers can always expect.”
I’ve been lucky in my working life but I think the worst job I’ve ever had was working for a UHNW (Ultra-High Net Worth) family in London. One of my responsibilities was to compose nauseatingly twee poems for family birthdays. Another was to retrieve members of their domestic staff from wherever they’d legged it to when they couldn’t stand it any longer.
For all their wealth they had not the faintest idea how to look after their staff or behave appropriately and consequently it was impossible to get anything done. After six frustrating weeks I’d had enough and sent my resignation, by fax, to the family yacht, moored in Cannes. It was very satisfying.
I spent the uni summer holiday of 1999 selling ice cream on Canterbury High St off a cart attached to a modified bike for a local cafe, for £3 an hour – the legal bare minimum you were allowed to pay a 19-year-old at the time.
I was subject to the sort of weird creepiness and aggression a teenage woman alone in public all day can always expect and contractually obliged to be nice to strangers. I also did this job the summer the local paper decided to campaign against all mobile street traders on the grounds that we ‘looked scruffy’, so I had random hostility from locals over that as well. Here are some other issues strangers on the street took with me:
• I only moved the incredibly heavy cart along the street every 20 minutes or so as I had been told to do, instead of continuously.
• I was pushing the bike, not riding it. No amount of me saying that you weren’t supposed to ride the bike, it was too heavy, could persuade these passers-by that I wasn’t Doing It Wrong.
• I wouldn’t give them a free ice cream.
• I wouldn’t give them a free ice cream even if they threatened me.
• McDonald’s was selling ice creams for 60p less than I was.
• I wasn’t shouting, “Ice cream, ice cream!”
• I was standing too close to the Thornton’s shop.
• I wouldn’t give them a free ice cream even if they said they knew where I lived.
And then after this, I got to wheel a cart that had been standing in the sun all day with ice cream in the back to a garage and try to get the rotten dairy smell out of it. Happy, simple times.
Gabby Hutchinson Crouch
“On day four I caved, and, as any self-respecting student would, I decided to get stoned.”
I worked in either the QVC or JVL (I forget which) packing factory as a temp when I was a student. I was placed with this woman to ‘show me the ropes’ (putting steam cleaners in a box and putting an address label on).
She chain-smoked all day, talked about how she was going to “smash her neighbour’s face in” a lot and told me how much coke she did at weekends and that I should try it. She also told me she drank a litre of vodka a night.
I was a fairly worldly kid, but she scared the shit out of me. She also kept talking about my boobs because they were big. I didn’t go back the second day.
In a browbeaten East Lancashire town in the early 90s, work was in abundance in factories. I stood at ‘the line’ in the local biscuit factory; my operative’s role involved… surveillance. Enlisted to assess biscuits whizzing past on a conveyor belt, cunningly whipping away individuals who didn’t conform. Job title: Broken Biscuit Spotter. I clocked on/off daily for a drab seven hours.
No one spoke to me; factories have long established cliques. I was alone. Silent. Watching. Bored shitless in a hairnet and blue tabard.
Minute 1: Stand. Eyeballs down. Survey. Identify. Snatch and remove deformed biscuit. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Minute 2: Stand. Eyeballs down. Survey. Identify. Snatch and remove deformed biscuit. Repeat. You get the routine?
Sheer Tedium. On day four I caved, and, as any self-respecting student would, I decided to get stoned. On my last break I sneaked off for my death stick, a joint, and hoped for enlightenment.
That afternoon I was sacked. Asked to permanently clock OUT, definitely not leave via the staff shop selling bags of broken biscuits for £1. I wasn’t sacked for drug use, but for laughing. Laughing at the biscuits on the line, endlessly passing me by. Uncontrollable belly laughs, cheeks soaked with tears. Self-actualisation hit home: it was the garibaldis that did it.
Vicky Lindsay Warburton
“After six frustrating weeks I’d had enough and sent my resignation, by fax, to the family yacht, moored in Cannes.”
I was a telephone charity mugger, neatly combining two of the most hated jobs of all time. We got Kinder eggs for scoring single donations, bottles of beer for signing someone up to a direct debit, jelly babies to bite in two when people yelled at us, and none of that made it bearable enough to stick out for more than six weeks.
Worst thing was, I was actually rather good at it. Turns out I’ve got a knack for talking young men into parting with their cash. Maybe I’m in the wrong job…
I used to watch Crossroads and really wanted to work in the leisure club there. It looked so ace that I went straight out and got myself a job in a hotel leisure club in Oxford.
I had an image of myself standing on a busy reception talking to clients and then some soap drama would take place, but in reality it was nothing like that. Some days I started work at 6am and some days was washing squash court windows at midnight, with my manager tutting at every mistake I made. I had to eat my one meal in the revolting staff quarters – have you ever seen hotel staff quarters? (Be nice to hotel staff – they are suffering.)
One day I was so hungover on shift, I asked the customer, mid-conversation, to “please excuse me” as I turned to my left and threw up in a bin. That was the most fun I had there. Oh and the man who came in as soon as the bar opened at 7am for his whiskey – I liked him.
Some of Standard Issue's brilliant women's carefully crafted words for your reading pleasure.