Holiday jobs! We’ve all had them; we’ve all yawned through them. But what of those holiday positions that are a bit less… normal? In the first of a two-part feature, three Standard Issue writers share their experiences of summer job unusualness, from taking part in botched crime reconstructions to warding off sexual advances while dressed as a giant cartoon miner.
A seemingly innocuous job at the local chippy turned Dotty Winters into a vinegary swear machine with a booming sideline in witness statements.
I have recently been informed that British fish and chip shops serve over 247 million portions of fish and chip meals each year. This impressive statistic surprised me a bit because, had I not heard it from a reliable source, I would have guessed that this was the approximate number of portions we served each and every Friday in the chippy where I used to work.
Working in a chip shop is a great way to expand your vocabulary. Not only did I learn some of my most favourite and creative swears while working there, but I also mastered the endless regional variations in ordering.
After spending several weeks in a state of bafflement, I was soon able to accurately identify the following: scraps, bits, wet chips, barms, stotties, butties, Chinese gravy, tatty scallops, saveloys, wide-boys, salt ‘n sauce, pickled eggs and a haggis supper.
Usborne never made a spotter’s guide to regional fried food terminology, but if they had I’d have rattled through it in the course of the average weekend.
We had a pleasingly oddball selection of regulars. Among these were a group of overly optimistic slimmers who popped in once a week on their way home from weigh-in (wish and chips anyone?). There were also jumper-wearing bearded nerds (chipsters) and a number of hen-pecked fish-and-chipocrites who led secret double lives as at-home vegetarians. A chip shop is also the natural habitat of the lesser-spotted comfort-eater – a regular reminder that in many ways we are all only ever one bad day away from a trip to the chippy.
There are lots of exciting tasks which form part of your daily toil in a chippy: lugging potato sacks; tumbling the potatoes to remove the skins; endlessly wiping grease off things; mushing the peas etc. But if I had to narrow it down I’d say the most exciting part of my job was the endless witness statements and court appearances.
“After spending several weeks in a state of bafflement, I was soon able to accurately identify the following: scraps, bits, wet chips, barms, stotties, butties, Chinese gravy, tatty scallops, saveloys, wide-boys, salt ‘n sauce, pickled eggs and a haggis supper.”
In my wisdom I’d chosen to work in a chippy right on the frontier of drunken revelry. With our street-facing counter and large windows we had a front-row view of the weekly violent brawls. I soon discovered that the higher-than-you’d-expect-for-a-chippy hourly rate covered the additional time required to complete witness statements and, on occasion, appear in court. All of this was even less fun than it sounds, and as a small-village 19-year-old away from home for the first time, I found it utterly terrifying.
Kudos is due to the chip shop owner, who could easily have allowed all of this to be someone else’s problem, but instead ferried his young workforce back and forward to police stations and court-buildings as part of his commitment to cleaning up the streets. He was a dedicated local entrepreneur who at all times wore a literal and figurative white hat. Nevertheless, the experience of serving chips and scraps was grittier and more gruesome than my skin after a 10-hour shift.
It’s not for everyone, but if you find watching Law & Order from your sofa gets a bit stale, I recommend a job in a lively chip shop. You’ll be exhausted, you’ll stink of oil, you’ll stain your hands with newsprint and nothing stings quite like vinegar in a fresh paper cut, but you’ll sweat off the pounds, have very well moisturised skin, learn awesome new swear words, never want to eat chips and will get your very own crash course in the British legal system. That’s got to beat three months of making tea, unpaid, in a fancy legal firm, hasn’t it?
Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist. @DottyWinters
A job in a posh London jewellers entailed more handguns and swearing policemen in balaclavas than Sophie Scott had expected.
In 1988 I was a student at the Polytechnic of Central London, and I got a summer job at a branch of the (now defunct) Saqui & Lawrence chain of jewellers. These were owned by Ratners, but were considered more ‘high end’, which meant we sold antique silver alongside Swarovski crystal animals and gold earrings for 99p. In the training session, we were told to emphasise to customers that these particular earrings cost less than a prawn sandwich from M&S. Glengarry Glen Ross it was not.
Something else emphasised in the training sessions was security: we were undergoing a crime wave and this had to be managed in very product-specific ways. Rolex watches were particularly desirable, and to deal with potential crime we had to seat the customer in a special chair and then bring the watch to them. The reasoning seemed to be that someone who is comfy will not steal a valuable watch.
This could go wrong – when I first started, a customer overcame the power of the chair and ran out of the shop with a watch, followed swiftly by the young shop assistant who’d handed it to him. My colleague climbed onto the bonnet of the car that was waiting for the robber and they drove off round Liverpool Street station with an irate 17 year-old sliding about on the windscreen hollering, “STOP THIEF.”
Following this event, which ended surprisingly well, we were all updated with a training session that emphasised that we must not ever do this.
Of course, robberies were not normally hilarious, and I was lucky not to be in on the day that some armed robbers circumvented the chair system by smacking my colleagues in the face with handguns and taking all the Rolexes.
Part of the ensuing investigation was a filmed reconstruction which was to be shown on Police 5, ITV’s version of Crimewatch. I loved Crimewatch, because I was in my early 20s and knew nothing of real pain, so I was very excited about the filming.
The robbers were played by policemen wearing balaclavas. However when the filming started, and one of the balaclava-ed policemen ran in and started shouting at us to hold our hands up, the other balaclava-ed policeman fell into the shop, knocked over a Swarovski crystal animal display and rolled around on the floor bleeding very heavily. This, everyone agreed, did not happen during the original robbery.
“After a lot of different policemen screaming things like, ‘WHO DO YOU THINK YOU FUCKING ARE, THE FUCKING FLYING SQUAD?’ and, ‘IF IT’S A FUCKING RECONSTRUCTION THEN PUT UP SOME FUCKING SIGNS’ at each other, someone realised that this was all still being filmed.”
The police who were working with ITV immediately stopped the reconstruction, and it quickly became clear that the injured policeman was badly hurt, but no one had any idea why. To our greater surprise, another set of policemen then arrived, expecting to find an armed robbery in process. They were followed by an off-duty transport policeman.
It turned out that when he’d seen two men in balaclavas with guns outside the shop he’d hit one of them with his truncheon and then run away to call the police about the apparent robbery. He’d mistaken the reconstruction for a crime in progress.
After a lot of different policemen screaming things like, “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU FUCKING ARE, THE FUCKING FLYING SQUAD?” and “IF IT’S A FUCKING RECONSTRUCTION THEN PUT UP SOME FUCKING SIGNS” at each other, someone realised that this was all still being filmed. The police confiscated the tapes and we were all told to not tell anyone ever and we all said no, of course not and then ran to pay phones as soon as we could and told everyone we knew.
I loved working at the jewellers. I loved cleaning the antique silver, I loved selling people things they were happy to be buying, and I loved working out which of the art deco watches would be the one I’d buy myself one day, because it’s important to have this sorted out just in case.
And I particularly loved it when someone came into the shop with a fake Rolex and the very keen 17 year-old assistant would look at it with great sadness and say: “By rights, sir, I should smash this with a hammer,” while the assistant manager sprinted towards him to try and head him off.
The reconstruction never did get made, and I never did buy that watch. And I hope that policeman got better.
Sophie is a cognitive neuroscientist at UCL, studying brains, voices, speaking and laughing. In her spare time she tries to turn theory into practice with science-based standup comedy. @sophiescott
A job at a mining museum saw Lucy Reynolds discover that dressing as a giant cartoon miner brings all the pensioners to the yard.
I was a student and I needed money so I did what any normal 20 year-old would do: I climbed inside an enormous cartoon miner costume and walked around a local mining museum, waving at terrified children. Not the most glamorous of jobs, perhaps, but it paid well and I got 15-minute breaks every hour – a health and safety prerequisite to make sure I didn’t keel over from suffocation. Apparently, a death can ruin a family day out. Who knew?
The great pay and the fact that the job had been vacant for a while should have told me something about this particular line of employment. But it wasn’t until I was faced with the ‘costume’ that I began to see why no one else at the museum had volunteered to take this job on. The ‘Maurice the Miner’ outfit was enormous: well over 6ft tall when the head was on.
The only viewing area from inside was a small strip of gauze underneath the character’s mouth, making it unwieldy and prone to knocking things, such as small children, over. During the whole time we wore it (I shared the honour with my fellow student friend Emma), the costume was never washed, so after being inside it for four hours a day, Febreze became an essential accessory.
The vast head, which had a smaller helmet within, felt like you were balancing the weight of a baby elephant on your shoulders. Partner that with an orange jumpsuit stretched over a hula-hoop, Mickey Mouse-style white gloves and black boots that made Dr Martens look like Louboutins and you basically made yourself so immobile that walking even a short distance was an achievement.
Oh, and you also felt like a tit.
As Maurice, I’d spend my days bumbling around the museum, posing for photos with tourists and making small children cry (we secretly kept a tally – I became particularly skilled at this).
“The retired miners who worked at the museum would ask: “Is it Emma or Lucy inside there today?” before making innuendos about going down their shaft and such like. It was like we were on the set of Carry On Mining.”
During my 45-minute shifts, I would try to find empty areas in the museum so I could take the head off and have a breather (another bonus: the inbuilt fan inside the head never worked). Whenever I heard a noise, the head would be popped back on and I’d go into Marcel Marceau mode; waving, crying, thumbs up… that was about as far as my repertoire went, really. Sometimes, to liven up the day, I’d stand on the path outside the museum gates and wave at passing cars. Apart from nearly causing a few collisions due to horrified drivers, I’d occasionally get a big lorry to parp the horn as a result of my enthusiastic mime skills.
I also discovered that dressing in a mascot’s outfit seemed to be a secret fetish for some men who, usually after apologising to me when their little bastard darlings kicked me in the leg, would suddenly become intrigued and aroused by the female voice that emerged from within the hulking mass of cartoon miner costume. Even the retired miners who worked at the museum would ask: “Is it Emma or Lucy inside there today?” before making innuendos about going down their shaft and such like. It was like we were on the set of Carry on Mining.
It was so hot inside the suit you had to wear just your underwear to keep cool. A strange thought, really, the notion of spending all your time entertaining children as a cartoon-style character, but basically just in your kecks. I’m surprised I wasn’t arrested.
I only worked for one summer as Maurice but it was the strangest, most fun job I’ve ever had. After making numerous children cry, I found something I was good at… so I decided to become a teacher to live that dream every day.
Lucy is a teacher whose dream as a child was to be WWE Wrestling Champion. That dream is still alive. @MissReno19811987 Views
Some of Standard Issue's brilliant women's carefully crafted words for your reading pleasure.