We’ve all had them. Those terrible jobs we had to get because Mummy and Daddy finally said ‘I think it’s about time you got a job, Rebecca, you can’t spend your entire summer holidays on MSN Messenger and doing painting by numbers while watching back-to-back Disney films’, or because we realised we only had 54p to our name and couldn’t afford to breathe. These desperation jobs rarely did anything to improve our self-esteem or our bank balance.
My first ever – and worst ever – job at 16 years old was at a window company that proudly called themselves ‘Anglian Windows’ biggest rivals’. Declaring this was like me finding half a packet of old teabags at the back of my cupboard, offering them to strangers outside my house, then calling myself Marks and Spencer’s biggest rival. It just wasn’t true.
The job was telesales. One of the worst jobs ever invented. The company’s brochure (I say ‘brochure’, I mean ‘bit of tea-stained recycled paper’) showed the telesales staff and working conditions like this:
The reality was this:
For £4 an hour, I spent three-hour shifts leafing through the phone book and calling the Great British public on greasy 50 year-old telephones, interrupting people during their lunch or dinner to tell them I wasn’t trying to sell them anything but did they want to buy some windows, while the boss chain-smoked in the adjoining office and her 15 year-old pregnant daughter’s toddler climbed on the tables and screamed. When I wasn’t trying to ignore that, I was trying to block out the sights and sounds of Nigel, who worked every shift, sweated almost as much as he farted, and happily consumed slices of indeterminately-aged pizza that he found under desks or on top of filing cabinets.
And because the shifts were 11am – 2pm (lunchtime) and 5pm – 8pm (teatime), no one – and I mean no one – was very happy to hear from me. I received a great plethora of responses to my polite statement that I was calling from a window company:
“You can fuck off.”
“If you ever phone me again I will call the police.”
“Listen, I’ve got meatballs on the go, I don’t give a shit about windows.”
“I don’t want anything from you people, you’re all crooks.”
“Oh congratulations, you’re obviously doing really well in life.”
That last one took me by surprise and gave me a terrible attack of the giggles, making me snort and splutter down the phone while he said things like “It’s okay, I understand, it’s Friday, you want to get down the pub with your mates and out of that no-doubt hellish office you’re currently sitting in”. Eventually chain-smoking boss emerged and stood over me sternly, so I had to choke ‘I’m really sorry, I’ll have to pass you over to my colleague” and run to the toilets. I was later hauled into the office by chain-smoking boss and given a lecture on customer service.
I didn’t stay in that job very long. I think my total earnings came to about 60 quid (which happily enabled me to buy more painting-by-numbers and Disney videos). Despite the fact that people’s answerphone messages sometimes made my life worthwhile again – like the one that proudly stated ‘Hi, I’m Kevin, I’m undressed – please leave a message’ – I realised that a piece of my innocent, fresh, 16 year-old soul was slowly curling up and dying an agonising death, like a slug that’s had salt poured on it, and I went and got an only marginally less crappy job in a shop that sold John Vettriano prints and chocolate penises. Even though I took a pay cut – I was down to £3.85 an hour – I was happier with chocolate penises than I was with being told to fuck off down a pizza-stained telephone.
But, we get on with it. It’s all character-building, after all. Although how the sight of a sweaty man’s builder’s bum as he reaches down the back of a cupboard for that dusty slice of pizza has built my character, I’m yet to comprehend. I’ll get back to you.