My flowers were a gift from my supermarket … I’ve just passed my 25 year milestone. Twenty-five years in the same job? Very much not the norm in todays society, but if you break it down, I might well have stayed with the same employer for what to some people is more than a lifetime, but as for the actual job, I’ve had many … Let’s see what we can dredge out of the old grey cells …

          My supermarket story began when the girls were small and when Hubby got himself a secure job in Milton Keynes. We moved away from family and friends to start a new life, moving and setting up a new house was costly and we managed to secure an overdraft to help. We moved house in the summer holidays and Youngest Daughter was to start full-time school in the September so I looked for some suitable employment as a temporary measure until Christmas.

          I actually went for about four interviews. I hadn’t worked while the girls were little and although my “baby brain” was a bit mushy, I managed to sell my ability to run around and organise three school age children as a skill and was offered three jobs, a couple of care assistant jobs and one in a local shop next to one of the schools. I didn’t get the supermarket job I had applied for, three nights filling yogurt in a huge store, but just as I was about to accept the local store, my supermarket rang me and offered me two nights on ambient, and this is how I found myself 25 years ago, filling the washing powder and cleaning equipment overnight in a supermarket, and making it back home again in time to make the girls breakfast.

          There were more than a few raised eyebrows when I announced my intention to work nights. I need my sleep, and I need lots of it. But I soon discovered my ability to sleep anywhere at any time is what would get me through.

          My weak little frame became stronger and eventually instead of needing help, I found myself pulling two big cages (with sometimes a lighter, third cage strapped to the back) up and down the main aisle to put out my delivery. Today’s Elf and Safety brigade would have gone potty back then if they’d seen us.

          I didn’t like Milton Keynes. If I could have driven perhaps I might have felt differently, but I had to either use the surprisingly bad public transport or walk, and so did the girls. School runs were a bit of a nightmare, and the girls’ after school social activities were pretty much non-existent.

          One huge bonus of both mine and Hubby’s employment was the ability to transfer from one location to another and after just under two years of living in Milton Keynes, followed by the “Roller-coaster” of buying our own house, I found myself working in a branch of my supermarket in Bicester.

          Everything in the garden wasn’t quite roses, I had to accept what vacancy was on offer to be able to transfer and I found myself working nights, which was fine, but I was filling the shelves in the freezers, which was not.

          You can imagine, even being over 20 years younger than I am now, my body soon reminded me that I was carrying around the “rheumatism” of a seventy year old.

          I stuck it out for a few months best that I could but in the end asked to be moved. The next time a vacancy on a different aisle came up I was moved, and my place on freezers was advertised instead. This is when I ended up working down the health and beauty aisle.

          My hands are not small, my mum has long piano fingers and my Dad has large square palms … Me? I have both … Useful when offered the cookie jar, but not all that practical when dealing with small packets and bottles. Never the less, as I became used to the aisle, I might not have become less clumsy, but did learn to catch better.

          Instead of pulling sometimes ten or eleven cages of heavy washing powder a night from the warehouse, I changed to pulling out just three or four, but some of these health and beauty cages had quite literally over a thousand items on them.

          I became quite comfortable as part of the health and beauty team, but whether because of, or in spite of that, different managers have different ideas and I was moved to “sauces and pickles”. The sauces and pickles weren’t actually a problem in themselves, the location of the aisle however, was. After being in the middle of the store and putting out mostly packets and plastic bottles I now found myself in an aisle near the main open door filling mostly cold glass jars. The old faithful rheumatism reared its ugly head again.

          I wasn’t at all happy in my work, my nights felt longer and longer and my mood became darker and darker. Panic attacks set in and I started looking for a way out.

          I considered leaving my supermarket altogether, I scoured the job vacancies but my inability to drive meant taking public transport to a job further afield, and the seeds of a dream transfer to my seaside had already been planted so I stayed where I was and visited the personnel office where I requested in writing, a move to a position on days starting in the September as Youngest Daughter started secondary school.

          The September arrived, and I revisited the personnel office to arrange my move. The only vacancy they could offer me was early mornings in the café preparing breakfast. I couldn’t cook, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me, I took the new position and started living in daylight hours again. I would get up at stupid o’clock and turn on all the ovens etc, I would cook prepared trays of bacon, sausage and hash browns, I would microwave mushrooms, beans and scrambled eggs and I would generally prepare the cafe ready for the next members of staff to arrive for opening time.

          There were a number of different jobs which needed doing to make the cafe run smoothly, these were set out on a rota which started at either eight or nine when the rest of the morning staff arrived. The till, the coffees, breakfast, back-up (cooking more breakfast and preparing lunch), shopping (collecting stock from other departments) and “operating the dishwashing machinery and maintaining a clean and healthy eating environment” (washing dishes and cleaning tables).

          I enjoyed my time at the “Cafe“, we were a bunch of miss-fits and pretty much everone there had “issues”, but we all pulled together and looked after each other. I remember one particular morning I had started the morning off with a panic attack and when the other girls arrived they juggled the rota around and put me on tables, sending me off with a repetitive song in my head to move my feet to and I spent the whole of my shift muttering to myself as I moved and cleared away cups and plates to the rhythm of “if you’re happy and you know it…”

          One part of the job rota I particularly liked was “shopping”. We would go off with our shopping list and a trolly table around the different departments collecting the essentials for the running of the cafe and would bring it all back to be transfered between departments in store by a hand held computer.

          There was one member of the café who I didn’t like at all, she had been working there for many years and made it clear that she knew better than me at everything. She was the cause of many an upset member of cafe staff but one day she did the shopping and brought it back to the cafe. The one other lady who always did the computer bit for her was away sick so she told me to transfer the shopping for her. I don’t remember what I was doing, but I do remember that I told her politely that I couldn’t do it because I was busy … And she threw the computer across the counter, and stormed out saying “well, I can’t do it!” … In that moment she went from an overbearing mother figure who I had to listen to, to a spoilt little girl throwing a tantrum, and she was never the cause of a panic attack again.

          I spent two years in the cafe, once I’d settled in, I really enjoyed it. As much as I am a creature of habit and not a fan of change at all … Change happened. The cafe was to be given out to another company. I had the option of staying at the cafe with the new company or staying with my supermarket but moving to a different department. All of the pressure on me was to move to checkouts, but my fear of confrontation wouldn’t let me take up a till position, instead I held out for a rumoured stock control vacancy.

          The stock control position I managed to secure was by no means plain sailing, the manager was already at war with one or two of the other managers and stood no chance at all when said managers combined forces. Eventually he was forced out and I was caught in the cross fire. The panic resurfaced and I scurried back to nights and the familiar packets and plastic bottles on the health and beauty aisle.

          Familiar night staff made me feel welcome and my first few shifts felt like coming home and putting a familiar pair of old slippers.

          With the pay difference of moving from days back to nights, I dropped back to just four nights and here I stayed, living a sort of twilight existence. I slept for easily eight hours or more each day, my mental health deteriorated and eventually after a particularly difficult winter period I sought help and propped myself up with happy pills.

          My knowledge of stock control stayed with me and I found myself “controlling” lots of the stock on the health and beauty aisle. The stock control department on days had had a complete overhaul and one night the latest new manager there dropped in to pay me a visit. Our overnight merchandiser was moving on to pastures greener and leaving a vacancy behind him. I was offered the position.

          I had a decision to make (I don’t like decisions) the merchandising vacancy was for five nights instead of four and my week would start on a Sunday teatime.

          My girls had all but grown up and were running their own lives without me, so after discussions with Hubby, I moved from a job which I didn’t enjoy, just treading water for four nights a week, to working five nights a week at a “job” I was actually looking forward to doing.

          At first I would report to my manager on arriving each evening and we would discuss what I was to do overnight, then I would hand over any unfinished merchandising to the early morning stock control staff. But as my ability and confidence grew, I made the shop my own, and the supermarket became my biggest toy.

          I still lived in my safe twilight existence, I was sleeping too much and hiding from the real world, but at night I would play. I would move my toys from one end of the store to the other, I would put new toys on the shelves and take old toys off. My manager became confident in my merchandising abilities and very often I was just told “just make it look good” and we were both happy with how that worked.

          I flew under the radar for a long time, just as an unknown who left behind pleasing results. Then one Christmas I was asked to work on Christmas eve on the seasonal aisle… On a day shift … The plan was for me to stay on the aisle and for the other stock control staff to remove the Christmas stock from the rest of the store and bring it to me where I would just continually merchandise it onto the seasonal shelves as it sold out.

          The plan worked like a dream, unfortunately it worked too well for my liking because it took me from the hidden unknown entity to being on first name terms with the store manager. Instead of just quietly working on my own overnight, he started to show an interest in my work and my abilities … Then I found out why.

          Our supermarket was to move to a new location slightly further out of town, once it was built, I was to be part of the team who would help set it all out, then, I was to be joined by two and a half more staff to merchandise the new store… And I was to show them how.

          At first I was a bit like a rabbit caught in headlights, I had spent my time at work on my own, just me, my plans and my toys, but now I had to work on a much bigger scale, as part of a much bigger team. At first I just sat quietly in a corner while people buzzed all around, but then the paper plans and lables were brought out. This was my world. It was familiar to me, and I knew what to do. I gathered the right lables together for my plan and secured the complete jigsaw pieces into the box before moving onto the next.

          Eventually the new store was built, I remember spending the first week or so in the building with the rest of the stock control team before the builders had officially signed off on their part. We were allowed to start our work only if we wore high-viz waistcoats and hard hats until the store was officially handed over.

          The next couple of weeks were an experience. We took the new building from an empty shell to a fully stocked and ready to open supermarket.

          I had a new team to work with, two more full-timers and a part-timer. The three and a half of us eventually got whittled down to two and a half by staff cuts and natural wastage, but my other two team members were just as batty as me, we all worked in the same way, sometimes together on a big plan or separatly on small plans. But we could swap places, or continue from work started by another of us with no problem at all. Everything in the twilight world of merchandising was rosy. However the real, outside world had kept turning without me.

          My girls had grown up in my absence. Each had their own partner and home, and were living their own comfortable lives being more adult than I had ever been. Hubby and I had both grown detached from reality in our own ways and the real world sent us shock waves that even I couldn’t ignore.

          We needed to step off the merry-go-round, I saw an escape route and made it happen. We sold up. Down sized, moved to a new house, a new town, and a new job.

          Moving from days to nights would have been a huge jump on its own, but I moved from a single department in a Goliath superstore to a tiny, corner shop version, easily run by David and a small team. Not for the first time, I felt like a rabbit struck by headlights.

          I was really lucky to have transferred into a friendly team who helped me to settle in and learn the ropes, the confidence I needed for my new environment gradually grew , and five years later I’m still here …

          That is how you now find someone like me who doesn’t like change at all, working part time days a million miles away from the original temporary, two night, Christmas employment I signed up for … twenty-five years ago.


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