Friday, 4 September 2009

Don't talk about politics

One of my volunteers told me today, in not so many words, that she is a Nazi.

I cannot recall how we got onto the subject, but she stated that she thought that Hitler's ideas were actually pretty good - he just went about them in the wrong way. I was absolutely dumbfounded. Well, no, that's not strictly true, what I did was argue with her quite heatedly for some minutes, to the point where the other volunteer present actually got up and left the room! Not the best approach.

Now, she is one of my favourite volunteers, we get on really well most of the time, but it has always been clear we have serious differences of opinion - she also told me that she voted for UKIP earlier this year (and today said she'd have voted BNP if they'd had a candidate here). Normally we just agree to disagree and I diplomatically attempt to restrain myself from getting into a 'debate'.

If it was anyone else I'd really have had to consider the possibility of asking them to leave... but I simply refuse to believe that she really thinks that way. Either she has a poor understanding of Nazi policy or simply doesn't realise the implications of it. She is absolutely anti-immigration - she'd have them all sent back regardless, from what I can gather. Her main argument was about benefits and stolen identities - yes, she does read the Daily Mail.

It's really worrying though (and, I suspect, exactly the point I was trying to make when I originally brought up the subject of UKIP and the BNP), and she is far from alone in her views. So worrying, in fact, that the only plan I can formulate to try to combat the burgeoning (I say burgeoning, she's about 65!) white supremacist in our midst is to try to talk to her in a reasonable way about what it is she's advocating and why. Surely that can be the only way to dispel these myths and fears? She told me I was a liberal and I petulantly flung back that I was an anarchist. Not strictly true, but I do seem to be heading in that direction - if only for the reason that I don't believe that anybody has any right to tell anyone else what to do. We're all people, these bits of land divvied up into countries are all just space, what right to any of us have to be in one place and not another?!

We did agree on the totalitarian state we are living in, though - and she said she had absolutely no problem with people demonstrating, and thought that they definitely should. She even lauded the now unfashionable soap box. Both of us see the need for radical change, but we both see opposite ends of the spectrum! She mentioned how much she dislikes the awful adverts telling people to spy on their neighbours, and to be suspicious if you see someone with 'too much bling' - though I'm not sure how she thinks a fortressed dictatorship will make that any better - I'm pretty sure the Jews had the same problem... She equates spies with Soviet Russia for some reason. In fact I've wondered very frequently of late how a lot of people who sympathise with the far right fail to see the correlation between the rise of Nazi power in Germany and the xenophobic, terrorist-obsessed fearmongering going on in this country right now.

One can only hope to bring rationality to such a person's views. I'll do my best.

Friday, 21 August 2009

It's here.

The Christmas cards arrived today. At the first glimpse of those ominous cardboard boxes, I turned into a crabby and irritable humbug. The poor DHL man. Though I'd have had a little more sympathy for him if he'd actually helped carry the boxes through to the stockroom, rather than dumping them by the back door and watching me and another spindly female member staff cart them up the stairs.

16 boxes of Christmas cards. 16! In August. Ye, we have to put them out right away. We were meant to have the sale cards out already, but I've been quietly ignoring them for the last couple of weeks in the hope that no one would notice. My area manager has been in twice and not said anything, so the plan seems to be working.

The giftware arrives on Wednesday. By a cunning and entirely unpremeditated (I kid ye not!) coincidence, I am going on holiday for a week, starting Wednesday.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Stalker alert!

A customer has attempted to 'friend' me on Facebook.

A month or so ago he came in and asked what my surname was so he could look me up on there. I politely declined, but it seems he has persisted with the plan anyway.

Needless to say I not only ignored the request but proceeded to remove all personal information (including my work details) from my profile and veto my appearance in searches even more stringently.

It's definitely time to leave.

The not-so-great unwashed

I'm not a person particularly given to washing too frequently, but there are limits. We have numerous unwashed and generally stinking customers, some of whom are regulars, some of whom are shoplifters (sadly these are mostly drug addicts and alcoholics), and some of whom are disabled in which case they are exonerated from perdition due to it being no fault of their own. This kind of goes for old people too. There's one old man, a frequent browser and occasional purchaser, who smells like death. I don't mean that in a comparative sense, I mean it in a literal sense.

The crux of this post.

Due to the above, I expect to have to spray the shop periodically with perfume or air freshener (products normally abhorrent to myself), especially after a visit from one of the above. Yesterday I checked the fitting room for hangers after a suspicious-looking female tried on two pairs of trousers and a blouse (I couldn't tell if she'd come out with the same number of items as she'd gone in with). No hangers, but a powerful and inhuman smell pervaded the cubby. A quick squirt of 'clean linen', no problem.

About half an hour later, one of my volunteers comes into the office grimacing, gingerly holding a pair of urine-soaked jeans out at arms length. She said she'd smelt wee by the trouser rail and then found them on the floor. My suspicions about the woman were confirmed. The swap job is a common phenomenon, finding that some nice person has taken an item of ours and left their own minging trousers/tshirt/jumper in its place, but usually we are at least spared this much! At least I can recognise her next time and bar her. Often I'm not so lucky!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

They're in my brain...

Last night I was dreaming about shoplifters. I just can't get away from them! And I didn't remember the dream until I got to work and started rotating the dresses - the armful of clothing sparked a flashback. I'd found a huge pile of empty hangers in the fitting room and then I discovered one of our known shoplifters with stock shoved up his jumper - but not just a little bit of stock, he looked like the michelin man with all the stuff he'd got. And then he denied that he'd taken anything.

Bizarre. Well, it would be if such happenings didn't occur on an almost daily basis (thankfully on a smaller scale!).

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Grindstones, millstones, and so on

Whilst these days for the most part I do a lot of whinging about how I have to get out of this goddamn shop, how endless it seems, etc, etc - yesterday I had a small revelation. Well, not a reveltion per se, because it's something I've known/felt for a long time, but lack of perspective seemed to have buried it somewhere.

How do people spend their whole lives mindlessly and soullessly slogging their guts out? Excepting the lucky few, the majority of the 'developed' world work 9-5, 5 days a week, about 340 days a year for nearly 50 years. And mostly in jobs less interesting than mine. Caged like battery hens in offices and call centres, with people they don't really care about, doing things they don't really care about. When did this become normal, acceptable and, in fact, expected? And why, more to the point, whilst everyone complains about it and fantasises about, to quote Lester Burnham, a life that doesn't so closely resemble hell, anyone who actually puts these fantasies into action is labelled lazy, peculiar, having a crisis, or 'terribly alternative' (thanks mum). Even my job is perceived by many as terribly alternative, despite the regular hours, salary and near-corporate whoredom.

Remembering this (which I have been keen to avoid since the dim realisation of what lay before me in the misty realms of Adulthood and Responsibility) has made my current line of employment seem entirely more pleasant. For the time being, at any rate.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Monday morning mountains

To the generous person who left the vast pile of (extremely heavy) bags outside my shop some time before 9.05am this morning:

Thank you for improving my Monday morning experience. The best way to start your week is by scraping sodden and filthy items off the street... Not only could I barely open the door for the mountain in front of it, but the bags were a) so heavy I couldn't lift them, b) partly split and strewn across the pavement from the usual bunch of rummagers and c) FULL OF RUBBISH!!!

Childs potty, anyone? Mangy old car seat? Box of crappy plastic £1 shop hangers? Hacksaw? Thought not. Later on when I came to sort through the bags I discovered why they were so heavy - the clothes were sodden. And stinking. God knows where they'd been, but I can tell you, once you've smelt rotting textiles you'll never forget it. Almost akin to that sweet, fetid smell rotten chicken gives off.

I can only hope that the passers-by who see me almost daily performing this task (generally worst on a Monday though, due to our being shut on a Sunday) are inspired to not repeat the folly of the guilty party.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Mary Queen of Charity Shops?

I have just finished watching the final instalment of BBC2's series on charity shops. Mary Portas, whose last series sprucing up independent high street fashion retailers inspired me for my little charity shop, takes on a Save the Children shop in Orpington - one of their lowest performers at £900 a week. I take that in two days.

When I heard about this project I was really pleased, as I'd thought when watching the last series that she ought to take on charity shops. Finally the series aired, and there I was, perched eagerly on the edge of the sofa, notepad in hand, ready for the pearls of wisdom to start falling from her magisterial lips... But alas! It seemed as the first episode unravelled, that she had no idea what she was doing. It was hilarious in a way, watching my life on television - she was horrified, confused, frustrated and frequently totally stumped by problems I encounter every day. Disgusting donations, elderly volunteers unwilling to change the habits of 40 years, and the terrible attitude of customers and the public.

Fortunately, as the series went on, she got the idea - the shop was refitted, a manager was brought in, she came up with new campaigns to canvas for decent stock. At least she understood that the key was the stock! It took a while for the penny to drop with the volunteers though.

Now, a lot of people have complained that she expected too much of the staff; and too much for the stock. Treating volunteers like paid staff is contentious but frankly, I agree. Whilst I do try to be diplomatic with mine, they are still there to do a job, and if they aren't doing it properly what's the point?! It is selfish, a she pointed out in the last episode, to ignore what is asked of you for the benefit of the shop in order to just carry on your own sweet way because that's how you like it. And as far as the stock pricing goes - well, we could be here all day if I get on my soap box about that, needless to say so many people just want something for nothing and that's not fair on the charity either. Why is it that it's seen as somehow unacceptable for a charity to make money? No one quibbles about paying £15 in Gap for a t-shirt made by small children, which goes straight into the pockets of people who don't need it, to continue the exploitation of those who do.

Moving on to my next point. What has vexed me about this series, as I was discussing with my manager earlier today, is the way she has portrayed charity shops. She may be trying to lift their reputation but in doing so she has only shown the bottom of the barrel. The programme is basically tarring us all with the same brush (apologies for the cliches), and she trolls out some ideas, branded as innovative Mary originals, which have been going on in charity shops for years! Getting students to flog their hand-made designs in the shop and splitting the profits is not only happening in several large charity retailers, but is in fact the whole basis of one chain of shops in particular. Canvassing big businesses has also been tried, with varying levels of success.

She's making out that no one in their right mind would ever shop in a charity shop unless they've taken on board what she's got to say about them; and that the idea of getting a fresh young crowd in by promoting second-hand shopping in the fashion press is a totally new one. Charity shopping has been cool in many circles for some time. It was cool when I was at school and it's still cool now. A large portion of my customers are students buying up hideous old lady dresses (I don't know what it is about floral crimplene, but it's gold dust) in huge sizes to drape over their tiny frames and glam up with tacky gold belts and plastic earrings. Bandwagon, anyone?

I think the programme could at least have had a five-minute focus on a successful shop and demonstrated that it can be, and is, done! But I suppose that would have taken the gloss off her own miraculous achievement. Ok, it makes better television, I get it (one more reason why I don't watch tv) - at least it's put us in the public eye a little more. And if it means people will think twice before dumping a big pile of children's underwear and a broken food processor on my doorstep of a morning, I will be very pleased indeed!

Saturday, 13 June 2009

I'll catch up soon :S

I have so many unwritten posts to update with!

But, in the meantime, here are some things that happened today.

One of the more random things I've found in a handbag: a walnut. Whole in the shell.

And this afternoon one of my older volunteers asked two teenage (15ish) volunteers on Duke of Edinburgh if I was their mum. I was frankly horrified. I am 25! That would make me about 35 minimum. Has the place aged me so much... (Confirmed - later on my new assistant manager, aged 21, went to the bookies to ask for change and they wouldn't serve him because he had no ID. When I went, they didn't even look twice. I'm officially haggard.)

Friday, 22 May 2009

All in a day's work


Me: 'You know that transvestite with the mobility scooter who was in here the other day?'
Asst. manager: 'The one with painted toenails who really looks like a man?'
Me: 'Yep'
Asst. manager: 'Really rude and swore a lot and asked why we couldn't have everything at eye level so it was more accessible to people in wheelchairs?'
Me: 'Probably. I don't remember but it seems likely [picks up local security network newsletter to show picture of aforementioned individual alongside a warning about verbal abuse and using a mobility vehicle in a threatening way]
Asst. manager: 'Oh, no that's a different one.'

What's worrying is the fact that such incidents are so commonplace that they all just roll into one these days (the rudeness and swearing, that is, not the transvestites) - I hardly remember one episode of abuse from another! We had a bit of a giggle when we realised how strange the conversation would have seemed to anyone else.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

To interfere or not to interfere, that is the question!

I have a new volunteer (one of many, in actual fact - I don't know where they've all suddenly appeared from!?) named Jenny - she's 16 and just leaving school. Alas, she ain't the brightest button in the box, but she is very sweet and (more importantly) very enthusiastic. At first she was quite shy, but as the weeks have gone on it's becoming difficult to get her to shut up! Not that I mind, not being a great talker myself.

What Jenny often talks about is 'boyfriends' that she has had - 12, apparently! More than me... Not so worrying in itself, but it appears that these boyfriends are/were on the internet - I'm not sure if she's even met any of them. The second time she came in she told us that she'd had to break up with her boyfriend (this one she hadn't met for sure) because her mum didn't like it. Now I am a great advocate of internet dating, and at her age had met (in person) more than one person via the internet. I've always thought people worried overly about the dangers of such things, but in this particular situation I can see that danger quite clearly. Jenny is extremely naive, not especially sharp and doesn't seem to have had a lot of encouragement from parents/teachers as a result. It seems like she would be pretty susceptible to unscrupulous parties - whether online or not, actually - and I'm not sure if I ought to talk to her about it. I'm not suggesting that she'll end up being stalked and/or ravaged by crazed, knife-wielding paedophiles, but there's definitely a risk that someone less innocent than her, even of her own age, would be willing to take advantage in one way or another. Her welfare outside of the shop isn't really any of my business and I don't know her especially well yet, but if she ended up in a sticky situation that I might have been able to help her avoid, I would feel awful for not having done anything!

I think a little more detective work is on the agenda first.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Brighton May Day Smash EDO protest

*Public Service Announcement* This blog has been temporarily hijacked to bring you an anonymous political/social missive from the front line! Do not adjust your television set, normal service will resume shortly...

I used to be someone who thought of protesters as 'those people' - that they brought trouble (with the police) upon themselves and if only they could do it quietly and peacefully people would take them more seriously. Recently I became reacquainted with some friends who are involved with demonstrations and the radical social scene, and for one reason or another (I had previously eyed their activities and enthusiasm with suspicion, as some kind of dubious zealotry) I am now at a point where I am far more open to hearing about such things. The more I heard (and saw, via the miracle of YouTube) about what goes on at demos with the police, from several unrelated sources, the more horrified I was - and the more interested in seeing it for myself. This was prior to the G20 debacle.

I agreed to go to the Smash EDO May Day street party with someone who as it happens backed out before the event, but, knowing some other attendees, decided I'd go anyway. Though I can't deny being slightly apprehensive, not really knowing what to expect. The meeting location was kept top secret until half an hour before the event, so already it felt exciting and slightly illicit. The organisers had been criticised in the local press for not co-operating with the police about their plans, but considering their previous experience it's very understandable that refused to talk to them. It's not a legal requirement that the 'authorities' are informed, in any case! I believe the organisers of the G20 talked to the police beforehand - something about the proof in the pudding.

Sussex's finest were quite an ominous presence throughout the day - there were police horses at the front of the crowd, unprecedented and really quite intimidating. The route was at least easily discernible for any stragglers by the trail of horse shit lining the streets... Perhaps it was some kind of practical joke for the frontrunners, shielded behind large placards held up from head to foot, to be the first to have to trample through it. Later when trouble began to look imminent, flares were set off (causing protesters and those not involved in the march to fear it might be tear gas) and riot police appeared, elbowing through the crowd. Lines of officers and police vans appeared all over the city. They may have been told to take a 'hands off' approach, but the paranoia and tension created by such an overwhelming, and frankly disproportionate, show of force, was never going to make for a good atmosphere. The change in the atmosphere during the half hour period in which the police were not present (there was a barricade on Ditchling Road, forcing us back down through a residential side street towards Preston Park - the police elected to regroup at the park ahead of us rather than try to follow us down the road) was really amazing, suddenly everyone was far more relaxed, a few face masks came off for a while, people came out of their houses to watch - curious rather than alarmed!

I'm just adding a paragraph in here to explain in more basic terms what actually goes on at a demonstration. It can be quite hard to work out when all you hear is reaction and spin. We gathered, mostly dressed in red, and then we walked, slowly, in a procession around the city. There was music - sound systems and a samba band - some chanting, some dancing, and some banners and placards professing the cause. Every now and then the police stopped us and tried to move us back for some reason. Then we carried on. The aim is not to break windows, throw stones, blow things up or direct aggression at bystanders. Though sometimes leaflets are handed out, explaining what's going on. Banks and other businesses such as McDonalds and the Army recruitment office were the subject of ridicule - a water balloon filled with red paint was thrown at the metal shutters on one premises; ribbons and a banner were tied on the scaffolding outside another. These are not threatening or aggressive activities. I wonder whether people get the idea that a demo is just a melee of angry people rampaging through the streets, scaring children and brandishing sticks at police officers, looking for capitalist drones to take hostage and force-feed lentils until they agree to stop shopping in Tesco.

Somehow I was roped into being interviewed for a local station the next day, as an eyewitness, which I'm fairly sure I made a pretty bad job of (I did warn them!). That sort of thing makes me unnecessarily nervous, but I agreed to do it because of my feeling about the way the demo had been reported in the local press - at least a vague attempt to provide actual evidence-based opinion has to be helpful, right? The feeling I got from the questions I was asked, though, was that they were trying to pass me off as some naive young person who'd gone along because I liked the idea of it, swept along by media hype and peer pressure rather than for any belief in the cause. But even if this was the case, and it may have been for some (and may be partly why I was there), it's easy to see why - there's a sense of community in uniting over a common cause that's hard to find in society these days. I've always hated the word 'solidarity', but it really does feel like that. No wonder people just want to go for the experience. And what if they do, anyway? You're giving credence and strength to something positive just by adding to the numbers.

Protesting has become so stigmatised in the last 20 years that it's not only viewed with suspicion and disdain, but as a criminal activity. And you would (as I did) make that assumption, too, if you saw the police horses, the riot gear, the vans and officers creating barricades wherever possible. When people see the demo, they don't see what it's about, they just see this, the long, eager arm of the law 'protecting' them from the menace of the parade/angry mob. It's a moderately clever tactic, too, in the subtle influence on 'normal' people, that we are the 'other', not like them, we must be contained. The police wouldn't be there if something bad wasn't going to happen, right?

The coverage in the local rag was astounding. 'Shameful' was their headline - with a full page colour photograph on the cover, as is normally used to depict disasters of epic proportions such as terrorist attacks and tsunamis. I suppose I shouldn't have been so shocked; the more hardened activists I spoke to said it was pretty standard, and some of them even said they weren't that bothered because the people who read it (average Daily Mail readers) had such short memories, re-written each day by the next tabloid headline, that they'd have forgotten about it in a week anyway. It wasn't just in that paper though. Media spin always has worried me, and I've always known it went on, but I've never experienced it so directly before. I know that a lot of what I'm writing here is old news to a lot of people, and I don't profess to know all about it - but I do know what I saw and I want to add to actual constructive comment/discourse on the subject if I can. For weeks the paper had been making a fuss about the march, speculating on what would happen in the wake of G20; how the irresponsible the organisers were for not co-operating with the police in discussing their plans; fear-mongering that the whole city would be shut down. After this hype they couldn't really back down and concede that it had been a largely peaceful and successful demo. It felt sinister to me, though - like they were trying to show what 'chaos' erupts when the police aren't allowed to employ their usual methods.

The implications of the negative stigma really are far reaching though. At what point will people overcome their institutional prejudice and retaliate? How bad will it have to get? No one seems to associate protests over current issues with historical successful, or at least benevolently viewed, campaigns - the peasant's revolt, the suffragettes, the miners' strikes. Demonstrating is either passed off as pointless, laughed at, or attacked in some ignorant way. But isn't it a tool of social change, and what happens if no one takes advantage of it anymore? People may argue that we do not live in a society in which radical change is necessary, but it's amazing how much you can justify to yourself in order to avoid having to take any action. How else did Hitler get into power?

I'm digressing now and this post is quite long enough without idealistic political ranting about which I really know very little. There's lots I have to say on the subject but at the risk of sounding like a teenager who's just discovered George Orwell, I will stop now.

Thank you for bearing with me... We will now return to our scheduled programming.

Friday, 24 April 2009


An odd thing happened today. I was called to process a refund on a book that a man had purchased, not 10 minutes previously - it was a Rita Hayworth biography, priced at £2. He said, quite aggressively, that the thing was falling apart and that he didn't want it. I politely explained that we did not refund books but in this case I'd be happy for him to choose another book. No, he didn't want another one, he just wanted his money back. He shoved the book under my nose and told me that it was falling apart and I had to refund the money. Examining it, I found that the edges of the book had not been cut properly, but I pointed out to him that none of the pages were in fact falling out as he had said. Any attempts to assure him that the book was perfectly fine only resulted in him getting angrier and angrier - he showed me a loose section at the back that he claimed had fallen out, but on closer inspection it was a separate pamphlet. I tried to explain this by pointing out that the pages were unnumbered, there were no torn edges and the paper was smaller than that of the rest of the book, but I may as well have been trying to sponge bath an irate rhino. To avoid a scene I agreed to refund the money in order to get him out of the shop as quickly as possible, during which time one of my volunteers became involved and the 'conversation' rapidly degenerated into the familiar refrain of 'you get this all for free, you should be giving me the money, I'm charity, ra ra ra'. Fortunately he left swiftly as soon as the £2 was back in his sweaty little palm.

Now for the serendipitous part. I put the book back on the shelf, then spotted a sticker on the front that I had not previously noticed - 'signed copy'. Sure enough, when I opened the front cover, it had in fact been signed by the author. In the light of this it seems quite likely that it was the first copy off the presses, hence the ragged edges! The book had been woefully underpriced and I pretty pleased he had returned it after all that. I restickered it at £6 (probably still too little but hey, it's a charity shop and no one is willing to pay the full value) and put it in the window display. Hehehe.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Monday morning

This morning (first 'customer' of the day) a drunk man told me I have a 'gaping hole in my heart' because I do not love dogs. Personally I've always thought it worked the other way around, but I suppose I would say that due to the hole... The hole full of seething misanthropy!

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Swift weekly run-down

This week has been preternaturally calm! My assistant manager was off Wednesday and Thursday, and called in sick on Tuesday, so I didn't see her til Saturday (my day off on Friday). I shouldn't be mean, but it is so lovely and peaceful when she's not around... She's an Essex girl through and through! You can hear her dulcet tones at pretty much any given time, in any given location within about a half mile radius of the shop. Mostly I am thankful for her gregariousness, being that it's a quality I lack myself. All the volunteers would get bored and leave if it was just me.

Her absence aside, this week there have been no fraudsters, no angry refund-seekers, no imminent violence, only one small incident with the stalker (he popped in Wednesday afternoon when I was on my own on the till, but eventually left after I studiously ignored him in favour of numerous pointless bits of merchandising) - I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself...

Monday, 16 March 2009

Back to work

Picked up the keys from the other shop this morning and with them the lead weights that attach to my soul...

The minute I walked through the door the familiar 'why do I bother' feeling sank back in. First job was to remove the shite from the bric a brac shelves (as always when I've not been here) - a single blank VHS tape for 50p, a cuddly toy, a bag of golf tees originally priced at 75p...

The will to love ebbing slowly, I discovered three carrier bags full of change under the desk. Thank god! A timewasting activity. I've spent a good portion of the day bagging it up - total £93.80, mostly consisting of coppers.

But now it's nearly 3pm and the donations are piling up (each one feeling like it's being dropped on my shoulders as Peter sets them down in the office). I'd better go and do some real work!

*edit* Someone just made a donation of £473. And I was worried about making my target...

Friday, 13 March 2009

And so it begins again

Back to work tomorrow after 8 glorious days off.

Watch this space.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Who throws a shoe?!

Another tale of woe and misguided interests from the archives.

Before Christmas, a pair of trainers was sold to an Eastern European lady, by Daphne, for the sum of £14.99. Lovely new DCs, bargain. I am called to the till in a dispute over the change. Daphne tells me the customer gave her a £10 note and a £5 note; the customer insists she gave her two £10 notes. So I say ok, the only way I can settle this is to cash up the till, would you mind coming back in half an hour. Duly I cash up (it's only around 11am, so not too lengthy a task), and we are down by £1. Plus Daphne has been working at the shop three times a week for the past six years, so I trust her word anyway.

When the lady comes back, I apologetically explain that I'm sorry but the money isn't there - she must have given a ten and a five. That isn't good enough though. The woman swears blind that she got two £10 notes out of the cash machine across the road (suggesting that I check the bank's security tapes!), and came straight in here to buy the shoes. She is evidently quite distressed, clearly she really believes we have short changed her, I have no suspicion that she's trying to pull a fast one (happens more frequently than you'd think) - but there literally is nothing else I can do! She also implies that perhaps my volunteer is too old and that she has made a mistake, asks if she has made mistakes before - but as I've already explained, this is not the case and I get a little irritated when people accuse my staff of wrongdoing despite all evidence to the contrary.

Anyway, the customer wants to speak to my superior, so I give her the number for head office, and my name, and off she goes. As she leaves the shop, she turns around, takes the shoes out of the bag and shies them in my direction, one at a time, and shouts 'there is my donation - £20!' I sigh and smile weakly, say thank you very much and go to retrieve the shoes that have narrowly missed my head. (Just call me Dubya.)

Immediately I call my manager to tell him what has transpired, so that he's prepared for a phone call. He rings back a little while later and tells me she is a total nutjob (his usual politically correct and professional persona). She was on the phone to him for half an hour, telling him that I was a 'vindictive and horrible person' and that I had 'robbed her and raped her' (slight language barrier methinks). My boss explained that she had two options - she could come back and pick up the shoes, or she could come back and get a full refund. She wanted her shoes, and her £5. Eventually he got her to agree to come and collect them, and told me that she would be in later or tomorrow.

I was off the next day, but apparently she was rather sheepish - I'd warned Katie that there may be an irate Eastern European dropping by! - but thankfully that was the end of it. One suspects she found the money elsewhere since the previous afternoon (or that my boss threatened her with deportation - shhh! you didn't hear it from me...).

Thursday, 5 March 2009

The stuff of wonders

Our donations never fail to astound me. I empty one bag and find two pairs of old knickers, some recordable VHS tapes and three studded leather hangers (WTF).

The next bag contains a brand new pair of Russell & Bromley shoes with matching handbag, still in the box, a faux fur-trimmed brocade Jigsaw jacket, and a purple-sequinned flapper dress by Karen Millen.

Then I find a bag of tupperware from the 1970s.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Abuse, etc

My favourite argumentative customer stopped by this afternoon to brighten my day...

About 6 months ago there was an incident with this man, wherein he posted money through the door while the shop was closed, along with a little note stating that he wished to purchase an item in the window. Now, he had done this once before and I had asked him not to do it as we don't put things aside. Personally I think it's pretty rude, like snapping your fingers at a waiter. Anyway, when he came in to collect his item, I gave him his money back and explained politely that we were unable to reserve items (this is company policy - many shops alas do not enforce it otherwise I would get a lot less hassle over it). Cue a tirade of personal abuse, how did I ever get to become manager, he never gets this anywhere else, why is it always me that he has a problem with, etc. I confess, I saw red, and snapped at him a little more than I should - I believe I told him that we did not operate a mail order service. Though really that is a point of fact. He duly wrote a letter of complaint to head office about me, and what an awful person I am, which my manager read to me over the phone (very entertaining) with a wry smile. Nobody seemed bothered except the customer in question.

This man comes into the shop fairly frequently, always talking loudly about 'certain members of staff' - if he has that much of a problem he should just stop spending money in my shop!

But today there was another fracas. I wasn't even involved - I left the shop floor as soon as I saw him to avoid any nastiness, but heard raised voices a few minutes later and so went to see what the problem was. The short version is that he wanted to buy an item costing £1.25, but didn't have any cash. My volunteer on the till told him that we couldn't do credit card transactions for less than £5 (not strictly true but £1.25 is pushing it a bit!), and my assistant manager had stepped in to mediate. She had elected to carry out the transaction just to get him out of the shop, but he was determined to have his little rant. 'I don't want to cause an argument' he says - oddly enough, I think that's exactly what he wants - whilst continuing to complain about us. I heard Katie say that she'd had a long weekend and didn't want to argue, to which he replied that he worked much harder than us and what would we know about it! As soon as I appeared, despite the fact that the whole debacle had had nothing to do with me, it was instantly my fault. Having said absolutely nothing, he turns on me and starts saying oh yes you always have a problem with me, don't you remember I wrote a letter of complaint about you because you wouldn't hold an item... And so on. Then he point to my assistant manager and tells me that she would have kept his item! Which isn't true. She better bloody not anyway. As he left the shop he started saying that he didn't know why I was still working here, shouldn't I have a job at Marks & Spencers by now! (Maybe he has a problem with them too...) He also made derogatory comments about my appearance and my wages (how would he know).

The manager of our other branch along the road rang me ten minutes later to tell me that he had just been in, saying 'you wouldn't cause world war three if I wanted to pay for something for £1.50 by credit card, would you' - and telling him what a bitch I am. He will also be writing in to complain, again! God knows what about though, we put his transaction through, we weren't rude - he has absolutely no cause for complaint. I'm finding this extremely frustrating, and frankly if he continues to treat us with such contempt I will feel quite justified in barring him from the shop altogether. Though one suspects he is something of a misogynist. It's one thing to disagree with our policies, many people do, but to be slinging personal insults for no reason is totally unacceptable. I wish there was someone I could write to to complain about my customers...

Monday, 2 March 2009

For the love of dog...

Today a woman told me I was anally retentive for asking her to take her dog out of my shop.

Hurrah for abuse from the general public! That's what makes it all worthwhile...

My volunteer on the till, Daphne, came into the office and said there was an 'obstreporous' (top marks for use of that word!) woman in the shop who was refusing to take her dog outside. I politely told the person in question that dogs are unfortunately not allowed in the shop, and would she mind taking it outside. She said that she wanted to see it in black and white where it said they weren't allowed in, so I pointed her in the direction of the notice on the front door that says 'Registered assistance dogs only'. This was not enough. 'Every other charity shop lets dogs in, why are you different', she replies. I know this isn't true, it is standard practice and very few shops at all will allow dogs in. Even the PDSA doesn't allow dogs! Admittedly our sign is not particularly visible, the writing is minute and the picture is so abstract I didn't realise til the other day that it is in fact meant to be a dog. But having been shown the sign, as requested, the customer continued to argue - when I said that perhaps other shops did not enforce the rule, she said 'so why are you being anally retentive'. Charming. Eventually she left.

People do get very funny about their dogs - it's not the first time I've suffered abuse at the hands of a dog owner! I was mauled by a dog once when in heated debate with it's owner over its presence in the shop, it started growling at me and then jumping up! I may have become slightly hysterical... I'm not a dog lover. That has no bearing at all on whether or not I enforce the rule, however. There are many reasons why animals ought not to be brought into shops, the least of which is that not everybody likes them.

Friday, 27 February 2009

I've had some gin

And I'm feeling happy. I've dispensed with tobacco and caffeine in the course of the last two days - alcohol is my last remaining friend.

Today I held my first ever staff meeting. I was absolutely terrified and dreading having arranged it, but it did have to be done! The subject of discussion was the Book Room. We have one volunteer, named Richard, who sorts out the book room on a Wednesday morning, and he has been kicking up a fuss about how messy it is, and who's been ruining his system, etc - he doesn't seem to appreciate a) that other people go in there and b) how much stuff we get on a daily basis! None of us like him, he's arrogant, irritating and has a large superiority complex. So I decided something had to be done - especially as I am never in on a Wednesday and my poor assistant manager has had to deal with the brunt of his tantrums.

On the pretext of wanting to homogenise the sorting and pricing process, due to the occasional unsuitable volume making its way onto the shop floor, I arranged the meeting for Friday afternoon. Amazingly everyone involved turned up, and I felt bolstered by the presence of so many other people - I wouldn't just be facing Richard alone and playing tug of war over whether the stock room ought to be alphebetised or not!

I fail to remember the details, but the upshot of it was, I was brilliant, and so were all my non-asshole volunteers, and totally steamrollered over this guy who had been causing a fuss. And I magically managed to get him to switch his day so Katie doesn't have to deal with him all alone on a Wednesday any more. Or at all, in fact - she was thrilled! One can only hope that he will be more responsive to my instruction than hers. His tendency to barrel in and just do whatever the hell he likes, regardless of what is asked of him, will be stopped, one way or another! Let's put it this way - it's my way or the highway...

'Things are going to change, I can feel it'

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Days gone bye...

Flicking through the archives of my regular journal, I came across this tasty morsel, written back in November 2007. I found it very entertaining - shortly after this, my manager disappeared off the face of the earth, leaving me to run the shop pretty much alone over the Christmas period, before eventually giving her notice in January. On the plus side, the powers that be did hand me her job immediately, having shown I was entirely capable. I seem to have come full circle again though, and am feeling much the same as I did about 18 months ago. But with more badassness \m/.

I've got a degree, get me out of here!
So my brain is finally biting back after having been abandoned in favour of very cheap clothes and a bit of a laugh for the last 6 months. Whilst my job (assistant manager of a charity shop) is indeed very likeable, it also involves dealing with a lot of bullshit from various corners - and for £10.5k a year, I'm afraid there's only so much you can put up with before it starts to seem a little pointless. What the hell am I doing scraping soggy clothes and stuffed animals off the doorstep every morning, sweeping up little piles of crisps, spraying air freshener around after the great unwashed or listening to recount after recount of Red Dwarf episodes by our less socially able volunteers. I need some mental stimulation beyond how to merchandise the new delivery of Christmas tat, or the best way to stack bags of donations so they don't all come tumbling down and crush us to death...

Not to mention the fact that my working day largely depends on whether or not my manager has had a fight with her boyfriend that morning; or that the company that pays me such a pittance (certainly not enough to compensate for a life of flea bites, chapped hands, strained muscles, mysterious bruises all over and constantly aching gnarled feet, not to mention the broken nails) apparently has no respect for any of its employees and accordingly displays zero appreciation for us whatsoever, monetary or otherwise.

An endless supply of awesome clothes at rock bottom prices is all very well, but let's be honest....if i was being paid a decent amount of money, that really wouldn't be an issue! So if anyone knows of any nice juicy vacancies in their vicinity, do let me know! The hunt is on.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009


Another incident from a while ago.

Yesterday I went up to the stock room to be confronted by the sight of a 60-odd year old woman in a sparkly Madonna t-shirt, trousers inexplicably unzipped to display her (thankfully enormous) white knickers, and a great big grin on her face.

She had wandered out of the delivery bay around the corner, like some kind of weird unearthly vision, at the same time as I arrived upstairs, where unbeknownst to me she had gone to try on the top. Of course my eyes were at first drawn against their will to her crotch, and frankly I was speechless for several moments while she gleefully asked, in her childish voice, 'what d'you think?'! Ungluing my gaze from the open trousers, I realised she was talking about the t-shirt, despite the fact that her fingers were plucking at the edge of her pants (some may get the wrong idea here, imagine a little girl who's lifted her skirt up to fiddle with the hem out of girlish shyness, unwittingly displaying her undergarments to all and sundry). I can't imagine the expression on my face, but thankfully Victoria is not the intuitive type. She went on to explain that she was going for her gold star in line dancing, so I told her that she'd better have it to make sure she looked the part.

Victoria is a little girl of about 12 stuck in an old lady's body. She has short, lanky grey hair, and wears the same jeans, american eagle t-shirt and mangy old green fleece every Thursday - every day for all I know. She smells of the great unwashed, but in hers as in some other cases it is forgivable. Her moods are irrational and extreme - some weeks she won't say a word, others she won't stop talking, regardless of whether or not there's anybody in the room. If there's a bee in her bonnet, she'll smack the table in a fit of rage - many a time I've expected her to burst into tears over some trial or other - and talking her down is nigh-on impossible. But if she's happy, due to say some success with a Tudor re-enactment or bonfire display, she'll be chattering and giggling away under her breath all morning. She even proudly brings in her certificates and trophies for dancing to show us all.

She's another one with a tragic tale (haven't they all!). When she was a child, people who weren't 'normal' were swept under the carpet - her parents sent her to a convent to live, where she probably spent a significant amount of her adult life. When she first started at the shop she was like a little church mouse, barely audible - she'd come down to the office to ask permission to use the toilet.

I asked her about where she lived now and if she had any family. Turns out she has a flat (housing association or assisted living, I suppose) , and a social worker checks up on her - and she is married. They come into the shop together sometimes to buy costumes for their dancing and shows. If there is any proof in this world that there is someone for everyone, surely she and her hubby are it.


Dara doesn't work for me any more, but I wrote this bit about him a while ago and he was such a lovely chap he deserves publication.

Dara is on the till... his first outing. I sit in the office listening and I can feel the waves of confusion emanating up the stairs. Any moment now the till will rattle and beep, footsteps will approach and the familiar 'er, Nancy...' will be heard.

Sometimes I get so sick of the sound of my own name, I'd like to install one of those bleepers in my brain, the kind they use on TV to cover up profanities. Still, I hope that Dara on the shop floor will entice young female spendthrifts into my shop. It certainly stops him sitting in the corner crying over the love songs on his iPod. Ah, the tender heart of an 18-year-old boy! He is Kurdish, a slender and beautiful young man possessed of carved cheekbones and big brown eyes that could charm the pants off Anne Widdicombe. He doesn't know that yet though, which rather adds to his appeal. Once he told me that he wanted white skin, but I'm sure it won't be long before the realises that the deep tan complexion and rugged dark locks are paying off for him.

He's an amazing young man, actually - a refugee, an illegal immigrant who escaped Iraq after his family was killed in the conflict. You'd never know it to talk to him though. The chirpy demeanor (excepting the occasional iPod moment) confused me for a while, knowing the awful things that have happened to him. But then someone else pointed out to me that he's probably just really happy to be here and not there. A few months ago he told me that he'd failed to get his visa and was under threat of deportation. His lawyer was helping him appeal and asked if I would write a letter of reference to his case.

Some might take issue with aiding an illegal immigrant to stay in this country, but frankly I am more than happy to say that I hope in some small way I was able to help him get the 5-year visa that was eventually granted. Every day I am confronted with the array of drunkards, drug addicts, shoplifters and general white trash born and bred in this country, wandering the streets in search of cash or goods at anyone's expense except their own. Dara risked everything to come here for the sake of his life - being that he didn't actually have one left back in Iraq - goes to college in the week and volunteers in my shop in his free time, for work experience. I'd rather give him my tax money than some pissed, lazy chavs who can't even be bothered to wash themselves.

Rant over. (For now.)

Tiresome by Tuesday!

It's going to be a long week.

Tiresome things that have happened so far this week:

My stock take - I thought I'd cleverly minimised the work by doing the stock room numbers on Friday. Unfortunately at 12pm Monday I received a phone call telling me that the large box containing 332 items of new accessories (that arrived with a lovely little note saying that it was not to be included in the stock take) DID in fact need to be counted. On Tuesday, when I had finally collated my total figure, I phone it through to the regional manager only discover that I am meant to have 200-odd items of giftware. I counted 6. Erm.

The would-be stalker - see previous post.

I couldn't get my lighter to work! Monday afternoon, popping out for a well-earned bit of nicotine (and the first since Sunday evening), I stood outside the back door for about 5 minutes like a total lemon, trying to light my cigarette. Could I get the bleedin child-proof thing to work? Could I buggery. I had to stop the man from the newsagent's across the road (the one who insists, rather irritatingly, on addressing me as 'babe') and beg a light. It's a shocking fact but I know very few charity shop managers who do not smoke. I managed for a year without giving in to fag breaks during the day, but since moving into a non-smoking house I no longer smoke much in the evening, if at all, so I have switched my cancerous routine. I must say it does break the day up rather pleasantly.

Usual endless stream of bags of crap - what in god's name would I want a broken toy guitar for? A woman actually removed it from the bag (thankfully, most aren't so considerate) to ask me if it's the sort of thing I wanted, or if *gasp* she should maybe consider putting it in the bin. 'It doesn't actually work...' she says. You'd think she would realise she'd answered her own question, but apparently not. Unwashed crockery, children's underwear, half-used bottles of shampoo, piles of homework (FFS), unfinished craft projects and incomplete jigsaw puzzles. Just a small selection. Don't get me wrong, I am often also stunned at the amazing and lovely things that people donate too - brand new Marc Jacobs necklace, a Chloe bag worth £2k, wedding dresses and vintage military attire, to name but a few. But today is a day for griping. Oh yes but I did find a pair of slightly muddy but otherwise barely worn Ugg hiking boots, magically in my size, in amongst it all, which pleased me greatly. Whilst I do not find them in the least aesthetically appealing, I really do need more practical shoes and I may well be doing significantly more walking in the months to come.

I digress. It is Tuesday night. I am tired. Thank god for mid-week days off.

Harassment, etc

I have suffered stalker-like behaviour from customers on more than one occasion whilst at work. The previous offender at first seemed like a pleasant and harmless enough chap, chatting to me on the shop floor - but the inevitable small transgressions began to appear - following me into the back room, standing that bit too close, following me from shop to shop (this was when I was working one day at the shop I now run, and covering three days at the branch down the road). Eventually someone told me they knew him and he was schizophrenic - which isn't necessarily indicative of nutterness, I have some extremely capable volunteers and friends who suffer from it and manage to keep it under control. This man clearly didn't have it under control, however, and eventually, through a course of hiding immediately when encountering him at work and in the street, he left me alone.

Yesterday I was harassed by a customer who has expressed more than usual interest in me over a number of months. He probably doesn't think he was harassing me, but at 5pm when I'm kicking everyone out, stood at the door attempting to lock it, he was hovering in the path of said door so that I was unable to close it, and attempting to cleverly bypass all my requests for him to exit the premises. Clearly he has a bit of a thing for me, and for some reason seems to think that I understand what he is getting at when he acts surprised when i refer to him as 'just a customer?' and 'when will i see you? only at work?' - very frustrating. Why do men old enough to be my father often seem to expect that I will want to go out with them. Whilst he does not look mentally unhinged and is a not a large or menacing person, I did feel quite harangued and intimidated by him when I was in the shop alone at the end of the day. Next time I will get badass on him and put my security radio to good use!