For a couple of years, when I was a student, I had a holiday job working at Marks & Spencer in Leamington. It was ideal work for a student, not only because it was one of the better paid holiday jobs, but because you never had to start before 8.30am or finish after 8pm. Oh, and because all you did for most of the day was sit at a till and type codes into it.
That’s right, ‘type codes’. M&S had just about discovered bar codes, but not bar code readers. (In a similar vein, it took them about twenty years to realise that people had credit cards).
The one cardinal rule was that whenever a customer wanted to buy an item of clothing, you had to read the size of the garment back to them. Which was fine most of the time and of course I never, ever, succumbed to the temptation to raise my voice slightly whenever I was required to say something like “Size 24”. Absolutely not. Never. As if I would be so childish.
One year, I worked over the Christmas holiday (the next year I knew better and went skiing instead). This meant working in chaos before Christmas itself, as everyone rushed to buy the presents they had forgotten about, because the shops don’t give you about four months’ warning that Christmas is approaching. And then it meant working in chaos after Christmas, as half of the population of Leamington attempted to return the gifts that the other half had bought them.
During that period, I was sent to work on the customer services desk, where everyone came to return their clothes. The rule there was that you worked in pairs – one person would inspect the goods to ensure that they were pristine, the other would process the refund through the till.
This worked well until the day that I was paired with Leanne Pounder. Leanne was (a) a girl (b) one of the few people there who was actually younger than me (c) hot and (d) the HR manager’s daughter. Which meant she could get away with absolutely anything.
Things went fine until a tall, thin woman came up to our till to return a bra. As I had been taught, I took the garment from it’s box, checked for signs of wear/being ripped off/use as a prop in a ‘Dambusters Theme’ rendition, and then read out the size.
“30AA”, I said in a surprisingly quiet voice.
“Hardly worth buying” whispered Leanne.
How we kept straight faces for long enough to refund the customer’s money I do not know. Maybe we didn’t. All I can remember is that an enormous queue of people, at least half a dozen customer services staff and the department manager were treated to the sight of two students suddenly running into the stockroom and rolling around in silent laughter, tears streaming from their eyes. And the strange thing is that no-one said a word.