It is funny how the actions of one or two people can, quite unwittingly, have an effect upon your life. By the end of September 1989 Helen’s time at Marks and Spencer was drawing to an end. We had both been turned down for the management training scheme (the feedback from my interview was that I had seemed hesitant in giving my answers, which I guess is another way of describing ‘thinking about what you are going to say before you say it’), but this wasn’t the reason that she was leaving.
Helen was on a four year university course, which involved spending a year working in industry, so she was off to work for Sainsbury’s on their management training scheme. Which involved her going back to Manchester, where she was at university.
I, on the other hand, still did not have a proper job, so was going to remain working in Leamington until I found something. And then fate intervened in a rather unexpected way.
By now, our relationship was common knowledge among the other staff and most of them didn’t seem bothered by it. Some even went out of their way to encourage it and even our department managers would try and make sure that we got to work together as often as possible.
And yet there always has to be one sour-faced old bat who is never happier unless they are peeing on someone else’s chips. That person was the store detective, a woman named Joan. It is probably a tribute to her suitability for her role that I can remember nothing about her, other than her name and the fact that she was a sour faced old bat.
Every Thursday evening the store would stay open until 8pm and, at 8.15pm, any food that was going out of date that day, or which was otherwise unsuitable for sale to the general public, was sold to staff at a big discount. This meant that one person would be scheduled to work later that evening, because someone had to man the till so that the staff could pay for their purchases. On this particular day, I was that man.
Because there were a few minutes delay between the store closing and the sale starting – to get rid of the straggling customers and, more importantly, allow people to go up to the staff room and collect their money – there was a lot of milling around and chatting to people.
I was sat behind the till, waiting for the sale to start. Helen was stood, just chatting to me, having finished work for the day. We were then startled to hear Joan yell from some distance away “You two, keep all of that for your own time, you’re still at work you know”
There was a stunned silence, one that I have always regretted not filling by telling her where to get off. Aside from the fact that I was actually the only person left in the entire store who was working, we were not doing anything that a host of other people were not doing, and there was no work for me to do because the time for me to start work again had not started.
Helen and I made a formal complaint to the administration manager. There was a meeting at which the manager (whose name I forget) attempted to defend the indefensible by saying that Joan was a senior member of staff (yes, she was in charge of store detectives, i.e. herself) who was entitled to be that obscenely rude, whilst Joan sat in a corner and smirked. Then we complained about the administration manager and got nowhere with that, either.
All of which made my mind up to leave M&S and find any job elsewhere. As luck would have it, I got a job in Manchester and thus began the chain of events which led to where I am now.
So, in a funny way, I ought to thank Joan for being a rude, obnoxious, unremittingly miserable old bat. But I won’t, because she doesn’t deserve it.