Retail Rudolph and the tale of a Christmas rash

We love working in retail during the Christmas period,” said no one, ever. I’ve the utmost respect for people who work in retail; it’s a demanding job at every time of year.

I know, as the Christmas prior to my Cavan return I found myself on a supermarket checkout.

My corporate days were over and I needed a job – fast. In Peckham I ran to a Lidl shelf-stacker, “Who do I ask for a job?” The manager barely looked at me, “Apply online.”

I rushed to a coffee shop and logged on to do the pre-interview exam. It was all numeracy questions and I’m monumentally bad at maths. I timed out of the test while running round the cafe looking for people to answer the questions for me – I failed at the first Lidl!

Eventually, a manager of a well-known frozen-products store handed me a form, “Fill this in and bring it to your interview.”

My only retail experience was playing shop as a child; I didn’t mention that on the form nor at my interview. I was desperate, so were they. I got the job, subject to a try out.

Before my start day, I surreptitiously stood behind checkout folk, to observe and learn.

I figured I’d either wing-it, or get rumbled and fired within the hour. On my first day, I took a deep breath and clocked in.

The supermarket was in one of London’s most densely populated boroughs, their biggest, busiest store at Christmas. This wasn’t the deep-end, it was supermarket-abyss. I had half an hour's tutelage on a live checkout under the supervision of a seasoned check-outer; then I was on my own. I got through the first hour, until a guy asked for cash-back.

This, I didn’t know how to do; I made an excuse about my till being disabled for cash-back.

He saw through me, and exploded. When his expletives escalated towards violence, security were called. Amidst the mayhem I asked a supervisor, “Can you remind me how to give cash-back.”

I soon noticed other customers had my back. A young woman with a laden trolly said, “Home-Delivery, Please.” She saw me flinch, and quietly said, “You’ve never done one, have you?” She discreetly talked me through the process – my Guardian Angel.

A man leant forward when I handed him his receipt, “You keep forgetting to charge for the carrier-bags; they’ll have you for that,” he whispered – my Knight in Shining Armour.

These customers knew I was a novice, their knowing and kindness lifted me.

My confidence grew; until a supervisor slammed a ‘CHECKOUT CLOSED’ sign on my conveyer and barked, “Go up to the office, management want to see you.” I glanced at the time; I’d lasted four hours. I wasn’t nervous, I now had experience and would hit other stores after my sacking. Conversely, the managers shuffled nervously, “Sit down,” asserted the male one; hiding whatever he had on me behind his back.

They swapped furtive glances. The woman was clearly good cop, she gave me a nervous smile before breaking eye-contact. I thought I’d done okay, yet obviously I was in trouble. A foreboding engulfed me as I wondered if my supermarket debut was about to sweep me into the slammer for Christmas. After what seemed like an age, the woman took a breath, looked at me and asked, “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”

All I’d done was accidently give away a few bags, I was ready to come clean, “Go ahead,” I said. She paused, before leaning towards me – “Are you a Christian?” she asked. Surprised, I nodded, “I’m a Catholic, but not a great one.”

They both relaxed and broke into beaming smiles. The man stood up, “Will you wear these on the checkout?” he asked, handing me a pair of reindeer-antlers.

After a lifetime in the advertising-industry, I found myself on a supermarket-checkout wearing a pair of *plastic-antlers – and I was as happy as a pig-in-pooh; because I continued to experience the inherent kindness of people whilst on that checkout.

In the final run up to Christmas be kind to retail staff, it costs nothing and means a lot.