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Confessions of a shopgirl

October 31, 2012

I’ve always enjoyed working.  I’ve enjoyed nearly every job, or at least some aspect of it. My first proper part time job was Sunday morning at the newsagents in the small town where I grew up. I loved it. As with all my jobs, my sister had done it first and then I got the gig when she gave up. Having had her diligence and efficiency for a number of months (maybe years), the owner had no hesitation in disappearing after my very first hour and leaving me to get on with it. It was simple enough. People came in, chose their paper or asked for it from where it had been reserved in advance, got their cigarettes and I took the money. The till was a childhood joy. A proper pre-digital cash register. Loved it loved it.

And friends would come in for their cigarettes. Twenty Number 6 was probably the commonest request. They’d  cost 33p and my mate would give me 50p and I would give her change of about 30p so she got them at a discount. I feel bad even admitting it now, but sadly it is true.

The papers were laid out on a large flat counter which I stood behind. Magazines were on shelves on the other side of the shop, in front of me. All the classics were there. And a top shelf.

The townsfolk would come in and I would know most of them as it was a small town. I am twelve or thirteen.  It takes a few weeks for me to recognise the patterns. Firstly it is nearly always the men who come in for the paper. Women come for cigarettes and some do buy papers, but not often. Those buying a combination of the Sunday Times plus the News of the World would put the NoW hidden inside the Sunday Times so that no one could see it as they walked home. Those buying the NoW and The Sunday People  didn’t care who saw.

Then there were the various rituals. One of the men had his News of the World under his arm and said. “And another £2”. I was puzzled. “Sorry,” I asked, “What do you mean?” “Take for the News of the World and add another two pounds on because I owe it.” I still didn’t understand. “Is there a bill for it?” I asked, moving towards the huge book of money owing. “No,” he sighed resignedly, “It’s for a magazine” But I still didn’t get it. Didn’t understand he was trying to save both of us so I asked “Which magazine ?” Whereupon he pulled out Mayfair or Playboy, (I don’t remember I was so emabarrased at the enormous breasts)  so I could see the title name. I started to look for the price but I couldn’t see it. All I could see were enormous bosoms and the hugest nipples known to man.  Other customers were coming in to the shop and he was keen t get this over with. He said, “It’s £2. Here. Just take the money”. Which I did. I never questioned anyone again if they wanted to give me extra.

Then there were those coming in to pay for their newspaper deliveries. In those days, lots of people had newspapers delivered, and there was an enormous book with alphabetical tagging. Within each section were pages of yellow sheets perforated to make  tiny yellow tickets, each corresponding to a week. The customer would pay for however many weeks they were owing and I would carefully tear out the tiny tickets and give them as a receipt. Wonder if those books still exist. The only emabarrasment there was when people would ask to pay and I would have to ask them their name. If you come from a small town everybody expects everyone else to know their name.

And sometimes men would come in and say “There should be an envelope for me,” as if I was meant to know what that meant. But sure enough they’d point me in the direction of a grey plastic box, and there would be a small brown envelope with the customer’s name on. So I’d hand it over, none the wiser. And I never asked the owner. So it was that when I also started working on a Saturday occasionally, men would come in with a brown envelope and say “Give that to Mike for me.”  or “Put that in the box for Mike.”  Mike owned the shop. I would put it in same grey box and thought no more about it.  Until a few weeks later, when Mike had a word with me. “When the men bring in the envelopes you need to  write on it the time they brought it in.” I asked one of the women who worked in the shop what it was all about. Turns out that as there was no betting shop in our town, he would basically do it on the side. My not putting the time on the envelopes had meant that canny customers realised they could bet on races that had just run and he would be none the wiser as he only picked up all the envelopes at the end of the day -so he wouldn’t know they’d been placed after the results were in. I must have lost him a lot of money, but  he didnt make a fuss. And I realised I had unwittingly become an illegal bookie’s runner – another job to add to the CV.

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11 Responses to “Confessions of a shopgirl”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    the sweetie jars were in the shop next door – same owner – which I moved on to – and loved – it was like my own empire – boss rarely came in – friends of course did – maybe profits were not as great as expected!

  2. Terri Says:

    Oh I loved the sound of those big newspaper ledgers Where were the sweetie jars?

  3. janetditch Says:

    Twenty No6 were 20.5p when I first started smoking! And I was much naughtier than you with the change when I was a Saturday girl at Woolworths!!


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