I work weekends in a large pharmacy in the centre of Dublin and it started as a Christmas job in 2003.
I love the place (I’m aware of the slagging this statement will award me) and look forward to a break away from kids and mundane household chores. I can have a lunch break and pee without an audience…well Rita and Carla like to talk to me through the door and I have become used to chatting while toileting, I just have to make a conscious effort to suppress the farts that would bring me cheers at home although Rita doesn’t hold back and I do cheer. I have made lifelong friends in there, ladies that are all fabulous, smart and working among lubes and haemorrhoid creams dismantles any taboos. Lunchtime is normally spent trying to out gross each other and cause maximum embarrassment to newbies (or the male minority) who have the misfortune of being on break with us. We’re only short of posting a memo on our menstrual cycles on the wall of the canteen. A few weeks ago there were screams of delight as 3 of us discovered we’d synched; Derek didn’t want to be left out so we included him in our painkiller/ chocolate binge.During the week I resemble Golum-in-leggings on school drop offs and while dashing around Aldi with Rian at the helm shouting fuck off to anyone who looks at us. At work, I am made up, fragranced and snot-free (I get the flu jab).
However it is Christmas and my weekend haven has been completely de-havenised, in fact it is more chaotic than my home life. It creeps in insidiously and we all laugh in August when some Xmas stock arrives. Then the displays go up and we admire them and have little chats about what items we like and dislike. It’s innocuous and calm as panic has not set in and we only have a few of the super-organised shopping. We comment on each of these purchases and congratulate the shopper on her (always a woman) pre-emptive Christmas strike. I make a metal note to buy a few bits to take the pressure off December’s pay check… I buy Argan Oil and a new primer for myself instead.
Next all the new Christmas staff arrive, vast amounts of them that can’t possibly be of working age. Most of them are called Amy and they band together and make us oldies feel the need to apply an extra layer of makeup. They don’t have our refund abilities or vast knowledge of the properties of evening primrose oil so we are still viable humans (members of staff). It is nice to have minions to give you a hand and we all have our favourites but there is a cull after Christmas that divides the opinion of the old staff (for about 10 minutes until we discuss the previous nights episode of Homeland). It’s similar to the X Factor but you’re judged on tardiness and general cop-on.
Then the first wave of zombies (sorry humans) begin circling the Xmas section. The shelves are plentiful and all are happy although bags never seem to be big enough and an inordinate amount of time is spent double bagging…just in case. There is still time and interest to initiate chats with the customers and the first “that’s the last of it” can be heard. I feel a slight panic build…. shite I haven’t even got the teachers presents and I have to buy cake on my lunch and a sneaky bottle of wine in Tescos for later… sure I’ll make a list then while I drink; maybe even shop online, great plan! My kids are small enough that their minds change every 5 minutes as to what they want so Santy letters are postponed till the 11th hour.
Black Friday has a lot to answer for… those two words ignite the spark of shopping panic that will be sustained right up to Xmas Eve. My full time friends have all my sympathy as I’m unsure where they find the mental strength to do it day after day. I got home after last weekend and felt as if I’d been on a cross trainer and forced to watch ‘Allo ‘Allo for hours such was the physical and mental strain. The day starts out with the best of intentions and my customer service skills are on point (on fleek?) but after the 1000th “Excuse me… do you work here?” my pissed-off barometer starts twitching. There are people in the world who should stick to online shopping… they have no business mingling among the public. I have no idea how they can even get a on a bus or close their hall doors with the interrogative and in depth conversation they need to have about a €1.50 bottle of shower gel. Does it contain parabens? Silicone? has it anti-bacterial properties? Am I crazy that I buy on smell alone? I will disentangle myself from the situation after a half hour and make my way to the toilet (I still haven’t the ability to hold on for any length of time when I’ll hear “excuse me….” and it’s someone with a Christmas brochure, a pen and post-its and I’m glad I’m wearing Tena.
The once spacious and proud Xmas shop has now become a teeming hive of customer frenzy. The women generally walk around motioning like air traffic controllers on speed as the menfolk trail behind barely able to see over the 10 giant Dove sets they’re carrying. There are dozens of Amys opening boxes and smiling at managers, desperate to keep the job into the new year.
I’ve 2 more weekends to do before Xmas and then I can regain my haven. I will armour myself with red lipstick, Tena and plenty of evening primrose oil; I will smile politely when you look at my name badge and ask if I work here; I will answer your OCD questions but please remember to smile, thank me and put your phone down. In return I will not roll my eyes or tell you it’s only what’s out there… I will do everything in my power to find what you need if you are a pleasant human. This will bring my and your pissed off barometer down substantially from homicidal to mildly put-out which is great considering the time of year!