Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Terrible Uniforms

I worked at Sainsburys for a year or so in the mid 1980s. Mum quite rightly said I had to get a job as I was old enough to learn to drive and (more importantly) old enough to drink illegally in the Pelican pub in Addlestone.

Unfortunately, I seem to remember this backfired on her somewhat, as I was (and always have been) terrible at getting up in the mornings, especially on Saturdays, so there were occasions on which she had to give me a last-minute lift to the supermarket at around 8am.

There were good things about it - I was earning my first wages, I got to meet new people and I learned how to work a price label gun - and there were bad things; like the fact I spent most of my time collecting stray trolleys from around the parks and alleys of Chertsey, and getting locked in the meat freezer by the bullying butchers. But by far the worse thing was the appalling uniform. I think we got to wear our own white shirt, but the brown, nylon, flappy trousers and brown, nylon, flappy jacket were provided. And a smelly black clip-on tie.

All that nylon mean that Sainsburys employees in the 1980s were walking, talking Van De Graaf generators. We lit up the night sky with crackling aurorae which would move Joanna Lumley to tears. Romances between colleagues were literally electric. If you fancied a girl from the produce department you had to ground yourself on a display of melons before leaning in for a kiss, otherwise you would produce a spark which would leap from your lips to hers, igniting the hairspray on her Lady Di hair-do and leaving her writhing among the greengages, burned beyond recognition, like Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson or that bloke out of Bucks Fizz.

There was one advantage to working with such huge charges of static electricity. As any 'O' level physics pupil knew, it was possible to chain together several people to make a sort of primitive multi-cell battery. If you all held hands and shuffled your Clarks Trailfinder shoes on the lino simultaneously the potential energy would build up exponentially.

There is a legend of the day when most of the Saturday staff formed an electric conga chain: 30 people snaked up and down the household good aisles. As the chain crept up behind an unsuspecting pensioner, the tills supervisor made an announcement over the tannoy: "Mrs Baggins! This is the voice of God. I saw you slip that packet of fuses into your pocket. Now face your punishment!" At this moment the leader of the chain pointed his finger at the old lady's shoulder, in a manner reminiscent of Michaelangelo's work in the Cistine Chapel, and a holy bolt of lightning shot into Mrs Baggins's arm, making her drop her basket on her foot.

Poor Mrs Baggins. She opened a spiritualist church in the town and preached to the faithful four times a week, imploring God to repeat his demonstration in front of witnesses. Alas, it was never to happen again, for shortly afterwards Sainsburys ditched their nylon uniforms for something less fashionable, but made of cotton.

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