After moving to Brighton for university and spending the first year in blissful unemployment and in a constant state of hangover, sitting in the café of our big, glass art school, hanging out on the pebbles of Brighton beach after seminars, while living in halls and off student loans, the second year was definitely time to get a job.
I had just moved into a house with 3 northerners, a west-country lass and a Welshman; we’d all met in halls in the first few weeks and had stayed friends. We lived in the middle of the North Laines, the hippiest bit of Brighton. I was living with 3 music students, and two business studies students who’d realised the error of their ways and transferred to humanities and media respectively.
Our house became a creative, messy hub of loveliness, cooking stir-frys and eating either Subway or roast from a bucket, depending on which flat mate brought what home from work that night. We were falling distance from our nearest, also our favorite, pub, we had the best fry-up in Brighton in the cafe next door and I was a 5 mins with a cup of tea stumble from uni. The only thing missing was a job nearby.
My experience with The Gastro Pub and a brief three hour stint working for A Major Ticket Sales Operator in Leicester Square (another ‘what the fuck am I doing here moment’) had taught me that perhaps I was not made to be a slave to ‘the man’ and that independent shops were the way to go. Home was it – a very overpriced gift shop selling toot and tat, bits of furniture and trendy whatnots, wrapped with ribbons and bows.
The manager was the granddaughter of a Scandinavian sportswear mogul and I distinctly got the impression this was her Wendy-shop. In the great line up of unused opportunities, it turned out the assistant manager was also a quite successful director and drama practitioner who went on to lead an MA course at one of the accredited drama schools in London. The only way she ever saw me, however, was intensely hung-over! When you can barely make conversation without every second word being a groan, it’s not a good look, especially for letting your inner talent sparkle.
On the plus side, I was often left to my own devices and, despite how every one of these blog posts may make it appear, I am very good at customer service and am generally a joy to be around. Despite this, it was a particularly hung-over Wednesday (bloody students!) when a suited gent in his mid 40’s came into the shop. Not your average clientele for the North Laine, he was obviously a very busy and important man and hung-over shop assistants were not even on his radar. I may as well have been a Tesco’s self checkout for the amount of acknowledgement he gave me as he stormed around the shop, obviously irritated that the array of shiny objects was so large. Meanwhile, I sat on the step ladder (we weren’t allowed a chair because then we would sit down… little did they know) with my head in my hands, raising a painful eyeball just enough to see that I wasn’t going to expend the effort to attempt to help this man.
Booming up to the counter: “A present for a friend’s girlfriend,” he demanded. I slid a pastel coloured mug with built in cookie holder towards him. “What is it?” he boomed in a voice so loud my tender head could have shattered.
“It’s a pastel coloured mug with a built in cookie holder,” I muttered. “She’ll like it; everyone does. That’ll be £12.99.” I reached behind me for a bag.
“Wrapped????!!!!” shouted the man. I pulled myself up to sitting position and lack-lusterly began to wrap, very nicely as well, if I do say so myself. You don’t work in as many gift shops as I have without picking up a trick or too with curly ribbon! “You don’t strike me as a girl who derives much pleasure from your job,” Boomed Mr Boomy with disgust.
On completing the final flourish of ribbon I looked him straight in the eye and said, not as eloquently I’m sure but along the lines of, “You know what? I don’t really want to be here. You don’t really want to be here. In actual fact, I’m training to work in the theatre. That’s where I want to be, and I’m doing this to make some money so that eventually I can do that instead of selling ridiculously pointless inventions to people like you…”
It turned out he worked in advertising but had wanted to be an actor when he was younger but had never gone down that route himself. We had a nice twenty-minute chat and he went on his way, waving goodbye and shouting, “and good luck with the acting career. I wish you all the best,” from the door, bumping into the poor chef from the café upstairs as he came to collect, for the umpteenth time that week, his stack of tea towels that had fallen from his windowsill into our pigeon poo encrusted courtyard below.