From Supermarkets to Infinity. Part 1.

It’s funny that I find myself at this place again – with endless possibilities to write about and yet, the only thing I want to write about is Sainsbury’s. Odd. So I suppose the best possible way to satisfy the deep desire is to conclude Supermarket Chronicles is to bridge it to the story of where I am now. So I guess that’s what I’ll do. It’s been a while, I’ll admit, but some things you just can’t forget. So here it is, the penultimate chapter of Supermarket Chronicles.

Supermarket Chronicles: Volume 2, Chapter 1 of 2.
The story of Brian, Bryan, O’Brien and Stephen

Where did I leave you? Somewhere on the brink of 2008? Well obviously, there’s been a lot of progress since then. In my life. In Sainsbury’s life. And, I should imagine, in everyone else’s life. So if you remember correctly , I was currently en-route to the Head Office of Sainsbury’s with a bit of a blade hanging over my head. Truth be told, Justin King didn’t suspend me or give me a pay-decrease. Justin didn’t move me to another store or even (the worst possible scenario) move me to the health and beauty section. Instead he played a card that I thought was pretty weak at the time. In hindsight, I can see they played exactly the right card.

January 2008. Produce Department.

After returning from head office, people were eager to find out what sort of punishment they had laid on me. I told them what they had told me. “You seem to have it too easy where you are, we are going to bring in fresh blood.” Which, in all honesty, sounded pretty harmless. Sadly I was wrong. Over the course of the next month there was a blitz of epic proportions. Each manager moved from department to department, store to store in what was one day to be referred to as ‘The Sainsbury’s Musical Chair Nightmare of 2008’ (also known as the dark ages). We ended up with new department managers, new duty managers and a new store manager. There would be no favours owed to us, no friendly introductions and no chance for survival as the new managers started to dig their teeth in. Things were getting hairy (seriously, you should have seen some of them) and they’d only just begun.

However, this particular season of my life had been an interesting one. For the first time in a long time, my life outside of Sainsbury’s had been fully flourishing. Going places. Moving on. I had a lot to be thankful for, I’d met the girl of my dreams and amazingly – she felt the same way about me. This only acted to fill me with Winter happiness which then only inevitably spilled over into the workplace. It was this that enabled me to be immune to the constant tone of the managers for an entire year. I worked oblivious to the bloodshed and chaos that our produce department saw. 2008 saw me proposing to my wife-to-be and many other life-changing events that blinded me until one fateful day in July of 2009.

It was the month of my wedding. It was my final week before a month and a half of holiday. I turned up happy and excited. After popping my head around the mildly cold door of the produce chiller I pulled myself into the hub of activity. I looked around and ‘good morning-ed’ all my fellow colleagues. Produce is not the most exciting job, but we were reasonably happy considering. Joking about the happenings of the week. And I did my part. Spreading the joy that only love can bring. But this Saturday was about to switch to a lower tone. Our manager walked in to the chiller to his newly-set-up desk in the corner of the chiller. I’d like to point out I’m still not completely clear on why they moved it from where my old manager had it. Originally it was positioned quietly around the corner and out of the way. You could do paperwork in the solitude on the boiler buzzing. But at least it was quiet and warm. Now, the desk sat uncomfortably on the top of some old shelving that had been stacked in the corner of the produce chiller. I wonder whether my new manager overheated from time to time. It’s all a possibility. It was a perfect shelving unit to hide edible goods in. Not that I would ever eat the food I work with. Ahem.

Anyway, the whole atmosphere changed when he walked in. He would probably call it authority. We would probably call it party-pooper. I suddenly awoke from my glorious day-dream of life and had the realisation that I was standing in a battlefield.His work-focused mentality went straight to the point.

“There’s no-one working late night tonight. Who wants to step up?”  – an offer so tempting we all had to think twice. But since no-one offered to take this oh-so-brilliant carrot dangling from the metaphorical stick above us, he shifted to plan B. Plan B often got enforced, the plan of re-arranging the schedules. I’m not sure if he did it out of necessity or out of revenge. Either way, the events that proceeded from this plan B would change the state of the produce department forever.

Before any reviews took place, the war ranged. Comments flew across the chiller like shrapnel inside a bomb-shelter. Words were tossed across the room over boards of produce like grenades that exploded with hate and spite. It truly was everything or nothing. Being a man of integrity, I wasn’t so fruity with the words – hard as it was. So instead I picked up the juiciest, thinnest skinned tomato and lobbed it towards my manager. It wasn’t until probably about 2 or 3 milliseconds after the tomato had left my still-swinging-back-fingers that I realised what I had done. Everyone else, shocked by my act, fell to the floor for maximum cover. I did the same. As a result, I didn’t see the impact. But I heard it.

The best likeness would be a giant tomato hitting a livid man. In fact that was exactly what it was. I thought he would explode. He didn’t. Then I thought he’s throw something back. He didn’t instead, he wiped himself off with some lettuce leaves and calmly uttered the words: “this will be a schedule review to remember”. Now if that doesn’t send purple carrot juice through your veins then I really don’t know what does.

There had already been a large amount of staff turnover, people leaving, a few people arriving, more people leaving, a small percentage of people arriving and so on until there was about three members of produce. Ok maybe four (six if you include the manager and his manager-in-training counterpart). The four remaining members: Brian, Bryan, O’Brien and me.

We were all prodded to get to work and await being summoned by our tomato-stained manager. We were constantly prodded until then – not just by our manager, but the managers that were above him in the food-chain of authority. What made them bad managers was their secret plotting with my manager. They were all allies in a store prior to this one. It was truly a hit-squad that Sainsbury’s had introduced to kill us all. The problem was, according to them, there was no chance of us ever working hard enough. We’d try and try, but they’d push us further. Something had to be done. But for the first time ever, I couldn’t see how to do it.

Brian, the first one to have his schedule review, stormed onto the shop-floor. He blanked his colleagues and went straight to his post. He worked slower than usual and when asked, replied with snippy snappy responses. His personality was always one of constant annoyance, but something was different. This time he was the one who was annoyed. After waiting for the cooling off period, i prised him with tactful questions. If it helps to envision how tactful, imagine him working and my head slowly coming out of the apples. Yes. I had learnt to use all the secret tunnels under the shelves to my advantage. After a lengthy conversation with the guy, it turned out that thanks to our fearless leader’s re-scheduling, Brian wouldn’t be able to see his son this week. He’d had enough and was planning to leave. After further talking, I was able to calm him down but it didn’t change his mind about making his move.

I tunnelled back to where I was working (still smelling of the apples that I’ popped out of), only to be stopped by one of the other managers. I refer to them as ‘the others’.
“Where have you been?” Came to condescending tone.
“Putting out fires all over the place…” I started
“Fire? What fire? What’s going on? Why weren’t you working?”
Tempted as I was, I refrained from asking him which of the posed questions he would like me answer first, instead I simply explained the definition of a metaphor, which he went on to describe as a “…nice pass-time for outside of work…” I smiled and got on with my work, making an engraved note never to use metaphors with the others ever again.

But that small conversation gave me the plan of the century. After some reasoning in my head, I sprinted over to Brian and whispered my plan to him. He smiled and agreed. My plan was simple, but it stemmed from the understanding I had just gained. Managers, others or not others don’t like to work. And when we aren’t around, they would be forced to work.

The plan was to encourage our current workforce to look for jobs elsewhere and leave produce a deserted field of workers.

Bryan returned from the chiller. He was fuming. He explained that our manager had upped his hours. Normally a good thing for someone who needed money. But not so good during term-time for students. Once again, I relayed my plan of action to him. He smiled and nodded in satisfaction.

Finally O’Brien walked calmly from the back. He looked happier than normal. On his journey from the back, he did something we’d all dreamed of doing. Pushing a customer over. The annoying grumpy man tried to ram him with a trolley, so he shunted the trolley and knocked him into the sausages while continuing to walk towards us. Possibly a waste of good sausages, but non-the-less. Once he reached us, he said his good-byes and continued to walk. Right out of the front door. I didn’t even need to tell him my plan. He had inadvertently started it himself. Earlier than I had expected – but still. All other schedule reviews were put on hold. Obviously.

We then executed the plan beautifully. The following day, Brian resigned with immediate effect to go and work for… Well according to him “he didn’t need money”… Maybe I shouldn’t have encouraged that one. But anyway the day after that Bryan stopped turning up for work. To top it all, on the fourth day, a new-starter (hired to replace one of the old workers who had left several months ago) worked for half the day and then stormed out having “been worked too hard”.

Things were going swimmingly. As for me, my plan was to enjoy the holiday pay during my wedding and honeymoon season and then job search after that. The manager called me in for my belated schedule-review. I had hoped this would happen after my holiday (which started in two days) but you can never be sure with managers. He sat there with what seemed to be despair in his eyes. He offered me Bryan’s job. Bryan had it easy when he was here. The code-checker. The ultimate in self-management when it came to produce. So I was eager to take the job. Which I did. For two days.

I then had a break. Got married. Went on a honeymoon. Had an awesome time. But when I returned, there was hell to pay.
“I know you set us up for a fall.” Came the booming voice of a manager who really needed to chill in his office for a while. He held up to sticks of dynamite in each hand. Shocked that it had come to this, I was unsure how to react.

To Be Continued.