Volume 2, Chapter 2 of 2.
The Last Battle for Brighton.
The funny thing about looking back at events that happened a while ago is that you gain new levels of hindsight. I mean take, for example, turning up to work after your honeymoon – only to be presented with a manager who was glowing red with fury and two sticks of dynamite, one in each hand, held high in the air for all to see. Not the best start to a new season at my job.
When I was at university (which wasn’t THAT long ago), the average work load for a student was approximately two to three pages a month. If that. Fortunately I’d have been wise and spent most of my study hours playing games like Call of Duty and so I’d learnt what to do when presented with dynamite. After looking around the warehouse, it was clear I had been surrounded by managers and manager-wonnabe’s. Each probably fed with the lies my manager was most likely splattering out. He was angry that his staff had all left… and allegedly it was all my fault… apparently. Well I may have gently nudged them in the right direction – but still. It was his bad originally and then I had knocked them towards the edge… Ok maybe I was partly to blame.
Either way dynamite and a surrounding hoard of managers who began to start quoting figures for the store wasn’t particularly and appropriate response. The managers started waving facts and figures sheets at me. Blaming me for the stores losses. It wasn’t my fault that the managers couldn’t manager the figures though. But it did feel like they were snipers with a lazer aimed right between the eyes.
So I did what anyone would do in that situation (anyone who’d have played Call of Duty, that is), chucked a flash-bang towards my managers, dived into the nearest chiller, set a claymoore by the door and closed it shut. Still panting for the out of breath-ness, I turned to face the chiller I’d locked myself in. As the condensation from my breath started to fade, it became apparent I wasn’t alone. In the chiller were hundreds (probably more like ten to twenty) other employees shivering away in the dingy chiller, surrounded by like cheese and other smelly dairy products. I was puzzled at the situation.
It turned out that the employees were in there to get away from the managers. The cold was better than the managers. Funny. You leave a place for five minutes and look what happens… Fortunately the Provisions chiller had a back entrance that was never used, so after climbing through all the mildly frozen-yet-out-of-date salad packs that had been just dumped at the back of the chiller – I was able to show them a way out where we could talk in the warm (or room temperature at least). As I shut the door behind me, I heard the front door burst open and an angry manager yell – “I’m coming for you…!”
Amazingly, the other side of the store was completely free of politics. Although closer to the managers office, the bakery and long-life area was quiet and relaxing. Almost an alternate reality. A shelter from the storm. So I was able to get some of the disgruntled staff settled into this paradise away from the danger zone (or, in other words transferred to a different department). As for the remaining few, they begged me to get them out of the store for good as I’d done for my prior colleagues. Tough call.
I had built a good relationship with the long-life and grocery manager and used him as my source for many extra hours when my produce manager had refused to give any away. Because “the store was cutting back” and “I’m not reliable anyway” (even though I’d worked hard and professionally on the department 6 years longer than he had… that was just a speck in the ointment apparently). But this other manager looked after me in my time of need and continued to do so in the battleground of 2009. He provided shelter from the battle that was ranging beyond his borders. Shelter in the form of the Beers, Wines and Spirits “cage” (BWS Cage). So I was able to calm my newly-found army and work out our future battle plan – if there were to be one.
It became apparent after talking to this rebellion that they all had other employment or education opportunities outside this job – but were told they couldn’t leave the store by the empire that currently controlled them. According to some managers, the only future these employees had was in-store promotion. It really was a tough call. I needed to think this one through. You see, I hadn’t found another job yet, and a mass walk-out of around 20 employees would almost certainly result in my personal dismissal. It was a case of do I act in my best interests or do I act on behalf of the rebellion that so desperately needed my help. I told them all to wait for me in the cage and that I was going to think and come back shortly. I knew as I left, we would probably only have a single day to resolve this. I slipped past the bakery back room and casually walked towards the employee’s lounge where there was a fire exit leading to the fields behind the store. Nothing helped me think better than fresh air. Shielding my face from any on-looking managers, I made it out. The clouds were out and it looked like rain. But I started to walk.
I thought and walked. Walked and thought. Until both my legs and brain hurt (and I was miles from the store). Fortunately, the day had only just started and we all know how long shifts in a supermarket last..! At least time was on my side. I sighed and looked up at the sky. It was then that it happened. An experience I will never forget. The cloudy sky parted and a beam of light shone through, the dark rain clouds dissolved into white-fluffy clouds as they floated away from the beam of light and left a clear-blue sky. Then a voice came quieter than a mouse and louder than a roar of thunder in my heart – “Leave Sainsbury’s. Start a new story. A story of colour.” Bedazzled by the beauty, somehow I still understood. A just like that, I knew what to do. I turned to face the long journey back to the store but it had already been done. Had I just experienced teleportation or was I so amazed by what had just happened that I’d forgotten the walk back. I’ll never know. The one thing I did know, was how to save all of the oppressed Sainsbury’s staff. I was sort of my Simba/Mufasa moment.
So to Pride Rock, I returned. Except there was very little pride left in the place. And so I directed my footsteps towards the heart of the darkness that was engulfing the workers. The managers office. The new manager. He was ok. He wasn’t as bad as the other department managers that Justin had dumped upon this “once-upon-a-time care-free” store. In my ambition and eagerness, I walked in without knocking and the things I saw changed my views on him. All the evil managers were gathered in his office, looking at his mini-projector on the wall. So many managers, in fact, that they hadn’t even noticed me enter. The presentation shocked me. It contained a logo I had seen all those months ago when I was forced to meet Justin King. The logo glowed in the corner of the presentation. It showed the pound sign (£) with supermarkets as the line through the middle and had the phrase “Supermarkets: the only future”.
The presentation progressed as the store manager showed the figures of the store currently, and then progressed to show the increase in profits and manager wages if the following plan succeeded. What was the plan? For the first 6 months of 2009, there had been rumours of the “Credit Crunch”, which appeared to become more and more realistic. But apparently, the only reason for the increase in reality was that supermarkets were fuelling the speculations. I then realised, they were about to open the portal and allow the Credit Crunch to flow freely into our city. Apparently even the rival supermarkets in the area had joined this plan and that with the success of this plan, the only thriving market in this city would be supermarkets.
“And so,” The store manager concluded, “I can’t see any other alternative, but to fuel this credit crunch rumour and as a result increase sales along with perfectly ensuring every member of staff that leaves this store will find it impossible to find a new job.”
Applause echoed the room. Fury rose up inside of me, but I was only one man. Then I remembered, I had a small army tucked away in the BWS cage. I needed to put wheels on my plan and roll it out now if there were to be any hope of saving the future workforce of our city.
I slipped out of the office. I had to tackle a few managers who spotted me. But I wasn’t going to let anyone stop us now. We needed to fight this battle that the managers had started. They could not unleash the darkness that was now titled “Credit Crunch”. I ran to the cage and explained everything to them. Amazingly they bought into it. They were willing to press forward with mass-walk out even though many of them could reap only unemployment and uncertainty. I clearly had a rebellion who cared about the upstanding of righteousness in the city and agreed we could not let this store get away with it.
The shop floor. July 31st 2009.
The 21, and now 33 (after the word spread as to what was happening) stood in formation in the middle of the store. No customer could pass and no manager could separate us. Amazingly several old ladies didn’t actually notice us and continued to push their trolleys into the wall that was our army. Since their shoes had little or no friction, and the shop-floor floor is inexplicably slippery, they continued to walk, as if they couldn’t see us. Wind-up toys caught in a corner, if you will. Yes sir. We were creating a riot, and we’d picked pension day. The thing is, we would be fighting for their city too. So we felt the duty to stand our ground.
After the managers heard about the chaos taking place on the shop-floor, they slowly made their way from the warm break room and ventured onto the shop-floor. Some of them fell at the sight of the bright lights as they’d never seen the shop-floor. Others barely remembered it and were unable to find us. They were lost the blood-thirsty customers who wanted revenge for the disruption to their shopping experience at the height of summer.
Finally the remaining, more experienced, managers made it to the battlefield. They stopped several meters from where we were positioned and formed a similar (less organised) opposing army. The store manager stepped forward, but my department manager held him back and stepped even further forward. His nose centimetres from mine now.
“You understand what you are starting here, boy?”
“I think it’s you who mis-understand. We’re finishing something here.” I replied, gritting my back teeth.
My manager grabbed a nearby marketing pole and tried to strike me down but two of the employees behind me were faster and blocked his swing with one’s they already taken as weapons. I took one of theirs and retaliated my managers swing with a side swipe and from there it became a sword fight with ambition. The stakes were high. If I won, we all walked out alive and the credit crunch would be stopped, if he won – the end would be closer than we could imagine. As continued to fight, the managers started their on the offensive and ran into the rebellion army. Fortunately they were ready. A fight for city of Brighton. The multi-national vs. The people. The last battle had begun.
Many comments were thrown between me and my manager during our battle. Many of the comments were drowned out by the fire alarms that had been sounded to evacuate all of the less assertive customers who still thought it was a good idea to attempt their shopping. But some of them made it through the ear-piercing sirens. The most worrying of all being this,
“No matter what happens today, the credit crunch will find a way to break through to Brighton. If you loose your job, you’ll have nowhere to go. So many other supermarkets have already signed into this plan. It’s nation-wide and more importantly city-wide.”
I could resolve myself in one thought, which swam to my mouth: “I can’t answer for other stores and other employees around the nation and city – but I can answer for this one and I can answer for this employee. And I will not let you open the door to financial lack on Brighton.” The thought and comment grew with me until I’d cornered my manager by the BBQ section. But with a fake swipe followed by a low swipe, he knocked me to the ground and was about to take the final hit to knock me unconscious. I knew my manager had the edge on me in size, stature, fighting skill and experience. But I couldn’t let him win. As I braced myself for the impact of pole-on-head, I saw the gas canisters used to power the BBQ’s. So in one last attempt to save the employees and the store, I had to risk it. i swung my pole as hard as I could towards the canisters. The surprise act stopped my managers swing as he tried to see what I was aiming at. But before he could react, the pole sparked one canister and opened another causing a giant explosion. A fireball of gas and flame powered towards us. I was on the floor and it skimmed my body. I raised my hands to shield my face, but only after seeing my manager get flung into a wall by the fireball. He was safe but unconscious. The fire was quickly spreading and so both armies, whilst still fighting, manoeuvred themselves towards the safety of the car park.
I went over to my manager to wake him. He stirred and I offered him a hand up. He pushed it away.
“I’ll never except help from you.” I looked behind him, where there was a fire door, so I kicked it open and dragged him outside. I crouched to his level and explained if we didn’t make it to the car park, we may not make it out alive. He pulled out a stick of dynamite. Quite possibly one of the sticks from earlier (either that or he has a vast supply of them?). He shook it at my face.
“I’ll take you down if you don’t leave me be.” I didn’t listen and then he lit it. It was then that I listened to him, but before I could run – he pulled me close. “I give up, I want to save this city too. Use this dynamite, if this store goes down, so does its hope of allowing the credit crunch to take over.” I was shocked by his dedication to the cause that I was sure he was so fully against. But it convinced me even more to save him.
I analysed the situation and saw an opening in the already-caving in fire exit. I lent in as far as I could and used the incredibly slippery floor to my advantage. I slid the dynamite along the floor and it made to the clothing (and more importantly, highly flammable) section. Seconds before the explosion, I dragged my manager behind an old broken fridge that had been dumped outside as a shield from the blast.
The store went up in flames and then came down in smoke.
Out of the smoke we stumbled. We had made it to the front of the store. The managers were still battling the employees, but both were weak from the battle. I pulled myself up on one of the war-beaten cars (hopefully not one of the customers…. but they would never know it was me… In which case, let’s hope it’s one who thought it would be a good idea to continue shopping in a war-zone… I mean – seriously!).
“Safe to say: while the credit crunch may invade this city at some time. It will not be through this store. We have accomplished much through today’s actions. And there is no telling as to who was to blame for this mess. And on that note. I tender my resignation from this store.”
Between 30 to 40 people joined me that day as we strolled away from the battle and the rubble that was my old store. The store I had worked in for over 7 years. The store that I jealously helped to defend at times. The store with many memories, both good and bad. The store that had seen me through my teenage years, right through to my twenties and finally, marriage. I’ll never forget the time I spent at Sainsbury’s and the adventures we’d had there. But one thing was for sure. My future had just begun. I had a new story to tell.
And so concludes The Supermarket Chronicles, but it’s here that A Story Of Colour begins.
I also want to take this opportunity to say, to the people at the store I worked at. You were incredible. And I loved spending all those ridiculously long shifts getting to know you all. To the ones who got out before me, the ones who are still there and the one’s who are looking to leave soon – thanks for all the memories. You guys rocked. These stories don’t depict any actual people 😉