First job

Before the Take That theme and Richard Hammond mateyness and ‘Market Street’ worthiness, our local Morrisons was a lot more like a warehouse. Under striplights it had the colour of old caravans, and the canteen was windowless.

I got a part-time job there at 16. I worked in the bakery for £2.38 an hour. I think my boss was called June. She was tiny, and she really loved Elvis. At the end of a Saturday shift she’d reduce all the sell-by cakes and buy them. ‘First dibs,’ she said.

I worked twelve hours a week – two on a Tuesday and Thursday evening, and eight on Saturday. Mainly my role was to take boxes of baguettes and loaves from the walk-in freezer, lug them through the corridors and rack them in the bakery ovens. They cooked for ten minutes before you took them out again and sheathed them in plastic wrap or sleeves, depending.

You had to label the baguette sleeves, which seems now like one of those GET RICH FROM HOME jobs you see advertised on lamp posts. You had hundreds of stickers and hundreds of sleeves, all laid out on a stainless steel surface, and it took at least an hour to do the lot.

There were crumbs on everything. You had to sweep constantly. Stock takes were done with pencils, and rotating the bread on the shelves was a nightmare. It smelled in the back of the bakery. The cooked bread and the wet boxes from the walk-in freezer. The melted plastic from the slicing-and-bagging machine. The faint smell of smoke on June.

In November, Morrisons added mince pies to the menu. Freshly defrosted, hot from the trays, they smelled amazing. So each shift I’d pocket one or two, wait till I needed to get a new rack, and scoff them in the walk-in freezer at minus eighteen while my gelled hair went hard and my hairnet itched my ears.

I left just before Christmas after pulling loads of overtime then getting about £60 thanks to emergency tax. I’d never handed in my notice before, and was so nervous I had a few swigs of vodka before I caught the bus there. The store manager – one of those people who never seems to blink – read the letter in front of me. I don’t remember if she had anything to say. I left and got a job at McDonald’s.

Sometimes I wonder how June is. If she ever went to Memphis. She smoked a lot.

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