At the age of 14 I decided that I wanted to earn some money and embarked on a paper round. I needed cash to buy Agatha Christie books and Kate Bush tapes to play in my bedroom. I wasn’t prepared to get up at 6am and deliver morning papers so I plumped for the evening round straight from school. Mornings were for blow drying my bouffant 80s hairdo and applying Cucumber toner from the Bodyshop. I didn’t have time to mince about with a paper sack.
It didn’t last. I started in November and finished in January, having pocketed a few hefty Christmas tips from heavily powdered old ladies. The first day I was shown round by a boy who was a year older. He was stocky, masculine and muscular and I had a major crush on him. We trudged along silently and I sneaked glances at his long eyelashes and surly pout and wished he would push me up against the hedge on one of the long driveways and kiss me.
It was lonelier on my own. I’d buy bags of Strawberry Bon Bons to chew on the way round, to distract myself from the tedium and would get through a bag a day. After a couple of weeks I realised that I was spending more money on Bon Bons than I was earning and resolved to ditch the round. It was an arduous and thankless job (except for that Christmas week). My round was the unwanted round, covering an area where all the houses had long snaking drives. I’d be twitchy in the dark, expecting to be raped and murdered at any moment (I was reading a lot of crime novels). I also had to walk miles, up and down driveways. I’d make up stories in my head and invent elaborate fantasy situations where it was OK to be gay and I was a long way from my family. I dreamed of being a journalist or working in publishing and having a London apartment and a smooth suit wearing boyfriend.
My next job was better but equally dull in many ways. It was in a shoe shop. It was 1986 and I was 15. My wages were laughable. I worked every Saturday all day and would come home exhausted and with aching legs and feet.
On my first day I was introduced to the manager and his assistant. He was nearing retirement, uncouth, had one eye and hated all Asian people. He blamed an Asian doctor for a botched operation which lost him his eye. He would spend most of his time in a constant diatribe against ethnic minorities which was initially horrifying but eventually merely tedious. I’d never met anyone like him before (although my parents were casually racist in a Daily Mail kind of way) and was quite perturbed by him. There were lots of Asian people at my school and it had never crossed my mind that it was possible to hate an entire continent of people. He was a true relic, stuffy and sweaty in undersized suits and insisting that women were addressed as “ladies” at all times. I found him distasteful and embarrassing to be near.
His deputy was equally mystifying. She was tiny, with a huge mullet of badly dyed hair. The mystifying thing was that she totally loved her job. She was passionate about selling cheap and nasty shoes made in Portugal. She was excited by low heeled court shoes, pixie boots, men’s brogues and all the “thrill” of selling. Her favourite thing was to try to sell polish and brushes. She’d won a trophy for her polish and brush sales. Her daughter worked there too and she was grooming her to take her place, teaching her all she knew about suede cleaner. I was bemused by their excitement about selling foam cleaners.
The work was either dull or exhausting. You were either standing in the shop pestering the occasional customer with unwanted advice or running up and down stairs fetching shoes for people from the stockroom. Every time anyone wanted to try a pair of shoes on you’d have to run up three flights of stairs and get the left shoe for them. You’d stand there, praying that it would fit so that you didn’t have to go back up and get another size. It rarely fitted. The carpets were cheap nylon and we’d accidentally collide with each other as we ran to fetch shoes and give of little blue flashes of light accompanied by pain.
Shannon, the Youth Training Scheme girl, made the static her own. She’d slide across the floor and then run at you delivering a searing painful shock as she laughed a wheezy asthmatic cackle. She’d been in a borstal and was very troubled. Her favourite game was to hide in the stock room and jump out and thwack people with the heel of a stiletto. I was a favourite target due to being a “poofter”. Years later I was watching a crime documentary which was about a murder. The police broke down the door of a grimy flat to apprehend a murderer. He cowered under a duvet which the officer pulled back and there lying next to him was Shannon, wearing a grimy bra and pants. I was glad to see she’d done well for herself. She certainly got herself on TV anyway.
My favourite people were the twins. They were two quite posh girls who were identical twins aged 16. They were pretty in an obvious way and came across as classy and sweet. They were not sweet. They were both very naughty. Like a lot of twins there was some rivalry and there’s centred around men. They would share little secrets with me and vie for my attention.
Twin A: “I shagged a bouncer in town last night who my sister fancied. Don’t tell her!”
Twin B: “I slept with a holiday rep in Mallorca who my sister had a crush on. Don’t tell her.”
This went on ad nauseum but kept me amused. I kept their secrets, mainly because I couldn’t tell them apart to divulge anything.
I stayed there a couple of years and my wages went up by pitiful amounts each year. I started smoking and learnt to smoke out the toilet window by standing on the lavatory. The supervisor got pregnant and lost interest in polish. Her daughter took her place. The twins finally fell out when they found out they were both sleeping with the same man. The manager got older and more bitter and Shannon got sacked for stealing a suede brush.
I look back fondly but it was tiresome and a recipe for varicose veins. People’s smelly hosiery turned my stomach and I hated measuring the feet of restless children and having to run about satisfying the demands of their mothers. I still love shoes though. Just don’t ask me to ever sell one again.