I have recently chalked up a grand total of eighteen months of my return to (paid) employment. I have been working part-time in a large branch of a bookshop in Dun Laoghaire, within blast range of the winds coming off the Irish Sea (books tend to blow off the shelves on a bad day). Thus I have become more intimate than I would like with the delights of the number 75 bus route and the dubious pleasures of the Metro letters page, on a daily basis. And let us not forget the perils of encountering the strange life forms that inhabit the staff fridge.
Having been unsuccessfully (and at times half heartedly) plugging away at job hunting for some time, I was slightly taken aback when someone actually wanted to employ me. Apparently I have what is known as ‘experience’, a quality that not many prospective employers value, or so it has seemed to me. Anyway with the panic attack over(ish), I was a working woman again. At times it has seemed like an uphill struggle to get back into the swing of things and not merely because of the brisk sea breezes. A long absence from the workplace makes a difference. I felt almost paralysed with nerves on my first day, although I was slightly reassured by the fact another returnee was due to start on the same day. We were both in this together. Despite this reassurance my heart sank as I took in fully the size of the shop floor and the sheer volume of stock. Help! I used to work in a bookshop small enough for me to know the stock inside out. I realised that it would no longer be possible to be familiar enough with the books to simply go and put my hand on a title. Having to wear a corporate uniform and be a cog in a rather large wheel didn’t help. I also couldn’t help wondering whether I was guilty of selling out to the big boys. In theory I am all for independent retailers (well, except when I am shopping at Tesco of course) and here am I working for a large company. Principles versus a monthly salary? Hmm….
Technology seems to have taken over the asylum in my absence; made more glaringly apparent to me because my last employer was a self-confessed Luddite. Hence no computer. When a customer came in to enquire about a book, I used to use a microfiche reader or a catalogue and wrote the order out on an index card (but not with a quill pen I hasten to add). How quaint it all seems now. I certainly now found myself in a brave new world. I figured I would need all the confidence I could muster to handle computerised tills and ordering systems. I also found it galling to have to ask someone who is half my age to explain to me how to do something. Though I have to admit that the youngsters did it with good grace.
All in all though it has been a good experience; it has done my confidence good to be back dealing with people again. I have met some nice people, as colleagues and customers (though as far as the latter are concerned there are always exceptions). And did I mention the staff discount?…
First written in/around 2009