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Thursday, 28 March 2013


My first job was at Big W at Carindale. It was waaaaay back in 1980, when I was in Grade 10. Yes, grade. We hadn't upgraded to 'year' at that stage. Thursday night and Saturday morning.

Back then, in those halcyon days, the shops only opened late on Thursdays, and at 12.01pm Saturday, they were locked up tight and everyone either went to the footy, the pub or the uni library to study.

My daughter once asked me how I 'coped' with such restricted access to retail opportunities. But it's the same stock answer anyone who's older gives to anyone who's younger when they ask how we 'coped'.

We didn't know any different.

My career at Big W started with the checkout, where we had to input the cost of each item based on the price tag information. No scanners. No bar codes. No laser beams. We punched in numbers with no thought of RSI.

My diligent work (well, I prefer to think of it that way) meant I moved off checkouts, and over to the Service Desk, then ladieswear, then (for reasons unknown and ultimately peculiar) the auto section (yeah, like who would ask the 16-year-old chick about spark plugs).

For a few months I did a spot on the 'red light', meaning I got to wheel this mobile flashing ambulance light around the store, and spruik bargains on the PA.

Once they caught me doing a cover of The Police's Roxanne on the PA - "Bron-wyn, you don't have to put on the rrreeeed light." But that didn't get me fired. They just gently brought to my attention the fact that it would be best if I switched the microphone to "off" if I wanted to engage in light-hearted banter.

After a few years of doing leap frog around the various sections of the store, I ended up in lay-by. Fabulous haven, more fun than shrinkage or the loading dock. All the parcels were kept in this massive storage room on the second floor. It was totally private. Everyone would pop in to visit me, and we'd have a right old chuckle upstairs, confident that if anyone came looking for us, we'd hear the automated bell on the office door and make like we were particularly engrossed in an arbitrary task.

Well, this one Thursday, it was a slow night. Not much happening in lay-by. I went upstairs to see if I could pretend to be industrious and maybe tidy up the parcels a bit. It was then that I came across six bean-bags, lined up neatly on the floor, all on lay-by, clearly begging for someone to relax in them.

Sure, I was supposed to be tidying up, and maybe hard work never killed anyone before, but why take the chance?

I raced downstairs to grab a Dolly magazine I'd noticed lying about earlier. With my can of Coke, I got myself comfy on those bean-bags and whiled away an hour or so, until the bell rang and things got busy.

My little lay-by haven was forgotten as I worked hard putting all manner of weird and wonderful things on payment plans for the customers. Before too long, nine o'clock arrived and dad was waiting for me out the front and I was gone.

However, when Saturday heralded, I was frog marched into the manager's office and asked to please explain. Some intrepid manager had taken a wander through the lay-by storage area and found my little slice of Nirvana.

Oh no, I thought, how could I forget to destroy the evidence?

And so ended my career in retail.

I've never been fired again. That maybe because I've learnt from my mistakes and can avoid making them again.

Maybe because I never worked in retail again...

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