Bad Jobs, Good Times

Counting down the five worst jobs I’ve had. You’re wholeheartedly encouraged to join in and share your own terrible jobs below.

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I’ve had some dreadful jobs in my time, ranging from the bizarre to the tedious, to the pretty-much pointless.

Almost everyone’s been there (and shame on those who haven’t) – they’re times you can either try to forget, or wear as a begrudged badge of honour. The experiences may have been monotonous, arduous, even humiliating, but at least they were memorable, and can make for decent anecdote-fodder down the line once old wounds have been given time to heal.

Fingers-crossed, I think those days are behind me, for the time being at least. Yet sometimes you can’t help but look back at your questionable professional past and feel a tad wistful that you’re no longer serving those obscene customers, working alongside those idiotic colleagues, operating under those mean-spirited bosses.

That said, just two years ago I was nixing the prospect of ever being able to get a job again. So, perhaps I should be grateful?

5) Retail assistant at a garden centre / pet food & fishing supply store

A bog-standard Saturday job which left me with one or two happy memories: namely nursing hangovers napping on 15kg sacks of James Wellbeloved dog kibble and once getting to sell a bag of birdseed to Nick Frost. I even got to participate in occasional field trips to the local florist, in order to discover and undercut their prices.

More frequently I spent the day-to-day endlessly scooping birdseed, plant seed and fishing pellets into bins, bags and customers’ palms, along with pints of maggots for cockney fishermen, usually drunk on Special Brew despite it being 10am.

There was a Homebase five minutes down the road that sold everything we did, except it was cheaper, quicker to obtain and of higher quality, meaning the only customers we got were those of little to no common sense: the kooky, the crazy, the severely elderly. One woman spent 20 minutes insisting I was a “Romanian gypsy” (I’ve never been near Eastern Europe; I’ve barely got a tan) and wouldn’t make her purchase until I acquiesced. Another man on the shop floor defiantly ate an entire tin of cat food in front of me when I suggested that putting it in sandwiches might not be the best idea.

Regardless of the number of hours or days I was working, I was invariably paid with cash stuffed into a brown envelope – the hallmark of every decent, legitimate company. There’s nothing like the thrill of knowing you could potentially get mugged on the way home and lose your week’s wages.

Seasonality did make the work marginally more interesting, but even bagging and selling Christmas trees lost its appeal before the date in December hit double digits. This was compounded by the emotional angst caused by wondering what happens to the trees that aren’t bought by the 25th, and whether you can do anything to help their plight.

4) Call centre agent assessing insurance claims

By the time I turned 18 I was emphatically done with the garden centre. Logically, I opted for a new job renowned for its high rates of employee retention – I went to work as a call centre agent, assessing mobile phone insurance claims. The level of monotony was dialed up to 11, but with the added thrill of having the occasional customer scream bloody murder at me, sometimes before I’d even opened my mouth. If you’re seeking employment that will make you emotionally dead inside, this is a pretty good way to go about it. In my four months there I made five customers cry, usually by rejecting their claims. The first time I was mortified; by the last time, it was difficult to care.

The worst occasion was when I handled the claim of a customer I actually liked; a pleasant, pregnant woman who was caught out by a caveat in our insurance policy: if you left your phone in a public place but couldn’t remember precisely where, your claim was valid, but if you could get specific about where you left it, your claim was rejected due to personal negligence.

Our conversation went along these lines:

Cust: “I think I left my iPhone in a public toilet cubicle.”
Me: “Ah, but you’re not certain?”
Cust: “Yes, no, um, I’m pretty sure that’s where I left it.”
Me: “But you’re not 100% sure?”
Cust: “No, actually, I’m sure.”
Me: “…but you said before you weren’t.”
Cust: “You’re lying.”

Suspicious I was trying to invalidate her claim, she abruptly gave me an incredibly detailed account of where she’d left her phone, right down to the angle it was sat at as she stood up to leave. I rejected her claim; she cried; I tried to explain; she hung up.

While the customer conversations were often bad, the coworker interactions were undoubtedly worse. You’d struggle to find yourself surrounded by so many dodgy characters in such close quarters without getting incarcerated first.

george_agdgdgwngo

The award for dodgiest goes to the bloke who spent an 11-hour shift trying to talk me into selling him my late grandfather’s watch, after he overheard I’d inherited it following the funeral the previous week.

3) Park ranger

Now we’re getting into bizarre territory. During the summer following my first year of university, I got a temp job supervising Sir Joseph Hood Memorial Park in Morden, South West London. Following just two hours of training, I was given sole supervision of – I shit you not – a Children’s paddling pool, a playground, a crazy golf course, tennis courts, a football pitch, basketball courts, an outdoor gym, public bathrooms and over a kilometer of grassy fields.

The latter did mean I was given a quad bike to use at my discretion, as it was the only way I could empty every bin around the park without it taking the entire day. A few weeks in I realised the quad bike would start with absolutely any key (which was a relief as I’d lost the original) – literally a spoon jammed in the keyhole would start the machine up. Soon after this realisation, the local gang of teenage hoodlums made the same discovery. One joyride later, they’d stripped me of the one perk that made my job mildly enjoyable.

Other activities included kicking every child out of the paddling pool so I could manually add chlorine, three times a day, every day. Apparently the parents were none too fussed if their kids inflicted chemical burns on themselves while this happened, so it was down to me to chase them all away from the pool for the 10 minutes or so it took for the chlorine to dissolve. They all had water pistols – powerful ones – adding insult to my own injury for preventing theirs.

When finished, I usually took refuge cleaning the public toilets – if someone shot me with a water pistol in there, at least I’d see it coming. I’d mop, scrub, wipe and flush, putting off emptying the sanitary bin until last. I’ve stared into the red jaws of hell, and it isn’t pretty.

2) Betting shop cashier

Painfully dull, infrequently broken up by moments of awkwardness and extreme terror. In many ways, both the easiest and hardest job I’ve ever had. We only ever had two employees working at once; because we had a cash machine on site, policy dictated that two staff members had to be present at all times, and we had no employee lounge or lunchroom. This meant I ate all of my meals behind the till while serving customers. And that’s how I spent my time there: processing betting slips, eating lasagna, watching early-evening TV.

Could be worse. Except, a few weeks in, I was confronted by a fully-grown man in the midst of an emotional breakdown because he was a gambling addict who’d just lost hundred of pounds for the fourth time that week, begging for guidance. And there’s me, fork full of sausage casserole midway-to-mouth, with Russell Howard’s Good News on behind him and bursts of canned laughter playing out in the background.

The more discerning customers contented themselves with throwing around stools, pens and betting slips whenever they’d lost their week’s wages. And thanks to the highly addictive fixed-odds betting terminals every high street bookmakers in the UK has, scenes of that nature were a lot more frequent than they should’ve been.

While the punters play their virtual slots and machine roulette, the cashier behind the till has a computing screen by their side telling them exactly how much is being spent on each spin. It’s shocking how many people are capable of losing thousands of pounds in a few hours, regardless of their circumstances or background. The few that won often boasted they “had a technique” to beat the system, even when they’d literally lost 10-times their winnings just a few days prior. It’s amazing how so many people can’t get their heads around the idea of an 83 per cent fixed payout, when it’s written right under their noses on the machine they’ve been playing on for the past six hours.

1) Melon farmer

No, it’s not a euphemism. Go to Australia on a working visa, and you usually end up picking some kind of fruit or other. I travelled the country for six months and unexpectedly spent almost half my time there picking melons of all varieties: rock melons, watermelons, honeydews. To this day, I consider myself an expert on melon quality and am an unbearable person to go to Sunday markets with.

Now I have a fair bit of nostalgia for the months I spent farming, but at the time I wasn’t nearly as fond of the experience. A lot of it came down to the people we worked for: a raging alcoholic, a megalomaniac and a schizophrenic with a Dragon Ball Z obsession.

The former was civil for the most part, but did almost run me over with his car once while I was sunbathing. Another time he got me to chauffeur him for the day and then yelled at me for driving too slowly (I swear I was approaching 100km per hour). He took the wheel and promptly ran over a porcupine. He then leapt out of the vehicle, and burst into tears when he realised what he’d done. It wasn’t entirely his fault. Most animals in the land down-under seem to have a death wish; driving in the Outback has put me off driving ever since, possibly for life. In the space of a few weeks I managed to run down numerous rabbits, a kangaroo and even an owl – the moment of eye contact before it went under the wheel haunts me to this day.

shocked owl

The schizophrenic we worked under was much worse; one second he’d be jolly, the next he was yelling at us wielding the giant knife he used to monitor melon ripeness. He once had a conniption when he overheard a few of us playing 20 Questions and, after a few prompts, we still couldn’t guess the name of the anime character answer. It’s the first and hopefully last time I’ll have an Australian man-child scream in my face “It’s facking Piccolo!”.

And while our employers weren’t exactly the friendly-type, it was the local townees that really hated us – possibly the most ignorant and racist group of people en masse I’ve ever come across. The first night out we had at a local pub threatened to descend into an all-out Aussie-Kiwi bar brawl within an hour, while a Fijian farmer minding his own business was followed home and had the shit kicked out of him not long after.

I reluctantly came to appreciate the locals’ propensity for being so racist when I realised many of them couldn’t even fathom the idea of people being born and raised further afield than Perth. One conversation I had with a girl working on supermarket checkout was enlightening:

Her: “That’s a strange accent, where are you from?”
Me: “See if you can guess.”
Her: “Brisbane?”
Me: “A little further away than that.”
Her: “Sydney?”
Me: Much further.”
Her: “Melbourne!?”

No, not fucking Melbourne.

Honourable mention: University careers ambassador

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge what was the easiest and arguably best job I’ve ever had: careers ambassador to the Philosophy department at my university. Targets were none existent, as the majority of Philosophy students aren’t entirely sure what a career is, let alone what getting one entails. The work involved giving three-minute pre-lecture presentations once a week (if that), followed by the very imaginative use of a timesheet.

Please share your own dreadful jobs with me – let me know I’m not the only one who’s been through this shit!

@JeremyCoward

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4 comments

  1. wordswithhannah Reply

    I don’t have any stories that exciting, but my first job was as a teacher’s assistant for a tutoring center. It was all right for a first job: a lot of copying, filing, phone duty, a little bit of child-watching, pencil sharpening, etc. It wasn’t a bad gig, but it still holds the trophy for the worst boss I ever had.

    About ~8 months after I started, we got a new supervisor and she seemed weirdly personally antagonistic towards all the TAs (there were four or five of us on the roster at any given time, all teenagers). She demanded to know why we couldn’t get there when the center opened at 2:30, coincidentally the exact same time school let out. She lectured me about my “commitment to the company” because I belonged to the theatre program at school and had rehearsals. Please note that this never caused an actual problem with the schedule, because we had enough TAs to cover me. One of my fellow TAs, who I still remember to this day as being one of the most unrelentingly positive human beings I have ever encountered, had nothing good to say about this woman.

    She called us all in a Monday holiday for non-paid “re-training”, announcing that we were all terrible but we were lucky to have her around because something blah blah productivity parameters. What did this “re-training” consist of? She brought in two “TA gods” (her words) from her previous center and told us to listen carefully to everything they had to teach us. Well, they refused to answer the phone, they had no idea how our schedule worked, and tried to lump students in with teachers who didn’t teach that subject so they could send a teacher home whom they deemed extraneous. Except that was the only teacher that taught advanced math, so no, not really so extraneous. We didn’t learn much except that our system as it stood worked just fine.

    In the middle of being told that I was the absolute worst, another supervisor (I had three) gave me a raise. IDK.

    She got on my case for sitting down when I had a free moment. She insisted that I must have made a mistake in the lesson plans if I finished them so fast. The next day, I went through the lesson plans much more carefully, to ensure no mistakes were made, and she lectured me about how I should be much faster. Literally. I didn’t think shit like that actually happened in the real world, but it did.

    Finally, she threatened to take away all my hours for the entire month for more intensive re-training, because I was just so bad at my job. The job I had been doing for almost a year prior to her arrival, with little to no complaint from students, teachers, parents, or staff. I wasn’t sure if she was serious or not, but I showed up for the next time I was scheduled and sure enough, there was another TA there and I was off the schedule entirely. I handed in my two weeks’ notice (I had no idea what that entailed, so I grabbed a piece of notebook paper, wrote “This is my two weeks’ notice”, signed it, and dropped it on my boss’s desk), walked out, and that’s how I quit my first job.

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    • Jeremy Coward Post authorReply

      Nightmare! Haha I love the “notice note”, I’ve never worked out the best way to do it. Seems so ridiculous to actually type out a proper letter and hand it over to your employer.

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  2. bookbaron Reply

    Iunno if any of my jobs were as exciting as those. But I did have some bad ones.

    My first job out of university was at a local bakery. It was quaint and cute and I thought would be the perfect first job. But I wasn’t given any breaks for 8-12 hour shifts (and wasn’t aware enough that it was illegal). We were told we could have two bathroom breaks in a shift. And we weren’t allowed to eat in front of customers. But since the store was so small that meant literally eating lunch on the toilet. I was fired two weeks in because I leaned on the counters too much. My feet were bleeding and blistered- that’s why.

    I also worked a Toys R US pop up store for the holiday season. That was super not fun. Was robbed on Black Friday when someone wandered into the break room and took my wallet. Thankfully I only had five dollars to my name at the time. Also had to deal with one of my assistant managers getting into a screaming match with a co-worker over the heads of customers on Christmas Eve. Where I spent two hours from midnight to two in the morning cleaning the store by myself because my co-workers were too busy screaming at eachother. They both got promoted. And I got laid off. But I’m actually pretty grateful. I danced when I got the phone call saying I was laid off.

    Probably one of my longest jobs that I stayed with for two years was being a bartender/waitress for a golf course. It was fine at first. Rich people tip pretty generously usually. But towards my second year it started to get on my nerves. Customers treated me like I was less than a person. Had one woman whistle for me like a dog. Another customer refused to tip me because he “only tips pretty girls” and demanded I give my tip to another waitress who didn’t even serve his table. And the drama behind the scenes just got really bad. Had a cook arrested for drug possession. That was after he sexually assaulted almost everyone on staff. Thankfully he was only an asshole to me. He was being written up for the assault when he was then arrested. I was however sexually assaulted by one of the garden staff who tried to touch me inappropriately. It scared me so badly tho, I never said anything. Just ran whenever I saw the man. Then on top of the usual drama of co-workers taking credit for my work or just simply not liking me- my boss had an affair with one of my co-workers that ruined his marriage and also super messed my co-worker up. As she was 19 and he was her first boyfriend.

    I couldn’t leave that job fast enough. And even when I became a sub teacher and had to deal with screaming violent kids- I remember going to my car at the end of the day thinking, yeah. That kid did throw a desk at me. But this job is still better than being a waitress.

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    • Jeremy Coward Post authorReply

      Jesus, that’s rough. And yes, it is profoundly irritating how badly customers can treat those working in services, call centres, retail etc. It’s good to work in those industries, if only to gain some perspective on their side of things, especially if something goes wrong when someone’s serving you.

      Ariel and I were waiting for a train that was cancelled a couple of days ago – we went to the guard to ask about an alternative route, but were behind a woman who spent 5 minutes ranting at him about how the service was unacceptable. It had absolutely fuck all to do with him!

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