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.
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.
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.”
Me: “A little further away than that.”
Her: “Sydney?” “
Me: Much further.”
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!