As always at this time of year, I've just spent a few days offering the somewhat dubious benefit of my expertise helping out in one of our stores. Last year, I worked on the fragrance counter, which I enjoyed very much. This year, I had a somewhat different role: I worked in the Christmas operations team. All those boxes of gift sets don't unpack themselves and fly magically onto the shelves, you know....
Apart from the simple joys of escaping my email and the endless run of meetings I have to attend, one of the greatest pleasures of this time of year is that I get to meet and spend some time with some completely different people from the ones who hang out in my office. Christmas temps might well be on not much more than minimum wage and be very differently motivated to someone like me, but that doesn't mean that they're not interesting. This year, I got to shadow a 20 year old kid who everyone called Sonic. Sonic was a temp who had only joined the company a couple of weeks ago, but he's worked for Tesco in the past, and he was a very quiet, diligent worker.
Although he'd always been friendly enough, after we'd been working together for a day or so, Sonic began to feel comfortable enough with me to open up a bit:
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Of course you can".
"Do you think it's alright for a 20 year old to go out with a 24 year old?"
Ah, the problems of youth. A question that would have a very different answer if both were four years younger.....
Our difference in age manifested itself a couple of other times too. We spent a happy morning on Friday unpacking two enormous pallets of fragrance gift sets and stacking them up on another pallet. As we unpacked and collapsed the boxes, we were listening to Radio One's Golden Hour, where they play tunes from a certain year and you have to guess the year. One section started with "Born of Frustration" by James, a song that I love.
"What is this? I don't like it!"
"It's James. Around 1991 or 1992."
I got a blank shrug.
Later on, they played "Smells Like Teen Spirit".
"Ah, now you must know this one?"
"That's the year I was born"
"...but I know who Elvis Presley is, and I wasn't born then either"
Another shrug. "I like bhangra and that"
Ah. Although I couldn't help but notice that he knew all the words to the JLS song that they played a little later on. Another colleague of mine in the Christmas team was Chloe, a barely believable seventeen years old.
"How long have you been married?"
"About 5 years"
I got a slightly impressed look, followed by a "well done".
For a seventeen year old, I suppose five years is an unimaginably long stretch of time.
It's hard work, but given that much of the stuff I do in my day job takes months and months before we deliver anything, there's something very satisfying about being able to leave work with a job done for the day. My walk back to my friends' house took me past a beautifully lit Magdalen College and past the Angel and Greyhound pub. Well, I say it took me past the A&G, but I don't think I actually walked past it all week.... Winter Warmer, you see.
I had a great time. I was well looked after, ate pies and drank beer. Back to the office this week, but back out to store next week for another couple of days, this time in York. I wouldn't exactly say it's a rest from the office, but it's definitely a tonic.
In other news, I think I've broken a toe. Don't ask.