Saturday, 30 June 2007

Two Months at McColls

CHAPTER ONE

    There’s been a paper shop on Mill Road in Cromer since the 1920’s. When Cromer High train station closed, W.H. Smith moved their shop there. A few years later, a gentleman by the name of Stanley Hayward brought the shop, and expanded a great deal. Stanley retired almost twenty years ago, selling the business to the Paper Chain group, who later sold the shop to the Dillons group, until the shop finally fell into the hands of the Martin McColls group towards the end of 2005.

    The paper shop has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I lost count of the number of times when Mum would take me in on my way home from school to buy some sweets from under the counter. Stanley and his able deputy Grace Folkard would always be there, making sure the customers got what they wanted.
    I used to get my comics from there as well. Whether it was a super-hero comic or Roy of the Rovers, I always knew that I could get whatever comic I wanted from there.
    But once Stanley retired, things just weren’t the same. As I got older, a succession of managers tried to run the shop. Only a couple of them really knew what they were doing. Most of them made so many foul-ups that long-time customers were lost. Magazine orders went awry. Customers failed to get what they ordered, and it seemed like hardly anyone knew how to run the place.
    One guy ended up running a garage on the Norwich Road, before getting a job as a checkout operator in Morrisons.
    But perhaps the most memorable of these managers was Tim Illott, or Tim Dim-But-Dim as he became known. There were numerous rumours flying around about Tim’s out of hours activities, but as a manager of a paper shop he was the pits.
    Tim just didn’t seem to care. Someone said to me the other day that most of the time he was away with the fairies. He seemed to go through fads, he seemed to set his mind on achieving certain goals that were clearly beyond his grasp. One minute he wanted to be a dress maker. The next minute he wanted to be a rock star. He would often sit in the back writing his songs while customers stood at the counter waiting to be served.
    It’s surprising that Tim stayed in the job for five years, given the fact that he was losing customers hand over fist, and that there were other certain allegations about his conduct. Since Tim left, he’s claimed that he’s now running his own accountancy business. His business is obviously so successful, because he also delivers newspapers for one of the paper shops in Cromer, as well as delivering Sunday papers for Menzies, the newspaper wholesalers in Norwich.
    Tim left at the beginning of the McColls era. The shop had seen several managers since that time. First there was Johnny, a nice South African bloke who now runs his own branch in Bungay. Then there was Matt, probably the best of the bunch who now runs his own branch in Aylsham. Then there was Drew, a surly Scotsman.
    And this is where I come in…..

    It was one Sunday morning when my brother Paul went into the shop to get his papers. The guy behind the counter, the manager, Drew, was not a happy man. Drew told Paul of his difficulty in finding any staff. The youngsters he had employed wanted the money but didn’t want the work. Paul told Drew of my problems at finding work. After almost three years of illness, I had spent almost eighteen months trying to find a job in the retail industry, but it seemed that at the age of 34, nobody wanted to give this “grumpy old man” a chance.
    When he got home, Paul suggested sending a copy of my CV to the shop. This I did, a couple of days later. Then I waited, and waited, and waited.
    Until I got a phone call a few weeks later. It wasn’t from Drew though. It was from Drew’s replacement, a guy by the name of Rob Mabbitt.
    Rob asked me if I was still looking for a job. When I told him I was, he virtually offered me the job over the phone. I went to see Rob the next day, and I was offered the job on the spot, starting the following Monday.
    But the story about how Rob found out about me was interesting. It appeared that Drew had read my CV, but didn’t do anything. Drew was apparently very difficult to work with. He would often close the shop for no reason because he couldn’t be bothered to work, and on his final day in the job, when he found a problem with his pay-slip, Drew rang area manager Jon Rundell and told him that if he wasn’t at the shop in thirty minutes, he’d be closing it up. Needless to say that Rob replaced Drew shortly afterwards.
    Rob found my CV by accident, and after consulting with head office, gave me a call. Having been out of the loop since 2002, I was just happy to be back in work again. I didn’t realize at the time that the job wouldn’t actually last that long.

CHAPTER TWO

    5.30 in the morning. 5.30am in the bloody morning, and I was starting work. This was the earliest I had been up in years, although as a diagnosed insomniac I’d actually been up as late as 5.30am before. But thanks to my medication, I was getting the full eight hours a night, and it didn’t have any effect on my being able to get up so early in the morning.
    So my day began when it was still dark, and it was still cold. I arrived at work to be greeted by Rob, and the man who thought of himself as head paper boy, Alan Shaw. I’ve known Alan for as long as I can remember. I’ve always thought that he was a bit of an idiot. He used to work on the bins years ago with my Dad, but now his only job was as a paper boy. Although to call him a paper “boy” would be wide of the mark, considering he’s of a certain age.
    The first thing Rob instructed me in was sorting out the rounds for the paper boys. This is a pretty basic job, which saw me making up the rounds for the paper boys. Quite a simple thing really, and I more or less had the job down pat within a few days.
    Then came getting accustomed to the till. As someone who is used to working with computers, and having worked a similar system while working at the garden centre in Overstrand, so this was quite easy.
    A couple of hours after I started, I met my co-worker, Lorraine Love, a middle-aged woman who seemed quite a nice person, although she didn’t seem to like having to help Alan with a couple of the rounds because a couple of the paper boys had rung in sick that day. After getting back to the shop, Lorraine really seemed to throw herself into her work, running around like a blue-arsed fly, stocking shelves, doing this, doing that. She really seemed to know what she was doing.
    But even on that first day, she began to make me wonder about the supervisor who wasn’t there, the supervisor who was currently on holiday.
    Rob and Lorraine talked about Karen Goodwin a great deal. She’d been at the shop for about six years, and had worked under several managers, including Tim. As they spent a great deal of time stocking the shelves, they painted a picture of Karen that wasn’t exactly favourable. When I said that I was actually somewhat reticent about actually meeting her when she came back from her holiday, Rob and Lorraine soon changed their tune, saying that Karen was a very nice woman, nice to work with, but that she may moan about the way that they had arranged things.
    It was on that day that I also got a massive surprise, as I learned that I actually hadn’t been taken on as an ordinary sales assistant, that I would actually be working as a supervisor. Area manager Jon Rundell had decided that Rob’s brief tenure at the shop would be coming to an end, and that the shop would be run by both Karen and myself as supervisors. So, just one day into the job, and I had already been promoted.
    To be honest with you, I found this a little odd. I was always of the opinion that a shop, any shop, should always have a manager. Now that this shop wasn’t going to have a manager for much longer, while all the other shops in the McColls chain did, I began to wonder just what their plans for this branch were.
    I wasn’t the only new member of staff that week. A couple of days later I met Nicky Heir, a girl who live just around the corner from the shop, and who also worked at the local hospital. Nicky would be working two mornings a week, and I was kind of relieved to find out that someone just a few years younger than me would be working there as well, because even though Lorraine seemed like a nice person, I didn’t really click with her. Talking with Nicky was like a breath of fresh air. We got on really well and clicked immediately. But the sad thing was that Nicky already had a boyfriend!
    The first week went very well, although getting used to the working hours, having not had a full-time job first through illness and then through unemployment since 2002, took some getting used to. But I got through it, and enjoyed everything I was doing. Rob was training me well, and I was confident I could work as a supervisor when he went on to his next assignment.

    It was towards the end of that first week that I first met Karen, as well as her husband Terry, who ran a couple of the local amusement arcades, and their daughter Sarah. Karen came in to see Rob, and it wasn’t until then that she found out that there wasn’t going to be another manager sent in, that she would be running the shop. At first she thought that she’d be working up to sixty hours a week, something she’d done before, and something she didn’t like doing, mainly because of her family. But a phone call to Jon Rundell put her mind at ease as he explained the plan for the shop to her.
    We then had a chat, and got on like a house on fire. Despite everything Rob and Lorraine had said about her, Karen seemed like a very nice woman, someone I could easily work with, and someone I could call friend.

    As Karen wouldn’t be returning to work until the following Monday, Rob was asked to stay on a couple of days longer. The plan was that he’d hang on until Karen arrived so he could give her the keys, but that didn’t happen. Just two hours into the working day, Rob threw the keys to me and told me that he was off. Some last day for the guy, eh?
    As soon as Karen arrived I found out that Rob hadn’t been doing his job properly, and that he’d only told me about half of the duties I was supposed to perform in my role as shop supervisor. Karen was surprised at how little Rob had told me about, and her plan to just come in to collect the keys changed drastically when she found out that Rob had made a complete mess of most of the things he was meant to do. The safe in the office contained literally thousands and thousands of pounds, money that Rob was meant to have banked at the post office over the road. The paperwork was a mess. It was as if Rob hadn’t done any filing at all. So what was meant to be a passing visit to collect the keys turned into an all-day affair for Karen as she cleared up the mess Rob left behind.

    As soon as Rob left, Lorraine’s character seemed to change immediately. Whereas she had been a workhorse while Rob was in charge, Lorraine stopped working her backside off as soon as Karen returned. She stopped running around the shop, stocking up the shelves, like the proverbial blue-arsed fly, and just spent most of the time criticizing Karen whenever Karen wasn’t in the shop. She complained about everything Karen did, about the way she ran the shop, about how she could improve the shop but just didn’t seem to want to, how she didn’t like not having any major responsibilities, and how the shop was a dump.
    My opinion of Lorraine changed instantly. I found out later that that she’d actually been offered the job I’d been given, but she didn’t want to do it because she didn’t want to work the extra hours. This was what got me thinking about what a hypocrite she really was. She complained about not having any major responsibilities when she could have had some if she’d taken the job she’d been offered. Also, if the shop was really so bad, why didn’t she just leave?
    I soon learned that Lorraine’s feelings towards Karen were mutual. Karen hated the fact that Lorraine turned up for work on the dot, and went home on the dot as well. If she was there even one more minute later than she was meant to be, she complained.
    What didn’t seem to help matters was the fact that Karen and I became very good friends. Karen was just a couple of years older than me, and, as with Nicky, we got on like a house on fire. Indeed, Karen and Nicky got on really well too.
    But during these first few weeks I learned that our Alan, our head paper boy, was quite unreliable at times. Alan lives just over the road from me, and over the past few years I’d lost count of the number of times he’d called an ambulance out in the early hours of the morning, complaining of a mystery illness. Sometimes they’d take him away, only for him to return a few hours later, having been told that there isn’t anything wrong with him. It made me wonder that if he ever had anything really wrong with him, would the doctors believe him, or would they think that he was just crying wolf again?
    Alan started to call in sick on a regular basis, complaining of chest pains and all that, telling us how he couldn’t do his round. But then, just hours later, he would be up and about the neighbourhood doing his shopping, buying cigarettes from the other local shops, and spending a great deal of time leaning out of his bungalow bedroom window smoking a fag - well, until he saw me walking up the road toward his house that is. Then he’d quickly go inside. We’d also get countless reports from our customers about how they’d see Alan out and about on the days he called in sick.
    When Alan did bother to turn up for work, I always felt that Karen should give him a right dressing down for messing us about. But she never did. She was just too soft on him, and I always thought that perhaps if she was a bit more strict he wouldn’t have messed us about so much.
    Karen was strict with the other paper boys and girls though. There was one girl, called Lauren, who used to do a small round with one of her friends. They were really quite quiet, never saying much to me as they collected their round in the morning.
    One day one of the customers came in holding one of the delivery bags with several papers in it, that he’d found in his garden. The bag was Lauren’s, and it was pretty bloody obvious that she just couldn’t be bothered to do her round.
    But here’s the really stupid thing. A couple of days later, Lauren came back to work. Karen confronted her about what had happened, asking her how her delivery bag had been found in someone’s garden. The only answer she could give was “I don’t know”. It was the only answer she gave to all of the questions Karen asked her. Karen had no choice but to sack her.
    Now I’ve just painted a picture of how bad the paper boys were, but this wasn’t the case with everyone. We had one paper boy, or paper guy, who was great. He was from Thailand, and sadly I could never pronounce or spell his name, but he was great at his job. He would often leave the shop with two heavy delivery bags on his shoulders.
    But what made him a pleasure to work with was the fact that he was never miserable. The guy always had a broad smile on his face, and was always happy to do his job, and always willing to take on extra rounds when Alan rang in sick. The guy was great.

CHAPTER THREE

    Of course, like any shop, we had our fair share of strange customers.
    First there was Pete, an old boy who rode a Honda 90 motor-cycle, who seemed to spend a great deal of money on lottery tickets, and who seemed to win quite a bit of money on them as well. He used to come in every day for them, sometimes spending up to ten pounds at a time, and when we didn’t see him we’d often get worried that something was wrong.
    Then there was this other old boy who used to come in about seven every morning to get his copy of the Eastern Daily Press, and who always tried to pay me with old coins that dated back to the pre-decimalization period. He had a couple of money bags full of them. Some of them looked very old, and if he had the sense he’d would probably have been able to sell them and earn himself a small fortune.
    He also used to go around with a tatty old bicycle, although nobody ever saw him ride it. Whether it was because the thing didn’t actually work or not I don’t know. But maybe, like the coins, he had some sort of emotional attachment to the thing.
    Then came my Irish friend. I don’t know his name, but I’d seen him about the neighbourhood for years. It was on a Saturday night when he first came into the shop, walking stick in hand, staggering about like he’d had a few at the pub. He walked over to the chillers, and took out one of those huge bottles of white wine. He then came up to the counter, and slammed it down so hard that the counter shook. In fact I was surprised that the bottle didn’t break. He then asked me a question. Now, keep in mind that when you read the following, you’ve got to do so with a stereo-typical drunken Irish voice in your head.
    “Now tell me, sir, do you have those magazines that feature women in their fifties with no clothes on? I quite like looking and older naked women!”
    This was actually the first time I’d been asked for any adult magazines, or smut mags as Karen called them. I was pretty sure that although we had the usual top shelf titles, we didn’t have anything like that.
    When I told Karen and Lorraine this story a couple of days later, Karen had a good laugh, but Lorraine was horrified. “You should have refused to serve him!” she said, forgetting that although he was obviously quite drunk, he wasn’t actually being offensive, and he wasn’t actually causing any trouble.
    Mind you, that was Lorraine for you.

CHAPTER FOUR

    As the days and weeks went on, Lorraine began to get more and more of a pain in the backside. It got to the point where I began to wonder if I had the power to sack her. She seemed to resent my even being there, and when Karen wasn’t there, all she seemed to do was slag her off.
    It was even getting to the point where Lorraine thought that Karen was actually fiddling the books. The rota that we had worked out involved my having Tuesdays and Fridays off, and Karen having Wednesdays and Sundays off. Lorraine, being a part-timer, only worked Mondays to Wednesdays, while Nicky did Fridays and Saturdays.
    Because Lorraine only worked an 8am to 1pm shift, when I was off on Tuesdays, Karen used to take fours hours off between 8am and 12pm. Otherwise she’d have to been in the shop from 5.30am right up until 6pm in the evening.
    This didn’t please Lorraine at all, and although she never complained to Karen about it, she complained like hell to me, and came up with her own little conspiracy theory.
    At the beginning of every day Karen used to enter the hours the staff had worked on the computer, which was, of course, linked to head office down in Essex. Lorraine was convinced that Karen was fiddling the figures, and putting onto the computer that she was working a twelve hour day on Tuesdays.
    One Wednesday morning Lorraine asked me if I had access to that part of the computer, because she wanted to see if Karen was fiddling the books. Even though, as a supervisor, I did, I told her I didn’t. I did look though, even though I knew that Karen wasn’t fiddling anything. She was working eight hours every Tuesday, and getting paid for eight hours every Tuesday.
    It got to the point where, because of her attitude, I was working a twelve hour day every Wednesday, even though, like Karen, I was meant to take four hours off when Lorraine was there. I just didn’t want the hassle of Lorraine moaning at me about being left on her own in the shop, even though she was more than capable of looking after the shop on her own.
    Things didn’t help when the only till we had went down one Wednesday morning. The till had been operating quite slowly since the weekend before, and finally conked out about four hours into the working day. This meant that while I was on the phone to head office, trying to get their technical department to see if they could fix things from their end, Lorraine had to write down everything that we sold.
    It was while I was on the phone to the technical department that she really got on my nerves. I was talking to a woman down in Essex whose name I sadly can’t remember, and while we were waiting for the till to re-boot itself, we indulged in some harmless banter, the “what’s the weather like in your area” sort of thing. If looks could kill, then the look Lorraine gave me when this happened would have killed me instantly.
    We eventually found out what the problem was, and the problem was sorted out by a computer technician.
    But then Lorraine went on the rampage again. Like most other shops these days, our till system used a bar code scanner, and when a bar code wasn’t recognized for some reason, we had another code we could enter. Each type of product had it’s own code, one for newspapers, one for sweets, one for general groceries. I think you get the drift.
    When the till had been down, I spoke to Jon Rundell on the telephone, and he told me that when the till was back up and running, rather than scan each individual item we had sold, we could use these other codes when entering the amount of cash we had taken while the till was down. But while this made a lot of sense to both Karen and myself, this horrified Lorraine. All she did was complain about it, going on about how we couldn’t maintain stock levels and all that. Of course, she never said anything to Jon Rundell, or Karen for that matter, and once again yours truly bore the brunt of Lorraine’s vitriolic rampage.
    There really were times when I wish I had rung up Jon Rundell and asked him if I could sack Lorraine. Although I really enjoyed working at the shop, although I got on really well with Nicky and Karen, I really hated working with Lorraine. She was a complete pain in the arse.
    Mind you, my Lorraine problem would soon be solved, but not in the way that I wanted.

    It was exactly one week before Christmas that I finally met the area manager, Jon Rundell. And after what happened on that day, I wish I never had met him.
    Jon came in and immediately called Karen into the office. They must have been in their for about half an hour. It was then that Karen came out and told me that Jon wanted to talk to me in private.
    So I went into the office, Jon introduced himself, and told me to take a seat. He then gave me the devastating news - the shop was closing. Less than two months into my job, having gone through almost five years of difficulties with illness and trying to re-build my career, the rug was being pulled out from under me.
    Jon explained to me that while the business was making a profit, it wasn’t making enough of a profit for head office, and instead of putting more money into the shop to try and improve the business, they were cutting their losses and closing the shop. They had a long lease on the building, but instead of paying the staff to try and increase profits, they decided that they’d prefer to pay the rent on an empty building instead.
    I was gutted, to put it mildly. As Jon explained to me just what was going on I was tempted to say “fuck you” and walk out there and then. In fact, I think Jon expected me to do that.
    But the thing is that I’m one of those people with an incredible sense of loyalty. If people treat me correctly, and show me the proper respect, then they have my respect, and more importantly, my loyalty. While this loyalty may have been misplaced in the past, I certainly wasn’t misplaced in the cases of my work colleagues.
    Which is why I didn’t walk out there and then. I’d made a couple of good friends in Karen and Nicky, and I didn’t want to let them down by walking out of them.
    After I was given the news, Lorraine was called in next, and the one good thing to come out of this news was the fact that that day was actually Lorraine’s last. She wasn’t being given any notice because of the days that the holidays were on. So at least I didn’t have to put up with her whining and complaining.

    So we all had a perfect Christmas present from head office. We were all losing our jobs, and things were going to get a little bit worse as well.
    Nicky and I both knew that we wouldn’t be getting any redundancy money because we hadn’t worked for them that long. However, Karen had worked at the shop for six years, five of them for the Dillons group, who owned the shop before McColls. So, she naturally thought that she’d get one week’s pay for every year she’d worked there.
    She was wrong. Jon told her that as McColls had only owned the shop for a year, she would only be getting one week’s pay. After everything she’d had to put up with, she was now being told that she wasn’t being repaid for her loyalty.

    News of the closure soon got around, mainly because I’d told quite a few of the customers that I’d known for years, and because I’d written about it on my MySpace blog. People certainly weren’t happy about the situation, and while the majority were quite sympathetic, there were those who just couldn’t see the bigger picture.
    When some of the customers found out that we’d be stopping the newspaper deliveries shortly before the end of the year, they were irate. I lost count of the number of times when these old codgers came into the shop, raised their voices, and complained about the fact they weren’t getting their papers shoved through their letterboxes anymore. Some of them got quite aggressive, and when this happened, I was inclined to rant at them myself. I was quite prepared to say bollocks to them there and then, to say “fuck your newspapers, I’m losing my job!” But I didn’t. I kept my cool, and kindly pointed out that they could actually get their papers from the other three shops in the area. They’d just have to get up out of their armchairs and walk to the shops themselves.
    It wasn’t just the customers who were pissing me off. Our so-called head paper boy Alan let us down badly. The day after we found out, Karen asked all the paper boys to come back to the shop in the afternoon so Jon could tell them the news. Alan never turned up for work again, leaving us to sort out his numerous rounds, making our lives even worse through his selfishness.
    As Karen was still the boss, I was prepared to leave dealing with Alan to her. But instead of giving him a bollocking for letting us down when he came in to collect his last pay slip, she just let him get away with it.

    It became apparent to us that head office didn’t have an idea of what they were doing as far as closing the shop was concerned. When Jon gave us the news he told us that head office would be composing a letter that we could send out with the paper boys, letting our customers know that we were closing and when we would be stopping home deliveries. He told us that these letters would be with us within a couple of days. So we waited. And waited. And waited a little more. The letters arrived just three days before we stopped home deliveries, so most of the customers only found out that they wouldn’t be getting their newspapers delivered to them two days before the deliveries stopped.
    So guess who bore the brunt of the complaints? It certainly wasn’t Jon Rundell, who, although he now spent a great deal of time in the shop sorting out stuff, never actually spoke to any of the customers. Instead, Karen and me had to put up with all of the complaints from the customers, while Jon Rundell sat in the office, smoking a fag and gabbing on his mobile phone. He never took any of the shit.
    Our last day was scheduled to be Friday, January 5th, 2007, which meant that, as I had Fridays off, that the Thursday would be my last day. I had agreed with Karen to drop off the keys on the Friday, but in truth, I lied to her, which was something I wasn’t proud of doing. Since I found out that I was losing my job, I had always planned to put my keys in an envelope and put them through the letterbox after I locked up for the final time.
    At about 6pm on Thursday, January 4th, I switched on the burglar alarm and locked the back door of the shop for the final time. I then walked round the front, put the keys in a padded envelope with the note I had written for Karen, and put the keys through the door.
    I just couldn’t face seeing Karen and Nicky the following day, and I just couldn’t face seeing Jon Rundell again. If I had, I may have told him a few home truths, and, even worse, I may have decked the arsehole for what he’d done to me.
    I thought I had job for years when I started work at my local newsagents. I was really enjoying myself. But after just two months, I was on the dole again, and it was plainly obvious just why McColls had closed the shop down, and just why I’d been taken on in the first place.

CHAPTER FIVE

    Now, six months after I lost my job, I’ve had a lot of time to think about those two months I spent working for one of Britain’s largest retail chains, and I’ve come to the conclusion about why I was taken on in the first place.
    When a company of any kind decides to close a part of it’s operation, it isn’t a snap decision. Everything is considered, the main on being this - is that part of the company making enough money for the company?
    When Jon Rundell announced that head office had decided to close the shop on December 18th, it was obvious that this decision was taken months before.
    Which is why, the previous October, they decided that there wouldn’t be another manager put in place after Rob Mabbitt left for his own branch, and why I was taken on as a supervisor.
    If Rob had stayed on, and hadn’t been found another branch to manage, he probably would have been laid off when the shop closed, which also meant that as he was a manager and that he had been with the company for quite a while, they’d have to pay him quite a bit redundancy money.
    But by getting rid of Rob, and installing me as a supervisor under Karen, they knew then that I’d only be in the job for just over two months. To qualify for redundancy money I’d have had to work for the company for a year. By only employing me for a short time, all they had to do was pay me wages for the time that I worked for them. So by not installing a manager, they saved themselves a ton of money.
    But this isn’t the only thing. It goes quite a bit deeper than that.
    The TM Retail Group, the company that own the McColls newsagents, had purchased the shop from the Dillons chain just over a year before it closed. They obviously knew just how much money the shop was making, and even though it was making a profit, it wasn’t making enough profit for them. However, it was obvious to everyone, from the people that worked there to the customers, that if they’d just invested a bit of money in the business, things would have been a whole lot better.
    Let’s start with the actual look of the place. Basically, it’s a dump. The last person to invest money in any sort if improvements to the building was Stanley Hayward, and that was a few years before he sold the store just over twenty years ago. Since then three chains have owned the store, and not one of them invested any money in improving the look of the place.
    So by the time the shop closed down last January, it was a dump. The place hadn’t been decorated since the eighties. There was paint literally peeling off the walls and the ceilings. The carpet was extremely tatty, and hadn’t been changed in twenty years.
    It was pretty much the same with the outside of the building. The exterior of the building, meaning the windows and the doors, like the inside of the building, hadn’t changed since Stanley Hayward’s days. The wooden frames looked like they hadn’t had any form of varnish or wood preservative on it in years.

     The flat upstairs, which the various managers used to live in, was barely inhabitable. Karen had a ton of problems when she lived there before moving out. The showers didn’t work, and two of the four window frames were so badly rotten that they had to be nail shut, and from the outside they looked bloody awful.
    First impressions count for everything, so the fact that the shop looked so bloody tatty meant that new potential customers were put of straight away, and when you compared the look of the shop to the other branches in the nearby towns of Aylsham and North Walsham, well, there really was no comparison. Bright window frames outside with the McColls/Martins logo above the shop door, and inside, shiny walls and shiny tiled floors, coupled with a well organized shop. A world away from what the Mill Road shop looked like.
    If head office had decided to shut the shop down for a few weeks and re-fit it so it looked just like it’s other shops, then this would have gone a long way to improve things.
    Then comes the promotion of the actual branch. Most of the other shops in the neighbourhood sent out flyers promoting their latest special offers, sometimes with the local papers, but sometimes by posting the flyers through letterboxes. If head office had decided to do this, then more people in the area would have been aware of our special offers. I’m sure that the paper boys wouldn’t have minded earning a bit of extra money by posting a few flyers throughout the neighbourhood.
    But while thinking about all of this, I began to think that it was obvious that they just didn’t want to do anything with the branch. They had their plans for the shop as soon as they got their hands on it.
    Their plan was simple - keep the shop open for a year, get rid of the managers, put the shop in the hands of the supervisors, and then close it, just paying the rent on the lease they have instead of paying the staff, and then right the cost of paying the rent on an empty shop off against the company’s tax bill. In effect, the loss of our jobs became nothing more than a tax fiddle.
    You have to wonder just how much Jon Rundell fought for the branch and for our jobs, if he fought for them at all. But judging by the way he handled things in the run-up to the final day, and judging by the way he spoke about the place, I get the feeling that he just wanted to get rid of the responsibilities he had for the shop. Jon Rundell had a duty to protect the staff and the shop, and he failed to do that. He could have found us jobs in the groups other branches, but didn’t. In short, he sold us out.
    So now, six months after I lost my job, how do I feel about what happened? After five years of battling with illness and struggling to find a job, all I wanted was a chance to re-build my career, all I wanted was a chance to prove myself again, to prove that I could still do the sort of job I loved, not just to my employers, but more importantly, to myself.
    Jon Rundell and the TM Retail Group took that chance away me. They employed me under false pretences, and then dumped me, and for that I will never forgive them.
    But now it’s time to move on. It’s time to try and find another job, the kind of job I’m good at.
    I wrote this book as a form of therapy, my chance to clear the air, to get a few things off my chest. I know this may offend a few people, especially those friends I made during my time at the shop. If it does, then I’m sincerely sorry. But if your name is Jon Rundell and you’re reading this, then I’m not sorry. If you don’t like the things I’ve said about you in this book, then tough.
    Perhaps if you’d showed us a bit more loyalty, then Karen, Nicky, Lorraine and I would still have jobs.