This week I complete my litany of awful jobs (and one near-miss) including a stint as a tequila girl and an almost-stint as a massage mugger, a magger if you will.
On the path between leaving school and becoming a professional writer and performer, I tried my hand at selling but soon realized, that I am not and may never be a natural sales woman.
I saw a job ad in a London paper, probably the Evening Standard when it was still an innocent nightly rag that hadn’t shat all competitors out of existence.
It must have been a good ad because it prompted me to take action. It probably said something like, “Hey Andi. Want to make a stake of cash selling stuff? Then call this number NOW!”
Who wouldn’t respond to such scintillating copy, especially if it addressed you by name. The ad offered training in selling payphones to small businesses. It guaranteed healthy commissions, flexible hours and great prospects. I quickly calculated that if I shifted one hundred of these a day (which would be no problem seeing as I was awesome) even though I’d never sold a thing in my life, I could probably buy my own flat in Mayfair or Park Lane or at the least, in one of the Monopoly board's green streets such as Oxford or Regent. In the words of Del Boy, I’d be a miwyonaire. I was more than a little optimistic about my ability to sell.
I rang the number and was summoned in for a “training session”. It didn’t occur to me that this could all be some pervert's elaborate trap - a pervert with a taste for unemployed sales women. As I ascended the stairs in the dank old office building, I figured, if it was a pervert's lair, he had very low self esteem. These offices were grim.
When I got to the room I was looking for, the training was just about to start.
At the front was an overweight bloke in an ill-fitting, cheap suit that had been pulled out of shape by his oddly shaped body and his need to carry every key ever made in his trouser pocket – I assume it was a bunch of keys - am I right, ladieeeez (it was either that or a very nobly penis. Hmm, who's the pervert now?).
Anyway, he proceeded to tell us about the phones and how we’d go about flogging them. I was only half-listening as I was drafting the blueprint for my Grand Designs country pile. Bad Suit held up the glossy marketing brochure and handed it out for us to check out. The trainees passed it from one person to the next doing an exaggerated “hmm this looks incredibly interesting” face before passing it on to the next person who'd nod vigorously like the Churchill dog. 'wow, sleek stylish design, hassle-free operation'. I played up my part up by pretending I didn’t want to let go of the brochure, continuing to read it as I passed it along. Oscar worthy 'I’m interested' acting.
The trainer asked for a show of hands as to who’d ever done a sales job before. A smattering of misshapen suits raised their hands. “I’ll give the sales literature to you guys then” he said. “?” I thought. Bad Suit began to hand out the glossy marketing materials to the other bad suits. I looked around the room at my fellow, inexperienced trainees and saw my same confused expression mirrored back in their faces. Surely, our collective thought bubble read, if we’re the inexperienced ones, we need all the help we can get?? This was like giving Usain Bolt rollerblades. After a few more useless tidbits of information, the trainer sent us on our way, brochure-less bar the chosen few.
Still, I remained enthusiastic about my chances and went immediately to a local newsagent that afternoon to sprinkle my saleslady gold dust over his confectionery-peddling cabin. This was the most optimistic I would ever be about making a sale ever again.
“No thanks” he said, before I’d even finished my garbled pitch. I tried another two newsagents and by the time I got home, I decided that my telephone sales career was over.
Care for a shoe shheeeiiine
I fared a little better a few years later when a friend directed me to an Ideal Home Show exhibitor that needed people to sell their wonder product, Urad, a miraculous shoe polish that could clean practically any material - as long as it was leather or suede.
The training took place during the pre-show down time. We learned everything we needed to know about this beeswax-based cleaner, we also learned that we got paid about a tenner per pot of polish sold and if we shifted more than ten, we got a £10 bonus. Like a difficult labour I'd forgotten how painful selling had been and I optimistically took the job.
We had to arrive before the show opened to draw lots as to which seat on the stand you were going to take. Everyone wanted the corner pitch facing out into the home improvement bedlam that is the Ideal Home Show. This way, you encountered foot traffic in all directions.
It’s amazing how quickly you acquire instincts about your quarry when you’re selling in an environment like that. You quickly learn to assess who is likely to splash out twenty quid for what is essentially shoe cleaner, who might have a leather sofa that hopefully has biro marks on it that they’ve tried unsuccessfully to remove, “Well watch this” we'd say and with a flourish take out a bic pen and scrawl on a piece of leather swatch, praying that it would come off when we applied the polish, the punters looking on with a mixture of skepticism and vague curiosity.
You also learned not to take an hour for lunch because that was prime selling time being frittered away. Instead I’d scoff down a sandwich or a bowl of soup then get right back on my stool “Free shoe shine!? Free shoe shine!?” we’d bellow at people above the cacophony of home entertainment systems and dicing, chopping, slicing food processors.
I was an average seller, I think anxiety, as always clouded my ability to close some deals. I wouldn’t have made it as a car sales person. They never have a “pleeeeeaaassse buy something from me” air about them.
Once I got my patter down, some days were fun (mainly the successful ones), if a little back-breaking being hunched over, staring at one pair of shoes after another. A high point was when a guy rocked up to my stand in filthy tennis shoes. Originally, they were probably white but were now so green that he’d either mown ever lawn in a 30 mile radius of his house, or literally just kicked Kermit to death in some anti-frog hate crime.
I had no expectations but even I was impressed when I started cleaning his trainers and they came up box-fresh white. The sale was a doozy. A low point however was when I took my suede cleaner to a young girl's shoes and ended up ruining them. Though clearly home counties middle class, her mum explained these brand new suede shoes were the only pair she had. I confidently churned out my patter and sprayed on the cleaner. The shoes turned a deep green but instead of reverting back to their normal colour, they stayed that same murky green. I smiled nervously, “give it a minute” but even after ten minutes and a walk around the exhibition, the colour hadn’t changed. The girl was now in tears, with one show about 30 shades darker than the other. I felt awful. Luckily, my boss stepped in and agreed to cover the cost of a new shoes.
Luckily for my sanity, the Ideal Home Exhibition is finite - three intense weeks of frenzied selling and impulse buying. When it was over I was relieved. Though I knew I never wanted to do it again, I made some handy extra money even though I never ever got that corner spot.
Again in need of cash, and once again on a recommendation from a friend, I contacted Ibiza Angels, a company that sends its (female) staff to night clubs to give clients head massages for a voluntary donation. I mean seriously, who the hell wants a head massage in a night club? "I really need to wind down after that twerk". Well, apparently there were people who did, and, I was told, Ibiza Angels often made big tips off celebs in the VIP section, news which seduced me into giving it a try.
More training, this time in how to rub people’s heads. Yeah, yeah, I get it.They asked me to come in for a final test after which I'd be assigned shifts. Or so I thought. Following the training, I was told that my “ethnicity” wasn’t in vogue with their clientele who were more into Brazillian girls at that time. Apparently it went through phases and black just wasn't where it was at right now. I was livid, firstly because I’d taken time off my temping job and lost money to do their pointless exam-for-morons and more importantly the fact that I’d been lead to believe that being good at the job was enough to qualify me to give their pseudo massages. I had a good mind to report them to the Commission for Racial Equality, just to make life shitty for them but in the end, I realised CoRE probably had better things to do. It was around the time the Stating-The-Obvious report on institutional racism within the police came out so I imagine they had their hands full.
Time for Tequila
Through friends I've been a tour guide for American students, worked in hospitality where I spilled champagne down a woman's back at Madam Tussauds, worked in a pub, been a temp, a PA, a cook, a baker, a candlestick maker but by far my worst job was as a Tequila girl. It’s clear that though I have a huge capacity for training, I have none for learning by my mistakes as this was yet another opportunity brought to me by a friend. (perhaps I need to get new friends!).
I was told you could make a stack of cash simply by going round bars tricking people who were having a perfectly lovely evening, into drinking a disgusting cocktail of tequila and a mixer… in other words, watered down tequila we're mindful to call shooters, not slammers, or shots.
The uniform, a mini skirt and tight top, already had my nose wrinkling in disgust, the ungodly cocktail even more so, the pubs and bars I had to got to, further still.
My first night was at a pub by the Old Street roundabout on a Friday. I wasn’t sure I was ready to cope with a Friday night drinking crowd. Luckily the pub intuited this and helped me out by being an empty dive. What should have been a lively exchange between an exuberant throng of punters became me pestering the two groups of drinkers who were trying to enjoy a quiet catch up.
Not to worry, next time would be better I told myself. The Vibe Bar in Shoreditch but again, I started to become aware that sales was not my strong suit. Further, no one wanted my cloudy tequila swill. I didn't so why would they?
The final straw was one night in a Liverpool Street bar and I already wasn’t in the mood to go round bothering drunk office workers who were surprisingly not open to adding some murky alchoholic shot to their drinks list. Being shooed away by a guy, sans eye contact tipped me over the edge. I got my boss, Marianna, on the phone and told her I quit and it felt great. I’ve seen this happen in movies but never done it in real life. I’ve always been quite responsible about that sort of thing working my notice, saying my good byes and getting a big card with messages from fellow employees I don’t know, but this time, I was going out soap stylee. I couldn’t take it anymore, I was out of there. Marianna begged me to finish my shift which I did, tequila in one hand, cigarette in the other, chatting with punters. Weirdly, that was the most tequila muck I sold the whole time I did the job.
I went through two phases of shitty jobs, once when I left school and wanted my own money then again when I changed career from working in post production and having a regular job and income to becoming a performer. As much as I bemoan these jobs, I’m still massively grateful that I had them, even the ones that were horrific, like the telesales company where I had to pretend to work for various companies and set up marketing meetings for them, or the burger flipping, the many hours on reception desks, the hospitality work where I learned to carrying three plates at once and do silver service. I’m grateful for all of it. It put hairs on my chest (as it were), taught me life skills and gave me an inordinate gratitude for what I have now. I hope I never have to go back to that life, but if I do, I reckon I could still shift a few pots of shoe shine or pull a decent pint of Guinness.
When I read about celebs making their kids take on grunt work such as the Beckhams encouraging Brooklyn to take a job as a barista, I think good on them. It'll keep him grounded, teaching him some core values, common sense and at the end of the day, there's worse people to have serve you a coffee in the morning.