Christmas Carol's Nightmare On Elf Street

For fellow retail workers the world over, the mere mention of the C-word is enough to bring them out in a cold sweat, and not just from the sheer effort of unloading mammoth deliveries. As we speak, store staff everywhere are taking a collective deep breath and muttering:

Christmas: A time for folk to spend money (they don't have) buying gifts (they can't afford) for relatives (they don't like) to celebrate the birth of the son of a God (they don't believe in).

One day, when I grow up, I'm hoping to be a big-shot author; just as a penniless JKRowling penned her early Harry Potter novels in a steamed-up 'caff' in Edinburgh, so I write my blogs travelling to and fro on cattle-class Kent commuter trains. I can often be found daydreaming on lonesome lunchbreaks; tapping out my innermost thoughts in between bites of flattened cheese-and-pickle sandwiches wrapped in tinfoil.

In the meantime, I'm still a humble shopkeeper, and I'd quite like to keep my job, so I'll tell you some of the biggest retail bugbears, as relayed to me by my mate, Christmas Carol*.....

Once upon a time, there was a fresh-faced young filly named Carol: a bright young shop assistant who smiled and curtsied for curt customers until her cheeks ached and her back was sore. Gradually, through years of wear-and-tear of her weary body as well as her good nature, Carol's smile grew slightly less wide and the floor-scraping curtsey became more of a gentle dip (her knees were not what they once were; she might not get back up).

Decades of uppity and snippy, short-tempered customers almost broke her spirit, but Carol strengthened her resolve along with her sense of humour, slipped on support tights and vowed not to be broken. And she never has been. There is one time of year, however, when Carol's unending patience is tested to breaking point. And that time, dear reader, is Christmas....

For fellow retail workers the world over, the mere mention of the C-word is enough to bring them out in a cold sweat, and not just from the sheer effort of unloading mammoth deliveries. As we speak, store staff everywhere are taking a collective deep breath and muttering:

"Ho Ho Ho... shit, it's that time again..."

So for all those festive freaks who start harping on about their love of all things Yule as soon as they've ushered little Tarquin back through the school gates in September, spare a thought for Carol and her cronies as they launch themselves headlong into making sure your Christmas crackers go with a bang.

For no sooner are the children packed off to school after summer in their boxfresh brogues and crisp new uniforms, than Mum's Army descends on the shops greedily searching for goodies to stuff in Santa's sack. There's just something inherently wrong in Christmas shopping whilst still wearing flip-flops and sporting a mahogany suntan that David Dickinson would be envious of.

Thus Carol and her hapless team of elves will be putting up decorations mid-October and steeling themselves for the endless loop of torturously cheery Christmas muzak. These tunes will be streamed into their subconscious minds like parasitic ear-worms by head office via the in-store music system, in an attempt to brainwash them into embracing the festive spirit when it's still sunny outside.

"These are some of the things," confided Carol recently through gritted teeth, "that really get my tinsel-trimmed knickers in a twist during the festive season...."

Being the kind-hearted blogger that I am, I offered to pass them on via my blog and this newspaper in the hope that Joe (or rather Joanne) Public may read it and take mercy on Satan's - sorry, Santa's - little helpers this year:

1. Ratty Customers

There is a direct correlation between blood pressure readings and December days until Christmas. Instead of chocolate-filled advent calendars, a more appropriate calendar filling might be little blister packs of beta-blockers in ever-increasing dosages as the tension builds towards the 25th.

For retail staff, replace beta-blockers with Pro-Plus. Sales of these little white pills go through the roof in December, as we attempt to Superdrug ourselves into Superwoman.

Oh, and don't forget to redeem a year's worth of Boots advantage card points purchasing bucketloads of Deep Heat - an essential part of any manual worker's winter uniform. Alongside thermals, a generous undercoat must be applied like medicinal emulsion prior to slipping into regulation black attire, in order to grease up those aching muscles, ready for another day of unpacking an avalanche of boxes.

Despite needing more limbs than your average octopus, as she juggles serving three customers with answering the phone and simultaneously slipping off a ballet pump to expertly wrap a gift with her toes, Carol will be scowled and tutted at throughout the season of good cheer by countless ratty customers, who are clearly disgruntled that Carol is merely a human being, and not a machine.

Whilst apologising for having blood in her veins rather than rocket fuel, Carol will attempt to solve all your Christmas dilemmas with a smile - even if you have left all your shopping until 4.59pm on Christmas Eve and cannot comprehend why some lines are now out of stock.

She'll smile sweetly as another customer stunt-rolls Indiana Jones-style under the shutters in a bid to foil her attempts to close the store in order to spend a few precious moments with her own family on Christmas Eve.

"Even more reason to use robots" sniffs Mrs Meddlesome, "they wouldn't mind working until midnight on Christmas Eve...."

2. Absent-minded Annie

Whilst Carol is burning more calories on the shop floor than Usain Bolt at the Rio Olympics, Fitbit on fire as her average daily footsteps climb into the thousands, there's always that Christmas temp who gazes forlornly into space whilst all hell is breaking loose around her.

Even the most experienced manager makes the occasional hiring misfire; Carol recalls one seasonal worker whom she nicknamed "Dory" (of Finding Nemo fame), such was her goldfish-like inability to retain any knowledge whatsover. Even after being sacked, Dory forgot that solemn conversation within seconds and still turned up for her next shift. Then it was Carol's turn to do an award-winning fish impression as she opened and closed her mouth in surprise at seeing her casually bowl in for her cancelled shift. Some people can't spell initiative, much less use it.

3. Shoplifters and Small Children

You may think it strange to lump these in the same category, but both have the ability to terrorise a shop in equal measure: the former by stuffing valuable merchandise into suspiciously puffy Puffa jackets, the latter by destroying aforementioned merchandise (however unintentionally). Both have the same effect on stock-loss spreadsheets.

The all-seeing Carol, with her chameleon-like 360-degree rotating eyeballs, manages to deftly retrieve the pricey perfumes from the sticky-fingered thief, whilst simultaneously removing the sticky-fingered toddler from mountaineering up a pile of triple-figure gift sets. After decades of Christmases in retail, she has the ninja-fast reflexes of a multi-eyed fruit fly, and a black belt in patience.

I could go on with her list, but I'm sure you get the picture. Carol is eternally grateful for your Christmas custom, but next time you're huffing and puffing in the queue, if you can see the staff are flat-out, please cut them a little slack. Unless you spot an Absent-Minded Annie or a Dithering Dory of course, in which case you have Carol's express permission to give them hell.

As the shutters come down on her final Oscar-winning pre-Christmas performance, it's still not over for careworn Carol. For no sooner has she rung through that final transaction on Christmas Eve, than she and the elves must set about tearing down the decorations and slashing stock prices - even before the shopping centre has emptied and the big man has squeezed himself down a single chimney. Such is the fickle nature of retail.

Come Christmas Day, Carol will collapse, exhausted, onto the sofa with a gallon of prosecco and a plate of pigs-in-blankets and proceed to sleep through most of the celebrations.

Which is just as well as she'll need all her energy for....

....the SALE.

*Carol is her real name...honest.

This article first appeared on my blog here

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