Monday, 29 December 2008

Does Everyone Have a Story to Tell About Woolworths?

Does everyone have a story to tell about Woolworths? It's that sort of place.

“Meet you outside Woolworths,” was a familiar cry when I was a child. In the small country town where I grew up, Woolworths, with its distinctive red and white sign, was the place to meet up with friends, catch the bus, even shelter from the rain, but I seldom bought anything, not enough money, until my sister, a sophisticated five years older than me, thought up a cunning plan.

Then, Woolworths had the most wonderful broken biscuit counter. For 9d (less than 5p) you could buy a huge bag of broken biscuits. When we went to Saturday Morning Pictures, if we paid 6d (2.5p) and sat in the stalls along with the rough boys, instead of upstairs in the more expensive circle, with the ‘much nicer children,’ as instructed by our parents, we came out with a full shilling profit, enough to buy huge bag of broken biscuits, with a little cash to spare.

I once had a Saturday job in Woolworths. It morphed into the promise of employment for a whole summer and might have been the start of a wonderful career, except I got the sack.

I missed out on the offer of employment on the biscuit counter, fortunately my hair was too long to stuff into the hairnet, so ended up queening it over haberdashery. Tape measures, lustrous embroidery silks, pins and cottons were my domain. I’d jump off the bus, rush in through the door and grab the drawer to my till, just as the store cleaner finished mopping the wooden boards around my counter.

Tall, slow, harmless and monosyllabic, all us girls were scared of Garth the cleaner. He lurked deep in the stores along with his mop and huge wide broom, wearing a muddy brown overall and he longed to be friendly, but it wasn’t the done thing to be seen talking to Garth. He was considered far too weird.

Woolworths attracted hoards of eccentric customers, but my favourite memory is of a charming woman who sidled up to my counter almost every day and lifted small items, a paper of pins, a reel of sylco thread... Where ever she lived must have been full to bursting with filched stuff, but I never had the heart to report her to the supervisor.

But it wasn’t my tolerance of petty pilfering that got me the sack. I was asked to leave over a boy. My crime? One of the regular girls accused me of trying to get off with her boyfriend. Apparently she’d seen me smile at him, which was news to me. (Would it be too nasty to say he was probably one of Garths’s less appealing close relatives?) Assisted by two of her chums, this young lady trapped me by the staff lockers. I’d have probably been well and truly thumped if I hadn’t been rescued by another member of staff.

Even though I made it very clear that she was more than welcome to keep ‘her feller.’ I wouldn't have touched him with the end of Garth's mop, I was deemed not suitable for the job, told to collect my coat, pick up my wages and asked to leave. I never really felt the same about Woolies after that. It was a long time ago and, now that particular branch is about to close, I'm sorry for all of those who are about to lose their jobs, except for one of course, but I doubt if she still works there.