Thursday, 14 February 2013

Minimum Fun At Minimum Wage (Part 1):

Minimum wage; it's not a payroll for the haughty is it? You kinda sag inside like a burst sofa just contemplating it.  When I tell people that I'm earning that salary, it feels like admitting to an erectile dysfunction. It's like:

"Hey Callum, not seen you in while man! What you been up to?"

"Ah, you know, Uni. I'm working."

"Cool, how much do you earn?"

"Uh, minimum wage."


"Yeah. Minimum wage. The least amount of money I could legally be paid. I couldn't earn less if I tried. Yup. I mean, my boss would like to pay me less, by Christ he would, but there are laws stopping him. Otherwise I'd have the same salary as Bob Cratchitt. Sooooo all those years of education I've been through, are apparently completely wasted on me, because I'm now employed to perform a task that could be better accomplished by a ring-tailed macaque for a weekly paycheck that buys me a Pot Noodle in this economy. Until I have to pay tax. Top-banana."

(Would you like some self-respect with that?)
But there's minimum-wage and then there's minimum-wage. Some jobs are thankless and dull, but endurable despite it all. You expect nothing good from them, and you're never disappointed. You develop a camaraderie with your co-workers over how shit things are. You learn how to skive-off and forecast your managers moods. Eventually, with practice, it becomes just another round in the game of life.

Then there's the other kind; the kind of job that leaves you with PTSD after your first shift, the kind of job that reduces you to a gaunt, hollow-cheeked husk after a week. The kind of job that kills you, buries you in a shallow grave by a roadside dyke, then after sixty-hundred-and-sixty-six months uses the arcane arts of necromancy to reanimate you and put you back on the payroll.

(Working hard or hardly wor-ARRGHGHGHCKH!)
This was the type of job I got myself fired from. I'm still pretty steamed about it. You can't tell, can you?

In the June of '12, my dearest mother gave me a phone call to announce, with audible pride, that she'd secured my summer employment. She'd been drinking with people at the local highland games, exchanging news and gossip, and had managed to convince a friend's husband to give me a job in his biscuit factory. Interested was I. Naive was I. Unbroken was I.

You know, I was actually pretty stoked for it. I'd been unemployed over the last summer and it had not sat well with me. Plus the prospect of filling out applications and printing CV's and sending e-mails and the endless, endless rejection was too arduous to even consider. It was a job right? Money in my pocket: I didn't give a soggy shite how I got my hands on it, just as long as the labour was mindless, the pay regular and I could piss-off home before 5pm. It was a biscuit factory man, how hard could it be? I wasn't being sent down a mine-shaft, I'd be boxing oatcakes, Easy cash, right?

(The horror! OH THE HUMANITY!)
Wrong. In fact, I couldn't have been more wrong, not even if I had a PHD in cocking-up from the University of Gimboid.

For a start, I was informed that my shifts lasted from 6am to 3pm, every weekday. Since the factory was in Niddrie and I live in Bathgate, this meant that every morning started with a 40 minute drive. To get to work on time I had to climb out of my bed at 5am. Dear readers, 5am is not something that regularly happens to me. I have never been, of my own free will, fully conscious at this hour. I never had any desire to experience 5am. 5am is a phenomenon for those of us who have never had the good fortune to have heard of half twelve.
(Not pictured: me awake at this ungodly hour)
There's our first mark on the tally of shittiness: 5am start. So I was a bit miffed about the hours, but so what? I'm the employee here, I thought, I can't presume to dictate my shift pattern; that's arrogance. Let's actually work a day before we start with the whining, aw'right?

So Monday morning I pitched up at the gates, 5.55 sharp, signed all the appropriate forms and donned my work clothes. When dealing with food; I don't have to tell you guys how important sanitation and hygiene was to the business ... but fuck it, I'll tell you anyway. All employees had to adhere to a strict dress-code. We were required to wear a hairnet at all times for a start, and that was fucking humiliating. And I didn't get a baseball cap hiding it like the kids in Subway. Nah, I was constantly aware of how much of a twat I looked; and I looked like a monumental twat. I could actually feel my stifling twatishness and it was suffocating. I felt like a sideshow attraction.  

(And I looked like this. Seriously)
Then there were these rubber soles that we had to pull over our boot-heels, for some tenebrous reason which continues to escape me to this day. The piercing squeak they made when rubbed against linoleum was excruciating, and it soon came to be the bane of my senses. My skin would crawl and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in anticipation of it, it was so horrible. They were of the one-size-doesn't-quite-fit-anybody variety, and a bitch to pull on. Even harder to take off, come to think of it: I once went home with them still attached because anything shy of a crowbar would not have budged 'em.

(The engineer's shoehorn)
We also had to wear these disposable labcoats, which seemed to be made out of wood-pulp and tissue paper as far as I could discern. They could be torn by a butterfly's eyelash and they practically dissolved in water. You had to strip everything off and throw it in the bin every single time you left the factory floor. Every time you had a break, took out the bins, went to the toilet, masturbated, murdered a co-worker, whatever, you had to strip off, bin your clothes, and put on new stuff. It doesn't sound so bad does it? But believe me, after you've done this approximately eight times a day, it starts to wear you down.

So, properly attired, I was ready (not really) to commence my imminent carousel-ride through all seven circles of Hell. The next fortnight was as traumatic as watching your girlfriend have an affair with your Alsatian.  

(Adultery's a sin Rover)
Can I say before I begin my account; this job was not in any way complicated. I had few responsibilities, and it wasn't like any mistakes I made lost the business thousands, or put other careers in jeopardy. Yet I still managed to get myself fired without pouring anthrax into the vats or committing embezzlement. It took a staggering degree of stupidity, but I managed it.

So I was a factory worker; not a position I was proud of by any stretch of the imagination, but I was also a new guy with no previous experience, which put me roughly just below yeast in the factory food-chain. I was everybody's bitch, and for good reason: I never had a clue what I was doing. Usually I had a lot of janitorial work to do, because by and large it was the one type of work that I could do without ruining everything. This meant a lot of sweeping, which was good, because usually when you're sweeping people leave you alone. It's such a dull, pointless lowbrow task that supervisors usually pay it no heed. Often, they wouldn't notice that I'd been meticulously sweeping the same four feet for twenty minutes, which left me free to daydream. If any of you guys suffer the misfortune to become janitors, I've got one piece of advice for you: learn to mop in your sleep. It will make your life immeasurably easier.

(These are life skills I'm teaching you guys)
But that was the nicey-nicey stuff. I also had to wheel this wire-frame trolley about the place, just in this perpetual circuit, picking up litter and dragging it out to the recycling dumpster outside. Well I say dumpster, really it was this huge steel shipping container that was stacked fit to burst with cardboard and paper and zip-tags. 

I also had the ignomious job of collecting the waste biscuits in these large cylindrical plastic bins, and dumping them in an entirely separate shipping container. This was by far the most repugnant of my various duties, and the one I loathed the most. For a start, those bins were heavy. You might not think that oatcakes are the weightiest of foodstuffs, but once those bins were full they became as dense as a collapsing star. Also, I had this job before I started taking regular exercise and weight-training seriously, so my soft wee noodle arms would struggle to lift even one more than ten feet without my having an asthma attack. The only choice you had if you wanted to avoid picking up fifty metric tonnes was to jog around the factory floor, taking out the bins before they got too full. Anything filled more than halfway was exhausting to shift, so you had to be quick, but often the effort of keeping up with the pace of the machinery was more knackering than just heaving the bloody things out when they were full.

(Don't look at me like that, lifting things is hard)
 The recycled biscuits were to be shipped off to feed swine, which meant they needed to at least be edible. That meant that on more than one occasion, I had to climb into this dank, rusted shipping container to clear out the rodents that were nesting in the waste product. I'd have to wade through sodden, moldy biscuits, stabbing mice out of the oaten heaps with the end of my broom, wincing as they scurried past my shins in their droves. I was like the pied piper if he'd fallen on hard times in the recession. I mean, have any of you ever had to endure the rank stench of mountains of soggy biscuits mouldering away in the darkness? In a cramped, confined space, juxtaposed with the biting odor of rat droppings? That experience will change you. After a while, the smell just settles into your lungs and stays there for good. I started to sweat biscuit and cough up crumbs. It bleached my eyebrows white. The smell of hyacinths, a lovers perfume, cinnamon, coffee, cloves, garlic, mint and rosemary; these scents are all lost to me now. The factory was overall extremely clean, and we had the vermin situation under control, but I personally had a plague to deal with. I felt positively bubonic by the end of each shift. That shipping container became my Room 101.   
(How do those rat turds taste Babe?)
But the fun didn't stop there folks! We're only on the tip of this horse-manure iceberg, and things only got progressively worse ... 


(This week I've been reading the famous satirical mock-epic 'The Rape of the Lock' by Alexander Pope, which is; shock and horror, actually pretty funny. Imagine that! People in ye olden days had senses of humor! In all seriousness if you haven't read it yourself, then give it a look, particularly if your a classics student with a firm knowledge of 'The Iliad' or 'The Aeneid' - I'm looking at you Rachel - although I still haven't read either myself ... Whoops. There goes my carefully cultivated facade of literacy ...)

(Alexander Pope: A Pretty Cool Guy)


  1. No shame in working minimum wage at all. As long as you're contributing to society then your doing well and besides now is just the start you have a long time left to go and earn the big dollar I presume if you are still studying like you alluded to with your assingment in the past.

    I asked a question last time if you were familiar or knowledgable in relation to Watergate not sure if you missed the comment. Are you knowledgable? And if so do you have any good reading material that you could suggest?

    1. I'm afraid I'm not entirely knowledgeable on the subject; at least, I wouldn't describe myself as an expert in any real sense of the word. I will be studying the watergate scandal, and the ensuing coverage of the corruption, when my course moves on to an academic study of investigative journalism in 3rd year, by which point I might a more concrete opinion to share. However, I would say that I found this documentary by Richard Curtis interesting, although it is only tangentially related to the subject:

  2. Having an unenjoyable job and earning minimum wage is a reality of life for young people who are studying at the moment.

    Once your properly start going in for your career after your studies I am confident you will find an enjoyable and well paid job.

    The short story I'm reading is this very complicated but good, you should check it out.

    What do you make of Ed Miliband at the moment by the way? I think he's looking Prime Ministerial.

    Read that article good insight I feel.

    1. I've not read the story myself friend; in fact I've not made much of Heinlein to be honest with you. He's one of the few 'new-wave' sci-fi writers that I'm unfamiliar with; I'm more to speed with Dick, Asimov, Aldiss, Ellison and Herbert. I keep picking up copies of 'Starship Troopers' and 'Stranger In A Strange Land', but I never seem to be able to hold on to them. I've at least seen the 'Troopers-' film, which was a great laugh, although I've been told that it manages to bucher its source material.

      Although your article raises many legitimate concerns, I still can't see Milliband as a national leader; while his economic policies seem both forward thinking and astute, a lot of his rallying consists of ripping the pish out of the coalition; not the most difficult of jobs; the government is an easy target. i think he does well out of being the leader of the opposition, but I'm skeptical of his ability to actually wield power once granted it.

      I wouldn't take my word as prophecy though; I'm an idiot in the archaic sense of the term :)

  3. Ed Miliband is not Prime Ministerial in any way shape or form.

    The author of this blog surely concurs with me on this?

  4. It sounds awful having to change your clothes like 8 times a day would be madenning.

    You shouldn't still be steamed about it though, just let the frustration go and move on. So it wasn't the job for you. You'll find something you enjoy I definetly think you should do something that involves speaking to customers as you come across funny and likeable which is really good.

    You write fantastically well I'm in stitches reading to be honest.

    I like the reading part at the end. I'm currently reading Eastenders: The Inside Story. It was written in 1987 by the people who created Eastenders and it details how they came up with the ideas and characters it gives fascinating insights into the thought process behind the creation of the legendary Den / Angie relationship which to this day is some of the greatest television I've ever watched.

    I don't suppose you have ever seen some of Eastenders in the 80's? I feel bad because Eastenders today is so mind numbingly bad but when the show first started it was brilliant with interesting characters, alright plot lines & no stupid modern day rubbish I suggest you look out some clips or if you want I could post some.

    When I'm done with the Eastenders book I've purchased The Thirty Nine Steps which is meant to be good. You ever heard of it? You seem to like reading. Would you approve?

    1. Post some clips if you want, I mean if you really think it would make me appreciate the show for what it was and what it meant to people. I'd be happy to peruse them anyway, and get back to you.

      The thirty-nine steps is a fine novel, I just finished it myself about a fortnight ago. John Buchan's writing style is fluid and accessible; my only criticism is that there's not enough of it; it's barely 100 pages long. It can be a little contrived at times, but it's great fun. A sort of proto-spy novel; it's fair to say that without it Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum wouldn't have brought us their takes on international espionage.

      Have you ever seen the comedy-stage version of it? it's fantastic; very funny, and it utilizes a lot of creative staging, mime, sound effects, and there's only about 4 people in the cast playing multiple roles. Do check it out if you get the chance. :)


      This user has a lot of clips. I'd suggest the following each clip is normally only a minute or two

      - Den goes to Prison
      - Vicki being born (Although this is a full episode)
      - Pauline slaps Den when he admits he's Vicki's father
      - Arthur, Den and Pete gang up on Darren
      - Den and Pete work together to get rid of Nick Cotton
      - Nick Cotton starts to blackmail Kathy (watch this before the one above it'll make sense that way)

      I'll get onto the Thirty Nine Steps shortly and let you know what I think. I haven't seen the the comedy stage version but if I like the book I'll check it out for sure :)

  5. You're still going to respond to the comments you missed in the previous blog entry?

    1. I'm doing my best now, thanks for holding on while I was away on the lash :)

  6. I think that as people are taking the time to read and comment on your blog you should acknowledge and/or respond to their comments.

    Just my opinion as an observer. Another well written article. Mind you I'd love to hear your employers rebuttal.

    While I'm here are you on the lookout for this asteroid this evening?

    1. I will always reply to my readers comments; they're always appreciated, and thus far, remarkably intelligent, but that doesn't mean I can guarantee I'll be hasty about it :)

      I hope you're not talking about this catastrophic meteor that's hit Russia. That was a terrible tragedy. Even more tragic that out of all the russians it chose to land on and obliterate, it decided to completely ignore my ex girlfriend. There's no justice, honestly.

  7. Unemployment can suck but enjoying life is more important. Out of interest how are you managing to finance your course if you got fired? You a good gambler?

    I used to do a job I hated now I do a job I love. Simples as the Meerkats in your hilarious adverts say I believe.

    How many parts are there to this tale? Is it the standard 2 or a revolutionary 3?

    On a cheery note check this story. I used to message you on formspring but none of my questions got answered. No blame or criticism I understand you got too many to viable allow you to continue but this below is such a cheery story I thought you might want to hear sorry if I'm wrong. Hopefully it is 'just the beginning' like the person claims.

  8. My dear writer . I believe dirty work is afoot . Onlyhumble opinion but don't you think that most of the other replys to your post are written by the same person trying to disguise his writing style and pretending to be different people . He or she is fishing for information and goading you into answering .if I were you I wouldn't give out any financial information and instead of being an unpaid researcher for mr anonymous I'd concentrate on your studies and just having fun with your blog . Good stuff I enjoy it a lot . Live long and prosper my dear student and beware of snakes in the grass .

  9. Rachel Wilderson13 March 2013 at 14:17

    Cal, I will read the The Rape of the Lock after my exams. I've just read the Iliad, it's good but I don't really want to sit an exam on it...sigh.
    Keep the blogs coming, I really enjoy them. And hi Mrs H! :D