Warehouse Adventures for Beginners – Part 1

May 1, 2020 - By 
Sam Burns Montage Banner Image

Or, “How an Ageing Choirleader Briefly Sullied His Hands and Became a Spokesman for All The World’s Downtrodden Workers”

Prologue

Monday March 16, approx 4.30pm, the PM proclaimed, ‘No More Non-Essential Gatherings’.

Like so may others, my wife & I spent a few minutes in shock, carefully weighing & re-weighing his words before realising that, yes, this was indeed the end of all choral activity for the foreseeable, & thus also of our income. I sent a mail cancelling that evening’s rehearsal, then went down there anyway, just in case anyone didn’t get the message in time. Once back home, we immediately began job hunting.

By 1am I had applied for every available delivery/warehouse job within 20 miles of our house. (Coz we figured that parcels & nursing would be the only sectors working in the coming months). Adel chased up social care.

By Weds 18th, we both had several offers, which was just as well, coz that was the day that the school I worked in shut down. We chose the 2 options with hours that allowed us to both to work full time & perhaps cope with home schooling too.

Fri 20th, we learned that we might be ‘keyworkers’, & therefore entitled to send the kids to school!  Either way, with or without childcare assistance, the die was cast.

With retrospection, I realise that past adventures had prepared us well.  Having toured for years with an amazing but notably unsuccessful rock combo, I gave it all up after my firstborn (1995), & worked manual jobs, mainly in building or gardening for 10 years. This was my late twenties, & I considered myself above shit shovelling, so there were always people who could shovel shit better than me, but it paid the bills.  Also, I had rebuilt life from scratch twice already, once when moving to Normandy in ‘94, & once (with my new wife) when moving back to Bristol in 2008. In each case fast reactions were called for & the stakes were high. (Lots of dependents, & a tight window for getting up to speed).

When we arrived in Bristol, I put out feelers for work in building, gardening, as an instrumental & singing teacher & also choir leading. It quickly became apparent that choirs was the way to go, & we built the 250 strong Gurt Lush empire from scratch in just 9 months. So, yeah, we’ve some experience of sudden changes.
Never expected those particular life-skills to be called upon again. How wrong can you be….

Induction

Turns out that warehouse work is quite different to running a choir. -Who knew? :D.  In the great tradition of middle class people cameoing extra-curricular experiences & then deigning to give expression to their inarticulate but worthy cause, allow me to share a little….

I am now a card carrying Night-walker, aka Zombie… Walking Dead…. etc.  All titles that the day workers confer on us beasts of the darkness, & which we wear with pride.
They sneer & snicker, but are slightly afraid of us.

So they should be….. 😉

Us newbies were summoned for a training session. 6 hrs solid, page after page of Health & Safety questions.  The manager warned us (with steely gravitas), that all we needed 100% in these tests in order to set foot on the sacred warehouse floor. Then he told us exactly what to write in order to pass. – I’m proud to state that all my group are now legally incapable of suing the company, as we all scored full marks in H&S.

On the way out the nice lady asked if I had my own Hi-Viz/safety boots.  “No, but I can get some…”.  “Oh don’t worry. -They’re provided, & we’ve got a huge stock of all sizes.”

The very next day, one rather nervous & physically inadequate choir-leader turns up for duty. Badly-made sandwiches dangling from a skinny wrist, anxiously checks watch for the 4th time in 5 minutes. Manages to find the correct sign-in book. Dares to ask Scary Polish Giant if he can have boots;  “Size 8.5, please”….. #TriedForGruff,CameOutSqueaky
Scary Polish Giant (aka Igor, who actually turns out to be friendly & vegetarian) grins toothlessly & says, “We’ve got Size 7 or Size 10”.

Any seasoned labourer knows that this is a simple choice between bleeding toes (Size 7) & bleeding ankles (Size 10). I decide to sacrifice my toes. They never really recovered from all the labouring I did in my twenties, so logical enough to finish them off now.  Anyway, it’s always good to brush up on your hobbling….

With just 1 minute to spare I dash through the doors of that mighty warehouse & about 3 minutes later, realise that our training was a farce. Zero sign of the regulations that were so stringently filled in for us. Effectively just the same 2 rules as any building site. -Try not to die & try not to kill anyone.  I prefer it that way. It’s very intuitive & there’s obvious motivation.

The warehouse is huge. Something like half a mile long & wide with 116 loading bays. Walking the perimeter takes 20 mins. Looking down the aisles feels like dodgy CGI, as it all fades to vanishing point. Surreal.  It never stops. 3 shifts/day, 24/7/365. It supplies a chain which sells everything from garden stuff to toys, food & medicine. We’re keyworkers because of the food & medicine. Proud to do my part, but weird to be loading pallets with pergolas in the middle of a such a crises.

“What did you do in the Great Corona Crisis of 2020 Grandaddy?”  ….”Dappled shade, little Timmy…. -dappled shade….”

On that subject, PLEASE, let me completely dispel any rumours that we are somehow heroic keyworkers. Adel is in frontline social care, it’s true, but she’s visiting her clients in their own homes, so she’s more likely to give them the virus than catch it from them. Her work is heroic, but only as all care work has always been. Mine, not at all.

We’ve had so many supportive comments for taking on these jobs. All gratefully received, but also a little embarrassing as it’s just for a few months, & 99% of the global population do worse jobs for entire lifetimes.

So easy to forget quite how privileged we are.

Next Week, – First Shift!

1 Comment
  • Really enjoyed reading this.
    Sam and his wife have addressed the problems facing many of the self employed, suddenly without regular income with determination and a great deal of humour. Very much looking forward to the next instalment from the warehouse floor.

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