When I was 20 I kind of stumbled into a job, one that I would ultimately love and be brokenhearted to leave. I worked for over 2 years in a bookshop and I absolutely loved it. My good friend and housemate at the time actually got me the job, she worked there too and knew they were looking for more staff.
I’ve always loved reading, as child I usually didn’t go anywhere without Enid Blyton tucked under my arm. I still carry a book with me either in my handbag or have one left in the car for times when I get a chance to read. So it was a dream come true to get a job in this wonderful shop. Each member of staff was given a different section to run, this meant replenishing stock and keeping that section in order. Now the books were one bonus to the job, but the staff were just as incredible and I might say a little bit ‘out there’ (including myself).
There was a wide variety of people working in the shop and we all had our little oddities and quirks…. my good friend and I lived together but that didn’t stop talking for hours at work too – so much so the manager would send us to opposite ends of the store. That didn’t stop us as we could always meet halfway and talk across to each other. The manager was a Gaeilgeoir, himself and his wife both worked there. He loved speaking Irish any chance he got, which was usually to his wife and the guy who worked in the stock room. The guy in the stock room was Irish/American, who also spoke fluent Irish and took great delight in teaching us all the ‘cúpla focal’! His favourite phrase was ‘chuir iad os chionn ann’ or something to that affect – I figured out fairly quickly it meant ‘put them over there’, i.e. out of his way.
The two assistant managers married each other a few months after I started working there, there seemed to be a pattern emerging…..They got married abroad and there was great excitement when they came back, we were all dying to see the photos. The guy who looked after the general fiction section was very serious, in all aspects of life. He had been in the army, or so he told me anyway, and I think I believed him as he was extremely regimental about everything he did. Even on the nights we all went out, he stuck to the same routine of pints only – no shorts. When I told him I was pregnant he wouldn’t let me climb the ladders to reach the top shelves, carry loads of books or even stand for too long – he took a stool from another part of the shop so I could sit down and advised me that my high heels mightn’t be the best to wear for hours on end. I was mortified! I had to do all those things when we were on opposite shifts…In the end he turned into a bit of a lunatic and left, maybe real life and fiction were blurring.
There’s always one person in a workplace that everyone loves – this guy was over 6ft tall and a real gentle soul. He was always looking out for everyone, making sure we all knew what we were at, he had a great way with customers and we enjoyed our cigarette break at the back door of the shop listening to the busker of the day jamming out their tunes while sipping our coffee. He was a bit of a hippy and I thought he resemble Bob Geldof with a Gerry Ryan personality at times. At the end of my time there I found out he was having an affair with the girl running the children’s section – I was completely shocked. Apparently it was blatantly obvious to everyone else, but I was very naïve back then.
We had the ‘alternative medicines’ girl – she was always trying her hand to different things but somehow ended up back with us every few months. She did a hypnotherapy course at one stage, I let her hypnotise me once to help me lose weight – I think I ate twice as much for about a week after. She tried art, crafts, making jewelry, herbal remedies and the list goes on…she did leave eventually, about 6 years after me. She was getting married and setting up her own business.
We had a poet/playwright who looked after the Irish section, he published a couple of books which were interesting enough. I always felt a bit uncomfortable around him, he was one of those people who was intensely intelligent and really put me on edge. He left soon after publishing his second book to write plays for the nearby theatre.
I went into that shop during the summer this year and I was taken aback by how it had all changed. I didn’t know anyone working there and they all looked completely normal – not a bit like the kooky gang that used to work there. Yet there were memories in every section – health, travel, fiction, children’s. I even peaked into the stock room to see if there was a familiar face or anyone speaking ‘as gaeilge’ in there but there wasn’t….The music was different, more modern and pop-ish compared to the classic rock or just classical that we used to have on.
I forgot that I have been gone for over 14 years and of course things change. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that things don’t stop in time until we return to them. That was my first real job, my first job in the real world where being paid by the month meant living like a queen for the first week and then like a pauper for the rest of the month. One kooky gang had great times in that shop, great expectations for life and we all moved on to try to fulfill those expectations…