Industrial Relations

Everybody Out!

The giant Makro ‘cash and carry’ food and grocery wholesaler was the source of my sustinence at that time on two levels. As the main supplier of the larder at St Clements Road, this was the well from which all the frozen chips, pizza, strawberry mousses and potato croquettes were sprung. How odd then to arrive in Gravyland for my first job and find myself working on their advertising broadsheet. You still get these today, shoved inside the free local newspaper and outlining the special deals and bargains that the supermarkets or local convenience store have going on. Three bottles of Lenor for the price of two, tins of Fray Bentos ‘this week only a pound’, 24 under-size packets of cheeslets for 75p. Whenever I see one of them I am immediately transported to my dreary gravy days in Ardwick. Maybe this one – they called it a catalogue, was a bit more substantial, but it was a dismal task. My job was to draw out a sketch positioning bottles, cartons and products on the page. Tracing these from previous editions, using a grant enlarger to vary the scale. The highlight and only outlet for any creativity would be doing the occasional advertising ‘flash’ – something like ‘six family-size bottles of Vimto for the price of four’ or ‘amazing Goblin offer’, in which case I could maybe choose a stand-out typeface or set it in a little coloured box. How riveting. Someone else would then go and photograph all these items and another person would lay out the final artwork. It was probably done once a fortnight. Back in Ardwick, a misery-guts in furry boots called Christine looked after this account. She was extremely frustrated to be still stuck in Gravyland after training in London and was determined to drag me down into her cesspit of thwarted ambition and despair. My failure to be entirely enthusiastic was noted. Things came to a head when the all-powerful client contact ‘Suefrommakro’ (all one word), witnessed me nonchalently walking out of the office bang on five o’clock. There may vaguely have been a plan to brief us about something but the two of them had been standing round gossiping for half an hour and Furry could pass on whatever dull instruction or tedious new initiative Makro Sue had in mind the next day. I was going home. No one told me there was any kind of deadline or urgency. I should of course have played the loyal eager-to-please dedicated young employee and just assumed it. I hadn’t quite grasped that in the brave new world of The Grocer’s Daughter, these mediocre mid-ranking nonentities held so much sway. It was a few days later that The Cowboy made his ‘mutuallly incompatible’ speech and showed me the exit. Furryboots confided that ‘Suefrommakro’ hadn’t been impressed by my casual attitude to her precious account. If only I’d got Brenda Dean or Arthur Scargill on the case, but this was 1985 and the printers were getting hammered in Wapping, the miners were on the slide and there were riots in Tottenham. What hope for a humble pie-tracer?

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