Friday, December 19, 2014

"Christmas At Harrods - Part Two"

I have no idea what I was thinking. 

I have absolutely no aptitude for working with my hands, and I had just taken a job wrapping toys at an upscale department store, an assigment where the use of the hands is exclusively demanded. 

I shudderingly recall my school experiences in “Manual Training” where in “Leather Shop”, the bar for my objective was progressively lowered from making a wallet to making a change purse to making an irregularly-shaped eye patch.  And even then, I required help. 

Now here I am, standing at a conveyor belt leading from inside the Harrods Toy Department to the dank and windowless storeroom that was our designated “Work Area” over which rolled oversized, wire carrier baskets laden with upcoming gifts for the holiday season.

The next wire that came through basket was yours.  You lifted it off the conveyor belt, and you carried it to your workstation, which was a bar-high, group table, equipped with a heavy roll of Harrods-green wrapping paper, a handful of “Cellotape” dispensers, a pair or scissors and a foot-round ball of medium-strength string. 

There, one by one, you dutifully gift-wrapped every present in the basket.  When you finished, you returned all the now-wrapped presents to the basket, which you then directed to the next stage of the operation, which was either a delivery truck area (for local destinations) or the store’s downstairs post office from which the purchased presents were airmailed overseas.

Finally, you took the completed “work order” receipt and you skewered it onto the large, vertically projecting nail that every toy wrapper was provided, the measure of your accomplishment being determined by the number of receipts on your nail at the end of the day.  You then returned to the conveyor belt for another basket. 

That was the “Game Plan.”  Here’s how it worked for me.


I was a terrible gift wrapper.  I wasted way too much Harrods wrapping paper, overdid it big-time on the Cellotape (three-inch wide Scotch tape that you peeled off a giant dispenser), and my string-tying left a lot to be desired in the tightness department.  (You could lift my efforts by their strings and the presents would fall completely out of them)

In my (at least partial) defense, the presents redirected to the mailroom, I was informed, would be entirely unpacked down there and then specially re-packed for overseas shipment.  When I was criticized for my strings being too loose, my inevitable response was,

“How tight do they have to be to make it all the way to the basement?” 

I was a terrible toy wrapper – Strike One.  I had a questionable attitude – Strike Two.  And I was excruciatingly slow – Strike Three.  A not entirely apt analogy, because, although it is traditionally “Three strikes and you’re out”, I was inexplicably retained in the lineup and permitted an unlimited number of swings.

To some degree, a respectable “receipt count” was the luck of the draw, your rate-of-speed depending substantially on how many items there were in the next basket, and also – no small concern – what exactly those items included. 

Best-case Scenario:  A wire basket containing a single item, that item being a rectangular deck of cards.  Even I could have handled that one.  In less than twenty minutes to boot!

On the other hand, if your next basket was stacked high with gift purchases, or, more frighteningly, one of those gift purchases was a tricycle…

How do you giftwrap a tricycle! 

It takes forever!   The handlebars.  The wheels.  The little step in the back.  The bell.  And why – you’ll love this! – was that tricycle not packed in the regularly shaped cardboard box it originally arrived in?  Because Harrods – in their wisdom and inexplicable cheapness – had removed the tricycle from its shipping container, which they subsequently tossed into the furnace to heat the building!  

“Who are these people who are ruining my life!”

I shall mention but one of them, as he was the only one with whom I was in immediate contact. 

That gentleman was my boss.

Imagine a squat, ruddy-faced fireplug from Glasgow, and that’s who I’m talking about.  A former policemen, he was now managing a less than “type cast” assemblage wrapping extravagant Christmas presents for overindulged rich kids.  (A number of my colleagues were temporarily furloughed longshoremen, whose suitability to this dissimilar arena was highly questionable.)

I dreaded this man coming around me.  There would be no pep talk or bolstering compliment, but instead, an always angry, indecipherable bluster.  “Indecipherable” because, well… have you ever tried to understand a person from Glasgow?

For ten weeks I was the regular target of his spittle-inflected diatribes.  And all that time, I had no idea what he was saying to me.

“Errrroll, yir sta-ch (a throat-clearing utterance)-rangs ah weetewlewse!”

“Errroll, yew goo ‘a git moor poor-ch (another throat-clearing utterance)-chaz ra-ch-(and yet another) cites ohnyirneel!”

(An inadequate representation of how distant his pronouncements were from decipherable language.)

It was only through careful consideration – and more importantly the proximate context – that I determined he was telling me that my strings were too loose, and that I had to get more purchase receipts on my nail.  Not that that it hanged anything.  I was abominable at the job.

Okay, so that was the bad part.

That I am everso skillful at delineating.

Tomorrow  (a considerably shorter post):

The Discernible Perks About Toy Wrapping at Harrods.

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Sellotape is indeed the brand name Scotch uses for its cellophane tape in Britain. That's a pretty impressive rendering of Glaswegian right there.