Jennifer Woods is a charming but downtrodden checkout girl in this modern take on Cinderella
11am, 17thAugust 2008, Dalston, Hackney,East London
‘That’s £22.97 please.’
3 years of monotony, 3 years of absoluter boredom and 24 years of complete and utter humiliation. Oh wait, that’s my whole life. This is just a few minutes. The way this lady’s going, there isn’t really much difference.
‘Are you sure about that, young lady? You can never be too sure with you young people these days, what with your airy-fairy ways, no concentration span and the same amount of common sense as an earthworm’
Airy fairy ways? No concentration? Earthworms?! Welcome to the fabulously glamorous life of a…supermarket checkout girl. Yeah, I know. You spend £30,000 on a decent university education and you end up in the local Sainsbury’s, hoping the scale doesn’t break down as you weigh Brussels’ sprouts and answering enquiries about the price of a French stick. Well, that’s life for you. At least, my crappy life anyway.
11.02am, 17thAugust 2008, Dalston, Hackney,East London
The woman, watching me eagle eyed as I cancel the whole transaction and painstakingly rescan items one by one, is probably either in her late thirties or early forties, with skin that has ore than likely seen a few Botox injections. Her lips, pursed with impatience, seem to echo on the faces of the long queue behind her.
That’s £22.97 please. I repeat, with a small bubble of confidence rising in my throat. Airy fairy ways and all that.
‘Oh for goodness, all right then!’ she says, her black curls bouncing and her blue contacts (courtesy of Specsavers) flashing danger as she fishes out a £20 and a £5 note.
“Do you have a Nectar card?”
“No” Go figure.
“That’s your receipt and £2.03 change, madam. Have a nice day. Thank you for shopping at Sainsbury’s Dalston.”
“Humph!” She doesn’t.
Getting beaten by an airy fairy earthworm never was a good look. Two hours until end of shift. Fabulous.
“Good afternoon, sorry about the wait…”
How did I, Jennifer Woods, sink as low as tolerating abuse from customers with chips the size ofLondonon their shoulders and more time on their hands than Russell Brand has hair?
4pm, 17thAugust 2008, StokeNewington, Hackney,North London
Life cannot get much worse right? Wrong!
‘Jennifer? Is that you?’
No it isn’t. It’s ET. Who else would it be? Dad is happily ensconced in his study, snug as a bug in a rug, writing yet another maths encyclopaedia now that he has retired from UCL as senior mathematics lecturer, and your darlingCambridgegraduate is poncing about at JP Morgan in her Christian Louboutin heels, under the guise of actually working.
‘Yes Mum, it’s me.’ If I was ET I would merely phone home.
‘Good’ she said rather too firmly for my liking.
‘I’ve been meaning to have something of a chat with you for some time now.’
This translated into ‘I want to talk and you must listen.’ Katherine Woods, former Miss World contestant and now demon mother from hell, corners me on the sofa 2 minutes after I have stepped into the house.
‘Sure Mum.’ I say feigning some sort of interest. Hey I did Drama for a reason.
‘Why can’t you be more like your sister Melanie? You are a talented girl with a decent degree’ (she thinks it is useless really: Drama and English) ‘from a decent university’ (if it isn’t in the Russell Group, she is soo not interested: Queen Mary) ‘and I just cannot bear to watch you continuously throwing your life away. You were such a smart girl once upon a time, but you lack the motivation, the drive, the sheer determination that your sister has.’
I also lack the support, the financial help and the Louboutin heels but we’ll save that little titbit for later.
There is a pause. Wait, she actually thinks I LIKE wiping up milk spillages on the conveyor belt and smiling patiently while inconsiderate citizens of London town chat away on their mobile phones forsaking their groceries and appeasing flowers for the latest gossip on whether ‘Derek really dumped Matilda’ or yesterday’s episode of Desperate Housewives? You have got to be joking.
‘That is why I called the Jobcentre for you. They are expecting you tomorrow afternoon at 3.’
‘Wait a minute, you did WHAT?’ I can’t breath.
‘Called the Jobcentre darling.’ she says airily, nonchalantly even.
Yeah, I heard that part, I think to myself, but I’m just having trouble actually digesting it. Sometimes, I think whoever said there was a thin line between love and hate knew my mother really well.
‘Well, I really enjoyed this chat.’ I lie through my teeth, but I have to go now.’
As I prepare to make my getaway, the smooth tones of Sam Sparro echo into the room through my handbag.
HEY HUN. HOWRU.XXX J
‘Is that a new man friend, hmmm…? It would be good to see you catch a husband.’ she says, almost as if we were buddies.
‘It’s Jasmine, of course. Who else would it be?’
Her tone changes instantly.
‘Don’t get shirty with me, madam! Now there is a girl you could be learning from. History, a nice good strong degree, and now a solid job. Shame all her influence on you is of the wrong kind.’
Um, yeah. Whatever.
‘Yeah…’ I mutter vaguely, making my escape up the stairs to my room, which I hope to vacate sooner rather than later. Living in my mother’s house at 24 years of age. How sad is that?
‘Never mind your mother, dear. It will all work out in the end!’ my father comments from his study.
This is how my father’s mind works: a2+ b2= c2.
Sure it will, Dad, sure it will.