Monday, 29 October 2007

And all the oven bottom muffins you can eat

I've got a job.

It's temporary and part time but it's a job. Answering 'phones to shopkeepers and managers wanting adjust their orders.

At a major bakery in Wednesbury. It's HUGE. It's also in the middle of a bleak industrial estate which feels like it's in the middle of nowhere.

It's a long walk from the tram stop and there are footpaths rather than proper pavements. There are shrubs overgrowing the paths and flytippers are happy to dump everything from rubble to matresses because with almost everyone driving and almost no regular traffic, there's no one to see the trash.

The car park is massive. It needs to be.

I show up around 10am (quelle surprise!) and the car park is nearly empty. It's possible to look across the park from the security barrier and see the building you're aiming for.

Pedestrians - who are very rare - have to zig zag across the park via sign posted and marked footpaths. You're even given the instruction at the gate "Just follow the little yellow men".

Past the empty parking bays, past the diesel and motor oil dispenser in what looks like a garden tool store next to the huge tank of diesel, past the smoking shed and past the Portakabin where the engineers go and you come across the Reception.

By the time I leave at two, there is not one bay left. The place is a mass of trucks of various sizes all painted the same eye crunching shade of red. It isn't possible to safely cross the park without the footpath.

The job is busy, if tedious. We answer the 'phone calls from people who want to change their daily orders. There have been problems with accents, dropped calls from mobiles, crackling lines and, of course, me not knowing the different products and their codes. And not having access to the computer system.

The simple query "Can you tell me how many blues waxies we are having tomorrow?" means that I have to put them on hold while I ask one of the Admin "girls".

One of them has to finish what she's doing, look up the account and then tell me. I take the customer off hold and relay the information to him/her.

This is usually followed up with another query about tomorrows order and the whole rigmarole starts again.

After I had finished one awkward call with someone who didn't have the information to hand and kept me waiting while he recounted each type of bread individually, I put my receiver down and shouted "You Freak".

I was told afterwards, not to do that in case someone else is on the 'phone and their customer can hear me in the background.

The Admin people are very friendly and happy to show me how to do/find stuff and the conditions are fine. If a little, I dunno, bizarre for an office job.

The factory first "presents" as one of those identikit industrial park offices. All magnolia and high traffic flooring. Non slip lino instead of the usual carpet tiles, but so far so routine.

The first clue is the corporate art on the walls. Instead of the usual "inspirational management" bollocks of waterside autumnal trees at sunset, or a lone seagull flying into the sunset across a still sea (usually accompanied by some slogan along the lines of "Our customer is King to our competitors") there are expensively framed, highly detailed photos of the bakery production facility signed by a member of the founding family.

The ladies' toilet is industrial. The mirrors are fuzzy with cleaning fluid, the dispensed handsoap is antimicrobial, the soap unit sits next to wet/dry barrier cream and the paper towel dispenser is powered.

The office is very much what you'd expect. Open plan with computers and a background radio. The work is fast and furious - as you would expect for such a major site.


In a lot of other companies, the office and the factory side don't meet. In this place, there are people in "industrial workwear" walking in and out of the office almost constantly. Drivers in black and red, production staff in blue overalls, blue hairnets, steel toecaps and blue ear defenders and staff in white coats form an almost constant stream of people flowing in and out of the office doors.

The kitchen area is a little different to the average. It is a small cupboard of a room as you would have seen in a lot of office spaces. There is the standard microwave, fridge, freezer and a cupboard full of mismatched mugs. Then there is the large catering fridge, freezer and plastic heat sealing machine.

As the catering assistant is on hand to make up little packed lunches for visitors (sandwiches, naturally, in little logoed carrier bags) and lunches for staff, the kitchen has to subscribe to the same rules as a commercial kitchen.

There is a box of hairnets on the wall beside the kitchen door. If the assistant is in there preparing food, then we have to put on a hairnet to get a cup of coffee. If the assistant is unloading the shopping, then we can't get in there at all. Only once have I seen anyone offering to get tea and coffee for anyone.

And the smell of baking bread is everywhere. Up the road to the site, across the car park, in the building; everywhere except on the way in to Reception when you have to pass a vent that sends out a vinegary blast. Eugh.