MY BIZARRE SUMMER IN MANCHESTER, ENGLAND
I arrived in Manchester one chill summer day on a train up from London. I was about to begin my new life as… (let me cough this out…) a paintball ticket sales woman. Ah-hem!
The great thing, I reminded myself again at the train station, was that I could skip the tedious task of hunting for lodging in Manchester. A room in the company house was awaiting me. Oh, yes. V. I. P.
Further easing my mind was my latest English discovery. During my 3-hour journey up from London, I’d happily been introduced to the beautiful British countryside- all lush, vibrant green, and bursting with life. Just 2 weeks earlier, I had abandoned my beloved tropical SE Asian scuba diving life on remote beaches (with little more than jungle, thatched huts, sun, sea, sand and reefs).
I had braced myself for a new life smothered in congested cities with crowds and buildings, entirely devoid of nature. Discovering England’s abundant natural setting was enormously encouraging.
With those thoughts, I hailed a roomy rolls-royce-like English taxi to my new home in Manchester’s suburbs. After some searching, we finally found the cute stone house down a little gravel lane, all hemmed in by bushes and trees. When the door opened, I had the best surprise of all: a shiny-eyed young lass with punky bright pink and platinum hair stood before me, grinning. A girl after my own heart! Maybe I had inadvertently found my real home after all.
I was greeted very warmly and enthusiastically by the Manchester team, all living in the house together. We spent the evening swapping travel stories, getting to know each other, and tossing back drinks. Things were looking good.
There was one little issue for me, however, with my new colleagues: nearly everyone smoked. Heavily. Luckily, they confined smoking to one room of the house, a glass-enclosed room attached to the back, with a door opening onto the back yard. The room was crammed with couches, a low table, and many overflowing ash trays. Since nearly everyone smoked, that glass smoke room was the main daily hang out.
When they found out I’m extremely sensitive to smoke, they graciously opened the outside door so I could join them. Unfortunately, that barely prevented me from choking and gagging any time I entered that smokers’ den, or even stood outside nearby. Inside, on rare moments that nobody was lit up, the whole room and couches still reeked of cigarettes. I did not want to enter that room. Ever.
And so my troubles began. Every evening, promptly after work, the entire household grabbed beer and cigarettes then excitedly proceeded to the smoky glass house to ‘let loose’, chat, gossip, get tipsy and wallow in a cloud of smoke. I just couldn’t take it. As soon as I’d step into the ‘cloud’ my eyes would smart, my lungs would ache, and I ‘sensed’ filthy stinking smoke infiltrating my clothes, hair and skin.
I quickly realized that I did not fit in with that group of gossiping, beer-swilling, tobacco-wielding humans one iota. Truth be told, cigarette smoke was not the sole issue. I could no more tolerate the daily chit-chat gossip about sports’ stars, pop music bands, and attempted sales pitches. It was like being tossed in with a bunch of pre-teens.
However, I was determined to not let those little differences affect the rip-roaring sales I was about to make. I hadn’t moved to Manchester to gossip, socialize, and drink beer. I had traveled half way around the world to make a ‘killing’ at sales.
So I simply bowed out of the nightly chit-chats and focused on learning sales. That did not endear me to ‘the team’, I can tell you. More unfortunately, I had missed most of the training in London before my arrival. So I knew practically nothing about the company, paintball, or street sales. But I did have determination, enthusiasm, and starry eyes.
Each morning, bright and early, we all gathered to decide where everyone was selling that day. Company cars, equipment, and tickets were all assigned. Then off we went in our little teams of 2-3 to beat the streets and pump up sales.
Because of my gross lack of training, I asked our house manager and all my colleagues for tips, help, feedback and evaluations. Although some doled out words of advice here and there, I sensed a noticeable reluctance to offer help. Eventually, I learned a few unspoken things about my placement at Manchester house…
Apparently, it was unprecedented for a newbie, like myself, to be placed in a company house without complete and thorough training, along with a trial work period in London to prove oneself, and an established level of sales success. Company house rooms were generally reserved for already-established sales personnel. Apparently, the guy who’d recruited me had pushed through my ‘special’ placement at Manchester house, due to his great camaraderie with the ‘big guys’ in the company.
Even worse, the long-term members of the Manchester house did not particularly like the man who’d recruited me. They figured that any friend of his (aka, me) would be just like him. Oh, dear. The cards had been stacked against me before I’d even arrived. There was resentment towards me in that group, completely independent of who I was as a person or my intolerance to cigarettes and gossip.
But an even harder factor was this: Paintball sales are not easy! Every day we gave each other pep talks. We recorded our sales on a big board. We pledged weekly sales goals.
Then we pounded the streets, standing for hours on end, pitching to every pedestrian who wandered past our booths. Even so, many paintball salesmen were making killer sales and earning remarkable salaries. (like the £ 1000-2000 / week salaries that my friend had ‘promised’)
But that kind of success did not happen overnight, nor during one summer (my time frame.) Every successful salesman spent at least 1-2 years learning and polishing sales to attain those figures. Unknown to me, my recruiter was one of the top 3 salesmen in the company. From his perspective, sales were easy. He must have ’forgotten’ the realities of starting out when he’d pitched me.
But I plodded on, determined to master sales. I set to reading books on sales and success, completed their manual training course, watched my colleagues, copied their styles, gave myself pep talks, and tried to focus on the great things about being in Manchester, England.
Most days I was treated to stunning English scenery to/from our work sites. I visited many charming- and not so charming- English towns, Chester quickly becoming my favorite. I found out the Brits are, on the whole, quite friendly and nice people.
On my days off, I explored Manchester city’s old cobble stone streets, historic buildings, and museums, where I learned the fascinating history of the industrial revolution. I invited several of my colleagues on those excursions, but not once did anyone join me. Clearly gossiping and drinking beer were much more enjoyable past times. Oh, yes, add Wii to that list: sitting or standing inside while pretending to ‘really’ play sports like tennis, golf, and race car driving. F U N.
Meanwhile, I noticed more and more things were not-quite-right with that company. For instance, we had to pay weekly fees for our sales equipment, yet the company owned it. We had to pay for car fuel, parking, and any damages that might be done to the cars, regardless of whether it was our fault or not. I’d signed up to drive, but the manager had ‘forgotten’ to tell me that as a driver I’d be 100% responsible for any scratch, dent, damage, or accident. I ended up splashing out £150 for a damaged wheel rim. That certainly was not my understanding of a ‘company car’.
Gradually, more and more fees and expenses were levied against us. Occasionally some of my sales would be revoked from the accounting department, stating that customers had refunded their tickets. Since I was keeping impeccable personal sales records, I noticed that those revoked sales were ones that I hadn’t actually made!
All my colleagues and the house manager poo-poo-ed my claims, swearing up and down that accounting would never make such an error. They were utterly aghast that I could possibly suspect something amiss with the wonderful company that was putting a roof over their heads. Against my manager’s stern warning (?), I called the accountant myself to inquire. Within minutes she apologized, admitted an error, and promised to return my money. Now if that’s not fishy, what is, I ask you. How many mistaken revoked sales were happening, I wondered.
Clearly, things were ‘not right in Kansas, young girl’. I began plotting my escape. I quietly booked a flight to the US. I scouted for hostels and cheap hotels in Manchester. I contacted two British friends I knew from Thailand and recruited them to assist my ‘jail break’. I secretly packed up my excessive things…
Meanwhile, my bid at freedom was held up as I waited to have my ‘accidentally revoked’ sales returned by accounting. And there was another, bigger, issue. From the beginning, the company openly promised a ‘first-month-bonus’ to all new sellers who stuck with it an entire month and continued. Those devoted, hard-working souls would receive a large bonus, equivalent to 40% of their 1st month sales, nearly doubling their salary.
After 2 ½ months, I had still not received my first-month bonus. I asked the manager. I asked the guy who’d recruited me. I emailed a letter to accounting. Finally, I contacted the company owner myself and took a drastic stance. Within one week, I got my bonus. My colleagues were astounded that I had secured my bonus so ‘quickly’. Some of them had (foolishly) been waiting 6 months for their bonuses.
As soon as my house manager reluctantly handed over my bonus ( and was that resentment I felt?), I called my friends, who were on stand by. The very next day they drove to the house, helped pack all my belongings in their car, drove me into the city for lodging, and introduced me to English cider (since I don’t like beer) at Manchester’s oldest pub. I felt as though I’d escaped a prison term. Luckily that had been minus handcuffs and barred windows.
Have you ever experienced dodgy work practices? If so, what were they and what did you do about it?
Have you ever visited Manchester? What were your impressions of the city?
* This story was graciously brought to you, in part, by HostelBookers.com who is one of the best online resources for booking hostels and cheap hotels around the world.