17 years ago, I turned up at the surfwear shop round the corner from my house in my pretty little home town to start my first day at work. As a teenager, I was thrilled to be working my first independently won Saturday job, and one that I considered pretty cool at that, in a ski and surfwear shop. Now, 17 years and 30 jobs later, I find myself not exactly catapulted up the career ladder, scooping ice cream for a living. This sounds like the start of a rather miserable story… and yes, it has had it lows… but I’m pretty damn happy with things as they are, right now.
I have had almost as many jobs as I’ve had years of life. I’ve worked with bewildering beaurocracy. I’ve worked with mind-numbing middle-management. I’ve worked with enough bitchiness and back-stabbing to turn a person into a paranoid, emotional, nervous wreck. I’ve worked through such intense tedium and so little mental stimulation that I have actually spent days counting domestic aircraft travelling along their flight path on the horizon from the view from my desk. I’ve been paid to complete tasks that are so menial that my very soul was constantly teetering on the verge of destruction. I’ve worked through the night sustaining myself on alcohol and chocolate to get to my 5am home time. I’ve been the scapegoat, the complaint-absorber, the odd job girl, the office bitch, the newbie, time and time again and I have the World’s largest collection of “Sorry you’re leaving!” cards.
And I even spared you the detail… you got it summed up in a paragraph, whereas I actually lived this for years and years. I was there! And time after time, I’ve become so disillusioned with horrible job after horrible job that I’ve lasted a couple of weeks, a couple of months… half a year if I was doing well. But the rent had to get paid, right? So every time I quit, I had to scrape myself back up, and get back out there with my pile of vastly-condensed CV’s ready to go onto the next awful place of work. After a while I really lost hope, both in myself and in humanity. Were all jobs, and all employers, just awful?
One miserable job-hunting day, as a complete one-off, I took my CV into an ice-cream bar in Afflecks Palace in Manchester’s “newly trendy” Northern Quarter. I didn’t think much of it, other than “this seems like a pretty fun place to work…!” 15 months down the line (and my longest period in one job!) and I’m now running the Ice cream bar Ginger’s Comfort Emporium nestled in amongst the wonder that is Afflecks Palace.
Afflecks is a wonderful, quirky maze of independent, individual shops, all owned and run by creative and inspirational people who want to do anything but be normal. I consider myself pretty lucky to be situated as we are, on the first floor in a lovely bright and sunny corner and surrounded by the most wonderful and friendly colleagues a person could ever hope to see on a daily basis. My job is as rewarding as it is calorific, I take immense pride in providing my customers with whatever they seek- be it comfort, reward, rest, or just a delicious treat to brighten a dull rainy day! I chat to people about the World, about food, about Manchester… I listen to their stories and their problems, I make friends, and I have so many people now who come back time and again for a coffee and a chat! I like to think that people leave my little corner a little lighter of mind, if a little heavier of buttock.
And then beyond my corner, there’s Afflecks. Afflecks the people, Afflecks the community, Afflecks the creativity, Afflecks the rebellion, Afflecks the open-minded non-judgmental anarchic expression of humanity, things that are mostly associated with the ballsiness of youth, but here in Afflecks, embraced by all. Bold and honest as the Afflecks spirit is, it does not shout its beliefs at other people, or enforce agreement or support. Afflecks is happy just being Afflecks, regardless of other peoples opinions. It takes time to get to know this place and the people in it. And the longer I spend there, the richer each moment becomes, my learning grows exponentially, and I feel more and more capacity for love and acceptance.
In the past, I struggled with other peoples judgment of me. Even people whose opinions I really trusted criticised me to the point that I didn’t allow myself to just be… me. It was easier to avoid the controversy that came with being myself by staying quiet, as I hated causing trouble and constantly sought peace. I am a poledancer, I love looking trashy, I love pink glittery hotpants, I am smiley and happy: and yet these integral elements of being Gem cause people to criticise and abuse. But in Afflecks, I get the opposite reaction, I’m positively rewarded for being myself, and I face ciriticism on days when I haven’t made as much effort to be bold! And it carries on outside… Afflecks fills us up with enough confidence and encouragement to carry on being ourselves even when we face abuse outside of its protective walls. I never got that when I did data entry for the City Council.
So while my bank balance and my CV aren’t improving vastly right now, my soul certainly is. Screw the corporate world, screw feeling indifferent day in day out, and screw conforming to what makes other people comfortable. In Afflecks you don’t merely exist: you experience. You don’t watch the clock waiting for life to resume at 5pm, life happens contantly: both when you’re there and when you’re not.
Afflecks is peace, power, passion. Afflecks is all of us. Afflecks is me.