MARY GREENHAM: I’ve never worked harder in my life than in my local supermarket


It’s Tuesday evening. I’m wearing a uniform of green T-shirt and black trousers and find myself engaged in a delicate negotiation over a bottle of pinot grigiot.

I’m quite familiar with the stuff. In normal times I’m a celebrity agent to a number of high-profile clients, among them Martina Navratilova and Andrew Marr, and it’s not uncommon for professional chats to take place over a glass or two.

Today, though, I’m in different territory. I’m behind the checkout of my local Morrisons store in Oxted, just south of London and, rather than discussing contracts or future work commitments, I’m trying to establish if the chap on the other side of the Perspex anti-virus screen is old enough to be buying booze.

I’ve ended up applying for a new role stacking shelves, manning the tills and and working as a customer marshal, helping to maintain social distancing between customers. Mary Greenham is pictured above with some of her colleagues

It turns out that he’s 38, so I’ve made his day – and clocked up yet another new first in my strange new life among the trolleys and freezer cabinets.

My normal job juggling diaries for television and sporting clients has ground to a halt, of course. There are no events taking place right now, there are no TV programmes being made and no conferences for my clients to host.

And that’s why, along with thousands of others around the country, I’ve ended up applying for a new role stacking shelves, manning the tills and and working as a customer marshal, helping to maintain social distancing between customers.

I do 12 hours a week for roughly £100 – and I’ve never worked so hard in my life.

To keep up with the demand for trolley-loads of lockdown shopping, trucks arrive each night from all over the country bearing produce which then has to be decanted into the warehouse and from there onto the shelves, a finely-tuned logistical dance which never stops

To keep up with the demand for trolley-loads of lockdown shopping, trucks arrive each night from all over the country bearing produce which then has to be decanted into the warehouse and from there onto the shelves, a finely-tuned logistical dance which never stops

In fact, I have a strange new respect for the complexity of what goes on. I must have visited this particular store a hundred times by now, and never once have I thought to ask what happens to all the food that customers drop on the floor, for example . 

Who cleans it up? Well I now know the answer: it’s me!

My new career took shape on March 21, a day I was supposed to be in Florida. Like most years, I’d planned to accompany Martina as she commentated on the tennis semi-finals at Indian Wells.

But this year, I exchanged the Florida sunshine for a weekly shop at Morrisons, instead.

That’s when I saw the notice board and an advert for various new roles to meet the sudden new demand. It was both a way of lending a hand – however small – during the crisis and of earning some genuinely needed cash.

It would also get me away from being stuck at home with my four screen-obsessed teenagers

I started the following day with four hours on the checkout, trained by a kind man called Symon who patiently explained all the nuances. It turns out, there are many. 

Whether you’re lugging crates of beers or heavy tins across the conveyor belt, or stacking the endless shelves, it’s exhausting. You’re on your feet all day and at the end of each shift my legs and arms ache all over

Whether you’re lugging crates of beers or heavy tins across the conveyor belt, or stacking the endless shelves, it’s exhausting. You’re on your feet all day and at the end of each shift my legs and arms ache all over

Put it this way – I will never tut again when there is a small delay scanning my tins of tomatoes.

I soon realised that a supermarket is a vast, rolling 24-hour operation.

To keep up with the demand for trolley-loads of lockdown shopping, trucks arrive each night from all over the country bearing produce which then has to be decanted into the warehouse and from there onto the shelves, a finely-tuned logistical dance which never stops.

Just the sheer number of people needed to keep the wheels turning day to day is eye-popping.

I do 12 hours a week for roughly £100 – and I’ve never worked so hard in my life, writes Mary Greenham, who is pictured above

I do 12 hours a week for roughly £100 – and I’ve never worked so hard in my life, writes Mary Greenham, who is pictured above

And much of the organisation is handled by young people barely into their twenties.

On the checkout I take my instructions from the cool-headed Amber, Tia and my boss Ellie, who rule their section of the checkout floor with admirable efficiency and calm given the demands being shouted at them from all directions. It is a long time since I’ve been ordered around by a 19-year-old.

Some of my new colleagues are friends with my oldest children. All of them have been welcoming.

So far, the customers have been patience itself. In fact, I’ve not heard a cross word spoken – not even when I had to tell someone to hand back a four-pack of tinned tomatoes when my checkout beeped to say they were exceeding their allocated amount. Only three allowed! No hoarding.

The work, even on the checkout, is surprisingly physical. At least – I’ve been surprised.

Whether you’re lugging crates of beers or heavy tins across the conveyor belt, or stacking the endless shelves, it’s exhausting. You’re on your feet all day and at the end of each shift my legs and arms ache all over.

And the most surprising thing of all about my temporary life on the supermarket frontline? I love it…

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