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March 8, 2014 / ldejong4

Lessons

I

I learned the meaning of the value of money by the age of four at the swimming pool. How do I remember this? Because something happened that made me feel guilty and that feeling stuck with me. This was my father’s intention and it worked.

After changing, we all packed our clothes into a locker. He handed me a 20p coin and let me place it in the slot, shut the door and turn the key; a never attempted task at that age, which seemed the world of fun like pressing the button for the lift or helping take money withdrawn from an ATM.

When the swim was over, my sister and I were still getting dressed by the time our father was ready to leave. We’d been used to our mother’s longer post swim ritual of in-between-toes drying, tights untwisting and hair detangling. Upon assuring he’d wait at reception, he reminded us to check the locker was empty.

When we eventually emerged, he looked up from his paper and asked if we had everything. I nodded and he extended his hand, asking for the 20p. I told him I didn’t have it. I forgot to take it from the locker slot and didn’t think it mattered. It was only 20p after all.

My father’s reaction took me by surprise. He wasn’t angry; he was disappointed and told us not to dismiss money like that, no matter how much. “All money has value,” he said informing us that people have to work hard for it and that not everyone has it. I returned with my sister to retrieve the coin from the locker but it was gone.

II

When I went to college I was encouraged to work for my social life. Armed with a wad of what I now describe as an attempt at a CV, I soon realised none of the bars or shops in my town were hiring so I took a lucky job in a local community pharmacy. I was initially asked to dust and restock shelves. I spent many hours doing that while talking about the weather with every second customer waiting for their prescription.

That pharmacy had a way of attracting all customers at once and soon I was asked to assist at the till. I had no problem with this. I loved people and the idea of more responsibility pleased me but little did I realise I’d been thrown into the deep end of the entire pharmaceutical industry. Customers asked me for products I never knew existed – solpadeine, zovirax, voltoral, dulcolax, tyrozets, immodium, cellulose drops, lemsip cold and flu, lemsip cold and flu headcold, lemsip max flu lemon, lemsip max multi relief lemon and many of the above but in capsule form. I was still telling customers it was my first week a month into the job and asking them to help me find what they wanted on the shelves behind me.

When winter arrived I came to work one day to find everything moved from where I’d remembered. I was lost again in utter confusion, but quickly learned it had a name – remerchandising. I guess it made sense, having the flu medicine closer to the customer trying to sell a need.

The pharmacist whispered down to me another day to watch a lady who’d just walked in. He told me she was notorious in our town and the next one up for raiding pharmacies of their codeine products. He leaned over behind me and grabbed the Benilyn Night from the shelf and placed it under the till. “That’s what she’s after. Tell her we’ve none,” he said returning to the back. I then sold her lemsip and solpadeine. That’s when he warned me never to sell two products containing paracetamol, so then I spent my breaks reading the back of all the products crippled with fear I might kill someone.

Examining the boxes I realised many less popular products were the exact same, like Maxilief is to Solpadeine but at least half the price. Indeed I soon learned to ride the waves of this deep ocean I was once drowning in revealing all the secrets of pharmacy to my family. I grew to love my job because I was good at it and at talking about the weather. We were paid well – holiday pay and double on a Sunday but when the freak wave hit and I saw my friend held up with a knife one Saturday afternoon for the sake of some pills and green juice, I wasn’t sure if the money was worth it anymore.

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One Comment

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  1. J.D. Gallagher / Mar 8 2014 4:35 pm

    Money is such a strange concept to begin with, here is a piece of paper with a number on it, that number decides whether you can feed your child or buy medication and the lower the number on your piece of paper, the lower your value and worth as a person in the eyes of the world, and if you have no piece of paper with a number on it, then you are doomed, you will die hungry, cold and uneducated.

    It always reminds me of the short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.

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