Founded in the 1960s by a group of west country farmers as a means of getting bulk rates on seed, feed and fertiliser, Mole Valley has risen to become a major retail co-operative serving farmers from Cornwall to East Somerset and beyond. By keeping costs to a minimum and ploughing all profits back into the business, it has survived several recessions and the present drastic decline in the farming industry, and is likely to go on indefinitely. The range of stock is quite considerable, covering electrical goods, food and drink, clothing, boots and shoes, equestrian tack, agrichemicals, paint, oils, tools of all kinds, fixings, water fittings and much more.
There are eight retail branches, of which the easternmost is Frome branch, situated adjacent to the new cattle market just off the A36 between Bath and Warminster.The location is not served by buses or trains, and the nearest human settlement, Standerwick, is not well blessed with shops. Consequently there is always some non-farming trade, and on Saturdays, when the market hosts a car boot sale, it would be fair to say that the general retail customers outnumber the farmers. The branch opens from 8:30 to 5:30 every weekday, and from 8:30 to 12:30 on Saturdays.
Branch Assistants at Mole Valley play a dual role. As well as serving on the counter for fourteen to sixteen hours every week, each Assistant is responsible for one or more categories of stock, and must unpack and check all deliveries, code the invoice, shelve the goods either in the shop or in the back store, deal with all customer enquiries and complaints relating to his or her category, and place any special orders that may be required. The Branch Assistants are organised into two or three teams, so that cover can be arranged for sickness or holiday absence.
The Benefits Agency, formerly the Department of Health and Social Security, is responsible for dealing with people who for whatever reason are not in paid work. Obviously I can't say too much about what goes on there--security, you know--but I can reveal that the people in these offices are neither grey-souled nonentities like Pratchett's Auditors, nor yet gloating sadists who knowingly snatch the crumbs from genuinely deserving cases and shower largesse upon unscrupulous layabouts. Well, they haven't showered any largesse on me yet, anyway.
No, much to my surprise, these civil servant types are very like fans. Which, when you consider how many fans are or have been civil servants, isn't really all that surprising. Hi Mike. Soren. Yo, Paul. And, of course, who can forget the Countess herself? I certainly can't.[g] There is extreme weirdness in the corridors of power, my friends, and if the system doesn't work as well as it might...well, where do you think I got the idea for the homeship computers?
I'm enjoying myself at work, for the first time in gods know how long, and I plan to make it last. Wish me luck.
Update. A year on, I'm confirmed in my grade (i.e. my probation is over) and, while everything is slightly less new and wondrous, it would have to get a whole lot worse not to be better than the last job. What hasn't improved (yet) is the money. Upheavals and reshuffles seem to be the order for this year: I came back from America to a change of job, and as I write someone new is being trained to do the job I changed to, so where I'll be next week I don't know. Ah well.
Further update: it is now 2008, the Pensions Service, formerly the Benefits Agency, has closed its Bath office, and I am in the market for a ludicrously well-paid and undemanding job. So much for that.
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