In a Bejam
by Allen Ashley

It was 1970s Britain and suddenly everybody wanted a chest freezer so as to stock up – if not for a nuclear winter, then at least for the weekend. Still at high school, I got a job as a shifter in the Bejam supermarket. Friday evenings and all day Saturday. Keep those cabinets of frozen peas filled up, cart the 10kg cardboard boxes around the store and, if you were lucky, hang around by the till and help the customers wheel their wares out to their estate cars. And maybe get a 10p tip.

If you were unlucky, the delivery lorry would arrive in the yard and you’d spend all morning lugging chilly legs of lamb off the back and into the walk-in freezer. At which point, one of your workmates would think it a fine practical joke to lock you inside the chiller for five to ten minutes as “a laugh.” There was no mechanism to open it from within. Release would come when the weedy deputy manager threatened them with the sack; or maybe something worse, like overtime.

We sold all the usual British culinary delights – Bird’s Eye fish fingers, Wall’s ice cream, Findus faggots (a low-grade meatball product, just in case you were wondering). People were encouraged to buy in bulk: multipacks that would, safely frozen, last three to six months. If you didn’t get bored with the bland diet by then.

We also sold own-brand Bejam goods: ten or twenty percent cheaper. It was an eye-opener for me that these arrived on the very same lorry from the very same factory as the branded products.

I lasted a few weeks; my wages spent on Hawkwind LPs.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This piece is about a temporary job that I took at a Bejam supermarket whilst still at school. We called them “Saturday jobs” here in the UK.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me, around the time of my first job, mid-1970s,

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Allen Ashley is the judge for the annual British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition. His most recent book is an updated, revised version of his novel The Planet Suite (Eibonvale Press, UK, 2016). He works as a creative writing tutor in north London, UK.