My nightmare before Christmas

Unless I seriously go off the rails, being locked in a token booth at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park for upwards of 12 hours a day is the closest I will ever come to knowing how a prisoner feels.

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Only difference is I get paid for it.

Actually that’s disputable, I barely get paid for it and I think prisoners actually have a better deal – at least they have a toilet in the corner of their cell.

As for me, if I want to go to the toilet during my double shift (outside of my two unpaid 30-minute meal breaks and my two toilet breaks) I have to humiliatingly walkie talkie beg a supervisor for a ‘comfort break’ – a euphemistic code for ‘please Sir I am about to piss my pants’ which is usually met with a blunt bark down the line – ‘you should have gone during your break.’

But I should have known this job would be horrendous, there were warning bells before I even began.

Take the application process, I spent half a day filling out the forms after spotting the big shiny ‘recruiting now’ banner plastered on their website only to be rudely told ‘applications closed like a fortnight ago.’

So I went and got a job pouring pints, only to get an email the same night at 11pm offering me a job in the token booths and asking me to come in at 11am the next morning for my induction.

Curious, given I never applied to be anywhere near copious amounts of British pounds considering my mathematic illiteracy and even more curiously, my induction happened two days before my actual job interview which consisted of pretty much – ‘I like your Wellington boots, sign here.’

But I think the fact I spoke fluent English worked in my favour and I guess the calibre of talent doesn’t really matter considering it is possibly the easiest, most mind corrodingly dull job one could have.

The punter asks – ‘how does this work?’

You say something along the lines of – ‘£1 equals one token and rides generally cost between 1-7 tokens.’

They look at you blankly.

You repeat the above again, slightly slower and louder this time and with any luck they buy their tokens and be on their merry way.

But my favourite are the punters who slap their money down and order – ‘I want a ticket for the ride that goes up and down and round and round, you know.’

Actually Sir I don’t know, there’s only about a hundred rides at Winter Wonderland that fit that description, could you be more specific?

Then there’s the ones that just want a map, or directions to the ATM, or to the place I’m never allowed to go – the toilet.

Considering my tone you’d see why three double shifts or 40 hours of Winter Wonderland-ness a week was all I could mentally sustain, especially on a quiet day when I seriously considered stabbing myself with my counterfeit currency detection pen if I heard I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus, All I Want for Christmas, Santa Baby, Do They Know It’s Christmas or randomly Club Tropicana one more time.

And considering my every move was captured on CCTV and I was banned from eating and using my phone, it’s a miracle the pen and paper I was using to record the high and lowlight of each shift wasn’t also confiscated.

Enjoy…

Shift #1: one month till Christmas.

Highlight: getting a free hot chocolate after holding up a sign reading ‘hot choc for tired token booth staff?’ to get the attention of the cute German guys selling mulled wine and hot chocolate in the stall opposite us.

Lowlight: having to share my token booth with a guy who loudly sang Bangladeshi pop songs, even when serving customers.

Shift #2: 29 days till Christmas.

Highlight: giggling at the poor token booth staffer who had to deal with an irate customer who demanded compensation after being hit in the head with basketball at one of the games.

Lowlight: being banished to the token booth at the arse end of the roller-coaster which everyone thought was the entrance to the roller-coaster and getting RSI from trying to sign language that they had to walk all the way round the other side to get in – only to watch them ignore me and try and find a shortcut behind the circus tent.

Shift #3: 28 days till Christmas.

Highlight: getting two free cupcakes from the lady in the stall opposite me, only to drop both in the mud on the way home but being so drunk with fatigue I ate them anyway.

Lowlight: getting accused of short tokening a couple of £6 tokens and then watching the situation escalate to the point security were called after they pulled the race card with my supervisor and were made to leave the premises – but not before mouthing ‘f%*# you’ and flipping me the bird.

Shift #4: 21 days till Christmas.

Highlight: getting my revenge on a posh English lass by giving her £15 of change in weighty £1 coins after she turned to her boyfriend and said ‘I don’t understand a word it says’ when I was trying to explain the difference between peak and off-peak pricing and her mistaking me for saying ‘pig pricing.’

Lowlight: being propositioned by the Craig David lookalike of an Ice Marshal and self-professed ‘best skater on the rink’ who mistook my need to talk to someone, anyone, as wanting to have sex with him.

Shift #5: 20 days till Christmas.

Highlight: being stuck in a booth with the seriously cool chap who played Albert in the West End production of War Horse, who has also blogged about his time at Winter Wonderland, and then having my dinner on the giant observation wheel.

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Lowlight: having a loud shouty punter accuse us of being ‘horrible people’ for not selling him ride tokens five minutes before the park closed for the night.

Shift #6: 18 days till Christmas.

Highlight: wandering around the Magical Ice Kingdom after my shift and finding my unicorn!

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Lowlight: being stuck in a booth next to the robotic eternally laughing Santa and then overhearing two break supervisors skiting about how they’d spent all day playing Facebook poker while my break supervisor was two hours late to cover my lunch break.

Shift #7: 16 days till Christmas.

Highlight: the arrival of ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ style travellers and witnessing my first real life ‘grabbing.’

Lowlight(s): having punters abuse me for the fact the power in our booth kept cutting out, my colleague getting bad electronic shocks from the token machine and a supervisor telling him to ‘just deal with it’ despite refusing to touch it himself, spending my entire meal breaks queuing to go to the toilet, our break supervisor being 1.5 hours late to give me a toilet break to the point I thought I was going to piss my pants and then not checking notes for frauds and trying to conceal transactions he’d mucked up to avoid getting in trouble on a till I was ultimately responsible for (leaving me with no choice but to dob him in), dealing with generally angry, shouty, rude, intolerant and impatient punters and finally losing the plot completely and sobbing all the way home on the tube.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a hearty female and I can put up with a lot of shit but the next morning I decided I would rather been broke than work another day for PWR Events at Winter Bloody Wonderland, so I wrote an email politely terminating my employment – effective immediately.

And given their employment-practices to date I can’t say I’m altogether surprised to still be waiting on their reply.

My first week of Olympicsing

Poor blog.

It’s been neglected somewhat as I focus on my real job, my first paid employment in eight months.

I’m back freelance radio reporting for my old company for the Olympics, something I haven’t done since early 2010 when I was lured to the dark side.

It’s a sweet gig but I can’t say it got off to a smooth start.

To begin with I’ve lost my radio voice (it’s arguable I ever had one in the first place) so it took me a good few hours to spit out my first four voice reports.

Then I got lost after travelling for an hour to see kiwi Olympic legend Barbara Kendall carry the torch. I was at the right street but in the wrong suburb.

Later that day I left £150 of prepaid travel cards on the tube. Luckily the London Media Centre was kind enough to give me another £90 travel card.

And not long after that, I received the devastating news that all my audio from my first few days reporting sounds like the people are aliens or that I interviewed them in a tunnel. What could I expect, I guess, I am using an iPad as if it’s a microphone, which is slightly awkward when it comes to holding it up in a press scrum.

Luckily one of my colleagues came to my rescue, giving me an iPhone to use, though the sim card tray promptly snapped, seeing me make an urgent visit to the Apple store to get a technician to ply it out.

But I feel I’ve finally overcome the teething problems and are now well and truly enjoying myself.

Here’s my top ten moments so far.

1. Going to cheer on New Zealand Olympic torchbearer Susan Grace who was selected for her work with London’s homeless. She was swamped by crowds and received such a roaring reception in the London suburb of Merton that many people asked me – ‘is she famous?’

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2. Getting to see Kate, Wills and Harry in the flesh when I reported on the torch’s visit to Buckingham Palace. Sadly I was so focused on getting audio and trying to move my arse out of the way of the guy behind me who kept ramming it, that the only photo I got obscures Kate’s face.

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3. Watching the Queen’s row barge Gloriana, which carried the Olympic flame, float past my old next door neighbours’ front lawn in Hampton Wick on the morning of the Opening Ceremony.

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4. Spending the evening of the Opening Ceremony at Hyde Park listening to Duran Duran belting out their 80’s hits, although I was bitterly disappointed they didn’t play ‘Girls on Film’ as it’s their only song I know all the words to. It was also amazing to look up to see the sky painted red, white and blue by some planes. I missed the plane part but did get a photo of the vapour trail.

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5. Being a groupie and getting my photo with New Zealand Governor General Jerry Mateparae. I know I’m supposed to be impartial as a journo but I love him. He’s a brilliant public speaker and is incredibly down to earth.

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6. Interviewing children on what they thought of the Olympic mascots and accidentally laugh/snorting (I blame my best friend’s mum for that bad habit) at a kid’s answer to my question ‘what do you think Wenlock actually is?’ and he replied – ‘They just like made it up, they had like left over scraps and they made it up, like random stuff.’ I couldn’t agree more, seriously what is this thing?

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7. Being the only journalists to actually turn up to an Olympic-themed high tea at a five star hotel in central London = more food for me.

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8. Getting to see all the troops wandering around town in their uniforms. Thank you G4S for failing to recruit enough staff! I will endeavour to get photos in the coming days…

9. Again being a groupie and getting my photo taken with Andrew Nicholson, part of our first 2012 medal winning eventing team.

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10. And finally, feeling exceptionally proud to be a kiwi after rowers Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan produced New Zealand’s first gold medal.