First Hand: My life as an old Harrodian: As Harrods' MD departs, bond dealer Nicholas Rigby recalls his own days on the shop floor

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Indy Lifestyle Online
HARRODS was London as far as I was concerned. I'd been dragged up there by my mother ever since I could remember. She used to come up from Sussex for sales and Christmas shopping, and Harrods (as I soon realised) had good teas. Nine years ago, when I was 18, she suggested I get a job there. Basically, in those days, if you'd been to public school and had your own teeth, they'd take you.

The first job I did was in Socks, which I must admit was pretty leisurely. People would ask for a pair of 100 per cent cotton socks in orange and blue stripes, and even though I knew we didn't have any I'd go down to the store room to check. It killed time and you could always find people to chat to down there. Harrods is like a big tree - all the departments in the store have an exact mirror image like a vast root system of tunnels underground. They're all called things like 'China Avenue' or 'Fruit and Veg Walk'. It's a warren of electric trolleys conveying stuff.

The first thing I did every morning was go down to the stock room in the basement and read the paper. Then I'd have to start dusting. People would start coming in at 10, and things really hotted up around 4pm. The worst thing was cashing up at the end of the day - I remember one day I was pounds 300 out. I was there for two hours while they carried on searching until we found it had fallen off the desk into the dustbin.

The younger people aspired to being in Toys. They had such good quality toys - electric cars and computer games which you could play with legitimately as part of your job. Bottom of the heap was China and Cookware - you were stuffed in the basement and shouted at when you dropped things. Those who toiled there were considered the lowlife at the bottom of the tank. Unfortunately that was where I had my longest stint.

There were three of us in Cookware, including one woman who used to talk about mince all the time. Her hair was like mince - crinkly and reddish brown. She'd been at Harrods for 15 years and was very proud of it. Every day it would get to about four o'clock and she'd say 'I think I might have some mince tonight.' One day someone asked her if she'd ever tried fish cakes. She didn't talk to us for days after that. The buyers were ghastly - so pleased with themselves, just because they worked for Harrods. Most of them had an HND in retail, which they thought gave them the edge over people like me. I remember once being ticked off by one of them because I'd failed to recognise Nanette Newman and I'd had the audacity to check her credit card number. The buyer rushed in really creepily, ushering her off to the lettuce spinners or something. The rest of the staff were public school boys and queeny men.

I stayed for nine months. It was much harder work than I thought it would be. When I was in Cookware there were times when I was serving a queue of about 20 people - it was worse than being a waiter in a pizzeria. There were such terrible people you had to deal with, breeds that I haven't met before or since. I remember one grande dame ringing up one day to ask what the smallest thing was that we had in our department. I spent ages scurring round among the egg-cups, teaspoons and corn-cob holders, until I finally rang her back to tell her I thought it was probably a mustard spoon. 'Oh, thank you so much,' she said. 'It's been troubling me all day.' She was trying to solve a crossword. Harrods, she said, had the answer to everything.