My Week: Loading-bay heroes of a consumer society: Danny Harding, veteran of the January sales, describes life in a department store's stockroom

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Monday: After the flattened cardboard boxes have been jettisoned into the snarling baler comes 'stock replenishments', crucial to the store manager's utopian policy of keeping shop-floor areas 'well-dressed' - meaning packed to the hilt with merchandise. Computerised lists indicate which lines have been sold out and need to be filled up.

After escorting my stock to the treacle-mouthed Clare on the shop floor, I hotfoot it back to the Childrenswear stockroom and tackle a mish- mash of boxed stock for the rest of the day. Dean, the resident wit, hoicks up the bass on his stereo in the adjoining Menswear.

Tuesday: The indigenous stockroom pigeon coos and pirruks all morning, signalling business as usual. After 'replenishing' I skate down to the receiving bay to separate the latest warehouse delivery into three departmental categories: Childrenswear, Menswear and Womenswear.

Steve runs the bay tyrannically, but he's well liked despite his fixations with Heathrow airport and Harry Ramsden.

Eric and I sift through the hanging suits and blue gingham dresses while Steve barks instructions and chides us for lapsing into a play fight too close to the computer. Eric, the fearless European Studies graduate with Herculean strength, zaps to and from the respective stockrooms in the goods lift while I load up the rails.

Wednesday: In the bay again, with Steve, Jeff and Mickey cranking up their pump-trucks to facilitate the impending delivery of toys off a yellow Placketts lorry. These three have-a-go heroes sweep the bay from top to bottom, empty binfuls of Lucozade bottles and tins of Smash from the canteen, and clean crevices caked with flies' and pigeons' business. They are the loyal old guard, forgotten men during retail's rush to mass profit, yet the backbone of all things capitalist - under-appreciated and over-stretched.

I spend the whole day lugging pallets of Le Creuset ovenware down to Housewares - gutsy, do-or-die manual labour. I do this with much aplomb, as a survivor of the January sale period - which involves an inexorable movement of stock to the floor and is marked by frenzied spurts of energy and prolonged spells of languorousness.

Thursday: After salvaging some polythene bags and other tat from Clearance, I scamper up to the canteen where Dean and a few others are arguing about whether John Major is 'that bad' or not.

I spend the whole afternoon moving my departments around to create space for an influx of kiddies' jogging bottoms. Dean stalks around in lugubrious mood, berating the shop floor for returning another rail of


He and I often chat about where it all went wrong for us, and reminisce about those sun-drenched, post- exam afternoons in the students' union bar, getting high on Foucault and Comte and slamming dirt-cheap bitter down our necks.

Friday: I spend the day helping Chris in Linens. In between the fixtures we weave, armed with skipfuls of towels and flat-beds brimming with bedspreads. Things go smoothly until I suffer the ignominy of tripping over a chair leg while trying to answer the phone.

At half five, I slip out of the door with my trousers stained and my hands clogged with dirt and dust. My forehead is caked with sweat and grime from this morning. My legs feel buckled, as if I have rickets. I try to pluck a half-inch splinter of wood from my finger before the swelling starts.