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Big Ideas

Photographer Lydia Garnett on Life as a Condiment Waitress

Other resumé highlights include: pet food-packer and sweaty sock handler.

“The Worst Job I Ever” had is a new monthly column about the terrible early jobs some of our favorite creative people once held. These are their stories, as told to Liv Siddall, former editor of Rough Trade magazine, who produces Redundancy Radio, a podcast about getting fired.

Lydia Garnett is a London-based photographer and the co-founder of Accent Magazine (along with Lucy Nurnberg), which celebrates people who live lives outside the ordinary. After launching online, Accent broke into print in 2015 as a super-glossy independent publication. You’d never have guessed it, but before Garnett found her niche photographing subcultures and gathering some of the weirdest and most wonderful people together in printed form, her fledgling career began in an icy shipping container in the middle of the UK. Packing bags of pet food. Alone.

“I was 14 years old when I began working for my parents’ neighbors’ pet food-packing enterprise. At that time, my life (on the weekends) was mostly spent hanging out around the Clocktower in Leicester (if you know, you know) with other grunge/emo/punkyish kids. I quickly learnt that getting a Saturday job in the Midlands was a matter of who you know, not what you know, so I started working for parents’ friends who needed their shifts covered.

“As far as I know I was the only pet food-packer—other than an elderly woman who ran the business with her husband. Every Saturday morning my job was to fill little plastic bags with dried treats for dogs, birds, and squirrels. At the end of their garden, there were lots of of shipping containers full of old tractors, lorries, and rusty mechanical farm things, and I would bag up pet food in one of those. It was usually very, very cold. I’d wear five coats, gloves, and tie a hot water bottle around my waist. I had a thermos of tea and a tiny, crackly radio.

“Since no one else was around, I’d usually spend my shifts getting lost in my teen thoughts, humming mindlessly, texting occasionally, and before I knew it I’d packed 300 bags of pet food! There didn’t seem to be a huge demand for small bags of pet food, so most of the time I’d be finished after two hours of work, three if I could stretch it out. I was paid £3 an hour ($4.25 U.S.), so I would leave with a cool total of £6, sometimes £9 ($8.50 and $12.75 U.S., respectively). Sometimes I’d immediately spend my earnings on some fresh hen’s eggs for my mum, and as soon as I got home we’d have a fry-up together.

“After that job I became a condiment hostess, walking around with a variety of mayonnaises at a pub known locally as the Badger’s Bum.”

“I remember being very nervous at my first proper interview for the role of condiment hostess. Following that, my teenage employment included stint as a PE kit printer (pressing initials on to the back of football shirts in a garden shed) and a retail assistant in an orthopedic shoe shop where I’d touch, by hand, the slightly sweaty sock tights after customers were done trying on their shoes. 

“I’m still navigating the world of work, freelancing, and trying to balance getting paid and feeling good about what I do. My advice for readers would be that when you’re trying on a shoe in a shop and you’re utilizing one of the small, tight socks, be kind to the retail assistant because you never know when you might see them next. Oh, and always take your sweaty sock with you when you go, rather than leaving it in the shop for someone else to dispose of.”

Photos by Lydia Garnett

Photo by Lydia Garnett

Photo by Lydia Garnett

More Posts by Liv Siddall

Liv Siddall is a writer and podcaster based in London.

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