When I was 15 years old, I had to complete a week of work experience as part of my school’s ‘student enrichment’ programme.
Initially, the prospect of doing work experience excited me.
I was eager to temporarily escape the classroom and enter into professional environment for the first time.
I envisioned myself working for the local news station or a cool hipster tech company where employees sat in bean bags instead of desk chairs.
However, my enthusiasm reduced significantly when I was placed at my local Garden Centre.
My supervisor at the Garden Centre was a guy called Alan who was relatively new to the world of work himself.
Alan was seventeen years old, had zero managerial experience and had absolutely no idea what to do with me.
After giving me some brief instructions, he handed me a t-shirt with the words ‘You Plant A Question, We’ll Grow You An Answer’ printed on the back and then made himself scarce.
I went to the bathroom, changed into the shirt and walked back out onto the shop floor.
Before long, customers that had previously been ignoring me started approaching me and asking me questions, clearly assuming that I was now a font of horticultural knowledge.
This wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d known a single thing about plants.
However, the sum total of my gardening knowledge came from an episode of The Teletubbies I’d seen as a kid where I’d watched a man tend to his allotment through the telly in LaLa’s stomach.
As a result, I was completely unprepared to answer any of the customer’s questions.
For the first three days of my work experience, I stood awkwardly on the shop floor, dishing out dubious horticultural advice to a series of confused and dissatisfied customers.
Eventually, on Thursday, one of the managers on shift took pity on me and took me off the shop floor.
She handed me a batch of Yankee Candles that had just been delivered and asked me to arrange them into a display.
After three days of talking to customers, I relished the opportunity to do something vaguely creative so I sat happily in my own little world, experimenting with different colour arrangements and taking the lids off the candles to smell the different scents inside.
However, after a couple of hours, I was approached by an old lady who had been browsing nearby. I braced myself, expecting her to ask me a question that I didn’t know the answer to.
I was relieved, therefore, when she asked me to help her retrieve a trowel from a high shelf. Finally, I thought. A task that is within my capabilities. I can actually be useful and help this old lady fulfill her trowel-based needs.
I picked up a step-ladder and placed it next to the shelf. However, as I climbed up the ladder, I suddenly felt a bit lightheaded.
All the candle sniffing had obviously gone to my head and I swayed slightly, causing the ladder to rock dangerously.
I waved my arms about, desperately attempting to restore my balance, but to no avail.
As a result, I tipped backwards and fell directly onto a nearby cactus.
To cut a long story short, I essentially flattened a cactus with my arse.
Just in case you have never fallen off a ladder onto a cactus before, let me tell you, it is a pretty painful experience.
After I had gotten over the initial shock of the impact, I tentatively raised myself to my feet and, for a few moments, stared blankly at the plant that I had obliterated with my butt cheeks.
I wasn’t sure what to do about the state of the cactus or, for that matter, my arse.
I remembered the adverts that I’d seen on TV offering compensation for people who had had an accident at work but I’d never seen one featuring someone falling onto a cactus. I wasn’t sure if it even counted as an ‘accident at work’ but I reckoned it would be worth looking into.
At the very least, I thought I should probably report the incident to my supervisor so I handed the trowel to the old lady and went looking for Alan.
When I found him, I was still slightly traumatised by the incident. My brain wasn’t functioning properly and I couldn’t think clearly about what I was saying.
As a result, I ran up to him and the words, ‘Alan, I’ve got some pricks in my bum!’ just fell out of my mouth.
Alan was, understandably, quite taken back.
Alan gasped and looked quite worried.
I was initially quite touched by this. I thought that maybe I had underestimated him as a manager. It seemed that he really cared about my wellbeing after all…
Despite my unfortunate encounter with the cactus (RIP), I managed to get through the rest of my work experience unscathed.
The following week, me and the rest of my year group returned to school where we were asked to write a reflection about our experience in the world of work.
Needless to say, mine turned out a bit different to most other peoples’.
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