Diary

Don’t Break the Chain

04 January 2014 | Diary

Back when I worked as a library assistant, we had a cash register at the circulation desk for the overdue charges.

With each transaction, the cash register would sputter out a receipt.

“Would you like a receipt?” we’d ask the punter, to which they would say “No.”

Nobody wants a receipt for a 15p library fine.

So we’d tear off the receipt and put it in a little bin. The receipt bin.

What a futile life that cash register had.

During a busy spell one summer afternoon, we stopped asking people whether they wanted a receipt and we stopped tearing off the receipts and we stopped putting them in the receipt bin. The receipts just kept on sputtering out uselessly and soon they formed a long chain.

On one occasion, we took notice when 27 receipts had printed without breaking off. It was glorious.

“Nobody tear off a receipt!” someone said. “Let’s see how long we can get it.”

It was one of those little survival techniques–little games you make up for yourselves–when you have a boring job.

Sometimes, a new staff member not yet indoctrinated into the game would break the chain and put it in the bin.

“What have you done?!” we’d all shout. “Don’t break the chain!”

Sometimes, a persnickety customer would ask out right to be given a receipt and you’d be forced to break the chain.

“Are you sure you want a receipt?” you’d ask.

“Yes,” they’d say.

“Why?” you’d ask.

“Because I’ve spent some money and I am entitled to a receipt,” they’d say.

We’d hate that person forever. If the library had been a restaurant, we’d have all gobbed in his soup.

On one occasion, I saw a library assistant writing out a receipt for 50p by hand. I didn’t have to ask why. She didn’t want to break the chain.

Sometimes, a supervisor would tell us to stop being so silly.

“Break the chain,” he would say, “it is a pointless mess.”

Needless to say, I was suddenly driven to pass my supervisor exam as soon as possible. With me in charge, we could let the chain grow as long as we liked.

The longest chain we ever cranked out was 136 receipts long. It was the most beautiful thing any of us had ever seen.

We sent it to the Kelvingrove Museum along with a letter explaining how we’d like to submit it to their exhibition about working-class life in Glasgow. We got no reply.