The year was 2005 and I was working in a well known high street sex shop on Princes Street Edinburgh. The pretty girls with good boobs stood at the front of the store selling lingerie while my quirkily dressed 20 year old self, who could sell a rubber dildo to an old woman without blushing, worked in the back, beyond all the novelty hen party items, with the sex toys, porn, specialist underwear and bondage wear.
It was a job that paid slightly better than the national minimum wage, but working 20 hours a week I was hardly minted. I certainly wasn't earning enough to cover my lavish lifestyle of partying and clubbing every weekend. Nonetheless it was a job that I enjoyed, apart from the pesty phone calls from guys trying to get you to describe catalogue items at a third of the rate of premium phone lines, the regular 3:30pm prank calls from giggling teenage boys, the Irish woman who’d walk past the shop and shout ‘Whores!’ at every opportunity, and the old man who would wander round in his typical brown ‘flasher mac’ tossing the ‘loose change’ in his pocket on a Monday morning.
People would tell me the most intimate details of their sex and love lives. Bra fitting opened me up to a whole new world of boob facts and body types. I like the thought that I saved a few marriages, with my expert knowledge in the latest gadgets and paraphernalia. I didn’t enjoy having to don the rubber gloves to inspect returned faulty items, or the dress-up days with ambiguous themes that I often felt I could be getting paid a lot more for if I took pictures and put them online. Truth is I was tired of feeling constantly sexually aware, I was tired of being sexualised and of people feeling like they could say whatever the heck they wanted to me just because I worked in a sex shop. Sure, it’s pretty funny when a comedian singles you out during his show, but it gets tiring people expecting constant gossip and titillation, or indeed my flatmates hollering “How many rubber cocks did you sell today, hen?” as soon as I’m in the door. It was July and I was feeling jaded and was beginning to question my life choices and career options.
Around this time of confusion and general discontent in my own life, there was to be a meeting held in nearby Gleneagles Hotel: the G8 Summit. This was when the world’s major industrial leaders gather to discuss the key issues facing the world. In 2005, the focus was aid to Africa and debt cancellation. It provided the ideal opportunity for activists, charities and political movements to join forces and be heard en-masse, in their pleas for world debt to be cancelled and poverty to be eliminated. Together with other organisations and groups, the Make Poverty History campaign organised what was to become the largest ever demonstration in Scotland. Well, it beats demonstrating how to operate a butt plug, I thought.
Nearby businesses had decided to close for that afternoon. Some hired extra security staff as there was fear of riots breaking out. Many red top newspapers were fearmongering with talks of strange foreign anarchist groups heading to the city to cause havoc – and, as we all know, anarchists love pillaging willy lollipops. I recall one of my bosses saying ‘you never know what these nutters will do!’ ignoring that one of those ‘nutters’ was stood right there beside her. I asked for the day off work to join the protest, but it was decided by head office that instead we would be fully staffed, in case it was super busy with protesters deciding to pop in for tickling sticks and cherry flavoured lube.
It was then that I realised that these people were not cut from the same lacey, frilly cloth or singing from the same sticky porn mag sheet. I knew that I didn’t belong here and that instead I should be out there, amongst my people, with those who actually cared about others and the state of the world. People who felt a responsibility towards social justice and those without a voice, not just people with a loyalty to their vibrator-peddling overlords.
And so the big day came. Instead of going to work I dressed in white, the chosen dress code, and wore my Make Poverty History bracelet, and I proudly walked beside my family and friends and their families right along Princes Street, right past the temporary security railings and empty sex shop.
An estimated 225,000 people marched around the city that day; people queued for hours to join the line, to hold their banners and placards, to chant and have their voices heard. I’m proud that I was one of them, despite losing my job for it.
I’m not going to tell you that my life changed dramatically after that, that I went on to have an exciting career, or ran off with an anarchist. I ended up going on to work for a corporation that relies on cheap labour in third world countries and pays its worker minimum wage. Because I’m as much of a slave to the system as anyone – and life on benefits is hard. But I don’t regret marching that day, my own personal rebellion against a corporate machine, standing up for what was right and noble. Some things are more important than making money, especially when it’s for a company that cares more about profit than its employee’s welfare. Sadly, the world still revolves around money and poverty is still everywhere. But as long as there is love and sex, the other great motivator, I’ll be able to get by selling adult toys and lingerie, without blushing.