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Shelf Life: How I Found The Meaning of Life Stacking Supermarket Shelves [Kindle Edition]

Simon Parke
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

Print List Price: £7.99
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Book Description

The day I was appointed Chair of the shop union was the same day the Pope was elected. There the similarities end, however. For while his elevation took place beneath the fine art of the Sistine Chapel, with the mysterious white smoke rising, mine took place in the cold store, with nothing more mysterious than the bacon delivery and yesterday's waste...

A vicar for twenty years, Simon Parke trades in his dog collar for a job on the tills in his local supermarket. Among the vegetable aisles and dairy produce he unpacks the meaning of life with his fellow workers, a colourful bunch. Sonny the security guard hates conflict; shelf-filler Winston knows he is destined for something better; and voluptuous Faith is generous with her wares - but sadly not with Simon. You don't have to be off your trolley to work there, but it helps...

From checkout charlies to banana rage, from short-changed lows to cold store highs, Shelf Life is a pick-n-mix of wit and wisdom for anyone who loves life and hopes for more - no matter where they find themselves.

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Product Description


"Our Einstein of the aisles" Daily Mail "With this book Simon Parke has managed to do something remarkable. He has taken the ostensibly "ordinary" world of a supermarket and turned it into an entertaining classroom where we can learn important lessons, whilst having fun at the same time. A great read." -- Tony Hawks "An endearing and funny writer blessed with wit, warmth and wisdom" Daily Mail


‘Our Einstein of the aisles’
Daily Mail

‘With this book Simon Parke has managed to do something remarkable. He has taken the ostensibly "ordinary" world of a supermarket and turned it into an entertaining classroom where we can learn important lessons, whilst having fun at the same time. A great read.’
Tony Hawks

‘An endearing and funny writer blessed with wit, warmth and wisdom’
Daily Mail

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 377 KB
  • Print Length: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Ebury Digital (15 Sept. 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0031RSB6O
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #287,325 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

I don't think I ever meant to be an author, though with over ten books to my name, it could look that way. But here's another instance when appearances deceive.

I was a priest in the Church of England for twenty years, and imagined it would always be so. But then, with my feet well under the table and to my embarrassment in a way, I decided to leave. When people ask why, I say: 'I just knew the adventure was over.' And the priesthood was an adventure or it was nothing.

It was a difficult time after that, emotionally and financially, because I had nothing to go to. I remember crying on the carpet as I lost my sense of trust in life; and when trust goes, you're vulnerable. Late night conversations with my children helped to keep me going, but a middle-aged ex-priest is not the most employable of souls, and I found myself wondering how I was going to survive. Before becoming a priest, I had written satire for TV and radio, even winning a Sony radio award. But I was a long time out of that loop and had no particular desire to return there anyway.

I did try other forms of writing but became familiar with rejection letters. So I looked for supermarket work, which I had some experience of, before I was ordained. I was turned down by four, but was fifth time lucky. Yes! After so much rejection, it was a great feeling to be accepted at last, and I worked hard and happily in that busy supermarket for three years stacking shelves, chasing thieves, working on the till and chairing the shop union. I write about those days in 'Shelf Life'.

But then it felt right to jump ship again and risk the free lance adventure. I was told that every free lancer should have four strings to their bow, for at any given time, at least two would be snapping. I had perhaps one string at this time, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

'The Beautiful Life' (Bloomsbury) had been published while I was working in the shop. It was an important book for me - re-written eight times - and one or two doors began to creak open. I got myself a website ( started offering retreats, counselling and fresh writing including my supermarket diaries and 'One-Minute Mystic,' both of which went on to become long-running columns in the Daily Mail. I'd also started a weekly column in the Church Times. It was meant to last six weeks but is still going after six years. I've been very lucky.

And all the time, there was a book on the boil. An Enneagram book with Lion, was followed by 'One-Minute Mystic' and 'One-Minute Mindfulness' with Hay House. And Bloomsbury has re-printed 'The Beautiful Life' in paperback now. It's a slightly revised version of the original with a new cover and called 'The Journey Home.'

I have also had a wonderful adventure with White Crow books, in the shape of the 'Conversations with' series. They are a series of conversations with fascinating figures from history like Leo Tolstoy, Meister Eckhart, Vincent Van Gogh, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Jesus of Nazareth. What's different with these conversations is that although the questions are imagined, their words are not; it is 100% them. I found it a particularly helpful way to get to know these people, and others appear to be finding the same, whether in e book, hard copy or audio. (Yes, I enjoyed the recording studio experience very much, working with such kind, creative and talented people.)

In the meantime, my counselling work has expanded with one thing leading to another. An unexpected development has been my work supervision of five social workers, which arose from one of them coming on a retreat I led. I've learned a lot from them. And the 'vicar' hasn't died completely. I still get asked to preach in churches occasionally, and to take particular funerals and weddings. And then when work was a bit quiet this summer, I worked for a landscaper and watered the struggling grass in various London parks, which was another joy.

So as I say, I really never meant to be an author, and have no particular sense of being one now. In fact, if truth be told, I'm still the eleven year old boy - aged 53 - wondering what he will be when finally he grows up. Hopefully a footballer.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Supermarket life 29 Jun. 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
On the face of it this is just life behind the scenes at a supermarket but it is actually very much more than this. After 20 years as a priest Simon Parke decided the life is not for him. But is life as a supermarket worker any better? Incidents involving staff and customers are related with humour and insight. Even trivial happenings tell us something about life in general. The biggest insight I got from this book is that life is what you make it - if you're miserable - like Winston - then your life will be miserable.

Having worked in a supermarket myself I found this book fascinating and very true to life. Drawing a moral from each story might seem a little pious but Simon Parke's writing style and his self deprecating humour lifts it onto another plain entirely. I loved the supermarket workers themselves - Winston, Sapphy, Faith, Caspar and the managers Pinochio - because he never tells the truth, Kong - because he looks like the film character. All have their own hopes and fears and outside interests. Together the staff are from the four corners of the world and many different religions but in the main they work together reasonably harmoniously.

This is an interesting little book and easy to read and it may just make you see your life differently. I enjoyed it.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hidden gem 8 Aug. 2010
This is a superb book. Simon Parke felt compelled, after 20 years, to give up his job of Parish Priest, but found the only place willing to take him on was a supermarket on their shopfloor. From this unpromising and potentially gloomy starting point, Parke manages to craft a book that is full of insight, humour, wisdom, and poignancy. It has a wonderful lightness of touch, very funny lines and observations, and utterly convincing character portraits as we become acquainted with his colleagues and regular customers. It's a very revealing insight into the workings of our major supermarkets - his trip to the gleaming headquarters to represent a colleague in a tribunal particularly harrowing in its contrast with the working environment of those facing the customers on the front line. It's deceptively simply written, completely without pretension, yet in gently reminding us of the consumer age in which we live, extremely salutory. Thoroughly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fab 7 Mar. 2013
By Linda
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is great for delivering pearls of wisdom amongst entertaining anecdotes. I have actually already started reading it again!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A funny book 29 Jun. 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A funny book to read, esp. for those who have worked in a supermarket, how very true the things that go on in the opening hours.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Human nature - a review 10 Oct. 2009
Most types of men and women wander down the aisles. Some come to buy and some serve, often reluctantly. They come with other matters on their minds, some tragic, some merely mundane, some only interested in the profit motive. But all are important to them. Most of the people we meet are introduced sympathetically;just a few confirm our fears about supermarkets. As a penetrating insight into life in a supermarket this could not be bettered. The seemingly endless shelves stacked with all life's wants take on a new meaningViola Magnifico F1 Hybrid
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