So the question was what was the first job we had. Probably the first unpaid job I had was weeding and stoning our garden for my Dad but if we are talking paid work then my first job was a big surprise. I wasn’t looking for it, nor was I interviewed.
At fourteen years of age I wanted money. I needed money for some fashionable clothing to wear at the local youth club, money for some makeup to daub on my face to hide the start of the dreaded acne. My sister had it but I had been spared to date. My friends were earning real money; not just praise for jobs around the house.
One friend worked in W H Smith which I envied. I loved books after all and writing, so a shorthand notebook bought with a discount wouldn’t be refused. She received the glorious sum of £1 for her Saturday work. Another friend worked in Woolworth’s and enjoyed perks such as cheaper sweets bought by the quarter pound in paper bags and every Friday night her Dad gave her a list of screws and nails that he needed for his weekend jobs around the house
So I took a deep breath and suggested to my parents that I get a Saturday job. My words were met with silence. My mother deemed my friends ‘common’ so getting a job in those two shops was definitely ‘out’. My father, on the other hand, was less judgemental and he patted me on the head and said not to rush into anything. He had ideas, he said.
‘Don’t go getting a job just yet as I might be able to come up with something.’ And he did. Two days later he raised the subject at dinner. ‘Would you like to work a Saturday morning for me?’ ‘Only the morning.’ I thought of the ten shillings which was half of the one pound my friends earned. ‘Yes, but I will give you fifteen shillings.’
Wow! The maths was easy. That was a good deal. I did not have to do a whole day for one pound in one of the Harpenden stores. I could work the morning and after lunch would go to St Albans and spend my earnings in the afternoon. I had work and freedom.
This is the view of Station Road, Harpenden from the High Street, my father's shop is the middle shop which can be seen, taken around 1963-65
The next Saturday saw me up early and cycling along the Southdown Road towards The Village, the main centre of Harpenden, which was certainly not a village since city workers had found it attractive with its 40-minute commute to St Pancras.
Rather unfit since starting a very academic grammar school with two hours homework each night and little opportunity for sport, I huffed and puffed all the way
Gym and Games were not my forté. I would do anything to avoid prancing up to the horse in the gym to do a leap. It was more a grapple for me and I often fell backwards. As for outside games, hockey saw me running up and down the side lines hoping the aggressive girls would not find me with their hockey sticks to whack me and take possession of the ball. So I was, in today’s language, a ‘wimp’.
Me, my father Ken and workman, also called Ken
So how was I to survive working in Dad’s shop? Easy. I loved serving customers, taking their money and going to the wooden till in the workroom. I was taught how to give change and I took great pride in giving the correct change. Thanks to my maths teacher I never made a mistake.
‘Count it out into their hand,’ said Dad
And so the weeks passed and my confidence grew. Shopwork was in the blood. My mother had worked in a department store from the age of twelve and then had worked in my Granddad’s shop after his stroke to rebuild a broken business and allow for the advert ‘successful business for sale’. These days she worked afternoons in the shop and often stood in for the other assistants who were ill, this, frequently, at short notice. Dad would phone when his other staff failed to arrive and Mum would duly mount her bicycle and pedal furiously the one mile up to the shop in Station Road. She loved dealing with customers and I did too. I was supremely happy.
I was curious about what made my father offer me the job in his shop but all was revealed when I asked him. His eyes twinkled and he leant forward to whisper his answer. ‘No daughter of mine will clean toilets.’ Yes, he had asked around the village in the other shops to find out what the Saturday girls were expected to do. Make the boss a coffee and take it to his office. Hmm. Clean the toilets after the manager had returned from the pub and graced it with the output of his lunch. Hmm.