Money was tight on the council estate in Southend-on-Sea in the 1970s where I grew up. I had no trust fund and consequently I worked from an early age. My first job was, predictably, a paper round at the age of fifteen. Perhaps that’s where I picked up my early bird habit. For six days a week I rose at 5am, literally got my hands dirty from all the newsprint, and was paid the princely sum of three pounds. I replaced that with a much cushier number in sixth form.
For two years I worked in the accounts office of a furniture shop. The white suited owner looked like a the dead spit of a member of the band, Showaddywaddy. A lovely old chap in the second hand department befriended me. He even bought me a bottle of the much coveted Charlie perfume for my 18th birthday. I always preferred the furniture up in his loft area to the new stuff in the showroom below.
At university I worked in student union bars during term time. With hindsight I wished I’d gone travelling in my summer breaks but I wasn’t as bold as now. Instead I spent two summers at Matchbox Toys. In those days some things were manufactured in this country rather than China. Workers hopped on free company buses all over South East Essex. They took us to the factory in Rochford. When we got there we were greeted by men who’d been working the night shift in the foundry. They hung out of the window and leered at the female workers. Sometimes there was a fight on the factory floor when romantic boundaries were crossed.
My first job was on a line with other students. We packed cars into boxes and listened to ‘Young at Heart’ by the Bluebells five times a day on Essex Radio. My Walter Softy hands from a life of academia weren’t up to the job and were cut to shreds. We were the least productive workers at Matchbox Toys and were split up by the end of the second week.
I was taken under the wing of the print department where I spent the first hour or so dispelling the myth that all students were snobs. I rubbed along nicely with the full timers and earned decent productivity bonuses under their wings. In my second year I was welcomed back to the fold by the supervisor with a big hug. ‘We’ll have this one again.’ she said when the students were being allocated across the factory. On my last ever day I went to the pub and persuaded to down a bottle of wine in my half hour lunch break by my production line bestie. My final bonus suffered as a consequence.
In between chatting for England which I’m good at to this day, I printed the sides of about a quarter of a million of these Palm Toffee vans. ‘They’ll be worth something in the future’. one of my colleagues said. My doubts were well founded. If a vendor is lucky these days they get 99p on Ebay!