Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
It was forty years ago, January 6th 1969 that I started work, aged 15. Hacked off with my teachers, my school, my parents I'd walked out of school the previous autumn and never gone back. As winter 68 set in, I'd gone to help Hedley and his dad in their shop in Earlsfield, south London. We'd glue bases on acrylic gonks and throw them into a big cardboard box. The boxes would be sealed and shipped off to Norway. I think Hedley's dad occasionally put hooky watches in one or two of the consignments. Then on Fridays he took us to a pub and gave us some money. Nice man. French. Never did find out exactly what it was he did though.
It wasn't a proper job though and naturally my mum thought I was at school. In January it was crunch time and so I began work as a trainee 40 column punch-card operator for the General Post Office. My mate Dave Ward did too. It was his idea. The job was well-paid, safe...and deadly, deadly dull. I remember walking in the January sleet from Farringdon Tube, round the corner up Farringdon Road and up the stairs. At lunchtime we went to a glass building over the road, Fleet House I think it was called, to a canteen. Here you could get sausage beans and chips for 2shillings and tenpence (old money). The people that Dave and I worked with were mostly boneheads but there were a few deviants. I was there for about 6 months..
Our supervisors were Mavis and Christine. Mavis was a scout-mistress in her spare time and quite kindly. Christine was waspish: "Mr Newell? " (it was weird being called Mister Newell, aged fifteen) "Are you deaf...or just Styoo-pid?" she once asked me. "Deaf please, Miss." I replied. I made £7/10s per week, which was better than Robert, my mate, who only got about £6.00 Dave and I spent a lot of money in the pinball machines in Clapham Junction arcade..or we bought records. I was fifteen and I was a working lad. I didn't like the job much but it beat the hell out of the education system. My parents wanted me to pay too much money out of my wages, so I phoned up to enquire about a bedsit in a then-notorious part of Balham. I had no fear then. When they realised I was serious my parents came back with a more sensible offer. Still, by aged 17 I'd been working for nearly 18 months and now had my own little flat (kitchen/ room and bog two floors down. Funny that kids don't do that now. They stay at home till quite late. They all go into education, which I don't always reckon is the best thing for a good brain, much as it will annoy some people that I dare to say so.
Going out to work for a couple of years when you're really young, can be quite good for you. It makes you grow up quickly and concentrates the survival instinct wonderfully. When I realised that I'd been in gainful employment for 40 years now, it was a bit of a surprise, that's all. I thought that it was worth writing down.
Now that I think about young people and work, I reckon the same rules would still apply now as always did. These days, kids are railroaded into staying on at school. They come out of the system aged what? 22 to 24? They are saddled with debts often exceeding £20,000 and many of them don't (as the Americans say) know shit from Shine-ola. Very often, despite the qualifications they hold and which they were told they would be on the employment scrapheap without, they can't still get the jobs they wanted. There's always room for a smart cookie though. Employers like a maze-bright rat. Apart, obviously, from certain scientific and medical jobs, most of the things that people do, can be be either self-taught, or learned by tying the young dog to an old dog so that he learns by example. If I were advising my younger self on a career trajectory today I'd probably say, "Go and wash some dishes in a busy hotel kitchen. Talk to the chefs and managers. Find out how it works. Step in when somebody goes sick. If they really like you and you need the formality of a qualification, they'll send you on a crash course."
I think that what I'm trying to say, is that despite all the bollocks talked on the subject, if you're smart and fast and prepared to graft, you can still work your way up from tea-boy to C.E.O if you really want to. And no-one can stop you. And that's never going to change. This anyway is what I thought on the 40th anniversary of me commencing employment.
The building by the red bus, is where we
had lunch.(I think)