Sunday, 7 November 2004

My First JOb

It’s September 1956 - we leave the school gates behind and out into the big wide world of earning our living aargh - it’s scary!!!

The boys would like to be footballers but will probably work in the steel mills, the girls want to be hairdressers, typists or telephonists, most will work in shops. I can’t decide between being a Writer or a Biologist, so I settle for being a telephonist! Most would-be telephonists go to be trained at the G.P.O (General Post Office), and they have to go to Halifax for a three week intensive course - there is a long waiting list. I go for an interview and get put on the list. If I were still a schoolgirl, I would be enjoying a 6 week holiday now, and I’m happy to do just that - but mum insists that I get a job. She finds an ad in the local paper - The Grand Hotel in the centre of Sheffield are advertizing for a trainee telephonist, I go for an interview and get the job, but it turns out that I will, for the most part, be a lift attendant - cum general dogsbody, and occasionally get to go on the switchboard.

I have to wear a dowdy brown uniform that’s obviously been worn by many before me, it’s too short, too tight and totally demeaning. I feel pretty miffed at how the job has turned out, I feel that I’ve been conned. But then I find it quite interesting meeting the people who stay here - and wonder at how they can afford it, after all it costs 25/- (£1.25) per night for a pretty basic room plus 10% service charge, and everyone expects a tip for anything they might do for the guests. When Martin, the page boy, takes a packet of cigarettes to a guest’s room, he sometimes gets as much as a shilling tip! (5p).

I will have to work in shifts - 7.0am til 2.0pm one week and 2.0pm til 10.00pm the next, I alternate with Anita, the other lift attendant. I have to work every other weekend on the switchboard. For this I will get paid £2.4.5 a week. (£2.221/2p ) minus tax, insurance and bus fares. I give what is left of my wages to mum and she gives me a £1 pocket money, which is probably more than she got to keep me for a week!

Most of the guests are very nice, only the minority treat me with a quiet contempt. The porters tell me that many famous people stay here, and I am looking forward to meeting them! Apart from the cinema, Live Variety is the most popular form of entertainment - not many people have a TV, and we have The Lyceum Theatre which is mostly for plays and opera, and The Empire Theatre where wecan see the likes of top comedians Max Wall, Ken Dodd, Frank Randall and Al Read. Our favourites are Albert and Les Ward, who sing ?There?s a Hole in my Bucket? and no matter how many time we hear it, we always have a good laugh. I also love sand dancers Wilson, Kepple and Betty.

The manager of the Empire lives at the Grand, he is a very large Jewish man who expects excellent service, he walks around as though he is a very important person, but he is always very kind to me and gives me two free tickets for any of the shows I want to see, and they are always on the front row, right in front of the stage. Mum and Dad could only afford to take us up in the ?gods? - which always used to scare the life out of me, the rows were so steep up there, I was always afraid I would topple over if I wasn?t careful!

There is great excitement at the Grand - Johnnie Ray is appearing for one night at the Sheffield City Hall, which is just across the road from the hotel, so he is staying here!! I cannot wait to meet him - he is a very big star, and my sister Mavis?s favourite singer, so I must try to get a signed photograph for her. The fans start to gather outside the hotel at mid-day, by evening it is pandemonium and the porters close the glass entrance doors and keep guard to make sure none of the fans can get in, the guests have to run the gauntlet of the fans. They are mystified by all the excitement, this sort of thing just doesn?t normally happen!

When Johnnie arrives he is rushed through the hotel and into the lift by a posse of managers and body guards. He is tall and very thin, he smiles at me and says "Thank you Ma?m" when I deposit him on his floor, but it happened so quickly, it was all a bit of a blur. I did manage to get his autograph before he left the next day, but unfortunately no photograph for Mavis.


I met many famous people whilst working at the Grand, including the Duke of Edinburgh, but eventually it was time to move on. Working in shifts played havoc with my social life - and I just had to get out of that uniform!!


Saturday, 6 November 2004

Saturday Jobs in the 1950's


In those far off days, we were not allowed to work until we were 15 years of age. I became 15 in May, but would not leave school for gainful employment until September, so I started to look around for a Saturday job to boost my meagre pocket money (ha!).

Woolworths were always looking for Saturday workers - so this is where I got my first taste of paid employment. It was a 20 minute bus journey into the centre of Sheffield, then a ten minute walk up town (and I do mean ‘up’!). I had to wear the most diabolical green overall, but the person in charge of my counter was very kind, which helps enormously when everything is so alien. These were the days when counters ran all the way around the perimeter of the store, and the main part of the floor space divided into ‘island’ counters. I would much preferred to have started on a ‘wall’ counter, as one felt so exposed in the middle of the store, totally surrounded by customers, also, it was impossible to know which customer was next in line to be served, I just served who happened to be in front of me with their arm outstretched - consequently there would be a constant cry of "Hey, I’m next".

The tills were of the old fashioned variety as seen in ‘Open All Hours’ - we had to really bash the keys to make the price card jump up into the display window - and they did not calculate the total amount of purchases.

On Saturdays, ‘Woolies’ would be packed to the gunnels - it was very hard work indeed. I had to be there 20 minutes before the store opened (for which we did not get paid!) and I then worked from 9.0am til 6.0pm, with half an hour for lunch. There was a staff canteen which produced the kind of food I loved - steak and kidney pudding, creamy mashed potatoes and carrots in white sauce, there would be the usual puddings too - steamed treacle with thick custard, or Bakewell tart. I could not resist the aromas emanating from the staff canteen kitchen on my first Saturday, and gave into temptation. It was also the last time. The food was not expensive, but by the time I had paid out for my bus fare and lunch, I took home very little that day. The pay was 9/- (45p) for that 81/2 hour shift, and they deducted tax, which, I realised too late, I was not eligible to pay. After that, I took sandwiches, but eventually realised that I was wasting my time. Saturday night was for going out and having fun - I was far too tired to do that - and the few shillings I had left would barely have paid for a cinema ticket.

I saw quite a lot of shop lifting going on, but felt unable to ?shop? the people responsible as they were either very young or old, and none of them actually looked like criminals, just ordinary people, and I wrongly assumed that they could not afford to pay for the goods. There was one shoplifter I remember well, a large middle aged woman in a fur coat, it had large capacious sleeves, as was the style then. One end of the counter was just like a huge tray, random-filled with bottles of shampoo, she actually brought herself to my attention by make a bit of a racket moving the shampoo bottles around, which I thought was rather odd, then I saw one slip up the capacious sleeve, I turned round to tell my supervisor about it, but of course, in a trice she had slipped away into the crowds. It made me wonder though, what else has ?slipped? beneath that capacious coat!

I left Woollies and decided to try my luck at Davy?s tea shop. This turned out to be even worse! Again I worked long hours, and absolutely non- stop. The advert had declared ?good rates of pay? (Ha! again) I would get paid 6/- (30p) but was told that I would get plenty of tips to make up the wages. Toasted buttered tea cakes were the most popular item on the menu, and apart from serving, we had to toast the tea cakes, making sure they didn?t burn, whilst we rushed around making up the accompanying pots of tea. I went home that day with a burn on the tip of every finger - I didn?t go back the following week........ In fact I gave up on Saturday work altogether. I would just have to make do with my 10/- (50p) pocket money, I had always been encouraged to save, so most weeks, 5/- (25p) went into my post office saving account, and as a 12" record was about 5/- in those days, I had to really save hard to buy one, but this made it a great event, and trying to decide which one, out of the top twenty in the Hit Parade (Charts) was a nail biting decision. I have many happy memories of ?the good old days? -  because we had so little, we got a huge amount of enjoyment from small things.


Thursday, 4 November 2004

More of My Favourite Job

We all know that Derbyshire has a pretty hilly terrain, and the Lilybank hotel was situated at the top of what seemed at times, to be a small mountain! It could be approached by either one of two very steep roads, with the Lilybank at the apex, and when you bear in mind that hardly anyone had cars in those days, walking around Matlock made for pretty hefty thigh muscles!  At the bottom of one of the roads stood the magnificently named Matlock Ritz.  And no self respecting Pop Star of the Fifties failed to play there!  (but bear in mind that we were now in the Sixties....) The forthcoming events poster proclaimed with much pizazz, that Eden Kane and Sheffield's very own home grown talent, Ron Lindsey and his Group, would be appearing there next  week. 

Just for a laugh, myself and some of the other young people who worked at the Lilybank, thought it would be good fun if Eden Kane came to stay here, so, never one to resist a challenge, I left a letter for him with the manager of the Matlock Ritz. 

 It was whilst I was having my lunch break a few days later, that one of my fellow conspirators came rushing in - "Guess who's in the bar, looking for you?"  I almost choked on my crumble - not because Eden Kane had actually come to the Lilybank, but because he had caught me in my dowdiest clothes and no make-up!  It took no persuading at all to ask her to keep him talking whilst I dashed up to my room to  make myself more presentable.  Meanwhile, Eden booked into the hotel. We met in the bar and  had a bit of a laugh about the letter.  He was performing that evening, but said he'd come in the bar afterwards, and he did.  But what had started out as a bit of innocent fun, somehow changed.   His advances were unwanted, but it's always difficult to get this over to any guy, let alone a Pop Star, who was no doubt used  to getting what he wanted.  I escaped to my room up on the top floor, which was where the staff lived. When the  knock came, I refused to answer it at first, until a female voice giggled "It's only me - let me in".  It was Joan, one of the waitresses. "He's knocking on all the doors, looking for you", she whispered.  We giggled conspitatorily, it was all just a bit of fun, wasn't it?  We peeped out of the door, and finding the coast clear, decided we would all congregate in one room. 

One of our habits was to gather in someone's room, after the evening shift and play cards, so this is what we decided to do, but, for once, kept the noise down, so that we could listen for footsteps in the corridor.  We could hear someone knocking on each of the doors, and my name being called, eventually, afraid that his activities would draw the unwelcome attention of the managers, one of the lads went out to tell him that everyone, including me, had gone to the chinese restaurant in Matlock Bath - another of our after work habits.  This seemed to work, and eventually we all went back to our own rooms, but every time I heard a floor board creak out in the corridor, I held my breath.  I didn't want any trouble - and Eden seemed a like a very determined character.  He left the next morning.  Perhaps eventually realising that his kind of 'fun' wasn't mine!

Wednesday, 3 November 2004

My favourite job!

Following on from the gruesome toads, here are my memories of a much nicer way I earned a crust.

Moving on a couple of years, I'm now approaching my 21st birthday and working behind the bar and living in, at 'The Millstone' in Derbyshire,  I enjoyed working here very much, this country pub was mostly frequented by the 'sports car brigade', and I had a lot of fun with the young, well heeled regulars.  The downside was - I had to work very long hours - 'Mine Hosts' loved to throw 'private' parties after closing time, and the bar staff would often still be serving the Landlord's friends at 2 0'clock in the morning - and then we would have to be up at 8.0am to clean the whole of the pub, including the private quarters.  So when I heard that the Lilybank Hotel in nearby Matlock was looking for someone to run the cocktail bar, I packed my bags in a flash!

And what a difference life was here!  I started work at 10.0am, the bar had already been cleaned by the hotel cleaner, even the dirty glasses had been washed, dried and put away - all I had to do was think about which outfit I was going to wear.....

When things were a bit too quiet, I'd take everything off the mirrored shelves behind the bar, dust off the various ornaments and re-arrange them - phew, tough work!

The funny thing was - I didn't drink! Never could understand the 'pleasures' of the likes of whiskey, gin or brandy - which was probably just as well, because the husband and wife managers, practically drank the place dry!  I always knew they'd had a good night by the number of empty soda syphons left outside their door, it was also a fairly good indication of how long it would take them to get up the next morning.......

Occasionally, I would deign to dust off the myriad bottles of liqueurs behind the bar, they came is such amazing containers, and the labels led one to believe that they must be quite delicious.  So I would unscrew the stopper and take a sniff - if it smelled nice, I'd tip a little onto my finger and gingerly raise it to my lips. They were all, without exception, too potent for my fledgling taste buds!

It's Easter 1962 - the local bye-elections are taking place in Derbyshire - for once the hotel becomes alive - buzzing with reporters, photographers and the leaders of the Liberal Party - Joe Grimond and Jeremy Thorpe, there's also a debonnaire, young (ish) man called Ludovic Kennedy, who has come to interview the two leaders.  Naturally, the cocktail bar became their 'headquarters', and as they were all staying in the hotel, they could drink all day and all night long, (and they did!) 

I enjoyed myself enormously during this long Easter weekend, there was one particular young man who would come into the bar and sit quietly reading his newspaper, it was only when he seemed to find the courage to approach the bar, and remain on one of the high stools, chatting, that I discovered how nice he was, and I began to look forward to seeing him.  His name, I discovered, was Peter Eckersley, and he was a reporter on the Daily Mail - he would also go on to write for Coronation Street, and eventually married one of the actresses - Janet Reid.

Discovering that I would soon be celebrating my 21st birthday, was an excuse for EVERYONE to celebrate early - the normally severe and unsmiling manageress, took it upon herself to concoct all manner of cocktails - paid for by our guests - in an attempt to get me to partake of an alcoholic drink.  She succeeded - and I discoverd the delights of gloriously named (and probably very expensive!) liqueur cocktails.  I never looked back, suddenly my awakened tastebuds were able to appreciate the joys of gin and lime (with lots of ice...) and pernod and lemonade.

But oh how deathly quiet the hotel seemed, after their departure...... sigh.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about the pop star who came to stay - and it was a case of bolt your doors girls!


Tuesday, 2 November 2004

How things have changed!

You probably won't be able to comprehend just how wonderful technology is, unless you lived in the 1950's!

For instance, what does it take nowadays to test for pregnancy?  A few minutes?  Back in the 1950's it could take up to a week, and to be obsolutely sure, even three weeks!

It also took rather more than a small kit bought from a high street chemist. 

It took a whole hospital laboratory, which required:-

Several tank fulls of very large toads

2 laboratory assistants

1 packer

1 cleaner

1 filing clerk

1 secretary

1 laboratory technician

At 18, I went to work at the PDC (Pregnancy Diagnostic Centre) at my local hospital.  I'd always being very interested in biology, and working with toads held no fear far me, even though they were huge!  I actually felt quite sorry for them, for what they had to go through.   These toads where shipped all the way from South Africa, and those that survived the tests, were shipped all the way back again, we had to have a constant supply of 'fresh' toads!

The first task of the morning was to lable the many bottles of urine that arrived either by hand or through the post.  The bottles came in all shapes and sizes, from tomato sauce bottles to pickle jars and the urine came in a wide variety of colours! ( I know, I know - too much information lol!) each had to be well labelled and had its own identification number. 

The urine then had to be neutralized using water and chemicals, then whizzed inside a centrifuge before being tested on litmus paper, if we didn't get the correct neutrality, the urine, which was to be injected into the toads, would cause burning to various degrees - I would feel horribly guilty when this happened.

There was quite a knack to holding the toads to expose the pouch on their back where the urine had to be injected, one grasped the back legs with the index finger in between the thighs. The toads where then put into large, individual  jars of water and left to spawn - or not......

24 hours later we would check the jars for signs of spawning, then we would do a second test - hopefully, the first and second tests matched, if they didn't we would have to segregate the specimens, do another test and keep a careful eye on the results.

Very special attention was given to specimens that came in from Doctors who's patients were under age.  I remember well the 'case history' attached to one specimen - the boy and girl involved were only eleven years old.  We had to do the test three times - each time the result was positive, and this was in the 1950's.......

Unfortunatley, I spent a great deal of time in the casualty department, which was just a short walk from the laboratory.  It was only too easy to prick ones fingers on dirty needles, which then turned septic, or pick up germs on our feet wading through dirty water.  We used to make our own pippettes, and I still have the scars on my fingures to remind me of the ones I broke in the process!

I would often have nightmarish dreams involving the toads, as they had cannibalistic tendencies, so eventually I decided I'd had enough, and went back to being a telephonist!