Seek And Ye Shall Find

My first proper job was in the newspaper trade. Distribution, to be precise. I was thirteen years old and armed with a BMX bike, ready to drop the daily rag of choice through assorted letter boxes on my route. I was an excellent paperboy, even if I do say so myself. Some of my colleagues rode their bikes from door to door. Others walked. I did it differently to everyone else. My bike just held me up, so I ran. I had the longest route, but was always first back to the shop. I used to run everywhere, not just on my paper round. I ran to school, I ran round friends houses. I was a decent cross country runner. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I learned to walk until I was about 18 and a couple of years into a smoking habit. Fortunately, I have never had a problem with body odour. Just as well, as I spent most of my youth soaked in sweat.

I had a couple of other jobs before leaving school. I worked at a flashy restaurant on Saturday evenings called Natalia’s, taking customers coats and serving baskets of bread. I was, I admit, useless. I could never quite match the customer to their coats when they wanted to leave. I only just about managed the bread bit. It lasted just a few weeks. I also worked at a Wimpy, just a stones throw from Natalia’s. The pay was £1 per hour, terrible even back then. It could be argued that this is the only job I have ever been fired from. The owner didn’t speak perfect English, and appeared to misunderstand me when I called up one Saturday afternoon, before the start of my shift, to inform him I was not coming in again.

Sometime towards the end of the 80’s, now aged 16, I decided I’d had enough education thank you very much* and I entered the full time work place with WH Cullens, a posh convenience store. I spent a few years working at various branches around London. Northwood, Balham and Gloucester Road in South Kensington.  I spent the majority of my time with a manual pricing gun, re-ticketing the stock on a daily basis in a desperate attempt to keep up with inflation. I have fond memories of my time there. After Cullens, I embarked on the shortest job of my career to date at Mrs Ts Kosher Delicatessen. Four hours into my new role, I discovered that bacon and brie baguettes were taboo and that this place was not, therefore, for me.

Next stop, the Royal Mail. I landed myself a reasonably good job for someone who had not one qualification to put on anon existent resume. I was a postman, and I was very happy. Until my first shift started.  I imagined that if I’d been a good paperboy, I’d make a good postman. Alas, I was not only a few years into my smoking habit by now, but I’d also discovered alcohol. Late nights out boozing do not mix with 4.30 am starts. At all. I gave it a good go though. I’d diligently pop the envelopes for number one into the property marked number one. Then I did numbers three, five, seven etc. And then I’d be stood at the end of the road, with no more houses to visit, still with envelopes for numbers fifty-three, fifty-five and fifty-seven. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I got to the end of a street only to find it was the wrong street. And then there was the episode with the dead rat in my cycle basket.

It all came to a crunching end one day when, having exited a lock-in just an hour before my shift, I was simply unable to read the addresses on the envelopes as I was sorting them. I pretended I could read them and just popped them into slots at my sorting desk at random, hoping nobody would notice the state I was in. Having done that, it occurred to me that I now had to deliver this jumbled up bundle of mail. I accepted that being a postman was, at this stage in my life, not for me.

I slipped out the door when no one was looking, caught a bus home and went to bed. Never to darken the Royal Mail’s door again. Much to the relief of everyone on my round. I was an absurdly bad postman. I also found it a bit freaky to be delivering letters from one of my best school friends to his mum’s house. The letters originated from a prison on the Isle of Wight, where he was serving a life sentence for double murder.

Job number seven lasted longer than the kosher deli. Marginally. I had arrived in Dorset, and set about to find the first bit of work I could. Strawberry picking. I kept up a good pace, but it’s harder work than it looks. I earned almost enough to cover the bus fare. Almost. I didn’t go back for a second day. Instead, I found a temporary job in a shiny, newly built Sainsburys supermarket, filling shelves.

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These days, I pay to go strawberry picking. It’s surprisingly expensive given that I’m doing the labour.

After which, I went to a local tea and coffee factory, packing tea bags into boxes and coffee into jars. Let me tell you how this works. It is one hell of a dusty environment, and it gets in every exposed orifice. Mostly you mouth and nose.  The only paper available to blow your nose on is the paper feeding into the machine to make teabags. The only place to dispose of retrieved bogeys is in the coffee jars. Ok, it’s not the only place, but it was the preferred dumping ground for a fair number of my minimal** wage colleagues. Something to think about when you next brew up….

That lasted three months. That’s all anybody lasted at that place. You go on a three month temp contract, at the end of which the company has to either employ you permanently or find a reason to let you go. I worked hard and was given a perm contract***, but then I foolishly asked for a day off to enrol on a part-time college course. They questioned my commitment and my time with them ended with the expiry of my temp contract. The decision was a mutual one.

I was back in work within days, at the local Texaco service station. The year was 1996. I remained employed with Texaco for just a couple of months short of ten years. There were two breaks. The first in 1999 for about a month, when I made an ill fated attempt to kick start a career with the Royal Air Force. It may have lasted less than a month, but I still like to include it on my CV. Just without mentioning the start and finish dates. Then in 2003 I took off to Mexico for several months, before returning for another year and a half. At the end of which I took off to Mexico. Again.

This, I guess, brings me up to date with this blog. Which recorded the six years I spent teaching English. I’d like to think I was an ok English teacher. A little lazy at times, I know. I winged it a bit in the early days. But I think most of my students saw a noticeable improvement in their language skills. I think****. Which is the point. I guess.

I departed Mexico and returned to the UK. Shall we include the three weeks I did at one of my old Texaco petrol stations upon landing back in Blighty? Might as well. It lasted longer than the kosher deli and strawberry picking put together. But it was just a stop gap, until I got a proper job. Which was as an inbound sales advisor at one of Bournemouth’s many home insurance firms. Where I’ve been for the last four years and a few months, although I got a role in Quality Assurance some time ago. Manning the phones is soul destroying stuff, it really is. What else can I say about my time here? Nothing, yet. I am still an employee, after all. It’s always bad form to bad mouth an employer who is still paying your wages.

But I never wanted to be in insurance. What do I want? I want a career that pays a salary that’s above the average UK salary. I want a career with decent travel benefits. I want a final salary pension. I want the opportunity to progress. Despite my haphazard and slightly delinquent start to working life, I generally work hard. And I’d like to think I’m smarter than the average Joe. Progression is important. I also want to wear a company uniform. It’s just easier, and I can claim tax back for cleaning it myself.

I’ve known for some time where I’ll get all of that. I’ve been trying to get myself in through the door, all to no avail. I’d hoped third time would be lucky when I went for an interview last September. It wasn’t, although I got to meet Steve Cotton on the trip up to London. Happily, fourth time was the lucky one for me. I have my job. I start in just over a week. I’d like to think it’s a job for life, but one should never count on such a thing these days. Where am I off to now? I have gotten myself a job on the trains. From paperboy through to train worker, via retailing, postman, oil company, education. Not, though, with London Underground, the recipients of my first three applications*****. But a proper train company. Which, as you should all know, is every British schoolboys dream.

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On my way to the interview.

*In hindsight, probably not the best decision. But hey ho. ** These were the days before there was a minimum wage. And no, I didn’t blow on the tea paper. Nor dump in the coffee jars. *** Seriously, it was like I’d pulled a Golden Ticket from a Wonka chocolate bar. **** Do I still have any old students reading my blog? You can be the judge of my teaching skills… ***** I kept trying to jump on the ladder a few rungs higher up than perhaps I should have.

16 thoughts on “Seek And Ye Shall Find

  1. The first job I had was in sales, worms, minnows, baby pigeons, anything I could glean from the local fields and streams that fishermen and lovers of baked squabe might pay for. The best pay for effort were the foot long grass pike I would catch by hand in the grassy sandbars of the local river. The best sportfish in the river was a four foot long beast called a Musky that loved grass pike for lunch. The fishermen paid a dollar apiece for each one I grabbed. I was about seven. My first real experience with the evil of my fellow man was in that job as well. The minnow traps were not cheap, it took a week or so of catching and shilling to pay for one. The local louts were not above walking off with my traps if they stumbled across one.

    Later it was bailing hay, mucking out barns( chicken houses paid triple) mowing lawns, weeding anything that needed weeding.

    I started construction work, hauling brick, mixing mud, banging nails at about 10 years of age. Those skills have served me the best in life as far as saving a nickel.

    I tried my hand at making fries at McDonalds , lasted a twelve hour shift with no breaks. The manager said he forgot about my break. I took a job in a hedge trimmer factory the next day. I was 16. I worked the hedge trimmer job through high school. One was required to be 18 to work around heavy machinery but I lied about my age. The manager was well aware of my age, it was a wink and a nod kind of thing. I would quit during football season and he would come to the games. It was a different world.

    From high school, I worked in the polymer industry, rubber and plastic and then landed a union job in a steel mill at age 21. I worked odd jobs during the slack times from the mill, oilfield work, construction, finished a baccalaureate degree at age 38 in teaching. I never had to fall back on the teaching credentials. I retired at 52 from the iron house and have been a grade A loafer sense. .

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    1. The steel mill job served you very well. I have, with a little luck and a bit of hard graft, found my calling about 20 years later than you did. But better late than never.

      Your first story reminds me of another job I had. It was as informal as they come. Scouring the hedge rows and scrub of the local golf courses for lost golf balls. And then selling on the ones in decent nick to an old chap round the corner.

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      1. We would go into the local golf course at night and liberate the past errant shots of our local duffers.They sold for 10 cents apiece. We were stealing because the course owner had a machine that was designed to gather the golf balls from the water hazards, he sold them for a quarter and filled his buckets for his driving range, with his take with the machine.

        Congrats on landing a regular job. Maybe you will have more time to work on a book…

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  2. Wow, I’m always amazed at people who have worked at a bunch of different jobs, because I worked for 30 years as a Spanish teacher in the same school district. Ever since I was in elementary school I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I don’t regret that decision. I had a lot of good years, and had a lot of fun in my classes. Toward the end, however, it became more and more difficult. But I stuck it out, put in my 30 years, and retired at the ripe old age of 52. (Since then the rules have changed. I can’t even imagine teaching a classroom full of students until the age of 60!) The pension is pretty good, but I was blessed with an inheritance shortly after my retirement that has allowed me to travel as much as I want.

    Congratulations on your new job! I hope that it proves to be an enjoyable career that takes you through to retirement!

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    1. What is it with you guys and your retiring at 52?! First Norm, now you. Times have changed, there’ll not be much of that sort of thing for my generation. With the exception of a very few lucky ones.

      I think my teaching skills were best left to adult Mexicans needing to brush up on their language skills. Otherwise, I have dreamed of being a palaeontologist, a barrister and a politician. I still hold out flimsy hopes for the latter.

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      1. The oil field job had a 20 and out retirement but then one was worn out, washed up, broke down, kaput after 15 years of that kind of work. I kissed the floor of that nasty old steel mill when they called me back to work. The oil field made me a true believer in unions .

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  3. Well, I’ve had plenty of shit jobs. Dishwasher, busboy, waiter, bartender. I’ve also worked as a janitor. But I mostly paid for college via a mixture of computer programming and auto repair. I was a freelance auto mechanic for years, something which has also very much come in handy in my personal life. Then I got into the securities business, became a fund manager, and more or less retired at 51. So present-day sloth was funded by overwork in my younger years. But better that than the other way around.

    Congrats on your new position!!! I know this is something you’ve wanted for a while. Let’s just hope you get back to México Lindo someday.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where the person who couldn’t keep the subway running has now been named to the National Transportation Safety Board.

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    1. I think having a few shit jobs is very much a rite of passage in life. It’s the last job that needs to be the good ‘un. I think you hit gold with yours!

      A final salary pension in my new role would go along way in Mexico upon retirement…

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