Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hi Ho Hi Ho | It's Off To Work I Go

If you read my previous post (Hands of Time) you may recall that I had left school and my father had very kindly on my behalf arranged an interview for a labourers job. It was Easter time and the year was 1966. I was to meet my dad as he finished work then he would drive me down to the place where I was to go for this job.
While still at school, I had actually gone through the application process for three apprenticeships, all successful actually, though I chose to accept the offer from British Rail. The job I was now going for was to fill the gap between me leaving school at Easter and September when the apprenticeship would begin.

Applying for the engineering apprentice positions involved initial interviews, theory exams, practical tests, medicals and final selection interviews. When attending the interview phase it was necessary to project the right image and being of smart appearance was considered essential. Best bib and tucker was definitely the order of the day.
At 5 o'clock I was there as agreed, waiting outside of my my dad's work for him to appear through the factory gate.
"Why are you wearing your school uniform?" he said as he saw me, dressed in grey trousers, black blazer, white shirt and tie.

"Because I'm going for an interview" I replied somewhat perplexed.

"It's a labourers job on a factory, you don't need to get dressed up for that" he said with something of a smirk on his face.

Ten minutes later I was speaking to a woman through a small hatchway, telling her that I had an appointment for an interview.

"You've come for the job 'ave you Duck, here fill this in while you wait." she said as she handed me a form and a pen.

I completed my name, address and date of birth, ignoring the section at the bottom marked "For office use only." I turned the paper over but the reverse of the paper was blank, I looked around to see if I had perhaps dropped another sheet on the floor, but this appeared to be all there was. The woman's head suddenly thrust itself through the hatch and said "Just go through that door there Duck." then recoiled back like a Cuckoo in a clock.
I approached the door that the Cuckoo had indicated and very gingerly knocked on the door. Nothing seemed to happen and I could hear no sound coming from within then suddenly the door was yanked open  making me jump and gasp in surprise.
"Ah, there you are" said a voice belonging to the body that now filled the doorway, "thought for a minute you'd gone." He beckoned me into his office telling me to take a seat as he seated himself down behind the large wooden desk. He now looked me up and down as though not sure what to make of my appearance.
"Have you come for the labourers job? he asked.

"Yes sir." I replied.

"Are you still at school?"

"No, I left last week sir."

"Then why the bloody hell are you wearing your school uniform?" I am sure he wanted to say but refrained from actually doing so.

He glanced at the form I had handed to him then looked up saying "It says here you live in Alsager, how will you get here for 8 o'clock every morning?"

"My dad works in Tunstall and he will drop me off here each morning at about 7.45 which will give him time to get to work himself in Tunstall at 8.00." I answered confidently.

"We work 8.00 'till 5.00 with one hour for lunch. You'll get £4 10s (that is £4 and 10 shillings £4.50 in today's money) a week."
"Any questions?"

"Err no sir."

"Right then, you start tomorrow, report to reception 7.45 sharp."
And that was it. My first job. Interview done and dusted in five minutes flat. I must say the jobs market was so different back then, there were more jobs than there were people to fill them, especially unskilled jobs. I would meet lads who simply went from job to job chasing the best pay. My school uniform was never worn again and the following day I started work for real.
Although I had hated school, I soon realised that working for a living was going to be no picnic. On the dot of 8 o'clock I started work, there was no slacking and I could not take a note from me mum to excuse me lifting anything heavy because my arms still ached from the day before.
The business where I had this job was called Permaflex, they manufactured small ampules of lighter fluid used for filling cigarette lighters. Gas lighters had yet to be invented and people used petrol lighters similar to the well known "Zippo" consisting of a reservoir into which one poured the lighter fuel. The ampules contained enough fluid for a single filling.
My job was to stick labels onto tins, pack trays of the ampules into the tins, package them in cardboard boxes which I had to construct then prepare the boxes for dispatch. I had a table at one end of the warehouse and fetched and carried, stuck and packed for eight hours a day, five days a week. It was hot, heavy and very, very boring, it was not however the worst job I ever had in my working life.
If any of you reading this have ever heard of Permaflex based at Trubshaw Cross in Stoke-on-Trent, you may recall that the building caught fire and was burnt to the ground. But no, that was nothing to do with me, that was many years after I had worked there.
One of the songs I remember from that hot long summer of 1966 is Simon and Garfunkel's Homeward Bound. All day long I would be looking forward to being homeward bound myself. While stood at that bench filling a seemingly endless stack of tins I learned to switch off and escape into my mind, to think of things I would much rather do and places where I would much rather be.
Oh and I had a little insight into the world of merchandising and business. We supplied many different brands of lighter fuels, some very well known brand names of the time, but the only difference was the label on the tin, the contents were the same.


  1. what a great story...and I always new that the contents of so many things were the same, you just confirmed it

  2. Brilliant, loved the read, looking forward to more of your tales.

  3. Great story! Interviews seemed very simple in those days!

  4. Your interview sounds very similar to my first one, infact I have never suffered a gruelling interview yet, fortunately.
    I now have got to the age where I also sometimes find that I have switched my mind off, not good, especially when I am supposed to be working.

  5. Looks like things were so different back in 1966. thanks for telling us about yourexoerience of started work.
    Looking forward to ready about more of your exploits from the past.

  6. Great story, how long after you left did it burn down I wonder.