As 2013 rapidly edges to a close I’m reminded that in the Spring of 2014 I shall reach a milestone birthday and able to have a bus pass. Whilst I will also no longer have to pay for my medications I need to take that have enabled me to reach this grand old age, I am not able to collect my state pension yet, thanks to our wonderful government changing the goalposts on retirement, and I must wait another 5 years before I receive any payments. I am normally a calm and forgiving person but this has really angered me for the simple reason I have been paying into the system since I first started full-time work at the age of 15, and have been working in one job or another ever since. Even more annoying is the fact that had I been born just one day earlier, I would have been okay, but no, it seems I am to be “robbed” of 5 years entitlement thanks to the cut-off date the government has imposed. One flaming day! Okay, rant over, that’s not what this post is about. Let’s get on to the real thing.
No, what I really was reminded of was my very first proper “paid” job all those years ago. When I was 14, I started a Saturday job as a Woolie’s girl, working in our local Woolworth’s store in Hounslow (for our overseas readers Hounslow is where Heathrow Airport is located). I was still at school so by law could only be employed for a few hours a week but those hours on a Saturday afternoon suited well. It meant I could still go to my dancing classes in the morning and after, walk the 2 miles to the High Street and then be on my feet serving all afternoon before walking home.
Hounslow Woolworth just before it closed down in 2008
The store was huge, at the time boasted the largest glass frontage shop in the country (whether this meant the largest Woolie’s or not, I’m not sure) but there were many entrances at the front, and two from the rear for its customers. It was also one of the few in the country at the time to have a customer cafe. The facade had been modernized several times since.
As a teenage in the 1960s, you can imagine the counter I wanted to work on was the most popular: make-up, with its stock of Minors, Rimmel, Max Factor, Coty (which was manufactured locally) etc, beautiful powder compacts and everything a teenager in London during the Swinging Sixties would want to wear. Other popular counters were the records, and the sweet stand. This was the time of the good old days when each counter (actually a stand of four in a square) had at least one assistant and a till (cash register) – no hunting around and queuing at the Pay Here point as we have today in most big stores.
Typical store layout at the time
But no, I was given the hardware counter at the back of the store, along with the furniture stand and the lampshade counter. Big sigh of disappointment as there I was, selling rubber things that fitted over taps to stop them splashing, potato peelers and bean cutters and other kitchen implements, cutlery, washers, plugs, chains – you get the idea. The furniture stand had chairs and stools, rugs, bookshelves and small tables; and the lampshades, well, lampshades and lightbulbs. Most of my time with these latter stands I was running up and down the stairs and occasionally using the lift (hate lifts since once becoming stuck in one) fetching stock as the display items and furniture couldn’t be sold and there was no space to store anything on the shop floor. I enjoyed the work, the staff friendly, and I was never bored.
One day, to my utter delight, I was asked if I minded manning the record counter. Did I mind? I didn’t need asking twice but it was nearly my undoing. You can imagine the joy of this young, vibrant teenager being allowed to play records all afternoon, have plenty of fellow teens gathered around me, chatting, especially the boys. At the time, my favourite record was Goin’ Up the Country by Canned Heat, and I am afraid I played it over and over and over again. I can’t remember how long it was before the manager came over and told me that if he heard that record one more time that afternoon, I would be sacked! I didn’t and I wasn’t. I still love that song and still play it often.
Catch the song here:
I left Woolworth’s when I left school the following year and took up my first full time job working at Heathrow Airport, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a Woolie’s girl in my green nylon overall. It helped me get over my nerves of talking to people, it helped with my maths as I was never good at it at school and back then, tills didn’t work out the change for you or do the adding up – you had to work it all out for yourself. It was also good training for going out into the “real” world of work and becoming a responsible adult.
What was your first proper job? Do tell.