Learning to earn

25Aug20

My first taste of earning money, as opposed to receiving pocket money, was when I was given a Saturday job at age 11. Even in those days, child labour was uncommon in the UK but my mother asked the owner of a market stall if I could help out for a few hours on Saturdays. This was a dream come true for me. My father was a retailer and for as long as I could remember I’d played shop using price tickets he brought home for me. I would set out my stall in the living room and sell to my family and any visitors that called in.The market stall sold toys! What could be better. The stall owner also had a hat stall upstairs on the market balcony but that wasn’t of great interest to me. My first day passed very quickly and I was very excited to be given a handful of change at the end of it. This I promptly spent on a pottery dog for the middle sister and an “upside-down doll” for our new baby sister who was only a year old. The doll had two heads – a happy one and a sad one – which could be alternated by flipping the skirt over one of the heads. I can see those two toys as vividly as if it were yesterday and I remember my excitement as I hurried home to bestow them on my sisters.

Having established my retail credentials I was then invited to help out at my father’s furniture shop. I had duties including sweeping and mopping the entrance way, dusting, making coffee, buying lunch sandwiches then, as time went by, I graduated to adding margins to wholesale prices and writing price tickets (in my best writing). I loved those hours spent with my father and felt very privileged.

Fast forward a few years to another earning opportunity. I was sixteen when my mother saw a notice on a high street boutique. Saturday Girl Wanted. Apply Within. Before I knew it, I was gently propelled through the door and I was granted the role. To my great pleasure, I was offered not only £1 a day plus commission, but also the chance to wear any of the clothes that I chose whilst at work provided I took them home to wash and replace on the rails – wow – unbelievable! There was an eight track music machine behind the counter and we grooved the days away to the sound of Lou Reed. My happiness was complete when another Saturday girl was needed and my school friend joined me at the boutique. This cemented our friendship for life and we shared a babysitting job too, for the singer and guitarist of the band at the local nightclub. Babysitting paid £10 a week between us for 5 nights – we took it in turns. We felt very well off.

My third job was more like real work – 8am to 8pm on the tills at Tesco, Shrewsbury town centre. I did this in the holidays as by now I was studying for A levels. It was gruelling work and despite being young and fairly fit I developed an aching neck and back from repetitively moving groceries along the counter. £15 a week was my reward. I also gave my mother more Green Shield stamps than she was entitled to when she came to shop. One day I was asked to leave my till and sweep the floor in front of the windows. I refused on the grounds that someone might pass who knew me and see me sweeping. This was a different proposition altogether from sweeping the entrance in the family business. For some reason I was allowed to get away with it. The next day I was called in to the office and my arrogance was rewarded by an offer of a full time management position. I suppose you could be very charitable and say that I had an over developed sense of self-worth?

I declined the job and continued with my A level studies before starting my first grownup job in the civil service as a clerical officer. Going to university wasn’t an option as I passed only one of my three A levels. I wasn’t very studious having met my husband-to-be on the first day at technical college where I’d opted to go after rebelling against the restrictions of my all girls’ grammar school. I disliked the civil service job intensely. It was highly regulated and there was no room for initiative. The union was very active and a number of strikes were organised. This clashed with my principles and I refused to withdraw my labour to the rage of the union rep. I was relieved when I was able to resign before the birth of my son.

Maybe this tells you a little about the sort of girl I was and how I grew up with an understanding that money is the reward for work. I knew the satisfaction that can be gained from earning, even when the work itself might not be ideal. Later I was lucky enough to be supported by my husband whilst I started my own business. But that didn’t happen until I was 33 and the mother of an 11 year old. And that’s a story for another day.



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