BEFORE THE GREAT CHASE
Updated: Jun 10
Someone asked me recently about my working life; what have I done in my career? And, like many, I slipped in the audio version of my CV - a well-honed, anecdote-filled summary of 30-something years.
That same day, I was on the train out of London. Two Asian lads - 14 years-old, perhaps 15 - sat near me. One of them had money worries. Not mortgage or credit card levels of worry; something much more pressing. New girlfriend levels of worry. How was he going to pay to take her out at the weekend?
"You need to get yourself a job, man" said his worldly-wise friend. "In a shop or
somewhere. You need to earn."
And it dawned on me that there are a couple of early chapters from my working biography that have been edited out. The Jesuits say (I think): "Show me a child at seven, and I'll show you the man."
So perhaps our CVs should have a 1-page appendix, which shows what we did in our formative teenage years?
1 HAMBLE CHANDLERY
First paid employment; first time serving customers. There were two Chandleries at Port Hamble Marina; a very large, two storey Scandinavian-style chalet that sold everything from sheets to sails, and a less-grand but more-frequently visited general store, that sold food. I worked in the latter, serving the great (Peter Cadbury) and the good ('Blue Peter' John Noakes) their provisions.
Didn't learn much about business, but did discover an inverse relationship between money and manners.
2 MR SMITH CLEANING
Being quite tall for a 16 year-old, I got a job working for 'Mr Smith' who held an office cleaning contract at the town centre bus station. My duties (Sundays only) were to stand on desks, remove the plastic covers from strip lights, and wash out the decade of dust inside. Meanwhile, shrivelled old ladies in blue housecoats wiped telephones and polished leatherette chairs. Any of them could have been my Gran: I've been nice to contract cleaners ever since.
Before DFS and IKEA conquered the home furnishing world with out-of-town stores the size of Boeing factories, Kentons sold three-piece suites and dining furniture on the Southampton High Street. Working on Saturdays (much against school policy), I was taught to sell by a cast of characters worthy of another floor in Grace Brothers:
* Len the Manager, with his pencil moustache and brilliantine hair;
* Terry the #2, nervous, understated, and the best salesman in the entire company;
* Joker John, with his one-liners, double cuffs and comb-over;
* Blakey, thin as a pen refill, with a five o'clock shadow by ten in the morning.
In my second week, Terry and John set me up - to take the three biggest orders of the day, and finish in pole position. The two of them shared my commission. Blakey never forgave me.
Southampton's largest advertising agency (which is rather like being Canterbury's largest casino). I'd blagged my way into a summer job; they paid me a fiver a week. My mother thought I was being exploited; in all honesty, I'd have given money to be there. Just hanging out with Account Execs, Copywriters, Designers, Photographers - a genuine a taste of agency life.
The first six-month 'slice' in my thin sandwich business degree; working for the computer giant out of its East Croydon branch. Became moderately competent on its System 36 midrange product to the point where I was let loose on unsuspecting users for post-installation training.
Mel (one of the System Engineers) and I once ran a workshop for a ceramic tile company; during coffee, we were in the gents when the MD came in to use the facilities. In an attempt to make small talk, I complemented him on the decor: "Mmm. Nice tiles. Where did you get them?" I can still see Mel's shoulders jiggling up and down as he strangled his laughter and pee'd down his leg.
The following summer, one of the IBM account managers got me a job with a customer who was installing a new system. For six weeks I became a 'Data Processing' consultant to a company that made food packaging - proving that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
While I was at IBM, one of my classmates was at Renault. When the company launched the Fuego to its dealer network, ten of us unloaded the cars from transporters and give each a wash-and-brush-up. Two (very long) days work, £100 cash in hand. At the time, that was five weeks student rent. I was the richest man in London.
8 LLOYDS BANK
My second sandwich placement; six months working in market research for the bank at Monument in the City of London. For the first time, I realised that there are two types of people who work in a Head Office: those who pass through on a fast track to a better job, and those who are trapped for life.
9 KELLY GIRL
After my finals, my first temp job; filling in endless columns of figures into Dickensian journals for a confirming house, also in the City. The greatest incentive I ever had to get a "proper job", quickly.
(Back to The Great Job Title Chase #4 next week)
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