This was the first novel that I wrote back in 2001 when I first moved to Spain to live. I had written short stories before and non-fiction health books, but felt the need to bring a little romance and humour into my writing.. the result was Just an Odd Job Girl.
Previously: Imogen and Andrew had begun to go through her extensive work history and had reached a point where romance would influence her next career move. She picks up the story…
Chapter Five – Hair Pieces and The Shoe Department by Sally Cronin
I lived in a naval town and it was inevitable that socially I would meet and go out with young naval officers. I was at a party one Saturday, when I was introduced to this very tall, good-looking guy. I was now nineteen and felt I looked stunning, in a new outfit that I had just bought. This included a false half-wig on a black velvet band. It was ash blonde, and if you pulled the band far enough forward it hid the true colour of your hair. It hung seductively down my back and swung with a very satisfying swish when I walked or danced. Combined with a short black velvet dress and knee-high black boots, I was ready to rock and roll.
He was a wonderful dancer. He threw me around the floor to the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart and held me close when slow music was playing. He was gorgeous and I could see all my girlfriends looking on in envy as I strutted my stuff. This was living! My fertile imagination went into overtime. I had just got to the bit where I stunned my parents by taking this Adonis home to meet them when my favourite Rolling Stones song blared out from the speakers. Brown Sugar. If ever there was a song to dance to this was it. I was flying, and it took several minutes for it to register that not only my partner but also several people around us had stopped dancing. Assuming that they were so stunned by my gyrations and flexible interpretations of the music that they had stopped to watch, I carried on playing up to my audience.
There were a number of poles supporting the roof of the dance floor. One was quite close by, and I avoided hitting it as I twirled on the spangled floor. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of something hanging halfway up the pole, but I was busy and didn’t take much notice of it. By now about two dozen people were watching the performance and I was too intent on keeping them entertained. I whirled faster, got closer to the pole, and only then realised that the object hanging limply from a hook was my ash-blonde hairpiece.
I stood there, with my own hair pinned on top of my head covered by a stocking that held it firmly in place. I looked over at my Adonis to find a look of horrified fascination on his face. I grabbed the hair and dashed for the stairs, and the ladies.
I was wearing a little shoulder bag and had no coat, so a speedy retreat was possible. I ripped the stocking and pins from my own hair and legged it out the door and into a taxi home. I have never been so mortified in my life. Today I would have laughed it off and carried on, but at nineteen it was the end of my world and the stunning future I had envisioned for myself with Mr. Fantastic. I hadn’t even got his name, but thankfully he hadn’t got mine either.
Two days later, still squirming from my ordeal, I attended my interview for acceptance into the Queen Alexandra Nursing Service. It was held over in Gosport, at the naval hospital, and along with twenty other hopefuls, I undertook a day of testing and medical examinations.
Eye tests, weight, blood pressure, heart and lungs all checked out. This was conducted by a very severe looking nursing sister and then we were passed on to a doctor for a full medical.
At nineteen, I was not sure what this entailed, and was rather concerned to be asked to remove all my clothing and don a backless hospital gown.
Holding this gown in place with one hand behind my back, I was led, nervously, into the examining room. A head was bent over some notes and I was escorted behind a screen and told to hop up on the examining couch. The nurse loosened the ties behind the neck of the gown and stood at the head of the couch. The curtains parted and the doctor entered. Now I know what a rabbit feels like, paralysed in the glare of the headlights. There before me in a white coat with stethoscope at the ready was my Adonis.
I seem to have blocked out much of the next twenty minutes. The experience was so traumatic that I can only barely remember being escorted out of the door and being told to get dressed. I have no doubt that the examination had been carried out very professionally and in accordance with medical guidelines, but to this day, when I am faced with the same situation, I need a stiff drink to get me into the surgery.
Despite my trauma, I was accepted for training. Unfortunately, the next intake was not for eighteen months, so in the meantime I had to find a job to earn my living.
Huntley’s Department Store, in the next town was looking for staff for Christmas and I decided that I would do some temporary work until it was time to enrol for training. Looking back, I think that perhaps I was actually looking for an excuse not to go ahead with the nursing, certainly with the Navy. The whole experience had been so humiliating that I kept re-playing it in my mind, over and over again. It did not improve with time.
Then fate took a hand, and three months later I met Peter and plans changed. I fell in love and he persuaded me not to tie myself down to three years training, as we would not be able to see each other very often.
Despite my feelings of utter humiliation at the time, I have often regretted not going ahead with my nursing. It was not the first, nor the last time that I allowed Peter to take control of my life and perhaps if I had stuck to my guns then, I would not now be in this situation.
* * *
I think that Andrew could sense that I was about to get maudlin and he got up and went to the door of the office.
‘Elizabeth, can you organise another pot of tea for us please, and give me a shout when you are going for lunch?’
He came back and sat down opposite me.
‘Look, Imogen, I think that this exercise is very valuable and that we should talk about your time at Huntley’s and then call it a day.’
He smiled at me reassuringly.
‘I have a fair idea, after spending the last couple of hours with you, what kind of person you are. I have a few options that I would like to explore, but I need a couple of days to sort them out. How about we finish up in half an hour or so and get together on Friday morning.’
Of course, I said yes. In the space of two hours, this man had made me look at myself in a new way. For far too long, I had allowed Peter and the children, to take over my life, and I had forgotten who I was. Talking about the past brought back memories which had been buried under the day-to-day demands of family and house. I was excited, for first time in years, about what prospects lay ahead.
The tea arrived and we sipped it in companionable silence for a few moments, while I collected my thoughts. I had served in three departments in the nine months that I had been at Huntley’s.
When I completed my initial two-day training course – learning about cash handling, and the store rules, I was sent straight to the Shoe department. Later I moved on to Ladies Clothing and then to Cosmetics, and I can tell you that if anyone assumes that serving in a department store is boring, they need to think again.
As I thought back, incidents long buried came to the surface.
When I arrived in large shoe department on the top floor I met the manageress and three other staff. The staff had been Huntley employees for at least a hundred years by the look of them. Thankfully, I had the experience of working with FB, who was fifty years older than me, but that still did not prepare me for my initiation.
One particular lady was a spinster. From my nineteen-year-old perspective, she looked ancient. On reflection, she was probably only about fifty, but had not worn well. I remember her hair especially, as the poor woman suffered from hair loss – and, like many men with the same problem, combed some long strands across the top of her head. She was very unfortunate in being very tall, almost my height, and rather bird like. I don’t mean sparrow; more ostrich-like with a slightly bulgy-eyed, startled, look. When I was introduced to her, she sniffed and said begrudgingly.
‘Pleased to meet you, I’m sure.’ Not in the most sincere tones.
My worst fears were realised when the manageress teamed me up with ostrich for my further training in shoe salesmanship. Believe it or not, there is quite a bit of technical knowledge required to sell shoes effectively. Apart from the adult sizes with their different width fittings, we also sold a brand of children’s shoes that came with its own X-ray machine. I kid you not; we must have irradiated half the child population of the town. The machine stood waist high and you placed your feet in a slot set into the metal casing. You then looked into an eyepiece and you could see the bones in your feet. This enabled you to check that the child was not squeezed into their new shoes and that there was plenty of room for growth. I assume that these machines were checked for safety, but it is funny how you don’t see them around anymore.
Apart from the technical aspects of the job, Ostrich was also instructed to introduce me to the commission system. She did this with far more glee than she approached other aspects of my training, which should have made me suspicious.
Apparently, when you sold a pair of shoes, you cut out the front of the box they came in, put your initials on the front and gave it in at the end of the week to the wages department.
My sales training from the seafront came in very handy and I was delighted to sell six pairs of shoes my first week. Ostrich kindly offered to hand my box ends on the Saturday, along with her own. This would have meant two shillings a pair, which would have given me twelve shillings extra on top of my eight-pound basic wage. The commission did not appear but ostrich assured me that this was because it was paid a week in arrears.
The second week, I sold twelve pairs of shoes and so earned a commission of twenty-four shillings. Again Ostrich handed over our box ends and when I checked my pay slip, I saw that I had the twelve shillings from the last week. The next week the Ostrich was off sick and surprise, surprise when I checked my pay slip, I saw that in fact I was paid commission for that week, not in arrears at all.
I worked out that the Ostrich had changed the initials on the first week’s sales and on six of the second. If she had not been sick, I would never have noticed the deception until my last pay packet when it would have been too late to do anything about it.
The Ostrich had been there in the shoe department for sixteen years. Who was going to believe a junior assistant who had only been there two weeks? When she returned to work, I said nothing, but from then on, I handed my own box ends into the manageress on Saturdays.
I wondered how many other juniors had been caught by that little scam and decided that on my last day, whenever that might be, I would put things right. Fortunately, before I had to take action, the Ostrich left for some ‘undisclosed’ reason!
Apart from the Ostrich, I enjoyed my job. I liked meeting different people every day, and selling them shoes that made them feel good.
Most customers were pleasant and polite. The odd one who was grumpy was a challenge, firstly to cheer up and then to send away with the most expensive pair of shoes I could get away with.
There was one customer, in particular, however, who was in a league of her own. Very elegant, beautifully dressed, hair immaculate and already wearing very expensive shoes. She indicated two or three pairs of shoes that she wished to try on and sat down and removed one of her own shoes. She lifted one slim stockinged leg onto the sloped footstool and then lifted her foot into the first shoe I had brought out. I carefully shoehorned her foot into the shoe. I glanced up and noticed that her skirt had ridden up over her knees and that she was rather exposed. And I do mean exposed; she was wearing no knickers. I was totally shocked.
How could anyone go out without any knickers, had she forgotten? She lifted the other foot, placed it in the matching shoe, and stood up. I prayed that she would choose them and not want to try anymore on, but no, she tried on five more pairs before choosing three of them. I kept a smile plastered in place but knew that I was bright red with embarrassment. How she didn’t notice I have no idea. Perhaps she did, and enjoyed it immensely, and I wonder now if, in her seventies, she still goes knickerless to embarrass shoe shop assistants.
At the end of three months, I was asked if I would like to stay on for an extra six months, and work in the ladies fashion department. I was still in two minds about going into nursing as planned, so I decided that this was as good as any place to work in the meantime.
©Sally Georgina Cronin Just an Odd Job Girl
One of the reviews for the book
Just an Odd Job Girl is the uplifting story of Imogen. Cast aside aged almost fifty by her husband who chooses a younger wife to replace her she faces beginning life all over again. A new and most cool phrase totally to me in this book – the fast tracker – a great name for those gorgeous young women who forego the whole long term working to succeed in life together as a couple in favour of swiping an already successful older man from the woman who has put in all the years to gain the success. Imogen’s self-confidence is low as it can be, but she heads off to a personnel agency that specializes in placing the more mature job seeker to see if they can help her find work in spite of her not obviously stellar curriculum vitae. Twenty four years of “only” housewife and mother. There she is interviewed by Andrew Jenkins, who rather than dismisses her on the basis of her tiny CV, encourages her to tell him what she liked or didn’t like about the few jobs she did have many years back before she stopped working in exchange for being a stay at home wife and mother. And then the fun begins!
I laughed so hard I almost cried a few times reading Imogen’s memories of former jobs and employers. She’s crazy in the most wonderfully inspiring way. Chasing thieves and fabulousness in a funeral parlour and dentists office to name only two of the places she showed her wonderful character and savvy in on her Odd Job Girl trip. The apprehending of the shoplifter just has to be read! In the telling of her own life, Imogen realizes her value though. While this book is a really fun romp, it’s also very poignant and touching. So many women around the globe really do get kicked to the kerb after years of thinking that they married their true love, and would be together forever. Generally they feel old and ugly, all used up and not much use for anyone or anything, let alone a meaningful career and life.
This is a book with a happy ending, and an inspirational happy ending at that. It shows that all is never lost until the very last breath that you take. It shows that everyone has fabulousness within us, and all it takes is to recognize it, grab it, and have a ball with the amazingly wonderful person that you are. It’s not all about age, it’s all about feisty and real. Five out of five stars and a very hearty one hundred percent recommendation. A nice one for the guys out there too – especially if you have ever been a target for a fast tracker. There’s a whole lot more to life than a little bit of nubile.
If you would like to browse my other books.. you can find their reviews https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2019/
More reviews can be found on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7979187.Sally_Cronin
Thanks for dropping in and as always your feedback is very welcome. Sally.
I hope you will join me again tomorrow for the next chapter in Imogen’s colourful work history.