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 the semi-autobiographical Just an Odd Job Girl.
About the book
At 50 Imogen had been married for over 20 years, and was living in a big house, with money to spare. Suddenly she is traded-in for a younger model, a Fast-Tracker.
Devastated, she hides away and indulges in binge eating. But then, when hope is almost gone, she meets a new friend and makes a journey to her past that helps her move on to her future.
Last time Imogen takes on a temporary assignment at a funeral home which came with some emotional surprises.
Chapter Twelve – Advertising Sales
Telephone canvassing was a whole new world. One populated by eager young men and women, seemingly with a death-wish, and who appear to be completely impervious to rejection. I was one of a number of agency temps who had been recruited into the job for a six week promotion on Cars and Property. It was obviously felt that two days training was quite sufficient to enable you to sell the set spaces for these two items, as the wording was fairly standard. The abbreviations were the most confusing aspect of the advertisement and I never did work out what some of them meant. I would write my advertisements down in plain English and find that on publication they contained gibberish, having passed through the hands of the layout department.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.
It was a rainy, blustery Monday morning when I presented myself, suited and professional, at the offices of the newspaper. On the reception desk was a woman of indeterminate age with the brightest orange hair I have ever seen. It stood up on end as if she had recently been plugged into a light socket and the ends were so split they formed little bushes at the end of each hair. I was mesmerised, but managed to stutter out who I was and what I was there for.
Six of us were ushered upstairs to a small, airless room containing a large table, seven chairs and an easel with a flip-chart pad. There were four girls and two boys, and all of them looked about sixteen, and very nervous. We made idle chat about the weather, Christmas and the latest football scores, another complete mystery to me.
At nine thirty sharp, the largest woman I had ever seen swept sideways into the room. She danced lightly around the table, navigating the narrow gap with perfect aplomb. She turned to face us and beamed radiantly at us. I was dazzled, not only by the performance but also by the rich emerald green of her jacket over the orange and black dress. An unusual combination to say the least, and I was somewhat distressed not to have bought my sunglasses with me.
‘Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Marigold Chambers. I am your trainer and the Advertising Sales Manager of the paper.’
She had a very soft voice but it rang through the room clearly. We were riveted. She had certainly got our attention. We stared at her as she appraised each one of us for a few moments.
She began to laugh, and then sat down on the seventh chair, which I might add appeared to buckle slightly as she descended delicately upon it.
She paused for effect.
‘This is your first lesson in selling advertising. Get their attention!’
She stood up and did a twirl.
‘It certainly got your attention, didn’t it?
This was to set the tone for our training over the next two days. The focus was on getting the person on the other end of the phone to listen long enough to buy the advertisement. This was no easy task. Telephone calls, in the evening, just as you are in the middle of dinner, or your favourite television programme are unwelcome, especially if they are asking you to buy an advert in a little known free newspaper. It ranks right up there with double glazing sales-people.
Marigold spent much of the first day giving us various ‘openings’ as they were called. These were, literally, door openers. They got the advertiser’s attention, and persuaded them to continue listening to you. For example, you never gave your name and the reason for your call immediately they picked up the phone. You first established if the car or property was for sale, and as soon as you received the hopeful response on the other end of the phone, you launched into your prepared script. The key to success was to get the opening few lines in very quickly before they slammed the phone down on you.
If you could get to the part, which offered them three weeks for the price of two, you had a fair chance of hooking them. It took practice, I can tell you. The first week was the toughest I had ever faced in a job. I was still feeling very vulnerable after my split with Peter and now I was faced with rejection on a continuous basis.
The best time to get car, and property, sellers at home was after school hours, and in the evening. We therefore worked a three until ten shift every weekday and two until seven on Saturdays. This maximised the number of people you were likely to find in at that time of day.
The two days training had prepared us for the sort of abuse we might encounter but had not mentioned that we would benefit from learning such a colourful new vocabulary. It certainly opened my eyes to a level of English language that had not been included in my O’Levels.
Nevertheless, by the end of the first week, much to my surprise, I had actually sold two car ads. and one property ad.
One of the motivating forces that kept me there was Marigold. She ran the busy sales room like the conductor of a symphony orchestra. She sat at one end of the room looking down the two rows of back-to-back desks. There were sixty telephone sales people of all ages and races. The paper had a ‘Commercial and Appointments’ section as well as ‘Lonely Hearts’ and ‘Items for Sale’. Most of the staff were full time and on a low basic with commission. Our paths crossed for three hours a day, as the full-time staff finished at six. It was a tough job and I had no doubt in my mind that I would not want to do it on a permanent basis. But here I was and, I believe in doing what I was paid for. So, I persevered, and was rewarded by the odd pat on the back as Marigold glided around the room on her small feet
After the first day, Marigold appeared in a somewhat more normal mode of dress. Being a very large lady this tended towards large baggy black trousers and a grey, black or blue flowing top. I never could quite understand how she managed to balance on her two tiny feet; it was an amazing sight and quite cheering. Just when you thought you could not take another rejection, Marigold would pull one of her motivators out of the bag.
Each day, a target was placed on a white-board on the wall. This related to the amount of advertising revenue required for that day and it was important that it was achieved, as an accumulative shortfall at the end of the week would mean substantial losses for the paper.
Marigold would announce some financial incentives at the beginning of the day. Although we were being paid by the agency, we also were given the opportunity to earn these little cash bonuses which made life a little more interesting. There were prizes for most adverts sold, most advertising revenue, full-page advertisements, half pages and so on. Marigold did a special for us temps, on the same basis, and it certainly took the edge off the rejection we faced every time we picked up the phone.
By the second week, I had got into the swing of it, and perhaps because I was female, and sounded slightly older than my age, I seemed to get the attention of the men selling their cars.
That became my forte and I applied myself diligently. I earned an extra ten pounds in bonuses that second week and I treated myself to a new dress on the Saturday morning. On Monday however, I was called into the editor’s office and found Marigold perched on a stool in the corner. This was a scene that had been played out before in my career history, and my first thought was that I was being fired!
‘Miss Baxter, please sit down.’
The bald and bespectacled editor gestured to a chair opposite him. I sat and calmly awaited my fate and hoped the ten pounds worth of dress was not about to be yanked off my back. I glanced over at Marigold and was relieved to receive an encouraging smile back.
‘Marigold tells me that you have done very well in your first two weeks and I wondered if you would like to help us out with a bit of a problem that we have?’
He paused and looked down at some papers on his desk.
‘As you know, we have a section of the paper which advertises escort agencies and other select services.’
Select is not exactly the word I would have used myself. I was not sure how the paper got away with some of the adverts in this section as they were definitely a little on the risqué side.
They were not quite as blatant as ‘ring three times and ask for Josephine’ but were pretty close. I nodded anyway, fascinated by what was to come.
‘Our girl, who normally looks after this section has taken ill and is in hospital. They have removed her appendix and it looks like it will be at least four weeks before she can return. We wondered if you would like to take over the section for the remainder of your contract and help us out?’
I must have looked a little hesitant as he immediately continued.
‘We will of course increase your hourly rate by two pounds with the agency, and you will be eligible for all the bonuses that our regular staff enjoy.’
That clinched it, I would push aside my mild moral objections for the sake of money. What sort of thing does that say about me? Well, that I am living in a bedsit with hardly any money coming in, and that my mother brought me up to be practical.
What an eye opener the next four weeks were. Because of the nature of this particular section, all advertisements had to be paid for in cash. The good side was that there was very little canvassing and most of the advertisers were regulars. They would appear, either every week or every two weeks, with a fistful of money that they would hand personally to me in the reception area of the newspaper. I met some extraordinary people, from sharply dressed men, with two-tone shoes and rings on every finger, to middle-aged well-dressed housewives with pale pink nail varnish.
One of my favourites was Lil. She wore what I associated with entertainers in the sixties. A mini-skirt, revealing fishnet stockings, high heeled black patent shoes and a white, tight fitting, flouncy blouse. She was great, and always had a joke to tell me as she handed over her five pounds for two weeks advertising. Her speciality apparently was Swedish massage, in your own home or in hers. Looking at the three-inch bright red talons on the end of her fingers, I found it hard to imagine that there would not be some serious injury to anyone on the receiving end of a massage from Lil. But who was I to judge?
I did have to do some canvassing for new business and was delighted to discover that the rejection rate actually went down. In fact, I received more courtesy while canvassing for this section than I ever did trying to sell cars and property to the general public. Strange, isn’t it, how one’s perceptions about people can be changed. I had been brought up with a strict moral code – one that I had broken by moving in with Peter without being married. Now I had been introduced to members of society who I had been brought up to believe were not acceptable in my world. I was really growing up, at last – away from the influence of my upbringing, and Peter – and I began to enjoy the freedom this allowed me.
During my four weeks on this section, I became one of the team, not just a temp in for a short time. Apart from the competition for money bonuses, there was also the anticipation of what Marigold would dream up as an extra incentive to achieve the daily revenue target. One Friday, we were below our weekly revenues. We were all tired and lacking in energy so were not delighted when a huge number was written on the white board and underlined heavily.
Marigold stood in front of us and grinned like a Cheshire cat.
‘Right you lot! I have a special treat for you today.’ She paused dramatically.
‘If you get this target by the end of the day I will do the splits.’
I could not have heard right, there was no way that this twenty stone woman could do the splits and survive. We were all agog and looked at each other in disbelief. The girl next to me who had been working on the paper for two years whispered in my ear.
‘She will too you know, she used to be a ballet dancer.’
Now I really was in denial, and as images of Marigold in leotard and pink tights filled my mind, I prepared to outsell myself. The rest of the team was of like mind, and we were justifiably proud of ourselves when we achieved both the day’s target and the weekly target. It was such an impressive day that even the editor came up to the sales room to congratulate us. Of course he could not let the opportunity for a pep-talk pass, and wondered why we could not perform this way everyday. No pleasing people, is there? We, however, were more interested in the prospect of receiving our promised acrobatic display.
With a great deal of theatrical presence, Marigold proceeded to a clear space on the wooden floor. She was wearing long, baggy black trousers and a pink top that came down to her knees. She lifted this to waist level, I say this merely to demonstrate how far she lifted it, as, bless her, she had no waist at all. Holding the top bunched in one hand, she raised her other arm and curved it over her head. Her second finger and thumb met in a classic ballet pose and she then slowly and majestically sank into the most perfect splits with toes pointed and an angelic expression on her face. There was much cheering and clapping and stamping of feet as we waited with even more expectancy for her to get up off the floor again.
‘Don’t just stand there.’ She ordered. ‘Come on lads, get me back up. I said I would do the splits not the impossible.’
With that, six of the lads dashed forward and with much tugging and laughter Marigold was hoisted to her feet. It was worth all the money bonuses to see that, and the memory of it is still fresh in my mind.
Soon it was time for me to leave. The girl who had been off sick was due back on the Monday, and I said a fond farewell to some of my regular clients that last week. I was given boxes of chocolates, and a plant, and the sales team threw an impromptu party at the pub on the Friday night.
The agency had promised a new job for me on the Monday. With my catering background, and cooking experience, I was asked to stand in as assistant cook in a private school in Southsea for six weeks. I was certainly getting plenty of variety in my jobs, and despite my reluctance to leave my new-found friends, I knew that I was not quite ready to settle for a full time job just yet.
©Sally Georgina Cronin – Just an Odd Job Girl
Next time – A Makeover and the art of buying a car
One of the recent reviews for the book
After devoting her life to her family, Imogen is replaced by a younger woman (a fast-tracker) after twenty years of marriage and must overcome her self-doubt to move on to the next stage of her life.
Just an Odd Job Girl is a highly entertaining story of a fifty-year-old’s voyage into a working world she thought herself ill-equipped to handle until a new friend shows her just how much she truly has to offer.
There are many laugh-out-loud moments as Imogen relives her past vocations, everything from a nebulous job on the docks to a dentist’s assistant, a job in a funeral home, a restaurant manager, and more. It soon becomes obvious that Imogen is a Jack of all Trades and an asset to any employer.
Many wives and mothers of the era were stay-at-home caretakers for their families. They set aside career aspirations to make a safe and loving home for their children- often at the price of their own sense of value. Then the kids leave home, husbands become restless, and suddenly, the wife is left to absorb the loss and find her way to a new beginning. Not easy for anyone.
This is a highly entertaining read told by a wonderful storyteller. I especially enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek humor and the delightful ending- a well-deserved 5 star read!
You can find my other books and their recent reviews: Sally’s books and reviews 2022