Just an Odd Job Girl serialisation – Chapter Three – The Seafront

We had left Imogen at the employment agency going over her C.V with the owner Mr. Jenkins who was a little taken aback by the number of jobs that she had been employed in and also the variety. He now wants to get down to brass tacks and establish just how much actual experience she has. The chapters will get a little longer now as we get into Imogen’s story; so you better make a cup of coffee and put your feet up! You can find the previous two chapters here Just an Odd Job Girl

Chapter Three

For a moment, there was an uneasy silence.

Mr. Jenkins smiled.

‘Why don’t you call me Andrew?’ he said quietly. ‘I know that it can be a little intimidating at first, but you strike me as being a smart, interesting woman who just needs a little encouragement to get back out into the working environment. Just relax and tell me in your own words about the jobs, and the things you enjoyed or didn’t enjoy about each one.’

‘This process will help us decide what it is that you want and where it best fits into our client requirements.’

I took a deep breath and settled back into the chair.

‘Well, I had better start at the beginning then, although the fourteen year old who started work along the seafront seems like a completely different person to the one I am today.’

Just thinking back to those early spring months of 1967 made me smile. I had pestered my mother and father for months to let me get a part-time job. I didn’t want a paper round as getting up at an ungodly hour before school every morning, including Sunday, held little appeal. Also, my parents were concerned that my schoolwork would suffer so we compromised on a weekend and holiday job.

Just before Easter, I saw an advertisement in the local evening paper for staff for the council run operations along the seafront. The minimum age was fourteen years and three months, which I had just passed, and there was an address to apply for an application form.

Without telling my mother, I sent off for the form, which duly arrived. Being a council application form it covered three pages and virtually asked for your weight and number of teeth. I was proud of my efforts, and presented the completed and signed form to my mother who also had to sign the form because of my age.

My mother’s idea of employment for me was slightly different to mine. I think that she saw me serving tea to ‘hatted ladies’ in some up-market restaurant in one of the big department stores. Working along the seafront seemed to conjure up horrendous pictures of loutish behaviour and dirty postcards. She was actually not far off the mark there and she was very resistant to the idea in the beginning.

One of the genetic traits that I have inherited from my mother is the ability to nag successfully. One must be neither too forceful, nor direct. It requires subtle insinuations into conversation, usually at crucial times, such as when someone is lifting a fork of food to their mouths or is in the middle of a television programme that requires absolute attention. It is a little like drops of water on stone; gradually it is worn down to the desired size and shape. My mother was very good at getting her own way and always one to emulate success; I used her own methods against her.

My mother used to wear a foundation garment that was the forerunner of my own current all-in-one girdle. My mother’s corset had bones in strategic places throughout the garment that not only lifted but held the body in much the same way as scaffolding around a building. The timing of the nag was critical. Just as my mother had struggled, naked, into the legs of the girdle and was inching it painfully over her hips with everything hanging over the top; I would poke my head around the bedroom door.

‘Mummy, would you believe that the job on the seafront pays two shillings an hour and that means you wouldn’t have to pay me any more pocket money?’

My mother never had a chance. After a campaign which only lasted two weeks, my form was signed, returned and a call received from the council asking both my mother and I to attend for an interview at the main café on the front.

This was my first job interview, and I illustrated another genetic trait I had inherited from my mother. This is the gene which governs what you wear and how many times you will change your outfit before an important event. You have to remember that this was the sixties and I was fourteen, going on thirty. I had two older sisters and their wardrobes were rummaged through until I had assembled what I considered to be suitable attire for the all-important first impression.

It was a campaign that I lost. No amount of nagging was going to allow my mother to be seen dead accompanying me in my chosen outfit. I, of course, thought it looked sophisticated, professional and very adult. The make-up that I had applied gave me a certain ‘gothic’ air, and on my arrival in the kitchen, ten minutes before we were due to leave for the interview, I was mortified to be met with laughter from my younger brother and horrified glares from my mother. Ten minutes later, with face scrubbed, and in my school uniform, we left.

Andrew laughed.

‘You got the job, so perhaps your mother was right about the outfit’

‘You could say that.’ I admitted.

‘When we got to the café, there were about ten other girls of my age, with their mothers, waiting in the serving area.’

The moment came back to me as if it was yesterday. The place was not due to open for another two weeks, so we all sat around the tables and tried not to stare at each other. There was only one other girl in school uniform and we looked at each other in sympathy, while the two mothers smiled smugly at each other. All the other girls were wearing much the same as my original outfit and they in turn smiled slyly at the two of us in our basic grey and navy blue.

‘I can’t remember what the interviewer was like, my mother answered questions about my school work and home environment and then the man asked me why I wanted to go to work.’

At fourteen, you have not perfected the art of lying in interviews and you certainly do not prepare stock answers in advance. The man got an honest answer.

‘My friend Mary gets two pounds a week pocket money and I only get five shillings. My parents say that they cannot afford to give me any more.’

I looked across to my mother’s horrified face. I could see that she was about to interrupt.

‘I am going to give my parents some of my earnings to help them out.’

The man looked sympathetically at my mother, assuming that we were near the poverty line. I had a nasty feeling that once out of the safety of the interview room; I was going to be in trouble. Luckily, before she could refute this silent allegation, the man had risen and was ushering us out of the door.

‘We will be in touch in a few days Mrs. Baxter.’

He shook my mother’s hand.

We walked past the remaining applicants, who searched our faces for some clues to the ordeal ahead. My mother marched straight past with a firm grip on my elbow and I resigned myself to a long, ‘verbal’ walk home.

Three days later a letter arrived stating that I would be employed for the summer season. I would work for a maximum of six hours a day, at an hourly rate of two shillings an hour. I was rich and my mother was vindicated. I later found out that the only applicants to be offered a job were the two in school uniforms. Confirming the age-old belief that mothers are always right.

‘So, you got the job and you’re in the money, what did you have to do for it?’ Andrew poured himself another cup of tea and settled back in his chair.

It is amazing how many events and people you can remember after thirty-five years. I suppose the memories are stored away in a filing cabinet, and are kept as fresh as the day they were made. My first day on the job came back as clear as if it were yesterday.

I arrived in my school uniform and black lace-up shoes. I was greeted by the manageress. She was a plump, motherly looking woman, who later revealed the temperament of a Rottweiler. She led me into the staff room and indicated a locker against the wall.

‘This is yours. Remember the number, thirteen. No-one else wants it for obvious reasons, but, since you are the newest member of staff, you get it.’

An auspicious start to my first job!

‘These two overalls are to be washed by you and you will be charged five shillings if you lose one.’

It was beginning to sound a bit like school.

‘You will clock-in with this card and clock-out at the end of each shift, and the card will be sent to the council who will send down your wages each Friday.’

She smiled maliciously.

‘You work a week in hand here.’

I had no idea what that meant and clearly my face reflected my confusion.

‘That means you won’t get paid until the second week, and you will get two weeks money at the end of the season.’

Great! Now I was going to be working for nothing for my first week, or so it seemed. I looked at the two grey nylon overalls with faded, unidentified stains down the front of them. Not exactly the height of sixties fashion! Now I dreaded the prospect that some of my school friends might come upon me in this garb.

‘I am giving you to Betty.’

The manageress turned and walked through the door.

‘Hurry up girl, you’ve got a lot to learn and we haven’t got all day.’

A paper round, even with early mornings, began to look rather more attractive as I anticipated what was to come. I assumed that all the women in this place were of the same type as the battle-axe walking in front of me and I was pleasantly surprised to be handed over to a tiny, round, beaming woman who had been waiting for me outside the back door of the café.

‘Hello. She smiled at me. I’m Betty.’

She was wearing the highest pair of stiletto shoes I had ever seen. She must have been under five-foot in height and quite plump, and I had no idea how she managed to stay upright on these thin, three-inch heels. I am nearly six foot and I looked down on my diminutive new companion, wondering how she was going to boss me around. I was soon to find out that looks could be deceiving!

Where were we going? I had thought that I was going to be working in the café. Had I been fired already? About twenty feet from the restaurant there was a small round building. Little did I know at the time, but apart from occasional relief duties in the main café, this was going to be my work place for the next three seasons. Betty opened a door at the back of the structure.

‘In you go youngster’ she said, holding the door for me.

I stepped through into the dark and stood for a moment on the threshold of a new life. The lights snapped on and I looked around me.

‘Now.’ She said firmly. ‘I don’t stand any nonsense, we can have a good time in here away from everyone else but you have to follow the rules, okay.’

I nodded my head.

‘What’s your name and how old are you?’

She busied herself around the old fashioned till perched on the wooden shelf. No mean feat as it stood four feet off the ground and she could barely see over the top of the counter. Obviously, I could now see the reasoning behind the three-inch heels.

‘My name is Imogen and I am fourteen and three months old.’ I replied.

‘Good for you.’ She said, with her head buried under the counter. ‘You sound a bit like a light bulb, bless you.’

You know, I had always thought that about my name too.

Betty stood up and looked me up and down. Being a large girl, the overall was a bit of a tight fit and my black lace up shoes did nothing for my image as a swinging sixties chick.

‘Got any plimsolls that you can run in?’ she asked.

‘Yes I have my school gym shoes at home.’ I replied, slightly bemused as to why I would need running shoes in this tiny round building.

‘Good. Wear them tomorrow, with trousers.’

The plot thickened!

With that, my training began. I discovered that I was going to be assistant manager of the souvenir kiosk. A very important job, she said. I would be left in charge during lunch times and during the holidays when I would be working longer hours. And, I would be entrusted with the kiosk on her day off. A far cry from clearing tables in the café, but an unexpected pleasant surprise. I would be out in the fresh air everyday and I had already taken a liking to Betty.

First, we went back outside and opened the metal shutters. As they opened, the souvenirs were revealed in tidy rows on the downward sloping wooden counter. There were leather goods; purses, wallets, comb holders and manicure sets, all of which had the city crest emblazoned in bright colours on the front. There was a whole section of different coloured sticks of rock, with the lettering running through it, and heart-shaped lollipops proudly bearing our town’s name.

Around the inside of the kiosk hung cards with little ivory name badges, hair slides and combs. For the life of me, I cannot imagine wanting to receive a pair of hair slides with Portsmouth & Southsea engraved on them, let alone wear them. However, I was to discover that they were a popular item for our holidaymakers.

‘Right dear, grab the end of this stand will you ducks.’

Betty had already decided that she was not going to call me by my given name, and did not until the day I left three years later. Can’t say I blame her.

Against the counter, at the back, was a large wooden easel. We dragged it through the back door and out to the front of the kiosk. When we got it into the sunlight, I saw that it held row upon row of postcards, all neatly stacked in their own wooden slots, on both sides of the stand. There were views of the Solent and the Isle of Wight. Pictures of the hovercraft that went between the island and us, and of course, on the top three rows, the obligatory dirty postcards. I knew they were dirty because my mother always grabbed me away whenever she caught me eyeing them during walks along the seafront. Betty, also, was not allowing time for viewing, and taking my elbow pulled me back into the kiosk.

My training began. It was completed on the job because as soon as we got back inside we had our first customer and we were busy all day. It was great fun and I discovered a flair for selling that must have been hidden in my genes along with my nagging skills. Same sort of idea really. Betty was very proud of the fact that I could persuade people that they really needed a comb to go with the purse, and that two sticks of rock would be better than one.

The one job that I really enjoyed, however, involved the gym shoes. I wore them, as instructed, on my second day. Betty explained that there were three boys of about ten or eleven who were coming along each day and stealing handfuls of dirty postcards. She couldn’t leave the kiosk and chase them, and anyway her stilettos would never have allowed her to catch up with them.

My job was to conceal myself behind the postcard stand, when Betty spotted them coming, and to give chase.

‘What do I do with them when I catch up with them?’ I asked innocently.

‘Got a younger brother have you?’ She asked.

‘Yes, I have.’ I replied, mystified.

‘Well, if he took something of yours without asking and you caught him at it, what would you do?’ She smiled grimly.

I waited patiently behind the postcard stand, just out of sight at the allotted time. Sure enough, as predicted, the three boys ran up, grabbed a handful of cards and raced off down the promenade.

They never knew what hit them. They were not aware that I was sprint champion at school, or had dealings with a younger brother. You have to remember that these were the days before ‘Positive Parenting’. So the slaps I administered to these three shoplifter’s behinds, while regaining possession of the stolen articles, were both legal and satisfying.

I arrived back at the kiosk to find a beaming Betty, accompanied by the manageress of the café standing with her arms crossed and with a grim expression on her maternal face. Apparently, she had been serving a customer, with a whipped ice-cream cone, at the outside window when she had seen me streaking past, yelling mild obscenities, after the three robbers.

I thought I was just about to be fired from my first job on my second day.

The Rottweiler nodded at Betty.

‘She’ll do,’ and with that she turned on her heel and went back to her domain.

‘Well done ducks.’ Betty patted my arm.

‘That’s the last we’ll see of those little buggers.’

I realised that my education over the next few years was probably going to be broadened in ways my mother would possibly not approve of. But I was here to stay, and I was now, officially, part of the team.

In time, I did clear tables, serve behind the hot counter and sample the whipped ice-cream between customers. Mostly, though, I stayed in the kiosk and learnt about life and the art of ‘selling-up’ from the first really committed teacher I had ever known.

*   *   *

I looked nervously across at Andrew. ‘Was that too much information? I’m not sure what exactly you’re looking for.’

He smiled reassuringly.

‘I know that it was your first job but it covered three years, and it indicated a few interesting things to me.’ He paused for a moment.

‘You obviously have an excellent memory. I can’t remember much of what happened last week, and you are adaptable to different situations, enjoy meeting people and you can sell both yourself and your products.’

He laughed.

‘You would also appear to be quick off the mark if the occasion calls for it.’

I looked at my watch and was amazed to find that I had only been in the office for half an hour.

‘Are you sure that you want me to go through all my jobs,’ I asked, secretly hoping that he did want to spend more time with me.

‘Absolutely, you have my undivided attention.’

Well that was something I had not been given for a while, so I might as well make the most of it.

©sallygeorginacronin Just an Odd Job Girl 2001

Chapter four coming up on Friday… of course your feedback is welcomed. If I don’t respond to comments for a little while it is because the removers are in and the next couple of days are likely to be a little chaotic.