My very first job was as a Saturday girl at Woolworth’s, West Bromwich in the West Midlands. An aunt who was high-level manager in the store of a nearby town had put in a word for me.
At break times they made two huge pots of tea – one with milk and sugar in it and one with just milk. Both were pretty revolting. However, the one with the sugar tasted of the metal tea-pot – and ran out early. So, I gave up sugar.
I worked on the toy counter. Those were the days when two or three assistants would work together between two long counters. As we got nearer to Christmas we became busier and busier. Toys were stacked up high and we had to climb ladders to fetch them down for customers. We had some of those very life-like chimpanzee dolls that you often used to see at fairgrounds.
“Oh look,” said one customer. “She’s got to climb just like a chimpanzee.”
“Well, at least she don’t look like one.”
I looked down at the speaker. Yes, he was right. His mate looked just like one of the dolls. They bought five of them.
After Christmas one half of the counter was given over to garden bulbs. They made our faces and hands itch. Usually the itching carried on all through the following day. It was much nicer when we moved on to Easter eggs.
One day the manager came up to me. “You’ll do. You’ve got short hair. We want you to work in the stockroom today.”
They had a donut machine in the stock room. Surely that would never be allowed today? Anyway, I spent the whole of the day making donuts. Box up the sugared ones. Flip over the cooked ones into the sugar. Flip from one tray of oil to the next one. Turn the handle and slide the mixing bowl along as donuts plopped into the first tray of boiling oil. Every so often mix more batter and top up the oil.
I made five hundred donuts that day.
“I didn’t see you in the store today.” My mother was getting the tea when I got home. “But I’ve got you a treat. Some of those donuts they were selling. They were still warm when I bought them.”
Actually they were quite nice though some were a little undercooked.
The donut machine had gone when I got there the next week. “We couldn’t get any of the regular staff to make them,” the manager explained.
I used to earn £1.00 a day. Some tax and NI was taken and we could pay one shilling for a hot meal at lunch time. Unlike the tea, these were quite good and cheaper than anything you could buy outside. So, take home pay was about seventeen shillings and sixpence (87.5p). You could buy a decent pair of jeans then for £1.50 or should I say 30 bob.
A-Levels became a reality so I had to give up my little Saturday job. When money got tight later on I started working for Robinsons, the cake shop chain. But I kept away from the donuts.