‘My first job’ series: Shipping Clerk

Next up in our ‘My First Job’ series, our Bolton reporter Carole Ogden shares her memories below. What was your first job after leaving school?

I had intended to take A levels and go to University, however I soon realised that it was a bit of a pipe dream, as I couldn’t see how my family could ever afford it and had no idea about funding etc. Living in a port town on the Sussex coast, I took an opportunity that presented itself and jumped on a lorry to Valencia, where I stayed with some lovely family friends for about two months.

Eventually I came back and signed up for a Youth Opportunities Scheme (YOPS – remember them?) at Sussex University, where I got to experience life in different departments each week in the Biology and Physics Department. I loved it, but I can’t honestly say I learned much or worked very hard.

After another couple of months, my dad found me a ‘proper’ job, working for a local company called Transferry Shipping, where my job was to complete customs documentation for a fleet of about 200 semi-trailers. I already spoke French, which was useful as our partner company was based in Dieppe, and I often had to translate paperwork or message them via the bulky desk-type telex machines that spewed out a reel of ticker tape when you typed – my boss could read it like braille.

One of my more vivid memories was of the office walls and curtains being stained a dirty yellow, as everyone in the room smoked heavily – ostensibly to help with the stress of the work. I took it up for about a year, delighting in buying Sobranie Cocktail cigarettes in glorious pastel colours and a snazzy box – how sophisticated was I? I also worked behind the bar in a local pub at weekends, when I became 18.

I passed my driving test and was allowed to drive the company minivan back and forth from the offices to the docs to pick up/drop off my paperwork and go into the buffet to pick up our lunches. An unexpected perk was that we were given luncheon vouchers in those days, which I often used to save up for a burger takeaway on my way back from gigs in Brighton at the weekends.

A new temp joined, called Helen, and we hit it off at once. The two of us would zip back and forth to the ferry terminal, singing ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’ and ‘Bat Out of Hell’ at the tops of our voices. In the autumn we would spend our evenings going to various bonfire gatherings in local villages, as we belonged to Cliffe Bonfire Society in Lewes. We had to make our own, hand-sewn, authentic-looking Native American costumes ready for the culmination of the year – the amazing torchlight celebrations in Lewes which now attract about 10,000 onlookers.

The French would go on strike quite regularly and I remember one long period when there was a backlog building up at Dieppe and we had to divert everything via Portsmouth. As a result Helen and I, plus a traffic manager, had to up sticks and stay in a Portsmouth B&B for a week or so to get our trailers through. It was a mad time – I had to perch my papers on a rickety table in the corner of a camping warehouse, which was allowing us to use the space. We were totally exhausted but we really had the best fun, especially as our drivers were a crazy lot and used to keep our spirits up.

It was very hard work and quite challenging for someone of my age (17) as my boss would suddenly call me out in front of the drivers if a trailer didn’t clear customs in time – telling me I had lost the driver a day’s wage, which was mortifying! After a couple of years, I moved onto a warehouse and storage company nearby, where I could use my Spanish and I had a great time there until I moved away to get married, just before my 20th birthday, but that’s a whole different story…



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