Perhaps I had ambitions to be an MP - or an undertaker!

Friday, March 13, 2009


The trick is to grow up without growing old (Frank Lloyd Wright)



After demob from the RAF I had no idea what I wanted to do, but a director of a local iron foundry lived nearby, and it was through him that I got a clerical job in their general office.

There were two iron foundries in the town at that time. Both were very busy, their products being sent all over the world. My job was to assist in calculating bonuses, and in preparing and paying out wages.

I worked with two older men. One of them was always very smartly dressed, looking just like a salesman in a gents’ outfitters. Then I found out that he had a Saturday afternoon job in a big Glasgow store. The other one had a glass eye, and he would cause new office girls to have hysterics, by taking his eye out and laying it on the desk.

There were two directors. The one I knew was very pleasant and easy to get on with. The other was a bit of a terror and his main purpose seemed to be to try to catch any one smoking. Most of the men obeyed the no smoking rule, but the elderly cashier certainly didn’t. His desk was in a corner of the room surrounded by a partition about 7 or 8 feet in height, and for much of the day smoke could be seen floating above. The opening of the door of the directors’ room could be clearly heard from the general office, and a smoker had about 10 seconds in which to conceal any evidence. This was usually successful, but on one occasion the cashier failed to stub out his cigarette properly, and his waste paper bucket went on fire!!!

This director had a particular dislike of the switchboard which was located in another corner of our room. Sometimes, if the operator was away from her desk, there would be a lot of buzzing from the machine. If he was passing he would rush to it, and manipulate every switch he could find. When the buzzing stopped, he would walk away satisfied.

There was a third director who had retired, but he still got his pay packet every week. Since I passed his home every day, I was given the task of delivering his envelope each Friday. (Yes, salaries were weekly, and even he was paid in cash.) One Monday morning I was called into the Secretary’s room and was told that this director had just phoned to complain that he didn’t get his money on Friday. Consternation!!! I put my hand into my jacket pocket and produced the envelope. I had forgotten to deliver it!!! I apologised profusely, and that was the end of the matter.

While I was there, the company built baths for the workers, and this was considered a very progressive move. There was an opening ceremony (no, the directors weren’t the first people to use the facilities), and a special tea was held in a nearby hall, during which I played background music on the piano.

I worked in that office for two years. During that time, I reluctantly decided that a full-time job in music was not feasible. However, I had become quite interested in the work a friend of mine was doing in a community centre, and so I made a move. But more of that another time.



My mother and father were both employed by the local Co-operative Society in grocery shops. Her first job was in the office, but in 1914, when so many of the male staff joined the army, she was transferred to one of the shops. They married in 1924 and she became a full-time housewife.

My father was put in charge of a shop, and later became the manager of the branch that was responsible for supplying the other local Co-op groceries with their produce.

I must mention here that during World War II his job was not an easy one. All the hundreds and hundreds of food coupons that were collected had to be sorted, documented and sent to head office. There was no time to do this during working hours, and the job had to be done at home with the help of my mother. There was no pay for her and no overtime for him.

Of course anyone working in a food shop during the war had the advantage of being on the spot when scarce commodities came in. And throughout his working life my father would often receive gifts from reps who were anxious to get good orders from him.

My father died aged 89 in 1982, and my mother in 1987 aged 90.


"The Helping Hand" by the French artist Emile Renouf (1845-1894). Perhaps a bit "twee", but I like the expressions on the faces.


Two weeks ago I said that I preferred short poems. However, the poem I have today has 12 stanzas. Please take time to read it. It’s great!!!

MARY’S GHOST by Thomas Hood (1799-1845)

‘Twas in the middle of the night,
To sleep young William tried;
When Mary’s ghost came stealing in,
And stood at his bedside.

O William dear! O William dear!
My rest eternal ceases;
Alas! My everlasting peace
Is broken into pieces.

I thought the last of all my cares
Would end with my last minute;
But tho’ I went to my long home,
I didn’t stay long in it.

The body-snatchers they have come,
And made a snatch at me;
It’s very hard them kind of men
Won’t let a body be!

You thought that I was buried deep,
Quite decent like and chary,
But from her grave in Mary-bone,
They’ve come and boned your Mary.

The arm that used to take your arm
Is took to Dr. Vyse;
And both my legs are gone to walk
The hospital at Guy’s.

I vowed that you should have my hand,
But fate gives us denial;
You’ll find it there, at Dr. Bell’s,
In spirits and a phial.

As for me feet, the little feet
You used to call so pretty,
There’s one, I know, in Bedford Row,
The t’other’s in the City.

I can’t tell where my head is gone,
But Dr. Carpue can;
As for my trunk, it’s all packed up
To go by Pickford’s van.

I wish you’d go to Mr. P.
And save me such a ride;
I don’t half like the outside place,
They’ve took for my inside.

The cock it crows - I must be gone!
My William we must part!
But I’ll be yours in death, altho’
Sir Astley has my heart.

Don’t go to weep upon my grave,
And think that there I be;
They haven’t left an atom there
Of my anatomie.

[The reference to Pickford’s van seemed to me an anachronism, till I discovered that they were in business as carriers from the end of the 17th century onwards]


Here’s something from the 1960s - the Seekers singing “The Carnival is Over” at what was supposed to be their farewell concert in 1968. In fact they reformed in 1993 and worked on and off till 2004 when they really did retire. Judith Durham is now singing as a solo artist (and I still fancy her!)


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