Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Dance Me to the Start of Love

Fast forward a few years to 1949. Left Lanfranc Secondary Modern School at 14 and a bit. No GCSE's were around then, just a "school leaving certificate". Don't remember actually having one of these but never mind.

My first job was as an apprentice plumber for A.C. Whyte Ltd of Whitehorse Road in Croydon; he was a general builder outfit. I was taken on as an apprentice but in reality I was just a plumber's mate. Stan, the plumber, was a very good plumber and generally a great chap; we got on very nicely. He taught me how to "wipe a joint" with a moleskin pad and molten lead; how to join iron pipes by tapping a thread and linking them that way and various other plumbing skills. Not like today's easy-peasy copper tubing, plastic tubing and compression joints; oh no, it was all a real skill in those days.

I was due to sign a 7 year apprenticeship agreement after the 6 months trial. However, I found this type of manual labour somewhat exhausting at times but more importantly it was very low wages: 30/- (or £1.50) a week - much lower than most of my peers and friends were earning! And £1 of my wages was handed over to my mother each Friday evening. So, when it was time for me to sign the apprenticeship papers I ducked out. Mr. Whyte, the owner of the business, was quite furious and asked me why I'd waited for six months before chucking it in. I said it was better to decide now than in, say, another six months and just left it at that.

It was dead easy to get another job in those days and I immediately got taken on in a laundry, operating a massive spin-dryer machine into which all the bags of laundered material were loaded. It was known as "bag-wash" and was the cheapest form of laundry. All the clothing and stuff was packed into a large cotton bag by the customer at home, collected by a van, stuck straight into a large washing machine and then put into the spin dryer. These wet bags of laundry had to be placed equally around this spin-dryer (it looked like a big steel roundabout you see at kids playgrounds). If it was not properly loaded it would start spinning and then shudder and jolt around and had to be stopped and reloaded. Anyway, this was a dead-end job but it paid three times the money I'd been earning as a trainee plumber!

Didn't last too long in the steamy atmosphere of the laundry and got a job as a "van boy" with the Direct Potato Supply Company of Thornton Heath. This firm delivered sacks of spuds to houses and I was the driver's van boy, loading and off-loading the sacks of spuds. We also used to deliver "chicken potatoes" to small-holders in hundred-weight sacks. These were cheaper, slightly rotten, spuds. Pay was a flat rate plus "tonnage" which was a sort of bonus or extra pay according to how much weight in spuds you managed to flog that day. Not too bad a job; out on the road, no boss breathing down your neck - suited me ... for about 3 months!

Cut through a few more unskilled jobs and ended up working at West Croydon Railway Station in the ticket and left luggage office. Quite loved it there; I have always loved the trains and railway stations and this was a pleasant little station to work in. After a couple of months I went on a booking office course at Clapham Junction for six weeks. It was an interesting and enjoyable time and I passed the final exams with flying colours. However, I was informed that there was no vacancy in either West or East Croydon stations for a booking office clerk and I was packed off to REDHILL, quite a few miles away, to work on rolling stock returns! Rolling stock returns, what a miserable and boring job that was. Working entirely alone in an old railway coach in the backyards of Redhill railway station, with just a phone in the "office". I stood it for a fortnight and jacked it in.

Immediately got a job as a day-book clerk in the offices of Charringtons, the brewers, in Thornton Heath. There were nine of us working in this Dickensian style office, all perched on high stools at a long sloping desk. I had a massive "day book" into which I had to enter all the invoices for the various pubs we supplied bottled beer to in the greater Croydon districts. All the entries were made with a school-type nibbed pen and ink and had to be in neat, almost copper plate handwriting. I stayed there until early January 1953, when I joined the RAF.

What's all this got to do with the title of this piece: Dance ..... Love.. Well, in mid 1951 I started to take ballroom dance lessons. I was sixteen-and-a-half, and seldom been kissed! I thought this was the best way to meet a girl. And I was right. What a girl too, the first of the few I have to say.

More details in the next blog...

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