The World of Work

So, do you remember the "Get out and don't come back until you've got a proper job" reference? It was my father being his usual helpful self. It was September 1968 and I was sixteen and a half. Apparently my parents had been to the local grammar school to see if I could go there for my A-levels. The school, allegedly said yes. Not that I was involved in these conversations, after all, what was it to do with me? So during that summer my folks would make reference to me going back to school and I kept telling them that I wasn't. I had made friends with various guys from Greenway School who were all my age and had left. I sure as hell wasn't going to be a schoolboy any more. So one fateful September morning I was asked "Well, are you going back to school?" And my reply was something like "As I keep saying, NO!" And it was then that my father gave me that advice.
Fortunately we had something called the Youth Employment Office so I toddled off there to see what they had. They asked the usual sort of question "What sort of job are you looking for?". How the f*ck did I know? After all, it was only that morning that I decided to get a proper job! So I had a quick think and as I wasn't bad at maths I said "Banking or Insurance". Not only did I assume that these would be the kind of jobs where I could use my maths skills but they also sounded like the sort of jobs that might pay reasonably well. There were no banking or insurance jobs and I was asked whether I would consider accountancy. Now, in the previous year I had bumped into an old school friend. He was a year older than me and when I asked what he was up to he said he was going to a school of accountancy and I thought "Blow that, you won't catch me becoming an accountant". And this was before Monty Python! Hence it was with a little surprise that first I asked the all-important "Does it pay well?" and when the answer was in the affirmative I said "OK".
The upshot was me starting on the road to becoming an accountant. I think I should state here and now, before anyone gets the wrong idea about me, that I never became a proper accountant, i.e. I never actually qualified. Chalk up another success for the grammar school system and my astonishing ability to underachieve.

McIlwee Purcell
A small firm of auditors. I had my interview and was offered a job. So in September 1968 I became an audit clerk at 7 per week. Now, you are probably confused. Was 7 quid a week good or bad in those days. Well, I can't remember! As a indicator of the cost of living as for a 16 - 18 yr old you could put 3 gallons (about 13.5 ltrs) of petrol in your car for 1; a pint of beer (I can only remember the price of a pint of mild) was 2s 2d (or 11p), an album was 32s 6d (162p), you could see Pink Floyd for ten bob (50p) and a 1959 Les Paul would set you back 300. So a week's wage would buy:
  • 94.5 ltrs of petrol - today's price about 91; or
  • 63.5 pints of mild - today say 127; or
  • 4 albums - today 50 - 60; or
  • 14 Pink Floyd gigs - today, you work it out; or
  • you'd need to work for 40-odd weeks for the Les Paul
So I suppose I wasn't paid that well. Probably explains why, in the winter, we'd often heat a tin of baked beans and crush a packet of crisps into it - I kid you not. In the end I lasted a whole 18 months but boy, did I learn a lot. And by the end I was on the princely wage of 10 per week.
We were based above a travel agents in Ruislip High Street and as the firm grew we also had an office across the road. Most of our clients were sole traders or small businesses. Sometimes it seemed like magic that from a smelly box and some really did stink) of apparently unrelated bits of paper we could produce a set of accounts for the taxman. Once, having prepared a set of accounts for a small chain of florists I was called into the senior partner's office. The owner was sitting there and I had to tell him that one of his managers had his hand in the till, Not nice. I did enjoy working there but got itchy feet. In early 1970 we were told that we would no longer be paid in cash every week but would be paid monthly into a bank. I didn't have a bank account at that time so that pissed me off. Plus I wasn't getting enough job satisfaction. I would work on a client for a short period of time, usually days or at most a few weeks, and then nothing till the following year. I wanted more involvement on a day-to-day basis. So I started looking around. The people at McIlwee Purcell when I joined were
  • Francis (Frank) McIlwee - the senior partner. A Scot who was probably nowhere near as old as he seemed to a fresh-faced 16-year old. He could add a column of figures in his head faster than most people could using an adding machine. He had been in Canada and had been pitted against some comptometer (a forerunner of the desktop adding machine) champion, They were several foolscap pages in before the comp operator turned the page before he did. He was a Chelsea season-ticket holder and Andy Farrell and I once took his son to a match. The main memory of Stamford Bridge was seeing all these celebrities in the restaurant at half-time. See, Chelsea were fashionable even back then.
  • David Purcell - junior partner and incredibly clever chap. Clever but absent minded. He would wander into our room, spot a magazine, pick it up and then forget what he had come down to say.
  • Andy Farrell - the senior audit clerk. Very well spoken, had long hair, was married, and drove a Sunbeam Alpine. The Sunbeam was a truly magnificent sports car; although, as I found out when we went to Stamford Bridge, it wasn't really designed for 3 people. I really, really wanted one. But it wasn't to be and I had an MG Midget instead. Possibly an even more important fact about Andy was that he went to Middle Earth at the Roundhouse. It sounded fantastic so I went (albeit only 3 times and then it closed). And do you know what? It really was fantastic. Another page to be created at some point methinks.
  • Robert Dawes - his dad was a tailor and made him a pair of leather trousers. How exotic! Robert drove a Mini with racing seats and possibly blacked-out windows. I suppose I can't mention Robert without mentioning . . . drugs!
    Not that either of us took them, you understand, but in 1969 he gave me one of those plastic containers that 35mm film comes in. In it, he said, was cannabis. In it, from what I could see, was what looked like very coarse sand. But at the time I had no idea what cannabis looked like. As I said I did not take drugs and would announce that "I don't need drugs to have a good time" to anyone that would listen. And even to those that wouldn't! So the upshot was it was thrown into the glove box of my car (a beautiful 1959 Hillman Minx with front bench seat and a 3-speed column shift) and I thought no more about it. By now I had grown my hair long (difficult to grow it short I suppose) and was regularly going to all-night gigs in London. If memory serves I had been at "The Temple" in Wardour Street and when, on Sunday morning, I returned to where I had parked the car, it wasn't there. So it was off to the nearest police station to report it stolen. But, joy of joys, they had found it. It was at Langham Place, where Broadcasting House (BBC radio) is located. Except, it wasn't so much in Langham Place as trying to get into the BBC. Someone, and I promise it wasn't me, had crashed it into the side of the building. Luckily, it wasn't damaged. Well, lucky if referring to Broadcasting House. Bloody unlucky if you are a 1959 Hillman Minx. It was a wreck! So, there I was chatting to a snidey (is that a word?) police sergeant who took one look at this long-haired teenager wearing an ex-RAF greatcoat and decided that I was the guilty party. It's not that he accused me directly, that was left to the Inspector at Ealing who accused me by phone, but he tried to rattle me by telling me they had a desription of the driver (obviously in his mind that was me). No doubt a lie but I think I got my own back when I very innocently (and naively) said "Good! Can I sue him when you catch him?". He wandered off, swearing under his breath and it was at that moment when I remembered what I'd left in the glove box. What to do? If I left it in the car it might be discovered and then I'd be in trouble; although I could always claim that it was planted there, despite my fingerprints being all over it. Or, I could retrieve it. After all, if Mr Plod hadn't searched me by now, there was a good chance that he wouldn't do it at all. So, as innocently as I could whilst feeling as guilty as sin, I asked if I could retrieve a few things from the car. Which is what I did and, with cannabis in pocket, I wandered off to catch a tube, still talking to a member of the Metropolitan Police. And to bring this ramble full circle and back to Robert, a few days later we put the cannabis/sand into our coffee. Didn't do anything for me!
  • Leonard Loveday - lived in Yiewsley and was a bit of a party animal. He eventually shared a flat in London.
  • Mrs ??? - Nope, cannot remember her name but she was the main secretary.
  • Margaret - about my age and was the junior secretary and answered the phones (something I had to do if neither ??? nor Magaret were there). The Xmas do in 1968 was strange as neither Magaret nor I had partners so my best friend Steve pretended to be her boyfriend and her best friend - another name I can't recall - was my girlfriend. In my dreams!

Dagenham Motors
In April I joined Dagenham Motors in Alperton. Despite the fact that this meant a longer tube journey it was worth it as my salary went from 10 per week to 15 per week. During my first week I had another interview to attend, which I did. Also in that first week I was taken to the Chalk Farm showroom as they wanted me to stand in for someone while they were on holiday. So the second week saw me going to Chalk Farm every day. Not a hardship as I could go and say hello to the Roundhouse. And while I was based at Chalk Farm I had a phone call from the company who interviewed me the previous week. They were offering me a job at the same money, but within walking distance of home. How could I refuse? The answer was that I couldn't. So on Monday (the beginning of my third week) I handed in my resignation. Surprisingly this job never made it onto any CV.

W S Try
It was like getting another payrise, I could walk to work as this Google Earth pic shows. Which I did for a while then took the car. Yes, I know I am a lazy sod!
The most noticeable thing about W S Try was that it was still a family-run business. And people referred to the directors as Mr Will or Mr Hugh, etc. Like something out of "Upstairs, Downstairs". The office etiquette was also very formal, calling everybody Mr ... or Mrs ... rather than by their first name. OK not everyone but an awful lot of them. We also had proper tea breaks morning and afternoon but the tea/coffee came from a vending machine. The coffee cost more than the tea and we were reimbursed weekly/monthly, in cash, for 1 cup of tea plus 1 cup of coffee per day.
As the business and the accounts team grew we relocated into what had been the family home of 2 members of the Try family (a brother and a sister). We had the sitting and dining rooms as our office. The only down-side to it was that, with the kitchen so close at hand, we drank an awful lot of coffee; and I for one could never say no if someone asked.
Did I enjoy it there? Yes I did. I was involved in everything accounts related, including payroll. I was responsible for converting everybody's pay into the new-fangled decimal currency. I attended seminars run by Customs and Excise when VAT was first introduced (and found that Customs didn't fully understand VAT either). Try's also gave me my first experience of going away on business. We had a subsidiary in Poole and I would have to go there to prepare the quarterly account. Used to stay in a guest house but once or twice I stayed in a hotel (for my first time) that had an en-suite bathroom. What luxury. However, despite this, and the hotel being in the centre of town, I preferred the guest house as the breakfasts were better. I visited other subsidiaries but these were close enough to drive to every day. One of the offices I visited was in Banstead, Surrey. One day I turned up to find someone from the year below me at Tenisons working there. Another one for the "It's a small world" dept. He and I did exchange emails a few years ago and at that time he was still in contact with the office manager from Banstead. I was known as the "head office hippie" (hair getting longer all the time!). One other thing that springs to mind is that it was at Try's that I debugged my first computer program.
OK, so strictly speaking it wasn't a computer. In those days a computer would fill a huge room, if not a building. No, we used these big machines called accounting machines. They looked like overgrown comptometers (as this is the second time I have referred to one of these perhaps a picture would help) but as you can see from this advert they were a whole lot bigger. These were used to update the sales and purchase ledgers (that's customers and suppliers to you non-accounting folk). We also used them to maintain our contract cost ledgers. What is difficult to see from this ad is the bar in front of where the account card went. This bar had a number of (and here words fail me in trying to describe what they were) things attached to it. These were the equivalent of program steps that these machines followed and they had a very brief description of the step. So when somethintg wasn't working one day I looked at this bar and could see that the instructions were wrong. If only I had transferred to IT then instead of 20 years later. Would have saved a whole lot of aggro!
I suppose it's time to list a few names:
  • Gordon Whitmore - my first boss. He was the Chief Accountant and became Company Secretary. Did his best to keep me when I had decided to leave. It's wierd really. I left McIlwee Purcell because I wanted to be more involved in the one organisation and I wanted to leave Try's for the exact opposite. I wanted more variety. No pleasing some people. Anyway, GW suggested that I might work for 6 months of the year with our auditors and 6 months at Try's. No idea how that would have worked but although I did consider it I had by that time been seduced by the (false) promises from agencies of loads of temp/contract work in London.
  • Christine Clayton - one of the junior members of the accounts team. When I was 21 I got my first grey hair. Being a pretentious twat I decided that it looked quite distinguished. So I made sure it was visible. One day Christine walked into my office and said "Keith!" TWANG! "You had a grey hair".
  • John Lovett-Turner - An inspiration to me, even if it was accidental. John was our Chief Accountant for a while. Anyway, he and his girlfriend decided that they would get married but they did not want anything fancy. They arranged to get married at the local registry office and without telling them why, they asked a couple of friends to meet them "for lunch". The idea being that the friends would be the witnesses. Now, as you mihgt have guessed, the friends didn't turn up. After all, it was only for a lunch! So John ended up getting 2 strangers off the street to be his witnesses. And that is how I wanted my wedding to be. But for family reasons, it didn't happen. With all that's happpened with my family since I should have just gone ahead and done it.
    I met John again a few years after leaving Try's (around 1977/78?) when he wanted me to rejoin and be the accountant for one of the subsidiaries. The company in question was in Whitechapel whereas I was living in Oxfordshire and didn't want to move. So I asked for a huge salary on the grounds that if I got it, it would be compensation for what would be a very shitty journey every day and if I didn't get it, it wouldn't matter. I didn't get it!
  • Mr Howe - or Tom as I eventually was allowed to call him. A combination of me becoming more accepted as an equal and a relaxing of the etiquette. Was probably in his late 50s and was a little deaf. He also owned the sweet shop across the road from the Greenway school. Helped him with his tax affairs but the Revenue refused to talk to me about it.
  • Mr ??? - cannot remember his name but when I got to know him better I discovered that he used to race at Brooklands.

Rank Xerox
I should never worked at Rank Xerox - I should have been temping up in London.
I should never worked at Rank Xerox - It wasn't really a job for an accountant.
I should never worked at Rank Xerox - but I'm very glad I did.
You see, when I was getting bored at W S Try I contacted a number of accoutancy agencies in London enquiring about the possibility of doing temp work in London. They all said that it would not be a problem. I then resigned from Try's but gave them 5 week's notice as there was quarterly accounts to be prepared and it took me up to a 1 week holiday that I had booked. I explained all this to the agencies and they all with one voice said "No problem". Lying bastards!!! On my return from holiday I called them all and guess what? During that 1 week there must have been some kind of crash as there were no jobs at all!
So desperate measures were called for. I registered with the local employment agencies. One of which had a certain Mrs Farrell working there. Anyway Rank Xerox were looking for a temp so I went along and got the job. For some reason I seemed to forget to find another proper accountancy job. I can't think why. Surely not because the job was relatively easy, nor because the pay was quite good, and definitely nothing to do with the subsidised bar that I frequented at lunchtimes. Probably much more top do with the fact that I am just plain lazy. So when the company offered to make me a permanent employee, instead of saying "No thanks" as another long-term temp suggested, I said "OK". Forgot to mention that I was based at the Denham site, which had formerly been the Denham Studios. My desk was in building 36. This was one of the actual sound stages that had been converted to warehouses. One of them had originally had a floor that could be lowered and flooded; great for a film studio, not so clever if you want to store photocopiers or paper. Film buffs will know that Denham Studios was built by Sir Alex Korda. There were still references to the studio's origins in the 70s. There was a Korda block and we still referred to at least one of the meeting rooms as the cinema as it had been one of the preview cinemas at the studio. By one of those quirks of coincidence the film The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (the football team I have supported since the 50s) was filmed at Denham. As was one of my favourite films of all time the 1936, Things To Come.
So why am I glad I stayed there? Because in the same department was a young woman called Sarah. I thought she was lovely and miraculously, she liked me too. We were married within 6 months of our first date. And despite the dire predictions of "It won't last!" we are still together after 30 years. So YAH BOO SUCKS!!!
Sadly during my time at Xerox my MG Midget failed its MOT and had to be replaced. This was before Sarah and it followed my tradition of neglecting cars (very few ever lasted more than a year). Luckily my grandfather said I could have his car. But what a come-down. One day I'm driving a british racing green MG Midget, albeit with a blue driver's door, and the next it's an Austin 1100. Bang went my street cred - who am I kidding? I have never had any street cred. If nothing else it hadn't been invented then.

The other thing about Xerox was that we used early incarnations of the fax machine. They were called telecopiers back then and you could transmit an A4 sheet in 6 minutes. Sounds like a bloody long I'd better keep up the tradition of naming and shaming:

  • Brian Nickless - my immediate boss and a really nice guy. What's more he was too good for his job but the powers that be obviously didn't see him as "management material". Poor bugger! He had what appeared to be a fantastic memory, but he explained that you only have to remember the odd things as those are the only things that people will ask about. He also made a rod for his own back by writing little poems in people's birthday cards. The problem (for him) was that he then couldn't stop because if he did the person would wonder what they had done to offend him.

The Barry Trio
The what? I hear you ask. What sort of employer is that? Well, it's not an employer as such but was the name of the little band for which I was the guitarist. The reason it's here is because I earned money from it so it was work!
Now I'd love to report that we were a good old rock band or that we were influenced by Pink Floyd or that we played in the style of Country Joe and The Fish. But I cannot as we were the sort of band that played at weddings and working men's clubs. We played foxtrots and waltzes. We wore frilly white shirts and bow ties. We played from sheet music.

I had sold my soul to the devil.

So why did I do it? At first it was good experience playing in fromnt of a real audience of strangers. It was also good practice with the guitar (especially the Arbiter. If I could hold a chord on that I could do it on anything; despite my short sausage-like fingers), but in the end I liked the money. I started while at McIlwee's. I saw an ad in the music shop in Uxbridge where I used to spend most of Saturday. If the boss wasn't around we (me and bugger-another-forgotten-name but he worked there) would play whatever instrument we fancied. If the boss was in, we could still play a guitar but not for long. Anyway "b-a-f-n" said I should go for it as it would be good experience. So I did. We tended to play either a Friday or a Saturday night. Then Friday and Saturday nights became the norm. By the time I left (I was at Xerox now) we usually played Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I was earning as much with the Barry Trio as I was at Xerox. And for a lot less effort. But eventually my artistic conscience could bear it no longer and I left. My earnings dropped by more than half while my expenditure increased as I was now going to the pub and buying drinks every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A financial disaster that took years to overcome.
The band was:

  • Barry Dowsett - at the beginning Barry played the accordian (yes, really!). He was bloody good and had won loads of competitions and stuff. Fairly certain that he started the band, By the end he was playing something that looked like an accordian but was in fact an electric organ. Long after leaving the band (20 years-ish) I was flicking through the channels late at night when I thought "I recognise that person" it was Barry being interviewed for Open University or something. He was MD of Bees Transport. I meant to contact Bees to say hello but my usual inability to do anything other than think what I ought to do meant that I didn't.
  • Barry ??? - another Barry, this time the drummer. He and Barry D used to get gigs as the Barry Duo even when I first joined I think they were still playing as a duo. I remember that Barry drove a Morris Minor which became very cramped if either Barry D or I were in the car. I couldn't offer either Barry a lift as I had the MG.
    Barry was a good steady drummer but had no concept of playing rock. So when we played a gig at a youth club I had to provide some younger music. Somehow we didn't think that Moon River or Tie A Yellow Ribbon would be the sort of stuff they'd like. So I sorted out some Hendrix (always the optimist) and we played it.
    Picture the scene, 3 guys in frilly shirts and bow ties, one of whom was me with my Arbiter (remember its high action) and a 10 or 15 watt amp that would become overloaded and would just emit a loud buzz. There I stood singing "Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire" and doing my best to play a solo and behind me were Barry D just busking the best he could and the other Barry playing strict 4/4 beat. It was a f*cking disaster. it's a wonder I ever played the guitar again!

  • F W Woolworth
    I suppose I ought to mention my stint at the Woolies in Clapham High Street back in 1967. It was just a summer job as I was still at school. When I started the only other person in the stock room had started the same day. So we learnt together. Not that there was much to learn. We unloaded lorries and put the stuff in the right locations. We'd get stuff ready and restock the shelves. We'd sweep the store at the end of the day. Not exactly rocket science. Can't remember what happened to the other new guy as I have no memory of him. I do remember someone else who was permanent and, I suppose, my boss but we were more like friends. I also remember that that he was very cross when Radio London (the pirate radio station) was closed down.

    A couple of main memories from then:

    • Being asked by one of the bin men to steal to order. He would provide a list of what they wanted, I'd put the stuff in the rubbish and they'd pay me (the value to be agreed). To be honest I was petrified as there was no way I would do it but I was worried about their reaction. Fortunately I had the perfect response - I was leaving in a couple of weeks. The bin man shrugged his shoulders and said "OK".
    • Chatting to one of the Saturday boys then mentioning him to my mother. She then said to ask him if he had a sister called, whatever her name was, and if so he was my cousin (can't work out the real relationship - second cousin? First cousin once removed? First cousin?). I was shocked and a little upset that I had a cousin who also lived in Clapham. What's more, living in his house was my great-grandmother! Now, let's just stop and consider this for a moment. I had been living in Clapham for about 10 years and living within 1Km was my maternal grandfather's mother. Plus other relatives. AND I DIDN'T KNOW!!! But why didn't I know? No idea! Just goes to show that my family is really, really odd. Is it any wonder that I no longer have anything to do with any of them. It helps maintain what little sanity I have left.

    Other places you can visit, assuming you can stand the excitement:

    • Me - back to the "all about me" page.

    • Macaulay Primary School - stuff about Macaulay, obviously! And to encourage you, there are more photos of places and names of people. Bet you can't wait!!!

    • Archbishop Tenison's - can you guess what this is? Correct! Well done. But did you know that it also contains a link where I talk about something I did for the first time? Definitely worth a click.

    • Greenway School - I didn't go there but my friends did and it's where I played my first gig

    • The Railway Arms - my local.

    • Photos - Currently a few of me from the early 70s

    • Home - Back up to the main home page.