When I announced to my careers officer (who was really the evil maths teacher from hell) at school in my final year that I wanted to go to college and become a journalist, he just saw another 16-year old comprehensive school oik.
He had no idea about what I was like, my aspirations, my dreams or what I was capable of. All he knew was that I was seriously crap at maths and spent most lessons catching flies as he went on and on about ‘if x = blee and y = blah then what is z’, sines, cosines, tangent and bloody Pythagoras! My ability, or lack of it, in his lessons proved enough for him to evaluate my chances and hand down his verdict.
He informed me that I’d be better off getting a job in Woolies or perhaps one of the new supermarkets springing up in the area. After all, he sneered smugly, judging by most of the girls in the school and Essex in general, I’d be married and have a couple of kids by 17. What a GIT!
I’d sat my English O’ and A’ levels and my English teacher at school was very positive about my abilities and that I’d get great results. Why wasn’t he my careers officer? Why didn’t I go to him and ask him what I should do? Because I thought they knew better than me! I still hadn’t got to the stage of trusting my inner voice.
I wandered out of the careers office after my “advice session” feeling as if I’d been kicked in the stomach. I felt useless. Who was I kidding? A journalist? Really? I’d written a few amusing stories to entertain classmates and my family. I had a small article published in the Romford Recorder about the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 but apart from that I had no idea how to get started.
Whenever I was in doubt about anything back then there was only one man to turn to. Dad! He always knew what to do, always knew what was the right course of action and always said the right thing.
I told him what had happened. He already knew I wanted to be a journalist and, as a man who stopped going to school at 12 to work down a coal mine in Netherton (Northumberland), thought all his kids were Brain of Britain as they had taken EXAMS! Probably because we didn’t have to write on a slate with chalk, we had paper, pens and shoes for starters. I thought he was kidding about that – he wasn’t!
He considered the facts and suggested that the man was obviously an idiot. I did not dispute this. He said that I needed further training so should go to college and do a course that would help me get to where I wanted to be. Simple!
I successfully completed a 2 year Journalism Studies HND at college so was ready to enter the world of business! My first year at college was spent doing secretarial studies and learning shorthand (just in case I needed something to fall back on my dad said) and the second year focused on the journalism.
Getting a job in journalism proved to be difficult even though there were loads of jobs around. I decided that I would temp until the right opportunity came up and duly went along to my first assignment. I’d been to an employment agency for a test (Alfred Marx – shorthand and typing) and was deemed to be sufficiently capable.
My first assignment was working at Watney Mann Breweries in Whitechapel where I would really put my journalism skills to the test! Well, that’s what the woman at the agency said.
What she really meant was that I would be one in a typing pool of three girls working for two directors (who did what I have no idea) and would be ruled over by Oberfuhrer Beryl, the office manager. A woman who really should have been in the Army. She probably had been for all I know.
Everything we typed had four carbon copies – green to accounts, white for the file, blue for some other thing and pink for her to check and makes notes on in MASSIVE RED MARKER PEN. These would then be put back into your in-tray to read ‘2 out of 10, must try harder’, ‘I thought you were qualified’ ‘you have made x mistakes today already’ and so on. What a battle-axe she was.
I had to take dictation from the directors (can’t remember their names, one looked like Billy Bunter and the other like Lurch from the Addams Family) as I was the only one who could do shorthand. They scared the crap out of me and I never said much to them except ‘can you repeat that please’, ‘can you slow down please’ or ‘I have to sharpen my pencil’. And no, that is not a euphemism!
I was so scared of them that I couldn’t always read my shorthand and if I left it too long, would forget what they had said. I just used to hazard a guess at the word or take my shorthand home and see if my sister could work it out! I later realised I could write the words longhand that I couldn’t remember and wouldn’t get told off by the teacher!
It was also my job to type ALL stencils for the Gestetner machine as I was deemed the one who made the least typing mistakes! In fact, come to think of it, what the hell did the other two do anyway? I had special stuff for stencil errors that coated over the cut-out letters. It was a bit like clear nail varnish. Oberfuhrer Beryl used to keep a note of the level with a marker pen and reported it in her little inventory if you used too much.
That job still makes me shudder. The final straw came was when I had to use the Gestetner as the girl who normally did it was on holiday. it was located in its own building (I think it must have been a toilet block at some point as it was very smelly) I put the stencil on the wrong way round. I got ink everywhere, on myself, the walls, the machine, the ceiling and the floor. As it was quite late in the day, I managed to lock myself in the room and waited until everyone had left so I could stay behind after fix everything. This proved to be almost impossible and things went from bad to worse.
There was only one choice open to me …… run away and never go back! I did exactly that. I tearfully explained all this to my dad and told him there was no way I was every going back. He had other ideas and said that I would have to go back in the morning and explain what had happened. Don’t worry, he said, they would see the funny side, everyone makes mistakes. It’s not the end of the world. I mean, I doubt if they’d sack you for that! It is your first job after all.
So I went back the next morning. Oberfuhrer Davis was waiting for me with her arms folded over her ample bosom.Was dad right? Did they see the funny side and decide not to sack me? Did they bollocks!