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Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Forty Years On: Putting a lid on it!

Last time (Forty Years On and Counting) I was on the verge of leaving Anglesey Secondary Modern in Burton and setting off for the heady delights of Burton Technical College.  There remained the small matter of what I was going to do in the interim?  Staying at home sleeping was, apparently, not an option.

At that time, my dad was a Departmental Manager at Bovril/Marmite in Wellington Road and (with a bit of persistent nagging on my part) he managed to wangle a summer job for me in the warehouse.  This was quite an achievement because, having an August birthday, I was still only 15 when I left school.  In addition, I was about 8 stone dripping wet and looked like the “Before” part of a Charles Atlas advert.  So, dressed in a bunch of my dad’s old clothes (I took the view that turning up in my school uniform might not be a good move, and there wasn’t much else) I presented myself to the foreman at 7.30 on Monday morning.  I immediately found that my first difficulty was trying not to call anyone in authority ‘sir’, as had been drilled into me for the last 10 school years.  The foreman took one look at the pathetic spectacle before him, almost buried in a set of white overalls, and clearly decided that I was “too light for heavy work”.  So, while the small army of university students were set to work offloading lorries and stacking boxes, I was detailed to assist on the production lines.

This was actually something of a ‘non-job’ but it still presented me with more than a few challenges.  I was responsible for filling the hoppers on each line (about 6 in all) with the lids that would go on to the jars of Bovril or Marmite.  Usually, the girls on the line covered this task.  Obviously, these hoppers had to be kept full at all times, otherwise lidless jars of beef or vegetable extract would be literally pouring off the line.  Unfortunately, this involved two of my main nightmares, climbing things, and being in full view of a group of very confident women (the production lines being a largely female preserve then).  Given that I would blush scarlet if anyone of the opposite gender even looked in my direction, this did not bode well.

I was shown what to do by my foreman.  The job had a lot in common with those ‘spinning plates’ variety acts that used to appear on such things as The Good Old Days (and a certain bank advert now).  I had to carry a box of lids up to the top of the steps by each hopper and pour the lids in as necessary.  Climbing steps with a box in one arm, whilst gripping the rail like something possessed with the other, was a challenge, but was as nothing compared to teetering over a churning hopper whilst the production line whizzed below and a series of ribald remarks issued from the girls on the line.  For the rest of the day, and the next four weeks, I had to run from one line to the other, keeping all of the hoppers filled and making sure that fresh supplies of the lids were brought from the warehouse as necessary.  It was quite a responsibility!

My first big mistake happened at the end of Day 1.  I had been told that my normal hours of work were 7.30 to 4.30, so when the production lines stopped and the girls lined up at the clocking points to clock off, so did I.  After all, this was how it worked at school, when the bell rang, you headed home.  What I had not allowed for was the additional hour each day of ‘voluntary’ overtime for the warehouse workers.  I was rapidly educated on this matter the following morning by my Supervisor and the rest of the team.  The deal was that everyone stayed for overtime, even if there was nothing to do.  By going home, I had rocked the boat, as Management would wonder why everyone else in the warehouse needed to be there, if I didn’t.  I guess this was my introduction to industrial relations!

For the next thrilling instalment, see How many cigarettes to Arenal?

You can find the whole 'Forty Years On...' story and a lot more in the same vein besides, in 'Crutches For Ducks the second book in the 'nostalgedy' series.