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Wednesday, 30 November 2011

On the Gravy Train


My last stint of casual labour, before being pitched into permanent work, was the summer holiday job at Bovril/Marmite that provided the funds for my first foreign holiday - a week in Arenal, Majorca, courtesy of Clarkson's. 

 I had been granted something of a non-job in my first holiday job at Bovril/Marmite, supplying the cap hoppers on the filling lines, which neatly avoided having to do too much in the way of offloading lorries or humping goods about the warehouse.  This was largely in deference to my emaciated appearance (see below), very young age (I was only 15 at the time) and the fact that my dad was a departmental manager there.  I did not expect to get such favourable treatment in my second visitation and, as I anticipated, I was assigned to the group of university students etc. destined to labour in the warehouse.  Thankfully, they clearly decided that I was "too light for heavy work" (as did I) and found me a job working on a new bit of plant that looked to be nearly as good a job as the cap filling from the previous year.



Bovril/Marmite were in the process of launching an exciting new product, a Bovril-based gravy powder.  I was to be assigned to a team of three who were packing this powder.  This involved rolling tubs of powder into the filling room, using a vacuum system to suck it out into a hopper from where it was funnelled into cartons, which were then sealed and stacked ready for despatch.  My bit was the rolling tubs and vacuuming bit.  This was great, as all I had to do was keep the hopper full, and the vacuuming bit was quite fun.  The rest of the time I could sit and listen to the radio.  All went well for the first few days and I was congratulating myself on my life choice of being a complete wimp in appearance and actuality, when, out of nowhere I suffered the worst nose bleed of my life.  I was carted off to the Nurse's Station and had to lie down for half an hour or so before it would stop.  Two days later, it happened again only more so.  Cue more time in the Nurse's Station.  The next day, I was horizontal with the Nurse again, but not in an exciting way.  In the absence of any underlying medical reason for these sudden nasal exsanguinations, she came to the conclusion that the salt in the gravy powder, which filled the room in which I worked, was attacking my nasal linings.  The cure for this?  Stop working in the powder room.

Consigned back to the warehouse, my nose might have been fine again but the rest of me was falling to bits.  The idea of weeks of stacking heavy boxes and shifting sacks was somewhat unappealing and I doubted that I would survive to see Majorca.  Fortunately, another less exacting role appeared just in time.

The gravy powder, that had been my undoing in the powder room, happened to be the subject of a massive national promotion in which a sample jar of powder, a coupon to purchase more of the product and a promotional leaflet were to be sent to every household in the country.  A gang of students, including me, were assigned to the job of assembling this lot, slipping them into a jiffy bag, stapling same and repeating the exercise ad infinitum.  Nice dry work with no heavy lifting involved.  Unfortunately, putting a bunch of teenagers together on a boring job is bound to lead to joking and timewasting and this was no exception.  We had great fun but the work rate was not quite what Bovril/Marmite had hoped for.  Before too long, we were replaced with a team of girls from the filling lines who could multi-task sufficiently to laugh, joke and pack jiffy bags and it was back to the loading bank for me.

See Part 3 - Character Building

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format at Amazon UK and Amazon USA and now read the new bumper collection of stories, Crutches For Ducks at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com