I’m not in love, so don’t forget it…
We lasted four days in the job, Snopake and I, and then she fainted and we chucked it in. The boss said that it was just as well; we were too slow anyway. We’d have been quicker if we hadn’t worn gloves, he said. But then, we would have been constantly pricked by thorns as we counted out a dozen roses, wrapped them in cellophane, counted out a dozen roses, wrapped them in cellophane, counted out… The thorns penetrated the gloves anyway, but luckily our hands were anesthetised with cold. The roses needed to be refrigerated, so we were too. Even 10cc – always on the radio that summer – didn’t make it bearable. He settled up; we stepped gratefully into the sunshine. July 1975.
The following day, I seem to remember, was Snopake’s 18th birthday and we were glad not to have to spend it pin-cushioning our hands. We made zabaglione with her mum’s sherry, feasted on Vesta Chicken Supreme and Butterscotch Angel Delight. The food of kings, accompanied by Snopake’s new radio cassette player.
…It’s just a silly phase I’m going through…
But we did need jobs to take us through the summer until starting Uni at the end of September. Rumour had it that the local Spears factory was recruiting; so the following week we trailed along with our mate Patrick to ask for work.
Snopake was given a job sitting at a bench taking handfuls of blank Scrabble tiles and fitting them onto a tray so they could be stamped with letters. She had to put her number on each one so that someone somewhere could count up how many she’d done and pay her accordingly. Being a woman, she was, of course, on piece work, having to load the tiles at a rate of knots to make sufficient money. Women are known to be idle unless sufficiently incentivised.
I was put in the section making cardboard boxes. Card was fed into machines which stamped on the design and spat out bottoms or lids. Most of the time, I stood at a bench with a pile of box bottoms on one side and a pile of box lids on the other, putting lids on boxes. Someone on the other side of the factory spent their day taking lids off boxes so that the games could be put inside. Ah, the white heat of industry.
I was shown by the other women how to grab the lid by its side with one hand and then swing it while positioning the box with the other. You could build up a fair speed this way and, though there hasn’t yet in the intervening thirty-eight years been an occasion when this skill has come in useful, I live in hope that my box-lidding abilities will one day come into their own. After boxing a set amount, you took them to the stringing machine which recorded how many you’d done. Being a woman, I was, of course, on piece work, having to box the lids at a rate of knots to make sufficient money.
I was fascinated by one pair of ladies who’d collaborated to become the fastest box-lidders in the west. Nippy scuttled around collecting bottoms and lids, taking them to her mate and collecting the finished items to be stringed. Ludmilla was built like a shot-putter, lidding those boxes at such a rate you could barely see her arms windmilling. Then they recorded half each of the results.
The ladies who were doing this for real – rather than as a stopgap between reading King Lear and learning Anglo-Saxon – had worked out their own survival techniques. Banter, of course. Singing along to the radio, when you could hear it over the machines.
… And just because I call you up…
Our mate Patrick, like us between A-Levels and Uni, was also given a job. He had a trolley and moved the empty boxes from place A to place B. Sometimes he then moved them from place C to place D. As a bloke, he was on a fixed wage so it didn’t matter how fast he worked. So sometimes he came to chat and sometimes he hid with the other blokes and played cards or listened to the radio.
… Don’t get me wrong, don’t think you’ve got it made ….
1975. The year of the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts which put an end to this sort of thing.
InfantPhenomenon is very down at the moment. In September, she started working as a Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) in a Primary School. A new post on a one year’s contract. She is a maths specialist – that being one of her things. She takes groups of children who are struggling with maths and have behaviour issues. She plans work for them, takes the session by herself, marks and analyses the results and plans the next day’s work. She’s good at the job and everyone is delighted with the progress those children are making. But she earns a pittance and, living in London, is only just able to make ends meet because she also does private tuition in the evenings and weekends.
The week after she was taken on, the school employed an HLTA to support with sport. He works alongside the teachers, helping with PE lessons. He has no planning or marking. He has no previous experience in schools. And he takes home three hundred pounds a month more than her.
InfantPhenomenon has, of course, raised this with her management. They tell her that it is no reflection her work, which is excellent, top-hole and so on. But they can’t pay her more than the scale she was appointed on. And they appointed him on a higher scale. So that’s what’s in the budget.
I wonder why?
… Big boys don’t cry, big boys don’t cry ….
Any good jobs going out there for a proactive, organised, numerate, sociable graduate who is also, regrettably, a woman so may need incentivising?
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