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Jobs whilst you are a student
Member Name: sidneygee
Jobs whilst you are a student
Date: 07/03/02, updated on 12/05/02 (1587 review reads)
Advantages: Economic, Social, Experience
Disadvantages: Find THAT job, Then another, And another
Well, it is a long time since I was a student, but since others are writing about their experiences, then why shouldn't I do so? That is one of the prime advantages of DooYoo as far as I am concerned - another opportunity to put down in writing part of our very own autobiography. OK, this may not meet with the 'approval' of some, that I have accused of having ‘schoolteachery’ minds (dig-dig lol) and seem to wish to see only short succinct and purely relevant reviews on the site.
Anyone who has studied history in even its more rudimentary taught form should have got the message that we should be able to LEARN lessons from ‘history’. However, the general feature of autobiography is often that the writer wants to say “Don’t do as I did”.
I worked during school and university vacations and (for a period) at weekends over an 8 year period and I reckon that I gained a lot from the experience. Almost all this experience took place in and around the small sea-side town of Barry in South Wales. I reckon that there were few places to beat it during my youth during the 1950's and 1960's. Bit of a 'dump' now though (as the few accounts of “Barry” on DooYoo will confirm).....
For the period whilst I was at University (1963 to 1966), we were in the halcyon days when students had free tuition and everyone had at least something in the way of a Maintenance grant. There were supposed to be 'parental contributions' and I 'lost' about 10% of the grant each year that was NOT made up by my parents. However, I still finished my 3 years at University free from debt and indeed with a couple of hundred pounds in savings - and THAT was a time when a new Mini was about £450 ... and petrol 22 pence a gallon .....
My grants for those 3 years amounted to approximately £280, £300, £330. But I augmented it each year by about £30 by making 'extra trav
elling expenses' claims – all perfectly legal, I should add .... But, hell!! When you are a teenager-to-21, life is a bottomless pit as far as money-requirements are concerned. But I am so pleased that I never had to resort to finding paid employment during term time, as many students today have to (and still finish up with a debt mountain).
Perhaps I should make the point that 'loans' were not an option in my day. OK you just MIGHT have been able to arrange a temporary over-draft from the Bank, but credit was not as easily come by. So you either worked when you could or went thirsty - although some managed to sponge off their parents during the vacations (silly people, I thought - so many unrepeatable opportunities missed).
'The Mighty Atom Cafe'
I started employment mighty early, at the age of 13, in the school Whitsun and summer holidays in 1958, at 'The Mighty Atom Cafe' on the West Promenade (facing the sandy beach) at Barry Island. I just went there myself - it always looked a friendly place - and was sent to see the owner who took me on. I recall the date well - 10th May 1958, and I started that next weekend, making/selling candy floss and selling ice cream to the day-trippers, mostly from the Rhondda Valleys.
They came down in their hordes on 'special express trains' (all STEAM!!!!!), starting to arrive at 10 am and mostly leaving from about 5 pm. The cafe also sold fish & chips and 'pots of tea for the beach'. I worked for the weekends up to Whitsun, all Whitsun week, then the weekends until the summer holidays, and then the 6 weeks of the holiday. I was paid one shilling and thruppence an hour (6 pence in 'new money'), so that 6 days' work provided £3. Now my 'pocket money' at that time was about 30 pence a week, so that was riches indeed ! There was even the possibility of 'over-time', working the evening fish & chips trade at 'The
Rock Cafe' also owned by the same family – the Fulgoni family - but, after 8 hours, I was generally too 'knackered' to consider this.
The cafe was named 'The Mighty Atom' by its original owner, the famous Welsh World Boxing Champion Jimmy Wilde (whose nick-name was 'The Mighty Atom' - see my Review), a gentle lovely old man in my days who still visited the cafe occasionally.
Learned a lot from that early experience. For example those who looked like 'sweet old dears' were rarely 'sweet little old ladies' at work, but usually "right-miserable-old–ratbags", and that "life-ain't-always-fair", so that YOU could be blamed for the sins of others. Oh and I learned how to enter 'licensed premises' for the first time, learning the pleasure to be found in consuming 'Hancock's Ales'. Cost from one shilling and thruppence a pint (oh Joy! – an hour’s work for a pint!!!).
Forte Ice Cream Parlour
The following summer I 'moved up' in society and sold ice cream from one of the two Forte Ice Cream Parlours facing the main road through Barry Island. Pay also moved up to two shillings an hour (10 pence).
The 'Parlours' were owned and run by three members of an off-shoot of the famous Forte family, and they were grand guys. Tony & Dino were the sons of the 'old man' who was the brother of Sir Charles Forte.
Dino was a real Luigi-type 'playboy', then running a maroon Coombes-Tuned Mk 2 Jaguar 3.8 (the 'Inspector Morse'-style car but with wire wheels and oodles of performance). Dino appointed all the part-time waitress staff, and he had a keen eye for 'talent'.
The main 'Parlour' where I worked was the preferred venue of the 'Fairground owners' set, so the Olivers' and the Collins' families were in often. I recall the 'showman' Ton
y Oliver driving around in a pre-war Mercedes SSK fixed-head coupe (with enormous exhausts snaking out of the sides of the bonnet – the sort that would make in excess of a million pounds now at auction). I remember him trying to sell it to Dino for £400 - a little less than the cost of the (then) new-fangled Austin Mini. Oh I wished .....
A much less tiring job. The ice cream was made on the premises and occasionally I helped out in the factory which was supervised by 'the old man'.. I tasted 'real coffee' for the first time there, and soon became hooked on 'expresso'. I became very adept at turning out Knickerbocker Glories, Nut Sundaes and 'North Poles' and other fancy ice cream concoctions and my true 'potential' was recognised. Thus, at the end of the summer, I was asked if I would work on weekends throughout the year. The parlour was open throughout the year, and walkers on the beach would call in for a coffee, biscuit (and sometimes ice cream), so that it became quite busy at the weekends, particularly Sundays.
Apart from the pocket-money augmenting, it was very useful in that a never-ending series of young ladies were employed as part-time waitresses.... I soon started the most important pass-time of my teenage years as a 'serial romantic'. I worked there for almost two years...... <sigh>
My father worked as a Plant Supervisor at DCL in their factory producing PVC and other plastics. By the time I was 16, I had decided that I wanted to study Chemistry at University, so that a Summer placement in the Quality Control Laboratories was arranged for me. This was real work, working as an assistant to shift chemists and new graduates doing research into new and improved methods of analysis. A new plastic was being developed ('ABS' – acrylonitrile/butadiene/Styrene co-polymer), and I played a part in perfecting a routine me
thod for determining residual Styrene monomer in the latex.....
The Shift Chemists were a 'rum lot', soon introducing me to the dangers of 'over-indulgence' in alcoholic beverages. I also learned of the high regard that my father was held in throughout the company. When I was 5 years' old, I recalled him being in hospital and saying that he had been “gassed”. He recovered and I thought little more about it. Whilst working in the Laboratory, two guys would come in from the 'plant' most days with samples for analysis. They told me that my Dad had saved the lives of two workers at that time by going twice into a 'Poly' (a large tank where the plastic was polymerised) where two workers had been over-come by fumes.
He went in without using the cumbersome breathing apparatus (time being of the 'essence') and made the correct decision to take out the unconscious guy before the semi-conscious one, otherwise that one would have surely died. After he brought out the second guy, my Dad collapsed and was taken to hospital with the other two. Typically, the company had hushed things up (even 'disciplining' my father for not adhering to the safety rules) and sacked the two men. I will admit to viewing 'the old bu**er' with a new respect from then on.
The following summer I worked in the Research Laboratory, where the work was much less inspiring. I was examining plastics made by other companies, trying to establish which plasticisers and additives they used. I tried out a number of separation techniques, producing residues that were sent to a specialist Laboratory on site where Spectroscopy and Gas-Chromatography were used to 'identify' what was in the residues. The problem was that the results were usually “rubbish”. Specimen ‘A’ would be an extract, which would be ‘separated’ into two components ‘B’ and R
16;C’. It seemed that any relationship between ‘A’ and ‘B/C’ were purely coincidental (!). Then the following Xmas, I was asked back to the QC Laboratory because they were 'short-staffed'.
The ABS plastic was now in production, and they were short of staff skilled enough to carry out the 'residuals' determinations, and the testing of the plastic itself. The testing of the plastic required the plastic powder prepared from the latex to be 'milled' in a hot-roller machine. I then found out why they were 'short-staffed'. A dozen workers were 'off-sick' with dermatitis. This had been kept quiet (even my father had not heard about it – when he was made aware of it, by me, he was furious !). I milled about a dozen sheets – that was sufficient to give a strong skin reaction with the insides of my fingers starting to display the characteristic reddening and skin peeling. Then I refused to do more, so that after just a week and a half, I never darkened the portals of DCL again.
Later the factory was sold to British Petroleum (BP). Oh, and one of the Senior Assistants in the QC laboratory who I had assisted right at the start eventually became a Director of BP Chemicals. Strange how life works out for some people. He was not highly qualified (HNC), but had a certain pragmatic attitude to work...
Taxi Sir ?
The day after I left DCL, I was approached by a friend whose father owned a taxi company in Barry and they were VERY short of drivers. So I was 'engaged'. A bit like 'mini-cabs' today – no meters, just agreed fares for specific journeys. The cars were Austin Cambridges with two Vanden Plas Princess (a 3 litre and a 4 litre R – with a Rolls Royce engine). I daren't think what the insurance premiums would be today. I was only 17 .... Quite enjoyed that experience....
>As soon as my A level examinations were coming to an end, I was out job-hunting. Tried to get a job van-driving, aerial erection, floor-laying ... no luck. Then I was driving past the Quarry at Dinas Powis just outside Barry when I saw a sign “Workers Wanted”, so I stopped and was engaged to start 4 days later as a 'Breeze-Block-Maker'. The limestone quarry was owned by the Bowles family, producing limestone chippings, some of which were made into concrete-breeze blocks. The traffic announcer on Radio 2 in the mornings, Lynn Bowles, is part of that family (yes, I am a mine of useless information !). I made about 200 of these blocks each day. Tedious work, and I gave a week's notice after just one week.
On the Buses
You see, the day after agreeing to start at the quarry, I decided to try for one of the 'plum' summer jobs in Barry – working as a bus conductor. You had to apply at the offices at just the right time and I just happened to be calling at the office ‘at just the right time’.
The Western Welsh Omnibus Company operated services to and from Cardiff and Penarth and the Vale of Glamorgan. During the summer the good burghers of Barry (and the bad 'uns) made their way to the various beaches and the Knap swimming pool, and this would place a strain on the normal bus services. Thus a special ‘summer service’ was operated on routes to Barry Island, and University students trained and employed as bus conductors, collecting fares and ensuring the safety of passengers.
The regular bus drivers at that time were required to work a proportion of 'split shifts', working about 4 hours early morning and 4 hours later in the day. During the summer these drivers on split shifts were required to work over-time in between their shift splits. Not very safe, in my opinion. In the two summers that I worked as a Bus Conductor, buses I worked in had (minor) crashes du
e to the driver literally 'dropping off to sleep'.
It was a grand time. Sometimes you could find yourself put on the Cardiff, Penarth, or Vale of Glamorgan service. At some of the termini, we had breaks of up to 30 minutes. Just right to try my hands at bus-driving ! The Leyland Tiger Single Decker, the Leyland Double-decker, an AEC double-decker with the open rear access, the early Atlantean with the epi-cyclic semi-automatic gearbox - I drove them all.
Oh and the dealing with 'Inspectors' !!!!. These 'little-S*ds' (just like that guy Blakey in the comedy series 'On the Buses') would check that you were 'on time'. If you dared to be even 1 minute early leaving a stop, or a passenger complained about any aspect of your 'Service', then you got a “Please Explain”. This was a letter from 'the Traffic Managers', setting out the details of the 'problem', always asking you to “Please Explain” (the sentence at the end of the letter). I had several of those in my time...
Another point. If you were 'short' in the cash at the end of the day, then the deficit was made up out of your wages. The basic pay was £10 a week, but overtime generally made it up to about £14 a week then, which was about half what I earned in my first year in a proper graduate job. In order to ensure that you were never out of pocket - by issuing wrongly priced tickets (those ticket machines were quite difficult to operate at times) or by giving the wrong change (very easy in a crowded bus), I was taught a number of 'minor fiddles', which generally amounted to about 5 to 40 pence a day. I would bet the whole proceeds of these ‘fiddles’ (when in profit – which was NOT every day) on the gee-gees. At the end of each summer, my total winnings amounted to about £15 ...
Hey Mr Postman !
Another good opening at Christmas was of course,
the postal service. You had to be over 18 years' old and it was only 2 – 3 weeks employment but it had the distinct disadvantage of a very early start. I was soon on the 05.00 start. Why was this ? Simple - because I knew my neighbourhood so well – mixed housing and flats, and our regular 'postie' was an experienced 'sorter'. Thus I was given the whole job of the final sorting for my 'round'. And this 'round' started from next door to the sorting office and finished at the end of the road where I lived. So I was usually the first to finish the first round, and could get overtime making the deliveries of those whose alcohol consumption caused them to over-sleep. If you were down for a 06.00 start, and you turned in after 07.00, you were sent back home.
It was generally a bit of a doddle, but starting at 05.00 was a bit of a bind. Gave me a good insight into the problems facing a postman (bitten by dogs twice and fell over obstructions on garden paths three times). This stood me in very good stead later in life when two postmen were the Chairmen of the two main Committees that I reported to when I was the Public Analyst in Edinburgh. Helped me a lot in my relationship with the Regional Council and the setting of my Departmental Budget each year .... (another tale).
Butlins ! (but a Brown Coat Job)
At the end of my second year at University, they had just commenced building a Butlins Holiday Camp on 'Nell's Point', to the eastern end of the Barry Island beach. Brilliant opportunity I thought then, and I was right. I arrived back from university on the Thursday and the following Monday, I started as a Driver/labourer.
Labour was generally in short supply then because a power station was being built just along the coast, and the pay there was very generous. I was soon driving various sizes of dumper trucks whilst the site was being excavated, graduating to drivin
g 'Drott' tracked Earth-Movers ! Even had a shot of a Crane used to lift steel beams into place when assembling the main buildings. One thing I soon learned about the British 'worker' was that he was generally not reliable, and could not be trusted to turn up to work every day. I went in all the days that I could, and was always willing to learn. At the end of 10 weeks, there were only 3 workers who had been there longer than me.
My worst job when there? Lifting 'biscuits' (large panels of wood shavings impregnated with concrete) up to the first and second floors of the steel building frame to form the floors. Ready-Mix concrete (from Bowles !!) was then poured on these to produce the finished floor. Wheeling barrow-loads of concrete and shovelling concrete was also not exactly the most relaxing of pastimes.
When I started back at University I started a craze for students at Birmingham wearing ‘Wimpey’ Donkey jackets ....
On a more serious note, when I was driving a dumper truck, I saw a steel erector fall from the top of one of the buildings. He landed about 12 feet away from me and died instantly. I still have THAT image ....
Oh, and I suggested to one of my friends that he should try for a job on the site to assist with the ‘setting-out’ of the site. He was training to be a Chartered Surveyor. Twenty tears later, he was still working for Butlins, in a Senior Estates Management position.
The Condom King ?
There was a bit of a scandal at Birmingham University in 1965, when the Students Union Barber Shop was stopped from selling condoms. What a business opportunity ! I soon found a supplier (wholesale), and the occasional card on the Student Union found a few clients. Provided a net income of a pound or two a week during most of my second year. I had a system for arranging a discrete supply that was much more convenient for students than going to the loc
al chemists’ shop (and cheaper too !). Fortunately, my supplies were almost completely 'out' when the Barber started selling them (discretely) again.
The sign “Workers Wanted” was up again outside the quarry in the late May of my last year at University and (being ‘cheeky’ and having finished my 'Finals') I applied to work there again. This time they were short of Dumper Truck drivers !! And I now had experience of that work.
Bliss. Large Yellow 6-wheeler Euclid Dumper Trucks. My experience of driving the older smaller (Aveling Barford) versions at Butlins stood me in good stead and I was 'over 21', so after demonstrating my prowess on a short test drive, I was hired 'on the spot'.
OK, the drive in the truck was not particularly inspiring. Two or three dampers were used, taking the rock from the bottom of the quarry out of the quarry, onto the highway for about 50yards, then back into the top level of the quarry where it was dumped into the crusher. Frequently you had to wait to be loaded. From the second day, I took in books to read (Steinbeck, Miller, Woodhouse, Kerouac - even Dickens - were consumed with relish....
I also helped occasionally with the loading of the stone onto the trucks (with a Ruston Bucyrus 22RB tracked grab excavator) and used a wheeled front-bucket excavator (a 'Chaseside'). Like the smaller dumpers, this had front wheel drive and rear-wheel steering, but was VERY powerful. Quite interesting to drive. Possibly the highlight of my time was when I had to take one of the Euclids into Cardiff for a 'major service'. I felt like 'King of the Road' in that truck. Oh and one day I helped to operate the drilling machine to drill the places for the setting of explosives for a 'face-blasting'. The whole Bowles family turned out one Saturday afternoon for that. Oh, and the ‘expl
osives ‘expert was called “Paddy” .....
My degree result came through (2nd Class – division 2 – bit disappointed, but glandular fever earlier in the year had taken its toll). That was sufficient to get me offered two out of my three preferred jobs that i had applied for. So I decided ... the Public Analysts Service.
Why this one? Well, one of the young ladies that I had 'romanticised' when at the Ice Cream Parlour had told me about her sister's fiancé who worked in the Public Analyst Laboratory in Cardiff, and how interesting that job was.
When I went for an interview at the Public Analyst Laboratory in Matlock, I knew quite a lot about the essence of the work of a Public Analyst. I was prepared and could speak easily on how my laboratory and university training would enable me to make a contribution to the work of not only the Laboratory in Matlock, but to the profession as a whole. I was asked about my ‘varied’ working experience and asked why I had not continued with Laboratory work experience when I was at the University. I must have appeared to be a completely different 'kettle of fish' to those others that they interviewed. I explained that it had given me experiences that I would never have an opportunity of experiencing again in life, whereas, I was now likely to spend the rest of my working life in a Laboratory. Seemed to satisfy them.
In retrospect, the economic advantages from working during my time as a student now seem so much less important than the extra dimensions that all this 'student work' has given my life. I carried out jobs for short periods that others have to do every day of their working lives. To watch construction or quarry-working and to be able to think that I could get into and operate almost any of that 'plant’ machinery ....
I also learned very important lessons that later
assisted me when in a management position (and even now in a Consultancy position). I saw examples of good management practice and examples of poor management practice. I met people who were easy to work with, and those who were not. I soon learned both how to ‘wind people up’, and also how to make a good impression.
Perhaps the greatest impact that it made on my life was that it made me socially at ease in any company. I met loads of people that otherwise I would not have known. I still meet some of them when I go back to Barry, my home town that (in effect) I left at the age of 18 years (almost 39 years' ago).
I learned to drink alcohol with moderation, to drink coffee, and to be at ease in the company of women ... and, yes, to flirt ... and all before I went to University.
Now, of course, it is much more difficult to get into some of the areas of employment that I have referred to. Also, the allowances/gifts that most of us can afford to give our children means that the economic necessity for children to work is sometimes not so great before the University expenses start to come in. My own children did not work before their University vacations, but each has gained some valuable experience in their vacation jobs, but without the shear variety that I managed to experience.
I tried to keep 2 or 3 weeks at the end of the vacation to take a holiday of some sort. I hitch-hiked to London for a week when I was 16 and to Belgium/France when I was 17 and 19, and went to the USA for 6 weeks before I started my job in Matlock.
I could not have afforded any of this if I had not worked.
1 The main feature of getting the employment was that in most cases, I had to get up off my a*se and go out to get the job. That is still very good advice today.
Far too many people (not only students) believe that the 'ideal' job is going to find them. Sometimes you
really have to really put yourself out to get the job. Without a measure of personal 'gumption', I certainly would not have worked at the 'Mighty Atom'/Fortes/Bowles/Buses/Butlins.
And if I hadn't worked at Forte's, then I might never have ended up in the situation I am in now...
2 Remember, after you graduate, your scope of trying different fields of employment is generally much more limited. Obviously, new Health & Safety requirements limit the scope for employment a little since my days, but there are opportunities out there if you look for them.
Our son's job last summer at a car importer's premises (see my opinion) was a 'real gas' (his words – not mine !).
3 Don't go with the tide or stay in a rut. Selling burgers, delivering papers, stacking shelves, operating a check-out are all good experience for a short period to check them out, but look around you for inspiration. The whole world of work really is out there to experience !
4 Probably the best thing you can do for your children when they are young is to get them inspired to learn a suitable musical instrument. That can be a skill that will become financially valuable.
Our son learned to play the violin, became interested in Traditional Music and Folk/Folk-Rock, and earns well during term time playing at 'gigs' at the weekends. Generally gets between £40 and £120, depending on venue and whether he is in a group or engaged as a soloist.
Beats shelf-stacking/burger stalls/bars - and there is often free booze. Earns sufficient to run a car and with his 'allowance', to save most of his student loan in an interest-bearing account. At his age, of course, I had a different type of ‘fiddle’, when I worked on the buses.....
© Sidneygee 2002