My first job was in 1953 and I was working as a part time grocery boy delivery. There was a main grocery in Thetford called Savages and then the ladies of the household used to go to the store, order what they wanted for delivery that same day or the next day. And the shop assistants made up their box and when we left school, after school at 4 o'clock we used to go down and collect the bicycle and collect all the boxes two or three we could get on the bike and take to Croxton Road or Vicarage Road or where ever. Deliver them to the household. And that was when I was 13. We used to do that after school from 4 to 5:30, and then at the weekends on Saturday. And there was two of us, we took it alternative, one done it the Saturday morning one week, and the other one done the Saturday afternoon the next week. And summer holidays too.
Delivering for the Co-op and electrical sales
Then when I left school at 15 I went to, the Co-Op. And there again I was in flux of what to do as a career, and I was waiting to get in to the Post Office. And the only way you could get in to the Post Office was by a telegraph boy, and there was no vacancies so I had to hold on until the telegraph boy was promoted. And then you got the chance. In them days, in the 50's, it was looked on to be a good career, as working for the Post Office or National Rail, or whatever it was called at the time. And so I had to go to the Co-Op and I worked as a, delivery boy again, on a mobile shop. And the mobile shops kept all the groceries, bread. And Paraffin would you believe underneath the wagon with bread. All exposed. And we used to go round the villages and, sell off this grocery van. And that was quite interesting bar the bad weather and there was horrendous days some times when it was wet, cold and nasty. No heat and you were out, on the rounds from about 7 o'clock until 5 o'clock, and then 5 o'clock you come back, and then you had to load up the lorry ready, not the lorry, mobile shop, ready for the next day. So waited for that Post Office to come in and would you believe it, telegraphs was disbanded they didn't do no more, telegraphs it was old hat so therefore, my vacancy waiting to go in to the Post Office didn't happen so I had to look around.
Then I, saw an advert for a local shop and then I was working in Woolatt Mitchell's, as a electrical salesman and television and that was coming in to its own in the 50's and all the modern technology, tape recorders and I thought "Yes I can do that". So went to work for Woolatt Mitchell's. Had a nice little career job there in Castle Street, in Thetford. Then I got promoted, we opened another branch in the 60's in Kings Street, and I was manager of the Kings Street branch.
Selling sausages and pies for Walls
But then my wanderlust got hold of me, again. The grass is always greener on the other side! And I saw an advert for sales for a major company blue chip company, within the Unilever organisation called Tom Walls. And Walls made sausages and pies and that. I thought "That's more money!" I was getting married and I wanted to earn a little bit more money.
But in the meantime I think, looking back, I had another little factory job. A & F Parks and I went there from when I left the Co-Op. I went to A & F Parks and worked there for a little while and then thought "Well, no, I want to go in for this Sales" and then worked as a van salesman. I had a huge area, within Norfolk going right up to Holbeach in Lincolnshire and some days right down to Southwold on the East coast selling fresh foods off a non-refrigerated lorry then. Van, the van was not refrigerated and you look back and they were some really hot days! The sausages and the pies we had to really sell them on that day so the people on the next day had fresh but some times we did have to carry over stock.
Looking back, how we got to work was, well, I didn't have a car then so obviously we either cycled to work or we walked to work. And being a small town, it was quite easy to go from A to B on a bicycle but when you had to start at 7 o'clock in the morning on a cold, winter's morning, that was no joy! But mostly I think in the early 60's until we got a small car, I was married by then, it was saving petrol and we just got on the bicycle and walk.
Training was another issue, when I changed to the blue chip company Walls, within Unilever, they kindly sent another salesman down with me because I was really green. And he was with me for about three weeks and he travelled from Norwich down to Thetford every morning and back every night, so it was quite a commitment for the trainee as well as the trainer. He showed me all the aspects of selling and form filling and how to make an invoice out, weights and measures and of course the route. We had to learn the route because you were going from town to town, village to village and of course we had to find the shops, and find the shop keeper, and finding the manager of the shop. Before you start selling to anybody you had to find him. That could take quite a bit of time out of your day. But when you got going, usually you set up a good working relationship with the shop manager or the shop assistant. They said "We'll leave it to you, you put in the sausages and the pies what you think we would sell." It saved us a lot of time and saved them a lot of time and it worked very well, and the trust on both sides!
When you were out all day, you had to have something to eat and obviously you got bored with sausage rolls from Walls, so you took your own sandwiches and sometimes you went into a cake shop. We sold to them and then you would have a two or three doughnuts and you could eat them between shop A and shop B when you had finished a town, and a quick coffee out of the flask or out of a bottle – or sometimes when you had a bit of time you could call in a café, where they sold our produce then you could have a cup of tea with them.
Working conditions – well probably looking back it was pretty horrendous really we were out all day. There were no washing facilities on the van. The van was unheated, all day, so if you went out in the middle of winter, driving all day, it was pretty cold because of the produce we had in the back! When you finished up in Holbeach in Lincolnshire, on a cold winter's night and you'd got 50 miles to drive back with no heater and just the, expanse of the van, coming back to Thetford you were pretty pretty cold!! There you are, you didn't think nothin' – just wrapped up and hoped you got back ‘cause the roads weren't as good as they are, today. Norfolk still lacks in a lot a good roads but even then they were worse I think!
When I moved to Walls was very good pay, compared to what I was earning, and we were all on the commission basis as well. When you talk about commission, we were selling by tonnage and then you think of a ton of sausages which is quite a bit and ton of sausages and pies, the more you sold the more you earnt. So that was a good incentive to to sell more. And there was always a little incentive for prizes and I had one or two nice holidays. And you had a catalogue – if you sold so much you could go into this catalogue, the star prizes, and choose what you like out of the catalogue, so it was very very good! We had a nice little holiday on the Thames once which was in a converted barge boat. My wife and I had five days holiday, all paid for by commission and sales.
Did they have products as well, or was it sort of mainly holidays and trips day trips?
Yes, yes, there were sort of consumer goods, small televisions or tape recorders or coats or anything like that, so that was an incentive!
I had a small little cottage at the time and so it was all to pay off the mortgage. The other thing, I was very lucky I was quite healthy. Well we were all healthy, hopefully when we were young, this was my mid twenties so, we were gadding about, and health didn't really come into it, so I was very very lucky.
Hard to look back on leisure time because if you were working, five and a half days a week, you only had Saturday afternoon and the Sunday. By that time Saturday afternoon was usually a trip out with the family to Bury St. Edmunds or Norwich, for a look round – things you couldn't buy in Thetford. Then some times I did to go up to Norwich City football ground with a mate and cheer on the Canaries. Have referred that working time was five and a half days a week by the time you'd done all your paperwork and phoned that in – you had to phone it in to your supervisor at 12 o'clock time on a Saturday afternoon. By the time you'd done all that, there wasn't a lot of time between 12 o'clock and half past five to have a quick wash and brush up and off to Norwich or Bury St. Edmunds. But I should add at the time, money was tight and my father-in-law had a business of his own, in waste recycling. So therefore I had the opportunity and took advantage some days and most weekends of going to work for him from Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings. So my leisure time was reduced to Sunday afternoon!
It was a chequered career at the time I was working for Walls. Pressures came upon them to make more money. How the products arrived in Thetford was mid-way between London and Norwich. All the goods used to come on a trunker who used to call at Cambridge, Thetford and Norwich. And off load the vans overnight, so all the produce was absolutely very very fresh – made that day. But the powers to be said they would no longer stop at Thetford because, they wanted everything in Norwich. Whether that was union power, the drivers were very truculent in them days and they wanted me to move to Norwich to persevere with my job. And I said I was quite happy living in Thetford – got my own house and the children had settled at school. And refused, well not refused but we parted on good terms and said "No I'll make my own way."
Had one or two jobs other than that and I was working in van sales again, for a yoghurt company, Northern Dairies, Ski yoghurts. We were selling yoghurts from, the van sales operation. I sold all the cream. It was a very, very good job.
Building up the recycling business
My father-in-law said they were getting a little bit bigger, "Would you like to come and join us, in the business full time?" I was already doing it Saturdays and Sundays. So I said, took a chance and said, yes I would join them, so I joined them as a driver and general operative in the recycling days. We'd been recycling since the … well the business started in 1945, so it was really going onwards and upwards. I started there as a general lorry driver and with the family business you had to do what was needed about and there was no demarcation, "No I don't do that!" We were bailing cardboard and recycling, aluminium all metals, going out delivering collecting. Metals, collecting cardboard, waste paper. Waste paper was very big for charity companies. They raised a lot of money; we used to go here, there and everywhere and bring five or six ton o' newspapers back, and all recycled into a bailer and sent off down to Kent. It was quite an interesting job: Hard work, dirty and I very much enjoyed it. Then they asked me whether would take an HGV, HGV Class 3. So I took the driving test after a bit of training and luckily passed. We had a big skip lorry and I headed the operations. We had one lorry and one skip, and started off then had another two/three lorries and we got bigger and bigger; within the company. Then sadly I had an accident, I fell off the proverbial back of the lorry and broke my elbow. So I was in stook then. So I had to leave the business. I couldn't drive, I couldn't eat and I had to really leave the business. When I left I think we had the two lorries running and I'd built it up to about a thousand skips from ground zero if one! So, I was quite pleased.
Working as a custodian and for Breckland Council
Then I went into another custodian sort of kind of job. Worked in Bury St. Edmunds as a manager of a public hall. That was a nice little job for 10 years but it got bit hard driving backwards and forwards to Bury St. Edmunds. I was getting a bit older by then, I was in my late fifties. The hours got longer and longer and I said "Enough's enough".
A little job came in up Thetford, which was working for the council again, the Breckland Council, as a member of the facilities team, so I took that. Then ended up my working career of four years, from when I was 61 to 65. A nice little job in Thetford – and retired in 2005. An end of a working career!