Working Lives

A head for figures (1967-2010)

Location: Norwich

Margaret talks about her working life from her first steps in accounts at John Mackintosh to the challenges she faced juggling the demands of childcare, the home and work. She also describes her thirty two years dealing with the accounts of Building Equipment and how she dealt with the introduction of computers.

Landing on my feet at John Mackintosh

I was born in 1950 in Horns Lane, Norwich. We lived with my paternal grandparents until I was three years old and then we moved to a terraced house in Boulton St just off Rose Lane by the side of the Tudor Hall. Then, when I was sixteen, our house was demolished and we were rehoused by the Council in Randolf Road which is just off Hall Road.

I went to Lakenham Secondary School until I was sixteen and a half. I finished my GCEs and then went to work almost straight way. In those days you just went into the fifth year, and then you either went to college … University never seemed to come into question then. I think most people were just interested in getting a job. In the fourth and fifth year at school, I had really wanted to go into nursing. As much as I wanted to, my Dad said to me that he thought that I was too ‘mer-hearted’ – I’d get too involved emotionally with people. He didn’t think that would be a good idea so I then thought about doing various other things, like window dressing which seemed to be the craze those days. Then, when it was almost time to leave, I decided – no, I think I’ll go into an office.

I applied for two jobs – one with Norwich Union and one at John Mackintosh. I actually got them both so I was lucky really. I could choose which one I wanted. I chose John Mackintosh’s and I went there straight from school and was paid £6 4s 6d a week, which was quite a good wage in those days!

I was put off by Norwich Union when I went in for the interview in Surrey Street – a young girl straight from school, I mean you’ve got to remember that years ago we led a lot more protected life. I found it all a bit ‘big’ and I felt a bit intimidated by so many doors and rooms and I thought ‘Ooh no, I don’t know if I can cope with all of this’ but I suppose if I’d had a brain, I would have thought to myself that I could have done a lot better there. But that’s just how it was – in those days you were just interested in getting a bit of money, really.

So, I went to John Mackintosh and that was quite a nice place. I worked in the Sales Ledger office with about fifty women, I suppose. In the Sales Ledger department we used Burroughs accounting machines – huge great big things they were and we had about twelve machines to operate and produce all the information onto big ledgers. Each ledger was about A4 … I suppose, but not as wide – but they were leather bound and they were very heavy. Each was split into what we called ‘journeys’ – there were six different journeys – and then a control ledger at the back.

The reason they were in journeys was because all the sales reps, from all over the British Isles, would be out getting orders and whatever journey they were working on that week, you know, would produce the information to go onto that particular part of the ledger. So the reps went out, got the business – I presume in those days they either tele texted it or phoned it in – then the orders were raised, the goods sent out to the customers and then we posted the invoices onto the ledgers.

The Accounting machines were like really, really big adding machines. They were about two-foot wide with a carriage at the top and the front of it was a mass of figures – you had one row of about ten keys with all the numbers on, from one penny, then one pound, and then working up to, the same really, up to ten. There were various other buttons as well. First, you opened your ledger and put the translucent paper into the machine, you then pressed the customer details in and would just run through until you put all their information in and then obviously you’d go to the next one … the next account and then put the relevant information on that. These machines made a lot of noise! It was really noisy. Then, when you had finished, the sheet would pop out of the top of the machine and you would put it back into the ledger.

All the sheets were translucent and we had about one hundred ledgers with these translucent pages in. Then we had all the big London accounts, what we used to call House accounts, that had paper or card sheets in. They worked slightly differently, the same sort of principle but their ledgers were obviously a lot bigger because the House accounts were big companies like your John Menzies, as it was years ago, and a lot of the other big companies like Forbuoys. Our job was to produce the statements from these cards and the translucents.

So, that was one part of the process, then in the same office we had two people who used different Burroughs Accounting Machines – not as big as the Accounting Machines that were used on the ledgers –and they made a lot of noise as well when everyone was working on them. They were quite heavy and the girls used to tally up the different batches of invoices, accounts and things like that. Then there was another person who dealt with all the queries which came in – from people being over-charged, under-paying, over-paying, copy invoices – all that type of thing.

Preparing statements

My first job was to help the lady who prepared the statements from the ledgers. I can’t think that I was very happy about it but you did what you were told to do because you were new and young and you didn’t argue. The Statement Machine was like a big bath; I suppose it was four foot wide or maybe three or four, and then about two foot deep filled with a solution; we had to put a special paper on the backs of the translucent pages of the ledgers and push them through a sort of a mangle thing which dipped into this liquid and popped out the other side. Then you had your translucent on that side and your copy of the statement on the other side. And that took a long while! So I used to help her to do that.

The card-type ones had to be taken down to the Photostatting machines. We left them there – we weren’t responsible for taking the photocopies but that was how their statements were produced. These cards went through a big machine, and as I say they used to do that in what we used to call the Photostatting room – well it’s a print room really. I was a Junior going backwards and forwards, taking all this stuff and bringing it all back – so that was my job for about six months.

Queries and inputting

Then, they said, ‘Would you like to try something else? We’ll get you to go round the office and learn different jobs, then if anyone’s off sick you can sit in.’ So my next job was ‘Queries’, working alongside a young woman to show me what to do. That was quite interesting because you had lots of problems to sort out, which I enjoyed doing. It was quite easy to raise credit notes for people who’d been over-charged or send copy statements or copy invoices. I mean we’re not talking about going to one folder for a copy invoice … you’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of files with invoices in and they all have to be found, and they all have to be filed away as well!

I did that for quite a long while. Sometimes people would send a cheque in and the girls wouldn’t know how to allocate the cash so therefore they’d stick on the Remittance Advice that there was a query on the account and part of my job was to sort them out, you know I quite liked that.

Then, I moved on to learning how to operate one of the accounting machines. I had a go on the big House Account Machine – huge great big accounts for national companies such as Forbuoys and John Menzies – produced on this Burroughs Accounting Machine. It was OK but I didn’t really like it – I found it a bit monotonous. You’re putting different figures in on different accounts and you have got to concentrate on them all the time.

You can’t take your mind off it. At the end of every ledger, everything had got to balance up so you’ve got sheets on these accounting machines – like a huge great big till-roll which was as wide as the machine which showed everything you’d posted on it. Then you had to total up your entries at the end of each section and obviously that all had to agree –the total of the invoices that you’d posted onto the account had to be added to the control card and that had got to come to the same total as you’d posted.

If it didn’t, you’d have to sort it. You had to go back and check every single entry. Sometimes, if you transposed a figure, there was an easy way to check – if you could divide the difference by nine then you’d know that was the problem. You can misread sometimes. Everybody did. If you did make a mistake … at first, I did panic and thought ‘Oh my goodness – Oh God, I’m not getting this right’, but it was best not to panic, because there was a logic there. You had to take your time and go through it and you would find the error … and when you did – what an achievement – to balance it out.

Direct Cash Office

So, I did that for a little while but I wasn’t very happy and then they had a vacancy on what we called the Direct Cash. There were four of us worked there, processing all the incoming payments. All the payments came to us and, I mean I’m not kidding you, when I worked there in the late 60s/early 70s it used to take the four of us all morning to log all the money, agree it all and get it ready for banking before we could actually go to the ledgers and mark it up on the accounts!

These were mainly cheques although the reps used to collect some cash and it used to take four of us, as I say, the best part of a morning, especially on a Monday, just to produce a total to be banked. Those cheques were then taken up to the Commissionaire’s office who dealt with all the actual banking and things like that. Then we had to go through each account where we’d received a payment, mark off the invoices which had been paid and then balance the account. We all had a section to do and then at the end of the day we used to all add up the amount of our remittances to get a total and that total had to agree with the total of the cheques that we banked.

Unfortunately for me I inherited all the big ‘house’ accounts. On a lot of these you got a big cheque for thousands and thousands of pounds, so you just had to bank that and then leave the account to be marked up later because you couldn’t hold anybody up. Then once we produced all the paperwork, the girls on these big accounting machines would then actually post the cash to the ledger accounts. We didn’t post them ourselves because we’d obviously got enough work to do with banking and marking up.

As I said, I earned £6. 4s. 6d a week, which I think, was quite a good wage. I started there in the August and at Christmas, everybody got a bonus of a week’s wages for every year you’d been there, which was good. I had only just started there but I still got my bonus – a week’s wage. So for people who’d worked there a long while that was brilliant, that really was good.

They were very strict. We had tea breaks and a lady came round with the trolley from the canteen, with a big urn and we had coffee and biscuits. We weren’t supposed to eat food which we’d brought in; I suppose that was something to do Health and Safety, something about, I should think, them producing food but we were allowed a packet of biscuits which they sold from the trolley. We used to have a tea break at ten o’clock and then another at three o’clock in the afternoon.

Within the other time when you were supposed to be working, they were quite strict. Our office manager would look out of his window and if he saw you congregating and having a little bit of a chin wag, he wouldn’t come out and say anything … he would just stand and look! – and if you caught his eye you used to think … oh!

I mean nobody got reprimanded for it. Everybody got on with their work. You talked but you didn’t stop work to talk, you just carried on and everybody got on quite well with each other. The typists would type all the letters to customers if their account was overdue, or in response to queries as well as general letters about forthcoming orders or offers and things like that’s so they were quite busy. There was a lady in charge of all the typists, but she was pretty good. She was quite clever, and if we ever got a bit behind, she would help us to mark up the accounts and help out if we’d got a problem.

We did have a special perk. You were allowed to purchase a bag of waste – I think that was in the old money two shillings and threepence. You would get things which were a little bit mis-shaped and they used to do some chocolates in boxes of Weekend which were dark chocolate at the bottom and then green at the top with like a chocolate wiggly bit and if that part wasn’t right – a lot of them got in the waste. They were like a lime creamy crispy type of thing. Nobody liked them though, but you did get an awful lot of them in the waste! Then we used to get a thing called ‘Loot’, which was a bit like a ‘Bounty’ bar and ‘Toffee Crisp’.

You could actually buy other stuff at a reduced rate. That was quite good and at Christmas time, you could purchase stuff that they did for a sister company such as big boxes of ‘Liquorice All-sorts’ and liquorice novelties, like liquorice pipes and shoelaces, all that type of thing, wine gums, Quality Street and whatever, all at quite a reasonable price.

The Norwich Office was Mackintosh’s Head Office, they had another place in Halifax, but I never went up there and I don’t think it was as big as in Norwich. There were the offices and a factory and they had, what would you call it, an ‘over-pass’ where you could actually go through and work your way through towards the factory. The office was separate from the factory. They had a massive great canteen up there and they produced cooked food all day. I very rarely went to the canteen because I always went out lunchtime.

We started work at a quarter to nine in the morning until ten to one, and then ten to one until ten to two we had a lunch break and then we left off at five. Obviously, there was overtime and I used to work overtime on my big accounts. I used to sit there perhaps until six to try and get these to balance. You had to mark all the invoices which had been paid and the total had to agree with the payments received. That did take a bit of a while to do – quite challenging. It was all very detailed and you had to be very methodical. If you take your eye off something, for instance, you’ve obviously got to check the invoice which they’re paying and find it on the account – same invoice number with the same date and the same amount. If you’ve got, say, six or seven invoices, all for the same amount, and you don’t watch what you’re doing you can obviously mark the wrong one off and you must check that you’ve got the right invoice number otherwise they’d be a query on it. It is a job that you’ve got to keep your mind on, but I quite liked it.

I was quite happy there, a good wage, not too bad hours, a chance of overtime. Then just after I got married on September 26th 1970, around Christmas time, it was announced that we were going to be made redundant as all the accounts were going to go up to York. We had been taken over by Rowntree’s whose Head Office was in York. That was a bit of a shock but they did look after us quite well. We were given our notice and obviously told how much money we were going to get, which was a bit more than they were legally supposed to give us. We were also told that if we found a job, we didn’t have to work our notice and could leave straight away. This was really helpful for me because, I think this was the Thursday when we were told this and on the Friday, I got a newspaper and I saw a job. I applied for it, got it and the following week I left! So I still had all my money and a new job!

However, I think the majority of people who worked for John Mackintosh’s or Rowntree’s as it later was – the type of people who worked there, worked there for life. I had an aunt and uncle who worked in the factory. My uncle went to John Mackintosh when he left the Army and came back from Korea in 1953 – and he was one of the people who took redundancy when they completely finished. (the factory closed in 1996) and he’d been there all that while. He knew of all the changes because he was a foreman where they made all the chocolate. When he first started, procedures were different to when he retired, because by this time, he was working all the measurements out on computer.

They had started to bring in changes just before John Mackintosh was taken over by Rowntree’s because we were all sent on a punch-card course… they had an office set up to train us all to do this punch-card operating, but I didn’t think much of that. I couldn’t get the hang of it, and I thought ‘Oh my God, I hope I’m not going to have to do this!’

I felt really lucky; walking into a job straight from school, then being made redundant and being able to get another job. If we hadn’t been made redundant, I would have stayed there. My parents moved to just off Hall Road so I could walk to work and that was just convenient. The place was nice, clean and very well kept. We were looked after and if we had any problems then there was always somebody to talk to and help you with the problems so I couldn’t fault the firm to be honest!

Mann Egerton and computers

My new job was with Mann Egerton where I stayed for about two years. The accounts were all computerised there. I had a big printout of a ledger and I just allocated the cash on it; I didn’t actually post the cash to individual accounts. There were other people who inputted all the cash. You didn’t see the end result until the statements were produced at month end.

Another part of the job was chasing overdue accounts but I missed the banking side because I liked doing the actual banking and allocating the cash to the accounts but that was all done for us and we were just chasing accounts – customers for money. You had to ring them, to write to them and to sort all their queries out so that’s how it progressed really, from when I was at Mackintosh’s on the accounting machine and to the computer system at Mann Egerton.

So I did a quick transfer over to MEVC – which was the vehicle contracts where they used to hire all the vehicles out but then I left there because I was really not that keen. After Mackintosh’s … although I was happy that I had a job; I really was not that keen on it all. Then my husband said to me ‘why don’t you give up work and have a rest?’ So I decided, yes, I would and I left. I was at home a week when I thought ‘I can’t stand this!’ So I decided I was going to find myself a little part-time job.

A Complete Change

I got a part-time job at Lanes the Bakery on Sprowston Road. I just did mornings … eight till one, six days a week – and I loved it. What a complete difference! I loved it there especially serving customers, obviously you’ve got your mental arithmetic reckoning up the cash in your head or on a piece of paper, getting the orders up and doing a bit of cleaning, doing the window displays and all sorts of things. .

I just liked meeting the people. There were all different types of people who came in there – obviously you’ve got your grumpy ones but you also got the ones who came in every day and you’d get a little old lady for a chat – one meat pie and a chat, that type of thing – that was really nice. Lanes were very nice, very good to work for. They did their baking there. John Lane did the baking with the help, obviously, of a couple of other people, making all the bread and cakes including wedding and birthday cakes while his wife ran the shop side of it.

It was a nice little part-time job … just ideal. I lived on Denmark Road at the time so I didn’t have very far to walk – I could walk to work.

And then I left there to have my son.

Juggling childcare and jobs

Then, when my son was ten months old, I decided I’d just like to get myself a little job – pin money … you know, money is always tight when you’ve got children- so I went to The Norwood Rooms and trained to be a silver service waitress.

It’s not there anymore – it’s now Mecca Bingo on Aylsham Road. I can remember when I went for the interview, I walked all the way from just near County Hall (that’s where we were living at the time) to The Norwood Rooms with my son in his pushchair and he stayed with me in his pushchair while I was interviewed. I learnt the Silver Service while I was there and started work the following week. I worked in the evenings so my husband looked after the baby and I used to drive myself to work. Sometimes they had people from all-male functions on Saturday night when they would have a big band and an a la carte menu. They also had great big parties and I quite liked that.

And then I went from there to cleaning! It sounds like I’ve had lots of jobs, but when you’ve got children you’ve got to fit in. I found I always worked on Saturday nights at the Norwood Rooms – I’d leave home to get there for six o’clock and wouldn’t get home till midnight and although you didn’t work quite such long hours during the week, I really wanted something where I didn’t have to be out at night.

A friend of mine had a job at Boulton and Paul, cleaning, and she said she thought there would be a vacancy there so I went there for a couple of years and cleaned the offices there – 6 to 8 o’clock Monday to Friday. Then I saw an advert for a cleaning job in the City Road area with Charles Bizley.

So I left Boulton and Paul and went to work for Charles Bizley at Builders Equipment on City Road. Whilst I was there, I got quite friendly with the manager – an old gentleman who used to call me ‘Mrs Woman’ – he’s dead and gone now, bless his heart … and he used to say things like ‘Whatever’s the matter with your face, Mrs Woman?’ ‘I wish I could do something during the day’ I said, ‘rather than come out at night. My husband is out at work all day while I am at home and then when he comes home, I have to go out.’

Then he asked, ‘What sort of things did you used to do?’ So I told him how I had worked in accounts at John Mackintosh and Mann Egerton. And then he said, ‘When does your son start school?’ I told him, ‘beginning of September.’

So he said, ‘OK then, when he starts school, you can have a job here.’ The day my son started school, I went into work and he said, ‘He started school today…don’t you want the job then?’ I was amazed, I thought he was just saying it in passing and wasn’t being serious.

Then he said, ‘Well, do you want the job, then?’

So I said, ‘Yes please!’

‘Right, you can start tomorrow, then.’

Back to Accounts for Building Equipment

The new job was a bit of a challenge. The Manager said I could go in ‘as and when I could’. My son was at school but at that time he wasn’t staying for lunch, so I used to take him to school and then I used to walk or cycle to Builders Equipment on the City Road to get there for quarter past nine. I worked till quarter to twelve when I left off, picked my son up and brought him home for lunch, then I dropped him back at school before going back to work until quarter past three.

I kept that up for four or five years. In school holidays my Mum and then my Auntie used to look after my son so I could still go to work. And then obviously as he grew older, I worked longer hours … and there I remained for thirty-two years.

When I first went there, I was just helping out and I did whatever people wanted me to do – whether that be banking the cash sales, copying invoices, filing … I didn’t mind what I did … I just did what I was asked to do because I was grateful to be at work during the day. However. eventually I took over doing the banking and chasing the accounts and, at one point I went back to working onthe big old Burroughs machine while a lady was off sick for a while, but I always did the banking, dealing with queries, bank reconciliations and chasing money – and that’s what I did till I retired.

Originally when I first went there, there were about sixty people in the company. But where I worked – in sales ledger – there was only the person who input the invoices and me banking the cash and chasing money. There were also two people on the bought ledger side and a couple of typists – and that was about it when I first went there. Obviously, as the business got bigger, more people came in but then when I left there was only about seven people working in that accounts office and most of them were inputters – for the sales and the bought ledger.

I was in an office on my own. Well, I wasn’t originally on my own – there were some other people in there but then they changed things around and there was just two of us left – the lady who ran the bought/purchase ledger, and me the sales ledger. Then she left and it was just me in the office until I retired.

I loved it – I can honestly say I’ve loved my working life – I’ve always worked, apart from, as I say, that one week when I decided to give up before going to Lane’s and then the time I had time off when I had my son. You left when you were six months pregnant and it was your choice whether you went back or not – but I’m glad I did go back to work. I do miss the challenge now – I mean now that I’ve retired.

The last ten or fifteen years of my working life, I managed the sales ledger, the private ledger, the purchase ledger – agreed all the figures with the bank and did a reconciliation every month – and I loved doing that. I’m going to be honest and say that sometimes I was worried sick if something didn’t balance – but at the end of the day that had to balance and you did it. I do miss that side of the challenge now.

Actually, it was an Accountant’s job, but I don’t really know how I ever got into that – because the person who taught me to do it was an Accountant, one of our Managing Directors, and he showed me what to do and then, from then on, I was really on my own. I’ve always done it on my own, although my boss was actually an Accountant he didn’t get involved in it. If I ever couldn’t balance it, I’d just go and tell him and he said ‘Oh that’s OK, you’ll sort it out’ and I used to think ‘How am I going to sort it out?’ – and then I’d sit there and leave it a little while and do something else and then I’d come home and have dinner and go to bed and then I’d wake up in the middle of the night – this is the truth – my husband would tell you if he was here – he’s known me to get up in the middle of the night and get a pen and paper and actually write figures down ready for the morning because I had the answer to my problem … and I’ve done that many a time. I suppose in your subconscious mind you’re thinking about it and suddenly it comes in quick! I’ve taken this piece of paper to work and its had all the figures on it I need – exactly … unbelievable, really, that I could remember it.

When you’re doing that type of job you’re brain is like a sponge – you absorb all the information there, because it’s not yours personally – you absorb it all when you’re working on it, but once you’re finished with it it’s forgotten. I used to chase all their money and I’d done that for thirty-odd years as well.

Computerisation at Building Equipment

By the time, I retired, I was obviously the oldest person there and I’ve seen lots of changes including the introduction of computers. Just before I finished, they brought in another new system and I kept thinking to myself ‘Oh my God, I’m going to look such an idiot’ because when you’re older you don’t always absorb all the necessary information. I found it was better to be shown what to do rather than just reading what to do. The chap from the firm who installed this new computer system who took us all on a training course said to me ‘I don’t know what you’re worrying about’ because you know exactly what you want to achieve … you’ve got a logical mind and you might not feel very confident but you’ll be fine.’

And I was, I was fine. Originally when I did bank reconciliations, I had to do it all manually. Then with this new system, and bear in mind I’ve only got a year before I retire, I had to balance everything up on the computer rather than in ledgers. I was proud that I actually managed to do what I needed to do, to find my way round and get all the information on the computer, especially at that time of life.

I’ll be honest with you and say that I’ve got a computer upstairs. I do my son’s books on there and go on the internet and type some letters ‘cos I’m not very good with my hands because of rheumatoid arthritis. But on some afternoons when I’m sitting there, about this time of day when I’ve done my jobs and cooked the meal and done what I’ve wanted to do and I think, ‘I’ll just go upstairs’ and I am learning! Not by the book but I’m getting on quite nicely now. Getting a bit more confident. I think if you’re logical, that’s the thing with computers. It’s just taking it step by step and not rushing over a step or panicking or thinking ‘oh it’s not doing it – drat!’

You see the thing is when I worked with computers on the three systems that I had at Builders Equipment, we weren’t really given any basic training. You had a package deal – you know they always send a package, don’t they? The information that I was using and needed was within these three packages and that’s like the information that you’ve got on your computer.

Looking Back on a Wonderful Working Life

I’ve had a wonderful working life, really. I don’t regret working – you know some people say ‘Oh, I’m glad I didn’t work’ but I’ve liked going to work.

I think by the end I was ready to retire; I was only 60 when I retired. They gave me a retirement ‘do’ with speeches and all that type of thing and my boss’s words were ‘Well, Maggie, I hoped this day would never come.’ And in my return speech, I said ‘Well, it’s time for me to go – it’s my time to go and make way for the younger generation because the company needs young blood in it to carry it forward.’

You can only do what you can do for the firm while you work for it and you grow with it, but after a certain length of time it needs new blood to revitalise it and carry it forward. Well, that was how I personally felt. I can’t necessarily say I miss the people because my job didn’t involve the people in the office – not at all – so although I don’t miss the company side of it, I do miss the mental challenge.

By the time I retired, I used to go in at quarter past seven in the morning and leave off at half past four in the afternoon which worked in with my husband. He would drop me off on the way to work and pick me up on his way back so that worked nicely. If I needed to walk to work I could do it within half an hour, so that again was near and handy.

But the amazing thing about it all is, when I was at school, I was absolutely useless at Maths. We had twenty-eight in our class and I used to come about 26th/27th – never ever fathomed that out! I really, really couldn’t. I was hopeless – I didn’t even take my GCE in Maths. Hopeless at Maths – and if you think – all my working life that’s all I’ve ever done … its always involved figures of some sort.

Working and being independent

After school, I was just so pleased I was out to work, you know what I mean. You could buy your own clothes; I was one of three children and obviously being the oldest one, my parents couldn’t afford to buy me all these new fashionable things so my main thought was ‘get to work and earn some money! Be independent.’

I think in some ways it’s what’s wrong with some of the youngsters today because of silly parents bailing them out and helping them out. Some of the youngsters are quite happy for us to give them the money rather than earn it. I mean, my friend who has just been here today – she’s been saying exactly the same thing.

I mean, when I was a little girl I did errands for the people who lived in my street – I used to walk to the butchers every morning, Monday to Saturday, sorry – Tuesday to Saturday … they didn’t open Monday. I used to walk from Rose Lane, down King Street to a little butchers shop called Swatman, near St Anne’s Wharf, and is now part of the Dragon Hall thing, and get five people’s meat within the little road where I lived. Right from from about ten, I used to do that to earn my pocket money. They used to laugh at me because I used to stand in the butchers shop and if I didn’t like a piece of meat, I wouldn’t have that! I wouldn’t dare take the piece home which had too much fat on it or wasn’t quite right.

One of my regular orders was a piece of pork for four shillings and sixpence (about twenty pence) – a loin of pork and if it came to say four and ninepence, I would take it, but if it was more I wouldn’t have it because I had to work to what they gave me! Then I used to get half a pound of mince for a different lady and then my own Mum used to have a pork chop and three quarters of a pound of pig’s fry – pig’s liver and bits and pieces – I don’t even know whether you can still buy that. My dad was a lorry driver at the time and sometimes we didn’t know whether he was coming home that night because he had to go wherever his lorry took him, or his load took him rather. As I say, every day I went there before school to earn my pocket money and then I only got about two shillings a week.

When we were young girls, we wanted to wear stockings and they were quite expensive. My Mum said if I wanted to wear stockings I would have to buy them myself, and I did, and that didn’t hurt me! It’s good, because you feel you’ve got a bit of money and it’s your money.

My brother used to do a paper round and he had quite a big round and if he was ever ill or anything like that I used to do his paper round for him, all over Recorder Road and Prince of Wales Road and it didn’t hurt us to do it.

As a woman, the most challenging thing is how to balance work with children. It’s alright if you’ve got somebody to look after the children. When I went to Builders Equipment and started working in the office again, I was quite lucky in as much if my son was ever ill, I’d just phone up and say I’m not going in and that was fine. There were occasions when perhaps he’s had something for a week and they were quite good. Sometimes, Mum had my son for a few hours and I’ve walked up to the office and I’ve just got some work like filing or something which I could bring home. My Mum and my Aunt used to help me out looking after him so that was fine and during the school holidays – I used to try and do two whole days or even three whole days so he could go to Mum’s for two days and Auntie’s for one day, and then I’d have two days with him – but I never ever left him on his own. When he got a bit older, around fourteen, I would leave him. I’d go to work and he’d have his friends round and they’d play in the garden or over the park and I’d come home lunch time to check on him but I mean he was fine and Mum was just up the road but … these days ladies have got to go to work.

The majority of ladies work these days, don’t they? With children they always want a bit more and things are that much more expensive. When my son was about twelve, he used to be quite athletic and he used to run for Norwich and for Norfolk. He used to knock the spikes off his trainers like there was no tomorrow so I almost went to work in to keep him in his running shoes. We used to go down to Pilches and even in those days they were £30-odd – so I spent all my money – but it was worth it in the end. You give your kids what you can, don’t you? I only had the one so … you give them what you can. Men don’t have that worry, do they? They don’t have the worry of juggling the children, juggling the home because all the housework has still got to be done – the cooking and everything. Still got to keep things going!

You have to be in a routine, don’t you – that is the thing – you have to be organised and in a routine otherwise that doesn’t work very well.

Margaret (b. 1950) talking to WISEArchive on 9th March 2011 in Norwich.

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