A Head for Figures

Location : Norwich

I was born [in 1950] in Horns Lane, Norwich, which was the house of my grandparents – that’s my father’s parents – and I lived there until I was three years old; and then I moved down to a terraced house in Boulton Street which is actually off Rose Lane – no longer there. Just down the side of the Tudor Hall, where the bakery used to be. I lived in a terraced house there until I was sixteen and a half. Then we moved up to Randolf Road which is just off the Hall Road. The houses that we were living in were under a Compulsory Purchase Order by the council – so they flattened them and made a car park and office buildings. So they gave us a three bedroom council house in Randolf Road.

You went to Lakenham Secondary School, I think, and can you tell me at what age you left school?

Yes, I was sixteen and a half when I left school – I just finished my GCEs, as they were then – and then went to work almost straight away.

Going into an office – Mackintoshes

Did you have a choice about leaving? Did you want to leave, or …

Well in those days you just went into the fifth year, and once you’d completed the fifth year 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 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, when it was almost time to leave I decided – no, I just think I’ll go into an office.

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

Why did you choose that one?

I think the place itself of 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, didn’t we? and I found that 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 really if I’d had a brain I could have thought to myself 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 and there were about fifty women, I suppose, at least that I should think upstairs in the two departments. In the Sales Ledger department we used to use those Burroughs accounting machines – huge great big things they were and we had about twelve people – twelve machines to operate and produce all the information onto big ledgers. Every invoice that was raised had to be posted to an account, obviously. On each ledger there were these great big fat things about … you can’t see what I’m showing, can you [both laugh] … 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 obviously a control ledger at the back.

The reason they were in journeys was because all the reps – from all over the British Isles really – 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.

Oh, I see!

So the reps went out, got the business – I presume in those days they either teletexted it in or phoned it in and then the orders were raised, and then the goods were sent to the customers and then we actually posted the invoices to the ledgers.

So the machine, was that like a computer, sort of thing?

No, it wasn’t a computer – it was like a really, really big adding machine. You sat here like that and it was 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 number one 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, and the way you operated it was … you opened your ledger, put the translucent paper – because of how everybody’s account was – into the machine, pressed the details in and then that would just run through until you put enough of their information in there, 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.

So did that come out, then?

Yes, it would pop out of the top when you’d finished it and then you’d put it back in the same place.

So that was a plastic sort of sheet was it?

They were all translucent, because we had about one hundred ledgers with these translucent pages in, and then at the very end were all the big London accounts and all what we used to call House accounts that had paper ones in.

They worked slightly different – the same sort of principle but the ledgers were obviously a lot bigger because then you’d got the House accounts – big companies like your John Menzies, as it was years ago, and a lot of the other big companies like Forbuoys, were all on these accounts because they were so massive – and they were paper, or card really, and the statements were then produced from those cards and the translucents.

So that was one part of the side window as it were … and then in the same office we had two people who used to use the Burroughs Accounting Machines – not as big as the Accounting Machines that were used on the ledgers – but more like a huge great big adding machine – and they made a lot of noise as well when everyone was working on them … and they were just used to tally.

So it’s like a big calculator or adding machine – just massive.

They were quite heavy as well and the girls used to tally up different batches of invoices and accounts and things like that. We had 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. A lady who I went with when I first went there did the statements. I helped her to do the statements.

I can’t think that I was very happy about it but you did what you had to do, if they told you to do things, you did them because you were new and young and you don’t argue, do you?

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 and in it was like a solution; and what we did was we then put the translucent pages of the ledgers, backed them up with a piece of paper and popped them through like a mangle thing which dipped into this liquid and popped out the other side and there 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.

Gosh, that is amazing!

Yes, it is amazing isn’t it? And then obviously with the card-type ones, then we had to take them down to the Photostatting machines. We left them there – we weren’t responsible for taking the photocopies for them but that was how their statements were produced.

Was that because they didn’t have photocopying machines there or … but then they were on translucent paper?

Yes, but 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 that’s a print room really, I think, and I was a Junior – you know – sort of backwards and forwards, taking all this stuff back – so that was my job for about six months, I did that.

And 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.’ Which was fine. So the next job that I went to was the Queries, and I worked alongside a young woman there – and that was quite interesting because you had lots of problems to sort out, which I enjoyed doing – because it was quite easy to raise credit notes for people who’d been over-charged, or send copy statements or copy invoices – that is fine. 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! People used to just file away – that was another job.

I did that for quite a long while and I did quite enjoy it because 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 out that, which I didn’t mind, you know I quite liked that.

So you had different things and never quite knew what was going to come at you. All very varied.

Yes, I did quite like that, and then I moved on to learning one of the machines. I had a go on the big House Account Machine and they was huge great big accounts on – produced on this Burroughs Accounting Machine. That was OK but I didn’t really like it – I found it a bit monotonous because although you’re putting different figures in on different accounts to me that was really sort of brain stretching.

You’ve got to really concentrate the whole time, haven’t you?

Yes – you can’t take your mind off it – at the end of every ledger, everything has got to balance up so you’ve got sheets on these accounting machines – like a huge great big tele-roll which was as wide as the machine and that produced a copy of everything you’d posted on it and at the end of your posting, each section you posted you had to total that out and obviously that all had to agree – because then the total of the invoices that you’d posted onto the account, you added to the control card and that had got to come to the same total as what you’d posted.

Did you ever find it didn’t?

Well, if it didn’t, you’d have to sort it.

You had to go back?

You had to go back and check every single one.

Did that happen to you?

It happened to everybody. Sometimes, if you transferred a figure – and obviously there was an easy way – because if you knew you could divide the difference by nine then you know you’ve transferred the figure – and you can take figures wrong, can’t you? 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 best not to panic, because there’s a logic here – you take your time and go through it and you’ll find it … and when you do – what an achievement – to balance it out.

True, yes.

So, I did that for a little while but I wasn’t very happy about that … and then they had a vacancy on what we called the Direct Cash. There were four of us worked on there and that was processing all the incoming payment. 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 and agree it all and get it ready for banking before we could actually go to the ledgers and mark it up on the accounts!

Were these cash payments or cheques?

Mostly cheques. Obviously the reps used to collect some money and that was banked in sections – so that was still produced but we didn’t do that much with the cash, it was mainly cheques 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, which we’d got to bank for the day. Those cheques were then taken up to the Commissionaire’s office and they dealt with actually all the banking and things like that for us – and then we just had to go through each account where we’d had a payment and mark off the invoices which had been paid and balance the account and just work through our own pile of stuff. 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 did inherit all the big ‘house’ accounts and on a lot of those all you could do for the day, was if you had a big cheque which was for thousands and thousands of pounds, you just had to bank that and then leave that account to be marked up to go back to it, because you couldn’t hold anybody up. Everything had to be produced because once we produced all the paperwork the girls on these big accounting machines would then actually post the cash to the account. We didn’t post it ourselves because we’d obviously got enough work to do with banking and marking up.

And it went up to the machines?

Yes. The girls on the machines then used to post it to the particular ledgers, and our work was done, that was a daily job and as I say if we had any of the big ‘house’ accounts or some of the ledgers had big accounts within them … and then you went back and did all your big ones.

I think it was quite a good wage. I started there in the August and at Christmas, everybody got a bonus – and that was a week’s wages for every year you’d been there … which was good. I had only just started there so I still got my week’s wages – but for every year you’d worked there you then got that amount of money so for people who’d worked there a long while that was brilliant, that really was good.

They were very strict you were obviously allowed your tea breaks – you had a lady come round with the trolley from the canteen, with the 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 … well, they didn’t have Health and Safety years ago, did they … but something to do, I should think, with them producing food … and we were allowed a packet of biscuits which they sold on the trolley. We used to have a tea break at ten o’clock and then three o’clock in the afternoon and within the other time when you were supposed to be working they were quite strict in that our office manager would look out of his window and if you 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!

Black mark on my name!

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 sometimes in response to these queries. Then general letters about forthcoming orders or offers and things like that. They were quite busy as well. Then you had a lady who was in charge of all these 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 all these accounts and help us if we’d got a problem.

They were happy days.

Did you get things like chocolate and things to take home?

Yes – you had to purchase it. You were allowed a bag of waste – I think that was in the old money two shillings and threepence – and it was a little bit mis-shaped … perhaps they’d had a run of something … like they used to do some chocolates in weekends which were dark chocolate at the bottom and then green at the top and then they had like a wiggly bit on in the chocolate and if that part wasn’t right, then … 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 – a bit longer than a ‘Bounty’ bar. ‘Toffee Crisp’ we used to get in the waste …

Oh, wow!

… and you could actually purchase other stuff that they produced on the cash sales side of it if you wanted to – you got that at a reduced rate. That was quite good – and then Christmas time you could purchase stuff that they did for a sister company – and they used to do big boxes of ‘Liquorice All-sorts’ and the liquorice novelties – like the liquorice pipes and the shoelaces, all that type of thing, and wine gums. All different things like that you were allowed to purchase. Quality Street and whatever, you got them at quite a reasonable price.

So Mackintosh, was that the kind of Headquarters, was it?

The Head Office, yes. They had another place at Halifax, but I never went up there and I don’t think it was as big as the one at Norwich.

I knew the factory, but I didn’t realise it was the Head Office as well. So it was a big department all those years ago!

That’s right – and then we could actually walk through and they had like a … 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.

Of course, because you were in Norwich and close to the centre of town. What sort of hours did you do?

We started work at a quarter to nine in the morning to one o’clock (actually I think it was ten to one) and then ten to one until ten to two we had a lunch break and then you 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 and try and get these to balance. Marking up on an account – you marked all the ones that had paid and then you had to balance the ones which are not – you have to agree to your total which you’re working to. That did take a bit of a while to do – quite challenging.

Did it take you a while to learn how to do all of this?

I don’t remember really – when I look back.

It just seems very detailed. Did you just have to do it very methodically?

Yes – you just had to. If you take your eye off something – for instance you’ve obviously got to refer to the invoice number 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.

So you had a bit of money in your pocket, not too bad hours; a chance of overtime and a good canteen, so it sounds like you were probably quite happy really.

I was quite happy there – in fact it came about that I got married the September 26th 1970 and by the Christmas that year it was announced that we were going to be made redundant, because all the accounts were going to go up to York. Rowntrees had taken us over by this time, so we were actually made redundant. There again, that was a bit of a shock but they did look after us quite well and we were given our notice and obviously told how much money we were going to get – which was a bit more than I think they were legally supposed to give us – and we were told that if we found a job, we didn’t have to work our notice. We could, in fact, leave straight away, which was helpful because I think this was the Thursday when we were told this and on Friday I got a newspaper and I saw a job, applied for it and the following week I left! So I still had all my money and left and started a new job.

But I think the majority of people who worked for John Mackintosh’s or Rowntrees as it later was – the type of people who worked there, worked there for life. The majority had been there a long while. 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 the redundancy when that completely finished. I think he said he was about fifty-seven or fifty-nine, something like that and he’d been there all that while – he’s seventy-seven, seventy-eight now – so … he had been there a long while and he knew of all the changes because he was a foreman, he was, where they made all the chocolate. When he first went there procedures were slightly different to what they were when he actually retired, because he was working all the measurements out on computer by the time he retired. There was a great deal of change. They started to bring the change in just before John Mackintosh was taken over by Rowntrees because we were all sent on a punch-card … they had an office set up to train us all to do this punch-card operating, but I didn’t think much of that.

Didn’t you?

For me, it was quite boring.

Yes, it must have been!

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!’

Because again, you would have had to be very particular, wouldn’t you?

Yes, but I preferred figures to words.

It’s a shame, isn’t it – it’s nice to have that first experience of work.

Yes – I was lucky really – 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 really I could walk to work and that was just convenient, the place was nice – it was clean and very well kept. We were looked after – 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

So, when you left Mackintosh you went to Mann Egerton – were you there very long?

No. I was there about two years. Accounts were all computerised there and I had a big printout of a ledger and I just allocated the cash on it; didn’t actually post the cash to the account – just prepared it all and what invoices had got to be paid. There were people who input all the cash. You didn’t see the end result until the statements were produced off of the next month’s and also part of the job was chasing overdue accounts. Mann Egerton’s was on Prince of Wales Road; several people worked then on this type of work on accounts, but the banking side I missed, because I liked doing the actual banking side of it and allocating the cash to the accounts but that was all done for us and we were just chasing accounts – customers for money.

Would you have to ring them up?

Hmm – you rang them and you wrote to them and had 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 – and I stayed there a couple of years.

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

Changing to Lanes Bakery

I then got a part-time job at Lanes the Bakery on Sprowston Road.

A complete change!

Part-time – I just did mornings … eight till one, six days a week – and I loved it. What a complete difference! From serving customers – obviously you’ve got your mental arithmetic because everything … to reckon up the cash you did it in your head … or on a piece of paper and I loved it there and that was serving customers – you had your regulars, getting the orders up and used to do a bit of cleaning around you and the windows, making boxes – all sorts of things – and I loved it.

And then I left there to have my son. I did quite like it there – it was nice seeing people … I enjoyed it.

A complete change!

Completely different but it was a pleasure to work there.

Were you surprised – did you think ‘well I’m not sure if I’ll like shop work or … ?’

I was surprised really but I just liked meeting the people. There was 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, type of thing – that was really nice. Lanes were very nice, very good to work for. So they did their baking there – John Lane did the baking with the help, obviously, of a couple of other people – did all the bread and cakes … wedding cakes they did, and birthday cakes … and his wife ran the shop side of it.

That was quite 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.

That’s handy as well!

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.

Oh Gosh! Whereabouts is that?

Well, it’s not there anymore – it’s now Mecca Bingo on Aylsham Road. And I can remember when I went for the interview – I had A. in his pushchair then … and I walked all the way from just near the County Hall (that’s where we were living at the time) and I walked all the way to The Norwood Rooms and I had A. sitting in a pushchair in the interview, the manager actually shew me what you had to do. I learnt the Silver Service while I was there and started work the following week. You obviously didn’t go in until the evening, so P. looked after A. and I used to drive myself to work … and depending on what type of function it was – sometimes they had people from all-male functions on Saturday night 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!

Sounds like I’ve had lots of jobs, but when you’ve got children you’ve got to fit in and I found when I was working there I always worked a Saturday night – I’d leave home and I’d get there for six o’clock and wouldn’t get home till midnight and during the week you wouldn’t work quite such long hours but I really wanted something where I didn’t have to be out at night. A friend of mine had this job in 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 – that was only 6 to 8 o’clock Monday to Friday and then I saw an advert for a job which was cleaning in the City Road are A. That was with Charles Bizley – and he’s no longer about, is he?

I got the job there and left Boulton and Paul and worked for Charles Bizley at Builders Equipment on City Road. Whilst I was there I got quite friendly with the manager there – and 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’ – I think that was perhaps what I didn’t like … P.’s been to work all day and I’ve been at home; when he comes home I go out.

You don’t see each other.

No – and so he said ‘What sort of things did you used to do?’ And I told him I worked in the accounts at John Mackintosh, Mann Egerton – so he then asked ‘what sort of things did you do?’ so I told him and he said, ‘When does A. start school?’

So I said, ‘beginning of September.’

So he said, ‘OK then, when he starts school, you can have a job here.’

He just said it in passing.

A. started school, and that night I went in and he said,

‘Did A. start school today … ?’ So I said ‘Yes’.

So he said,’ … so you don’t want the job, then?’

I said, ‘Well, I thought you were just saying it in passing – you didn’t say to me, well come to work at such-and-such a time or whatever … ‘

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

So I said, ‘Yes please!’

He said, ‘Right, you can start tomorrow, then.’

Accounts and cash sales for Building Equipment

So … it was a bit of a challenge really ‘cos he said I could go in “when I could” … “as and when I could” – as soon as A. had gone to school but at that time A. wasn’t staying for school lunch, so I used to take A. to school, walk from school – which was just off the Ring Road at Barrett Road and then I used to walk or cycle to Builders Equipment on the City Road to get there for quarter past nine. I worked there till quarter to twelve; I left off, came back to the school, picked A. up and brought him home for lunch, took him back to school and then got back to work and left off at quarter past three.

I kept that up for a few years. Four or five years. In school holidays my Mum used to look after A. and then my Auntie looked after him as well so I could still go to work – but they allowed me to do two full days instead of all this messing about as and when I could sort of business so it was quite good, and then obviously as he grew older I worked longer hours … and there I remained for thirty-two years.

So that’s where you did stay?

Thirty-two years.

That’s amazing!’ And were you always in Accounts?

Yes, I always did something in Accounts. Mostly the cash sales. When I first went there I was just helping out. When A. was small, I did whatever people wanted me to do – whether that be banking the cash sales or banking or anything like that – copy 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. And then eventually I took over doing the banking and chasing the accounts and, as I say, at one point I worked the big old Burroughs machine while a lady was off sick for a while, but I always did the banking and the queries, bank reconciliations, chasing money – and that’s what I did till I retired.

Was that a big place to work?

No, not that big. Originally when I first went there, there was about sixty people, but when I left (I’m talking about throughout the building because there was like a shop, but they are a supply company to the building trade) so I worked above, in sales ledger – but then there was only the person who input the invoices at the time I went there and me banking the cash and chasing money on the sales ledger side … there were 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 who worked within that accounts office anyway – 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.

So really, finding a job so handy that was in the day time, you must have felt, quite, sort of lucky really.

I loved it – I can honestly say I’ve loved my working life – I’ve always worked, apart from, as I say, the one week which I decided I’d give up working and then went to Lane’s and then the time I had time off when I had children. You left when you were six months pregnant and that 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 left … the last ten, could be fifteen years of my working life I did bank reconciliation of the bank accounts and agreeing the sales ledger – 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 doing that worried me sick because 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.

So in a way … was it like … sounds like Accountancy?

Actually, it is 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 – and he was one of our Managing Directors at one time 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 when I left, 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 – P. 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 there’s 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.

Did you have a lot to do with that chap who originally gave you the job?

I did – he retired, I suppose about … could be about twenty years ago he retired, and he was like the usual General Manager type of thing. Everyone got on well with him and as I say they’re part of the R G Carter Group anyway.

Are they not there anymore?

Yes they are there – at the moment.

Still on Hall Road?

City Road, yes.

So by the time you got towards retiring, or finishing – you were like the senior …

I was. Obviously the oldest person there! Yes – I’ve seen lots of changes … lots of new things come in – the computer side of it. Before I retired 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 the necessary information and sometimes you’re better off to be shown what to do rather than you read what to do – I would rather that happened to me anytime – and the chap we had from the firm who installed this new computer system – he took us all on a training course within our building and he said to me ‘I don’t know what you’re worrying about’ because, he said ‘you know exactly what you want to achieve with the information so I don’t know … you’ve got a logical mind and you might not feel very confident but you’ll be fine.’

And I was .. I was fine because originally when I did bank reconciliations I had to do it all manually and then with this new system coming in – and bearing in mind I’ve only got a year before I retire – I had to balance everything up on the computer rather than in ledgers, and to find your way round and to get the information on the computer I was pleased that I’d managed to do it. I was proud that I actually managed to do what I needed to do and .. especially at that time of life because it is the sort of thing you want to be able to … I’ll be honest with you and say that I’ve got a computer upstairs and apart from doing my son’s books on there – I do go on the internet and I type some letters ‘cos I’m not very good on my hands because of rheumatoid arthritis – I don’t really know my way round a computer – but 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, I think 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 the computer – the three systems that I had at Builders Equipment – we weren’t really given any basic … I wasn’t given any basic training on it – on computers – 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. So, you couldn’t … it was completely different because you had your own way of working to what you needed to achieve.

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.

Sounds like it – like you really have.

Yes, I have. I think by the end I was ready to retire – I was only 60 when I retired – but I just felt that ‘OK I’ve been out to work all my life and … ‘ and they gave me a retirement ‘do’ and speech and all this type of thing and my boss’s words were ‘Well, Maggie (he used to call me) I hoped this day would never come.’ That’s what he said when I retired, and I said ‘Well, (in my return speech I said) 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 … to carry it forward. Well that was how I personally felt but I’m quite lucky because there were several people that I worked with and one of them lives in Ipswich who comes to see me and keep in contact and … . As I say, 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 there is the mental challenge I miss.

Yes, because you had got so far with it, hadn’t you?

The hours I was working when I left – when I retired – I used to go in for quarter past seven in the morning and leave off at half past four in the afternoon – so I was fine really because that worked in with P.. P. could 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 still walk to work within half an hour, so that again was near and handy.

I suppose it’s strange, thinking about it, when you started off by doing accounts and you might easily have found out that you hated it.

Yes, but the amazing thing about it 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

So, when you started, did you think ‘Oh I’ll never get this … what am I doing here?’

I can’t remember ever thinking anything about it – I was just so pleased I was out to work, you know what I mean, don’t you? 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 and yes, my main thought was ‘get to work and earn some money! Be independent.’

You were – and you had your own money. That’s a big thing.

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 … they’re 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.

Maybe my children are lucky because I never have had the money so they’ve always … K. has a little job and the others will do as soon as they’re sixteen …

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, which is near St Anne’s Wharf, and is now part of the Dragon Hall thing – that bottom bit there – and I used to walk round there every day and get five people’s meat within the little road where I lived. Right from a young age – 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 that he was going to give me I wouldn’t have that! No – I wouldn’t dare take the piece home which was too much fat on it or weren’t quite right. Sometimes he said to me … (years ago) – one my orders that I used to get was a piece of pork for four shillings and sixpence.

About twenty pence!

That was a loin of pork what we used to have – what I used to get – and if that was, say four and ninepence I would take that … but if it was more than that I wouldn’t have it … because I had to work to what they gave me!

Four and ninepence, I can remember …

Yes – twenty-something pence. Then I used to get half a pound of mince for a different lady and then my own Mum used to have (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, and she used to get me to get a pork chop and three-quarters of a pound of pig’s fry – I don’t even know if you can buy that now – pig’s livers and bits and pieces like that and Mum used to bake that and, as I say, every day I went there. Sundays and Mondays I didn’t go – before I went to school to earn my pocket money – and then I only got, probably, about two shillings, probably a week.

That meant more then, didn’t it?

When you’re young … when we were young girls – we wanted to wear stockings, didn’t we? – and they were quite expensive, especially when you were at school. My Mum said I wanted to wear stockings I would have to buy them myself, and I did, and that didn’t hurt me!

No, it doesn’t. It’s good, because you feel you’ve got a bit of money that’s your money. Big thing.

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 … which was all over Recorder Road and Prince of Wales Road and places like that – so that was fine – always did little bits and it didn’t hurt us to do it.

Well – that wraps it up really. I think the thing is you’re only the second woman I’ve interviewed, funnily enough, and it is a different thing with women because they’ve got this thing of having to balance it with the children, which was quite a challenge in all sorts of ways.

That’s right, because … it’s alright if you’ve got somebody to look after the children. When I went to Builders Equipment, when I started working in the office again, after having him … I was quite lucky in as much if he was ever ill, then I’d just phone up and say I’m not going in – and that was fine. There’d been occasions when perhaps he’s had something for a week and they’ve actually been quite good in the past – because I’ve walked up there and Mum’s had A. and I’ve just got some work – like if there was a lot of filing to be done I could bring that home … things like that. My Mum used to help me out, as I said, and my Aunt used to help me out looking after him so that was fine and 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. As he got a bit older I would leave him when he was about fourteen. I’d go to work and he’d have his friends round and they’d play in the garden or over the park and he knew what time to come home lunchtime because I’d come home lunch time to check on him and things like that, 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, don’t they – and things are that much more expensive. When I first went to Builders Equipment and A. was about probably about twelve then 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 them days to supply him with his running shoes and that and 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.

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