Working Lives

Confectioner by trade, chiropodist by profession (1956-2013)

Location: Norwich

Julie started in catering, learning confectionary in Switzerland, and when her family was older changed course and trained to become a chiropodist.

College and working in catering

I left school when I was 16 and went to City College for a hotel and catering course. I learnt to do cooking and waitering. There used to be eight of us in a kitchen and two would do the soup, two would do the vegetables, two would do the main course and two would do the afters. It would take us all the morning to make a soup, two of us. I stayed on for a year at college and got my City & Guilds 150 qualification, and then I stayed on another year and got my City & Guilds 151.

My first job was working in the canteen of the telephone exchange in St Andrews Hill and it broke my heart that I had to make soup with Knorr’s tomato soup powder. I was really upset. Because I was a clever Dick, and I had my certificates, I couldn’t understand why I had to call everybody Mrs this and Mrs that, but I was just Julie. I realised that I was the kitchen maid and it really disgusted me to think that I’d been to college, learnt all that and I could’ve gone straight from school. I was on a month’s probation, and the management decided that, as I didn’t like the job, there wasn’t much point in staying.

Then, in Norwich or anywhere, you couldn’t get a proper job in a hotel because it was only men in the kitchens. So I did several other jobs in kitchens and canteens and I worked in the Exchange Street café. That was when we used to do stuff for the Norfolk Show, and we’d be cooking for over 500. We used to have to go in nearly 24 hours to do that. I worked in different kitchens and cafes and in one café I made 3 pounds 4 pence a week while the girls who worked in the factory were getting 7 quid. That didn’t seem fair but that’s how the world was.

I ended up in Kett’s Hill Bakeries and was taught to do the lattice work piping on wedding cakes. Then I worked at the Smith’s Bakeries in Hethersett and I lived in Norwich near Earlham Park. I used to bike to Hethersett and back. In the night time I used to hate it because I’m afraid of the dark and those big pylons used to follow me on the way home and I was terrified. I’m still afraid of the dark.

Confectioner in Switzerland

Somewhere along the line the big men like Colmans and Gurneys and all those sorts of people got together and made a trust so that young people of Norwich could experience travelling abroad. So, I went to Switzerland to a confectionary… and that was ever such a funny place because it was a cake shop! Confectionary in Switzerland doesn’t mean sweets like in England. Abroad confectionary means cakes. I learnt to make cakes and all that sort of things. All the people in that café were young like me and it was like the United Nations. There were Italian and German and Swiss… and I could only speak English, broad Norfolk, so none of them understood what I was talking about. That was a fascinating place, but I was terrified all the while because I’m a bit of a coward and to go all that way on my own wasn’t very good. I went to Switzerland for two months and never saw a mountain, but I learnt a lot.

There was a travel agency in Norwich called Berlin’s Travel Agency. He was a mate of my mum’s in the politics and sorted out all my tickets. All I had to do was to go to the station and hand the porter my tickets and they would put me on the train. I was to stay a month but when I got there, and I’d worked for a couple of weeks the owner wanted me to stay for Christmas. I didn’t want to stay as long as that, but I stayed another month. Of course that meant all the return tickets were wrong so after the second month he wrote it all down for me and said the same thing, ’When you get to the station give this to the porter and he’ll put you on the right train’. At the station I asked, ‘Can you tell me where this is?’ and he said, ‘Cor you come from Norwich don’t ya?’. That was the porter and that was in Switzerland! When I came back, I went to Smith’s Bakeries and stayed there until I married.

I met my husband through my dad who worked at the same factory in Norwich. They used to have a Christmas do and I went with my mum and dad. He was only a young man, but he’d just lost his wife about eight months before. There was a lady with him who was trying to be cheerful but he got fed up with her trying to get him on the floor so he came over and spoke to me and asked ‘Would you dance with me?’ That was how we met. We were married in 1959, for 14 years, and had three kids.

Sewing, and caring for the family

We lived in a little sort of shared cottage that we hired. I was working at Harmer’s then and I loved working in the factory. I was on the sewing machines making trousers. There was no need for me to give up work because we didn’t have any children. I’d always been brought up with the notion that you put your name on the council list and then you got married and then you had children and you stayed in council houses, but my husband never would put his name on the council list. Then after about four years we decided we’d better have some children. We bought a house at North Walsham Road, Old Catton, near the Woodman Pub, and straight away the family was on the way.

Once the family started, I gave up work. I worked right until I was eight months pregnant and that was a really icy winter. The girls I worked with were disgusted that my husband insisted I go to work, but I did. Our son was born in 1963, and the other two children two and six years later. I did a lot of crocheting and used to sew fancy waistcoat things. The girls would bring me the wool I’d crochet, and they’d give me a pound. I did that sort of thing up until the kids started going to school. Then we used to knit for the school and that sort of thing, but I never actually went out to work. My husband was annoyed but I don’t agree with mums going to work, I think that’s what’s the matter with the kids today… but I won’t get on that high horse. I was a mum with the children and just doing odd bits and pieces. I did a bit of cleaning and just that sort of thing, not actually really going out to work.

I always wanted to be a mum. I still want to be a mum. I’ve got three children, but they’re all grown up. I have grandchildren, a great grandson, and children on my husband’s side. My son has now come to live with me because he split with his wife and I desperately want to cuddle him and say ‘Aah you know, Mum loves you’ and get him on my lap… I do hug him sometimes. But he’s a man, I’ve got to let him make his own decisions and I mustn’t keep telling him what to do. My daughter certainly puts me in my place if I start to tell her anything. But that’s the bit I miss most of all, being mummy. That’s such a special job.

Becoming a chiropodist – Life begins at forty

I left my husband and went to North Walsham with the children. We stayed in a particular house for six years. I was in the Red Cross and the lady asked, ‘Do you want a little job on a Monday afternoon?’. I used to clean the surgery of the chiropodist on Mondays afternoon. Then one day the chiropodist asked me, ‘Will you help me to decorate?’ He had to move his little room, so me and the kids helped him to clean and decorate the new surgery.

Although I’d worked there for 18 months I’d never met him, so we start talking about being a single mum and security and that sort of thing. He said, ‘Well if you became a chiropodist, you’d never be rich, but you’d keep your head above water’. I said I couldn’t learn to do that because I thought I was too thick for that sort of thing and he said, ’Well you’ve passed the first hurdle because you can cut toenails’ – I had to clear them up. I sent away for the papers to learn it privately and once a month the papers would come back and there’d be a questionnaire about what I had done the month before. In the meantime, I worked as the chiropodist’s assistant. He said to me, ‘Just be there’ and if ever he said ‘Oh this is interesting, come and see exactly what I’m doing’ I did.

I passed the exam, but I couldn’t work because in those days you had to do 100 hours with a chiropodist and if they thought you were good enough then you became a chiropodist. But you couldn’t do the 100 hours with the person you were training with, so I went to Cromer and did 100 hours working. When I got my certificate she had a baby, so I took over her surgery. My kids were all teenagers by then. I didn’t go out to work until my youngest was 12. It was 1978 and I was forty. Life begins at 40. I only worked for three months, going out on the jobs, and working in the surgery. This sounds funny but when she came back to work everybody wanted me to do their feet, so she decided that I didn’t ought to stay there.

In the meantime, I met my husband who was from Wymondham. I was working in the Red Cross and they used to have Pakefield Holiday Camp for a week. There’d be 300 volunteers and 500 disabled people for the week, and we’d work together. The first year I saw him, but I don’t remember him and the next year we met up. We got married and I moved here. I never worked full time as a chiropodist because that takes some time to build up for a start, and we decided that because my husband had retired by then that we wanted time together and he didn’t want me working all hours. So I just did a few here and there. I’d go out and about to different people but not as a really intensive career.

When you go in an old people’s home to work, they bring all the old people into the main room and you just go round each one. I did about three homes and we used to have a sing song. This particular home in Wroxham had a lady in a bedroom who had this terrible disease on the skin. So I’d do all the people and after I did her I had to sterilise all my gear and that really used to worry me. I got eczema and my hands just went to pieces… they were splitting and all sorts. I went to the doctor and he said, ‘You know what it is’, he said, ‘you can’t do that job anymore.’ I told him about this lady and he said, ‘She shouldn’t be in the home anyway and you shouldn’t be doing that’. I was frightened about doing it and he said, ‘Look you’re 60 now, pack it up and become a pensioner.’ And I did.

I do the occasional tidying up for my mates. I still got the gear and I make them comfy. They pay a little bit but that isn’t necessary. When I was doing the chiropody I charged people £5 – don’t forget that was a long while ago. I eventually put it up to £10 but if you want a chiropodist now that’s £28. I only did what the other chiropodists did. Even when I was doing it part time I had a book keeper and I used to go to him every year and he used to laugh and say ‘You don’t do enough to even be a paying hobby’. One year I earned £3 the whole year and he said to me, ‘You know this is ridiculous’. I said, ‘Well the thing of it is, I’ve got a card, I’m known as a chiropodist. If anyone reports me I could be in trouble… but I’ve got proof that I only do that sort. My husband was a pensioner and as his dependent I was only allowed to earn £35 a week, which is a lot of money – I never earned £35. But you know you have to be careful.

The lighter side of chiropody

I would have thoroughly enjoyed making it a career. I have some funny stories. This man was a real misery guts. He was a major in the army and he thought he was above everyone else and I used to go and do his feet and he wouldn’t talk to you or anything. The first week I went on my own I got my finger and I went ‘zip’, up his foot. That makes people jump out of their skin and he roared with laughter! He was all right after that.

When you go round to the homes every six weeks, you can see how quickly people deteriorate. When this man first went into this home he was downstairs because he was a policeman and he wanted to see out of the window. As you deteriorated you get shoved upstairs so people don’t bother. This particular day I went round to his and he was stuck in the toilet. I have all my first aid certificates and I knew I mustn’t touch him. So I got the girls and they got him out and I said ‘If you lay him on the bed so his feet are hanging over the end I can do his feet while he’s lying down’. I started, and I’d done one foot when I looked up and he had his mouth and eyes wide open and I couldn’t see his chest going up and down. I thought ‘Oh my god, he’s dead. Do I send him to heaven with one foot done or do I do the other one?’ And then he did a big breath, thank God for that! And so he had two tidy feet.

I’ve got a battery one now, but in those days you had like a little electric drill with a little diamond file on the top. And this lady I used to go to, lived in a sort of shed and only had the one socket in the whole house so I bought myself a battery headlight and I used to put that on and then plug my electric in! There was one lady whose husband was tight and didn’t want to pay to have her feet done. He knew she was dying but they insisted she had her feet done. I went there that one day, did her feet, made her nice tidy and she died two days later. He was furious.

I had to go to somebody once and I’d never seen a toenail like that before. His toenail was like a snail, like a winkle, it had grown up and up I looked at it because it was hurting him and I thought ‘How the hell am I going to do it?’ I just went flat on it with the clippers and the whole thing just come off! There’s one lady I used to go to regularly– She was a little lady, on her own, in this home, and then one day the boss of the place came out and said ‘Have you got time to do someone else?’ so I said yes and when I went in there that was this little lady, she had these sloppy slippers on and her toenails were so long that they were growing  under her foot. The toenails must have been 2 ½ inches long. I tidied her foot up and just as I’d done it the doctor came through and I said, ‘There: before and after!’

Julie (b. 1938) talking to WISEArchive on 24th September 2013 at Wymondham.

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