Working Lives

Jill of all trades. A Norfolk girl (1940s-2013)

Location: Marlingford, Norwich

Joyce started off working for the Telephone Manager in Norwich and afterwards worked for British Telecom, including on the telephone directory. In later life she became involved with Colney Wood burial park and fell into grief counselling supporting people in their bereavement.

Wartime childhood and village life

I was born just a few yards from where I now live. My mum and dad had a little bungalow there and my dad had two or three acres of land. I lived during the wartime years so I can remember the sirens going off and my sister and I being scurried up the garden into a little hole in the earth. There was a brown corded curtain hanging up the door, and bunk beds in there, and there we had to stay until the all-clear went. Because I was so young, I didn’t really understand what was going on, I just knew that there was a bit of bother everywhere.

My mum had a lot of evacuees, I know that, but where she slept them and where she put them I can’t really recall. I think I must have slept in my mother’s bedroom, my dad did a lot of night work. I can remember while I was lying in bed one night a head came in the window and someone said, ‘Can you tell us where the dance is ma’am?’ That was an American looking for the village hall. On another occasion I can remember a friend from down the road putting his head in the window during the night and saying ‘Mrs Rix, Norwich has been bombed’. I remember us sitting up the next day waiting to see if my dad came home.

Hard working parents

You don’t appreciate just what your parents did in those days. My dad worked very hard and never travelled on public transport. He worked at Boulton and Paul’s, and later on at Laurence and Scott’s, and he always biked. He would never dream of having a day off, and I’ve known my dad to walk to work. He always carried a little piece of string on his bike so if he saw anything laying on the road or over the hedge on the way home he could pick it up and tie it on his bike and bring home. He was a real hoarder.

My dad and my mum organised things in the village. They raised money to have a village hall built. They used to travel all over the place to attend whist drives. Later on, my dad was a bingo caller and he did that until quite late. They were always at work.

My mum kept chickens on some of the land, but unfortunately when fowl pest came about, although they didn’t have it, they had to have all their chickens destroyed. My mother never had chickens again. She worked hard and was very clever in a way. She could do needlework and she made someone’s bride’s dress. My mum helped people into the world, and she helped people out of the world. She could lay people out.

In Colton, the village next door, there was Kidner’s Farm which was part fruit farm and part general farm. My mum worked on the fruit farm, doing the apples. They used to pull the apples and grade them. The farm foreman was a fat man… we children were all a bit frightened of him because he was quite loud and quite fat. I can just vaguely remember being with my mum on the fruit farm, I must have only been about three, and playing amongst the trees.

There are a lot of questions I wish I could ask about my mum. I remember my mum coming home from Norwich where she’d been to the dentist and had all her teeth out. She couldn’t have been very old then and she was fitted for dentures after. I said to my sister quite recently, ‘Why did she have her teeth out?’ and she said, ‘I don’t know, I think that’s just one of those things they did’. I thought, ‘I can’t ever remember feeling sorry for her’, and I feel really guilty to think about it. I can’t tell her now, ‘I’m sorry!’ Things were so different…

My dad had greenhouses, and he grew vegetables and chrysanthemums he would sell at the gate. I remember him cross-pollinating chrysanthemums and having lovely pale green ones that he sold at Christmas time. He would grow tomatoes too. I never had such a thing as pocket money because my parents didn’t have the money to spend. So I used to go around the village selling tomatoes. Now I think, ‘Oh, the miles I tramped’! I’d knock on the door and ask ‘Would you like any tomatoes this week?’ ‘Yes please.’ And I always had to ask ‘Please could I have the bag back?’ because my dad couldn’t really afford to buy bags to put tomatoes in! He would give me a penny for every pound I sold, and that was the pocket money I had. I had to earn it.

I had to keep my room clean too. You never used to have carpets in those days, you had a piece of lino squared, and brown polished boards all the way round. I used to have to polish those boards and polish all my furniture. You were made to work and had to help in your up-keep. You didn’t pop everything in the washing machine! We had an outdoor toilet, obviously, and my mum had the old copper bath indoors where she had to light the fire underneath. I can remember the copper sticking out because at the end the water was lovely and white and she used to poke the washing in. Then she used to have to lift that washing out and take it over to a great big sink where she’d rinse it and put it through the mangle.

We always had homemade cakes, roly-poly’s and dumplings and rabbit stew. I do appreciate now just how hard my mum and dad worked. But they were very appreciated around the village.

We’ve got a great big hall in Marlingford called Marlingford Hall and Major Lombe used to live there, real gentry. Most people of the village had a job up there, the butler, the gardener… my mum worked there too. There were various grades of people there. You had the lady Lombe, Mrs Lombe’s lady in waiting – she was very posh – and then there was the next grade which was not quite so posh, and that went down like that. You used to sit in church according to your status in the Hall and in the village, but the class distinction wasn’t so, what shall I say… now, people do feel above their station sometimes but I think in those days the upper class appreciated the lower class and they mixed. Mrs Lombe came to my sister’s wedding. They knew everyone in the village.

My mum helped her start up the Mother’s Union in the village. There wasn’t a Women’s Institute, but we had a Mother’s Union and I used to go with my mum. She used to make clothes for me. There’s eight years’ difference between my sister and I, and I don’t think my sister appreciated the fact that she had to wear the same sort of clothes as I wore because they were always the same! You had one pair of shoes and that was it.  I used to want a pair of fur boots when they came in, but they couldn’t afford them, so I didn’t have any.

School days

They were very hard days. I remember I had little dungarees and boots and I stood watching my sister go to school which was just up the road and down a lane. Eventually I went to Marlingford School. There were just two classrooms and a fire which was the only heating that we had. We did daily exercises outside. In 1947 Marlingford School was closed and we were transferred to Bawburgh School in the next village.

The landlord of the Bell public house had a little car so he took the back seats out and put some boards down and we all had to sit on these boards in the back and go backwards and forwards to school. I dread to think what health and safety would say today if they could see us all bundled in the back of a little car!

At Bawburgh School, again there were two classrooms and a roaring fire. I can remember the headmaster standing in front of the fire with his hands behind his back, keeping all the heat off us poor children! Again, we used to go outside and do our exercises. I passed the Eleven Plus, or what was called the Scholarship, and I went to the Notre Dame High School in Norwich. I left the high school in 1955 and went to work at the Telephone Manager’s Office in St Giles.

First job in the Telephone Manager’s office

I did the engineers’ wages and that’s so primitive come to think of it. They put in a little sheet every day of what they’d done and the hours. I used to collate the week’s timesheets together in a kind of spiral so I could read all the hours and I added them up.  We used to work five and a half days a week then and that was my job, to do their timesheets.

A lot of our boys went training to places like Bletchley, and Stone in Staffordshire. I remember I hated Wednesdays, because I used to have to ring up and say how many hours our boys had done training and I used to dread that time. We didn’t have telephones in those days, so I didn’t know how to use a telephone, I’d never seen a telephone before! I had to say, ‘Stone Staffordshire Five Seven O’ and I used to hate it, hate it! I can remember then I used to pass the timesheets over to more senior people and they would work the wages out.

Living the simple life at Marlingford

I left British Telecom, the Telephone Manager’s Office, and Geoffrey and I got married. We had a simple little wedding at Marlingford Church, and we got a little cottage just down the road from my mum, in a little courtyard. There were five little cottages, four hundred years old. We had one room up and one room down and no water or electricity. When I was young, we didn’t have water and electricity either. My mum had Calor gas in the latter part of the time. When electricity came to Marlingford, my mum gave us her gas cooker and we had a Calor gas light in the living room. No light upstairs and of course no heating at all.

That was a lovely little cottage though. It had a little lean-to kitchen, where you had to go up the step, and we used to have this lovely roaring fire. Because it had oak beams you had to be careful you not to set the house on fire. We had a toilet down a long path, round a corner past a buddleia bush. The toilets were semi-detached so you could sit and talk to your neighbour! A lovely little couple live next door to us and they loved dancing. He used to stamp his feet and run down the path to the toilet singing ‘As soon as I touched the seaweed, I knew it was gonna be wet’! They were lovely days but a bit airy, because you could see the field through some of the cracks in the walls when you were in the toilet!

We had a lot of rats, they used to run up the walls! Upstairs we used to go to bed by candlelight. I had an old copper heated by Calor gas, out in my shed in the back garden, and I would put my washing in there and that would boil up. It didn’t matter if it ran over because that was in the shed! I would go there and take all my washing out and put in a bath. They were old galvanised baths and I would have to carry it all the way through the house, out into the courtyard where there was a tap. I would rinse my washing by the side of the road at this tap and then I would bring it all the way back through the house and put it through the mangle. That’s how I managed.

The work was hard and in those days I was very particular. I had a lovely walk-in pantry, and I had two galvanised buckets that I’d fill every day with fresh water from the tap. I’d bring them into this pantry which was quite cool, and cover them up, and that was our water supply. Geoffrey worked on the land and grew all the vegetables. He only got about two pound something and rent was four shillings. To make our money go we had to really work out how much money we had to spend. We never got into debt though. I had a notebook of my groceries and another was my rent book. One pound four pence, that was my grocery bill, I had to keep within that budget. I used to have a cylinder of Calor gas, I think that was one pound eight and nine pence, and that would last us two or three weeks.

At first when I had Rosalind I stayed at home. I had a lovely pram that somebody sold to me when we were expecting a baby. We had that all done out and it was a beautiful Dunkley sprung pram. But the floor was really uneven and to get the pram indoors I had to go down a path that belonged to someone else in that courtyard and right past their door to get to mine. That was very awkward.

She was a lovely baby and then when she was about eighteen months the council came out and said that they didn’t think the house was fit to bring a child up so they condemned it, which was a shame really. They gave us a council house in Costessey. Although we were there eighteen years I didn’t really settle. I don’t know why, but a lot of my life at Costessey has gone, it’s not so vivid as my life here at Marlingford when things were simple.

To show you how different things were, we were allocated a tin shed where our coal was, but you never had a lock on the shed. You’d go out and leave your door unlocked and you never dreamt about people breaking in.

Seasonal work on the farm at Colton – potatoes and beet

When we moved to Costessey, I started to work to try and save some money so that we could eventually buy a place of our own. I went back to the Colton farm but on the general farm this time. That was very, very hard. A lady in Costessey had a little Ford Anglia, and she picked up five of us in the car. She would bring Rosalind and drop her at my mum’s when she was a baby. We would go on to Colton and then we would pick Rosalind up on the way back, unless she was with me – sometimes I took Rosalind to work.

I went potato dropping, and now that was a nice job. You straddled a row and you dropped potatoes a foot apart. You’d just walk along all day long putting one potato in front of each foot. You’d hold the tray with your partner, and they would be putting potatoes in the row beside you! And in the autumn we would go potato picking. The tractor driver would measure the stretch out and place a stick in, and you and your partner would have your stretch. He’d plough a row out and you’d go along and pick them up into a basket and then you would tip them into a sack. That was hard work. We used to say ‘He didn’t put the stick in the proper place, you’ve got a longer row than us’! We did have a lot of fun I suppose… You worked all weathers. If it was raining you’d get wet because he’d plough two or three rows out ahead and that made your back ache.

He treated us very well, the chap who was foreman. We were paid by the day, which was a fairer way really. I suppose we’d start at nine until most probably three and had half an hour for dinner. I had known a time when the children were with us, and they all used to play together. The tractor driver would go into the wood at dinner time and he would light a fire with some of the diesel from the tractor, and we would all sit round the fire… and sometimes we’d have a hut that we’d sit in. We never had roast potatoes, we had to take sandwiches! That was quite nice.

I went pulling and knocking sugar beets once, and that was hard work, because that’s always a very heavy time when you’re pulling the sugar beet – the land is wet. We had to actually pull the beet up and throw them up on a cart. I remember a girl working with us who had fits. One day I threw a beet too hard and it hit her and she had a fit, and her brother who was the tractor driver said ‘Just leave her, she’ll get over it’. And we just left her, poor girl, because the tractor was moving all the while!

Then we went chopping out sugar beet. The men had long handles, they could do it all right, they would go along and just chop out an acre of sugar beet like that. But I couldn’t get the knack of that. So our foreman came from Lincolnshire, and gave us all short hoes to use, and that was hard work. You can imagine bending all day long right down here to chop out sugar beet with little short handled hoes. I think it took me all week to do an acre, and I was only getting three pound an acre! You had to keep a distance between each sugar beet and you can’t replant them, once you’ve chopped them up, that’s up!

I remember turning up one day and we were going to do some carrots, but the ground was so frozen we had to come home again. We never knew… that was seasonal work, you would go months without anything, it wasn’t regular employment. But that brought us some money in, which we saved. I worked on and off there until Caroline, our youngest one, was about ten. Because in those days, you didn’t put your children in playschools, and they didn’t go to school until they were four and a half, five. So when Caroline was old enough I went back to the Telephone Manager’s Office part time.

Back to British Telecom

I went back to British Telecom around 1974. There was a lot of change. My dad was friendly with someone who had quite a high position at the telephone place and he said ‘I’ll help you get a job there’. I went back permanently. I was only part time and I worked there several years. Every year, promotion time would come. Unfortunately, we used to say, ‘The lower the t-shirt, the more likely you are to get promotion’. I was passed over so many times. In the end I said to one of the bosses, ‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll put in an envelope the names of those who will get promotion this year, we’ll seal the envelope and when the promotions come through you see how near I am’. He was a little annoyed to think that I’d got it right! I actually wrote a poem about promotion and put it in our newsletter.

I was too handy, I worked what they call a relief. And I’d go in on a Monday and they’d say, ‘Oh so-and-so’s ill, perhaps you’d like to go down to so-and-so.’ I did all sorts of menial jobs at the Telephone Exchange. When calls came through they had little cards that were put in trays about eighteen inches long, and you used to have to sort them all out. It was a really tedious job. We were loosely connected with the exchange, but we had these for account purposes. I had pages and pages of print-out, that were calls that people had disputed. I used to sit there and try to find out who that call was proper to and if a mistake had been made. The print-out used to be about twenty-four inches wide and about eighteen inches depth, and they were all perforated. I used to have to get my ruler and go up and down, up and down, ripping them all apart, working out which person I had to give them to.

One of the jobs I was on for quite a while was in the sales group. They used to have jobs for the engineers to do, they would tell them what they wanted – either a piece of equipment added or a piece of equipment taken away. Then they used to send me all these little green forms and I had to find that particular person’s record, write down everything they got and the prices, and send them back. Sometimes I’d have eighty or ninety a day and I just couldn’t cope with it. There was a chap in sales and he could be very rude and very demanding. He’d say, ‘I want that now!’ and I used to say, ‘I wish he wouldn’t keep bossing me about’. Once he brought me cream cakes just to say sorry! They used to say, ‘He’s a bit sweet on you, he doesn’t like telling you off’.

We had these handouts in a green folder with everybody’s account there in front of us. And as we got a payment in you would find that person and mark off that payment. That was all done manually. That was a very menial boring job really, but in a way it was nicer. You had more contact, you would look at Mrs So-and-so and, ‘Oh yes, her dog ate her bill, yes he ate that the last quarter’, you would know your customer.

Later the Exchange would send us meter readings and we would have to sit at a computer. The meter readings came up with the telephone number and we had to actually put them in so that they would appear on their bill. That’s when the bills were beginning to get computerised. That was an awful job because if your mind or your eye wandered you could put the wrong meter reading to the wrong person. You had to be really particular, keep your eye on that computer and block out everything else that was going on. That wasn’t a very nice job, but it was one that had to be done. We were really only supposed to sit on that computer for so long and then have a break, but they were always in a hurry. ‘The bills for six one o’s are coming out next week, and these meter readings have got to be put in’, so you had to do it, you were always pushed and pushed. Things were beginning to change, all the while the progression was beginning to come into force.

Changes in British Telecom and the effects of progression

I eventually got a promotion! Pride comes before a fall. I was trained in sales and I was getting on all right, but they gave me exchanges in Hoxton and Ilketshall and places I’d never heard of! If I’d been given places that I knew, then I could chat to the customer when they ring up. There were places where we were sent to train – Bletchley was one of the places, and a place in London. Me and my friend both got promotion at the same time. For some unknown reason, whether that was to point out to us that we shouldn’t have kept on about it, they sent me to Manchester, and Jane somewhere else.

So I had to go up to Manchester for training and I’d never been anywhere on my own. That was early 1980s, the time when the riots were on. I used to go on the train on a Sunday night into a little bed and breakfast place with another girl from away somewhere, and I came home Friday nights. We used to travel on a bus to work every day, and we were told that we were not to get off, that we were not to go out on our own because of the riots. As we were going out to where we were being trained you could see the houses burning down and the effects of some of the riots. That was a different world. I was very naïve.

They had all these different telephones that I’d never seen, and as part of the training you’d have to sell that telephone. How do I sell a Mickey Mouse telephone? That was so different. The girls used to go out to nightclubs and drink, so I used to have to go back to my lodgings because I’d never been to a nightclub, it just wasn’t me. Then they said, ‘We’ll all go to the pictures’, so we went to the pictures and the film was about the Jedis, and I couldn’t make it out! There were these things darting across the screen, and I didn’t know what was going on! I was really and truly lost. I had one nice night where the lady of the house took us to Manchester Airport and we watched the planes.

I used to come home every weekend and I used to cry because I didn’t want to go back. One week I got back to Manchester station on the Sunday night and I rang Geoffrey and he said your mum has had an accident in her car. I think that was just the build-up, that was a terrible time, I hated it. I came back to Norwich and I settled down to my job.

I had a nervous breakdown, and I was very ill for quite a long while. A lot of people couldn’t understand why I’d had a nervous breakdown, because I was always cheerful. I said to the doctor, ‘The curtains have been drawn’. Nowadays, you read about it; they say when your children have all flown the nest, sometimes women have this, but I don’t think my doctor understood at the time. Strange enough, two other girls at the same time, were suffering the same. I think because of this progression, perhaps that was going too quick and was affecting people. We all had letters to say they’d like us to leave. So I left, and I thought my life was finished there.

Taking O levels and back to BT helping with computerising the directory

I pulled myself together… My mum said ‘You’ve got to pull yourself together’, but that’s the last thing you want. Caroline got married, and I decided that the best thing if I was to help myself, was probably to join up and take exams, which I hadn’t taken because I’d left school early. I went to evening classes, adult classes, and for seven years I took seven O Levels, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I think I went back to British Telecom because they were deciding to allow direct debit. I had trained this young girl when she left school and came there and she remembered that. Her husband was now going to be in charge of the direct debit start, so they contacted me and said ‘Would you like to come back and help us in direct debit?’ So I went back, but not on contract.

That was quite an experience, because the boss was very strict, and because it was so tedious. You’d have two hours doing one job, two hours doing another, and you’d move around. I got so nervous one day I only did an hour’s work and changed over. He wanted to know why and I said ‘Oh, I was in such a hurry, I was frightened that I was late for my next two hour stint!’ I think that took about eighteen months, two years. That was quite a good job.

After that they turned the manual directory over to something that’s now all computerised and I did that for quite a while. We had a little room on our own and several of us who had left for various reasons went back to put the directory on computer. That was a nice job, again very tedious, but very nice.

I remember there was a young boy, he was a little devil. He’d failed one part of his Law exams, and I understand you can take that part again, but you must pass that second time. He came and worked to get a little money while he was getting this second part. He used to scratch his feet along the nylon carpet and then come up behind you when you were really concentrating, put his hands up to your hair and your hair would stand on end! He passed his exam and his photograph has been in the paper. He is some top person in the CPS, he’s done ever so well for himself. He was ever such a nice chap we had a lot of fun there. There was a little romance there and we watched that progress, and that was lovely.

Jason Pardon, the artist, had done a painting that was put on the front of this new computerised directory. At the end of that time we were called together and he gave us all a picture, so I have in fact got a picture that’s worth some money. There were only about fifteen of us and we’ve got it from one to fifteen. And I was given I think a ten pound voucher from Marks and Spencer’s for the work I’d done, so that was nice. I had my name put in full, Geoffrey and Joyce Smith. I said, there’s so many Smiths, I’m going to put my name in full! That’s still there today! I think of that when I tell people – ‘I put that in there myself’.

In the Telephone Manager’s office – breaking down the formality

They made a new position, it was a clerical assistant for the area board, which had about ten members. They asked ‘Would you like to be clerical assistant?’, I said ‘Yes please’, so I got this position. I was in the Telephone Manager’s office with his secretary in a little room by the doors in that lovely entrance hall in what is now the St Giles Hotel. That was a lovely time. I was there to greet people and I did whatever the area board wanted me to. I don’t know anything about drinks, how I got through that I don’t know but if they were having a reception, I was there.

Because the Telephone Manager’s secretary had worked there on her own, they were all a little bit staid. Obviously, they all had to be respected, but I couldn’t be serious. I remember that right opposite us was where you used to come in and pay your bills and the lady there was going to retire. So I made a great big cardboard flower and I put the dates all up the stem and I put a kind of little catch at the bottom and she had to move it up every day getting towards her retirement. When she reached the flower that was her retirement day. I still keep in touch with her although she’s in her nineties. She had that on show at the cash desk and I remember the Telephone Manager coming past and asking her what it was. So she told him, and he said ‘No one would ever do something like that for me’ and I thought, ‘Alright’.

When another one of the bosses, who really was a lovely gentleman, was looking to retire I said to the secretary. ‘I think we ought to do something for him’. But he was very, very strict. Because he owned Martham boat place I knitted him a hat and I got my son-in-law to make a boat out of some sort of polystyrene. I put sails on it and I wrote a poem and I took it to the drawing office and asked ‘Will you print this poem on this sail all nice?’. We made that and we put it in his office on the day he was going to retire. He always came in mornings and he’d just open the door and say ‘Good morning ladies!’ and ‘Good morning Mr So and so!’ and off he’d go. He came in that morning and the poor secretary said, ‘Now I wonder what’s going to happen, he’s either going to explode and be angry or…’ A little while later he came in and he had tears in his eyes and he said, ‘Thank you very much, that was really lovely’. He asked us to have photographs taken with him and he bought us boxes of chocolate. He really appreciated that. I kind of broke them all down.

When the Telephone Manager was going to retire they were going to have a little do up in one of the rooms. His son lived in Australia and when he retired he was going to go off to Australia. I remembered he had said that no one would do anything for him, so I made a cardboard England, and a cardboard Australia, and a plane. I put a ribbon across, and I put the plane on so he could move it every day. He had that on show and he moved the plane across until he got to Australia and his retirement day. I went to his retirement do and his son rang up from Australia. He never ever forgot that, whenever I saw him he always said to me ‘I’ve still got that in my loft’. He died a few weeks ago…

Every month, on a Friday, the area board had a dinner and the wives used to come out. I used to have to entertain the wives until the dinner was ready so I got to know some of them as well. My dad always taught me we’re all equal, so for me that was rather nice because I brought them all down to my level. And I think they appreciated that. One of them was a lovely man, I was really fond of him – he used to make me laugh. He came in one morning and said, ‘I was locked out all night, my wife locked me out and wouldn’t let me into the house!’ They lived in Norwich but they had a house down at Cromer so he used to ring me up and say, ‘Joyce I’m not coming into work today’, and I’d say ‘What, do the lawn want cutting?’ and he’d say ‘Yes, but don’t say anything’!

I think it was nice to break down all that formality. I really enjoyed that time but after this man left, again,things changed. There was no longer a front office, and there was no longer the need for a clerical assistant. They would never take me back on contract. I finished up on the engineering side, and that was a lovely job – looking after my twenty-one boys.

Progression had really caught up by then. They used to send me in with something like a memory stick but bigger that had their time on, and I had to feed that into the computer that would work out their wages. There was a lot of red tape and things, I had to make sure their records were all kept up to date, what they were doing, where they were. I used to go to the staff meetings for them. I liked that job. All sorts of things I had to do, any implements or anything like that that they wanted I had to make sure they had – different tests that had to be done on their equipment because obviously when they climbed up they had to make sure their belts were safe. I had a lot of fun there.

There was an office next to the big office that I was in, my immediate boss sat behind me, but in the next office was the boss over that particular group. I still keep in touch with him; we used to look after his dog. That’s how I kind of intermingled with even the top ones. There used to be this chap who used to tease me and one day, unbeknown to me, he filled my umbrella with those titchy white pieces of paper made when you punch holes. When I opened my umbrella all this confetti stuff fell out all over me! Another thing was if I had all my papers spread all on the table he would put the fan on and say ‘There’s a breeze now coming Joyce!’ and my papers would all go over the floor.

One morning I heard a piece of music on the radio and I’m not very good at remembering songs so all I could remember was the first line, and every now and then I’d break out into this line and sing it. All of a sudden, he picked up my chair, because they were on rollers, he pushed me down the office, he put me outside the door and locked the door. As I sat outside this boss who was in next room came out and said ‘What are you doing sitting out here?’ and I said ‘He won’t let me in’! And that was the way, so easy going, that all go on. I found I enjoyed it… I think because I was getting older, and because I didn’t really care!

Reorganisation – redundancy!

They called it reorganisation and did away with a lot of people. Because of this reorganisation a lot of my boys were going to be made redundant or were being offered redundancy and I know they were going to get something like forty thousand. At the time, Geoffrey had been made redundant – his place had closed down – and he wasn’t going to get very much redundancy money. I remember going to our staff meeting and the boss said to me, ‘Do you mind if I tell them what Geoffrey’s going to get after thirty-one years of service and what they’re being offered after just a few years?’ So that’s how it was, he explained to them and I left.

In between all this time, we had saved enough money and had this bungalow built here, back in Marlingford. But obviously I had to keep earning money to pay off our mortgage. Because we didn’t have our mortgage until we were forty, we had to keep that money going.

The Christian factory – foreshadowing the future

I did ever so many jobs after that. In between times, I worked at Mothercare when it was a big store up St Stephens. I was in charge of babies’ vests and things and plastic knickers. I did three days a week and every Tuesday I had to wash everything down and I can smell that now – it was a beautiful smell. That was a nice job.

A friend of mine said there was a factory on Bowthorpe Estate that was a bit primitive, and she said ‘Would you like to come help out’? That was seasonal work, you went as and when they got a job and they only wanted people who were Christians. I went and worked in this factory. It was a massive factory. The first job I had, I had a basket on my lap that someone had already put some straw in, so you all sat there and you just passed it round putting things in – you’d put perhaps a jar of jam in there and that was passed round. We did hampers, we did books, we put the sleeves on books, we did Bibles, we did foreign work, we did diaries. We did all sorts of things but that was very primitive. There was this great big machine in the middle and my friend was in charge of that because she was forewoman. She used to feed the things through, and they would wrap them. I mean nowadays, that’s all done… but she actually had to do it manually. She had to put them in and that would come out the other end. Some of us stood and handed her the stuff, another person would be taking them out and putting them in a box. You all had your job to do.

We were all more or less the same age so you found that was very nice, you could talk and you understood each other. And there were two young boys that worked there, who were far from Christians, but they were so funny, so naughty. One of them was all holey, you used to know what kind of pants he had on because he’d have holes in his trousers. They used to stick chewing gum on the radio so that they could only have on what they wanted. We couldn’t get our programmes on! If they weren’t there we used to try and get this chewing gum out and then as soon as they came back, they’d fill the hole up again! At ten o’clock J. would make us a cup of coffee, and again in the afternoon. If it got a minute to ten and she hadn’t stirred, someone would say, ‘(cough cough), Isn’t it dry in here?’, ‘Oh alright then, I’ll go and make it!’, that was nice. We all talked together. That was a nice enjoyable job, but it was heavy sometimes.

There was only one young girl there, she was eighteen and she was ever such a hard-working girl. She used to come in and tell us about her mum – ‘My mum has been sick again… my mum hasn’t eaten anything’. We used to talk amongst ourselves and wonder if something was wrong with her mum. We did learn that her mum had cancer, but she never mentioned it. That was a very sad time, I used to sit and cry sometimes. Because we were all so close, you kind of got involved with people. Her mum got worse and worse, and one day I said to her, ‘Tell you what, shall we do a marathon’? She said ‘Oh, okay. I was nearly sixty so I said, ‘We’ll do the half marathon, the Norfolk half marathon’. She said she’d come with me.

We did one or two practice runs, and we went in for this half marathon. It was ever so hard. I couldn’t get my breathing right until I’d done about two or three miles. They stopped me at the St John’s Ambulance when I got up the Colton Road and she said ‘Are you all right?’, and I said ‘Yes I’m all right’. They gave me a drink of water, and because they’d made me drink this water I wanted to go to the toilet. By that time we got the marshal behind us in the van and he said ‘You’re not allowed out of our sight’. But I wanted to go to the toilet so I went into a pit and I said ‘Now you’ve made my shoes all muddy’.

We ran and walked the thirteen and a half miles. It was very hot, very hard, and when we got back onto the showground, it was ever such a funny feeling because your legs buckle. I thought, ‘I’ve got to do it’. The time was running out and I knew that there was no-one behind us, several people had dropped out already and these marshals had to stay behind us all the while. Unbeknown to us, they’d actually announced that the last two people were coming in and also said something about me, I suppose for being older…

As we ran over the line – because you had to do it in three hours – it flashed up two hours fifty-five and as we came over they all stood and clapped at us and put the medals round. My friend’s mum was there in a wheelchair, and that upset me. I said to her, ‘We’ve done this for you’. I’ve done one or two since then, but that was hard. Her mum died about a month later. When her mum died they asked me at work, if I would be the one to go round and see her. So, I went to see her and her dad after her mum died. I think that role was building up in me then.

Because this factory was so primitive, we knew that eventually it would have to close. We would talk silly things, and we’d say, ‘What shall we do when we finish here?’ I had always liked funeral work so I said ‘I’ll tell you what we’ll do, we’ll set up a funeral directors’ service.’ We allocated jobs, ‘You can do the food, because you’re very good at food, and so on…’, and we worked out what we were going to do. That was a lovely job. I had been at a solicitor’s for eighteen months but that was awful, and I tend to push that right to the back of my mind. I found them very rude, I didn’t like it at all.

A new place at Colney – falling into place

One Sunday morning we had a telephone call, and a chap said, ‘Joyce and Geoffrey will you come out with us this morning? We’re having a protest walk over the new Bowthorpe Estate. They’re building all these houses and there’s a footpath over there and we want to make sure that it is retained. The press is going to be there’, so I said ‘OK’. We went on this particular Sunday morning and we did the walk and we had our photographs taken. Then they said, ‘There’s a new place going to open up at Colney, and someone’s going to show us round this morning, do you want to come with us?’ ‘Yes’ I said, ‘we’ll come’.

I remember James Boddy who lives in Colney Hall, he’s ever such a nice chap showed us round Colney Wood. The one impression he made on me was that he lived in that great hall but he had a hole in his pullover! At one point, before my mum and dad came here, they lived at Bawburgh, on the road that leads to Bowthorpe, and when we were in the Colney Woods, we went up to a point and I said to Geoffrey, ‘I can see my mum and dad’s old house’. We looked round and I said to Geoffrey, ‘Honestly, this is outdoors, there’s burials, what a life! Wouldn’t that be lovely to be up here?’

I went up to the office which was actually at Colney Hall, and thanked them very much and said I’d enjoyed it, and they showed me sketches of what they hoped to do. And would you believe it, there was a piece in the paper saying they wanted a Sunday sales person. I thought I might as well just do that. I wrote and I said that I only lived a few miles away and I liked it, never expecting… I went up there and saw this chap and as he was talking he said ‘You’ll be expected to so-and-so’, and I asked, ‘What, have I got the job?’. He said ‘Yes, didn’t you want it?’ ‘Oh yes, please!’ And that’s how my work began.

I was working as a sales advisor on my own on Sundays. The park had opened less than six months before and there weren’t many people buried there then. I can remember my first sale. I knew everyone that came up there and greeted everyone. There were no buildings – there was only an old, corrugated tin place where they kept the buggy. I was terrified of the buggy because I can’t drive! I had to sit in this tin hut and I couldn’t see who came in the gate. I was always frightened someone was going to slam the doors and shut me in! In the summertime I’d sit outside and I’d hide my bag under some fern. The toilet was a funny little tin toilet thing. You used to sit there and watch the spiders, they had great big cobwebs up the corner and they used to swing about in the toilet! After a while they bought me a caravan, and I was really proud of my caravan, but then the gypsies came and stole it!

I found I just fell into place. I started to counsel people, I found I could cope with people; I had a lot of heartache. People used to ask, ‘Don’t you get depressed?’, I didn’t get depressed, I got upset. I had all sorts of people to deal with, and I think because I’m a Christian, something else, took over when I had to approach people. I have interred people, I have helped at funerals, and I worked there for quite a while on my own and that was very busy.

I’ve had some experiences up there. I’ve cried a lot and I’ve enjoyed it, I feel very peaceful up there, it’s strange… I can feel worried at home, but once I get up there there’s something that takes over. People sit on the settee in the family room, and I would always kneel or sit down in front of them, but never stand up – never be above them. I get down here so I can just touch them.

I got into my seventies and now I only go when they want me. I do the odd occasion when people ask, ‘Can Joyce do a scattering, or an interment’? I did an interment a few months back and I’ve done a couple of scatterings just lately. I read at the services they had at Christmas. I help at wakes. I wish I were young again because that is where I would go.

One of the things that always intrigued me was the way they walk in front of the hearse – once upon a time you couldn’t take the hearse down but they used to carry the coffins. I thought that must fill you with so much pride and honour. One day I was saying that to a funeral director and he said ‘If you like you can walk in front’. So I did that for my mum and dad’s funeral. I was so proud that I walked in front. I do get a lot of satisfaction up there. And I sometimes wonder whether I should go into counselling…

Joyce (b. 1939) talking to WISEArchive on 8th January 2013 in Marlingford.