Ok, David, Would you like to start tell me a bit about your ‘boy jobs', as you call them. Before your proper job.
Yes, my odd jobs.
Odd jobs. It sounds as if there was quite a few of them.
There are. I was quite surprised. There must be perhaps a couple of dozen once I add them all up. But I learned at a very early age that if you did or made a performance you were rewarded for it. And I learnt that very early in life and the earliest I can remember, I was only about three, and my parents used to chuck me off to church every Sunday – that happened for many years. So they could have some time on their own I suppose, on Sunday morning.
And off I used to go to church and we lived quite near the church in Rosebery Road in Norwich, which is just off Angel Road. And we lived just half a mile – a mile at the most away from there. And my grandmother lived pretty close as well and I was very close to my grandmother. I will bring my grandmother into it again later on.
I used to go to this church in Rosebery Road every Sunday morning every single week. And I think I must have been a bit of a performer anyway – certainly I was an adventurer because … I won't go into this long story.
I was in this shop in Norwich called Frank Price – in Norwich, in Botolph Street, people will remember the shop. I was in there and I followed the machine that polished the floor – it was a very big shop like Jarrold's – and I followed this around and my mother or grandmother … I can't remember which now – I wasn't at school. I followed the machine around the shop ‘cos I was fascinated by it and I got lost and I lost my mother, or my grandmother, and she lost me and I thought – I obviously said to myself "well, I got to get myself home" – so at the age of about four I then walked home. And they must have been worried out of their minds. But, as I say, I was a bit of an adventurer – I used to do things of my own accord.
Anyway, just coming back to the church. At Christmas they had a Christmas party for all the children in Sunday school. And they asked the children to do a performance and I remember distinctly doing a performance at the church. I stood on a little stool, because I was only about four, and made a poem, which one of my aunts had taught me it was called "If I had a donkey". So I stood on this stool and performed to the audience and at the end, of course I got some applause, and they gave me a present and I though "Oh well if I do this …!" And that followed me all the way through my life until today – sixty odd years.
So that set me on the road.
And then because I used to go to church every Sunday … and then we moved from New Catton, where we were living then, to Sprowston I went to Sprowston Church, on North Walsham Road, and then I went to the parish church in Sprowston, St Cuthbert's. They had two churches – one St Cuthbert's, on Wroxham Road, and another one called St Margaret's, which is the old parish church, which is just on the edge of Sprowston.
And so I was at Sunday school, which was on Sunday afternoon at Sprowston, and we were in the big main St Cuthbert's church but we were broken up into classes – age classes -so the youngest ones were there and they worked round the church so there were about 5 or 6 different classes going on, in the church, with the Sunday school teacher taking each one.
I was right at the front near the pulpit and the Vicar, Reverend Aitken, who was the Vicar there. A lovely man, in fact he became Bishop of Lynn later on. Aubrey Aitken, he was a great Norwich City fan. But he had cancer of the throat and he had a box in his throat and [imitating voice] and I kept in touch with him all the way through until he died.
From that early day, from Sunday school, when I was probably about six or seven then. Our Sunday school team, class, was right at the front near the pulpit and he used to come up to the pulpit and just give a little parable, or something like that, or a miracle during the Sunday school.
Because he was so involved, so committed, he was a wonderful man. Throughout my life, as in my previous talk to you, lots of influence from other people.
Then we used to sing hymns and so I loved singing. I still love singing hymns – I was singing hymns yesterday in church. I loved singing hymns and I was obviously singing with gusto. And he came down, from the pulpit after the class was finished, and he said, he probably knew my name anyway but let's say he said, ‘David, can you just stay behind, I would like a word with you'
And I stayed behind after Sunday school and he said "I've heard you singing in Sunday school. Would you like to join the choir?" So I said "Yes", there was no reason why I shouldn't join the choir. So I joined the choir and of course I was being paid again. So that was really my first paid job – being a chorister at St Cuthbert's Church. And we used to get, I think, something like about 6d, 2 ½ pence, for a service. And we used to do two services on the Sunday – 11 o'clock in the morning at St Margaret's and then 6 – 6.30 in the evening at St Cuthbert's. And we used to get 6d for the service and there was choir practice on Friday night. And we had a cassock and surplice on, you know, the black [? ] and purple bottoms but white top and purple frock, you know, so proper choir boys.
And then weddings … we used to get half a crown for weddings. And I remember Christmas particularly because we used to go round the streets of Sprowston singing Christmas carols.
I remember distinctly one Christmas, it had been snowing very very hard, and we were walking round the streets, in Sprowston, just off Wroxham Road, knocking on doors. I loved the atmosphere of that and then, they were all ages – right from me as a little one, from the age of whatever I was, six or seven, right through to adults, so there was a good number in the choir and what they used to do is go round the pubs ‘cos there were lots of pubs in Sprowston in those days. We used to go round the pubs and go into the bar – and I had never been in a pub before and all these people with fancy hats on and all the Christmas decorations and so on.
And, I must have had a reasonable soprano voice ‘cos I was often asked, particularly at Christmas, to sing "Once in Royal David City" and "Little Town of Bethlehem", things like that. So in the pub they put me in front of the microphone and I sang and then of course they went round with the collecting bag. That was the Brickmakers Arms, that particular pub I remember that distinctly – and then there's the Woodman, which was down the bottom, then there was another one on School Lane and another one on Mousehold Lane. We would do all the pubs, as all the people were drinking away and they could put money into the collecting bag.
So I was raising money like that as well ‘cos people again would clap and put money in and they would feel particularly generous at Christmas and put half a crown in or something.
Then we used to go back to the church and put all the money on the table and count it out and I would think "I contributed to that." So really that was my first actual earnings.
We used to do that in my church choir, because I was in a church choir.
When I look back it was quite amazing that it happened but I had an ulterior motive, of course, ‘cos the money I could use towards the things that I like doing which, throughout my life, have been bicycles, cycling, and had to spend quite a lot of money on my bike, one way or another.
Obviously I used to get pocket money, that was another thing where you were paid for what you were doing, if you like, if I helped around the house or whatever. Most children in the class at school would get pocket money so that was a natural thing that happened. But I used to like to supplement my pocket money, certainly from singing in the choir, and that helped to pay for things for my bike like a new pump or repair outfit or a bell or something like that for the bike.
And I was also interested very much in buses, real buses, and I was hooked on buses from that day and I am still hooked on buses and I am interested in vehicles and buses generally. Particularly with Bressingham Steam Museum, which I am involved in, and I am a member of a bus museum as well and have actually owned a couple of buses so I am really into … these are old buses, preserved buses and I used to buy a lot of bus books. I've still got all of them – I got a couple of hundred different bus books. People, my wife and family, always buy me a bus book for Christmas. That's just incidental.
That's why I had this incentive really to do odd jobs, little jobs on the side and to raise money to do the things I would want to do which I couldn't do otherwise, you know just with 6d a week pocket money, however much I used to have.
I remember my grandfather, he gave me half a … We were going on a Sunday school outing to Cromer and he came along to wave goodbye, ‘cos I was only young and couldn't go on my own. So he took me to the church and we caught a bus to Cromer and I remember again distinctly he gave me half a crown coin, 12 ½ p, and said "Have a nice day in Cromer". And what would I do in Cromer? I would buy a Dinky Toy. Because that was one of my other things I liked doing – spending money on Dinky Toys.
So that was the choir days and then near my school, because I went to Sprowston infant school and junior school which were in School Lane near the Wroxham Road roundabout. And after school we often used to go … there was a sweet shop called Kandy Kabin – K Kandy, K Kabin, opposite the Brickmakers pub, which I just mentioned, on the other side of Sprowston Road.
And we would go there after school and buy sweets – penny bubble gum and things like that and sherbet lemons, liquorish, and all those old fashioned sweets.
The man who ran the Kandy Kabin … I used to go there quite a lot, not necessarily every night but often, and my father, when he came from work on a Friday night, he would always go into Kandy Kabin and buy some sweets for the weekend and then give them to us on Friday night.
The man in the Kandy Kabin shop got to know me quite well and he also ran an ice cream manufacturing, not factory, but business behind the sweetie shop and that was called Brown Owl, as in bird, ice creams and he used to sell these. In the summer we used to go round the back and buy our cornets of ice cream from this man. So I really got to know him quite well through that.
And one day he said to me "I also run a paper round I need a new boy for my paper round. Are you interested?" So again, I was still in the choir, still getting my half a crown for weddings. I don't think I ever sung for a funeral. But certainly we did quite a lot of weddings on a Saturday, which was quite a lot of money in those days.
And he said, "I need a newspaper delivery boy. Would you come and work with me?" So I obviously asked my parents and they said yes, so I became a newspaper boy as well.
So that again gave me a bit more, a sort of supplement to my earnings.
So that was the Sprowston era.
And then my father was working for Jarrold's in Norwich, in the print factory. He was, what was called – bit of a mouthful – a lithographic artist and they, Jarrold's, published hundreds of thousands of books on all sorts of subjects, and again he used to work on a Saturday morning. And sometimes would take me down there to see his offices, more or less an artist studio. Which was a little building, it wasn't in the big building.
The one by the river?
The one by the river yes. It wasn't in there – that was where the printing press was. There was a little detached cottage next to it and he had a studio upstairs where he worked. And he would have all these inks and colours and he would retouch paintings, just to make them … if they came off the press slightly incorrect, it was his job to do that.
Sort of finish them, touch up?
That's right. To, you know, perfect it.
He was working at Jarrold's as a lithographic artist. My father had itchy feet and he seemed to move around jobs. I wish I had asked him, he's dead now, but I wish I had asked him at the time why he moved jobs on. He had quite a few jobs himself and he was quite good at the jobs that he did. He started off as a draftsman at Laurence Scots and designed – this was during the war – and designed searchlights and guns for the war; so he was a very good artist. And he was good with his hands and good with pencil and paints, in fact, and several of the paintings we've got here he painted himself. So he was good with his hands but he seemed to want to move on. He was in a job and then I suppose, maybe, he fulfilled his needs and wanted to go on to do something else
So he was with Jarrolds and a job was advertised in Great Yarmouth with a company called Erie Resistors, which I think I mentioned in my previous [contribution], because that was that was the reason I moved then to Great Yarmouth. So I won't go into all that detail again.
So we moved to Great Yarmouth and he got a job with Erie Resistors and so I gave up the choir in Norwich and Sprowston and we weren't affiliated to any particular church in Gorleston, although my father was quite a religious man. I went to his church with him and I didn't sing in the choir, or anything like that, or get paid for doing.
Just one little thing I remember as well, a way I earned a little bit more money. My grandmother used to clean a house in Colegate in Norwich for two elderly spinster teachers. They owned this house which is a really fantastic, very old property in Colegate. She used to go down every Saturday morning and clean this house and she used to take me with her on several occasions. And just behind the house was a recycling centre, you know amazing in those days ‘cos that was 50-60 years ago, and they were called Whites and actually they are still around today. And they are huge today as a recycling centre and they used to just have this little place. They used to have this and they used to collect newspaper and also jam jars, and so often I used to go with my grandmother when she was cleaning and take some newspaper. You used to get paid, they would put it on the scale, and would get paid for the newspaper and you got a halfpenny for a pound jar and a penny for a two pound jar. So I used to collect all the jars up from … I must have been a junior entrepreneur or something.
Well, you used to take drinks bottles back didn't you. I can remember doing that.
Yes that's right. Corona.
Take them back to the pub even. The pub used to have a little window.
Beer bottles. I can remember Steward and Patterson's – brown beer bottles they used to take back. So again I was getting a few extra pennies that way.
So we moved to Great Yarmouth and so I had to start really all over again to find out another source of income. So I could get my bike sorted out. I'll show you a photograph of my bike which I've still got, when we have finished, so you can see why I was so keen on cycling. I loved cycling I used to cycle all over the country. And that will actually come into the story in a little while, what I did.
So I was in Gorleston and had to start afresh. So one day a boy at school – I was at Great Yarmouth Grammar School which I mentioned before on the earlier tape – a boy at school was doing a grocery round on a grocery bike – on a delivery bike with a big pannier at the front and he came up – his name is Jimmy R. I knew Jimmy very well, he's a bit older than me, and he came up to me one day, in the playground, I remember it distinctly, and said "I do a delivery round. But I am thinking of giving it up – would you like to do it?"
Now goodness knows why he asked me. I might have sort of spread the news a bit that I wanted a job or something.
I said "Yes. I need to earn some money to make sure my bike is ok and I could buy some more bus books and so on and so forth." So he said, "I will take you down to the shop and you can meet the lady who runs the shop and see whether you'd like to do the job or not."
I still keep in touch with Jimmy R. He became a vet and he specialised in race horses and he worked at Newmarket for quite a long time and then he moved to Australia and he actually lives in Australia at the moment. But we were … there's a lot of childhood friendships, which I still keep going and I still meet people and talk to people that I was at school with. We were an all boys school. They were all chaps -no girls there.
Anyway so he took me to the shop which was in a road called Cliff Hill in Gorleston-on-Sea. And this little corner shop that sold virtually everything. That was Mrs W's shop and everybody knew Mrs W's on the corner of Cliff Hill in Gorleston. And he took me along and I met Mrs W and she was very rotund she was, but very much in charge of the shop. There were – two ladies assistants who worked in the shop, and they were a really busy little shop. As I said they sold all sorts – everything like a mini Sainsbury's really, all the vegetables were all stacked outside the shop on shelves – all the potatoes, cauliflowers and cabbages and things. And then inside … everything was inside – jams, marmalades, butter, eggs – the lot.
Particularly because Gorleston was … and Great Yarmouth … but Gorleston where we lived which was not far from my house – ‘cos I could just cycle down when I got home from school at about 4.15 and I'd take my satchel off, take my school clothes off, put some other clothes on and cycle down to Mrs W's shop and start the delivery.
Gorleston in the summer, of course was very much a holiday centre. So there's lots of hotels and guest houses in Gorleston – in those days hundreds. Not so many these days. There's Cliff Hotel, Pier Hotel – lots of quite big hotels. And Mrs W had cornered the market, pretty well, especially when this stuff could be delivered by a delivery boy on his delivery bike – so that was me. I actually, she paid me 1/3d an hour. Again not very much money. But I used to work for a couple of hours or more and maybe on Friday night, for the Saturday, when things were happening on Saturday, especially in the summer, I would do a few more hours so 2, 3, 4 shillings soon adds up.
It really helped me, as I keep saying, to do the things I wanted to do.
The delivery boy on his bike …
This was a really old fashioned delivery bike, you know, huge and heavy and a great big metal pannier on front where you put all the boxes of groceries in there and I used to have a planned route where I would go so there would be Mrs Smith, Mrs Jones, Mrs Green and they were nearly all Mrs. I can't remember any men but the good thing about that was that they were Mrs and I used to knock on the door ‘Oh, Hello Mrs Green, I've got your groceries here. Shall I bring them in?' I was really into sort of marketing in a big way (laughs).
Because, and then she would say ‘Would you like a cup of tea, David', and I would say ‘I can't stop very long but I would like a cup of tea if I may'.
Then they used to tell me their stories, you know, about what's going on in their lives and I used to listen and then she would have said ‘Here's 6d, David' so I would get a tip. So especially at Christmas, you know,
You used to get your Christmas box
They used to give me 10 shillings and a pound – ten shilling note was really something. ‘cos I used to deliver to the doctors as well, there was several doctors I used to deliver to, so again I was always polite, I was always on time and I would always chat with them and always give them a smile and butter them up and it paid dividends – literally it paid dividends.
And then these little old ladies as well poor, you know, quite poor ladies there was a little old lady I remember I would have to go down, ‘cos Gorleston is really on a cliff and there is a Cliff Hill – quite a big cliff and she lived half way down the cliff, you had to go through the gate down all these steps and knock on the day. And she would open the door and the stink coming from this place, ‘cos she was not well off at all, and I used to be just taking a very small box but she would always used to insist on giving me a tip and then she would give me a biscuit or something like that.
Again, throughout my life, I've sort of had this ability to sort of talk to people, chat to people, and again I would listen to her story or something or help her with something and again I got the message quite quickly if you did something special for somebody they would maybe repay you.
That was the delivery boy story and I did that for three years. And after I had been there for perhaps a year or two and I was getting 1/3d an hour, as I said, and I thought well I have been here some time and she hasn't put my wages up so one day I said to her "Mrs W", and she had a very spoiled small son, I have forgotten what his name was, but he was very spoiled. He was upstairs above the shop he used to have everything sort of pressed upon him by his mum, Mrs W.
And I said "Mrs W, I would just like to speak to you after we have finished today."
And so I had written it all out and said in this letter I said "I have been here for a couple of years and you haven't increased my wage and I think now, with we didn't talk about inflation in those days, but I said words to the effect that I think I ought to have a bit more and I suggested 1/6d.
So I said I have written this little note out and she gave me 1/6d an hour from then and so that worked as well. So I stayed there for 2 or 3 years.
Anyway, and as I said, I used to spend nearly all this money on my racing bike which I bought myself which cost £15 so I had to save up quite a lot of money for this racing bike and it's called a Claude Butler which was the crème de la crème, it was the Rolls Royce of bicycles, and it was a fantastic bike and I used to cycle all over the country on it. I've still got it today
What sort of age were you roughly?
I was about 15. In fact, I was going to say, I was probably working illegally because …
Was there any legislation in those days? You could leave school at 15
Yes, but I think you had to be 16 before you could actually work officially and get a national insurance number.
Oh yes national insurance.
Because that was just an evening job and I don't suppose anybody was too bothered about that. And a couple of hours a night and then I used to go home and do my homework after that. So the other kids at school probably went home and watched television for a couple of hours. But, I didn't, I was on my trade bike, as we called it.
One good incident that happened, there were lots of little incidents of course, but I was taking some groceries – huge box – there was a cardboard egg box which was 3ft long and about 2ft wide and deep as well and that contained, when it was delivered to the shop, a gross of eggs, 144 eggs, came in this great big box and then Mrs W used to keep all the boxes so that when I went on the delivery bike all the groceries could go in this box.
So all the customers had a little notebook and they used to write down what they wanted to be delivered the next week so but that would all be written down – tea, coffee, butter, eggs, milk and so on. And then the hotels and guest houses did that as well. And this guest house right on the riverside at Gorleston there was this guesthouse there with lovely view out across the sea and the harbour at Gorleston.
And they'd done their order- and it was a huge order- it must have been a Friday night order for the weekend. So I put all this stuff on the front of the bike and had a little front wheel, a little tiny front wheel and a big back wheel because of the big pannier that was in and the weight. And so I cycled off on this thing tied on the front. Not tied down which really it should have been.
And just before I reached this guesthouse there was a pothole in the road and I hit, it was dark, and I hit the pot hole and the whole thing went right across. And the eggs were on top, a big tray of eggs, about 36 eggs on the top. All went onto the road so I picked everything up, put back in the box, rode back, obviously couldn't take it to the guesthouse in that state. Rode back to the shop and said to Mrs W "I hit a hole in the road and the whole lot fell off"
So we packed it up again and off I went redelivered.
Did you have to pay for the eggs?
No I didn't. I think she thought …
Not something you do every day?
She thought it was an act of god or whatever and not my fault particularly.
Quite an art to that – delivering I should think and cycling – not that easy
Then she would send me out on expeditions because they had run out of something. She would get the order book and she'd go down and they'd want 2 pounds of streaky bacon or something and she had run out of bacon. So she used to send me on an expedition to another shop to buy some bacon and then come back.
So that was quite interesting so that lasted about two or three years.
This was the days before supermarkets wasn't it?. With like an old fashioned shop with counters and the people paid on account.
And had the bacon slicer. She really ran the shop very well and, Mr W, I mean she was very gregarious, knew all her customers and treated them nicely. They came back on a regular basis and she had everything in her shop and if she didn't she'd get it.
Mr W, used to be, he was very quiet I don't think in the three years I worked there I don't think I ever heard a word from him at all. He used to sort of wander around with his pipe and he'd have this hat on and he'd used to get things from the cold store in the back of the shop. But he didn't have anything to do, really, with the shop itself.
And then other jobs came along and I realised that I wasn't going be able to continue doing that. I had been doing it for a long time – rain or shine, winter or summer. But as I said all the time it was supplementing my income. My parents were pretty generous in fact I was quite indulged really as a boy. I was the oldest grandchild out of about seven grandchildren that my grandparents had. But I was the first and so – I was the first before you know other grandchildren came along as well – and so I had a lot of doting, if you like, upon me but my parents were very generous as well. Not only did they give me pocket money but they used to buy me bus magazines and car magazines and comics and things like that and sweets of course. But other things like I used to take pride in keeping my bike up to date and I think I spent most of the money on my bike rather than other things.
So that brings me to really the summer holidays when I was still at school. So I was, as I said, 15-ish when I was doing the grocery round and so coming onto, say, 16 and in the summer there were hundreds and hundreds of jobs available and it was traditional really for virtually all my grammar school friends, all the grammar school pupils, who were 16 to find a job in the summer ‘cos there was so much around.
And so my friend Mike King, who I was at school with, who was also a very keen cyclist, we used to cycle to school, it used to be about 3 or 4 miles to school. My friend Mike King he, as I said, was a keen cyclist and we used to cycle to school together. And we decided together that we would do a summer job. So we went – the first thing we did when school broke up in July – we went straight round to the unemployment office, as it was called, in Great Yarmouth and registered and got our National Insurance number so that meant we could officially apply for jobs. So we went along to unemployment office and registered. So all that time before when I was with Mrs W I was an unofficial worker really.
So we got off, probably on the Friday we finished school we probably went in straight away. We decided that we would do something together. Mike used to help me if I was on holiday or unwell or something. He used to do the grocery round for me.
We were very close and even today we are very close, I'll probably ring him tonight just to tell him you have been around today.
So then Monday morning we, in fact, got a job straight away, Monday morning, the chap in the employment office said "Smiths' Crisps" Can you remember Smith's Crisps?
Yes. Oh yes,
The little blue salt in the Smith's Crisps, it had a special name for a little blue "blue bag" or something like that we used to call it. But Smith's Crisps had a big factory, a big crisp factory, on Caistor Road in Great Yarmouth, quite near the racetrack in Great Yarmouth. And this chap said "They need some people down there at Smith's Crisps so off you go"
So we start – and we worked on shifts – and we start on the Monday morning at 6 o clock in the morning so we had to be up at 5 o clock to get ready and to cycle. We cycled again both of us down to Smith's Crisps factory, which is about 3 miles on the bike.
And started there at 6 o clock in the morning and the chap in charge said, to Mike, "Right, you go on the potatoes," so he went on the potatoes and I weren't quite sure what he did. And he said "You, David, I want you on the weighing machine" so I was on the weighing machine which is on a conveyer belt so I had a seat like here and I had a weighing machine in front of me and this conveyor belt was continuously going on along side of me here you see.
And every, say, every one in 10 crisps bags that went past I had to pick it up and put on the weighing machine and make sure it was 4oz or whatever it was. ‘cos you had to pick out any underweight ones and then put them in a bag. So it was like this all the time. "choog, choog, choog". For 8 hours, ‘cos you were on this shift from 6 o'clock till 2 o'clock. Obviously you would have a break to go to the toilet or to have a cup of tea in the canteen or something like that.
And so I did that all day "choog, choog, choog" and Mike was on the potatoes. I don't know what he was doing on the potatoes. But at 2 in the afternoon we'd finished work and we cycled home and he said, ‘cos we had 6 weeks holiday in the summer. He said "I don't think I can put up with this for 6 weeks" And I said "and its jolly boring isn't it?". What a horrible boring job it was. And he said, "We will turn up again tomorrow morning and see what happens".
During the night all I could see was this conveyor belt going through my dreams – all these packet of crisps going past. So monotonous, you know, there was no break from it whatsoever. Most of it was dealt with by ladies who were normally on, they were then packing after me, packing the crisp in a big box, putting the seals on, you know. All things in those days that happened in a food factory, it's all automated nowadays days, but a lot of them there were women in white hats, white, you know coats. We had a white coat on as well.
So on the Tuesday we did the same thing, "clunk, clunk, clunk" picking up all of these…You had to try and spot an empty bag or a light bag that wasn't full and then take it out and then put it in the… Someone must have been trying to spot whether the little blue bags, salt bags, went in as well with the crisps.
After 2 days we said, to each other, "We can't stand this anymore". So on the Wednesday we went in and said "Sorry, we can't do this anymore. Were going somewhere else" ,the cheek of it really, and so we went straight and he said, you know, the boss must have said "Ok. If you don't want to do it" and we must have got paid for the couple of days we did go there for.
So we went down to the unemployment office and said "We'd like a change" and this chap said "There was a job at V's". There's a lot of Italians went to Great Yarmouth in 1930s and this particular family, called V were very successful. A lot of Italian families.
There would be father and mother and then all the children and they would all help in the restaurant – in V's restaurant and ice cream parlour. [laughs]
So they said. "There's jobs for both of you down at V's, Go and report to Mr Wills."
So we went on our bikes, again, rode round to Regent Road in Great Yarmouth. And Regent Road, I don't know if you know Great Yarmouth.
Regent Road is one long straight road all the way from the town centre right the way through to the beach and the Britannia Pier at the other end.
It's all full of all kinds of gifts shops now.
Exactly and was then. All full of gifts shops, bloater shops, herrings shops you could post bloaters to your friends up in Scotland or something from the shop. And Cinema's, there were 2 cinemas in the road, and restaurants galore – Ice cream parlours galore and V's were right at the other end and they have a restaurant upstairs, a posh restaurant upstairs, where you had to pay 10 shilling's, no not as much as that, no half a crown I think. Anyway it was quite a posh restaurant upstairs where you say down and there were waiters and waitresses.
And then downstairs there was the tea rooms, with a huge tea urn. I actually worked on the tea urn at one stage. And that was just in and out sort of business
And then on the front, out on the road, there was a great big ice cream machine and people used to buy ice creams as they were walked past, you know, Mr Softy type ice creams. Which V's used to make on the premises, they made their own ice creams to maximise their profitability.
So we turned up and saw Mr Wills and he said:
"Right. I want you to fill these empty milk bottles," little tiny milk bottles, they were half a pint I should think. Anyway they were very small glass milk bottles.
" I want you to fill those with orange juice" and that was our job. And there was a great big drum of concentrated orange juice, 2ft round drum of orange juice, and we had to add water to it and then so much water to so much concentrated orange juice and then, with a little tap, fill these bottles of orange juice which they would then sell in the shop. We would have to put the cap on as well, they would supply the caps, these little tin foil caps went on the top. And that was our job.
It would require more thought …
Yes. We weren't on the conveyor belt, but we had to fill these bottles of orange juice which they would then sell in the shop and in the restaurant and so on – so that was our job. And we were outside, we weren't inside we were outside, ‘cos they had the yard at the back, I mean it was absolutely filthy, you can't imagine what it was like. And we used to ride our bikes around to the back of the restaurant, of the premises. We never even knew that these alleyways existed, and we went through this gate and just put our bikes to one side and worked on this orange-making machine. [Laughs] Which wasn't really a machine at all.
No. I wonder how hygienic it was, really?
Yes, indeed. Well, we used to wash the bottles in hot water, wasn't too bad I suppose. And we used to drink some of the orange juice ourselves if, you know, we got thirsty, which was allowed. Then he needed some help in the kitchen – there was a lady in the kitchen who, again, another Mrs. W – a big, a large woman in white again. Mrs. W always used to have a white, you know, apron and uniform on. That must have been the trend in those days.
And this lady was the cook, she was in charge of the kitchen for the restaurant upstairs, so they used to have lots of Fray Bentos tinned lunches, you know, sort of dinner for one type things, and you had to put these in the oven. That was all prepared, so, you know, she didn't have to sort of prepare all the pies, the meat pies and things like that. They bought these tins of Fray Bentos, ready prepared, similar to the sort the thing you get from Marks and Spencer's these days. And as all of this was going on she used to prepare her own vegetables, so all the vegetables used to arrive in the backyard. There would be sacks of potatoes and cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, and things being delivered by the local produce merchant. So all that used to come in, so there would be helpers in the kitchen peeling and doing things like this, so Mr. Wills came along and said he'd find somebody else to look after the orange juice, would we help in the kitchen? So we helped in the kitchen and we did, you know, all sorts of stuff in the kitchen helping to peel potatoes, which again was a pretty boring job, but we were being paid. I should think we were probably being paid something like two shillings / half a crown an hour, more than I was on the trade bike so that was reasonable.
And it would be, say, nine o'clock in the morning, not horrendous hours, nine o'clock in the morning ‘til perhaps five o'clock, six o'clock at night, with a break for lunch during the day. So the hours were, you know, reasonable, and we were both earning money and spending all the money on our bikes, buying new bits for our bikes. And then, the next thing was … oh there was a bar, there was a bar in the restaurant and I got to know the chap who was behind the bar. He was on his school holidays, as well. But he was a bit of a posh bloke – he was the son of a local architect. So I got to know him quite well, and Mr. Wills came along and said, ‘One of my girls has left, one of the waitresses ‘s left.' All the serving staff in the restaurant, they were all girls. And they were all students – university students – who'd come over from Belfast in Northern Ireland.
He used to advertise every year in the local Belfast paper and say ‘Students wanted to waitress at my restaurant.' And so all these girls with an [in an Irish accent] Irish accent you know, were serving all the people in Regent Road!
In Yarmouth! And they used to find digs, you know, some sort of really rundown guesthouse advertised on the back of beyond, you know, which was only ten bob a week or something, and they all lived together and they all kept together. They probably all knew each other anyway because they were university students. They used to come from Queens University in Belfast.
And they came all the way over, you know, to Yarmouth, do their six weeks, or perhaps more as they were university, and then go back again, and earn themselves quite a bit of extra pocket money. And he came up to me, and he was married to – Mr. Wills was married to one of V's daughters – because, as I said, the whole family was running this business. And he said, ‘Oh, one of my girls has left, would you like to be a waiter?' And I said, ‘Oh yeah, great,' because I'd sort of worked my way up really, you know, from orange juice to potatoes to working in the kitchen, and this is probably after working a couple of weeks I'd been there – two or three weeks, maybe. And he said, ‘Would you like to be a waiter?' And he said, ‘Here's your jacket – you know, wear a jacket, a white jacket as a waiter and wear a tie and look, you know, quite smart because we have some nice customers coming in who pay good money,' and so on. So I was waitressing – waitering, rather than waitressing – and that was good fun because once again, like my little old ladies on the train, I could butter them up – ‘Here we are sir, here we are madam, how are you today?' And they became regulars, you know, they came in every day, and I had a little section, we all had a little section of our own. And they used to come and sit in my section and then they used to give me tips because I'd look after them, and he'd say, ‘I'd like a pint of bitter, please.' So I'd go to the bar and see my friend at the bar and get a pint of bitter and give him his drinks and her her drinks, her Dubonnet or whatever she had. And one day, this was really a big section, one day at lunch someone tipped me ten shillings – they gave me a ten shilling note, which was really amazing because I probably, it took me all day to properly earn ten shillings. I've forgotten the exact amount, but I distinctly remember the ten shilling note that this chap gave me, which, you know, when I got home and told my parents it was sort of unbelievable.
Like a ten pound note almost, or something.
Yeah, it would have been! It would have been. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is it!' Instead of just filling milk bottles with orange juice, here I was as, you know, almost a proper job, really. And then when lunch was finished, by about half past two in the afternoon – I probably helped in the kitchen beforehand, in the morning, to prepare the various meals and things like that, and then from twelve ‘til about half past two I was waitering, and they didn't do dinners in the evenings, it was just lunches because they would go back to their hotels, these people, in the evening and have a proper meal. And so, you know, I quite enjoyed that, especially with the girls, because I got a bit of banter from the girls. And then in the afternoon I'd go downstairs and help in the take away, the tea rooms, the ice cream parlour, and help, you know, pour out the teas. And there'd be a great big tray full of white cups and you know you had this great big tea urn and filling – and they'd be queuing – there'd be thousands and thousands of people come to Great Yarmouth in the summer in those times. We're talking about the early 1960s, 1960, '61, something like that.
Heyday. And they used to come on their coaches from the Midlands, from the North – there used to be thousands of coaches all along the Acle Straight. On a Saturday morning all these coaches coming into Great Yarmouth, all full of holiday-makers, and the train coming in. I've got lots of photographs of all these coaches and trains and things and all the holiday-makers.
They all needed a cup of tea!
Actually there's a book there [shows book]. So now actually there's an interesting little feature, takes place at V's, quite near the end – I'd probably worked there for four weeks – and part of the deal was that the waiters, well the waiter – I was the only one – and the waitresses had a free lunch. And whatever was left over from the lunch to the customers, you know, we could choose what we wanted. And we all sat down in the corner and had our lunch. And one day I was having my lunch and Mr. Wills used to be wandering around all over the place, making sure that everything was in order. He was the manager of the whole lot. And he would have noticed me there having my lunch, and I'd finished and handed the plate back in for washing up, and one of the girls said, ‘Oh, I don't really fancy my lunch today.' And she said, ‘Would you like it?' And I was, I'm a great eater [laughs] – I'll eat for England – and I was using up all this energy on my bike, you see, so I never got fat. I was really quite fit. And so I said, ‘Yeah! Yeah, I'll have your lunch.' Well they'd all – I'd finished mine, they'd all finished theirs, apart from her, they all trooped off, I was left in the corner eating her meal, and he came round, Mr. Wills came round and said, ‘What are you doing? Why – you just had your lunch! What are you doing with another lunch?' And I said, ‘Well, the girl didn't want it.' He said, ‘You can't have two lunches! That's not allowed.' You know, like Alan Sugar, The Apprentice – ‘You're sacked.' [Laughs] ‘You're fired!' And I said, ‘What?' I said, ‘It was her lunch!' ‘I don't care. You're fired. On your bike.' [Laughs] So I said, ‘Oh, well, alright.' Mike was in the kitchen so I said to Mike, ‘I just got sacked' – because I mean, they could do that in those days, you know, only temporary people. So I said, ‘Oh, I'm going to look for another job.' So I went straight round to the unemployment office and I said, ‘I'm finished at V's, have you got any other vacancies?' He said, ‘Yeah, they need someone at Bird's Eye,' … factory in Great Yarmouth, where they made, you know, shelled peas, frozen peas, beans, all of that sort of thing, fish fingers, the Birds Eye fish fingers. Great big factory. It's all closed down now, all gone.
And he said, ‘There's a vacancy at Bird's Eye, go down there, go and see the personnel manager and see how you get on.' I rode, that was just after lunch that day, I rode down to the factory and saw the chap and he said, ‘You can start today.' So I started straight away, an hour later I was working for Birds Eye. And I worked in the pea factory, and I was doing what I was doing at Smith's Crisps factory, virtually. All these peas came down this conveyor belt and I had to pick out the little ones, the tiny ones, and –
Did the actual peas come in bags or was it just peas?
Just peas! On a conveyor belt, you know, shuttling down this contraption. I wasn't the only one – there were all these girls again, you know, on this conveyor belt, taking all these peas off. If you see a brown one or a discoloured one –
What happened if you weren't quick enough? They went right slip past you?
Yeah, someone had to catch it somewhere. [Laughs] But mainly, you know. So I did that for a couple of days and of course had dreams of this conveyor belt going past me and didn't get any sleep at all, though after a while I'm sure you got used to it. So I said to the chap next day, because you know there were plenty of jobs about, it didn't really matter, I could move around somewhere else and go to another restaurant, couldn't I? And I said to this chap, ‘Right, I can't do this anymore. It's driving me up the wall!' And he said, ‘Oh there's another job vacant, you can do that,' which actually was much better. And what I had to do was to go check on all the peas at all the stages within the factory, from the time they came off the lorry – the lorry would have come in from the pea-vining station out in the country, a place called Upton, at Acle, where the pea-vining station was, so all the peas used to come in a big truck in a big container and they'd tip it all out, and I had to start there and test the peas for freshness. And they had a machine – you'll never believe this – they had a machine called a ‘tenderometer.' Sounds a bit like Bruce Forsyth's generation joke [laughs]. And I used to have to take a handful of peas, from the time that they arrived at the factory, although someone had done the same thing at the pea-vining station, as well, to test how fresh they were and how ready they were to be frozen. So I was at the factory, you know the proper factory in Yarmouth. So I'd take a handful, well, you had a cup, you know, take a handful of peas from the container and put it through the tenderometer, and then the little arrow would go around and show you how tender and fresh these peas were. It was amazing, wasn't it? And if it was over, you know, over the line for freshness, for goodness, you know, it was fine. So you'd be able to put a ticket on there – had to go around with a clipboard and tick all, you know, all the times and the dates and the measurements. They would, you know, say, ‘Ninety-six,' and you wrote down ninety-six or a hundred or whatever they were. And then I had to go to the next section in the factory and still make sure – what I then did, for every hour every day I was working, I went around with my clipboard and started when they came in to the time that they were then going into the freezing department, to make sure that the peas were okay. And if they weren't okay, if they didn't reach this mark, magic mark, I had to reject them, and then I had to tell my boss that you know, I'd rejected that lot because – I had to reject that lot because they weren't fresh enough or, you know, they were not ripe enough.
Did that happen very often?
Probably not. I can't really remember now, but certainly – I had to do it every hour, so went right round the factory, I had to walk right round the factory, follow the peas all the way around and keep a check on them, and then start again. Then the next load came in, and then I'd follow that around.
That is more interesting, isn't it?
And it wasn't boring and it wasn't a conveyor belt job and I could chat to people as I went around and so on, and they used to chat with me, and more Irish people would be there at Birds Eye as well. They'd all come over. There were a lot of men in fact, so they used to tease me and, you know, I got to know them really well.
Was that a somewhat seasonable job? It seems – peas come in in the summer and –
Oh, absolutely. It only lasted for six weeks or whatever, a few weeks, coincidental with my summer holidays from school.
The Irish – again they'd come over from the advertisements?
They'd come over, and a lot of those men were from Queens University as well, and from Dublin, as well, from Southern Ireland. I got to know a chap very well whose name was Gerry, probably short for Gerald or Gerard or something, got to know him really well. He was studying to be a doctor at university, and we got, you know, we became quite good friends. And he liked reading and he used to recommend books to me, and I liked reading, too. So that was the Birds Eye factory – in the factory – and then, that first week I started there I said to my father – I'd told my father I got the sack, and I said to my father, ‘I haven't been paid for those few days before I got the sack,' I said, ‘You know, I'm due for my wages!' You know, I don't know how much I'd earned, and I said to my father, ‘Um, would you come with me to V's because I'm going to see Mr. Wills , and if I have a problem with him perhaps I can come out and ask you to come in,' because my father was very protective of me and he got me out of lots of scrapes I'd had – I mean, nothing serious, nothing illegal I was doing, but I know once I, on my bike, I was on the inside lane – this was in Great Yarmouth again – on the inside lane of the line of traffic and, you know, cycling along on the near side by the path, and this Jaguar, I didn't notice he was turning left, and he turned left! [Laughs] I hit, you know, I hit him in the side of the Jaguar, and my father escaped me from that one – I'd damaged this chap's Jaguar by riding into him. My dad took – we went down to V's and he parked behind the restaurant. I went in and said, ‘I want to see Mr. Wills.' I went to Mr. Wills and he said, ‘Come into my office.' So I went into his office and I said, ‘I've come today to collect my wages.' I was only, you know, sixteen and whatever – ‘I've come to collect my wages before you sacked me.' And I, you know, I suppose I was quite nervous because, you know this chap was in his forties, I suppose, and he ran a restaurant. And he said, ‘How much do I owe you?' [Laughs] And I said, ‘Oh, four pounds ten shillings' or something, and he opened a drawer and gave it to me. I was amazed! [Laughs] And so I was happy as Larry, and went down to my father and said, ‘I've got it – he gave it to me, no trouble at all!' No argument. And I told him I got a new job at Birds Eye. Then I'd done this job in the factory for a while, in the Birds Eye factory, and my boss there said, ‘There's a vacancy at the pea-vining station in Upton.' He said, ‘It's slightly different from what you do here,' but he said, ‘You'll have to go up to Upton every day, which is near Acle, so it's a good half an hour's journey,' and he said, ‘There's a bus that takes all the workers out there.' We were on shifts, and that was six ‘til two, two ‘til whatever – all through the day and night they would be pea-vining.
And he said, ‘You have to be here for the bus.' And if it was at six o'clock in the morning, you know I had to be up early, five o'clock and actually to get to the factory from Gorleston you went on a ferry boat – there was a ferry boat going across instead of going all the way around and over the bridge and back again, you could just go. So I used to cycle down to the ferry boat station, catch the ferry boat across the river. Lots of us used to do that – all the people who worked at Birds Eye, all the factories along the South Denes, as it was called. So, caught the bus to Upton and then I was doing a very, very similar thing to what I was doing in the factory but out in the open – we had a little hut. We had to collect the peas as they came in from the fields, you know, in the pods, before they went through the machinery, and I used to have to do that every hour, as well – go around, and I had my own tenderometer in the shed, and I used to bring it back and put the peas in and then write it all down on the sheet of paper. And that was very good because I was paid more because we were out in the country, and also I worked seven days a week, as well. No breaks – all the time that six weeks I was working, no breaks at all, or you know, days off or anything like that. And you got double time if you worked during the day at the weekends, so Saturday and Sunday, and you got triple time if you worked at the weekends, on a Saturday or Sunday, at night. So I used to do ten ‘til six – ten in the evening ‘til six in the morning as well.
They had lights shining, obviously!
Yup, all the lights. Yeah, the trucks used to come in –
They were out in fields, they didn't have cover or anything?
Right out in the fields –
Picking peas – and did you have to shell the peas, as well?
The machine did that. And then the trucks then took the peas off to the factory in Great Yarmouth, yeah. So that way –
That's good money, fantastic wages. You worked hard, you were out there at all hours, day and night.
That's right, but that enabled me to buy my first car. I had enough – I saved enough, all that money I saved up, and I knew from the previous talk I gave, I knew I was joining Norwich Union.
Ah, I see!
That year. Yep, that's right. And so I'd –
Wow, getting your own car.
Got my own car. And you know, nobody else had a car and I'd earned enough – I was actually earning more at the pea-vining station than I was when I then joined Norwich Union as an actuarial student.
You were working, doing those night shifts and weekends, seven days a week!
That's right! So I had enough money as a deposit, not all of the money for a car, but enough money to buy my first car. And then that was a super car, as well, and I kept that until it died a death. And so, you know, that was a great, great machine – I loved that. And when I got a company car in due course at Norwich Union, you know, when I was an inspector, you may remember, in the Norwich Union I got a company car, I gave my car, my original car, to my grandfather to drive, because he didn't – his car had conked out, as we say. Conked out – broken down, and so I gave him my car. And then eventually my car gave up and it languished at the side of his house for years until the scrap metal man came round to pick it up.
Now other jobs I did as well … read on in Part 2.