My Working Life 1960 – 2008

Location : Kent

Istarted work in September 1960 having left school in the July but first some background information on my schooling.
I attended Gravesend Grammar School for Boys, in those days parents had to sign to agree that their child would stay at school until the age of sixteen to do their GCE (General Certificate of Education) examinations. Only about 20% of children went to Grammar or Technical School having passed the eleven plus examination, the other 80% went to Secondary Modern Schools where they had to leave at fifteen, without the opportunity of being able to do GCEs. Grammar Schools were more academic than Technical Schools, which concentrated more on practical subjects such as Woodwork, Metalwork and Engineering.
I grew to hate the Grammar School and consequently didn’t do very well and couldn’t wait to leave. Having the end of year interview with the Headmaster the subject of my final year at school was at the top of the agenda, I can’t remember whose suggestion it was but the Headmaster agreed that as I wasn’t doing very well and didn’t want to be there I could leave early and forgo the final year. He gave me an open reference to help me to get a job in a drawing office. (Two of my friends from a Secondary School had done this so naively I thought that I would be able to do the same).

I decided that I wouldn’t look for a job until all my friends went back to school in the September and then went to the Youth Employment Office to see if they could find me a job (There was a special department to help school leavers find jobs). I was given an interview at Aylesford Paper Mills and had to do a couple of test papers, which I passed easily. I was called back for a second interview where I was asked if they could see my drawings from school (I had finished top of the class in Technical Drawing in both the years course work and the end of year exam, which is why the Headmaster had given me the reference). It hadn’t occurred to me up to this point that I would ever need the drawings so had left them at school, by the time I went to collect them they had been destroyed, my reference didn’t carry enough sway as I didn’t get the job. Leaving it until the September most job opportunities had been filled and no further interviews for Drawing Office work were forthcoming.

I now had to take any job that was offered and this turned out to be an Office Junior for F T Everard & Sons of Greenhithe. Everards were a company that owned a fleet of approximately one hundred Coastal Cargo Boats of which about 70% had a name that ended in ity (Alacrity being one example)

My duties included sorting the post, running errands, archiving, a small amount of clerical work and assisting in making up the weekly wage packets. In 1960 everybody still had the right to be paid weekly in cash and most people opted to be paid this way. If there were any shortage or left over cash each packet had to be checked until the difference had been found, the total cash needed having been counted before the wage packets were made up.

The post had to be placed in pigeon holes for each ship, this was a most boring job and one that seemed to go on forever, remember there was post being received for the crews of over one hundred ships.

It was a very old fashioned company run by the father, Fred, son Frederick and daughter Ethel. If any of the three walked through the office (I never saw them stop as people were always summonsed to their offices if any communication was required) we all had to stand up and in unison chant ˜ Good Morning Mr Fred or Mr Frederick or Miss Ethel or two or all three according to who was walking through.

There were no adding machines or calculators in the office and one member of staff had a standing challenge for two shillings that anybody at any time could check a page of his adding up and there wouldn’t be a mistake. This quite impressed me at the time and I vowed that if ever I was given the responsibility I would try and do the same.

I used to cycle the five or six miles to work as I couldn’t really afford to pay the bus fare everyday as I was only earning £2.10 shillings a week.

After about six months of utter boredom and mot really seeing any prospects of promotion I decided to look for another job with three main criteria, more money, nearer home and a bit more interesting.

I found a job as an Accounts Clerk with an Accountant in Gravesend called Porter, Putt & Fletcher, I would be preparing Accounts for Sole Traders, mainly local publicans. This was much more up my street as I soon found that I had a penchant for figures, the main aspect of the job being to extract fifty two weeks figures and produce the Financial Accounts. There were again no adding machines or calculators so everything had to be added manually and balanced and a Profit & Loss Account and Balance Sheet produced. I was also running what would now be called a PAYE bureau for about fifty small companies, again all done manually. I was really in my element I had found that figures were my thing!

The Accountants was part of a much larger company and was sold to the two managers that were running it at the time, Bernard Evans and Harry Freeman, the company then became Evans & Freeman. New offices had to be found, I guess that funds were a bit tight as we moved to a two storey Victorian terraced house with a semi basement. This was a really cold drafty building which was heated by gas fires, no central heating here.

The original sash windows were stuffed with newspaper to try and stop the draft and we sat with our feet in cardboard boxes so that we couldn’t feel the draft. Although I loved this job I decided that after seven years I had to leave as I had got married in 1966 and money was in short supply, I was earning £9.00 a week at the time. By 1968 I had decided that I deserved an extra pay rise but Evans & Freeman thought different and wouldn’t give me any extra at all. I was already doing bookkeeping in the evenings for three or four pubs to supplement my income but these were only paying £1.00 a week each so weren’t as lucrative as it sounds.

The outcome was that in August 1968 I resigned and started work for Imperial Paper Mills, Gravesend who were part of Reed International, my title had gone from Accounts Clerk to Clerk but my income had increased from £600 a year to £750. I now worked in a purpose built office, called “The White House” with Central Heating and Open Plan Offices. I started work helping to calculate and produce reports on the efficiency of the paper making machines. There were six machines producing some 3 to 4000 tonnes of paper a week and about 1200 employees. Each type of paper for each machine had a set of standards that the actual production was measured against. The main calculations were done by comptometer operators on mechanical calculators, these were made by a company called Diehl and were about the size of a typewriter, which made quite a noise as the cogs and wheels turned as the calculations were being done. Whilst the main calculations were done manually there were investigations done into why variances had occurred so I now moved into another field of expertise that I once again found out that I was quite good at. So much so that after I had been there for five weeks the Section Leader was moved to the Wages Department and I was given his job. This meant I now had to have weekly meetings with the Production Manager and Machine Superintendents to discuss the previous weeks inefficiencies. This was quite daunting as being relatively young, I was 24 by now and without any experience of dealing with management I was thrown in at the deep end.

I coped with this OK and earned the respect of those people that I dealt with and after a few years was again promoted, this time to Cost Clerk, I was now to be the assistant to the Cost Accountant. During this period Electronic calculators arrived, costing some £300 to £400 each and being about 20 cms wide, 30 cms long and 15 cms high, they were fantastic, instantaneous answers to the most complicated calculations. The equivalent today can be bought in a ˜Pound Shop” no bigger than 5 cms wide, 10cms long and less than 1cm high. We were now able to do all our own calculations but this meant that unfortunately the comptometer operators were redundant.

Several people had been in the position of Cost Clerk since I had been at the mill but none stayed for long so when I was offered the job in 1973 I had some doubt as to whether I should take it or not, especially as I had no experience, but with assurances from the management that I would be able to return to my old job if it didn’t work out I accepted after all promotion meant more money. I soon started to pick up the ˜Standard Costing System”, all costs had a standard against which they were measured and the Managers taken to task over any adverse variances.. The Cost Accounts were produced monthly to a deadline so a few late nights were now being experienced, no extra pay or time off in lieu but again more respect from the Chief Accountant for the effort I was putting in.

The mill had been in decline since about 1972 when the first round of redundancies were made and this had continued on various occasions until 1977 when much to my surprise the Cost Accountant was made redundant I was given his job but as I wasn’t qualified and Reed International didn’t allow any body without any qualifications to have Accountant as part of their job title I was to be the Cost Office Supervisor.

I had been in the job for about two years and we had a new Chief Accountant, from outside Reeds, who had seen what I was doing and unbeknown to me had fought for me to be given the title Cost Accountant, he won and I therefore became the only Accountant within Reed International to have Accountant in my job title, something that I was rightfully proud of.

Further redundancies followed until the mill was finally shut down in 1981, by this time I was earning £14,000 a year. The straw that finally broke the camels back and forced the shut down was Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party policy of not subsidising British Industry. At this time there were imports from countries who were being subsidised by their governments and able to undercut UK manufacturers prices. Peru was one of these countries.

A skeleton staff was kept on to oversee the sale of machinery etc. which was myself, a storekeeper, two engineers, an electrician, the purchasing officer and two security staff. It soon became obvious that I didn’t have enough work to occupy my time so I started having tea breaks with the others, I had never previously had a tea break in my working life, always drinking it at my desk whilst working. From this I started doing jobs with them to pass the time, during the eighteen months that I was there after the shut down I learnt welding, fork lift truck driving, plumbing and some electrical work. Oh yes I almost forgot, how to mark white lines on a warehouse floor we let out to a publisher and they wanted bays marking out.

Eventually in 1983 I was offered a transfer to Empire Paper Mills at Greenhithe, I didn’t have to cycle as I had done to Everards in 1960 as I could now drive. My title was now Cost & management Accountant, much the same responsibility I had at Imperial but with some extra. It was here that I was introduced to “Desk Top Computers” what a revolution, we could now do our own input and get our own printouts without all the hassle of transporting information backwards and forwards to Aylesford as had been done up to that point. The whole of the accounts operation was now speeded up but the downside was that there was no need for the punch room, (this was where all the data was transferred onto, originally punch cards and later magnetic tape). This meant further redundancies as technology had taken the place of people again.

Empire struggled on for year after year and in 1991 was sold to a Norwegian company called Norske Skogâ they believed they had enough knowledge and experience to turn the business around but in 1993 they had to admit defeat and the mill was closed down.

I was now out of work for the first time since I started work in 1960, not a very nice feeling but at the same time I was confident that I would find another job, especially with the encouragement I was given by the agencies that I registered with. They advised me not to lower my sights or I would never get back to the level I was at when I was made redundant, I was earning £21,000 a year which didn’t seem excessive but time dragged on and after I had been out of work for three months I started applying for jobs at any level that I thought I could do and some that I couldn’t. I even took a job at a Comet call centre for a while as I was becoming more desperate.

I eventually found a job with Provident Personal Credit, which didn’t mean anything to me but I soon found out it was a company that lent small cash loans to people, at a high interest rate to people who couldn’t get credit anywhere else. I couldn’t help but feel that this was immoral and began to find it harder and harder to go to work. My job was supervising a team of agents collecting the weekly repayments and to make sure that they were collecting as much as they could. A lot of people only ever paid part of what they should have done or didn’t answer the door when the agent called. I also had to visit the bad payers and ask them to try and collect something so that I didn’t have to report it to Head Office, which was one step from calling in the bailiffs.

I was finding it more and more difficult and my wife started coming with me but it didn’t really help and after six months I handed in my notice and was once again out of work.

After another two months out of work I was offered a job with Densitron International Ltd. at Biggin Hill, as ˜Accounts Assistant” I wasn’t given a proper job description just an outline of what they wanted me to do, I was to produce Management Information and do the payroll. This was a new position and they hadn’t exactly worked out what they wanted me to do so I was left to make the job up as I went along. After about six months no one had said anything so I went to my boss and asked if he was satisfied with what I was doing, he said everything was fine so I carried on. I soon came to realise that I wasn’t really appreciated, a strange feeling for me as it had never happened to me previously. I wasn’t really getting much job satisfaction but I was employed, bringing in a wage, not the most I had ever earned, in fact it was seven years before I was earning the same as when I was at Empire Paper Mills.

I stuck it for ten years and the company decided they needed to appear more dynamic and non provincial so the name was changed to Densitron Technologies plc and the head office was to be moved from Biggin Hill to Central London. Another major decision to be made, did I go with them or take voluntary redundancy.? I had never commuted to London and decided that at the age of 60 I was not about to start but would I be able to get another job or forced into retirement that I couldn’t really afford. The retirement idea really appealed, I had lost my interest in work during the ten years I was with Densitron.

Fortunately we didn’t have to find out as I started a new job within a couple of months of leaving Densitron, with Morris & Associates, Chartered Accountants in Bexleyheath. This sounded ideal as I would be back doing the sort of work that I was doing during the period 1960 to 1968, preparing financial accounts but with the extra responsibility of completing the accounts, rather than passing them on to someone more senior to complete and with a salary slightly more than I was earning at Densitron.

Everything was going well until the time that I had to go out with Tony Morris to visit a client in London, the only method of transport was by train. It was understood that once I had been introduced I would have to visit this client and other clients on my own which I was nervous of anyway but during the journey it dawned on me that I had never been on a train on my own before and was forced to admit that I had a phobia of doing this. I had always somehow got round this previously either by going with someone else or not going without ever consciously admitting that I had a problem. Once again decision time, could I overcome this fear or would I have to resign. The thought of having to travel, by train, on my own and visiting clients became an all consuming thought which I knew deep down I couldn’t come to terms with so reluctantly resigned after only six months in the job.

Once again I was looking at enforced retirement but much to my surprise I was offered a job at Swanley Town Council doing payroll four days a week and started in May 2005. Has there been a change in attitude towards age, I have been successful in finding two jobs at the age of 60? This is an easy weekly payroll routine, no real challenge but the one good thing is that I can now make my own choice of whether to retire or not and not feel that I am on the scrap heap.

As I write this in July 2007 at the age of 62 years and 6 months my thoughts are that I will retire at the end of May next year, assuming that I’m not made redundant or had in my notice for some other reason, bringing to an end a journey that started some 47 years ago. The final question I asked myself in coming to this decision, apart from whether I could afford to take early retirement, was do I want to be at work or at home, somehow home seems much more appealing.

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