My first job: what a disaster!


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I caught the bus, wearing a grey dress with a big white puritan collar and white gloves. I was 16 and off to work. I was scared witless, and the next few hours did nothing to help. It was July 1955. The two women in the bursar’s office were ‘plain janes’: no fripperies, no frivolity, just dead pan and deadly serious. They did nothing to put me at my ease. The building was a few hundred years old; the bursar’s office was to be my domain. Mostly doing the small typing jobs they allowed me to do, I also booked the squash courts for the boys at the college and did the post. I never once got the post book to balance, that was a mystery I pondered in the sleepless nights.

Clifton College is a very well-known boy’s college, with room for many boarders and a reputation for excellence. The traditions are part of the infrastructure. They lived in ancient named houses with house masters and wore a distinctive uniform, amongst the princes from far flung places there were some odd characters, John Cleese went there for instance.

My hated and despised job was going to the attic, where I did the photo copying. It was cold and musty, and the stairs were steep, and I was scared of the place which had a ghostly feel as if all the horrors of the Victorian school system were seeping from the walls.

To say I was not a success was very true. I got the stamps muddled, was too shy to deal with the boys confidently (and they were rather gorgeous, but I couldn’t deal with it), typed badly and had a stack of letters over every week because people moved away and I had no idea what to do with the letters and no forwarding address. The shy nature I had then did me no favours, I was like a rabbit in headlights all the time and went home depressed and sad. The two ‘matrons’ were only in their late 20s but had not a spark of life in them. So without support and having no guidance from them, I tried to last a little longer. The final straw was when I had a sack of ‘junk’ mail and nowhere to put it. So I hid it. My crime was unbelievably bad. I tried to deliver some of it, even travelled in on the long bus journey at the weekend to walk around to the houses and find the names I needed. The sad thing was my lack of courage, if only I was able to ask, or even make a joke of it as I would now! But I was just ill-equipped and unfortunate in my work colleagues. More caring workmates would have realised I was struggling and might have suggested a way to help.

So I left and worked next for an insurance office. There the people were nice, but typing insurance policies all day was pretty soon mind numbing. I only found what I really wanted to do when I took a plunge and applied for a job as a psychiatric nurse. The training was three years, one of general nursing exams and two or more specific to the facility I worked for. I was happier and more fulfilled doing that job, at last I had found something I could put my heart and soul into. I like helping people and talking to people. Then at nearly 19 I met my future husband, and before I could take a breath we were married and off to New Zealand. But that’s another story.