I thought I would break up the health posts and write about that classic four letter word – WORK.
It may sound surprising but I came from a very emancipated Yorkshire family when it came to women working. Women cooking, keeping the house, bringing up children and going out to work. Give up when you get married? Whatever for?
There were no restrictions placed on my grandmothers and my mother in terms of work contribution to the household.
One of my great-aunts got it pegged though. She worked as a seamstress, then got married, gave up work, didn’t have any children, and cooked rather well. Now there was a woman who prioritised important things in her life. And avoided the unimportant ones.
My parents followed the emancipated route for me however, and let me ‘help’ them on the market at age something-under-the-legal working age which is clearly why I was only ‘helping’. In fact delivering orders was hardly what I would call work, but it started me on that wonderful working experiential ladder. I wonder how many children of my generation didn’t work under age?
Anyway, come somewhere near legal working age, I was permitted to do a full day behind the stall. The first day was pretty terrifying I have to say. My mother, in a rather cute PR move, gave away the first piece of cheese I cut, (it was only a small piece, obviously). I was the cheese girl. The Saturday boy/girl did the cheese.
I got used to it, and gained confidence. Although every time someone said they had given me a one pound note and I had short-changed them for ten shillings, I was mortified. Apparently some of those customers did that regularly with the new Saturday boys/girls.
It was an outdoor market, so it was cold in winter and warm in summer. In winter I wore thick tights, two or three pairs of socks, jeans, walking boots and a million jumpers. In summer, on a hot day, I wore nothing underneath my white smock. I carried 55lb cheeses around and opened them in the traditional fashion with a cheese steel so that it crumbled on opening. I carried middles of bacon and sides, although struggled with those somewhat because they were unwieldy.
I worked every Saturday throughout senior school, with the exception of one geography field trip. I couldn’t join in any Saturday sports although the most I would probably have achieved would have been ballgirl at tennis. Not much lost. Unlike my father who wasn’t allowed to play cricket on Sats because he was – guess what? – working on the market.
At university I came home every Friday afternoon and worked Saturdays. I have no concept of what my friends did on Friday nights or Saturdays at university because I was never there. To compensate, my mother did my washing, and I went back each weekend with a pound of bacon and half a pound of cheese. My rail fare was paid by my father, and I received a payment for the day’s work. Clearly the family firm could not survive without me checking in every weekend….
After I had left university, it seemed that trade had suddenly fallen off and they didn’t need me on Saturdays any longer now I was home. Hmmmm. Anyway, I wanted to get a ‘proper’ job even though I was disappointed my super duper skills were no longer needed on the market.
When I finally landed a nearby job, my parents advised me to keep my nose clean and work hard and I would always get on. Well, as surely everyone knows – that is actually not the most helpful advice in the world.
How about – ‘Watch out for your back, because someone will always be trying to stab you there. Watch out for your front too. You will have no friends or allies. Especially if you are intelligent, well-educated, reasonable looking, slim, blah blah blah oh, and far too sarcastic. Do not believe what people tell you. Don’t worry about what you do, it’s all about what you say you do and how much you can talk.’
But sadly, they didn’t tell me that, and it took me a long time to learn that one.
The first job wasn’t bad. It was one of those temporary programmes set up to help unemployed graduates with a useless degree so they can add ‘WORK’ to their cv.
About the only toes I trod on there were sexual ones. I was in the pub one Friday with the office group and one of the guys spilled beer on my skirt. ‘I hope you’re going to pay my dry-cleaning bill,’ I said bossily.
‘No, but I’ll take you out to dinner.’
I demanded somewhere decent. No fish and chip meal. Off we went to posh town to a class restaurant. I was impressed.
The boss’s secretary wasn’t. Not only was she shagging the boss she also had a relationship with my dinner date, who natch was married. So? I couldn’t see anything wrong with him taking me to dinner in lieu of a dry cleaning bill. Good company, nice night out. What was the problem?
Sexual politics was another one my parents forgot to tell me about.
In the next job, I was beautifully upstaged in the promotion stakes. The general concensus in the office was that I was in line for it and we all waited for it to happen. It didn’t. No, mum and dad, keeping your head down and working hard doesn’t get you anywhere at all. Going in and telling the boss you want that promotion does. Someone else got that promotion by using that rather obvious and blatant strategy. Not hard-working good little me keeping my head down and my nose clean. I still hadn’t worked out the failings of my parents’ advice though, despite it being so clearly shoved in my face. I thought the boss was clearly a rarity in the world of work where deserving industrious people ‘got on’ and his failure to promote me was a strange anomaly – and a signal to clear off because he didn’t value me. So I did.
Little girls should be seen and not heard. People who work hard and keep their heads down get on. What’s the difference? There isn’t any. Both statements are a subjective and biased opinion and a very ill-informed and damaging one at that.
If this sounds like the ‘I blame my parents for everything’ blog, it isn’t. I think some of their advice was well-intentioned and totally unworldly. In the case of work, they had worked together in their own business for some 30 years at this point. They were hardly going to be in touch with office politics.
I learned the hard way. And usually only in retrospect.