I’ve only ever been interviewed for employment once in my life, thats one of the advantages of self employment – you don’t have to convince anyone but yourself that you can do the job and you certainly don’t have to put up with the bullshit that passes for job interviews these days.
So I was 17 years of age, a drop out from the sixth form at Leeds Modern Grammar School, had thought that doing A Levels might be a good idea but not having the slightest inkling to study and finding that the History of Art course was a load of toss did nothing for my academic career so after the first year I threw the towel in.
My father upon learning of my quitting school threw the Thursday jobs supplement from the Yorkshire Evening Post at me, “Don’t think you’re sitting around here on your arse all day” he instructed in that tone of voice that suggested he was right and I was wrong, “Get yourself a bloody job and start contributing…”
So the very next morning I rang the first job that I fancied from the paper, it was for a trainee estimator and surveyor for a large electrical contractor, they asked me to go for an interview the next day – yes kiddies, this is how life used to be in the 1970s, simple wasn’t it.
My father lent me a tie for my only white shirt and a houndstooth “sports jacket” of his that was a bit too big for me, it had seven inch lapels, seven inches each, measure those lapels kids, they were like dumbo ears when the wind blew but that jacket was sooooo trendy – Cyril-the-tailor-over-the-road had purloined it from work and sold it to my dad, it was one of next years fashions but it never did come into fashion and I had the only one.
He also gave me a light grey raincoat to carry, it was 30 degrees in the shade outside and he gave me a raincoat, “You never know” he said “anyway it makes you look professional”, I’d also add that he was giving me a lift to the office of F.I. Rice (Leeds) Ltd so even if it had been lashing it down I wouldn’t have got wet, still, I needed a raincoat apparently.
I knocked on the door and was ushered into the front office where an old dragon sat hunched over a desk rubber-stamping invoices and muttering away to herself, she stamped each invoice and wrote “VD” on each one which I though was a rather rude thing to do but it later emerged that those were her initials and not slang for a naughty disease of the private parts.
The other woman, the one who ushered me in, pulled out a chair and invited me to sit down, she was younger than the old dragon, young and possessing of a pair of busoooms that reminded one of Barbara Windsor in a Carry On film and because this was the 1970s Maureen, as she was called, fulfilled the role of the dolly bird typist in the office complete with low-cut blouse and high-cut mini skirt, “I’ll tell Mr Ranson you’re here” she said and disappeared down a corridor, the old dragon kept rubber stamping and writing VD on every sheet of paper within her grasp, she never acknowledged me.
“You can go in now” Maureen stood in the corridor outside a small office motioning for me to enter the bosses office, I stepped through the door with my most confident face on and a raincoat folded over one arm looking for all the world like a sensible young man into a small room with one desk, a bookcase and a man seated behind the desk who I assumed was Ron Ranson, the boss.
Suddenly I choked in a coughing fit, throat burning and eyes weeping I regained my composure and looked for Ron Ranson, he was gone and in his place was a thick cloud of black smoke which swirled angrily around what had been Ron Ranson’s head, “Now then lad, come in sit down” boomed a voice from the smog. Ron Ransons voice was incredible as without actually shouting it could penetrate not only the constant smog around his head but also through solid concrete walls, several of them, if Ron Ranson sent you on an errand to get him a sandwich from the shop up the road he could change his mind while you were in the shop and tell you from his office safe in the knowledge that you’d hear him several streets away.
There followed a conversation with a cloud of smoke and from within an occasional sucking and blowing noise followed by a red glow and more thick black smoke as he suckled on the brier pipe that was his constant companion, Ron Ranson is in the Guinness Book of Records as having kept alight the same pipe for 26 years 242 days four hours and sixteen minutes, consuming on average six pounds of Old Holborn per day and contributing one degree of temperature per annum to the worlds global warming problem, it is rumored that he slept with the pipe lit in his mouth in the style of Popeye.
“How many O levels did you get then lad ?” he asked, I had written it on a piece of paper and put it on his desk but of course he couldn’t see through the angry swirling smog around his head so I picked the paper up and read them off to him, claiming seven O levels, a lie that I believed all through my life until my Good Doctor friend Rodney emailed me a copy of a listing that had appeared in the Yorkshire Evening Post shortly after the O level results were published in 1973, apparently I only got four O levels so I may have mislead Ron Ranson slightly, by a factor of 75%, still, he was impressed and fortunately he never asked to see the certificates.
“Seven O levels eh, thats very good lad, and one of them technical drawing as well, can you draw this then ?” and out from under the smog slid an A2 plan of a building marked up with electrical symbols the likes of which I’d never seen before.
“Oh yes” I replied, having a raincoat draped over one arm was filling me with confidence now, “Yeah, thats the sort of thing we did for the O level”, it wasn’t of course but he never asked for the certificate so that was ok too.
“My lads called Gary as well” boomed the voice inside the cloud, the conversation in his office this day and for every day thereafter took on L.Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz” style of speaking to a being that sucked and blew and issued huge plumes of dense smoke whilst an inanimate voice boomed all around the room, “when can you start ?”
That was it, that was the only job interview I’ve ever had to do, it lasted all of three minutes and I probably inhaled enough nicotine to give me the lungs of a sixty a day smoker but I had the job.
£960 was the pay.
I’ll do the maths for you, £80 a month is what I was remunerated with for a forty hour week or a phrase that I would become very familiar with over the years “hours commensurate with your duties” which really meant that the 40 hours was a minimum and I had to work whatever they told me to.
£18.46 a week less tax and National Insurance.
Stop laughing, it was actually quite adequate for a 18 year old in 1974, my father made my mother take £5 a week board from me (she wouldn’t take anything if it was down to her) for which she became my slave until I left home and for sometime afterwards too, anything that needed attention, laundry, shoes cleaning, food, endless cups of tea, anything at all, I just had to ask and my mother slave would fetch like a faithful labrador, I do miss her even today, my shoes haven’t seen a lick of polish since 1991.
A night out on the lash with your mates could be had for a couple of pounds with beer at 18p a pint and no weird trendy drinks and cocktails on the menu, a simple choice of mild or bitter in a straight or dimpled glass, lager for the ladies with their choice of cordial to make it taste sweeter, and a whisky chaser to finish the night off with, fish and chip supper around the corner of the pub afterwards and change in your pocket from £2 whilst also being considerably drunk.
THIS children, is why life was so much better in the 1970s, SO much better.