Temporary job with a local plumber - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

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Temporary job with a local plumber

I was utterly dismayed after that final meeting with the Head Master at SGS, even more upset than when Dad's move to Armley Prison in Leeds had meant I had had to leave the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Wakefield in Spring 1948 at the end of my second term, and his move to Strangeways at the end of August 1950 which had meant leaving Roundhay Grammar School at virtually a couple of days' notice. I was even angry with my Dad, telling him he was being unreasonable in not letting me stay in Salford to continue my chosen career. The realisation gradually dawned on me that I had already attended three different grammar schools, in three different cities, and left each of them unexpectedly during a school holiday without having any opportunity to say farewell to my friends, all because of my Dad's job.

Obviously nothing could be done about finding me a place in a 6th Form at a Wakefield school until we knew when we were moving. Days, weeks and my 17th birthday, passed but the Wakefield house was still not ready. I was left kicking my heels at home when the new term started. Eventually my parents decided that, instead of lounging around at home getting more and more miserable, I should find a job to bring some money in. I had absolutely no idea what sort of work I wanted to do. All my hopes and efforts up to that point had been devoted to studying for a career in music.

Dad thought that I might like to work in a bank - that was deemed to be a respectable career. I went, somewhat reluctantly, for an interview with the Manager of Martins Bank in Pendleton but he was not interested in taking on someone who could be moving away in a few weeks and who seemed rather sullen at interview. His advice was to contact the bank of my choice when we had settled in Wakefield. "Not blooming likely." I thought to myself.

The following day Dad took me to the Salford Youth Employment Service to seek some advice. It was quite unusual in those days of full employment for them to have a boy with six good GCE O Levels seeking any job, let alone a temporary one. In fact, the only position they had on their books was for a temporary clerk at a small building firm. It was arranged that I should go there the following day for an interview.

The firm was George Johnson and Son, Builders and Plumbers; they operated from a converted town house on Salford Crescent barely half a mile from the Grammar School. Young Mr Johnson seemed old to me and his father seemed positively ancient, but they were friendly. Mr Johnson Snr intended retiring and until they could make a permanent appointment they needed someone to run the office, maintain the inventory of the stock in the stores and run the petty cash account, while young Mr Johnson was out on the jobs.

"We can pay only 30 shillings a week," said Mr Johnson Jnr, rather apologetically. "It's only a temporary job you see."

With nothing else on offer, the following Monday I started my first job. My salary for a 42-hour, 5½ day week equated to £1.50 in today's decimal money. Of those 30 shillings: five went on bus fares, five was my weekly pocket money, and I gave the remaining 20 shillings to Mum for board and lodging. The job was never really interesting and to make matters worse I had to pass the Grammar School to get there. I felt completely abandoned and every day I pondered what might have been had I still been going to school.

For hours on end I was left alone in the office answering the telephone and occasionally issuing items from the stockroom to the workers. The workers were banned from the office; they had to make their requests through a small hatchway so I never had an opportunity to get to know them. Once a day, but not Saturdays, a cleaning lady, who apparently looked after several premises on the Crescent, made me a mug of tea. She sometimes stayed for a chat and it was the highlight of my day when that happened.

One day, out of sheer boredom I started to teach myself to type on the ancient, long-carriage Remington machine. Normally Mr Johnson Jnr typed all the letters and invoices, using one finger of each hand. Before long I was able to type business letters for the Bosses - using two fingers and the thumb of each hand. A few weeks later they showed me how the various books of account worked and it was then that I realised the firm was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy because they were owed money by so many of their clients. It was the classic case of more going out than coming in. The two George Johnsons were embarrassed and not very pleased when I pointed that out to them.

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