‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Further ventures into the world of work. Leeds in the 1960s.

corona vanAfter a long slog of delivering Sunday newspapers, I was in need of a change and a way to earn more money. A friend at Roundhay School, Antony, knew of an opportunity with Corona soft drinks and he asked me to come along. It was a Saturday morning and we went to their depot near Coal Road at Crossgates on the Ring Road. It was a fairly basic warehouse set-up and there were about two dozen teenagers assembled to find out about the job and earn some money. A man gathered us in a large room and told us that they were looking for canvassers for Corona soft drinks. The job entailed cold-calling on houses and tempting them with a special deal of an introductory offer – three bottles of soft drinks at a very cut down price. There was no obligation to continue the order, but clearly that was the hope and intention. Corona was a delivery service for soft drinks and I suppose it avoided carrying home heavy bottles, but it was a regular expense that our family never made and couldn’t afford.

We were told that we were all on a trial and we were split into two groups and  taken in a van to an area of Leeds that I didn’t know. It was a large council estate and clearly not affluent and we were given a partner and we alternated houses on our way down the street. I was with Antony which was good. There were another couple doing the other side of the road. We had to knock on the door, hopefully explain what was on offer and ask if they would like to trial three bottles. If they agreed then we earned fifty pence, regardless of whether they placed a regular order or not. At first this seemed like a bit of a breeze and I got my first order fairly early on. I took the details and the lady signed the sheet confirming the initial order. By the time we got to the end of the street I had not made any further orders and I was becoming a little despondent as my partner had made two sales. We were set our next street and off we went. It was a fairly hot day and we were getting a little weary as the afternoon wore on. We kept at it and the sales we made provided us with another burst of energy. By the end of the afternoon we were gathered by the man in charge and herded back into the lorry. There was a lot of chatter and we all compared our successes. There was one lad I remember well. He had a very middle class accent and he hadn’t managed to get one sale all afternoon. He didn’t seem worried at all at the prospect of having earned nothing. When we arrived back at the depot our sheets and clipboards were collected in and they took down the details of our sales. They wanted us to return on the Monday, but before we left, they read out the names of those they wanted. Antony and I were on the list as we had made about four or five sales, but the boy with no sales and some others were told not to come back. It was a bit of a harsh baptism into the cut throat world of commerce. Monday came around and once again about half a dozen of us were taken to another part of Leeds to continue our work. We were given the addresses not to knock at, if they already ordered Corona. We had a lot of trudging, a lot of doors slammed in our faces and some lovely kind elderly residents who just seemed to want to talk. They asked about what we were doing, how we got paid and some put an order in just to help us. By the end of the day we were exhausted and glad to get back to the depot. This carried on daily for a couple of weeks and we discovered a strange fact. The poorer families, in the poorer areas were the most likely to place an order, whereas the more affluent areas seemed far less likely. Our young brains tried to work out the logic of this. We decided on two possible reasons. The first was that families with large mortgages would have less disposable income and the second was that poor families were probably not savvy enough to work out that it was an expense they could not afford. I remember one house that had newspaper on the bare floor, dog doo, lying around and the girl with a baby looking dirty, ill and badly dressed. When I knocked on the door I instantly thought this was a waste of time, but she was ready to sign before I had even got into my spiel. I left the house feeling bad. I knew she shouldn’t be buying pop, but there was nothing I could do. The man whose round the house was on was sure to get her to sign up. This was probably the point where I realised that I was not cut out for sales, or would ever be an entrepreneur. If you have empathy for fellow human beings, then it is hard to exploit them. That being said, it is a good job that other people can do it, and I am sure that there are business people who can carry out their trade with an ethical balance.

corona bottles

This work was during a school holiday and I suppose they were having a drive to drum up new trade. I worked for a couple of weeks and then was asked to help on the delivery rounds. This meant going with the truck driver on his rounds and darting into houses to deliver the orders he had for each address. I didn’t have to deal with money and I assume payments were made each month. This work was much more fun. I got to chat with the drivers and had to just collect the empty bottles and deliver the full ones. I can’t remember how long I did this for, but I know it was quite a while. I got used to having a little money and I could work weekends and earn quite a bit.

I am not sure what other jobs I had in the time between Corona and learning to drive, but as soon as I learned to drive I got a new job. My mother did the wages for Wragg Motor Cycles in Leeds. There were two shops, the one she worked at was on York Street and the other was on Briggate, down from Dysons’ the jewellers on the other side of the road. The one on York Street had the workshops where the bikes and scooters were repaired. The day after I passed my driving test, my mum told me Wraggs were looking for a van driver. I was called in for an interview and they asked if I thought I could drive their van. It was a flat bed, VW van and I was sent out to give it a go. I was very nervous and headed out into the busy streets of Leeds on my own. I drove down York Street, Call Lane and Vickers Street. I felt quite pleased with myself and then turned right at the traffic lights back up York Street. It was only afterwards I realised that I had turned right where there was no right turn. No one else knew and so I got away with it. They seemed happy to employ me and as I was on school holidays I had to start the next day. They wanted me every day apart from Sunday during the holidays and then Saturdays when I was back at school. I believe I got eighteen pounds for my first week and I remember the joy of getting a pay-packet envelope with the corner missing so you could check your wage before you left.

bonnevilleBefore I left from the interview I was shown how to get motorbikes up onto the back of the truck. There were two planks, with hooks that attached to the back when the back was down. I had to push the motorbike up one plank, whilst running up the other. I can tell you it was quite a feat, but practice helped, as did parking the van facing down any slope. The bike or bikes then had to be tied on with thick rope as the sides of the tray were only about ten inches and they would fall off if not secured properly. I took this all in, terrified I wouldn’t manage it, but I was given a go and just managed to get a bike safely up. They offered me the job and I was delighted, but there was just another shock to take on board. They wanted me to drive down to Meriden, near Birmingham, to collect a brand new Triumph Bonneville motorbike from the factory there.

At this point you have to understand that I had passed my driving test after 24 lessons. I had only driven around Harehills, which was the test route and since passing my test only ventured a few places in my mother’s Morris Minor. Still with the bravado and confidence of youth I said it would be no problem and arranged to be there at eight the next morning.morris minor

My mother was pleased I had the job, but worried about me driving so far, on the M1 motorway on my own. I suggested I ask my friend David, from Roundhay School, if he would come with me. This seemed to calm my mother, especially when he agreed. I had been given the map book to help plot my route and so I checked that night where I was to go. This was to be an adventure and I just hoped I was up to it.

vw truck 2The next morning I arrived to collect the VW van and the mechanic told me to check the water in the radiator. I was bemused by this and he fell around in fits of laughter as, of course, the VW had an air-cooled engine and no radiator. The workshop was across another street at the back of the salesroom on York Street and the van was full of petrol and, with my heart in my mouth, I drove away to collect my friend and face my first day at work. What could go wrong?

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