‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Learning to Work. First Jobs in Leeds, 1960s. Weeding, Newspapers and the First Cigarette!

David’s Bookshelf Issue 2 Cup of Tea Tales

This episode is also available as a blog post: https://davidmcameronauthormusician.com/2022/10/02/davids-bookshelf-issue-2/ — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/david-m-cameron/message
  1. David’s Bookshelf Issue 2
  2. David’s Bookshelf – Issue One
  3. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A Lifetime of Global Successes, Disasters and Wonders! Space the Final Frontier.
  4. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hetchell Woods (Bardsey) and Crags – A Special Piece of God’s Own Country or County! One of my Favourite Places to Visit.
  5. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Wonderful Yorkshire Dales. Trollers Gill, a Place with a Mysterious Legend and the Hell Hole where I Diced with Death.

This morning I was trying to remember when the UK introduced the decimal currency and that got me thinking about my first job as a child. The currency changed on 15th February 1971. The first job that I was paid for was when I was about twelve. There was a card in the local newsagent’s near Gipton Wood on Roundhay Road that was advertising for someone to cut the grass and do a little gardening for a couple of hours a week. I was keen on getting some money to supplement the small amount of pocket money, so I thought I would give it a go.

Me at gardening age of twelve.

I bravely called around to the house on Arlington Road to see if the position was still available. A nice elderly lady answered the door, and we had a quick chat, which was the first of many job interviews. She was prepared to give a young lad a go, and I was to do two hours every Sunday morning for a trial. It would have been 1967 and the pay rate was half a crown an hour. I turned up the first Sunday, and she had a little push lawnmower and I cut the front verge, the front and back lawns. Cutting the grass was fairly easy, but I remember the unusual situation that someone was going to pay me for my labours. I had been given pocket money and there may have been some expectations that I would do something around the house, but being paid to work was something else. I never went beyond her kitchen, but the house was neat and so was the garden. She was a nice old lady, and she gave me the key to the wooden garage and there I found the tools. I remember the smell of wood, damp and age in the shed, but it was neat, well-ordered and everything had its place. I cut the grass and then set about edging the lawn with her edging shears. It made a big difference, but I still had forty minutes to go, and set about weeding. I hated weeding and still do. The soil in Leeds is boulder clay and in summer, it dries brick hard but becomes a sticky unyielding mass when wet. It is very fertile though and produces some wonderful plants. In Perth, where I now live, the soil is pure sand and so weeding and digging is so easy.

I think I did a reasonable job and when she brought me a drink of orange squash, she cast her eye over my work. I don’t believe that she was overly impressed with the amount I had managed, but she wanted me to return in a week and handed me my five shillings. I held the coins in my hands, felt a sense of satisfaction and realised that this was how it was going to be forever. People would pay me to work and work was hard and not always enjoyable. But there was the satisfaction of knowing that the money was mine and that I had earned it. It wasn’t a handout from parents or relatives, but the fruits of my labour. I put the tools away, tidied up, and made my way home. My mother was interested in knowing how it had gone and I believe my mum and dad might have walked past to inspect my handiwork, but they never said anything. I returned the next week and everything was as it had been before. I worked all that summer until the weather changed and the grass no longer needed cutting.

I didn’t go back the next year as I wanted to earn more money, and that was when I got a job delivering Sunday papers. My older brother Andrew had a job delivering papers for the paper shop across the road from the steps in Gipton Wood, near The Gipton pub (now The Roundhay). I think Andrew got me the opportunity to deliver the Sunday papers and I remember going to meet the newsagent. After a short chat, my second interview, he told me to come back the next Sunday morning. The week passed quickly and with a certain amount of trepidation and anxiety, I got up early on Sunday and made my way to the shop. It seemed very early to me, but I am not sure of the exact starting time. It may have been seven o’clock, but what I remember is that the shop was a hive of organisational activity. The newsagent was sorting the papers, and they were spread across every counter. He checked his lists and added papers to bags, and each bag was for a designated round. He wrote house numbers on the papers and I was given my bag and a clear series of streets to cover and they were mainly the Montagu streets near our house on Gipton Wood Crescent. I could barely lift the bag. It was so heavy! The Sunday papers were so thick, with magazines and supplements, and some addresses had several papers.

With an encouraging word from the newsagent, I staggered out, almost buckling under the weight of half a forest of paper, crossed Roundhay Road and went back up through Gipton Wood. The climb was agonising, and I had to swap shoulders, but finally, I got to the first house. The letterbox was tiny, but I carefully separated the papers to push them through, to the sound of a frantic small dog on the other side. I can’t say I noticed any change in weight after the first delivery, but eventually, it became easier. I learned one thing that first morning. It appeared that the people with the smallest letterboxes ordered the most newspapers and it took quite a time to post them all through without tearing any. You had to be careful, as people were very quick to report you to the newsagent if you had damaged any. The other thing I quickly learned was to check for dogs before entering the garden. Sometimes you opened the gate and strode forward to be confronted by an aggressive, and obviously angry, pet. On such occasions, I would beat a hasty retreat and hope that the owner would come out to see what the commotion was.

Rated five stars, this is a fast action thriller set in Calpe, in the south of Spain. Available as a paperback from Amazon and an eBook from Kindle.

I deliver all the papers that first Sunday and wearily I trudged back to the newsagent’s and returned the newspaper bag. I collected my wages. I can’t remember what the amount was. Probably ten shillings? I went home, tired, but quite proud, and returned the following Sunday and many after that.

It was on one of these days that I decided to buy some cigarettes. I had never smoked properly before. I had been allowed a puff of my dad’s once or twice. Can you imagine the fuss that would create nowadays? It would be seen as child abuse, but these were very different times. There were coin cigarette machines on most parades of shops and anyone could buy them. I decided to give it a go. One of my first rebellious moments. I hadn’t a lot of money and wasn’t sure what to get, but I had heard of Woodbines and so I put my coin in the slot. The machine was outside the newsagents. I think it was two shillings, a florin. I pulled the drawer and there was the packet. It was only small and there were ten in a packet and I felt very naughty. I had prepared for my adventure by bringing some matches from home and I slipped the cigarettes into my pocket, lifted the great weight of newspapers onto my shoulder and headed back up through Gipton Wood.

I stopped in the wood to try my first cigarette. It was something special opening the packet, removing the cellophane and silver paper, covering the cigarettes and pulling out the first cigarette. It was surprisingly small, smelt strong and strange. The paper itself was thin, with almost grey stripes along its length. There was no filter, but I raised it to my lips and held it there whilst I fumbled with a match. The match struck. There was a sudden flare, and I raised the burning match to the end of the cigarette.

I had seen my dad and many others smoking, so I knew what to do. I knew you had to inhale the smoke and so I sucked on the cigarette whilst the burning flame touched the end of the cigarette. It lit, I drew in a mouthful of smoke, shook the match to extinguish it and then my lungs felt like they were about to explode and I started coughing violently. The cool lad I expected to become didn’t materialise. The taste was acrid, strong, and not pleasant at all. I persevered and took another drag. This was a little better, as I only sucked in a small amount. I felt a little smug as I was getting the hang of it. I repeated the process and blew out the smoke with a nonchalant air. I believed any young girl seeing me would be impressed by my maturity and masculinity. At least, so I thought. Alas, it was not to be. After a few more drags, I felt dizzy and nauseous and I feared I would be sick. I ground the cigarette out with my heel and threw the packet away. I swore I would never smoke again, but, unfortunately, that was a promise I would not keep. The dizzy feeling didn’t help the round go any quicker, and I struggled that morning.

I set back off on my paper round and it took half the route before I felt better enough to regret the two shillings I had wasted. Like many things in life, it takes experience to realise our folly and, in this case, and in others in my life, I returned to the habit. I stopped when my first child was on the way and I have never smoked since.

After 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 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 of three bottles of soft drinks at a very reduced price. There was no obligation to continue the order, but clearly, that was the hope and intention. We got paid a commission for each person who signed up. 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 couldn’t afford.

We were told that we were all on a trial and 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. We were put into pairs and we tried alternate houses on our way down the street. I was with Antony, which was good. There was 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 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 Antony had made two sales. We moved to 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 met by the man in charge and got back into the lorry. There was a lot of chatter and we all compared our successes. I remember one lad 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 cutthroat 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, as they already ordered Corona. We did a lot of trudging, had a lot of doors slammed in our faces and met 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 likely 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 in particular. When the door was opened by a teenage girl, it had newspapers spread on the bare floor. There was dog-doo lying around and the girl held a dirty-looking baby. When I knocked on the door, I instantly thought this was a waste of time, as she clearly needed money for other things, but she was eager to sign before I had even got into my spiel. I left the house feeling terrible. I knew she shouldn’t be buying pop, but there was nothing I could do. The man whose round the house was part of was sure to get her to sign up. This was probably the point where I realised I was not cut out for sales, or 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, and I am sure that there are business people who can carry out their trade with an ethical balance.

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 only had to collect the empty bottles and deliver the full ones. I can’t remember how long I did this, 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 guess I am lucky that I have had a working life where I enjoyed what I did. Teaching is a very rewarding profession, and it has taken me around the world.

Two collections of my Cup of Tea Tales are available in paperback from Amazon and in eBook format from Kindle. If you click on the images it will take you to the site for either book. Amazon will deliver the books within a day or two.

4 Replies to “‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Learning to Work. First Jobs in Leeds, 1960s. Weeding, Newspapers and the First Cigarette!

  1. Another great tale David , bringing back all old memories for me , i too started off with a paper round .but not for long if i remember correctly ,my 1st cigarettes were 5 park drive , later to be known as ` cancer sticks !!` .and , believe it or not , i also canvassed for a soft drinks company ,not corona though ,i can`t remember who they were….i had so many jobs at that time that only lasted a couple of weeks .it was literately end one job and walk into another ,so different then to now days .anyway , i digress…great story as usual mate ,and i enjoyed it a lot .keep well and safe .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If my memory serves me correctly, there was a ciggy machine on the pavement at the junction of Roundhay Road and Beck Road. My first job was after I left school and was a kitchen porter at Schofields department store. Tuesday to Saturday, 09:00 to 18:00 for £7.00 a week. Great memories David.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tony. Machines used to be all over and in the entrances to every pub. Seven pounds a week, you could have a great time with seven pounds. It won’t go far nowadys.


      Liked by 1 person

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