I started my first Saturday job when I was 15. I washed dishes in the Golden Egg off Argyle Street in Glasgow. It was a horrid job. They expected me to wash ashtrays in the same water as the other dishes. And there was no plug for the sink. You had to use a wad of paper towels and replace it frequently. I’d work from 9 until 6 with only one short break, after the lunch time rush, when I’d be able to get anything on the menu for free. Woo-fecking-hoo.
I lasted 4 weeks, during which I turned 16 and go a job in Lewis’s department store. Not the John Lewis we all know and love, but Lewis’s, a firm with roots in Liverpool and several branches around the country.
My mum worked there in the Pen department and it seemed a good place to work. far better than the Golden Egg anyway.
My first job was in Pictures, Mirrors and Fancy Goods where I mostly walked around making sure no one stole anything. I also sold many colourful glass clowns and fruit and many, many foil silhouette pictures. Our other big seller was basket ware: laundry baskets, bread baskets, mats. What customers rarely discovered – at least until they got home – is that these items were delivered to us infested with some small insects. Not harmful (I hope), but unpleasant to find on your morning croissant.
I left Lewis’s for a few months to concentrate on Uni, but soon discovered that I needed the extra cash and was lucky enough to be taken back. This time I went down to the basement where I worked in the Record Department! I was apoplectic with joy. Then I started working there.
In the summer the heat was unbearable. We had no ventilation and used empty album covers to fan ourselves.
One of my co-workers, Jean, referred to artists as if she was a personal friend of each and every one. “Barbara (Streisand) is here, but if you want Frank (Sinatra) or Andy (Williams) you’ll have to look over there”. She kept powder for her athlete’s foot under the counter and looked down her nose at anyone under 30 years of age. Apart from me. She liked me, for some reason.
I was taught to check each album and single for flaws before selling it to a customer. I would hold the record between my middle fingers and spin it round to check the other side. You’d be surprised at how many were unsalable. I would spend quiet moments reading the wee messages the factory workers who had made the discs had scratched into the inner blank vinyl. You could find declarations of love, friendship and breakfast.
We sold the top 40 singles and most of the chart albums, but if I were to tell you that our biggest seller was Geoff Love’s Banjo Party followed by Geoff Love’s Banjo Party 2, I think you can guess who our biggest clientele were.
I loved my job there, I liked the order and filing. I also loved dealing with cheeky customers.
We had something playing on the record player all day long. When a cheeky customer came in and asked for something, I would always say, “pardon?” and repeat this for 4 or 5 times. Then, just as the customer got to the point where they were about to shout at me, I would surreptitiously turn off the volume. The customer was left screaming into silence. It was fun.
I didn’t leave this job until I got a proper, full-time job 18 months after graduating from Uni.
Mum stayed on at Lewis’s until she retired. The old Lewis’s building is now part of the St Enoch’s Centre. It’s just not the same.