I become (almost) a tea lady!
I always tried to go to my mother at Christmas, I can’t remember a huge amount about it except that we celebrated it simply in whatever bed sitting room she was in at the time. I do remember that I got a holiday job in the Min. of Ag. and Fish, (where she was working as an executive officer in the Civil Service) It was on the Kingston By Pass. There were buildings a bit like the barracks that we lived in, but built of brick rather than wood. These separate buildings were called spurs and they stretched along parallel to the By Pass. The first spur was a canteen. I had been employed as a tea lady. My job was to collect a large tea urn, milk and biscuits, (no cups everyone had their own!) load them onto a trolley then trundle from spur to spur along the By Pass, serving tea at eleven in the morning and three in the afternoon. I had to wear a white turban and white overall apron. It was a total nightmare for me because I had to collect the money. It was in the days before decimalisation. There were halfpennies, farthings, pennies, threepenny pieces and tanners (sixpence). I am innumerate, I’m not proud of it but it is a fact of life for me. Tea wasn’t too bad, at least it was in round figures, but biscuits were a penny halfpenny each. There would be a queue. The first person might say two cups of tea and four biscuits. I’ve got to add it up in my head take the money and give the change. Then the next person three cups of tea and seven biscuits, I kept getting it wrong and the queue got bigger and bigger and there were rumblings. To say I was completely hopeless is an understatement…I lasted two days then ignominiously I got the sack. Below my short lived career as a tea lady!
The Canning Factory
Just before I went to Corsham, to make some money,. I worked in a canning factory, mainly canning fruit. It was a dreadful place. You had a card to clock in, one second late and you were docked an hours pay whatever your excuse. I worked on a moving belt. The scalding cans came down a shute onto a track between two moving belts. The fruit mainly plums or apples came along the belt and it was your job to take a can, fill it with fruit and put it back on the track. Tin cans have raw edges, not good. The noise was deafening and we were soaked with water all the time. There were no waterproof aprons. Our feet were in pools of water. The very worst thing was the foreman who walked up and down behind us (we were all women) shouting that we weren’t working hard enough. It was positively Dickensian. I immediately became an agitator saying to the others ‘Why don’t we say something or do something’ but they begged me to keep quiet, they didn’t want to lose their jobs. Having said that it felt quite good on Fridays lining up to get my first pay packets, I had never earned any money before. It did teach me a lesson and since then I have always belonged to a union and been an activist.
Canning Factory. It wasn’t quite like this but near enough…this was 1890! Still a foreman and women workers…still the cans falling from above. In some respects they were better off, sitting down for a start and no water everywhere, and no moving belt as far as I can see.
In the longer holidays at art college, Eric and I just took off walking, hitch hiking and staying in youth hostels when we could afford it. Our aim was to get to Cornwall. I had been given a college project to record traditional lobster pots, (there were different patterns in different villages) I had to find out how they were made. We moved along the coast from village to village. I had a sheaf of drawings which often recorded the man making the pot and the background as well as the pot itself. I wish I still had these drawings as you rarely, (if ever) see the traditional wicker ones any more. Our mecca of course was St Ives. Half our tutors lived there.
The Youth Hostels
In those days you weren’t allowed to arrive at a Youth Hostel in a car, if you had a lift you had to be dropped out of sight of the main door. We cooked our own food and did ‘a job’…cleaning, washing up, making beds etc. before leaving. Hostels nowadays astonish me they are like little cheap hotels (not that I have been in any of them, just hearsay) Wherever we went we were drawing and I have never lost that habit.
Cornish Youth Hostel Barn. Basic accomodation.
One long summer holiday Eric and I took off to Southern Ireland. We hitched to Holyhead. When we got to Dublin we had to walk through long trays of disinfectant as there was foot and mouth in England at that time. We stayed in the Dublin hostel for the first few nights. It was in a street of fine Georgian terrace houses not far from the centre. Outside there were signs of great poverty. Thin women were dressed in shawls and boots with lots of underfed looking children, sad though they were they were wonderful to draw. Ireland hadn’t been in the war, wonder of wonders, you could get SAUSAGES and CHOCOLATE! We wandered all over Southern Ireland from the mountains of Mourne, through all the little towns down to Cork. In Clonakilty the women were still wearing the traditional long cloaks. I did lots of drawings there. Going from the Black Mountains down to Glengariff, we got a lift in a railway engine. The road went along parallel to the rail track, it was raining and we hadn’t had a lift for hours. The old army Bergen rucksacks that we had to use were mighty heavy when they were sodden with water. We saw the engine go by. Suddenly he backed up and beckoned to us to hop in to the cab with him! Heaven, it was warm and he took us several miles before the track left the road. In the Magillicuddy Reeks (mountains) we were given a lift through the Gap of Dunloe in a jaunting car (horse and cart) Kerry was as beautiful as I had thought it would be in my dreams. At that stage I still thought my maternal family, whose sir name was Kerry, must have been Irish. I fell in love with Ireland but especially with the early Christian crosses and sculptures and the incredible Book of Kells. Later in my life I led a tour of Germans, followers of Rudolph Steiner, around the crosses and archaeological sites. Below the cross at Monasterboise