We found lots to say on this topic, at both the online and face-to-face sessions.  “Variety” was one of the words that came up at the beginning, as most of us, now retired, looked back at our experiences of paid and unpaid work we’d had at different times of our lives.  For some, it was easier to talk about short term, temporary jobs we’d had, at the beginning of our working lives, than about the jobs at which we’d worked over many years about which there’d be just too much to say!   Also, as one member of the group put it, we never really stop working as we carry on using the skills that we’ve acquired throughout our lives in new situations we face. 

The writing some of us have chosen to share in this blog post will give you a flavour of our discussions. Why not join us next time? You’d be very welcome.

Jean Byrne

The picture below is of me or my job share partner inside the Bookstart Bear, at a pirate event.

The large, blue and white bear is wearing a red kerchief with white spots, and a patch over one eye.  The bear is holding a smaller cuddly toy version wearing a pirate's hat.  You can see books on the library shelves in the background.

Between 2007 and 2010 I worked for the under 5s team in Manchester Libraries.  Our task was to inspire a love of reading and a library visiting habit in all children born in Manchester.  We worked with Family Link Library Workers based in every library to distribute free books and information about the benefits of reading to every new parent.  This was done via the Birth Registration Service, Health Visitors, Nurseries and Surestart Centres.  In one year, we distributed over 40,000 Bookstart Packs. The aim was to improve literacy for all children and help children whose parents could not afford to buy books to be more prepared for starting school.  This was such a wonderful job it almost felt wrong to be getting paid to do it. I often thought “shouldn’t I be paying Manchester City Council for having so much fun?”

The Bookstart Bear was one of our tools for encouraging children to borrow books from the library.  If a child borrowed a hundred books they would receive a visit from the Bookstart Bear during a Story time session at their local library.  The bear would then present them with a certificate and a mini cuddly toy version of the bear.  Wearing the bear was one of the most challenging parts of the job.  It was often very hot and impossible to see anything.  Vision is through the slightly open mouth rather than the eyes.  The bear always needed a minder to lead him so as to avoid accidents.  I preferred being the minder rather than the bear.  I was physically and psychologically unsuited to being the bear.  The health and safety information accompanying the bear said the wearer must be at least 5 feet 4 inches tall.  As I am only 5 feet 1 inch, I was a very baggy bear.  Being quite a shy introvert with no natural sense of rhythm I found dancing around inside the bear to The Wheels on the Bus and other nursery rhymes quite difficult.  There was always the fear of tripping over the bear’s very big feet and injuring the unseen toddlers crawling around on the floor below.

This job ended with the arrival of the Coalition government in 2010.  Yet another victim of George Osborne’s austerity measures.  Most of the funding for Surestart disappeared overnight and almost the whole team was made redundant.

Pauline Omoboye


I cope
Four kids at home 
I cope
Electric bill
Gas bill
Water rates
I cope
Buy new shoes 
Need a new coat
School trip to France
I think I cope
Grocery bills
Headache pills 
Council tax
Yes, I cope
Feed the gold fish
Take the dog for a walk 
Entertain friends 
Hoover, cook, polish, mop
I know I cope
Be doctor
Be nurse
Father, mother
Peace maker dictator
Listener, ignorer
Judge and blooming jury
And you have the cheek to call us the weaker sex
Gee whizz
I definitely cope.

Tony Goulding

Thoughts on a Working Life

Again, two very stimulating sessions on this month’s theme of “work”, with a number of interesting reflections on the importance of employment besides the primary need for making a living.  Sadly, the unemployed are often ostracised from society and with no work colleagues may have fewer friends. Fortunately, I only had one significant period of unemployment; when I gave up my job, working for British Rail, in London to return to Manchester.

A three storey red brick building with six large windows on the ground and first floors, and a further full-sized window set back in the roof.  In the background, you can see a car park which is probably behind some railway tracks.
My railway office building, Stratford, E.London

I recall vividly the feeling of euphoria from my first wage packet in six months.

Job satisfaction is very important especially if doing the same work for a long period.  I was again fortunate that I was able to find a level of joy at work throughout my working life despite employment being mostly of the hum-drum variety.  While working for the railway I got a lot of satisfaction by being a Staff Representative and as such spent some productive hours at meetings in the York Headquarters.  I was also on a social committee and helped organise a fancy dress party (I went as Charlie Chaplain!) and arranged trips to see England Internationals at Wembley Stadium.

My job on returning to Manchester was at McDonald’s where I got a big thrill (and one or two tips!) from doing the children’s parties, especially the annual Halloween Fancy Dress. I still get reminded by people that I did their (or their child’s) birthday party.

Tony wearing a red devil mask and carrying a pitchfork, but otherwise smartly dressed with a white shirt, red tie and red waistcoat.
Me in my Halloween costume

Another aspect of working life which was touched upon was the value of Voluntary Work.  This is something I have been involved in periodically throughout my life and it was often the most important for my wellbeing.

Finally, in the discussion, the role of temporary jobs as a learning experience was mentioned.  I recalled my first two jobs after leaving college in Cardiff.  The first lasted for just one day!  I signed on with Manpower a temporary job agency and was sent to work in a white goods warehouse, eight hours shifting cookers and washing machines about was enough to persuade me that that job wasn’t for me!  The second was in David Morgan’s department store where I learned a few life lessons.

The shop frontage of the Department store has flag posts with Union Jack flags at an angle.  There are 1970s cars parked outside.
David Morgan’s store, Cardiff

Annette Bennett

Reflections on a Working Man’s Life

I am older now
Some would say
A little frayed
Long retired.
The years of work
Have taken their toll.
But I was
Much younger then
When I was hired,
A youth
Yes, even a slip of a lad
Ready to go
Again and again,
Never saying no
Being downcast or sad.
Along with my mates
I would turn up
Day after day.
Graft to do
Even if I had
A hole or two in my shoe
Where water came through.
We would sing songs
To cheer us,
And think of our wages
At the end of the week.
Helping to keep
A roof above our heads,
Families relying on us
To bring in the bread.
Looking back
They were tough times,
But me and the other lads
By my side
Pushed on through
Knowing my worries
And fears
I must hide
My time to bide.
Them were the days
Grafting away
Till every sinew
In my body ached
At times in pain.
My working life over
I would do the same again
If I had to,
Bearing the strain
For what I saw
Was a worthwhile
Noble gain.

Margaret Kendall

I was very keen to start earning some money for myself when I turned fifteen.  I’d seen my friends, with birthdays earlier in the school year, enjoying their money from Saturday jobs for what seemed like ages!  I joined a friend working in the bus station café in Nelson, Lancashire, and soon discovered how tiring it was to be on your feet all day: serving customers, clearing the tables and washing up.  There were two counters, one for the public and one for the bus drivers who were charged less, so it was challenging to add up the bill and give change, especially since this was before decimalisation.  The customers weren’t always patient and it was often hot and smoky. Nowadays it’s a pizza bar.

Robert Wade / The Old Bus Station and Multi-storey Car Park, Nelson. Wikimedia Commons

After a couple of months, my mother’s friend encouraged me to join her at the fabric shop where she worked.  Although busy, it was a much pleasanter environment and looking back, I can see how kind my Mum’s friend was.  She taught me about the different materials and how to answer questions, for example, how to calculate the lengths of cloth needed for curtains.  Above all, as an adult friend at work, rather than the Auntie Joyce I’d always known, she helped me become more grown up.  

Those early experiences of work stood me in good stead for other jobs I did as a student in the summer holidays:  my least favourite being in an oil seal factory, and the most unusual being a bloembollen inpakker (flower bulb packer) in Holland.  As well as helping financially, I think those jobs kept my grounded in the “real world”, and appreciative of the benefits my education later brought me. 

I’m lucky to have had two long, rewarding and challenging careers: as a librarian and as a university lecturer.  Talking with the Stories of our Lives group made me realise that I’ve enjoyed my several voluntary posts since retirement in the same way as those early temporary jobs.  Committed and reliable as I hope I’ve always been, but knowing that they were time limited projects or that I could leave when my circumstances changed.   I’ve done things I didn’t expect to do, hope I’ll do more, but without all the pressures and responsibilities that professional work brings.  In a strange way, that makes me feel younger!

2 thoughts on “Working life

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