Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Holidays Spent Working: 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History - Wk. 30

The topic for Week 30 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is Employment. Describe your first job. What did you do? Were you saving for something in particular, or just trying to make a living? Did that first job provide skills and make an impact on your life today?

My employment history could be summed up as "Fishmonger to Freelancer".

My first job the summer I left school was helping out at a fishmonger's  owned by a friend's father who was looking for some one to fill in for staff on holiday.  It was totally out of character for me, but I stuck it out gutting some fish (for making herring rolls, I think), washing down the slabs  and I managed somehow to cope with the cash side - maths was never my strong point and this was before the days of electronic tills.   At home we ate healthily from the left over stocks of fish I took back to Mum.

For future summer  and Christmas jobs,  I opted for a less messy side of retail life, ranging from a busy bakery counter (dreaded having to make up the cardboard cake boxes in a hurry as I was all thumbs) to selling what we called "tartan trash" to tourists on Princes Street in Edinburgh.

My favourite was a bookshop where I enjoyed tidying the shelves and making sure everything was in order from the Pan and Penguin paperbacks in their familiar white and orange covers to the Classics, bound in mock midnight blue leather covers.    One Christmas I worked in a general stationery store that sold calculators and was clueless when facing questions such as "Why was this one more expensive and what did it do?"  Outside holidays, I worked on a Saturday in the local library and one Easter had a  short stint on a mobile library, getting stuck on a hill  in late snow.

I can't recollect receiving anything that could be called "training" - you were just expected to turn up on time, wear an often ugly uniform, pick up procedures,  work hard, have plenty of stamina to be  on your feet all day, be respectful to superiors, especially if there was the dreaded visit from Head Office, get on with the job - and sink or swim. 

What did I learn?    I had led rather a sheltered family life and the work experiences broadened my knowledge of people and taught me how to get on with both  customers and colleagues from varied backgrounds.  It was also a good source of anecdotes when I met up with fellow students as we exchanged horror stories of our holiday jobs.  Moneywise it was important just to fund everyday life, although I was still living at home.  One year it enabled me to join a student holiday in Austria and started a life long love with that country.

Long term work led me into librarianship, voluntary work at my Citizens Advice Bureau  and then working in the tourist information centre network where I enjoyed the retail side - customer service skills, displaying stock, demonstrating product knowledge,  monitoring sales etc. I have never despised retail and benefited from a great training programme which has stood me in good stead today - a big change from my early shop working days.  Following redundancy, I went back to my academic roots of history and librarianship working in the Library Service's  Local Studies Dept.  Not quite a full circle, but almost.

So from the fishmonger beginning  to my current working life of part-time library work and "freelancing" - using my skills developed over the years with some small  local organisations  -  it is a great work-life balance. I recommend it!

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52 Weeks Personal Genealogy and History

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