We didn’t have much money when I was growing up. My dad was a carpenter and my mum a dinner lady in school, so when it came to needing money, the only way to get it was by working for it. I always had to do something. As soon as I was old enough, I took on a paper round and delivered thousands and thousands of newspapers in my time. At one stage, I was delivering 105 editions of the South Wales Echo every night! Health and Safety Executives would be muttering under their breath these days. Currently paper boys have about 20 – 30 max papers to deliver and are given a little trolley to pull along. We were tougher in those days, all I had was a paper bag and my trusty old bike. I went out in all winds and weather.
When I was older, during the School and College holidays I took a range of jobs which I look back on with very little affection. I worked because I had to. Two of the jobs, I absolutely hated. Perhaps that is why I loved my chosen career so much … teaching – which I did for 39 years and 185 days.
- Gardener – Cardiff Corporation Waterworks.
Charles Hallet, a member of my church when I was growing up, was an executive in Cardiff Corporation Waterworks and in the late 1960s, a nod was as good as a wink if someone needed a job. So, for several summers, I was employed as a gardener/handyman at the filter beds/reservoir on Rhiwbina Hill and clocked on at 8:00am every morning. Shift always began with a cup of tea in the mess hut. The manager lived on site in a tied house. I spent my time cutting grass, weeding and generally caring for the banks and flower beds of the site, the main reservoir was across a couple of fields at The Wenallt. It was uncovered when I started there but a room was put on eventually, as they got fed up of fishing the dead pigeons, cats and other livestock out of it. I loved working here and did it for several summers. The men treated me well, the boss, as I said, lived on site, Dennis the foreman lived in the caretaker’s house at The Wenallt and there was also a grumpy old chap lived just across the road. I have forgotten his name. Maybe it was Bill Brown.
We would also take the occasional trip to Radyr and Wenvoe, where there were small pumping stations and do a bit of weeding and tidying.
It was in this job that I saw a Flymo for the first time and we became experts at dropping the Flymo down the banks and pulling them up and dropping them down again cutting the grass – using a thick rope.
My favourite machine was an auto scythe which we used on the longer grass. It was a beast!
It was a very relaxed job and we got paid in cash in a little brown envelope, which arrived in a council van or car at the site like clockwork on a Friday afternoon. It was here I got the best tan I ever had in my life. Whenever I see a drain cover with C.C.W.W. on it I remember with affection those blissful teenage summers.
Steelworker – Guest Keen and Nettlefold Steel Works, Tremorfa, Cardiff.
I have no idea at all how I got this job. It was as an odd job man in an awful place – the Guest Keen and Nettlefold Steelworks in Cardiff. I hated this job and everything to do with it. For sure, I was interested in the furnaces and the molten steel I saw at a distance.
I worked here for most of the six weeks I was on holiday. If I remember it was after my A levels.
The only things I can really remember are the smell, the dirt, the smoke and most of all the dreadful over-manning. There were loads of men just hanging around doing very little all day. I am sure the steelworks were still a nationalised industry at this point and it was obvious even to me who knew nothing, that something needed to be done to make them profitable.
I would have made the world’s worst steel worker.
- Demolition worker – W.T. Davies, Cardiff
I got this summer job because my sister in law worked for W.T. Davies and was friendly with the managing director. They were demolishing the old Penarth Cement works and the quarry, which lay across the road from it.
A narrow-gauge train ran from the quarry, laden with limestone to be used to make the cement. I remember with the greatest affection watching that train cross Lavernock Road on many occasions on the way home from the beach at Swanbridge or Lavernock. I would make my dad drive slowly as we approached hoping to catch a glimpse of the little steam engine appear.
The Cement Works was opened in the 1880s – the site was a commercial limestone quarry operation owned by the British Portland Cement Manufacturers and later Blue Circle. The quarries here provided limestone for the large cement works that stood until 1970 on the site of the present Cosmeston housing estate opposite the well-known country park. The peak year of production was 1962, when 175,000 tons of cement were manufactured. The famous ‘Dragon’ brand of cement was used to produce many of the early paving slabs laid in Penarth. The works finally shut in November 1969. Blue Circle stated it was not possible to upgrade the old plant to increase production any further, nor extend the existing quarries, which were closed in June 1970.
The only factory building left standing today is the Harvester restaurant. Once quarrying ceased two of the excavated sites were used for landfill and the remaining two naturally flooded creating the lakes at Cosmeston that are seen today.
Today’s generation have no idea how ugly the quarry was so close to the lovely town of Penarth. Now, the filled-in quarry is a stunning country park and it’s great telling my grandchildren that I once walked on the bottom of Cosmeston lake.
I hated working for a demolition company. The men were as rough as could be and their language constantly crude and filthy.
As well as being the world’s worst steelworker, I also would have been the worst demolition expert!
4. Soap seller for Nimbus products for the blind
I got this job by answering an advert in the South Wales Echo. It was a strange set up. We had to meet at a certain place and were picked up in a battered old Bedford van, driven by an eccentric and equally old chap called Mr Cameron.
There was a bench of seats along the sides of the van and underneath were boxes full of soap products. He would drive us to that day’s location, issue us with a load of soap and then we would have to walk from door to door selling this soap made by a company that no one had ever heard of.
Most people were very kind and some bought because they felt sorry for the blind people not the spotty teenager selling the stuff!
I had a small sense of allegiance to this job, because I had two aunts living in Swansea who were born blind. I loved spending time with them. I loved the gadgets they had to time things or to let them know if it was raining. I once wrote Aunty Annie a braille letter only to find out she couldn’t read it as I had written from left to right but should have done right to left….
At the end of the day we would meet Mr Cameron and tally up what we had sold; unsold soap was returned to the boxes under the seats and the appropriate amount of cash was given to Mr. Cameron. Woe betide you if you didn’t balance. However, on the rare occasions when you had too much cash, we usually just kept quiet!
One event still sticks in my mind more than 45 years later; Mr Cameron’s battered old Bedford van had a column change gear stick, which was always malfunctioning. At one junction he was fighting to find a suitable gear and the car behind started tooting. Mr Cameron was incandescent with rage. He flung the sliding door of the van open raced to the car behind and shouted – in classic John Cleese style…
‘Right! Shall I toot your horn while you go and fix my van!!”
I never knew anything about Nimbus products for the blind until researching this article, when I found this from the Northampton Chronicle dated 4th January 2004 …
Disabled workers lose factory jobs
A soap factory which employs blind and disabled workers is being forced to close as people no longer buy bars of soap. Nimbus Laboratories, a charity which employs 69 blind and partially sighted workers in Northampton, will close on 26 March. Managing director Keith Percival said the closure had been forced upon the charity by problems in the international soap market. He said people had turned their backs on traditional bars of soap and despite Nimbus branching out into liquid soap, it was not competitive.
The company has been in production for more than 100 years when workshops were first created to provide work for the blind. Nimbus moved to its Moulton Park site in Northampton in 1972 where a range of toiletries were made under its own brand as well as for major high street chains such as Boots and Sainsbury’s. The loss of Nimbus is a further blow to Northampton’s cosmetic industry after the closure of Avon Cosmetics last year. About 465 Avon workers lost their jobs when manufacturing was transferred from Northampton to Poland. The factory was originally run by the Northamptonshire Association for the Blind. Despite becoming a registered charity, itself in 1996, it still provided money for the association.
Tragedy hit the factory in 1981 when a teenager on a youth opportunities programme was involved in an accident with a soap mixing machine which severed both his feet.
- Import Control Clerk – I.D.and S Rivlin, Cardiff
I took this job at a difficult time. I finished college in the summer of 1972 and was offered a teaching job in Cogan Primary School in Penarth. I was delighted, but when I received my examination results, I had failed my Welsh exam. I was gutted and told the Glamorgan Council, who withdrew their job offer. The Glamorgan College of Education offered me a resit in December, which I accepted but it meant finding employment while I awaited the resit.
That employment ended up being an Import Control Clerk in I.D and S Rivlin, which was a cash and carry clothes warehouse on Penarth Road in Cardiff. Thankfully, it no longer exits and was on the site where the car showroom is on the corner of Penarth Road and Hadfield Road in Cardiff.
I hated every single second of the time I spent in Rivlins. I worked in a small office with a chap called Mr McGregor, who chain smoked – in the office in those days – and took great delight in telling me I would never have made a teacher anyway. He was awful! He told me constantly for the six months I was there! He lived in a nice house in St Lythans.
I got on well with the other people there – the ladies in the typing pool and in the canteen… but Mr McGregor … I have not one happy memory of him or my time there. I would never have been able to cope with office work.
When my resit results came back and I had passed and was a qualified teacher I had quiet satisfaction in handing in my notice.
When I informed the council, they wrote back and offered me a job straight away without an interview at…. Cogan Primary School in Penarth. A coincidence… I don’t think so!
- Turnstile Operator at Cardiff City Football Club
I got this job because of my friend Arthur Reed, who already had a job there. I LOVED this job. When I started, we had to report to the main office, collect a bag of float money, go to whichever turnstile was yours, collect the money and operate the turnstile and let the fans in.
About twenty minutes after kick off you would take your bag of money, walk around the edge of the pitch to the office and after collecting your pay you could watch the rest of the match from the Grandstand if there was room. After a couple of years, I was ‘promoted’ to The Canton Stand. This meant collecting tickets not money and there were just a couple of steps up to the stand from the turnstile and this meant, I managed to watch most of the matches as most people were in from kick off time and if anyone arrived late I would just skip down the stairs, click the switch and let them through and go back to watching the match. Happy days.
Later on, I became friendly with Mel Sutton, a tough Cardiff midfield player and after I left the job he would leave me free tickets for every game.
I loved watching the city!