Thursday, August 04, 2011


49 Years, Some Days and a Wake Up

You may have read my Grandad's diary. I put it on-line some time ago. ( ). The most frustrating part of the transcription is the technical terms he uses which must be specific to the cloth trade. It's often difficult to make out what he's talking about. He didn't have the internet, but I do - so I'm determined not to make the same mistake.

We are popularly told that this present generation will have far less job security and will have to work until they drop because the pension system is so screwed up (many thanks Bankers!).

This may be so, and if it is, I'm truly sorry; but I've done my bit, and I retire in a very short time without any compunction.

As part of the process, I decided to note all the different jobs I have had and briefly describe the how, why and where.

This may be a salutatory message for the generation to come, or the last ravings of an overworked retiree and loon.

Here goes.

I started working on the old man's milk route when I was about 11. That would be in about 1957. I know this because by then I was old enough to be of some use and stupid enough to think it was a kind of treat to be able to help on the milk route. In a very short time, I was dissuaded from both innocent ideas.

A milk route is really quite hard work. You start early. In the early days, I only helped on Saturdays (it was a six day operation) and gradually this expanded to working also during the school vacations. It worked like this: you went to Myers Dairy on Dodgion (I have a photo which clearly shows the old loading dock) and after the Old Man messed about filing out paper work and getting the order organised you loaded up the truck with the day's dairy goods and set off. In a day you travelled at least 100 miles – stopping and starting and knocking on doors with milk in your hands. The OM was famous for quipping (after you had left the truck and taken a few steps) - “watch out for a dog up there”. I was bit once and nearly was more than a few times.

Early routes included Ruskin Heights in South KC where a tornado smashed through on 20 May 1957. OM and I were among the first to see the damage as we were allowed in to deliver milk supplies. I also distinctly remember seeing the swath of damage on South Noland Road (south of 40 Hi-Way) where the same tornado cut a passage through trees either side of the road. This bare swatch was visible for many years afterwards.

I'm sure I couldn't count this as paid work for Social Security purposes, but the old man would buy you a cup of coffee and a sweet roll and sometimes, particularly when I got older, give you 50 cents for helping. Getting older was a two pronged fork. You always got the 50 cents but you also had to do six days a week in the summer. It's not easy getting up at 4:30 when you are barely a teenager.

My next foray into work was doing my cousins paper round for two weeks whilst he was on vacation. I'm not really counting that.

The best way out of this (I figured) was to get a real job, so the day I turned 16 I both passed my driving test and went to work as a fry cook at 70 Hi Drive-In on 39th and Noland Road, Independence, Missouri. We were living on 39th street terrace at the time. I could walk to work. We worked a shift system - Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday evenings (maybe 5 till 11) one week and Tuesday, Thursday Saturday nights in the next week. Or, did we do lunchtimes at the weekend? I think maybe we did and the system was more complicated that I have described. Sorry, it was a long time ago.

Sam Lerner was the owner and I was paid the princely sum of 75 cents an hour. After training in the gentle art of cooking hamburgers I got 90 cents an hour. The first week I worked I made $18.75. I remember that because I had to use the money to buy some new trousers for school. We really were quite poor. Over the years most of the people I knew as close friends ended up working for Sam. Larry Stoner was my bun boy for a while. I taught Bosco Cox how to cook hamburgers.

Sam was an old man then and now must be long dead, but he was a first class boss and a first class human being. He gave us “kids” real responsibility and thought nothing of going away for the weekend ( his passion was horse racing – for which you had to go to Omaha, Nebraska to indulge in )and leaving me more or less in charge when I was barely 17. He taught me a lot about the world of work. He taught me a lot about growing up.

We moved to 28 Berry Lane and Bobby Lawless lived a short walk away. The OM was in his racing stage and so I was in it too. Bobby was quite successful in ¼ midgets, and I won lots of trophies in my go-cart. Bobby and I hand-built a motorcycle and rode it around the neighbourhood. It was hairy. It had no throttle so he would sit front and steer and I would give it the gas with a cable direct to the carb whilst riding pillion. We didn't kill ourselves, but I don't know how.

Anyway, Bobby worked at the Kansas City Booth Manufacturing Co ( ) - they are still in business! He got me a job there, but I can't remember the chronology? It was an education! It must have just been for the summer cause I wasn't there long. I think I'd have been about 17 or 18 and must have left 70 Hi (at least temporarily).

Anyway, the KC Booth Manufacturing Co was in North KC and was populated by a crew of Mexicans who did the real work. There is quite a large Latino population in KC and they must all have relatives who worked at KC Booth. I swept the floor and generally tidied up. They did all the skilled jobs. They made beautiful booths for posh restaurants and the quality was superb. They also taught me Spanish – of a sort. Mostly how to swear. It was an education.

I was 18 and at Central Missouri State Residence Center in Independence – right behind the Harry Truman Library. I had no money. I had to borrow some from my Grandad and Aunt Jane to get started. Borrowing money from my Grandad is one of the supreme accomplishments of my life. I temporarily had no job.

My sister, Ruthanne was waitressing at an Italian Restaurant on 71 Bypass just south of 39th, or it could have been further north? She got me a job as the dishwasher. I joined the Honorable Company of Pearl Divers. Washing dishes in the Italian Restaurant may be the worst job I ever had. What my sister didn't tell me was that there was no dishwasher at lunch-times. So, when I got there at (say) 5 p.m. all the dishes from lunch were waiting for me. It took two hours to catch up – just in time for the evening's dishes to arrive. Trying to remove caked-on Italian sauces from a large pot requires a hammer and chisel. I kid you not. At one stage I thought that Tootie did this to me on purpose, but that was being uncharitable.

I was there only for a few months when I made it up with Sam and returned to 70 Hi. I had only left because I wanted a raise to $1.25 an hour and he wouldn't agree. He let it be known that I could come back and have the raise. I took it. Gladly.

Eventually, I ran out of money good and proper – as in stony broke – as in no pot to pee in and no window to throw it out of. I'd exhausted all the available avenues and had to drop out of school and get a real job. By real, I mean 40-ish hours a week and wages that put you in the paying income tax bracket. I went to work for 7 Eleven. My first and last foray into the retail trade.

I knew soon I was not cut out for it, but I needed the money and it was steady work. Not withstanding getting robbed - ( ) - it wasn't all that bad. Fortunately for us humans - as the years fade we forget lots of the bad things and only remember the good. It was boring and dealing with the public is a pain in the bum.

Whilst waiting to get drafted, my sister Ruthanne and her husband Alan managed to get me on at the Western Electric factory in Lee's Summit, Missouri ( ). I did the night shift ( 15:00 to 23:30) and like all factories it was boring but it paid reasonably well. I was back to sweeping up with a little light production work as well. I stayed there until I got drafted, St Valentine's Day 1968, and I returned there after I completed my time in the U.S. Army.

I suppose the United States Army qualifies as a job, but it sure didn't feel like one. A whole blog should be devoted to my time serving Uncle Sam. Mayhaps I will get back to this one day, but not now – it would simply take too long and take up too much space. I will say this – I did have some interesting experiences and met some very interesting people.

Returning to civilian life also meant a return to Western Electric. Even though the country was going through a mini-recession they had to take me back. It's part of how the government looks after its veterans. So, I spent a week on days more or less doing nothing and then they found a spot for me in the packing department. Obviously, if you make things they have to be packaged up and sent somewhere before they can be used. We packed. We packed everything that was made in the factory and sent it places. I was back on the night shift (good thing because I had resumed my glittering academic career at CMSU) and the packing department was no picnic. First thing at 3 o'clock I had to move all the packing stuff from one side of the bench to the other – to accommodate my left-handed outlook on work. Many times I was told that I could not do a particular job at Western Electric because of my left-handedness. I ignored them and after a few minutes studying the task, re-arranged the work space and got on with it. It was tedious work and my work mates were uninspiring. I can't think that I made anything like a friend among fellow workers in the packing department.

I wasn't there for long. I got moved to transistors and back to the designation “floor hand”. Glorified cleaner and odd-job person is what it was. We arrived. We got our floor sweepers. No brooms – too much dust would be whipped up. We wandered about for two or three hours sweeping and chatting to the ladies who did the actual work. We killed time. We did some production work on the “dirty room”. Some manufacturing processes produced dust and grime so an enclosed space within the department housed the “dirty” processes, even to the extent that the air pressure was lower inside so when the door opened the air came in – not out. I worked with Danny Ray Grimm, what a character. Danny Ray was once was arrested for drink driving whilst sitting amidst a pile of empty beer cans that completely obscured the floor of the car he was driving at the time! He, somehow, talked his way of that one! He was a character. He used to come by my house on South Lynn and we would ride motorcycles to work in the summer. He had a Honda 400 cc and my 350 cc Yamaha would really shift!

I worked at Western Electric all the time I was at Warrensburgh finishing my degree. So, I got up early, drove 50 odd miles to Warrensburgh, went to class, drove 50 odd miles to Lees Summit, worked until midnight and drove 10 miles home. Easy when you are in your 20's. Wouldn't want to try it today. I used to “hide” in the dirty room and do my required reading.

Summer of 1974 we moved to England. Even though I was on a visitor's visa at the time, I went to the labour exchange and got a job at Klingers Gasket Factory in Foots Cray. Their headquarters are now in Bradford, and the Foots Cray site seems not to be in existence any more. This was quite an introduction to the world of work in England.

First of all this was pre-Maggie Thatcher; therefore, everyone had a job. Well, everyone went into a place of work, even if they didn't do much of a job when they got there. That was definitely the system at Klingers. We had breakfast in the subsidised staff canteen. We did a bit (actually it was quite like the Western Electric packing department – we had a trolley and we went and found the gasket material for the order then we packed it up for shipment).

We had a long lunch. We did next to nothing after lunch. Jimmy and Taffy, my work-mates were big into horse-racing so they had fixed up a rest area, made out of old packing crates, complete with tea pot and radio. My job, being young and fit, was to take the bets to the bookies.

Good thing was the number 52 bus ran almost to the factory door from Welling and it was convenient to get to work. It was certainly an eye-opener! Meanwhile I was trying to get my first job in teaching.

I had already figured out that the best weather in England is in East Anglia. It's the warmest and driest part of the country – statistically speaking.

So, when I saw an advert for a job near Gt. Yarmouth, I applied, and I got it. I started my teaching career at Duncan Hall and was there for 12 years. I learned was humility among many other things.

There was a little lad named Toby – only about six. One day as they lined up for afternoon lessons he looked up at me and said, “I like you Mr Kauffman.” I was about to say something appreciative when he continued, “Mind you, a lot of people don't.” A real definition of deflation.

One of my ex-pupils works at Roys of Wroxham and I see him often. Occasionally, I hear news of one or other “Old Boys” and it never fails to make it all seem worthwhile.

While I was there as a struggling, ill-paid teacher, I always had a job in the summer holidays. I scrubbed toilets and took care of the swimming pool at a Caister holiday camp. I delivered papers for Menzies, the wholesale newsagents. I refuelled helicopters and checked bags at North Denes airfield.

In order to make ends meet, I cycled from Winterton to Yarmouth every morning at about four to do the papers. I drove the van and Jimmy worked in the back sorting out the bundles. Jimmy had been a prisoner of the Japanese during the war and really hated them. Even in the 1970's if he saw an oriental-looking person he would go mental.

I'm glad I was young when I had to cycle miles to work for about £10 a week. I'd hate to try it now! I was delivering papers when they tracked me down to attend the birth of son number two.

Duncan Hall closed in 1986 and I was temporarily unemployed. I did some supply teaching at Feltwell. Uncle Sam had a High School there for children of Air Force personnel at Lakenheath and Mildenhall. I needed a steady income and a return to teaching, but I found myself, instead, working as a security guard for Dardan Security at the gas terminal near Bacton, Norfolk. It was local, and it was steady work - if uninspiring. Night shifts were interminable. I was only there a few months when an opportunity came up at Finborough School near Stowmarket. I knew many of the teachers there from my time at Duncan Hall and was appointed third in the English Department with a little Science teaching thrown in for fun.

I was at Finborough from 1987 until I took early retirement in 2004. I did my best work at Finborough. There developed over the years an excellent staff, and I made some friends who will stay with me until we are all too old to care!

After some lazing about I got a job on the “bank staff” register at the Norfolk County Council. My first appointment was to edit the gibberish produced by a Social Worker who insisted she was severely dyslexic. She couldn't write for toffee and that's a fact. So, I would take her notes and bits of paper and produce statements for the courts. Some of them were just sad, as when grandparents (who just happened to be heroin addicts) wanted access to their grand children. Others were hair-raising, involving some shocking cases of child abuse here in tranquil Norfolk. It was an education. I did some work for the careers service in Yarmouth, mostly creating a database of service users and amenable local companies who might employ them to improve their chances of getting a real job. All in all it was very part-time and not very lucrative.

I saw an advert in the Eastern Daily Press. It looked interesting, so I logged on to the NHS web site and applied for the job of Housekeeper at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Next thing you know I got an interview and – sure enough – I got the job. I was just over two years from retirement.

Working in a hospital is really interesting. Especially on the Acute Medical Unit. People die at a steady rate, pretty much one or two a week – sometimes a day! I gained a new and enthusiastic appreciation for the work of the nurses. The doctors are good, but generally they live in a world of their own and often seem either lost or just about to be lost. The ancillary staff without a doubt are excellent.

At the N&N there are some superb people who will look after me when I am so aged that it becomes my final stop-over before the grave. There are a lot of worse places to end your days.

Unfortunately, that's where most oldies in Norfolk go to die. The scenario: GP is called out to oldies house and, despite knowing that they are coming to the end of their life, feels Hypocratically bound to call an ambulance and have them taken to AMU. They are put in a bed and kept comfortable but they will not leave the hospital except to go the the morgue. Far better to die at home. Unfortunately, in this litigious society the doctors don't have much choice. They should, perhaps, say to the relatives that Granny is dying so just let her die in peace at home. But, they daren't.

So that's it. Nearly 50 years of work. No wonder I'm tired sometimes.

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