Nice Work if You Can Get It

This week Miss F had her induction week at college, which I’m delighted to report she enjoyed enormously. Her course proper starts next week for her and I think she is going to have a simply marvellous two years. When I look at all the plans they have and all the amazing animals that will be available for her to care for and learn about, I must admit to being a little bit envious!

The only fly in the ointment is that we have to find her a one day a week unpaid work placement in the animal industry to run alongside her two-year course. You’d think it wouldn’t be a problem, after all, there are a few vets and pet shops around so surely someone must want a keen, bright, hardworking college student to do all the grunt work for free. Well, you’d think… but, looking into it, there aren’t actually that many places willing to take on under 18 years olds so spaces are rare, take into consideration there are another 120 students all looking for the same thing, and you begin to understand why it’s not that simple.

On Friday, I loaded her into the car clutching a folder containing copies of her very professional looking CV and references from her old Head of Year at her previous school, and the owner of the hedgehog hospital where Miss F has volunteered this past year. And before you ask, no, her work there doesn’t count, sadly it doesn’t meet the rather exacting criteria demanded by the college.

Gamely, we drove all over town visiting any animal-based workplace we could think of – which added up to four vets, one large pet store, one small pet shop, and one aquatic and reptile store. All were very kind to her, some took her details and promised to let her know, some gave her a name and email address to contact, which she did as soon as she got home. Now, we can only wait and hope, and try to think of other places further afield to try if these all come to nothing. A position within either walking distance, or close enough for me to drive her there before I have to be at work, is desirable. Any further afield and issues of transport and a practically non-existent bus service come into play.

It’s a really big deal. If she hasn’t managed to do at least 120 hours of voluntary work in an animal-based environment by next June, she’ll be kicked off the course. No ifs, buts or maybes, no consideration given as to how well she’s doing on the course, if she doesn’t have those hours under her belt, she’ll be given her marching orders. It seems really harsh, but we still have almost a year and I’m sure something will turn up somewhere, it always does.

As well trying to find a voluntary role in an animal workplace, she’s also trying to find a little part-time job to earn herself some spending money and take the pressure off me to always have to pay for everything she wants. The college course is only on three days of the week, her voluntary placement (should she get one) will only be for a few hours a week, so it leaves plenty of time for a Saturday job.

Unlike the voluntary placement, this job can be anything, so we had fun Friday afternoon going through all the “Help Wanted” adds and applying online (as it seems that’s how it’s done nowadays). Luckily, we live right in the middle of town and a minutes-walk away is a large shopping centre with lots of shops all looking for part-time assistants. She’s applied for about a dozen to start with in a wide range of retail establishments. We looked at waitressing work, but they all seemed to involve working until really late in the evening, which I wasn’t too keen on, and given Miss F’s ability to trip over thin air, we decided not to apply for any this go round.

Helping her apply, preparing her CV for her, and aiding in finding the right words to pad out her almost non-existent experience, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my first job, all those years ago. In 1981 I was 14 years old, and one Saturday my mother dragged me out of bed early, made me put on my smart skirt and jacket, drove us to town, then proceeded to march me all the way around it forcing me to go into every shop we passed enquiring if they had any need of a Saturday girl.

Scarlet with mortification, by the third or fourth shop I had gathered myself together enough to actually raise my voice above a mumble and look the shopkeeper in the eye when I enquired. Some said no, some took my details, some were dismissive, one or two were downright rude, but with my mother’s foot planted firmly on my backside, I persevered, until we’d enquired in some forty or so shops.

We drove home seemingly unsuccessful and I went to get changed, completely fed-up and convinced I was so useless that no one would ever employ me. However, later that afternoon the phone rang, and it was the manageress of a toyshop in town. Could I start next Saturday? I could and I did, and for the next three years until I left school, I worked at Dudley’s Toys at the corner of Hatter Street every Saturday and in the holidays.

I loved it. I can honestly say it’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. Marina and Cecily, the two delightful elderly ladies who worked there, were the sweetest and kindest women possible, and took me completely under their wing. I was the “young legs” in the shop, the one who climbed down the steep steps to the cellar to bring up stock, who braved ladders to reach the highest shelves, who ran to the bank and the post office, and unpacked and priced new stock that arrived twice a week off the back of a big lorry – oh that old-fashioned pricing gun, I loved using it. Trigger happy, I could price up a whole box of Sindy accessories in under twenty minutes, and I still remember the very satisfying thunk thunk noise it made as I lined up the packets and speed shot them with the little sticky price labels.

Working with toys and children, seeing the happy faces of the kids as they piled into the shop with their pocket money to either blow it all on something from the range of lower priced items, or maybe to spend birthday and Christmas money on something bigger, or maybe to show mum exactly what it was they were hoping Santa would bring that year. We also ran a savings club for children who were saving for something extra special, but maybe didn’t have the willpower to do it at home. A big red book was kept under the counter, satisfyingly large and important looking, it was solemnly brought out when a little saver came in clutching that week’s pocket money. Carefully, I’d write their name down in the first column, how much they were depositing in the next and how much further they still had to go, they would then sign it to agree. I remember the joy when they’d finally saved enough, and the toy was theirs

One adorable pair of twin sisters both desperately wanted the “real life” baby dolls we sold, complete with a bassinet, clothing, and feeding and changing accessories. They were expensive, and they wanted one each, so every week they would come in and hand me almost all their combined pocket money. Eventually, they’d saved enough for the first doll and had somehow worked out between them whose doll it would be – the other would be allowed to play with it but would always know they weren’t the real mummy. Eyes gleaming, they took the doll home, only to be back the following week to start saving for the other.

I was working in the shop when the Star Wars craze was at its height. I hadn’t seen the first two films, much to my disgust. My mother made it plain she had no interest in “stupid science fiction stuff” and I’d had no one else to take me. I think I was the only person in my school who hadn’t seen Star Wars and its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. However, the third film was out that summer and as I had a boyfriend by then and money of my own, nothing on earth was going to stop me seeing Return of the Jedi. Of course, the shop sold the figures and collectibles, as did the other two toyshops in town and quite a few places like Boots and WH Smiths as well. However, nowhere had anticipated quite how in demand these figures would be, and one week after the film opened in the tiny cinema in town – the queues stretched into infinity and as the cinema only seated about 150 a lot of people had to wait for the next showing – everywhere, including us, had run out. Not a single figurine was left, even the less popular ones had all been snapped up by kids desperate to buy anything related to the film.

It was the summer holiday, so I was working extra days and on the Friday afternoon, much to our surprise, three large boxes arrived that we hadn’t anticipated. Upon opening them, we discovered it was Star Wars figures, lots and lots of them, and not just the “third alien from the left” bog standard ones, but the main ones too. Luke Skywalker, Harrison Ford, Princess Leia, Dath Vader – they were all there. Somehow, our order had got through and we got the last consignment in the warehouse. As far as we knew, we were now the only suppliers of these highly desirable collectables in town. Taking my trusty pricing gun in hand, I made short work of pricing them all up, and promised to get them all out on display as soon as I got to work in the morning,

Travelling into work on the bus the next day, it was packed with the usual hordes of children heading into town on a Saturday morning and looking forward to hanging around with their mates, going down the park to play on the swings or going to the cinema. Idly eavesdropping, my ears pricked up when I heard one young lad moaning to the others how he’d been saving all his pocket money to buy Star Wars figures but, of course, as they were currently rarer then hens teeth, he hadn’t been able to buy any.

“We’ve got some for sale,” I casually mentioned. There was an instant hush over the whole back seat as every boy stopped what they were doing and looked at me.


“Yeah, I work at Dudley’s and we had three big boxfuls delivered yesterday. I’m going to put them on display as soon as I get to work today.”

“Really? You’ve got Star Wars figures?”


“Ah, I bet you’ve only got the rubbish ones, that’s all anyone’s been able to get for weeks.”

“Nope, we have the good stuff, Luke, Leia, the droids, Yoda, ewoks, all of them.”

The bus then pulled into the station and I got off, dismissing the incident from my mind I hurried to work and proceeded to get all the figures up on the racks with a few minutes to spare before opening time. Letting up the door blind and turning the sign from “Closed” to “Open”, I heard Marina exclaim in surprise and hurried to see what was wrong.

There were hundreds of them!

Somehow, the jungle drums had been beating and it looked like every single kid in town was now in a queue outside our shop. Bearing in mind this is long before the advent of mobile phones, somehow the news had travelled that Dudley’s had Star Wars figures and here they all were, jingling their coins in their pockets, all patiently queuing and waiting for us to open.

By the time I went home that evening, every single figure – even the rubbish ones – had been sold. It was another two months before the supply problem was resolved and we all got Star Wars merchandise delivered again, but by then the impetus was over, the craze had abated and never again did we have such a morning as we did that Saturday – when we were the only shop in town with Star Wars figures.

I truly loved my first job, it set such a high standard that no job ever since has ever really reached it. But sadly, all good things must come to an end, I left school and had to find “proper” employment, which I did, but that was a whole different experience and one I’ll maybe save for another blog.

If anyone is wondering how launch day for book nine went, the answer is very well. Despite not having any money to spend on advertising and promoting, Chaining Daisy smashed into the top one hundred bestsellers in its category and reached number 51, which is an incredible achievement. It also ranked number six in the hot new releases chart.

After being published less than four days, Chaining Daisy has an impressive six 5-star reviews on Goodreads, and people seem to be really enjoying this gritty, heart-wrenching read.

But it’s getting late – both cat and child have appeared from nowhere plaintively demanding food which I must supply. Oh, and you’ll be pleased to hear Skittles seems to have recovered from her road trip hell as talked about in last week’s blog. Hopefully, she’s learnt her lesson.

Lovely chatting to you again, have a great week, and I’ll see you all next Sunday for another Little Bit of Blake.

Best wishes

Julia Blake

One thought on “Nice Work if You Can Get It

  1. Enjoyable read, yet again Julia. I do hope Miss F finds something suitable for her course voluntary work ! It’s such a worry isn’t it. Have a great week and so glad Chaining Daisy is doing well. I just need a bit of time to slip back into ‘The Forest’ and finish it, I’ve not got much left now 😍😀

    Liked by 1 person

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