What I did for a living

Babysitting:  To keep me in nylons
Receptionist: For an Optician, three summers in a row @ £3 a week
Shop assistant in Newsagent/Confectioners: No eating sweets all day!
Substitute Teacher: In primary/junior school & a privately run prep school.

All of the above were actually before I began work in earn-est! Yes, pun intended. The first two were during my middle teen years. The others were to fill the gap between leaving school and full time employment.

Babysitting: It was as easy to do homework at someone else’s table in a quiet house while babies or young children slept in their beds, as it was in our noisy household with constant interruptions. On one such evening, I finished my work and switched on the TV to catch up on the late evening news. I was in time to see pictures from Dallas and hear reports of the shooting of John Fitzgerald Kennedy!

Only once did I ever need to call parents home. A young toddler woke in rather a state, vomiting and with a temperature. I tried to calm him and wash him down with tepid water, but not being happy, I called the number left by the phone and asked to speak to one of the parents. I calmly told them what happened and suggested that they might like to come home. They did. I made the right decision, The little man was taken to hospital and it took several hours to get the temperature down. He was incubating some childhood illness, perhaps measles – I cannot remember exactly, but he was kept in hospital overnight. He survived. Today Greg is a fine young man.

Receptionist: I did not go looking for the job. The owner optician, actually came and asked me if I would like the job to fill the long summer months. I loved working at the Optician’s. It was in a small office right in the center of Dublin. I was in at the deep end on day one! The regular secretary/receptionist, was on leave and the optician was heading off to hold a clinic in the wilds of the country and would not return until late in the afternoon. So I had to man the phone, deal with customers and familiarise myself with appointment making & filing system, deal with the mail, right from the word go! One drawer that I opened, made me jump. I closed it quickly in case the contents would bite me!

Curiosity got the better of me, so I slowly opened the drawer to take a better look…. I had been right the first time….

The contents were all LOOKING AT ME!!!

They were artificial eyes. They looked so natural, each iris was individual in colour and detail and the whites were marked with capillary lines. I suppose, just as people choose frames for glasses to suit their faces, those needing a replacement eye like to match it up with the working partner.

It was a wonderful stepping stone to the world of work. I learned how to deal with the public in a work situation, no matter what their mood or temperament. The lessons I learned within those four walls prepared me well for life.

In quiet times, I learned some of the ‘tricks’ of the trade. The optician taught me to read the lens and sort them according to the prescriptions, to replace broken sides on frames. I even marked and cut a pair of old lenses, polishing off the edges on an abrasive wheel to fit a frame, before inserting them into that frame. They were passed as fit to wear, but were purely for practice and not for sale. I think they went in a display case in the waiting room for that season.

Shop assistant in a Newsagent/Confectioners: This time I was in a local shop almost in sight of home. It was a tiny place but a little goldmine. I was on my feet all through the day and constantly on the go. A lull in customers gave an opportunity to refill the shelves and rotate stock in the store.

Recognising the customers, and knowing their usual ordering pattern, their likes and dislikes was important. Having their newspaper or magazines ready in a bundle, on the counter before they reached it, was the number one rule. Everyone was given their time and I learned the importance of listening. Remembering to ask about family members or if the sick dog was improving, all the while totting up in my head the purchases they had made.

I still have to pinch myself, when I think about the final entry on that list above.

Substitute Teacher: About a week after I finished working at the newsagents, I had a phone call from a lady whose voice sounded familiar, but the name at that point meant nothing to me. It turned out that she was an occasional customer in the shop above and she was very aware of how I handled the customers. She was a teacher in a local primary school. It was not built when I was at that stage of education.

She asked if I had found a job yet, I had been for several interviews and waiting for word, but no, I was not working.

“Would you like to stand in for me as a substitute teacher for a few days?” she asked.

You could have knocked me down as a feather, I was in shock, and almost lost my voice! Did she have the wrong person?

“I had no qualifications or experience.” I managed to mutter.

“That is no problem.” she said. “I will leave you some notes for classes.”

The pay was better than I had at the newsagents, I had no interviews or appointments planned for the few days, so I agreed!

Two hours into the day one, saw me changing pants and moping floors for the third time! The little pants bundle in the teacher’s cupboard was fast reducing. Was I that much of a dragon? It turns out the sudden cold spell upset little bladders.

I sat on a little chair, down at their level and told a story, then I asked for volunteers to tell me a story. I tried to turn everything into a game and it seemed to work. We had fun. We had no more wet pants and in the afternoon, we spent some time singing a new rhyme as we coloured pictures.

The three days went quickly and there were tears when I said goodbye on the last day. The teacher got in touch with me when she returned to pay me, it came from her own pocket, but she informed me that now that I had completed the three days my name would go on a list of substitute teachers in the Department of Education, and I might be called again!

Two weeks later and the phone went. It was a school in North Great George’s Street, in Dublin, A private prep school, saying they found my name on the list and would I be available for a week, stating the dates. I have to admit I was even more surprised than the first time. Work was work and I would get paid, so once again I said yes!

This time the week passed with dry pants and floors. The children were happy and we all learned a little. Me? I learned that I had no wish to be a teacher, full time. Arriving home to find a letter with the offer of a job was the best news I could ask for. I had a starting date for a week later so the few days gave me time to relax and shop for office clothes, before joining the workforce.

Never before or since, did I hear of someone coming in off the street as it were, to teach a class, no matter how young the children were.

Our topic What I do (did) for a living, was brought to us today by The Old Fossil. I wonder how he and our other active members earn or earned an honest crust. Want to join me and find out: Anonymously Yours, Blackwatertown, gaelikaa’s diary, Life on a Limb, Maxi’s Comments, Ramana’s Musings, Minimalist Diaries, Shackman speaks, Silver Fox Whispers, The instant Fossil Factory, This and That, There and Here & Will Knott.

Now I will leave you with a thought for today:

Labels are misleading. The things we have done and the roles we have “played” don’t define the totality of who we are at THIS moment.
“If who you are is what you do, who are you when you don’t?”

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43 thoughts on “What I did for a living

    • I have covered some of the ‘real money earning occupations’ in the past, and didn’t want to go over old ground. I started out with a list, but after the four mentioned above, decided I had enough fodder for today.

  1. I didn’t work whilst a young one, because I was away at boarding school. I took my first job at Marks and Spencers, St Albans, UK when I was shipped over there from New Zealand in the late 1960s. The Christmas temp, (me aged 17yrs old) for around a month…I was assigned to the womens’ underwear bar and I really had absolutely no idea about sizing. Men would come in and want to get something for a present and say “same size as that woman over there” and I would somehow gauge what that was…I should imagine a lot of exchanges took place in the New Year!
    I continued to work at all sorts of short term jobs in the UK, one the way home through Australia and even when I came back home….

    • Cathy, I think, even nowadays, there are queues to exchange Christmas underwear gifts. Sizing is very hit and miss, it varies with the style these days!

  2. It doesn’t surprise me you were a good teacher – and the eyes story is a great story. Life is indeed a story – or at least a collection of them bound together with our blood, sweat and tears.

    • Chuck, I was always a slow learner, maybe that helped me when explaining things to others. Life is a story and I like your way of putting it. I might adopt that!

  3. In retrospect, I wish that I had taken this route for my own post. The first paying job onwards with a bit of humour thrown in just as you have done. May be, the outcome would have been more sombre!

  4. I baby sat my younger cousins (sometimes for free, ugh) before earning real money after college. Recently, I finished babysitting my grandson for 2-1/2 years — again for free. Lol.

  5. I envy you the experience. I wasn’t allowed to work between school and college even though I’d landed a few jobs. My father put his foot down. Meanwhile my unfortunate brothers were out doing the backbreaking work of thinning turnips in farmers’ fields. I wouldn’t have wanted that, mind you!

    Love the eye story.

    XO
    WWW

  6. This is a titillating post GM; you had me glued to each story . Very clever how you managed to put the mop away and keep the floor dry.

    Hope you are not in any more pain these days.
    blessings ~ maxi

  7. Maxi, I was blaming myself for needing the mop, when it was not my fault at all! Did you click on the Greg link in the babysitting story?

  8. Some of our temporary jobs really added to the overall experience, eh? I worked as a babysitter, a beer-tender, at an outdoor concert arena, as a distributor of Exam Survival Kits, in a hardware store, etc.

    Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

  9. Fascinating experiences. You should have gotten babysitter of the year for that good call.

    I did some substitute teaching for a week one time. It was the longest year of my life.

  10. No such thing as a CRB in those days then!!! I have 5 so far & I have only taught in for 2 years! There were 52 of us in our senior infants class (year 1/grade1), it’s amazing how any work got done at all? I remember substitute teachers coming in all the time, one was our ballet teacher, we gave her hell. I doubt reception classes were so mean?
    Was it Mr O’Riley’s you worked in?

    • Mr O’Reilly’s it sure was. He was one lovely man. Did you know that when he retired and pulled down the shutters for the last time, there was a street party for him, hosted by all the other shop keepers. All the old- read long time- customers were invited. Ello was there.

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