Over the last couple of years I’ve been back to [the] Wirral many times. So I’ve been able to take little trips down Memory Lane. Last week, while walking from Moreton Rail Station, I took a back route to avoid a busy roundabout, and came across a building I hadn’t seen for over 40 years.
As students, we all needed to earn a few bob during the vacations. One of the better paid and cushier Christmas jobs was working as a temporary postman. If you applied in good time you would almost certainly get taken on.
You just turned up at Moreton sorting office on the day with your letter of appointment and got allocated a round. I arrived with my mates “Big” Clive Williams and Chris “Axe Man” Stevenson. Our plan was to saunter along the streets delivering our sackful of letters and cards then slope off to Chris’s house, where we would put our feet up and listen to Tapestry, Aqualung and The Who Live at Leeds during our extended lunch break. After which, a stroll back to the Sorting Office for the afternoon delivery. As I say, that was the plan, and indeed that is what my two friends did for a week.
But… when I arrived at the Sorting Office I was paired with a privateer called Harry who had his own van. It was his job to drive around Moreton all day, whereas mine, it seemed, was to actually deliver the parcels. We headed out to the Pasture Estate in his Bedford at 8:30am. I sat on the freezing bare floor in the back of the van, hanging on to the side to avoid being bashed about. When we got to Curlew Way I jumped out, delivered my first parcel and climbed back in. You had to be nimble to dodge the packs of feral dogs when delivering a terkey. And you couldn’t just leave the box on the doorstep; it would have been torn to shreds, like a baby gnu. This routine repeated itself with minor variations until about 1pm, when we stopped for a pie and a pint. After half an hour or so, it was back in the van.
Harry had a couple of little jobs on the side. He collected remoulds from a garage in Wallasey; he also delivered parcels for Littlewoods, while charging his time to Royal Mail. We returned to the Sorting Office at 7:30pm. My friends were long gone. It was the hardest physical work I ever did in my life.
Which is, admittedly, not saying a lot
On Christmas Eve, finally released from government service, I left home with a one-pound note, sufficient to purchase the quantity of 3.5% alcohol “Heineken” I planned to consume. I caught up with Chris at the Eagle and Crown in Upton. He had the misfortune to be born on Christmas Day (hence, I suppose, Chris), and would celebrate by drinking vodka and lime (why, oh why?) out of a half-pint mug. Everyone bought a vodka and lime and poured it into his ever-greedy glass. He sipped away all night and people kept topping it up.
By closing time he was, inevitably, “the worse for wear”, and we had to carry him back to Moreton – no mean feat. He was so bad that we had to take him to his friend Carole’s house until he’d sobered up a bit. After an hour of drinking strong and bitter Nescafé we carried him, still nursing a bucket, back to his unamused parents in Upton Road.
I returned to Moreton Sorting Office the following year
Guess what? My old chum Harry was back again, with his van. He spotted me before I could hide behind Big Clive; my dedication to duty must have impressed him. It was more of the same.
The year after that I’d had enough, and managed to land a bar job at The Ship in Hoylake. People were generous with their tips at Christmas and it was safer than being on the Pasture Estate after dark.
What did these holiday jobs teach me?
In the case of the Royal Mail, nothing at all, as far as I can see. The bar job was more interesting. I discovered that I enjoyed serving people.
For a few months I worked in a shop in Central Liverpool called Tape. The shop at 54 Whitechapel still exists, although today it’s a newsagent’s.
I got quite good at selling cassettes, radios, headphones etc. On one occasion a sailor came in and said he couldn’t get his cassette recorder to record. I explained that you had to press down the record key at the same time as the play key. He gave me a £3 tip (more than a day’s earnings)! The only problem with the job was the terrible pay, and the long hours, and the daily return journey from Upton. Quite a few problems, in fact.
After that I worked in a bank. Which taught me that I really didn’t want to work in a bank.
But it takes all sorts
Through Stephen Anderton, a gardener friend, I once obtained a summer job as a gardener in Chelsea, of all places. Steve worked for Cadogan Estates and got me in as a garden labourer: a job for which I was exceptionally poorly suited. But it was at least outdoors, and I got to live in a “tied cottage” behind Peter Jones in Sloane Square, free of charge, for a month. That was a good one for the CV.
Anyway, they seemed to like me even if I was useless, because they invited me back for Christmas dinner. The Dickensian figure of Kenwyn Pearson, head gardener, is shown here presiding over the carving of the terkey.