Friday, June 24, 2011

1985: Whoever said that elephants were stronger than mules?

As previously mentioned, I stayed in my university town for most of the summer of '85. I moved into a house where four friends were already living, and we were set to have a high old time.

But you can't do that on fresh air, so we all had to get jobs. Someone became a barmaid, someone did some manual labour and two of us signed up with a temp agency to see where that would take us.

If only we'd known.

After doing a week sorting out B&Q's show warehouse with another student who was back in his home town for the summer and who spent every lunchtime eating chips in his Mini Metro while I wandered up and down an A road, I could barely go on.

There were only a few things to choose from: an abatoir (the smell so awful I can barely even think about it), the Mr Kipling cake factory which I sadly didn't ever get to, BBC South canteen (not nearly as glamorous as you'd think, if you think BBC South sounds in any way glamorous), clearing out old offices of junk and best of all, working in an insurance company.

Some days there would be no work, though if you didn't hotfoot it out of there right away the woman in charge might spot you and bundle you into her minibus and whisk you to the meat-packing plant.

Insurance was far more civilised. Me and my housemate must have done about a month there, though we both phoned in sick at least once a week because it was so boring and you know, we had stuff to be getting on with, like endless 21st birthday parties, not going with my housemate to Live Aid (she had a spare ticket given to her), because I'd never heard of it and looking forward to our bargain holiday in Corfu, which is another entry in itself.

I did do actual proper work though, kind of, and joined in the office bitching about head of department Margaret, a large woman with curly black hair and who never stopped talking. One day she arrived really late, and being a major stickler for punctuality everyone was ready to pounce as she'd not phoned in.

When she breathlessly arrived she apologised. She and her husband had matching red faux silk bomber jackets and she'd put his on by mistake and taken his keys to to the petting zoo he managed and he couldn't open up. So there was a mad dash back to Bishop's Waltham. That's all you need to know about her to form a picture.

Her second in command was Kelvin, a peroxide blond, mulleted school-to-work local who wore a light grey suit, light grey shiny soul slippers and white socks, who though initially frosty became fascinated with students, and used to pop round unannounced to have a look through my record collection and come to the pub.

And while all that was going on, this was on rotation, beloved by the household and turned up full volume to annoy the aged sisters next door who heard every sound and every word you said, though who were very kind when my bike was stolen.

Though the Around The World In A Day album isn't really a patch on the previous year's Purple Rain, it pricked something in me that made me really want to explore the music of the Sixties, so thanks Prince for opening that door to me. Paisley is very evocative. I was soon to become obsessed, even though it was Jeepster by T-Rex and She Sells Sanctuary by The Cult that were also played to death that summer. Now where did I put those love beads?


  1. Ooh, temping. We've all done it. My worst stint was operating a switchboard in a windowless basement room for a company that made roulette wheels near Liverpool Street. I lasted a day and a half. I also inadvertently caused the computer system at the Royal Bank of Kuwait to malfunction spectacularly, when I entered vast columns of the wrong figures over a 48 hour period right at the end of the financial year. But you could walk out the door at the end of the day without a care in the world.

  2. At a similar age I was cold-calling. Banging on doors of a tea-time to sell double glazing. Tenner a week basic, £20 for a contact and £30 for a sale - which were fortunes when you were still on pocket money finances. Of course we racked up a stack of fake contacts and sales then left after the cash came in. I've forgotten what the root of the 80s Paisley/Psych revival actually was - but it was everywhere, from The Banshees to Prince and XTC and The Damned doing secret bands