14th July 2019.
I got to about 13 or 14 and there was talk of me getting a Saturday job. My sister Lorraine who was (and still is) a year and a half older than me knew some of the boys who worked on one of the fruit and veg stalls on the market which was in the middle of the road by the Clock Tower on a Saturday.
I was used to going to the stalls either with my Mum or later on my own to fetch the shopping. In fact I remember a small, but to me momentous happening at the fruit stall: a Mum told her little girl to mind out and not get in the way of the man … meaning me. It was the first time anyone had referred to me not as a boy. I thought: ‘That’s a funny mistake to make’ and it was only much later I realised that maybe I wasn’t safely in the realm of being a ‘boy’ any more.
The market boys were cheeky and sometimes sexy. They knew how to joke and flirt with the ‘ladies’ who were doing their weekly shops. They had a confidence about them that belonged to a different species than I felt myself to belong to. And it was like they’d learned this script! This set of stock movements and phrases that they weren’t embarrassed to take on as their own. I saw boys my own age, just that bit younger than the market lads, beginning to act like they were impersonating their dads and older brothers and I thought it was really weird - like they pretending to be someone else. It wasn’t something I was about to do. I heard them using phrases that they’d heard ‘men’ using as if they were their own, as if they understood what they meant, had had the experiences that lay behind the words, which I knew they hadn’t. I don’t know if they were aware of the bad fit and they were just brazening it out until such a time as their experience matched their words, or if they’d just never even noticed they were faking it.
I was shy when the market boys included me in their banter, either as a little boy with his Mum, or as I got older, as perhaps another male who ‘got' their point of view in the way that a girl or woman wouldn’t. I didn't feel right being included in their world. I might have fancied some of them, but I didn’t want to be included as if I was one of them, it felt dishonest, not from any kind of snobbery, like I thought I was better than them, or even the other way round, that I felt I was lesser than they were, but just I wasn’t the same and it felt wrong to pretend I was.
One time one of the market boys winked at me at said’ You look happy. Someone must have got his leg over last night’ and then had a good laugh at his own joke. He wasn’t one of the ones I fancied, so I didn’t get the little shiver of pleasure at his attention that I might have done if another of the lads had said that to me. Instead I was just baffled. I must have been about 10. I didn’t even know what ‘getting my leg over’ meant. I guessed it must have been something adult that I didn’t understand. The way he said it was conspiratorial, like it was something only us fellers would know about. I felt like I was being both included and laughed at at the same time. That’s probably about the sum of it. Perhaps that’s what initiation into being one of the lads was like.
I think Mum suggested a Saturday job could be for me to work on the market. Lorraine knew Brain Tolson and maybe he could put in a good word. I was terrified: terrified that she would ask and even more terrified that I would have to work alongside those older boys and men. I didn’t say much about the idea - I didn’t oppose it, but I kept pretty quiet about it, hopping the whole things would go away.
Either it did just go away or there wasn’t a job available, I can't remember now. Or maybe it was that my other sister Maria was working during the holidays and weekends at the Cricketers pub and a job came up ‘bottling up’ at the pub a few days a week before school and at the weekends. This suited me a lot more as I basically got to work on my own under the direction of Joan and Wally the landlords. Even though I had always been notoriously late for school I managed to get up early enough and earn my bit of pocket money before classes started.
Later when I was old enough to work legally (I guess the Cricketers job had technically been illegal because I wasn’t old enough to have a part-time job) I got a job at International Superstores in the Upper High St., where my sisters Lorraine, Maria and Eileen had all worked before me. Friday evenings after school, Saturdays, the odd Sunday for stock-taking and sometimes during the week in the school holidays. Some of the roles were strictly gender separated, like boys never got to work on the checkouts unless it was the till at off sales. I did my time shelf-stacking and then the produce manager Mr. Gerard took a shine to me and I got promoted to working on the fruit and veg. On Saturdays he went home at lunchtime and I got to be produce manager. Mr. Gerard was creepy. I think there was a thing amongst the girls not to get caught alone with him, but I was also nervous being around him when we were in the produce section of the warehouse together. He never did anything, but I always felt creeped out.
I lasted a couple of years at Internationals. The manager Mr. Glennam could be a bit of an arsehole to the Saturday staff and one day he laid into my friend Gavin for his presentation. He was really aggressive to him and I told him not to be so rude. The argument was over an overall and I got so infuriated I took mine off and handed it to him, saying: ‘If you’re so worked up about an overall you can have mine … I’m leaving’ and walked out of the store.