Monday, October 11, 2010


Back at the very end of the 1970s, I was living in Cardiff, Wales's capital city. I'd gone there to do a postgrad course at the Sherman Theatre, met Stephen and stayed on whilst he finished his degree.

During that first year, I worked in a variety of temp jobs, which generally paid a pound an hour, or £44 a week. Barely an office in Cardiff escaped my attentions. I filed things and stuffed things in envelopes and wrote things in card index files. I turned up on time, kept my head down and got a lot of work - there WAS a lot of temp work in those days.

More interestingly, I was a canteen lady in a factory for a while (really enjoyed it), a tea-lady for a firm of architects (loved it), and the person who put the feet on televisions for the National Panasonic Factory (hated it with a great passion but stuck it for six weeks just to test my endurance).

And then, after six months or so, I saw an advert for a six-month job in H.M. Customs and Excise, and this paid a magnificent £49 a week, so I applied, and got it.

Two people were doing this job but after I'd been there a day or so they realised I could do it on my own so moved the other person somewhere else. I would like to think that this was down to my utter brilliance but I think it's more likely because of the previous two's utter stupidity.

And then, after a week of dealing with V.A.T. and filing things, the computer went on strike. Well, the people who worked it did, anyway.

So suddenly, there was nothing for me to do, so I read all the books on the list for my teacher-training course the next year, which turned out to be a big help, I must say.

And the people there were lovely. I remember Julie, who was about my age, and Bob who was a retired policeman, in particular. We had a never-ending card game that we played every break (and I use the word "break" cautiously here, because there was so little work to do what with the computer being on strike that it was a bit hard to work out where the break finished and the work began).

During the long, hot summer afternoons, it would become someone's job to go and buy the ice-creams and it was a war of nerves as to who did it. Finally someone would weaken, stand up and sing "Oliver's Army is here today - - - " and it would become their job. Why? I don't know now but I don't think I did then either. It was just what we did.

I'd always remembered this job with affection - - well, I say "job" because the computer never did stop being on strike - for all I know, it's still on strike - and so I just sat around reading books about The Teaching of English and Drama until my contract was up.

I'd thought about it from time to time - - - and then, this evening, I looked at a map of Cardiff, because I'm going there soon to see one of our actors in a play. And immediately I remembered where the building was, and quickly found the name. Portcullis House, near Cardiff Castle.

I haven't thought of that name for - well - nearly thirty years. And immediately I was plunged right back there. Portcullis House. Suddenly, more and more memories of the place are flooding back. Where have they been for the past thirty years? Portcullis House, Cowbridge Road, Cardiff. So THAT's what it was like to be twenty-one. Wow.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy days - when work was so much more mundane... and the summers were good and hot (well, 1976 anyway)

7:41 pm  

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