Stepping into the Adult World

‘The proportion of teenagers working in Saturday jobs has almost halved in the past 20 years as staffing tills, stacking shelves and delivering newspapers have gone out of fashion and people have turned online to earn cash.’ [Guardian newspaper 04/01/2020]

I must have been around ten years of age when I first went out to earn some money for myself. We lived in rural Norfolk, in East Anglia, where agriculture was all there was; vast, flat fields of crops without breaks for trees or hills. A landscape such as this shapes the lives and personalities of those who inhabit it. I’d cycle to a field where a harvest was taking place, grab a sack and pick beans, peas or potatoes, getting paid by the sack. There were no qualms about employment rules-anyone could do it. I’d cycle home clutching my half-crown [25 pence in today’s money] and feel elated.

Later, our family having relocated to Kent, I was able to get a Saturday job as a shop assistant in a toy store where a school friend worked. There were three or four of we schoolgirls helping out in the tiny shop, which was crammed from floor to ceiling with every kind of toy and had an old-fashioned counter and till. Pre-decimalisation meant that money was still pounds, shillings and pence, calculations being totted up on a paper pad with a pencil. When a customer came in to buy about 100 tiny items the store owner, Mr Cue [not the jocular character you might associate with owning a toy shop] hovered nervously over my lengthy addition of £SD like a broody hen.

It was all going swimmingly, not least due to the fact that we earned several shillings more than the Woolworths girls and that during the lunch hour when the store was shut, Susan Fort and I frittered away our time on the shop floor winding up the clockwork toys and setting them off. Sadly, Susan and I were bad news for our employer, falling about giggling and gesturing at each behind the customers’ backs, resulting in our combined sacking. It was a lesson learned.

Offspring 1 and 2 both acquired weekend jobs in supermarkets once I’d established that the weekly allowance pot was finite. Any initial reluctance was soon quashed by the euphoria of receipt of wages-a feeling I’d experienced as a 10 year old in the fields of the fenlands. By this time both had gone along with their educational establishments’ lip service to employment in the for of ‘work experience’, an initiative as far removed from the realities of real work as watching ‘The Apprentice’ on TV.

So what do today’s teenagers do for an income? Wealthy parents presumably subsidise them-since all appear to own any number of devices and pairs of trainers. And of course, the range of opportunities for casual work is not what it was, with High Street shops disappearing almost in front of our eyes and newspapers on the wane. Who has a newspaper delivered these days? Some, according to the Guardian article are enterprising enough to make money from the internet, which is impressive.

But going out to do part-time work was a great experience, I think, for young people and a right of passage into the adult world.