School holiday jobs remembered

Fifty years ago I got my first real job, a real step towards being an adult. Several more followed which I still remember.

Hounslow Coop

My first paid job was as a Saturday boy at the Hounslow (SW London) Coop department store. I was sent to work in the men’s shoe department, perhaps not the department I would have chosen if I’d been given a chance. But what a great first job. My boss, the inappropriately named Harold Sainsbury, was perhaps the finest boss I ever worked for. He’d served in the navy in WW2, lost a leg and afterwards found employment repairing shoes, then moving to retail.

Mr Sainsbury (never Harold!) set us juniors high standards – no dust, all shoes straight etc – and made it clear to us that he’d rather we sent a customer away empty-handed than sell them a pair of shoes that didn’t fit properly. The Coop held the local contract for welfare-assisted parents: they’d come in with a voucher asking us to supply a pair of school shoes. He stressed to us that such parents were to be treated no differently than anyone else, an injunction that shouldn’t have been necessary, but the previous warrant holder had lost the contract through treating such clients poorly. He looked after us staff too: on one occasion I used my teabreak to go to a local shop. When I returned rather breathless, he told me to go to the staff canteen and get my break. A really great place to work.

Dixons, Richmond

Being interested in photography, working in a camera shop appealed to me. So for one summer holiday I got a job at Dixons. Quite different to the Coop. The aim was to sell, with little regard to what was right for the customer. Discontinued and high profit items (e.g. own brand cameras from Macau) carried ‘spiff’ payments – sell one and you got (say) a five-shilling bonus. There was a strict dress code (I was told off for wearing a dark jacket and dark non-matching trousers rather than a suit) and on Thursdays we weren’t allowed to go to lunch until the delivery truck had come, 4.00p.m. one day! On this plus side I did enjoy handling all the camera equipment and the fact that I did know something about it didn’t go unnoticed. And I made good use of the staff discount. But after one summer holiday I had no desire to go back.

AA Teddington

Not so much a holiday job, rather filling time between leaving school after resitting A-levels in January and starting university in October. I worked in Revenue Analysis, one of team that handed all the payments coming in from shops and patrolmen. All done with the aid of a hand operated adding machine. Added challenges came from a lengthy postal strike and the introduction of decimal currency. This was a really happy place to work. Frank Hackman and Tony Fanning, both probably in their 50s, exercised a benevolent oversight of us young people (John, Graham, Jill, Pam I can still picture you) and I was sorry when it was time to leave. And working here paid for my first car!

Roskill Information Services

This was my first university summer holiday job. RIS did an annual survey of new homes – a small team recruited from my fellow students went round the country inspecting three houses a day. I sat in the Great College Street office opposite the Houses of Parliament checking their survey forms before passing them on to our data processing bureau. Building materials manufacturers, suppliers and other firms would buy the consolidated report. For a payment they could have their own questions added to the survey form (e.g. ‘what make is the CH thermostat?’). After this I continued to work for RIS during my university holidays compiling metal trade statistics. This was long before the internet so had to be done the hard way – I remember being sent to Westminster library one Christmas to note daily copper prices from the last year’s FT. It was freezing and I ventured to asked whether the windows could be closed. “No,” came the reply, “if we shut them, the vagrants will come in.” So I sat there all day wearing my coat!

The firm was founded and at that time run by Oliver Wentworth Roskill (1906-1994), the third of the four sons of John Roskill KC, all of whom achieved eminence. His two elder brothers were Sir Ashton Roskill QC, chairman of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, and Stephen Roskill, a distinguished naval historian. The youngest, Eustace, was a Law Lord who chaired the Roskill Commission on the third London airport. Quite extraordinary. Judith Chegwidden, my immediate boss, was then a young recruit and I was impressed to see that she stayed with the firm, becoming its MD.

That was the end of casual work – next chapter of my life, working for RB Kingston upon Thames.

View from my balcony

Victoria Harbour is 125!

Since 2008 I’ve lived in Melbourne Docklands, moving in July 2017 to an apartment looking over Victoria Harbour, formerly Victoria Dock. Just my sort of place.

It wasn’t always like this. Where I now live was once a marshy area to the north of a meandering Yarra river, then passable only by the smallest ships. The native Aboriginal occupants viewed this as a rich hunting ground, but not the colonists.

After the 1850s Gold Rush it was obvious to all that something must be done to facilitate maritime traffic. As often now, good intentions didn’t translate into early action. Finally in 1877 the Melbourne Harbor [sic] Trust was formed. One of its first actions was to appoint Sir John Coode, the leading harbour engineer of his day, to advise them. He came up with a twofold plan: widening and straightening the river, then constructing docks to the immediate west of the city centre and next to the railway.

Sir John Coode's plan

Sir John Coode’s plan

Work on the Coode Canal, as it was named, began in 1880 and it finally opened in 1886. Work on the dock (redesigned as one large basin) began in 1889 and in 1892 the massive excavation (three million cubic yards) was filled with water.

West Melbourne Dock under construction

West Melbourne Dock under construction 1892

Then on 20th February 1893 – 125 years ago – the West Melbourne Dock, as it was initially known, received its first visitor, the SS Hubbuck, newly arrived from London.

SS Hubbuck

SS Hubbuck, built 1886, scrapped 1926

By 1908, Victoria Dock, as it was now named, was handling ninety per cent of Victoria’s imports. To increase the dock’s capacity, Central Pier was added in 1916-17. By the 1950s Melbourne was able to boast that its port was the most mechanised in the Commonwealth. But containerisation was on its way and the new down-river Swanson Dock with its massive container cranes opened in the late 1960s.

View from my balcony across Victoria Harbour

View from my balcony across Victoria Harbour

By the 1990s Victoria Dock was all but disused and the whole area in decay. The building of Etihad Stadium (opened 2000) kickstarted the redevelopment of the area and Docklands is now home to thousands of people and the workplace of thousands more.

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Original uncut pictures (State Library of Victoria): Coode plan, dock under construction, SS Hubbuck

Queen Mary 2 at Port Melbourne Feb 2018

Two Queens and me

As I write this, the magnificent Cunard flagship RMS Queen Mary 2 is docked at Port Melbourne giving her 2,500+ passengers a chance to sample our wonderful city and surroundings. Her time as the world’s largest passenger ship was short (being overtaken by Freedom of the Seas in 2006), but she still has a special place in my heart.


Between 1957 and 1959 my father worked in the British Embassy in Mexico City – it was a good life in a fine embassy house, two native maids (with whom I could apparently communicate in native Spanish) and a driver. On the outward trip we crossed the Atlantic on the Cunard RMS Media, a 250-passenger/cargo ship, then on by train from New York.

On the Queen Mary with my sister, 1959

On the Queen Mary with my sister, 1959

Two years later dad’s contract was over. Back then there were no ‘family friendly’ policies so for the homeward trip the British government put him on a plane so as to get him back to work asap, leaving my mum to cope with two small children for the four day train trip to NYC, then a transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary.

This is a picture of me with my sister enjoying the crossing. Not so much fun for my mum though: with two small children and no husband to hand she had next no chance to enjoy the ship’s amenities. 1959 was notable as being the last year when more people crossed the Atlantic by sea than by air. By the mid 1960s the writing was on the wall and in 1967 the Queen Mary with withdrawn from service and sold to the city of Long Beach for use as a floating hotel and tourist attraction.


The end of the twentieth century saw cruise ships becoming more and more popular. In 1998 Carnival Corporation acquired Cunard with a view to re-establishing it as a premium brand. In 2000 they placed the order for what would become the  Queen Mary 2, a true ocean liner, not just a cruise ship. For several years she held the distinction of being the longest (1,132ft) and largest (148,528 GT) passenger ship ever built. The QM2 entered service in 2004.

Queen Mary 2 2004 shareholder tour brochure

Queen Mary 2 2004 shareholder tour brochure

At this time I was still living in the UK. My mother held a few shares in Carnival and received an invitation to visit the new ship and I was thrilled to be able to accompany her on a special shareholder open day at Southampton, 24 May 2004. The programme (cover above) is one of my treasured possessions.


By now I was living in Melbourne. I decided to turn my annual trip to visit family into the UK into a round-the-world trip, going on to the Sofftware Industry Conference in Dallas, followed by a stopover in LA so I could finally achieve one of my great ambitions, revisiting the Queen Mary. I booked a three night stay and in special requests put ‘returning passenger’. When I checked in, I was given a room upgrade!

Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

It was a wonderful experience, especially being able to explore parts of the ship that would have never been open to passengers during her revenue-earning days.


We get an ever-increasing number of cruise ships visiting Melbourne and I have taken many Sunday afternoon trips down to Port Melbourne (a short tram ride away) to see them sail out. I was thrilled when Queen Mary 2 made her first visit here in 2014. I was even more thrilled to see that her 2017 itinerary included a 4-night cruise from Melbourne to Kangaroo Island and back to Melbourne, both affordable and compatible with work. Needless to say, I booked immediately.

Queen Mary 2 at Port Melbourne Feb 2018

Queen Mary 2 at Port Melbourne Feb 2018

And even better, I got upgraded from a balcony cabin to a suite! At first I wondered why since I wasn’t a long-standing customer but I now think that it’s because they were short of single men.  Apart from the suite itself, this meant that I was now dining in the more exclusive Princes Grill restaurant. On my table of six my dining partner was a very pleasant retired woman …. from Twickenham, living not a mile from where I’d spent my first 50+ years! The cruise was a wonderful experience: the ship, the staff, the food and table companions who might have been chosen just for me.