Monday, January 12, 2009

The Woolies Lament.

In the last week we have seen the demise of one of those great high street shops, Woolworth. In the past few months we have seen the deaths of two wonderful women from our parish church community. I was lucky to have been able to attend the requiem masses of both women to pay my last respects to them. It always amazes me how you can learn so much about people from their eulogy. I ask myself why I didn't know these things when they were alive and they could have told me themselves. So it is with the passing of Woolworth. I discovered that the first UK branch of Woolworth was on Church Street in Liverpool. This is important, why did I not know this? I have never known a shop mourned so sincerely by a nation as Woolies. I suspect that the passing of this chainstore stands as a symbol of something much bigger, the passing of a way of life.

My first job, a Saturday job between the ages of 14 and 16, was at Woolworths. Education was simpler then - most people did O levels or CSEs. The academics stayed on for A levels and possibly (though not exclusively) university. It was accepted that for some jobs, no qualifications were needed, some required a handful of O levels/CSEs, some required A levels and others required a degree/diploma. There was a role for everyone. Probably the majority got a full time job at 16 and those for whom the education system hadn't worked were enrolled on a YOP scheme, ie an opportunity to gain some work experience whilst obtaining a modest sum of money from the Government. Important to note that the YOP scheme and its successors were heavily critiqued at the time but I wonder if we really have anything better now. I remember sitting down and writing half a dozen letters, on spec, to Personnel Departments (HR) of local organisations that were 'good companies to work for' on the advice of my mum and dad. Littlewoods (mail order and pools), the Gas Board, Royal Insurance, Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and United Biscuits. Within the week, I had replies from all, most promising to keep my name on file but one invitation to interview at the Royal Insurance, where I got my first full time job.

I loved my time at the Royal Insurance. We worked in a modern building in the business end of Liverpool and we were well looked after. There was a profit-sharing scheme, cheap company mortgages after a period of eligibility and a lively sports and social dimension. We had a fab staff restaurant with good quality subsidised meals and panoramic views of the Mersey, to boot (I reckon views would be lost now, thanks to the level of building which is slowly destroying the Liverpool skyline.) We could get free flu jabs each year from our fully equipped medical suite. We even had an onsite gym overlooked by the staff bar...yes, the staff bar, open each evening with subsidised booze. But then this is before the days of binge drinking. Oh, did I forget to mention flexitime?

I may have been mad, but I took the trip across the road to Littlewoods after a year as the money was better. I spent 12 years at Littlewoods until after the 'old man' had died and 'the family' seemed more interested in carving up the inheritance than looking after the least that is how it seemed at the time. The old man in question was Sir John Moores, or Mr John as he was known by his extended family of employees. Even into his dotage, he would come into the office each day, latterly in his wheelchair with the aid of his assistant. I am convinced that 'young Mr Grace' of Are you Being Served? was based on him.

Littlewoods paid for me to do a Business Studies qualification on day release. This wasn't so unusual back then. Nowadays, the Government is so busy sucking up to big business that the education system has been all but ruined in the bid to provide skills that industry needs. Back in my day, industry and business were investors in people and put their hands in their pockets to equip workers with the necessary skills to succeed in their work. Even the much applauded 'modern apprenticeship' schemes are a shadow of the real, 4-year apprenticeships which we used to have.

Aye, the times they are a changin'

Those who know me, see if you can spot me on these museum exhibits! Just click on the photo to see a bigger version.

Littlewoods Further Education Awards 1981

Littlewoods Further Education Awards 1982

Huge thanks to my good mate Jon Birch for his Woolies cartoon at the top of the post.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Happy 2009!

Blimey, its been ages since my last post. I suppose I've been waiting for something to happen but very little has happened in the last few months which is worth recording. More than anything, I'm waiting for a job. I have been working as a supply teacher since September. This has been an interesting experience. I find I am often greeted by children saying, "Are you our supply teacher?" to which I respond in the affirmative. This provokes a response, "Yisss!!" Now I would like to think this means they are looking forward to some interesting and stimulating educational activities. In reality, it means they are looking forward to high jinks with someone they probably will never see again after today. I would never have believed that children so young could be so devious. As a supply you never have the chance to develop that all important relationship with the children which enables you to develop strategies for dealing with poor behaviour. I have, however, had some delightful classes, often in schools serving areas of significant social deprivation. I have found that a strong, slightly scary head generally means well-behaved classes.

A good benefit of doing supply is that you get a chance to visit lots of schools and see which ones you would like to work in. You also get lots of ideas which you can incorporate into your own class when (if) you get it. You also see lots of things NOT to include in your own class. The worst idea so far, is not having afternoon break (I don't have a problem with no afternoon break if it means finishing 15 mins earlier) but instead having 'tuck' in the middle of the afternoon. I cannot fathom the wisdom of allowing the children to fill themselves with apparently unlimited e-numbers in the middle of lessons. Surely this just encourages spending the last hour bouncing off the walls! I can't see me going back to that particular school.

The only other thing to report from the end of 2008 is the arrival of Cleo. She is about 8 months old and is a rescue cat who came to live with us about two months ago. She is very sweet but rather mischievous. Not sure she loves me as much as she could, but that is because I am the only one in the house to impose any boundaries.

Desires for 2009? At the moment, I want more than anything to find a job, preferably a permanent post but in all likelihood a maternity leave cover to start my induction year. I crave my own class. That said, I am considering taking any job, even one outside of teaching, just to keep the wolf from the door. The credit crunch is likely to be tough for us, since his Lordship is in Sales and his wages are largely commission-based. I really need to pull my weight a bit more. My other desire is to get to 2010 relatively unscathed by the financial crisis.