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.


AnneDroid said...

I'm sad about Woolworths too. Which is irrational since it's years since I shopped in it. Perhaps it's a bit like those who are upset if a church closes, even though they never attended!

Holy Famoley said...

I know what you mean, Anne. I did shop there and the thing I will particularly miss it for is for buying presents for kids' birthdays. It was local and just about perfect for when the kids used to spring party invites on me. The thing is, our local town is beginning to look a bit like a ghost town.

jonbirch said...

are you on the far right, second from top?
woolies... literally 90 seconds from my door... now lies empty... very sad.
not only has woolies been useful, it is also so loaded with memories from childhood. pic'n'mix... action man... also it's where i got lost and made my own way to the police station to hand myself in at the age of 4. :-)
woolies, you'll be missed.

Holy Famoley said...

Nah, Jon, you go home with nothing!

1981 - See John Moores at the front? There is a tall chap behind him and I am the shy looking thing behind that bloke (to the right) with the side part and the white ties/collar on my dress.

1982 - Fourth row back and fourth in from the right. Eyes closed with a what looks like a bit of a scouse perm thing going on! Just behind the dark skinned bloke with the 'tache.

jonbirch said...

not wrong about the scouse perm!
i had one too, just a few years earlier... looking back, i see no excuse for my behaviour! :-)
now you've pointed you out i can easily see that you is you. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hey Carole
Just wanted to say hi as I just noticed the link to your blog from Sanctuary :)
Dadube xx

Holy Famoley said...

Hi Dadube, thanks for visiting! :)