Archive for February 19th, 2011

….and that is how I started my career.  I read post a few days ago by a young lass who was wondering what work life must have been like before the advent of the internet…..I left a comment and that got me to thinking!!  How things have changed and what it was like when I started my first job in 1972!! Yeah believe it or not, I was not only alive in that far back time (aeons ago) but I was actually of an age to go out and get a job!

I recall my very unauspicious start in my ‘career’ aka ‘a job’ in those days. Only Doctors, Directors and such like had a ‘career’. I had left school the year before and initially got a job in a supermarket, but my mother was determined that I would get an office job despite that I wanted to work as a nursery school teacher (love babies), so she sent me off to college to learn shorthand and typing.  Guuuggg!!! I was hopeless at shorthand and despite having passed my typing exams at school I could only type with two fingers! hahaha. useless.  Anyhow after a couple of weeks of sheer misery I quit college and told my mother I was not going back.   She conceded defeat and advised me to get out and get a job.  I spent a couple of weeks traipsing round Johannesburg, (South Africa) dejectedly looking for work of any kind….so long as I earned some money.

After a few weeks of rejection and dejection and no job, my mother got fed-up and to my parting back one day said these immortal words “Don’t come home till you have a job!”.   What???   Boy, did that galvanise me.  I shot off into town and once again walked the streets knocking on doors and almost pleading for someone to hire me! 🙂  Boy, if I could go back to that girl, I would give her a hearty slap! Silly girl. Anyways……….. I walked and walked and walked from place to place, but I either did not have enough experience (no sh*t; I just left school yesterday!!!) or the right skills or whatever….perhaps I just went to the wrong companies.

Finally on that awful day, at about 2pm I got back on the train and decided to try closer to home which in those days was a town called Germiston! yuck what a horrible name. Anyhow, once again I knocked on doors… to no avail.  At just before 4pm on impulse I walked through the doors of a building society called S A Permanent (hopefully not!).   So I sat in the reception area looking totally bereft, knowing my time was running out and wondering where I was going to sleep that night (my mother was not to be messed with and I had taken her words seriously).

A gentleman by the name of Mr Cunningham (bless you dear, you saved my life) came through to reception and showed me through to his office.  I sat there terrified and waiting for his words of rejection…..when sure enough he said ‘Sorry but we are not hiring at the moment!’….that was it…..I burst into tears and sobbed and sobbed, unable to even speak and tell him why I was crying.  After lots of tissues and a cup of tea I calmed down enough to tell him my sad story.   I started work the next day!

A typist who could only type with two fingers, I made so many mistakes that eventually they gave me other work to do!  The head of the department, a real dragon of a woman who terrified the daylights out of me, was SO! not impressed with the Boss.  She had me transferred to another department as soon as she could and was pleased to see the back of me.  🙂

In those days we had typewriters that clanged and pinged when you reached the end of a row,

typewriters circa 1972

the type of typewriter I had when I first started work

had a handle that you pulled to move the carriage back to start, with keys that clattered and banged, got stuck together and hashed things up, carbon paper that if you used it too often wore out, black & red typewriter ribbon that ran out right in the middle of a long letter and you ended up with red ink all over the paper and had to start again. We eventually evolved to ‘golf-ball’ keys!

golf-ball keys.. pic via sciencephoto.com

ibm selectric typewriter ribbon

IBM Selectric typewriter ribbon..pic via ecw.com

This pic shows the ribbon in a cartridge, but in the early days they were two loose metal bobbins with the ribbon wound round that had to be inserted into the machine!! More often than not the ribbon would get tangled and you had to practically take the whole machine apart to sort it out. Then we progressed to something a little more compact and fancier but didn’t make any difference to my typing!

ibm selectric typewriter

progress............IBM Selectric pic via brandflakesforbreakfast.com

It’s been kinda weird thinking of that again, coz in those days we greeted the Boss as ‘Sir’ as in ‘Goodmorning Sir’ with a little dip of the head, the Typing pool’s dragon was addressed as Miss (& her surname) or Ma’am, there was no such thing as flexi-time, you did not dare be late or you had the time deducted from your month end salary, which was pathetic to start with – in today’s currency it would equate to £7.50 or R75.00 PER MONTH!!!! not per day or per hour, but per month! hahahaha. Doesn’t pay for more than 2 cuppachino’s and a cupcake today! And then my mother took 50% for Board and Lodging! I hardly had enough left to pay for busfare and had to fix ladders (holes) in my stockings with nail varnish!

When you went for an interview you did not tell the interviewer that you were thinking of getting married, because as the man put it: “I don’t want to waste money on training a woman who is going to go off and get married and have babies” – talk about sexual discrimination! I could sue him today! We were also required to dress in very smart suits, no trainers, jeans, t-shirts or cropped tops and you never ever EVER went to work with coloured hair, dangly earrings, bright nailpolish or swanky jewellery.  I got sent home one day for coming to work in trousers! no kidding.  I was told that I was a woman and as such should wear a dress or skirt.  You were NEVER allowed to use the phone for private use and forbidden to accept personal calls. And of course in those days we did not have mobile/cell phones! You had a lunch break from 1pm-2pm and did not dare come back late!

I eventually moved onto another position in another company and expanded my skills by learning how to do filing, be a receptionist and answer a switchboard that had plugs and cords and you answered in a bright chirpy voice, yes Sir, no Sir 3 bags full Sir, I also learned how to open the mail and sort it into important and not so important (lord knows why they thought I had enough brain in those days to know the difference), and type letters without too many mistakes.  I was also saved by the advent of ‘Tippex’ “every secretary’s life-saver!”


every secretary's life-saver! pic via freeimages.co.uk

I learned how to file from A-Z, and how to prepare an invoice, which stood me in good stead for my next job which was as a Girl-Friday.  This was the job I loved the most.  I learned how to prepare wages and invoices and statements….whoo hoo!!! Going UP!!! hahahaha.

Everything was written by hand and I took great pride in sending out invoices that were pristine and month end statements that were beautifully hand-written and 100% accurate.  I was in my element. This is still something that thrills me today and even though I no longer work in an office, I now prepare my own spread-sheets and reconcile my bank statements to the penny, albeit on my computer.  There was (still is) something beautiful about a row of figures that marched in neat rows down the page, all hand-written with no crossing out (errors).  I took great pride in being able to present my Boss with a beautiful set of ledgers and accounts at the end of the month.

And then we got a computer!  That was in 1975! Blimey!  We converted to this new fangled system and to my absolute pride the Computer guy said that we were the first company that had made such a smooth transition with no errors.  And that was the end of handwritten invoices and statements 😦   Although I loved learning to process the accounts via a computer, I missed being able to write them up. Of course it also meant that letters could now be processed on a ‘word-processor’

micro-computer/wordprocessor - pic via 80sactual.com

and that was an unadulterated joy!!!! No more tippex, no more wasted paper, no more carbon that left blue ink on your fingers, no more black/red ribbons to be changed…..and yet I missed the ‘ping’ of the carriage reaching the end of the row, the clack-clack of the keys against the roll and the satisfaction of typing a letter from beginning to end with no mistakes!!! No challenge anymore! I also had to go on a 6 week course to learn how to use it! 🙂

wikipedia’s description of tippex – which pretty much says it all!! 🙂

“The first product was an innovative correction paper for use with typewriters. The name “Tipp-Ex” given both to the company and the product was based on the use of this product — “Tipp” is the German word for “type”, and “ex” is Latin for “no more”.

As a result of the invention of Tipp-Ex, it became possible to erase a typographical error typed with a typewriter. The typewriter would be backspaced to the letter that was to be changed, the correction paper would be placed in front of the ribbon, and the mistyped letter would be re-typed. The system only worked if the typewriter repositioned the re-typed letter in exactly the same place as originally typed, which could be problematic if returning to a previous line. (Ha! no kidding!!)

In 1965, Tipp-Ex launched a correction fluid and quickly developed a full range of correction fluids for different uses. Sold in more than 150 countries, Tipp-Ex became a unique European brand.”

Bear in mind that South Africa was always as least 10 years behind in getting anything that was launched in Europe.  I also recall that when it was first launched in South Africa, we were forbidden to use it by the Boss!  I even recall that as late as 1993 when I was working at a Courier company; XPS in Isando, we got a new accounts manager who in his first week with the company, went through all the accounts ladies desk drawers and threw out the tippex!! FORBIDDEN! hahahaha. How funny.

And that is how my office ‘career’ started. I am sure there are plenty more things I could write about from those early days, but I think this is long enough and I am sure you got the gist of it!

All I can say in conclusion is………HOORAY!!!! for the internet. I love it and I am addicted to google. you can find out anything at all that you need or want to know.

Long live the internet!

and in closing, a quote from twitter – On the keyboard of life, always keep one finger on the escape key – anon

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