And so the journey began.
I arrived half an hour early for the course. I had no idea what to expect. But I convinced myself this was only temporary, just until the meat trade picked up and then I’d be back down Smithfield and earning shed loads of money once again.
But for now I was going to learn how to play shops! I mean, really, how hard could it be?
Sixteen of us turned up for the course. We were introduced to “Kevin”, he was our tutor. He told us the house rules.
“You must be here for 08.42, we have a quick coffee and then start promptly at 09.00. We work through till 12.30 and then have an hour for lunch. At 1.30 we start the second session and go through till we finish at 4.12. Oh and of course we have two COMFORT breaks during the day. One at 11.00 and one at 3.00.”
This was all Chinese to me. I’d never worked to “times” before. In the Butchers shop I started at 7.00am and only stopped when we got a bit quiet for a quick cup of tea or a ham sandwich. It was the same at Smithfield, we started in the early hours of the morning and kept going till we finished. There were no “lunch hours” or set times for a cup of tea, you just grabbed a cup when you could. It seemed to me that half the day was taken up with cups of coffee and lunch breaks. I didn’t care of course, I was being paid so what the hell.
We were sitting at desks that were laid out in the shape of a horseshoe. Kevin opened a large box and gave each of us a book. It was twice the thickness of an old Argos catalogue. Massive!
It was red in colour and had the words “The Complete Guide to Post Office Services.” Written in gold lettering.
“This book will become your bible. By the end of your thirteen weeks training you’ll be able to sell all eleven hundred services that we provide.”
There was a stunned silence. Most people were worried about the huge amount of products. Me? I was still wondering what the fuck a comfort break was and what the hell did 4.12 mean?
The morning continued with Kevin telling us just how important the Postal Officers role was and how over the next thirteen weeks we would all learn the skills necessary to carry out this essential service. I almost laughed out loud.
At 12.28 Kevin told us all to go for lunch. The Regional Post Office headquarters (RHQ) was just around the corner in Old Street. If we showed our new ID passes we could use all the facilities there which included a subsidised restaurant. It just kept getting better!
Remember, this is 1980. We weren’t so “PC” back then, so as we queued up for our food I noticed small bottles of wine and cans of beer on the shelves. Not only were we going to get lunch but we could get beer and wine to go with it as well. And, all a ridiculously low price. If this was what “normal” people did, why had I been doing all that skulduggery for years with Roy?
During lunch I started chatting to a guy called Mark. He was in a similar situation to me. He’d been made redundant from a local paint factory and had been persuaded by his Uncle to try his luck with the Post Office.
After we’d finished our hearty lunch washed down with two cans of beer each we decided to have a wander around the building. A crowd of middle aged men in suits were laughing and joking and were walking towards a room at the end of a long corridor. We followed. We entered all together. I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was a bar!
Not only that, it was a fucking big bar. People were drinking and smoking, laughing and chatting. Just like a normal pub. We weren’t sure if we should be in there or not but went up to the bar anyway and ordered two pints of lager. We were served and it cost next to nothing. This was my kind of place. Then I heard two of the guys say something about a game of snooker as they walked out. Surely not. Not snooker tables as well. There were. Four full sized ones and only two of them being used. We had a game and then left for part two of the day. Slightly pissed.
Luckily the afternoon was all about listening and not doing. At one point I looked over at Mark and saw he had his eyes shut. I gave him a nudge.
At four o’clock we were all given an A4 piece of paper. At the top in big bold letters were the words Subsistence and Allowance Form. Kevin held his up above his head.
“As this is a training course the Post office will pay for your train fares each day, just keep your tickets and attached them to this form. Hand them in to me at the end of the week. Oh and you each have a lunch allowance of £3.48 per day so that will be reimbursed at the same time.”
I could not believe what I was hearing. They were going to PAY me to get to and from work and pay for my subsided lunch as well. Surely there were no more surprises. But there was…
Kevin looked up at the clock on the wall and proclaimed that day one was over. It was EXACTLY twelve minutes past four!