Babysitting was obviously not going to be a career, so I needed to think again.
After the exams I was finally free. Living at home with my mother and stepfather in South Kensington but still needing cash. So I went to work. I joined an agency and was sent out to the Folio Society. Somewhere in the city. I love books so I thought it would be marvellous. I arrived to be greeted by a half a dozen office girls who looked me up and down and then obviously thought me useless because they never spoke to me after that initial hallo. I was set to work filing, not difficult in itself, but I found it horrendous. Everything was in wooden boxes which needed to be hauled from area to area. After three days my back was breaking and I had to stop.
So then I was sent to a vending machine agency in the Charing Cross Road. This was much better. I sat at a desk and did filing. Again hardly anyone talked to me, but this was because we were all working. The man who ran the place was pleasant enough – but so much enthusiasm for vending machines I couldn’t quite share! In fact had a lot of free time so I could practise the speedwriting I was learning and then in my lunchtimes I would go to the National Portrait Gallery and look at the pictures while eating my lunch that in those days consisted of a bar of chocolate. Couldn’t do that now.
That little job lasted a week. Finally I was sent to an advertising agency which made me grow up very fast indeed.
I was made to make about thirty or forty telephone calls a day to various companies and try to wheedle as much information as possible out of them without giving away any idea why. The most important thing was to discover the names of the company directors, I seem to remember. Pre-internet days, this sort of information was nowhere to be found, I suppose.
I found it excruciating, at first. But Mr Yeo, the manager or owner, I think, was extremely encouraging and friendly so In time I got used to hearing myself speak on the phone, and normally I was very successful in extracting the necessary information. I do remember though that there was one firm who would give nothing away. That was Rolls Royce. They were very cagey and questioning.
When I had finished the task – it took about a fortnight – the nature of the whole marketing exercise was explained to me. But of course as I didn’t know why I was asking I could give nothing away.
The last place the agency sent me to was for a job in a post room of an educational agency. I had no skills, but they thought I should be able to manage. I arrived in Sackville Street, Piccadilly, very excited to be in this part of town. I walked in, introduced myself and was taken to see Mrs Harris in the post room. Was she really called that or was she just a harridan? I have no idea. She took one look at me and said she won’t do. I must have looked devastated, because the director who had taken me down immediately took me into his office – and offered me another job. Years later he told me it was on the strength of my smile – I still had no skills! So, Gabbitas Thring Educational Trust became my work related home for the next few years.