Retail therapy

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Just a month after my motorway madness I met my future wife. She was from the right side of the tracks and perhaps it was her influence that made me seek less physical jobs.

Firstly and while still at school, I found work as a drone stacking shelves at a Fine Fare store on Zetland Road, halfway between our two houses. All I clearly recall of that job was stacking packs of eggs on a Friday evening in November 1963 as customers arrived to tell us the shocking news of John F Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas.

Aftermath of JFK shooting

Jane’s first Saturday job was in a hairdressing salon. This was only short term but after joining them she practised on me and the habit formed. In 55+ years I have only once had my hair cut by someone else. This must have saved an absolute fortune. However, more recently I am becoming less sure of her skills. She seems to cut it a little too short in a patch on the top – that’s my excuse anyway!

Broadmead shopping area, Bristol

I soon traded up to work wearing a suit, on a Saturday in Saxone men’s shoe shop in Bristol’s central shopping area of Broadmead. Jane was working just around the corner at Norvic Footfitters selling children’s shoes.

This job continued my dodgy education. If someone tried a shoe and found it too tight in one spot, we would offer to ease it on our machine out the back. This was in fact the rounded end of a broomstick that we forced against the leather – I remember only one occasion when one of the sales-staff pressed too hard and the broom separated the upper from the sole. In most other cases the ‘machine’ helped us sell the shoes.

One of our best sellers was a pair of black patent leather shoes. This was the era when sartorial elegance, certainly from my side of the city, was considered to be a Burton fifty-shilling (£2.50) suit and a pair of our shoes at £2. With these you were the bee’s knees (we did not yet reference dog’s appendages).

The rumour was that in the reflection of patent leather shoes you could look up your dance partner’s skirt. This might conceivably have been true in the 1950s with flared skirts and jiving but by the early ‘60s hemlines were rising fast and very little was left to our imagination – or reflection.  While I was working at the shoe shop, Hush Puppies were introduced into the range as an alternative lifestyle choice. I never considered them of interest and sold very few.

I was earning just £1 for a Saturday but could augment this by selling spiffs. Spiffs had sticky dots placed on boxes of shoes for a variety of reasons, for example a fashion or style that had been discontinued. This indicated a bonus of two shillings (10p) if you sold them, encouraging us to show them regularly. One day I made six shillings (30p) from the same pair of slip-on shoes. One shoe of the pair had been in the window and the sun had turned it light-tan; all trace of its original olive green had been lost. I worked out that if you never put the shoes side by side the colour difference was not noticed. However, the buyer would visit a café in the shopping area, take them both out and promptly bring them back for replacement or refund, and I could be gushingly apologetic. Saxone’s system was not clever enough to reclaim the spiff bonus and the three sales earned me six shillings.

Objects of desire

The ultimate shoes (we sold were high-ankle, gusseted Chelsea boots at six guineas (£6.30) – beyond reach for me. The quality of the leather was a step function above every other shoe we offered. As mentioned above, I sold a pair to an interesting computer programmer.

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