The job mam found for me resulted from her preoccupation with bringing more money into the house. As my age for leaving school loomed nearer, she began asking friends, neighbours and shopkeepers if they knew of any vacancies.
A positive answer came from an insurance man who called once a week to collect the penny premium on a policy. (Local people knew these policies as ‘coffin funds’, meant to cover the basic costs of dying.) Mam asked the collector if he knew of any available jobs. He said there was one that I might apply for, as a clerk with the London and Manchester Assurance Company.
The collector knew nothing of our family background, so he must have assumed that I could read and write. We did not stop to think that illiteracy might be a disadvantage. As we were hard up, mam sent me to try to get the job.
I was fourteen but had no decent clothes. For the interview, I dressed in a school gymslip – a size too small – and a pair of pumps (later called gym shoes). I walked the three miles to Breck Road. The manager, Harry Deverill, must have struggled to believe his eyes. Once the interview began he became even more incredulous.
“Which school did you go to?” he asked.
“St Cecilia’s, but I didn’t go much.”
“Well,” he continued after a slight pause, “what did you learn when you did go?”
“Nothing much. I sat there and drew pictures.”
“I see. Mm. You want to be a clerk?”