I walked the streets (uphill both ways; barefoot and waist high in snow (even in summer); raining constantly... ok, if I'm going to wilfully exaggerate, I really should keep the weather consistent) selling Avon products at fourteen years old. At 18, I was dressing up as a (small) woman-sized squirrel to delight orphan children (children's page editor, charity event, local newspaper). As a tour guide, I've led groups of people around a 17th century stately home; and spooked myself by singing 'Goosey Goosey Gander', really slowly, in the sort of chapel that the nursery rhyme recalls.
As a student, I did the usual chip-shop and pub, part-time, seasonal, badly paid jobs. Many, many stories there. Like the time that the local gangster took umbrage to the fact that I served the person in front of him in the queue first. I ended up being yanked over the bar by my lapels and deposited on the floor, bruised and humiliated. Then the leader of the opposing gang threatened to take him down for his treatment of me; and I'm stood in the middle, like a scene out of 'West Side Story', really hoping that the landlord would make an appearance some time soon.
Beyond university, I got to be the secretary, events organiser, receptionist, store-keeper and general dogsbody of the Psychic Research Foundation. That was fun. I met really fascinating people from all walks of life, alongside a fair smattering of complete and utter charlatans; as well as people so entranced by their own point of view, that nothing else could penetrate. Still I got to walk around historical and potentially haunted buildings in the middle of the night, with permission to be there!
Those paranormal evenings were great. People would pay to be scared out of their wits, though often nothing happened but atmosphere and suggestion. We would sit at seances and readings; or hold lectures on subjects ranging from astrology through to UFO sightings. Some of the best conversations happened off the record. I learned how we just give away so much personal information about ourselves in our dress, jewellery and general demeanour. With the slightest promoting, those having readings frequently just spill out their entire life history, then gasp in shock, when it's repeated back to them. *shakes head*
That's not to say that nothing was real here. I did witness things that widened my eyes and had me struggling for a mainstream explanation. Like the time when the astrology lecturer met my sceptism with a challenge. She would list the star-signs of everyone walking into that room. I just had to note them and, at the end of the lecture, she would ask the attendees to confirm or deny her allocations. She based it all on where they decided to sit, in a room full of strangers. I knew that she didn't have the guestlist. She had only arrived half an hour before and she had been with me the whole time. I'd organised the event and only I had the guest details. She was 100% correct, for all 30 people.
Muse of Astrology
Unfortunately, the organisation ended up being so successful that the owner got a job on national radio and sodded off to London. All of the local staff were made redundant, as we were replaced by southern counterparts. He was back within a year, but by then we'd all moved on. I was now a librarian!
Well, technically, I was a CD Clerk in a jukebox and fruit machine company. But it involved categorising and storing loads of different media. This was a boring job, though it did involve me having to travel around the country training up other CD Clerks after a while. I was good at this job, which let to my major mistake - I stupidly got promoted. Yay! More money! *happy dance* Oh crap! A job that I not only hated, but which saw me replacing a well loved person, who'd been sacked. I didn't know the details, but the 15 people now under me didn't want me there on general principle.
I ended up in debt collection by accident. Within my first month, I brought in 25k out of the 32k outstanding for over a year. The boss asked where the other 7k was. I thought he was joking and laughed. He wasn't.
I didn't last long in that job. It really wasn't my comfort zone and it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Plus I once had someone waiting outside the door with a crowbar for me. Colleagues laughed it off. "You think that's dangerous? I've been held up at gunpoint 13 times!" "Oh! I once got beaten up en route to my car. They took 2 grand off me!" etc etc.
In which work environment is that ever acceptable and amusing?
Enter a decade working for my local university. When I first walked in, my new manager said it was like meeting Little Orphan Annie crossed with Oliver Twist. I wasn't used to dinner breaks and finishing on time, without anyone giving me more urgent work, as I was supposed to be going home. Culture shock! She was a fantastic woman, who gradually ate away at my workaholicism, until I came back down to Earth.
It was such a great place to work. I held four jobs in all, moving through the ranks due to promotion and, on one occasion, being head-hunted. The unions ensured that we had fair employment rights, conditions and pay. The people were largely intelligent and interesting. The side-lines in classes, listening to guest lecturers and attending parties were unparalleled.
One of my more interesting jobs was to organise the Holocaust Memorial Day. I welcomed in survivors of some of the most horrific camps in Europe. I sat down, over a cup of tea and a meal, with people who bore those terrible tattoos. They each had different ways of coping with their past.
Eva Mozes Kor was particularly memorable. She had been a child in Auschwitz, subject to experimentation, with her twin sister, under the supervision of Mengele. She forgave him. She realised, late in life, that it was the only way forward. Paul Oppenheimer, who had been in Belsen, where he had lost most of his family, survived now on his anger. It gave him the passion to continue. I felt very honoured to meet them both, along with the other people who came to share their stories.
My final position was as part of Aimhigher West Midlands, doing all we could to get people like me into higher education. People who, for whatever socio-economic reason, don't traditionally consider university in their life prospects. However, this was government funded and, when the recession came, the government publicly sacked us all. The minister had specifically announced our redundancy to the press, before he'd thought to mention it to us. True story. I read about it in the news, then 'phoned the director and suggested that she read it too. I was the last person out of the door, because I was the one archiving all that we'd achieved. I cried. It was sad.
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One last job to bring us right up to date. This was so good that I found it hard to believe that it was even a 'proper' job. I was the copy-writer and blogger for a tour company based in Mexico. I was approached by someone who read my Runescape blog and just offered the post. Yay! Bring it on! For over a year, I got to make a living through writing and that is a gold-plated life for me. Until the troubles and the American press hit Mexico right in the economy and the company had to close down.
But if I could make a living writing before, why not now?