01 August 2011

Working at ICI

I left the police force when I became pregnant and took a year out of work to enjoy motherhood. My life, though, hadn’t worked out as planned, a marriage break-up coming in the first months of the pregnancy. Life and finances were suddenly hard and it became necessary to get another job as soon after the birth as possible. I settled young son in a nursery and started job hunting. It actually took a whole year.

The next ten years were spent in the employ of Imperial Chemical Industries, a job that was entirely different to my former years with the police. It was well paid and my only concern was the welfare of my son. At school age he became wild. Because I had to work I never felt at ease during after-school hours I imposed a strict routine about using the phone to keep me informed of his whereabouts. It wasn’t enough. Continual worry forced me to take steps to ensure his safety. (** see below)

A friend of mine suggested boarding school could be the answer to my problem so I followed it up. I was lucky enough to get a foundation place for my lad which meant we could both face a more satisfying the future. He would be safe, he’d get a good education, and I would be relieved of the daily worry over safety. The school was two buses and a train journey away from our home but without fail I went to see him every weekend and extensive school holidays were a godsend.

So I had all the time in the world to concentrate on working hard and saving money.

Working in the typing pool, later known as Typing Services when the company made the decision to go in for fancy departmental names, I had to learn how to type chemical formulae and difficult pharmaceutical names; I gained knowledge of leather treatment, paint products, and weed killers, amongst other things. All so different from the human element of the previous job. I didn’t like it much but it was work so I knuckled down to try and make enjoyable. I made friends and took pleasure in their company during and out of working hours.

There was a recession around this time and I remember all the staff being instructed on the merits of Time and Motion under the heading Staff Development. It helped me no end, I used to weigh up the best ways of doing everything to save time … and motion … and it’s still with me today. At home I worked to the rule ‘never leave a room empty handed’ and still do. If something that needs relocating I do it there and then. Saves the poor old legs from overworking.

Speed typing was my thing. I could sail through the work in half the time my colleagues took. The office was equipped with old typewriters which were marvellous for venting our feelings. How I enjoyed slinging back the carriage if I was in a mood! Eventually I was asked to undertake a speed typing test and came out of it quite well with 127 wpm and one mistake. That one mistake cost me a point so I was marked down as having a speed of 126 wpm! A yearly assessment calculated that I was doing the same work as one and a half people and I was rewarded for it.

Because of the recession wage freezes were rife. Consequently I couldn’t have a rise. Management decided to present me with an electric typewriter that was no longer in use in the top secretarial office, the crème de la crème. After pounding on a manual machine for years, using an electric one was dire. It was so slow I thought I’d die waiting! No longer could I sling back the carriage, no longer could I hammer the keys, instead I had to wait while the carriage slowly returned, drumming fingers on the desk while I waited and swearing like a trooper at the injustice of having to use such a time consuming stupid piece of equipment. I could have typed a foolscap page (remember that) in the time it took for the new fangled contraption to get anywhere. Still I suppose it was good practice for future computers. In case you ask, I can still go a pace on the flat computer keyboard. Thank goodness they stuck to QWERTYUIOP.

The day I was promoted to supervisor was the day I lost half my friends. Isn’t it odd the way that happens? One minute I was one of the girls and the next I was in charge and out of it. I tried to maintain former friendliness but I could sense their wariness. I had to check all the work and return anything that was incorrect, spelling mistakes for example. You’d think I was organising the death sentence when I sent work back.

Like any job there were good times as well as bad. The new status entitled me to join the Social Committee where I helped organise some great dinner dances but the thing that served me well was getting permission to start a netball team, all players being girls from Typing Services. They played, I organised. It was great. Because I fought to get the kit they wanted, went to every game, got them into a league, and reported on every match in the newsletter and local press, I found myself back in favour with my old friends.

Eventually the company decentralised which is an excellent way of getting rid of half the staff. I could have stayed if I’d been willing to relocate a million miles away, which I wasn’t, so instead I took redundancy pay. It was the best thing I ever did. I soon found another secretarial position with the next best thing to the police force … the Probation Service. And I loved it almost as much.

** For those who didn’t read the amusing incident entitled Don’t Open The Door To Strangers, here it is again

My son and I lived in a very large house, divided into two flats. Our flat was on the ground floor, accessible by front and side doors. The side entrance was reached via an alleyway between houses, and through a gate that led to the yard.

As a single Mum I had to work. Arrangements were made for Jon before and after a school day but there were times when he was alone in the house. He was very young when this episode took place. In those days it wasn’t illegal to leave a child alone, nevertheless I made sure people knew he was there and to look out for him, including the neighbour upstairs.

‘Never open the door to strangers.’ I warned. ‘Always ring me at the office to check it out.’

One day, the dreaded call was received.

Two men had entered the side gate and were knocking on the door.

Scared boy rang his Mum.

‘Okay,’ I said, trying for his sake to keep calm. ‘So what are they doing now?’

‘They’ve gone down the garden,’ said young son.

The garden also provided access to the French doors in my lounge.


‘Don’t open the door,’ I said, trying not to scare my boy.

Leaving him holding on the phone, I went to the switchboard and rang the police on a different line. Told them a young child was alone in the house and two men were trying to get in.

On our way, they said, after taking details of son’s name and age.

Went back to talk to the boy … and learned that the police had already arrived. Yes, as quick as that. I could hear them calling to him through the door, telling him not to be afraid. I grabbed my coat and ran while switchboard colleague rang the neighbour.

Two men apprehended.


I didn’t have a milkman!

They had entered my property to use the toilet.

How did they know it was there?

On arriving home, elderly neighbour in the upstairs flat told me she had seen the men enter the outside toilet, situated further down the yard. She had a perfect view from her window. Apparently, the police arrived as they were coming out.

When things were settled I wrote to the General Manager of the Dairy to complain about his men taking liberties in my toilet (I think I worded it differently!). Had a nice letter back, was assured that steps had been taken to reprimand the culprits but that their excuse was taken as legitimate and they would not lose their jobs.


Mystery solved.

I learned that my cousin’s husband had taken a job as a milkman in my area.

'Oooh,' I said. 'I must tell you an odd story about a couple of milkmen.'

Thought he looked sheepish!

I went on to explain ... and he owned up that he was one of the two men.

This is what happened:

Near to my house, his colleague broke a bottle milk, skidded on the milk and fell onto the broken glass.

Gashed his thigh!

In order to see to the wound my relative called at my house for help. and, since no-one opened the door, they went to the outside toilet.

‘Well,’ said cousin’s husband, ‘he could hardly drop his trousers in the road.’

When I asked why he didn’t tell me about it, he said he felt such a fool. After the interview with the boss he couldn’t face my wrath as well.

So here’s the point of relating this tale:

Our police didn’t waste time then and they don’t waste time now. No matter what people say, when we need help they never let us down.


  1. A very interesting post Val. I know exactly how you feel about that electric typewriter. I had similar experiences when I was working at Electrolux. Incidentally, the girls in the science department had special typewriters, called 'vari' I think they were because those machines had all the special symbols and signs required by the chemists for their reports. Those girls were looked up to by the rest of us because they were considered special. They also earned more money. Look forward to hearing more about your past.

  2. Probation service eh! Crikey! Hope you didn't look at my file.

  3. haha...oh my on the cousins husband what a tale...and i feel you on losing friends when you become a supervisor...

  4. Star, more is to come but the series started several days ago with a post called Doing Time. Yes, I remember 'vari' ... they came in after me!

    John, Ssshhhhhhh!

    Brian, that's the way it goes when someone gets promoted!

  5. Valerie, I loved reading both these stories!

    And what an awesome storyteller you are!

    "At home I worked to the rule ‘never leave a room empty handed’ and still do."

    OMG...I can remember my own mother telling me that, and to this day I still do it!

    Fascinating to read about how you went from a manual to electric typewriter and the manual was actually faster. Isn't it interesting how progress doesn't always mean better?

    " I was marked down as having a speed of 126 wpm! A yearly assessment calculated that I was doing the same work as one and a half people and I was rewarded for it."

    You GO, girl!

    So looking forward to reading more!

    Have a wonderful day, dear lady.


  6. oh yes, the old manual typewriter! Really strengthened our fingers, right? Wow - you really DID type fast! I thought I was fast at 80 WPM! You breezed right by me! When my daughter started her job at a law office, she had to use a typewriter to address envelopes, type forms, etc. She told her co-workers that SHE NEVER USED ONE BEFORE! Hard to believe!

  7. Wow, that was interesting! You sure have a wealth of experiences to relate to us. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Ron, I never believe anyone now when they say technology is faster. Clever yes, I'll give it that, but look at the hours we waste just waiting for it to work...grins.

    Pat, yes I do believe typewriters are still around in SOME offices. Bet your daughter had a shock!

    Mona, I thought my jobs were only interesting to me... seems not. I'm glad now that I wrote about them.

  9. Great post Val, very interesting. I found electric typewriters very frustrating too but once I was on word processors I was a very happy bunny!

  10. Pearl, I missed out on word processors. In fact I didn't get onto computers until much later in life.

  11. love this series with glimpses into our Val's past...
    Keep them coming!

  12. I will never forget the first time I put all eight fingers on the keyboard and the very same time. It didn't spell anything and I was forced to lighten my touch. We had two of them in the typing room and we each were assigned to work on one to get the experience. Great post. I always enjoy such a good read.

  13. I will never forget the first time I put all eight fingers on the keyboard and the very same time. It didn't spell anything and I was forced to lighten my touch. We had two of them in the typing room and we each were assigned to work on one to get the experience. Great post. I always enjoy such a good read.

  14. I love how you share these experiences with us. Your memories come to life brilliantly in your writing.

    "Saves the poor old legs from overworking." - love that line.


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