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The worst job I ever had.

The worst job I ever had.


This Lancashireman is struggling to compete with the extreme, and extremely competitive, privations described by the four Yorkshiremen.

Working a twelve hour overnight shift in the (now defunct) Rathbone’s Bakery in Wigan may not be as bad as licking a motorway clean before breakfast, but it felt pretty close at the time.

It was an Easter holiday student job, which promised to pull in a tidy sum by the standards of the mid 80’s.

My shift ran from 6pm to 6am, punctuated by a couple of short rest breaks.

My job was to move bread from the end of the production line to the waiting trucks in the loading bays.

The baking, slicing and packaging of said bread was a fully automated process. And said bread came off the end of several lines in plastic pallets containing, from memory, about sixteen loaves.

Along with several others I collected these pallets using a manual trolley-cum-forklift. You slid the forks under a pile of pallets, used a foot pedal to raise the bread tower off the ground, and wheeled the lot round to the lorries with a quick stop en route to weigh a random sample of loaves to ensure that they were within the prescribed tolerance levels.

Whilst (I assume) the production lines were state of the art for their day, the building itself lingers in my memory as a red-brick, Victorian, dark-satanic mill of a prison to which I was sentenced for twelve hours of hard labour every night.

And high on the wall behind the production lines was a large, Victorian clock with Roman numerals.

A round trip from the production line to the loading bays and back took around two minutes.

So this clock had the drip, drip, water-torture-like effect of breaking twelve hours into 360 two minute segments.

There were no Walkmen in those days, let alone iPods.

No music, no podcasts, no talking books to alleviate the monotony.

So I devised a coping strategy based on repeatedly lowering my personal best time for a round trip.

But this strategy was brought to an abrupt halt before I’d had the chance to really push the envelope of what was achievable.

My coping strategy had drawn attention to me.

I felt a hand on my shoulder.

The shop steward looked me in the eye and said, “Slow down son. You’re making the others look bad.”

I hadn’t been looking to increase productivity. I’d been looking to stay sane. And now I was fucked.

I think I lasted no more than three nights.

But it was the best piece of university-of-life learning I’ve ever had.

I determined to always have a job that would have me bouncing of of bed in the morning. Life is way too short for any other attitude to work.

Indeed that bakery job is why I did a handbrake turn straight out of university from engineering to advertising. And I can genuinely count on the fingers of one hand the number of days in the last twenty three years when I haven’t wanted to get out of bed.

Unfortunately this sample-of-one personal experience has also deeply coloured my attitudes to trade unions. But that’s another story.

Everyone should have a “worst job I ever had” story. What’s yours?


  1. The worst job I ever had was at Hemingway’s Pork Butchers in Leeds. Not the shop in the Arndale, mind – my eldest sister had that cushy number – my pitch was the factory in Garforth. Saturdays I’d set out at 6am, which was no particular biggie given I’d just retired from a five-year stint as a morning paper boy, and me and my faithful Raleigh Stratos (ten speed, one horn and one added flip-down bike stand – which I’d sawed off too short, so the bike just slowly keeled over like a drug-darted deer – and drop handlebars turned backwards and upwards as was the modern way in 1983) could be seen licking down the mad mile and up by the Old George and onwards to far Garforth and its industrial parks, where the company’s two vans were already loading up with hot beige pleasures. Generally no biggie, but just occasionally the crawl out of bed, jittery at the drilling of my glow-handed Baby Ben, would be coloured by a trainee hangover from a last night’s Skol or a Trophy Electric, skulked in corners in Headingley pubs. But mostly I was fresh and bouncy as my copy of Smash Hits.

    My remit at Hemingway’s was threefold. Washing the vans on their return from the shops was one – the easy one.

    The second, scraping the bits off the cooking trays and feeding them into the washing drum – a carousel of scalding jets and murderous wire brushes, with flimsy clanging walls that buckled and sucked as I leaned in to free a mangled tray. And at my back by the factory doors crazed starlings dashed at the trays stacked waiting to be hosed – each one a platter of scorched delicious treats; yeah, delicious, they were.

    The third – and this one my “tell us a fact about yourself” intro piece ever since (well, I toggle it with being peed on by a tiger) – putting jelly in the pork pies.

    Putting jelly in pork pies.

    I’d be rigged up with a cylindrical tank on my back, a tube coming off it and a gun on its end. The pork pies were laid down before me, and I would prod one hole in a top crust and then into a second hole I’d pump my hot animal glue (yes, that’s what I said) until it bubbled out the first hole and shot up my sleeve; and then I’d stop and move onto the next pie.

    I got 5 quid for these Saturday stints; 6.30am to 1pm. Showers weren’t particularly a la mode in Leeds back then, so after cycling home and a lunch of cold sausage rolls, I’d leg it down to Woolworth’s, blow my entire wages on singles and spend the rest of the day listening to them. The Cure’s The Walk, Siouxsie’s Dear Prudence, Rock Steady Crew and Song To The Siren… all these the spoils of my Pork Life.

    I left that job by giving it to someone else. I actually just sorted out a replacement and then they started turning up when I didn’t. That’s a neat economic model, no? Mr Hemingway never noticed. Perhaps the starlings thought of me occasionally, nicking their scran.

    As a university part-time job I had to clean the bathrooms and toilets of a dermatology ward in the Royal Berks Hospital. Scraping-wise, that was pretty similar to the butcher’s factory. And I’ll never forget encountering the unemptied bath and its plug with no chain… and my rubber gloves just too short.

    1. Thanks Steve. You should have been the fifth Yorkshireman in the sketch.

      Brilliant piece of storytelling. My bakery story well and truly trumped by your butcher experiences.

      (Going back on Twitter this morning to see if we can complete the set with a candlestick maker anecdote).

      A colleague of mine at the first agency I worked at in London was turned vegetarian by a visit to the Bovril factory. He didn’t go into the detail of what he’d seen but it was obviously pretty gruesome. These close encounters of the herd kind (groan!) obviously affect people pretty deeply.

      Thanks again.


  2. katebordwell

    Hi Phil! I love ‘worst job’ stories.

    My worst job, like yours, was a university holiday job. It was in a call centre for an investment company (who will remain nameless but they are a big Edinburgh employer and famous iconic brand with a really weird hexagonal headquarters).

    The thing I hated about it was the lack of control I had.

    In the mornings we took calls from customers. You couldn’t answer the phone, you had a headset that beeped at you when a call was coming in and after 3 seconds you were on the call. The people who phoned in the morning were generally complaining that something hadn’t been done right, or they were changing their contact details. It was very boring.

    In the afternoons we had to phone customers to tell them they were not going to get a windfall in the recent change the company had made from being a mutual to a bank.

    So, for hours every day I had to tell people something they didn’t want to hear. I guess it was good customer service to phone with bad news, rather than just write a letter, but it was hellish for me because everyone was annoyed because the press had said there was going to be big money to be made.

    At the end of each day my ears were ringing. My brain would be tired and hyped and I had trouble getting to sleep at night.

    You were talking all day but you couldn’t have a drink on your desk, you had to go to the water cooler and drink from a tiny paper cone.

    We were timed for everything. Lunch, cigarette, toilet breaks. If you wanted to leave your desk you had to ask permission, they had to turn the phone off. The team leaders were always going on at people for wasting time, when what they were trying to do was calm down.

    I lasted about 6 weeks. Then I decided that I’d rather work in Pizza Hut.

    So sorry, not candlestick making but life-informing all the same.

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