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?