Wednesday, August 24, 2011

There's nothing as improving as a dead end job

After we'd finished recording a podcast with David Ford the other day Fraser said "that's three of us who've been road sweepers". I did two years as a road sweeper in north London during college vacations in the seventies before graduating to the dustbins. Sweeping was boring but it was educational, like doing the Knowledge. Working on the bins was hard, lucrative and, believe it or not, fun. That's another blog entirely.

I was reminded of this experience when reading Alice Thomson's column in The Times today where she says "the professional middle classes used to mix widely in pubs, factories and communities. Now they are ghettoised" and goes on to argue that they don't need more holiday jobs helping out in law offices. There seems to be some truth in that. My own kids have done holiday jobs but they haven't done anything like the bins or the Christmas post, which were staples for grammar school boys like me back in the day.

The decline of manufacturing, the march of automation and the need for every job to require some training means that it's no longer possible for a dozy 18-year-old to find useful employment the way that we did. Everybody of my age has a vivid memory of what it was like to work in a factory or to perform some mundane, repetitive task, often in the company of people who didn't make any allowance for the fact that you were young and foolish. It was more educational than the education it was designed to subsidise.


  1. Anonymous8:31 am

    Retail/hospitality is the new factory work. Repetitive, mundane and usually dead end. I spent my university summers working for Topshop by day and in pubs and restaurants by night. It certainly made me appreciate my term time more!

  2. Anonymous9:35 am

    I second your thoughts - before I got a proper job, I'd been a waiter, dinner lady and chicken-egg collector; I'd worked in a record shop, been a labourer on a building site in Edinburgh and Night Porter at Claridges. All of which have given me more of an insight into life than any office job could have done. And half of which I did with bleached blond hair because I could - but that's another post altogether...

  3. I stacked milk cartons, and assembled trifles that were destined for Marks & Spencer. I did not find either experience especially ennobling.

  4. Supermarket, post office mail sorting, office removal firm when I was 15, and (this is true, honestly) sweeping out lions cages for a lion tamer one summer when I was 14. My first full time job was working in a record shop, although after two years there I was a chart buyer so not so menial.

    My wife (who is a few years younger) did factory work in her summer hols.

  5. I peeled spuds in the local chippy (with the aid of a machine, I hasten to add) and then worked at the local Co-Op before two years serving in a pizza takeaway. I also had a summer holiday job helping build my local newspaper's new offices. I enjoyed very little of any of it but I know a few people from my era who didn't bother with part-time work during their later educational years and got a big culture shock when they had to start working properly, every day. I'm glad I had some element of work ethic even if the work itself wasn't greatly stimulating.

  6. I would argue that a dead end job is only worthwhile if it’s not an real dead end but more a transitory state - something that you do when you’re young before moving on to more fulfilling work where there is scope for promotion and personal development.

    In a dead-end job you will meet people that you would never have encountered in any other social context. You will find yourself in an environment where raw intelligence takes precedence over education. You will probably hear some spectacularly dirty jokes. And then, hopefully, you will move on and it will be something that you look back on.

    I am 37 years old and I work a dead end job. At my age and in my set of circumstances I have no choice.

    I spend hours filing paperwork that nobody will ever look at again. I have mundane responsibilities but inadequate powers to fulfil these responsibilities. One of my duties is to monitor temporary staff levels and make sure that there are enough nurses to cover shifts. Hilariously I am not allowed access to the computer program that tells you what the staffing levels are and what covering staff have already been ordered. It’s like flying a plane blindfolded while somebody far away on the end of a telephone describes your proximity to the ground.

    I lack the power and influence to change things . This afternoon a discharge coordinator come onto the ward where I work and bullied staff into rushing the discharge of a long-term inpatient so that his bed could be made available. I watched this vulnerable man being wheeled past my desk knowing that he did not have the correct provisions in place to ensure a safe discharge, but unable to get this point across to the person who had already decided that this was what was going to happen and nothing would change her mind.

    Work seems to get into my head and follow me home. I often wish that I could drink myself into oblivion to make it go away. Unfortunately, in the words of Basil Fawlty “that particular avenue of pleasure has been closed off.”

    Last night when I arrived home I lay down on the floor in the hallway and then found that I couldn’t get up. Presently my nephew appeared and engaged me in a largely one-sided conversation about Lego. I hope that he makes a better go at life than I have.

  7. Dear Backwards7. I found your writing deeply moving. You write beautifully. I hope that you do get a chance to find some fulfilling work soon. Good luck. At least the Lego conversation sounded like the ones I have with my seven year old. I think they go best when you just listen.


  8. would like to second nigel's comments, backwards7. i can relate to depressing number of points in your post. you do write beautifully too.