Community Now and Then

Jobs and more jobs

Now and Then

by Iris Winston

Thinking was not part of the job description and was definitely frowned upon by my supervisor. The job in question, undertaken one summer break during my high school years, was in a margarine factory.

conveyor belt with butter pats being wrapped in foil, created with generative ai

My assignment was to stand alongside other workers and lift four packages of margarine as they passed along the conveyor belt and place them neatly in the large cardboard box moving along a parallel conveyor belt, running slowly behind the first. A simple task, but tiring nonetheless. There seemed no reason not to sit some of the time. So, I fetched a high stool. Not only did was that easier on the feet, it was also more efficient because I was now further above the cardboard box, so the margarine packages were easier to set in place.

However, sitting was against the rules. I was quickly demoted from conveyor belt duty to rejects. Located in one corner of the factory floor, a huge bin awaited the arrival of misshapen packages of margarine. My job was to unwrap these rejects, throw the contents into the big bin and toss the coverings into a garbage container. The satisfying splat as a reject landed in the growing pile of margarine, to be returned for a second round in churning machines, made this task superior to conveyor belt drudgery for me.

Close up of open pack of margarine or vegetarian butter on a white backgraund.

My session with rejects was cut short when I fetched my stool. Once more, being higher made it possible to aim more accurately, as well as being more comfortable. And once more, it was against the rules. My next demotion was to bulk. Staffed by a heavy-set group of women with very muscular arms, this section involved placing wax paper on top of enormous boxes of margarine destined for commercial outlets and moving the load to a pallet to be ferried to the shipping dock.

My problem here was that I wasn’t bulky enough. I staggered under the weight of the huge boxes. The supervisor clearly decided I was a lost cause. So, after three shots, I was out. Fired after just one week. Even now, many years later, I cannot bear the smell or taste of margarine.

I had two other factory jobs in other summers. I knew with absolute certainty after the first time, never mind the second and third, that I did not want to spend my working life in a factory setting.  It also gave me a clearer picture of how difficult it would be for anyone who did not have any alternative.

One Saturday job in a department store was much pleasanter. My favourite moments there involved placing payment and bill in a small container and sending it on the overhead rail to the office. Almost as soon as I had wrapped the purchase, change and receipt came flying back to be given to the customer. It made the transaction ultra simple for salespeople and kept management in the loop.

I also tried working in a tax office one Christmas holiday and was pretty bored with some of the lowly duties, especially providing the manager with tea on command. Another memorable job on the Christmas season circuit was being part of a group of university students working for Royal Mail to sort and deliver twice daily. After about four days on the job, we were met by a group of permanent posties. Hostile and threatening, they ordered us to go to the nearest cafe and stay put for at least half an hour. They feared that if we continued at our current pace, they would be forced to speed up their deliveries. We were suitably intimidated and did as we were told. But the bitter taste of that bad experience remains.

Another permanent scar—this time a physical memento—was the result of my last student job. I was part of a group at a site displaying tents and camping equipment. We were salespeople by day, camp protectors by night, sleeping in various tents.

Closeup of a pile of mail on doormat

We ate in a small, poorly equipped trailer. As one of two females on site, I was assigned to cook. The first couple of non-gourmet meals passed without incident.  On the third night, I had boiled water for tea or instant coffee in the huge kettle provided. Disaster followed after I arranged the mugs on an unsteady shelf and poured water into mugs at the front first.

The shelf tipped forward. I reached out to stop shelf and mugs from falling. Boiling water from the filled mugs hit my arm and I dropped the kettle, spilling more boiling water on my legs and feet. The result was that I landed in the emergency department of the local hospital overnight and still have scars on my arm and feet.

To this day, my reaction to the thought of camping is similar to my aversion to margarine.

Read the longer version of this story by clicking the Now and Then icon, under the Community tab, at