A couple of days after my 16th birthday, I managed to get myself a job interview at a local supermarket.
Back then, Sainsbury’s doubled-up as the local employment centre for teenagers willing to cash in feeling sorry for themselves for shelf-stacking and a bit of spending money. I got the job.
We’d all count down the days until we were of the right age for the retailer to employ us, then spend our Saturdays and evenings wearing some of the great fashion crime garments on the high street (brown overalls and clip-on ties).
Unlike my chums, who had secured plum roles piling baked bean tins high or collecting trolleys from the four corners of the car park, I had been allocated to the frozen food department.
To fill up the freezers you needed to load up on supplies from a huge walk-in chiller in the back of the store.
It was an often-precarious part of the job, primarily because if you’d forgotten to jam the door open and it slammed shut behind you, there would be an adrenaline-fuelled 30 seconds as you dashed back, heart in mouth, to see if you could escape or, in fact, had been inadvertently locked into a soundproofed room operating at sub-zero temperatures.
A learning experience, certainly.
During my – relatively short – career there the main thing I came away with was eczema on my hands due to the switch in temperatures they were exposed to. A little memento of my first job which still occasionally flares up all these years later.
But it was character-defining stuff. It was a first step into the brave new world of adulthood. Those early jobs may not have been my dream roles, but they introduced me to people and places, situations and quandaries which, personally, I felt made up for not going to university. I was learning life on the job, as it were.
Just before finally landing my first full journalism job, I was working for a French catalogue firm which specialised in women’s clothes for the more mature woman.
Aside from sorting out problems for customers and processing orders over the phone, there was also the task of sorting tried and tested – and subsequently returned - items.
These would often include opening packages to find out-sized ladies’ undergarments on a gargantuan scale. Maybe that wasn’t character defining, but it was certainly an eye-opener.
But of all the jobs I had before I embarked on the career I’ve spent the last 30 years in, there are two which I will always hold closest to my heart. And that’s because they were so very Kentish.
The first was happily answering the phones for former cross-Channel operator Sealink. It used to have offices in Charter House – the ugly building which dominates Ashford’s skyline and has long since been transformed into flats.
Back when the cross-Channel industry was thriving, and before Eurotunnel arrived to spoil it, the place was absolutely rammed with staff – dozens and dozens of people plugged into phone systems taking a succession of calls from travel agents and the public keen to book on a ferry route from Dover to Calais, Folkestone to Boulogne or even Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire (an Irish port I’ve been able to pronounce correctly ever since – say it like Dun Leary).
It was a vibrant workforce of young and old alike. What’s more it felt like you were playing your part in a local industry. Which, of course, you were. Plus, the hours and overtime were plentiful.
But perhaps my favourite was a short-lived few weeks as a steward at the Channel Tunnel Exhibition Centre a few years later.
A number of us who had signed on to a temping agency were hired to staff the events taking place to mark the first journey by the Queen through the Channel Tunnel to meet her French counterparts. May 1994, it was.
The Queen, needless to say, wasn’t going to call into the exhibition centre – just off the M20 at Cheriton – but we were the venue for plenty of back-slapping celebrations.
I had the bizarrely diverse roles of accompanying Mike Batt (he of The Wombles fame) to his seat at a show in which he’d composed an anthem for the inaugural crossing, to directing traffic for those arriving for a live episode of Songs of Praise being beamed from the site.
Two skill sets I may never need again – but, you know, I’m rather pleased I’ve got them.