Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Best Job I Ever Had

I think the budget was around £300 a person. You had to have that sort of money if you wanted to go all the way to Istanbul without running out and upsetting your mates by bumming their cigarettes.

This meant work. No getting away from it, no escape. Some of us, like Yaya, were pretty much settled into the work ethic at this point, but I was used to getting up at 11am, so it was bound to be a bit of a culture shock.

As it turned out, I found a way to ease myself gently back into the labour market.

If you wanted a job in those days, you got yourself over to the Labour Exchange at Oxford House in Bishops Stortford, waited around for a very long time, sat down with a bored looking clerk in a little cubicle made of that funny cardboardy stuff full of holes, announced you were a student looking for summer employment, watched them shuffle index cards for a while, and then with a bit of luck got sent off to Stansted Airport for an interview.

If you were unlucky you got sent to operate a lathe on the Raynham Lane industrial estate, but we won’t got into that now. Those memories really are too horrible to revisit.

Luck was on my side in June 1974. I got sent to Stansted.

Better still, I got sent for a night shift job. No getting up at 7am for me.

Even better yet, I got sent for a job as the night shift car park attendant at Stansted.

This was brilliant. We all know about Stansted Airport today. Fastest-growing airport in Europe, twenty airlines, twenty million passengers a year, grade A terrorist alerts every couple of months, swanky terminal designed by Sir Norman Foster. Even Germaine Greer was moved to write about how wonderful the place is.

In 1974, Stansted Airport looked like this:

Stansted Posted by Hello

There were flights of course. Quite a lot of them, during the day. I mean we’re talking… oh, one hour intervals at peak times. Most of the planes seemed to be carrying crates of vegetables from Lagos, but none of us who worked there were particularly interested in the cargo. This was a proper operational airport, with proper operational jobs. The guys did the loading, the girls did the ground stewardessing, and the temporary students did the litter picking and the car park.

It quietened down a bit at night. Maybe a couple of flights to worry about.

That made the night shift car park job very cushy indeed. I’d get up there about ten, clock on, then spend a frantic couple of hours taking payments from about ten people going home after a hard day's work.

Between one and two am, I’d listen to the radio. I have a vivid memory of hearing some kind of Crosby Stills Nash and Young special on Radio Luxembourg and deciding there and then that they were the best band that ever existed and I would never ever listen to anybody else ever again. Maybe the atmosphere up there was rarified or something. It can’t have been from lack of sleep because from two to five am I slept. Like a log.

That was pretty much it. Round about five-fifteen, someone would usually tap on the window. The first of the night shift workers going home, I expect. Then it got busy for forty-five minutes. Maybe a half-a-dozen cars. Then I cashed up and went home.

I was making good money too. Well on target for the £300 Bertha Budget.

They don’t have car park attendants at Stansted Airport any more, they have machines. Machines never sleep…


Blogger Ms Mac said...

..and I'm sure they don't appreciate Crosby Stills & Nash!

Thankyou for visiting ms. mac! I hope you'll come again soon despite the debate about odd hair!

(See, I told you I'd do that!)

5:13 pm  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

You do realise you're on the bus now, Ms Mac? With the hair and all?

5:19 pm  
Blogger DeltaCharles said...

This was at a time when, after a vigorous campaign, the locals were convinced that they had defeated the plans to turn Stansted into London 's Third Airport.

In '74 I saw the detailed plans for the M11 (still under construction) spur and rail link into the future Stansted Airport. Those plans are now the reality. I still believe that central government cynically backed down in public and then quietly got on with the job in private.

Too bad that picture doesn't show the old terminal buildings. Nissen huts! Big Nissen huts, but Nissen huts nevertheless. I used to like the painted wicker furniture.

By '74 I'd done my stint at Stansed with SASS and Servisair, but I think Simon still had a chapter to write at TransMeridian Air Cargo. Ha! TMAC! A whole other story...

11:48 am  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

I'm advised (by another of my special advisors) that the picture on the post was actually taken a few years earlier. Probably mid-sixties. Since it's the only picture of old Stansted I could find, it'll have to do.

TMAC. I'd forgotten TMAC. This blog is rapidly turning into an exercise in collective memory loss...

12:16 pm  

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