by Chris Cowland –
I’ve been an accountant for 44 years, and every April I feel sorry for myself and bemoan my choice of career, until I think back on some of my previous jobs.
Student loans were uncommon in England in the 1970s, so I had to work to pay for my university tuition. Building sites were a ready source of short-term employment, and one of the better-paying jobs was to be a “hod carrier.” Bricks had to be carried manually up ladders to the bricklayers perched high on scaffolding. A hod is a three-sided box attached to an ash pole. It held 12 six-pound bricks, so I would have to hoist this 82-pound weight onto my shoulder, support it with one hand as I ran up the ladder, unload, then repeat. Tricky even on a warm summer’s day, and not much fun in the rain or on a frosty morning!
I ran out of money during a motoring trip round Europe, and found a cleaning job in a French hotel. Armed with a ladder, some rags and a bucket of water and vinegar, my first task was to wash every window in the hotel, inside and out, by hand. The windows were filthy, but I took great pride in restoring them to a pristine sparkle using the old trick of rubbing them with a newspaper after washing. For some reason, paper towels leave streaks, but newspaper works like magic. My next job was to clean the inside of the stainless steel vents above the cook stove in the restaurant. The caked-on grease was over an inch thick, and most of it fell on me as I scraped it off. I felt like one of those chimney sweep boys used in London after the Great Fire of 1666.
But by far the worst job I ever had was the one week I spent as a milkman. Milk in those days came in one-pint glass bottles, with either a silver top (regular) or gold top (Jersey cream). It was delivered right to your doorstep every day at around 5 a.m. Comedian Benny Hill portrayed this role in a romantic light, suggesting that scantily clad housewives would beckon the milkman inside for a quick cup of tea, or something equally warming … not my experience!
My milk round started at 4 a.m., and I had three hours to deliver around 100 crates of milk to 800 households. It was pitch dark and raining heavily. Things quickly went sideways. I remember trudging up four flights of stairs in a block of flats with a broken lift, only to find a note outside room 405 requesting “One extra pint please.”
Reversing out, I failed to see a low brick wall, which I promptly demolished, and three crates of milk fell from the back of the truck and shattered on the ground. It took me nearly an hour to pick up the shards of glass in the darkness, and attempt to stand the wall back up.
When I returned to the depot, the manager gave me some excellent career counselling by advising me that I was “not cut out to be a milkman.” His words echo in my ear every April, and I pick up my next tax return with a huge smile on my face.