My first job: office work

Uncle Bob gave me my first break.  He was the accountant of a large steel manufacturing company in Johannesburg, South Africa. Because I went to boarding school quite a distance from home, school holidays were a lonely time as school friends returned to their homes on farms across the Transvaal.

Being able to lend a hand during holidays in Uncle Bob’s office was a help to both of us. One of his accounting ladies had school holidays off to be with her children, and I needed something to help fill my days. He paid good money for my inexperience.

That was in the early 1970s. I laboured away typing shipping waybills and invoices. Correcting a typing mistake was an onerous experience; each original had three copies. To make an impression on the bottom copy the keys had to be struck with energy. Typex was an essential in the office stationery cupboard and it superseded the typewriter eraser; rub too hard and you dug a hole in the page, too softly and the carbon smudged. How did I survive!

Not only was my typing slow, it was inaccurate. Forty years ago we weren’t concerned about saving the forests.   Consequently, a lot of paper ended up in my waste paper basket.  My accuracy hadn’t improved over time and eventually the embarrassment was too much.  I took the neatly folded wreckage home. Some nights my handbag was quite heavy.

When I finished school my parents decided that university was a waste as I’d get married part way through. Instead I went to secretarial college where I learned to type with accuracy and great speed. I always longed to go to university but my college training stood me in good stead and I was able to work in London using my secretarial skills to earn money to travel in Europe.

I work in a different industry now but still have those secretarial skills for which I am immensely grateful, they’re very portable.

Forty years is a long time, but not too long to remember that you gave me my first real break.

Thank you Uncle Bob!


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