Ever since I found myself making mashed potato by mixing potato powder with water from the hot water tap I’ve been in favour of learning to do things properly. Yes, I know. It’s yuck. I had a holiday job as a teenager, making and selling hot dogs and mashed potato. The tap water recipe came from the owner of the establishment, and even then I knew it wasn’t a marvellous idea. I lasted a week before I left.
That’s why, when I needed/wanted a proper job after my first taste of university, I was pleased to be apprenticed to the Post Office. It wasn’t called that, but apprenticeship is what it was. (I realised this when reading about on-the-job training in the paper more recently.)
I spent ten months learning to do all that you do over the counter in a post office, from ‘licking’ stamps to advising on investing money. I have few skills, but one of them is counting money. Shame there aren’t bundles of banknotes in my possession now, for me to see how many I can count in ten minutes.
We had exams. Counting money (for the exam we used real money), using adding machines without looking (but I still can’t type). It might not have been the loveliest of jobs, but the security of knowing I knew what to do, including if bank robbers came calling, was wonderful.
Standing knee deep in money is always fun. Discovering you are a few million short two hours into the working day and needing to find someone honest looking to drive the van to the Bank of Sweden for you, is also fun. Sort of.
As a state employee you were safe, with a job for life. Or would have been, had I not emigrated. Actually wouldn’t have been, even if I hadn’t, since they have now abolished post offices.
But before they did, and before I emigrated, this seemingly low status job paid better than the proper career the Resident IT Consultant was enjoying in London.
And the only reason I’m boring you with all this is that quite a while ago I promised to tell you about it. It was set off by something in my comments one day, and if Seana or anyone else could please remember why I was going to enlighten you about my postal past, I’d be most grateful. There must have been a good reason?
These days I do as I like. I didn’t have to apprentice myself to anyone to become the Bookwitch. I trained myself, and set my own rules. That’s as liberating as knowing I could flip banknotes at the required speed, and that I had a shelf full of reference sheets for any single thing I might need to do from behind the postal counter. No, I lie. The time when one of my colleagues tickled me so I fell down on the floor was not part of training; either theirs or mine.
But even the tickling beats having to sell that mashed potato to customers. (I wonder what would have happened if I’d insisted on doing it properly?)
(It is hard to find suitable photos online. I appear to have forgotten to take pictures myself, at the time. I suppose you believe it’s always going to be there. The top photo is where I was an apprentice, in Borås. The second one is of people I’ve never met, but who look just like I could have worked with them. It’s a myth that us ‘post mistresses’ were strict and lacking a sense of humour. We were all lovely.)