My maternal grandfather died in his sleep, while my mother aged just four, lay breathing next to him. She was number ten of eleven children. Ten years later mum was sent to work at a biscuit factory. She hated it from day one. At the end of that first shift she told her mother that she was never going back. She worked there every day for the next four years, until she finally escaped aged eighteen.
My paternal grandmother died in childbirth aged just 36, while her husband who was a baker stayed at home looking after their other ten children. My dad’s first job was as a delivery boy for the local grocer. They gave him a bike and a few shillings at the end of the week, but not enough for shoes.
My parents met at the crisp factory, where they both worked long days frying potatoes in front of huge vats of hot oil. They had worked in other factories before that, packing biscuits or dipping caramels in icing, either pink or white. Work to them was the thing you tolerated because you had no choice. If you were lucky it bought you a couple of cinema tickets and a few hours escape on a Saturday evening.
I remember my dad going to work every day in the vast freezers at the HB factory to fill orders of Cornettos and load boxes of Birdseye ready meals, so that Captain Birdseye could put chunky flakes of sea fresh cod on more plates across the county.
He worked so that we could go to school with food in our bellies (a luxury he never had). So that he could buy a whole set of Encyclopedia Britannica by the week, in the hope of something better for us. So that we would have a nice yard of new green ribbon to wear in our hair on Sunday.
So that we would never want for a new pair of Clarke’s shoes.
My dad got joy from what the work enabled him to do when he wasn’t at work. From the hope of a better future that his ability to bring home a pay packet at the end of each week might bring his children. Work was a means to the promise of a better end. There was little joy or fulfilment in the work itself.
Every single person who is reading this has a choice that isn’t this. We get to care that our work has meaning, that our days are not just something we get through. Let’s not waste it for a second.
Image by Thomas Hawk.