How Green Was My Grocery

By Tony Moorby August 24, 2018


I was recently involved in a discussion about young people at school taking part-time jobs during weekends and holidays.

One argument supports rest, relaxation and a balanced, occasional visit to the books for a little extracurricular study. It supposes a well-deserved release from the strictures of imposed education and allowing the mind to stretch at completely its own pace.

On the other hand an argument espouses an exposure to what’s ahead in the world and get an early taste of establishing a grip on the society of work.

One way was through what used to be called “casual labor”; this could either be acknowledged formally in a company’s books, showing wages and all the necessary deductions or, not uncommonly, a work-for-cash arrangement with lax or no attachments to other benefits. I’d been employed under both auspices.

When I was growing up, alongside my twin brother, there was no choice of hanging around with your feet up; helping the economics of the family after the war was almost expected. Whilst not providing a mainstay of income, buying an extra pair of blue jeans or a fashionable shirt without knocking mom or dad for the money, extended an appreciated independence. Other little luxuries like a Coke and a packet of five cigarettes were an added indulgence.

From the age of 11, Saturdays saw us cleaning cars or delivering meats and green groceries and that lasted until we were 15 or 16, an age at which one could be legally employed.

At 16, the family moved west of London to near Hampton Court. Robin and I each bought small Honda motorcycles on finance contracts so we had to get a part-time job. Every Friday evening and Saturday we worked at a local supermarket, filling shelves and packing bags at the checkout.

Eventually Robin became a deli counter assistant and I helped out in the green grocery. We loved it.

Not just because of the varied work, but getting to know the people that worked there and some of the customers gave us keen and early insights as to what made things tick. We got to enjoy the personalities of people from the fellow that cleaned the warehouse to the store manager.

Along the way, the assistant manager accused us casual workers of stealing meat from the cold lockers and secreting it outside until we left for home. We were all held under suspicion for a couple of weeks until they found the assistant manager making off with the goodies, himself.

That sense of unfair suspicion and seeing the thief unceremoniously dismissed has never left me and I’ve been a straight shooter ever since. Something as simple as that can earn you a reputation for lifetime – it certainly stood me in good stead later in life as a car dealer in London.

The supermarket catered for its staff for breaks and lunches in a small dining room adjacent to a tiny kitchen – the domain of Pearl Prior. Upon first acquaintance you thought she was a quick-tempered harridan but recognizing what she had to achieve in feeding 30 odd people in the space of an hour and a half you quickly recognized she was a miracle worker occupying a space of no more than a 10-feet-by-6-feet kitchen.

She was a Londoner through and through with a “gawd-blimey” accent and a sense of humor sharper than her carving knife. She was as kind and generous to everyone with a cackling laugh befitting any one of Macbeth’s witches. Her apple pie has yet to be bettered.

Robin and I remember her as though it were yesterday, contributing to a storybook of characters and episodes over a number of years. Perhaps I’ll revisit some of our escapades in the next issue.


Last modified on Friday, 24 August 2018 20:50

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