Do young people still do holiday and weekend jobs? I first went to work, at 15, as a “candy girl”, making puddings such as knickerbocker glories, in a restaurant.
My intention was to save to go on Interrailing, but with a starting salary which I remember being £1.13, increased to £1.76 an hour, I was barely going to make it to the next town.
Later, I had higher-paying Saturday store jobs, and I would (badly) do money-serving waitress gigs.
My college vacation jobs included waitress, bar work, switchboard, teaching English as a foreign language to Italian and Greek schoolchildren. And, more bizarrely, dental care.
British author Patricia Nicol has rounded up a selection of the best holiday job books, including Michelle Gallen’s Factory Girls and Lizzy Dent’s The Summer Job.
I learned a lot from these jobs: that education is not the same as intelligence; that, in any workplace, there will always be caring people determined to see a young person succeed, and others who must (or never will be) conquered.
In and out of kitchens, pulling pints, carrying serving trays, smiling welcomingly at a company reception, I also learned a tedious amount about the kind of male predatory behavior that in the 1980s and 1990, seemed endemic.
Nina Stibbe’s most recent novel, One Day I Shall Astonish The World, reminded me of that time vividly. It begins in the summer of 1990. Protagonist Susan is a college student with a vacation job at a haberdashery where an accidental pregnancy makes a permanent role.
Another darkly comedic novel, Factory Girls by Michelle Gallen, is also set in a summer in the 1990s.
While waiting for their baccalaureate results, Northern Irish Catholics Maeve, Caroline and Aoife find work in a shirt factory.
For working-class protagonist Maeve, the role is a stepping stone to a university in London. But this holiday work, in the midst of a sectarian workforce, is also an education.
Lizzy Dent’s The Summer Job is a new romantic comedy set in a posh hotel in Scotland. Birdy tells a white lie to escape it all and find a dream job. But the truth always comes out, right?