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Bhs Closure: Memories Of A 1980s Saturday Girl

01/09/2016 12:14 | Updated 01 September 2016

As the shutters fell on Bhs stores across the country, I found myself remembering the days when I stood behind the cheese counter every Saturday at the Lincoln branch.
 
It was the 1980s and the high street looked very different to today. It was all outdoors for a start, there were no malls. I probably hadn't even heard of the word.
 
Bhs was called British Home Stores and was a less-posh version of Marks and Spencer's.
 
My first Saturday job was at M&S, a temporary four-month Christmas contract. When that ended it was either try to get in at Littlewoods (remember when they still had shops?) or join a friend at British Home Stores.
 
I got an interview at Bhs, which included a maths test which brought me out in a cold sweat despite the fact I'd just got a B in my O level. (Remember them?).
 
As it turned out the job was going to sharpen up my mental arithmetic more efficiently than Mrs Docherty's double maths classes ever did.
 
I was issued with a uniform of dark blue shapeless polyester pinafore which ended at an unfashionable below-knee length, and a lighter blue blouse with a random black design on it and a cravat-type thing at the collar. Tights were also mandatory, even on the hottest summer days.
 
Having been selected to work in the food department (remember when Bhs sold food?) I also had to don a white paper cap of the old-fashioned nurse's variety. Weirdly we didn't have to tie our hair up under this cap, so it merely sat on top of my head, held in place by two grips.
 
Every week I prayed that nobody I knew would come in and see me dressed like that.
 
Another girl started the same day as me. Time and memory mean I can't remember her name, although it might have been Angela. We were shown round by Sylvia the supervisor.
 
She showed us how to slice through a big block of cheese with a wire. "So if someone asks for a quarter of Double Gloucester, you get the block and slice like this..." she said briskly.
 
I ventured to ask: "What's a quarter?"
 
She looked at me with undisguised pity. "A quarter of a pound of course," she said.
 
"Oh I see, it's just that we didn't do pounds at school, we did grammes..." my voice tailed off under her stare..
 
Within a very short time I could eye up a block of Cheddar and cut you a quarter, a half, or indeed a whole pound of the stuff without blinking.
 
And it wasn't just cheese I could weigh out with unerring accuracy either. I also had regular turns on the meat counter and was soon adept at judging how many rashers of back bacon went into a pound.
 
I also took my turn on the tills. No scanning back then, every item had a sticky price tag on it and we had to ring them all through. When it was close to the end of the day food near its sell-by date was reduced. A bright red sticker would say how much was being knocked off and we had to work out the new price in our heads - hence my quickly improving mental maths.
 
It was hard work and seemed like such a long day for a teenage girl used to school hours.
 
But the reward was a weekly pay packet containing a £10 note and a 20p coin. £10.20! Then when I turned 18 it shot up to £15. A fortune! I used it to pay for my driving lessons which were £7.
 
Our store manager was Mr Willey (an unfortunate name when you've got an mostly-female staff). It was a completely separate staff on a Saturday to the rest of the week. This was long before shopping became the extended leisure activity it is now. No shops were open in the evening or on Sundays.
 
The Saturday staff were mainly young girls doing their A levels, like me, or mums who could only work weekends when their husbands were at home to take care of the kids.
 
Now when I look back I realise that job was as big an education as my A levels. It opened my eyes to the world of work; it made me understand the value of money and the simple concept that if you want it, you have to earn it; and I made new friends.
 
I have to admit I have rarely shopped in Bhs in the 30 years since I left. I also left Lincoln long ago and I wonder how it would feel to walk past that empty branch now, remembering the people I worked with.
 
My sympathies lie with all the staff - the people like Mr Willey, Sylvia, and the Saturday staff- who have worn their Bhs uniform for the last time and lost the security of a job.

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