12. My Schoolboy Jobs.

My becoming involved in a number of activities became a cash burden for my parents, and part time employment became a necessity for me to continue. I acquired several after school jobs that saw me working at Braude’s Chemist delivering medicine to outlaying customers on bicycle. At a dental mechanic’s workshop preparing and extracting the gum moulding, sent to acquire the gold leaf foil for gold teeth and slits, and to fire up the Bunsen burner for its melting in moulds. Friday nights and Saturday mornings I helped out at Parker’s Grocery Store where I filled and weighed paper bags of loose sugar, oats, salt and other food provisions. He was a single prosperous Indian and his corner shop was the busiest in the neighbourhood. The shop consisted of a café / milk bar in the front and vegetables and fruit display in a large enclosed bay window at the side. The grocery area was set to the back and he lived in a house attached to the back of the shop. He employed a casual shop assistant for Saturday mornings and ran the shop by himself for the rest of the week. As it was unlawful from 6pm weekdays, 1pm Saturdays and all day Sundays to sell non-perishable goods, shutters that enclosed the grocery area and counters with a flip top entrance kept customers separated from the provisions for that period. His innovations to overcome those laws were remarkable. Customers were encouraged to produce a list for their weekly provisions and hand it in on a Friday. We made it up on the night, packed it in boxes, stored them in his house, and his delivery boy would convey them by bicycle to the customer’s way past 1pm on Saturdays, which was also unlawful. The purchasing of urgently required non-perishable’s by forgetful customers at night would be obtained by using a narrow lane, which acted as a divider between properties, at the back of his shop. After first having paid up front in the shop, a latched back gate in his yard served the needs of those who were really desperate. With police patrolling shopping areas to catch shop proprietors who sold unlawful goods after hours he applied an extra charge for the risk taken. He got caught a few times through stupid customers coming back into the shop to further purchase perishable goods with the items received via the back yard. With the goods confiscated as evidence he would incur a fine, yet he still made a handsome profit. Another ploy that he used to increase his profits margins was to allow customers who were by the means to purchase goods on credit or known as buying on the book. It was at most time’s luxury items they purchased at night to drink and nibble on at home, in the movies or to take to their girlfriends. They settled their accounts on payday to which he had added a substantial percentage for bookkeeping; he though never gave them an invoice or receipt.

Methylated spirits and paraffin oil for primus stoves were a necessity for the cooking of meals for some households and were sold by the bottle with customers supplying their own containers. Because those two liquids were time consuming pumped from large tin containers, he encouraged children to collect empty wine bottles that we refilled with those two liquids, plus vinegar ready for sale. He paid them with iced milk blocks made and sold only at his shop. They were delicious and the children loved them due to it consisting of milk, sugar, water and vanilla essence frozen in ice cube trays, wrapped singly in greaseproof paper and sold at one penny each. The excess bottles he stacked in the back yard and sold at a profit to the bottle and bone man. He also introduced the first soft drink soda fountain in our town where at first after using the variety of flavour syrups available, he eventually with experimenting in his kitchen produced his own flavours and a better quality of thicker syrup. That made for lesser use of syrup in drinks and more profit for him. Milk shakes and ice cream then were just that, with ice cream only having the one colour of white and vanilla flavour only, which came in long cylindrical containers and was scooped out and placed in an ice cream cone just as today. Milk shakes consisted of ice cream and milk shaken in a milk shaker, but he changed all that by offering the addition of his flavours to the milk shakes and the ice cream at an inflated price. Business boomed. According to my friends I had worked myself into an enviable position because he promoted me to serving customers behind the counter. Through observing him serve and by memorizing prices I was able to assist at appropriate times when he was going flat strap. At first only he worked the till with me handing him the money and telling him the purchases added amount and the change for the tended amount, whereby he would do the adding with pen and paper before handing me the change. With me been spot on without using his method of calculation impressed him, although it did help with me also having a good grasp of mental arithmetic though. Waiting time for customers was then at a minimum for we both served and worked the till, and my knowledge of his business mechanism and the overall operation made me an asset that he acknowledged. He then took one Sunday in every month off and left me to run the café / milk bar on my own. Being still only a youngster with that sort of responsibility gave me a grandiose attitude. I began to brag to my friends about the free luxury perks eaten in the shop, distributed pocketed lollies, entertained them with freebies at the shop on my working Sundays, and began pilfering cigarettes so that we boys could have a sly smoke at night. The extra few shillings (10 cents) been earned meant going Saturdays to a matinee at our local bioscope (movie theater) with the girls, and accumulated luxuries were then distributed while always seated between them. It was a neighbourhood theater where everybody knew everybody so we had to be on our best behaviour, even so, our holding hands and squeezing thighs discreetly during the movie wasn’t noticeable. What we expectantly waited for though was just when the lights went out before the show and just when it went out after the interval. Lights didn’t dim slowly in those days; instead it went from bright to instant darkness. Pitch black for about thirty seconds and then your eyes had to adjust as the dim wall lights came on before the movie. Those lights were for the patrons benefit to see by, for us though that one accumulated minute of can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face darkness became a playful groping at each other time for us.

I was then Mister Parker’s only casual shop assistant and doing a few extra hours during school holidays so that he could transact urgent business. Whenever I also made a purchase for my mother at the shop, he would slip away to cook in his kitchen and that also fueled my own importance. His ongoing confidence and trust in me, the pilfering of his goods and my bravado attitude shown to my friends began to give me a guilt complex though. On the other hand, I also realized that I had been slightly used, paid a pittance in comparison to the shop assistant before me and so began to have no qualms in pilfering off him. All that slowly came to an end when he began to introduce me to his Indian friends as his adopted son that attributed to the final crunch of me leaving his services when he approached my parents to really adopt me. He astounded my parents with his sincerity; he didn’t have a hope though, especially as I was the eldest son and the apple of my mother’s eye. My parents though were wise enough not to offend him offhandedly because we had relied on his compassion to supply the family with difficult to get provisions during the World War 2. My baby brother who had been weaned at that time needed condensed milk, which was in short supply, and Mister Parker’s concern and consideration provide it. My parents then encouraged me to pursue other avenues so as to spend more of my spare time away from the shop that eventuated into been sent away on occasional weekend visits to my cousins, and sport became my after school activities. What really dissolved the whole situation was the knocking down of his delivery boy by a double-Decker bus in front of his shop. Those buses, which Golden Arrow Bus Service’s privately owned, crisscrossed throughout our town into other suburbs, and the shop being on Lawrence Road had a constant stream of them passing it daily. My helping out at the shop was petering out, he was back to the casual assistant and my parents were sending me less frequently to his shop. Coming out of the shop I saw the delivery boy stop and wait for a bus to pass in front of him before crossing over. What he didn’t see or realize was that another bus was going to pass from the opposite direction, and when he crossed the other bus knocked him down. Running to his assistance was of no avail because of finding him half under the back of the bus with his head squashed under the back wheel. That left me sick and shaken for days with many nightmares and me never going near the shop again.

My parents still purchased their provisions at Mr Parker’s; I though got my requirements at Lee’s Grocery Store. The proprietor was Chinese with a wife and children, and either they liked teasing me or they were getting their own back knowing that I had worked for Mister Parker, who was his business rival. Retaliation against his children was easy because they resided at the end of our street and when they came out to play it gave me the chance to tease them unceasingly out of his earshot. I felt sorry for them though when he died. It was a sight for us though to see all those Chinese in long black robes at his funereal. I didn’t know why, but his children told me that their mother had to stay indoors for seven days of mourning, and when observing all her visitors with a small red ribbon bow worn on their clothing walk out backwards when leaving the house I didn’t know why either. Red must have also been a significant colour in Chinese culture because he not only had his shop door painted red but also the house front door. Mister Parker too had certain culture peculiarities. His friends, his eventual wife and he always had pink tongues and teeth from chewing beetle nut. His wife and her female friends wore a sari and veil, his male friends and he at times wore a fez, and the smell of incense sticks always prevailed in their homes.

Image

Mr Parker’s Shop on the corner of Lawrence Rd and Carrington Av, now. Next to his shop with the gabled roof was Mr Allies Shop, and across Carrington Ave to the left was Mr Lee’s Shop.

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