My husband was earning less than I was when our first child was born, so we found our income more than halved when I gave up full time work.
Once the shock of motherhood had become more manageable, I tried to contribute to the family coffers in ways compatible with my husband’s working hours. These were chiefly ‘party plan’ sales at events hosted by customers in return for bribes of goods.
I never made much money selling Tupperware, Vanda, Avon, or PlayPlan, but I ended up with a lot of plastic storage, cosmetics and wooden toys. I still have cupboards full of Tupperware, boosted by the stocks my second husband came with, since his first wife also sold Tupperware in her childrearing days. (He has further Tupperware mountains in the garage against the day that he finally gets his workshop storage organised.)
When my youngest started school I was able to find myself a part-time job with a publishers’ rep, representing his clients’ publications to bookshops around London, including Foyles, which was a blog post unto itself. (One that I probably won’t write).
Conditions were ideal. I made my own appointments with bookshop managers and was paid by the hour. (In the last decade, I have worked online for a lesser hourly payment than I was getting for visiting bookshops in the 1990’s.) If I had nothing else arranged or time to kill I would pop into Foyles’ Business and Law department and rarely came away without an order. After spending my days arguing with a four-year-old and losing, I enjoyed being able to talk to adults about something other than children.
The only downside was that the IRA was in the habit of leaving bombs around London Underground at that time. Trains would be held while bomb warnings were investigated, and in those days mobile phones didn’t work underground. For this reason, I rarely made appointments after 2pm, which limited my hours of work considerably. Between 12 and 2pm, booksellers were generally at lunch or covering for staff lunch breaks.
Although I’d lived in or close to London all my life, I didn’t know my way around it. I began like a mole, locating the nearest London Underground stations to my appointments and tunnelling my way between bookshops.
This changed after purchasing a Filofax map that tucked neatly into my wallet behind the Underground map. (Remember Filofax? I only had room for the map.) With its help I learned it was often quicker to walk between appointments than to descend again, change to a different Line and resurface.
My biggest customer sold our tomes in their shop alongside other, non-book stock. I would visit around once a month to stock-check and tell them what they had sold. Each time, I came away with a four-figure order – a substantial figure back in the ’90s. When the branch installed a computerised till system, which told them what they had sold and automatically re-ordered, I could see the writing on the wall for my part-time job.
But life was moving on, anyway.
I had enrolled in a Bachelor of Education course (B Ed) to teach primary school children. It had seemed a good idea at the time – school holidays being an attractive incentive.
The first three years of the course were part-time. By the end of year three, I had passed Part 1 teaching practices and exams with distinction, but Part 2 was a full-time course, which meant giving up the part-time job. We were financially stretched as it was, and I was already qualified for a profession.
By then, my eldest offspring was at secondary school. A responsible lad, I could trust him to collect his youngest sister from primary school on his way home. I scanned the Sits Vac in the local paper, where a local boys’ school close to home was advertising for a ‘Junior School Librarian’.
I suspect I was the only applicant with a library qualification, which offset the disadvantage of being thirteen years out of full-time work. I was appointed ‘Junior School Librarian’. (‘School Librarian’ was a teacher who oversaw the library and rarely set foot inside it while I was there.)
I like to think my half-a-B Ed helped, but I doubted my LA exams from library school would be enough to compete against younger, graduate librarians for better jobs in the future. While working part-time, I went on to expand my half a degree to a B Sc with the Open University, graduating three years later.