Like many lads aged 11, I had a bike but wanted cow horn handle bars, dérailleur gears and other go faster goodies. Whilst my parents were kind and giving there wasn’t the money for such frivolities.
Wild's Newsagents and Kwicksnak Bar 1957
So Dad sat me down one day and said “If you want this stuff Keith, get a Saturday job or a paper round. You get up very early, earn the money, then you can do what you like with it.” So in 1961 at the age of 11, I went into Harry Wild’s paper shop at the corner of Chester Road and Manor Park Road, Castle Bromwich, just opposite the Kwiksnak Bar. I asked if there were any jobs going.
The owner Harry was a stout ageing man and was known as being somewhat intimidating, grumpy and sharp with people. But that day he was soft spoken, he looked down at me somewhat resigned, gave me a wink and said “I’m sick of lads starting, then just not turning up when they realise it is hard work. Are you one of those son? You work hard my lad and I’ll make it worth your while!” Now this job was every day getting up before anyone else in the house at 7:15 am, do the round, back in time around 8 am, just in time for breakers, fried bread with a dab of tommy sauce, with just enough time to change into school clothes to catch the bus.
Like many young, fit 11 year olds, this job was a breeze but most kids had problems getting up regularly. But I was a boy with a mission and goals to achieve. In those days you started on the minimum wage and got increases on merit. As I was always the first in the shop in the mornings, often when I returned someone hadn’t turned in and Harry asked me to do another round. So I was earning more bike modifying funds. Then Harry asked me if I would do two rounds every day. Yipeee. A year or so later Harry was ill and he asked me if I would go in even earlier, mark up the rounds and then do my deliveries. I was getting up at 5:45 am to be at the shop for 6 am.
My Uncle was a milkman for Midland Counties Dairy. I knew that “helping the milkman” at weekends was the best paying job around. As luck would have it Uncle put in a word for me with our local milkman Albert Williams whose Castle Bromwich round was the second biggest at the dairy. I got the job in that terrible winter 62/63. This was great for me as the two paper rounds were almost exactly the same round as the milk round. I will be forever grateful to Albert, he let me dump the papers in the milk float and deliver them with the milk.
That winter was the worst in 100 years [apart from 1947]. I remember being so cold sat in the milk float, it had no doors, crying with my hands turning blue. Those bottles were freezing. Albert just shrugged it off and kept saying “Come on Keith, look lively lad, run up the drives you’ll soon forget the cold.” I can still carry 4 or 5 freezing milk bottles without thinking and walk outside in the midst of winter with just my shirt and jumper on. Soon I knew the round off by heart....No7 sterra pass, no 9 two pass and a channel Island. I could do one side of the road and Albert the other.
Plant Hire Yard at Castle Bromwich Airfield Winter 62-3
Albert would buy the breakfast, oh how those bactomdip sarnies tasted in the Kwiksnak Bar. I would wander across to the jukebox and put a tanner in and play the latest song. My favourite was Johnny Tillotson “Poetry in motion”. The bar owner complained that I had worn the record out, he had to get another copy. As the years went by Albert would occasionally sit back in the passenger side of the float and say “I’m going to do my booking, Keith you drive for a bit”. I was 14! He knew I could drive as I had learnt driving dumpers around Castle Bromwich Airfield.
In the summer holidays in the week I would do my paper rounds, come home, have breakers, then go off with my dad to his plant hire works and earn more fetching, carrying, making the tea in the big tea urn, fetching the sandwiches, sweeping up and then graduating to help in the workshop learning to fix engines, work in the stores and all manner of things. But I was allowed to drive stuff all over the airfield. I rebuilt my first engine aged 17 AND it worked!
My friends were all enterprising chaps. One mate helped in the dairy at Gilson, another helped with a plastering gang, and another delivered potatoes, several helped in local shops, factories or workshops. The girls I knew worked in shoe shops, hairdressers and all manner of jobs. We were certainly an enterprising lot. I somehow still managed to play Rugby for the school and do all the other things that schoolboys do. From 1964 till way past 1970 I played drums in a band. I always had money for instruments, amplifiers and such. I could also afford to take my girl to the pictures, the fair and still had money for drainpipe trousers, winkle pickers and other fashion stuff. Each Saturday late afternoon I would go up to Hughes or Top Tunes at the Timberley and buy the latest 45 single. The first record I ever bought was “Let’s jump the broomstick” by Brenda Lee, when I was 10 years old.
I did that milk round right up to my GCE exam time in 1966. I sourced my replacement and actually sold the job to another lad. Those jobs were so sought after. It used to annoy me when people would say that I was lucky or that my parents were well off. Little did they know how hard I worked every minute I could.
Me in Healey
At seventeen I had saved enough money to buy a car, my cow horned bike completely worn out. In those days you never threw stuff out, you fixed it and sold it. Within a couple of years I bought my first sports car an Austin Healey Sprite for cash.
I’ve always enjoyed work, whatever the job. I think my Saturday job set me up for life. How about you?
Lead photo shows Cow horn handlebars on bike.