Monday 10 June 2024

Classy Jobs

My upmarket accent means that people have always made assumptions about me. When I left university, I needed a job, any job. It was my ambition to “work in publishing”, which to me meant book publishing. Such jobs seemed to be few, or “like gold dust”, as we used to say. So I applied for secretarial jobs that sounded interesting. Sometimes I got as far as the interview, but when they heard my voice the interview panel would become inexplicably frosty. Why was someone like me trying to take a job away from someone who actually needed one? 

Posh people need jobs too. But as well as avoiding “trade”, those "jobs in the arts and publishing" were a way of staying among “those of a similar background” and even finding someone suitable to marry. And they paid less because it was assumed Daddy had bought you a London flat.

Oh, and the real value of having a job in publishing is being able to say "I work in publishing" to strangers you meet at parties. It's like saying "I really am middle class, don't worry". People used to say to me “But YOU can’t be a secretary!”. I thought they meant “you, with your brains”, but it was like confessing to being a parlourmaid. 

Sometimes it's what other people want for you. Oh, you're a “nice young girl”? You'd better work in book publishing where you'll “fit in”. It's almost protective. But perhaps they don't want anyone to step out of their niche. Sometimes they want you to fulfil a fairytale they believe about the lives of the “posh”. A man once asked me “Why aren't you married to a barrister and living in Fulham?”. (Because one didn’t ask me to marry him, that’s why.)

I cleverly worked out I couldn’t afford to work in book publishing anyway. Girls who could operate these new-fangled “word processors” were paid £2,000 a year more – and that was a lot in those days. I did a course, applied for a job, got taken on as a temp for a week and stayed for seven years. In publishing! Newsletters, not books. 

I once went to a party in Marlborough which was full of women who worked in book publishing. When I told them I worked in magazines they looked at me as if I was something the cat had dragged in. “I love magazines!” I enthused. “What are these magazines you love?” one asked with a sneer. Hadn’t she ever been to WH Smith in the high street? It had a wall of magazines, from Angling Times to The Zookeeper’s Gazette. Perhaps she was too grand to visit Smith’s and had The Lady delivered.

More here, and links to the rest.

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