Weathers a little bit windy today isn't it? Has anyone ventured out to the sales? I went last Monday thinking that it would be quieter once the children were back at school - I was wrong, it was still busy. I have come to the conclusion that I really don't like big town shopping - give me a little town with small shops and I'm fine somewhere like Ludlow that's not far from us but I hate being in the shopping malls of the bigger towns now.
Back in the winter of 1989/90 I was working as a merchandiser for Rowntrees Mackintosh - I used to spend my days driving around the little paper shops and small supermarkets and move all the Rowntrees items, on the counters, as close to the till as I could - this is supposed to be the best selling position to catch the customers eye when they're paying for their shopping - the problem was I'd do that on a Monday and then a Mars lady would go in on a Wednesday and move all the Mars products into the best positions and move the Rowntrees into the worst. One weekend I saw a job advert for a Poll Tax Cashier with the local council - B.C. (before children) I'd worked as a cash office under manager for Boots the Chemist so I knew that I'd be capable of doing the job advertised.
I applied, got an interview and then had to go into to do a maths test, finally I heard that I had got a position and thought that was it I had a job for life! That's what you thought if you worked for the council in those days - it was full time which meant arranging child care but we managed. We had 2 days training and then were told which offices we were going to be working in. The office I was to go to was in a reasonable area in between the best area of the borough and the 2nd best area so I thought I'd totally landed on my feet.
The poll tax was a miserable affair - no one liked it and I had my share of moaners and groaners about it, I didn't take any notice I used to agree with them and remind them that I was paying the tax just the same as them - mind, the times that I've had customers say to me 'Well, it's alright for you - you're alright' - I don't think that it occurred to some people that I was there working 5 days a week to pay my bills, just the same as some of them.
There was one elderly gentleman Mr C. who used to come in to pay his rent and his poll tax each week and I have never known such a nasty piece of work as he was. He always came in telling us that we were idle b######s sitting on our fat behinds doing nothing all day - that what we were doing wasn't work, that we were nothing but idle so and so's. In those days we had no choice but to take the abuse from customers although it certainly wouldn't be tolerated nowadays. We had bullet proof glass screens between us with the little sliding hatch that customers could put their cards and rent books and cash into we'd then slide the hatch and take it out (like they have at the post office) He would stand as far away as he could and he would throw his money and cards into the little hatch with such flourish shouting 'Ere you idle B######d' - I wouldn't even acknowledge him, but used to just put the transaction through the computer and the printer and throw his cards back into the hatch with as much flourish as I could muster and then get up and walk out of the cash office shutting the door behind me - he'd be left there standing on his own with no one to have a go at - you could hear him standing there muttering to himself before walking out of the door.
This had been his second marriage and there was always talk from the residents of his area that he used to be, shall I say a bit rough with his second wife - she was one of these little women who had to have a husband to look after her and she'd married him in haste and must have certainly repented afterwards! One day his Daughter In Law came in with her Mother in tow and said that he had died suddenly and wanted his name took of her Mum's tenancy - being polite I said Oh I am sorry to hear your sad news - she looked at me, raised an eyebrow and said 'Really - because if you are sorry, then you're the only one - he was nasty bugger and everyone is glad he's dead!'
Wasn't a lot I could say to that , so I did the forms and said if you can sign there and that was the end of Mr C.! But what a statement of a life lived - when people and especially family was glad that he'd gone.
We used to have a pen that scanned the poll tax cards reference number and then we were supposed to manually put into the computer the amount that the customer was paying - the customers reference numbers were 13 digits long - one day I managed to scan a customers card twice and I put the amount into the computer as 13 digits long so it looked like the customer had paid billions against their poll tax account and at the end of the day I was slightly under when I came to balance the money taken against the computer. Payments could be reversed off the system but only by £999.99 at a time - I think I could safely say that my name was mud for a while to the back office girls who had to sit reversing the amount off £999.99 at a time.
It used to be the elderly ladies and gents (apart from Mr C) who used to be my favourite customers - we could have 2ft of snow on the ground but they'd be there dead on 9 o'clock on a Monday morning ready to pay their rent - I used to say to them what have you come out in this weather for? and they were all the same - 'Oh No it's the rent and it's got to be paid, can't get into debt' - Pity people are like that nowadays I remember one old lady coming into the office with her whole financial life in a bag - her husband had died and he'd always managed the money, she hadn't got a clue where to start - we sat her down, made her a cup of tea and sorted it all out for her - we even wrote the letters to the different agencies for her and she signed them and sent them off - it taught me never to be the little wife at home, leaving everything financial to the hubby. She was in such a state - poor dear.
The poll tax only lasted for 2 years and after 2 years we were no longer required, so I was moved into a Housing Officers position within the same office.
From that position as Poll Tax Clerk, I worked solidly for nearly 25 years - That job opportunity enabled me to pay for the divorce from the first prat of a husband, totally purchase and own my own house, help my children with their weddings and cars and help them when times have been tough for them recently, It's kept me with a car on the road and I've been able to retire early with a pension - it's not brilliant but it's better than nothing at all.
So thank you Maggie Thatcher - the poll tax was a hated tax but really it did me no harm and started me off on a long career.
Will be back with more another day - do you remember the dreaded poll tax?