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- Character & Professionalism
A funny thing happened at work today...
Deciding on a career...
It struck me the other day how many mishaps have befallen me at work!
I don't know if I'm unusually unlucky, or whether this is commonplace for a lot of people, but I seem to have had a disproportionate number of disasters at various places of employment which, with hindsight, make me laugh.
I can trace my bad luck - or bad decisions - to when I was still in my teens. A rather directionless young person, I had decided, at the age of 18, that I wanted to become a newspaper reporter.
At this point, I hadn't been to university.
Instead, I tried a different route, which entailed gaining an unpaid, short work experience at the local newspaper to gauge my suitability for the role, with the possibility of becoming a paid employee should an opening arise at a later date.
My first work placement...
I had been unsure what to do with the rest of my life all the way through my education and I had just completed my A-Levels (not gaining the grades I could have achieved had I tried) when I decided the only subject I enjoyed was English, so writing seemed a natural progression.
I contacted my local newspaper, the Gazette, where, as a 13-year-old, I had joined the Junior Reporters' Club.
This had involved weekly meetings with two journalists, who set us simple assignments, which we wrote up diary-style and if suitable, they were included in the newspaper.
My assignments had always been published, so I thought journalism may be a suitable job for me.
On the first day of my work placement at the Gazette, I set off excitedly for the ten-minute drive in dad's car, a Mitsubishi Colt Sapporo, his pride and joy. It was a silver, 1978 model, quite sporty, which he had bought from his nephew.
I had passed my driving test when I was 17 and dad had always trusted me to drive his car from the outset.
Only five minutes into the journey, as I blasted out my favourite punk songs on the cassette player, singing as I drove, the tape needed turning over. This was before the days of the luxury of a CD player, enabling the listener to simply press a button and the correct track would come on!
It was a case of laboriously removing the cassette tape from the player and physically turning it over to play the other side - unless you were hi-tech enough to have a cassette deck that changed direction and played both sides. We weren't, needless to say.
Momentarily, I looked down to find the 'eject' button. Seconds later, as I looked up at the road ahead again, there was a horrifying thud ... I had hurtled at about 30mph into the back of the car in front!
Unbeknown to me, in that second, the traffic lights ahead had gone on to red and the traffic had slowed down. Attention diverted by my cassette player, I realised it was too late, when I looked up, to stop. I could see the brake lights ahead but it was all over in a split second and I had crashed!
Even worse was the fact that because of the speed of my impact, I had shunted the car in front into the back of the vehicle in front of him! His car was like a concertina, crushed at the front and the back!
My dad's beautiful car was in a terrible state, the front end smashed in and a mixture of water and oil pouring out on to the road. There were various fluids pouring out from the engine of the car in front of me, while the one in front of him had its rear end badly smashed with the impact.
I had caused a multiple pile-up due to one split second of allowing my attention to wander from the road!
"My dad will kill me!"
I was uninjured apart from jarring my neck with the impact, but I guess I went into shock, as I started crying hysterically as I got out of the car and just couldn't shut up!
In the immediate aftermath of the accident, I remember leaning on dad's car and just bawling uncontrollably.
The driver of the car in front, a middle-aged man, got out and walked over to me, a piece of paper and pen in his hand.
Still I sobbed, mainly wailing: "My dad'll kill me!"
Of course, this was far from the truth. Dad was always easy-going and calm. But my own guilt in knowing it was all my fault made me inconsolable.
The other driver, ushering me into the back of his car to write down my insurance details, merely replied drily, "Well, before you're murdered, I'd appreciate it if you wrote your details down for me."
I did so and then rang dad to arrange to get the car home. By this time, I was very late for my first day on work placement, so I rang and apologised, explaining I'd had a car accident. They told me to start the following Monday instead because I must be shaken up after my accident.
Another shock when I arrived at work!
My dad took the news of the accident rather well (even though I locked myself in the bathroom on arriving home and continued to have hysterics).
In time, his car was repaired, incidentally. It was a huge job, but he did get it back on the road eventually.
Meanwhile, one week later, I was due to start my delayed work placement at the Gazette.
This time, I arrived early, with no mishaps. After waiting in the newsroom for a few minutes, a secretary told me the editor would have a chat with me before I started work.
Feeling nervous, as one usually does when starting a new job, I was taken to his office and ushered in.
Words could not explain how I felt when the suited gent at the large desk looked up - and I realised it was the driver of the car into which I had crashed one week earlier!
You couldn't make it up!
My mouth must have gaped open with shock. But to his credit, he was extremely professional, greeted me with a warm handshake ... and never actually mentioned our earlier, unfortunate meeting. Nor did I.
He gave me brief details of my duties and then showed me into the newsroom, where a reporter took over my training. All week, I kept my head down and kind of hid if the editor walked through the editorial department.
I never did meet the editor again. By the time I entered journalism as a professional reporter some years later, I took a job at another newspaper, where I worked for several years.
Eventually, I worked for the Gazette company - at a branch office - but there was a new editor and no-one knew of my misdemeanor all those years earlier.
Chaos in a café...
At a similar time to my work placement as a reporter, I took a paid job at the famous Blackpool Pleasure Beach, the huge, seafront leisure complex in my hometown.
Two of my friends and I had just left school and we needed summer jobs to earn a wage, so all three of us successfully applied at the Pleasure Beach.
We were each assigned to different cafes and I found myself working at one of the oldest eating establishments, the Cresta Café, which has long since been demolished.
At first, my job was going well. It was pretty easy - clearing tables; serving beverages and light snacks; serving on the ice-cream kiosk and mopping floors at the end of my shift.
One day, however, lulled into a false sense of security by how well I was doing, I changed from being a well-liked, trusted employee into being viewed as a complete lunatic by my workmates.
Clearing tables on an upper level of the café, where the décor was old and faded, with some ripped covers on the leather chairs, I picked up a tray and loaded it with dirty plates and cups.
In fact, I overloaded it, trying to make only one trip to the kitchen instead of two. A false economy, as it turned out.
As I walked away, I felt a tickling sensation on my bare arm ... and looked down to see a huge cockroach scuttling out of the ripped chair arm and over my skin!
It wasn't really the kind of thing the company would wish customers to hear about. Having a cockroach with your tea and scone would be frowned upon.
But my reaction ensured everyone knew something was amiss and I was notorious for the rest of the summer season.
Being quite phobic about creepy-crawlies, seeing a cockroach running up my arm and about to disappear up my short sleeve was just about the worst thing that could have happened to me!
With no thought at all for the consequences, I went into panic mode, screamed my head off and tried to run off, simultaneously slipping on some tea spilled on the floor and throwing my tray of dirty crockery literally up in the air. I hit the stone floor with a massive thud and the plates and mugs landed around me, smashing to pieces.
There was complete silence as every customer and staff member looked at me, stunned!
My supervisor came over to ask if I was ok and presumed I had just slipped. I couldn't tell her what had really happened, as customers were about and the cockroach had scuttled off anyway.
I never did tell anyone the truth and I let them think I had simply tripped up, as I didn't want anyone to know that I had smashed all those cups and plates due to my phobia of insects.
Knickerbocker Glory wasn't very glorious...
After this incident, I was put on the less dangerous ice-cream kiosk, where I had to serve cornets, wafers, soft drinks and some more exotic dishes, such as Knickerbocker Glories in tall glasses, filled with jelly, fruit, ice-cream, custard, fresh cream and various 'sprinkles' on top.
They were the most expensive item on the menu, so had to look (and taste) good.
Usually, the basics - such as the jellies - were prepared in advance and all I had to do was bring them over to my kiosk from the kitchen, where they would await me in huge plastic buckets.
I would made up the Knickerbocker Glory in front of the customers, so they could 'whoop' and 'aahh' with delight as they saw all the sweet and sugary ingredients being poured, layer after layer, into the glasses.
One day, nobody had made the jellies. I don't know if it was an oversight, but when I went into the kitchen, there were none waiting for me and the ice-cream kiosk was due to open in a couple of hours.
My supervisor was on a later shift that day, so I was told by a colleague I'd have to make the jellies myself, or I'd be in trouble if there were no Knickerbocker Glories on sale!
Catering wasn't my strong point and this wasn't like making a bowl of jelly from the little packs you get from the supermarket. These were huge, catering-size tubs of jelly cubes and there were no instructions on how much water to add. So I just threw lots of cubes into a bucket and topped it up with water, stirring it as I went along.
Then I put it in the fridge to set and hoped it was ready in time for when the kiosk opened.
A trip to accident & emergency
As I went to open the shutters on the kiosk, a colleague came rushing over. The supervisor had just arrived and wanted to see me immediately in the kitchen!
I went over feeling nervous and sure enough, she wasn't best pleased. The jelly I'd made hadn't set and instead we had four buckets of brightly coloured water in the fridge. I hadn't put enough jelly cubes in.
It was too late to make any more and I presumed Knickerbocker Glories would be off the menu.
But I was wrong.
"We can't waste all that jelly and not serve them!" my supervisor said, visibly agitated. "You'll just have to put it at the bottom of the glasses and hope nobody notices!"
So I spent the whole day serving up the sugary concoction, as usual, but instead of preparing it in front of the customers, I was crouching down under the counter, pouring in the liquid with a ladle and keeping the customers talking in the hope they didn't notice.
Amazingly, I didn't have one complaint - I guess the ice-cream had melted anyway by the time they reached the bottom of the tall glass and kind of blended into the jelly.
At the end of my shift, after I had cleaned the ice-cream machine (a massive job in itself since I had to dismantle it and grease all the parts) I was so overtired and relieved I went a little manic and actually vaulted over the counter.
I totally forgot there was a wooden canopy above, with a jagged edge, smashing my head on it and falling to the floor.
My workmates looked over, horrified and asking if I was okay. Picking myself up, giddy and embarrassed, I said: "Yes, I'm fine, don't worry."
Then, however, I felt the blood trickling down my face. I had split my head open badly.
So instead of going home, I ended up at the hospital's accident and emergency department, having several stitches in the wound.
I had to take the following day off work, as I felt quite ill. I don't think I was missed.
Jeweller's job lost its sparkle...
Another summer job I had was working in a seasonal jewellery and fancy goods shop.
It was run by a very pleasant elderly couple and I was to serve customers, re-stock the shelves and tidy up. This did not seem too difficult and I thought it was impossible for me to do much wrong here.
At the time, I had been suffering from anxiety attacks and sleepless nights following my grandfather's death. My mum had told me the best thing to do was to go out and try to get on with my life. She felt sitting at home moping and feeling depressed would do me no good whatsoever.
Of course, she was right. When I was in the shop and chatting to people, I forgot my problems for a while and felt a little better.
One day, when we were quiet, my employer asked me to go into the window and replenish some of the display cabinets there.
Taking several boxes of jewellery and trinkets with me, I seated myself on the velvet floor and began my task. It was a hot summer's day and it was very pleasant sitting in the enclosed window area in the sunshine.
Next thing I knew, I heard my mum's voice saying, "Karen ... Karen! Are you alright?"
I looked up and there was mum, standing above me, my elderly employers looking very anxious behind her. I had fallen asleep in the window!
Apparently, when I hadn't reappeared for some time, my employers had opened the door to the window area ... and there I was, dozing away. They were worried because they had noticed I had seemed tired and not very alert that day. They hadn't known that I'd had a sleepless night due to my anxiety after my grandad's death.
They had my home telephone number and had called my parents to ask if they would come to the shop, as they hadn't known what to do. They thought I may have feinted!
I was so embarrassed, even though mum explained to them about my personal situation and they were very understanding.
They told me to go home and have a sleep and to come back the following week if I felt better. They even paid me for the afternoon, even though I had slept through half of it!
I didn't go back, however. It was a long road to recovery for me, as I was emotionally very drained and I couldn't face it after what had happened.
Hair today, gone tomorrow...
I will fast forward a few years to my first job as a junior reporter for the Citizen newspaper.
Inbetween, I had decided I wished to make a career out of journalism and had successfully passed the National Council for the Training of Journalists' course at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston.
It may come as some surprise to anyone reading this that I did rather well on the course, passing each module with credit or distinction and achieving the fastest shorthand speed out of the 60 students in my year.
My tutors awarded me the Student of the Year Award, of which I was very proud. I attended a ceremony at the university, where I was officially presented with my award.
For the first time in my life, I actually applied myself to the task in hand, enjoying the challenges of the course and working extremely hard.
At the time, I was still into going out to clubs and to see bands with my friends and had started styling my own hair with long hair extensions. It was a new trend at the time and I ordered my hair from a London supplier, as it wasn't readily available in the shops, as it is today.
At the weekend, I wore my hair backcombed and spiked up, with my nose pierced, eight earrings in each ear and black, Gothic clothes. I toned down the look for work, of course, wearing smart clothes and normally either wearing my hair straight and down, or in a French plait.
I had to take all my earrings and nose stud out too.
In my youth, work wear was far more mainstream and although I see employees in many places today with piercings, tattoos and outlandish hairstyles, I would never have been allowed to wear anything other than conservative skirts and blouses in the office in those days.
One weekend, I decided to take the drastic step of taking out all my brown hair extensions, bleaching my hair pale blonde and adding new hair extensions. I just fancied a change.
However, it was a bit of a disaster, mainly because I hadn't realised how hard it would be to lift the dark brown hair dye. Initially, I ended up with hair that was pale blonde at the roots, changing to bright tangerine at the ends.
I had to tint it three times with a blonde toner to get rid of the orange colour and by the time I had finished (as I did it on the Friday and Saturday) my hair had the texture of cotton wool.
My own hair, because I had worn extensions for so long, had not been cut for some time and was different lengths and not in any particular style. I knew I would have to put my extensions back in before I left the house, as I looked dreadful.
So on the Sunday - 24 hours later than planned - I began the massive task of replacing my hair extensions with the new, blonde hair that I'd bought.
However, it was way too late, of course. I was still up at 2am and not even half finished. My hair resembled a mullet and I just looked ridiculous.
I daren't call in sick to work the next day, as I hadn't worked there very long and Monday was one of our busiest days.
So the next morning, I had to improvise. I put the back of my hair (the long part) in a plait, but the front was so short in comparison, it still looked silly. So I wore a blue peaked hat - and instead of my usual skirt suit, I tried to give the impression I was creating a new look by wearing dark-coloured trousers, a polo neck jumper and a dark gilet.
I thought it was 'casual but smart'.
Unfortunately, my editor didn't agree with this description. About half an hour after I arrived, he called me into his office and told me he did not feel I was 'suitably attired' for work.
It transpired he had needed me to go out and interview the family of a young man who, tragically, had died in a motorbike accident. They wished to pay tribute to their son in the paper.
"If you turn up on their doorstep like that, you'll terrify them!" he told me, looking extremely disappointed in me and shaking his head.
He reprimanded me in no uncertain terms and told me never to come to the office dressed in that manner again - and certainly never to wear a peaked cap!
I daren't tell him the real reason I was dressed that way - because I had only half my hair attached! I felt I'd be a laughing stock. So I slunk away, embarrassed and upset that I'd received my first reprimand in my new job - and for something so foolish.
How to do a job in your sleep...
Once I had become established as a reporter at the Citizen, with no further wardrobe malfunctions, I was doing quite well and enjoying my job.
At weekends, I still enjoyed going to clubs, as I was only in my twenties and enjoyed my social life. I became friendly with some girls from Blackburn, about 15 miles away, who regularly came over to Blackpool for the weekend, as they liked the social life.
It wasn't long before I was invited over to Blackburn to go out with them there. This became a regular weekend escape for me.
However, I became too fond of the party lifestyle. After going out to clubs and parties on the Friday and Saturday nights, instead of driving home on Sunday afternoon, so I could have an early night ready for work on Monday, I would sometimes be driving home at 2am.
I awoke one Monday morning feeling dreadful, having had only about four hours' sleep before my alarm went off. I got ready for work in a daze and hoped it would be a quiet day.
My hopes were soon dashed as the daily buzz of the office hit me like a brick and I had a pile of work on my desk to plough through. I was so tired, I started to feel light-headed and giddy. Several cups of coffee did not help and I just wanted to go to bed.
Mid-morning, I was given quite an important story to cover, which involved my making several phone calls to local councilors and community leaders. It was a very dry story about council business and didn't grab my attention, but it must be done.
I made several phone calls and jotted down some quotes in shorthand. On the last call, the person whom I was interviewing was renowned for talking endlessly for as long as you would permit them to do so. I began taking notes and tried to interject with questions and comments, but they continued to speak over me, hardly seeming to draw breath.
I was wondering how I could draw the conversation to a close without sounding abrupt.
I felt so drowsy, it was painful.
Suddenly, I felt my elbow hit my knee and my chin smack the desk. Yes, I had fallen asleep at work. Again.
This time, it was nothing to do with my having sleepless nights due to anxiety attacks. It was down to my own foolishness in partying so hard at the weekend that I'd made myself too exhausted to go to work.
Amazingly, the person whom I was interviewing was still talking and hadn't even noticed I'd gone quiet.
I managed to end the call politely and thankfully put the phone down, anxiously looking round to see if any of my work colleagues had noticed. Thankfully, I sat in a corner and nobody appeared to be looking at me. They were all busy doing their own work.
I began writing up the story and had a terrible time doing this, too, as some of my shorthand was way off the mark (unusual for me) and I couldn't make sense of it. Even writing on the computer screen, I found it hard to concentrate and had to go back and re-write whole paragraphs, as I'd written gibberish.
I have no idea how I got through that day, but it did teach me a valuable lesson - if I wanted to keep my job, I needed to exercise a little restraint at the weekend and go to bed early on a Sunday night.
Another trip to accident & emergency...
I did make a conscious effort after this to calm down my party lifestyle a bit, as I didn't want to get the sack.
I had three good friends in those days - Mandie and Carol in Blackburn and Julia in my hometown. On a Saturday, Julia and I would go over to Blackburn to go out with our pals there and would stay the night.
Sometimes, we would drive over to Manchester and go to the Hacienda nightclub, not arriving back in Blackburn - staying at Mandie's house - until the early hours of Sunday morning.
We would catch a few hours' sleep after our night clubbing.
Then, Julia and I would drive home on the Sunday afternoon and I would normally try to have an early night so I wouldn't be too tired for work on the Monday.
One Sunday evening, I had popped round to see Julia and we had a girls' night in, having a chat and a giggle. She lived only ten minutes' drive from me and I should have gone home, but when it got to midnight, she asked if I wanted to stay the night, as I felt very tired.
I had to be up for work at 7.30am and as I was wearing reasonably smart clothes which were suitable for the office, I rang my parents and told them I would go straight to work the following morning from Julia's. I just felt too sleepy to drive.
I slept well ... in fact, too well. I awoke in the spare room to find I had slept through the alarm and it was 8.30am. I had to be at work at 9am and it would take me about half an hour, as it was rush hour. The quickest route was a straight drive along the seafront.
So I leapt out of bed, quickly washed, brushed my teeth, dressed and brushed my hair. Then I went tearing out of the room, grabbing my handbag and car keys and panicking.
Trying not to wake her parents, I didn't turn on the landing light. It was a winter's morning and still quite dark, even at that time. I recall trying to run - quietly - down the stairs.
I made it okay down the first flight, turned the corner on the small landing and began my descent of the second flight of stairs, which led to the hallway, where it was even darker.
I almost made it ... but somehow, I misjudged the final couple of stairs, leaping down and instead of landing on the floor directly below, kind of flying through the air.
I realised too late I had missed a stair but it was too late by this time. I was wearing shoes with a chunky sole and heel and as I landed on the floor, my ankle turned over, very painfully.
I managed not to cry out and simply carried on running out to the car, despite the awful pain in my ankle
I got in the car, turned on the ignition and drove off.
But I had only gone about a mile down the promenade when I realised the pain was getting worse and I did not have the power in my ankle to use the clutch properly. I was having to push it down with my heel instead of my toe.
I was pretty sure I hadn't broken my ankle, as I could still move it, albeit painfully. But it definitely didn't feel right.
I pulled over and took off my shoe, as I could see my ankle swelling over the top of it. To my dismay, as soon as I removed the shoe, my ankle swelled up rapidly till it resembled a balloon. I realised I would have to go to the accident and emergency department rather than work.
This was before the days of mobile phones, so in great pain, I drove to a public telephone box and rang my long-suffering mum to ask if she would ring the office for me and say I'd had an accident. Of course, she did so, while I drove to hospital, as I didn't want to leave the car and call an ambulance.
I ended up on crutches!
This was actually one of the most painful injuries I had ever suffered. I spent about three hours at the hospital and an X-ray revealed I had done bad ligament damage when I turned my ankle over. It had to be strapped up and I needed crutches!
I needed a little time off work, as my office was on the top floor and with the lift out of order, it was impossible for me to negotiate several flights of stairs.
In fact, the best way I found of ascending the staircase at home was on my behind! I definitely couldn't have done this at work!
My boss took it quite well, although I never did admit I had inflicted the injury on myself because I was late for work and had come running down my friend's stairs too fast!
Customer's unexpected cup of tea
I will fast forward a few years again to around the year 2004, when my employer - by this time the Gazette newspaper - asked me to go and manage a new, local newspaper office, which we had just taken over in the neighbouring town of Fleetwood.
It was a small, old-fashioned office on the main street. The editorial department was on the ground floor, while the toilet facilities and kitchen were up two flights of steep stone stairs.
One day, I had gone upstairs to make everyone a cup of tea, as I often did. I put the four full cups on a tin tray and began to descend the stairs.
Somehow, I must have missed a step, as one minute I was walking slowly and carefully down the stairs, but suddenly I was hurtling forwards, grabbing frantically for the bannister!
I somehow stopped myself from falling full-length down the remaining stairs. But unfortunately, in my panic, I literally threw the tray of tea forward. Cups smashed everywhere and even worse, the receptionist was just walking through the door at the foot of the stairs, so with it being open, she and an elderly customer in the office were showered with hot tea!
I was not too badly injured on this occasion - I had sprained my wrist - and luckily, the receptionist and the female customer were not burned by the flying tea.
After apologising to the customer, I was more embarrassed than anything, although my boss sent me home as a precaution and it was quite painful driving with a sprained wrist.
I guess it could have been a lot worse!
Slipping into work late...
Shortly after this, I took a second job as an evening cashier at a supermarket. I needed the extra money, as interest rates had been raised and I had to pay my mortgage somehow, so money was a little tight.
I worked three or four evenings a week.
I would finish work at the newspaper at around 5pm-5.30pm and then had to be at the supermarket ready to start my shift at 6pm, so it was always a rush, especially with the heavy traffic at that time.
I had my uniform in the car and it was just a case of taking off my work blouse and popping on my supermarket t-shirt over my black trousers before setting off.
On this particular occasion, I had left work a little late, as the newspaper had a last-minute hitch and I had been delayed.
I had to clock on at the supermarket and if I was more than three minutes late, my pay would be docked by 15 minutes, so I was determined to make it in time.
Parking up close to the staff entrance, I raced up the three steps to the heavy, iron door and wrenched it open, already breaking into a run when I saw it was two minutes to six, as I still had to deposit my handbag and car keys in a locker in the staff room before I could clock on.
Well, no sooner had I run through the door than ... whoosh! I was flat on my back on the floor! I went with an almighty thud! It had been raining and the lino floor was wet as people had walked in through the staff entrance.
A couple of fellow staff members rushed to my aid, as I had landed heavily on my back, with my arms behind me, as I had instinctively tried to stop the impact on my back.
As I stood up, I realised I had again sprained my wrist. It was my right one, which wasn't good, as I was right-handed.
I had to fill in a report in the accident book, being interviewed by a supervisor. With hindsight, I think they were worried I may sue them, as there had not been a sign displayed warning that the floor was wet, which was mandatory due to health and safety regulations.
I never even thought of going for compensation, to be honest, I was just relieved I hadn't hurt my back or broken my leg or something.
I had to complete my shift - my supervisor asked if I wanted to go home, but I said I'd be okay, as if I went home, I wouldn't be paid and I needed the money. I managed somehow by scanning the customers' shopping through the checkout using my left hand and then also operating the till left-handed, my right wrist bandaged up.
I left the supermarket job after about six months, as having two jobs became impossible, not only because staff at the newspaper were laid off (meaning our working day became increasingly long, so I struggled to get to the supermarket on time) but also because I was just so tired, I wasn't doing either job well.
Not a sweet time at the confectionery factory...
In 2008, I found myself in a totally alien situation when I was laid off at the newspaper.
Reporting had been my life and it was a shock to the system suddenly finding myself jobless. I knew I must take any job I could in order to pay my household bills and survive, so I joined several "temping" agencies.
I did various short-term cleaning jobs and also door-to-door sales, which I loathed.
Then, one agency told me a local confectionery factory was recruiting night staff and needed about ten people to cope with some unexpectedly large orders. Cleaners and sweet packers were required and the hours were 10pm-6am.
On my first night, I was told I would be a cleaner - the most awful job in the place, if I'm honest. I had to provide my own steel toe-capped safety boots. I couldn't afford to buy any, so a friend (male) lent me his work boots, which were a size 9 (three sizes too big for me).
So wearing four pairs of socks and extra inner-soles and feeling like a circus clown with my giant feet, I began my first shift, wearing black trousers and a t-shirt under the mandatory white overall, rubber gloves and hair-net.
The temperature felt like it was over 100 degrees all the time, as my job comprised walking round the factory floor, where there were dozens of vats of boiling sugar bubbling away constantly.
Wearing the heavy overalls, I felt constantly hot and clammy, while the rubber gloves made my hands itch and even my head felt damp and uncomfortable under the hat and hairnet.
I was dragging round the huge, industrial mop bucket for my whole eight-hour shift and as soon as I had finished one round of the factory, mopping up liquid sugar and other spillages, I had to start again, as the floor was just as bad as before I started.
Dirty water had to be emptied out down a giant plug-hole in the room where the hot water supply was based. Then I must re-fill my bucket from a hosepipe which squirted out scalding hot water, adding cleaning chemicals at the same time. Then it was off to start mopping all over again.
We had a 30-minute break in the middle of the shift, when everyone went into the canteen and bought cold drinks. It seemed just as hot in there and the sweet smell of the boiling sugar filled the air all the time. It made me feel nauseous after about three weeks and I couldn't stand it.
We had been told not to leave the factory at break time - as there was a 24-hour Tesco supermarket just two minutes away and the temptation to escape there for a while was massive.
But once we had clocked in, we couldn't leave the premises, as we must be accountable for health and safety reasons - for example, if there was a fire.
However, some of the staff escaped outside to have a cigarette on their break, as there was a smoking shelter just outside the staff entrance. They spent their break there enjoying a cold drink, as it was August at the time and the nights were pleasant and mild.
I was a non-smoker and didn't want to go in the smoking shelter. However, I decided that while my workmates were having a cigarette, I would go outside anyway and one night went to sit in my car on the adjacent carpark. I put the radio on, had a can of orange juice, played games on my mobile phone and enjoyed my sandwich in peace, away from the stifling factory heat.
It was heaven to get away for half an hour and I went back in feeling refreshed.
The following day, it was my day off. I was relaxing at home, having woken up mid-afternoon, when the phone rang. It was the temping agency.
I was astounded to learn I had broken the rules by going to sit in my car during my shift the previous night!
Apparently, going on to the car park was classed as leaving the premises during my shift!
A supervisor had been looking out of the canteen window as I left the building and walked down the short side-road to the car park. They had seen me getting into my car and thought I was actually leaving halfway through the nightshift! They had not seen me afterwards for some time, as it was a large factory, with two different floors, so it was not as if I would bump into them every few minutes.
But it was assumed I was absent for some of my shift after I had been seen going to my car!
I explained the true story of what had happened to the agency.
"Don't worry," my advisor said soothingly. "I'll tell them what happened and I'm sure it will be okay."
I actually had two days off before my next shift, so, relieved to have a break, I thought nothing more of it.
However, the following day, I received an email from the temping agency - my short-term assignment at the sweets factory had "come to an end", I was informed.
I was horrified! I had been relying on the money, of course.
The agency told me they had not been given a reason why I was "no longer required" as a cleaner and said it was the employer's prerogative to terminate a contract when ever they wished.
I just had to put it down to experience ... a bad one.
When customers didn't get their chips...
I was fortunate enough to read a job advertisement for someone to work at a local bingo hall, just after my cleaning job finished.
I was interviewed a couple of days after applying and was given the job, to my relief.
I had never worked in a bingo club before and there was much to learn, from selling tickets and entering us into national "link" games on the computer to joining up new members and helping out in the café.
As you will have realised from reading this Hub so far, anything to do with catering was never my strong point.
For about six months, my tasks in the kitchen involved only helping out during the interval. I was normally selling tickets, handing out winnings or greeting customers at the door and signing up new members.
However, I was given a shift on the kitchen one busy Saturday night, when I was working with the guy who had run the café for many years, Mike.
I was helping prepare the food and he asked me to put some more chips in the deep fat fryer. All was going well at first and I was getting them out and putting them in a large tray, ready for Mike to put onto plates.
However, about half an hour into the shift, as I put the next batch of chips into the fryer, Mike suddenly said, horrified, "Karen, what are you doing?"
I looked round and realised I had forgotten to put the basket back into the fryer first! All the chips were floating round loose and had sunk to the bottom of the boiling fat, with no way of getting them out!
This was, of course, extremely dangerous, as they could have set alight as they burned black!
With a queue of customers, I couldn't have done anything worse!
So while Mike served up the remaining chips, I spent the next 20 minutes with a ladle and a long-handled knife trying to pick out the burned and charred chips from the fryer.
Eventually, we had to turn the fryer off and stop serving chips for a while, as it was too dangerous to leave it hot while I was fishing about trying to remove the chips. There just weren't enough cooked to supply the customers, most people ordering chips during the interval.
I was never put on a shift cooking in the café again.
Although this wasn't an incident sustained at work, it was one which affected my job, which is why I have included it in this tale of my disasters in the workplace.
One day at home, when I was due to work the evening shift at the bingo, starting at 5.30pm, there was a knock on the door and as usual, three of my dogs went tearing down the hall, barking wildly.
I always ran after them to shut them up and stop them hurling themselves at the door. But on this occasion, I somehow tripped up and landed amongst them. Putting my arms out to save myself, I hit my right hand hard on the wall and landed with all my weight on it.
The pain was excruciating and I noticed, to my horror, my middle finger was bent up at a really weird angle and I couldn't move it. I had broken it! I had also hurt my shoulder badly and was in agony. Additionally, I had split open my left thumb, as I had caught it on a nail which was sticking out of the carpet edge.
So I was in quite a mess and there was blood everywhere.
I had to call an ambulance and was taken to the hospital's accident and emergency department.
So instead of starting my shift at 5.30pm, I was frantically phoning my boss to say I was awaiting X-rays.
I had broken my finger (which I knew anyway) but it was such a bad break, the bones actually splintered, that I had to see a specialist, as it was thought I would need a steel pin in my finger. But this was not possible as there wasn't even enough bone intact to attach a pin! So it was set in a huge splint and the specialist said it was to be hoped it healed satisfactorily, but that I would probably never have full use of it again.
I had damaged a nerve in my thumb on the other hand and had no feeling in that for about six months. I needed stitches. Gradually the feeling did come back, over time.
My right arm was put in a sling. So I arrived home about six hours later in awful pain.
There wasn't any way I could do my usual cashier's job at the bingo, not having even one good hand. But thankfully, my boss was very understanding and for the next three months, until my broken finger healed, I was given the task of greeting customers at the door, as there was little else I could do!
Clumsiness strikes again!
I'm not sure whether this counts as a work-related injury, but it seems fitting to include it in my mishaps blog, since it was quite a classic.
I had just returned from walking the dogs and had run upstairs to put my comfy shoes on, at it was about 8pm and I wasn't going out again. I have absolutely no idea how - as my shoes couldn't have been any flatter or more sensible - but on the bottom step but one, I somehow lost my footing.
I fell forwards, head first into the hallway, and somehow twisted as I went down, landing heavily with all my weight on my right ankle!
I've had sprains many times, but this one was bad - within minutes, it was swelling up like a balloon and I had to ease my shoe off! Soon, despite my putting a bag of frozen peas on it - as I doctor had once advised me to do - my ankle, foot and shin were going deep purple!
I didn't even bother going to the doctor's - I was convinced it wasn't broken, as I could still move it in every direction, albeit painfully. So I strapped it up with tubular bandaging and smother in comfrey cream, a herbal remedy that I believe in.
I had to spend the next three weeks or so hopping and hobbling round and going up and downstairs on my behind, so that wasn't a great deal of fun, as you can imagine.
Eventually, after several weeks, my ankle healed and regained most of its strength, although I do feel my ankles are weak spots, judging by the number of times I've sprained them.
Older and wiser?
I would like to say I'm older and wiser now.
Well, I 'm definitely older and I've learned from my mistakes.
But I'm still one of the most accident-prone people ever and I can't say for sure whether my general clumsiness - and sometimes my air-head attitude - will have an adverse effect on anything I try to do in the future!
I can only try my best.