The Short Humour Site

Home : Writers' Showcase : Submission Guidelines : A Man of a Few More Words : Links

Writers' Showcase

Liverpool Memories #5
by Jilliana Ranicar-Breese

After leaving the Guildford Law Society at the tender age of 18 and the security of my father's old fashioned law offices in Castle Street, I embarked on a career in fashion.

I had always been interested in clothes and so to be a fashion buyer for a department store, one had to work several months in different departments for experience. Looking back there was no verbal sales training. One had to say the mundane 'Can I help you?' I was a trainee at Lewis's the big 9 floor department store with a controversial bronze statue by Jacob Epstein of a naked man over the main entrance entitled 'Liverpool Resurgent' commonly known with crude Liverpudlian humour as 'Nobby Lewis' or 'Dickie Lewis!'

At Christmas time in 1962 I was placed in the mens' department on the first floor behind the sock and scarf counter. It was exceptionally crowded with families buying Christmas presents and I recall a display of good quality cashmere scarves prominently displayed on the large circular counter.  Suddenly the whole display vanished!  A professional gang had come in and distracted me. While my back was turned, the whole lot must have gone into a capacious carrier bag! Of course the store was insured and built losses and theft into their profit margin. Theft was the norm at Lewis's so I was later told especially at Christmas!

Soon after they moved me Into the small Ladies Suits section next to the hat department and the escalators. I had to stand up on my aching legs all day long wearing a white blouse, over a white bra which showed through the thin cotton lawn, and drained me, tucked into a pencil slim black skirt with a slit up the back. I was slender in those early days! I worked with 2 dreary middle aged ladies selling Windsmore and Alexon suits. One of them with swollen ankles from too much standing immobile told me to get out while I could because it was no job for a young girl with spirit.

Mary Quant, the revolutionary iconic fashion designer, had just introduced The Ginger Group in 1963 for mass market sales and I was asked to model a tan and black outfit for The Liverpool Echo that was on sale in the nearby dress department. Afterwards I was presented with the professional black and white photos that I cherished for years especially as I loved posing and fancied myself as a model. In 1963 the film 'Cleopatra' had just come out and every girl wanted to have thick Liz Taylor eyebrows and black mascara eyes!  Me included.

I buddied up with the late Gale Booth, the theatre actress who was already divorced from her actor husband Anthony Booth. With medium length straight shiny black hair and a thick fringe, she worked on the busy ground floor demonstrating hair and cosmetic products on commission. We would both gossip moan and groan about the store and its staff over coffee in the canteen.

I was going steady with John Gorman later of The Scaffold fame. He was on the dole and so had all the time in the world to visit me, popping up behind dummies in the ladies department, making me laugh at his funny faces trying on hats and generally larking around. He wore an old overcoat and looked so weird, that the store detectives would follow him especially around the food hall!  John would come daily at tea breaks, lunch breaks and call for me every night at the staff entrance at the back with a fresh bunch of colourful freesias.

The months passed, 10 in all, and I had still not been put on the promised training course officially, just shunted from department to department for work experience. I felt I was getting no where and so handed in my notice. It was then the personnel department said the were about to send me on a course. Too late as I had had enough of standing around all day working with boring two piece suits. I wanted something more exciting. There had to be more. More is more!

My father had despaired when I had given up Law. He had hoped I would stay in Liverpool for ever and take over his law firm which specialised in Conveyancing, Probate and Divorce. Now my mother despaired. I was not university material, not going to be a nurse, teacher or a librarian. A housewife? No not for me either. She insisted I did a secretarial course at the best place in Liverpool, Miss Foulkes Secretarial College in Rodney Street. A college for young ladies, having already been educated at Belvedere GPDST, also a school for young ladies. A 9 month course of boring Pittman's shorthand and typing plus administration. O me miserum! 'It will always come in useful!' she insisted. Yes, mother was right. It did, it got me my first 3 jobs in Manchester, a bottle of Chanel 5 perfume typing in a hotel bedroom for an Israeli businessman, a PA job working for the award wining film director Mira Hamermesh, in San Francisco in exchange for a basement bed in North Beach and finally Paris where I worked at the OECD for 10 months but that's another story!

Written on 26.12.17 at St Benedict, Hastings.
Read on 'Your voice matters' BHCR on 29.12.17.