This proved to be a nerve-wracking experience, which today I find quite mystifying. Perhaps some of our customers were more demanding back then. Immediately identified as ‘the new boy’ one of two tried to avoid being served by me, and one actually told me I was wrapping his parcel incorrectly. It took a very long time until I felt as comfortable as my dad was. I never dared tell anyone I was Mr Higgins junior, preferring to remain anonymous, lest someone thought I was making it up, or boasting, or scared that I didn’t know the answers to some questions.
One of the very first jobs I was given to do by my dad, and one which I suspect he was happy to pass on, was cashing up the tills, and going to the bank each day. We didn’t take cards in those days so it was all cash or cheques. All the payments for postal orders were cheques as well. I spent a lot of time checking to see they had been signed, dated correctly, and that the words and figures matched.
My dad at that time in 1982 was busily looking for a roastery for us to expand our business. The little 28lb Whitmee in the basement could barely keep up. We couldn’t stop roasting during the day, someone always had to take over during our roaster John’s lunch break. Apart from him, my dad, my aunt Audrey, and one other staff member could also roast, but they all had plenty to do so it was logical that the new person, i.e., me, should learn to roast.
I already knew more of less what went on in this machine with its flying belts, occasionally rattling parts, and hot pipes which, as a child I was always warned away from. However, to be in charge of this operation was something else. I knew there had been fires before. My dad had told me how my granddad had come in on a weekend, started the roaster, lit the gas and then gone down to the post office at the end of the street. He must have thought, ‘well I’ll only be gone a couple of minutes.” All very well, but having left the key in the shop, had to climb through the small window above the door. I remember this window well, and I guess the only reason you would consider entering this way was if you thought the building may burn down.
Despite this, I was eager to learn this skill, which lay at the very heart of our business. I have described this in some detail in another blog (link), but this was the time that I got to spend most of each day with my dad, actually working together. I can’t remember how many weeks we spent learning before I was allowed to fly solo, but as there were almost 20 different coffees to roast, each behaving slightly differently to one another, it must have been quite a while.