My first job (as a bottle-washer)

Just recently the great and good have been telling people on LinkedIn about their first day at work. I don’t want to feel left out, so I thought I share what I remember about my first day at work. Actually, I’ve had several starts, all in different locations and under different circumstances. If you like, this is the “first, first”!

The job was supposed to be a fill-in while I retook an exam to improve on the grades which I needed to get into the university course I wanted . I remember that I had been given no notice of the interview – quite literally I had been asked “Can you go NOW?” and I’d gone – THEN! I had been unkempt and unshaven. The interview was on a Wednesday or Thursday and I must have said the right things, because they asked me if I could start on the following Monday.

The job was as a lab assistant in a small research laboratory. My responsibilities were to be quite varied, basically: do as you’re told by your superiors (which meant almost everyone else!). I thought of it as being “bottle-washer”.

On the Monday, the post arrived as I was about to set off for work. It contained an unconditional offer for the university course I wanted. They said they thought I could cope with the grades I had. So, I turned up on my first day at work and handed in my notice!

In fact, I told my new employer that if they preferred, I would “not start at all” and we could call the whole thing quits. They were really decent about it and said that I could have the job until I was due to go to university. Excellent I thought: relevant experience and two months of pay. Just the start I needed.

My job really was “washing bottles”, and test-tubes and beakers and flasks and all the other paraphernalia of a chemical laboratory. I had to learn pretty quickly that we had some real nasties. I spent at least some of my time working with chromic acid which is really not good to come in contact with. One of the things we worked with was ion exchange resin which came as tiny polystyrene beads. I had to be really careful not to spill any of the wet beads on the floor because when they dried they became like little ball-bearings and on a hard lino floor the effect could be really quite dangerous.

Some pleasant memories are:

  • Being told off because “I walked like the lab manager” and the sound of my footsteps made some of my colleagues uneasy (to this day, I don’t know what they were up to).
  • Playing cricket in the park opposite the lab during lunch break. The wickets were old retort stands and the bat was kept in one of the equipment drawers.
  • And playing cards with the other workers on the wet lunch breaks.

Less pleasant memories are:

  • Doing seemingly endless titrations to get the “break-through point” on a sample ion exchange resin,
  • And the smell of the Amination Room where we kept the fume cupboards and unpleasant materials.
It was a good start!


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