Saturday jobs: You've got to start sometime

The number of teenagers taking Saturday jobs is down dramatically. So what are they missing? Our writers share what they learned from their youthful stints of weekend work

1970s

Simmy Richman

Server in a delicatessen

I had a Sunday-morning job in the local Jewish food emporium. How difficult could it be, even at 13 years old, shmearing out chopped herring and cream cheese to the denizens of Hendon Central? What no one told you, though, was quite how strange it would be to enter, if only for three hours, the lost world of Kaplan's Deli on Vivian Avenue. For a start, Joe Kaplan himself was a half-crazy Mittel-European with a pronounced limp and a more pronounced accent – think Oscar Homolka in Hitchcock's Sabotage.

A stream of Yiddish curses flowing constantly under his breath; his lair, at the side of the shop, was a dark corridor in which were stored filthy vats of pickled cucumbers. And the customers were as mad as he was. No pot could be filled without having to scrape a little off, a little on. The smoked salmon – which you'd have to call Kaplan out to slice – was always too oily or too dry. The memories flood back but feel too colourful to be anything other than constructed. Google! A blog entry titled "Hendon – Just Nostalgic Illusion?" includes a comment: "Aaah, Kaplan…" it reads. "More than once I saw him chase someone out of the shop brandishing his salmon-cutting knife."

1980s

Lisa Markwell

Tobacconist's Saturday girl

The idea of a 14-year-old selling cigarettes is quite scandalous now, but when I was the Saturday girl at Melvins*, the tobacconists in the next village to where I lived, no one raised an eyebrow. It was useful when peg-topped jeans came into fashion – I'd squirrel away a couple of packs to give to my more adventurous friends on the common later.

I'm grateful for the job: in the days before barcodes and zappers it was necessary to master mental maths. Sweets were sold in odd multiples and I had to master the weighing scales for quarter pounds of pineapple cubes. People paid for their newspapers once a week or month; how I loved the little perforated tabs in the big book of deliveries.

But the pay was woeful and it was a long, boring day. I passed the time by eating by turn highly sugary chocolate bars and lip puckering salt '*' vinegar Chipsticks. If I was lucky, the children's TV presenter Brian Cant came in, but more often it was a harried parent after "a jamboree bag and 20 Silk Cut". They didn't always check their change. Result.

*Name has been changed

1990s

Rebecca Armstrong

Assistant in a shoe shop

I didn't have a burning desire for a Saturday job when I was 14. But my father had a burning desire for me to have one – and made it clear by chucking the phone book at my head and telling me to start looking. I soon found myself spending Saturdays in Jason's Shoes, a shop selling footwear that had never been troubled by a close relationship to leather. The hours were long, the feet were stinky, the stock room was upstairs and the pay was pitiful, but once I'd encouraged my friend Sarah to join me, it wasn't too bad. It also helped me up the career ladder – I soon defected to a silver jewellery stall round the corner. Nose rings on tap! Hippy boys to chat up! A 40 per cent discount! Irresponsible grown-up colleagues to go drinking with! It certainly gave me independence – a bit too much, perhaps, given that I got caught bunking off school to work there and was banished from my father's house – and self-confidence. How else would I have moved on to start training as a body piercer? Luckily, when the local tattooists tried to headhunt me, I decided to give uni a whirl.

I learned a lot from my Saturday jobs – although unfortunately, I have the provincial body art to prove it...

2000s

Jamie Merrill

M&S Menswear assistant

Suits you, sir. That was my line and I must have used it thousands of times when I worked as a Saturday boy in the Marks & Spencer menswear department. My friends all had jobs but most worked as paper boys and waitresses. They ribbed me mercilessly about measuring inside legs and folding shirts (like most 16-year-olds I didn't enjoy folding clothes), but I had the last laugh. I earned just over £4 an hour, which back then seemed like an awful lot. It kept me in illicitly purchased beer at college and paid for me to learn to drive (no more lifts to work from mum).

For a student, M&S was a great employer. It was the consumer-spending boom of the early Noughties so I could work as many hours each week as I could fit around my homework. I even got a staff discount card which quickly made me popular with my parents. And at the end of each shift I was able to raid the food hall for reduced-priced posh nosh – a big thing for an always-hungry teenager. Most importantly, though, it gave me just enough independence from my parents and a place that wasn't school or home to learn about hard work. I was only 16, but it felt very grown up.

2010s

Anna Lincoln

Still waiting...

I'm 15 and I've never had an actual Saturday job, although I recently started babysitting for family friends. It seems to be the most common job among my friends as it pays well and isn't too hard. The only other job I've had was waitressing for a family friend's 50th birthday party. I'm pleased to say there was only one major disaster involving a plate of fish sauce being accidentally tipped down the side of a sofa… luckily it went unnoticed until I was safely out of the building with my money. There just don't seem to be that many jobs available to teenagers apart from babysitting, although one of my friends helps at children's parties and another tutors her neighbour's kids. I think part of the reason that so few of my friends have Saturday jobs is our parents are much more focused on schoolwork. One friend was going to start part-time at a hairdresser's but wasn't allowed due to exam revision. It's true that having a job might leave less time for schoolwork, but I think parents are over-estimating the amount of time we actually spend revising. At some point I would like a Saturday job, partly to fund my increasingly expensive summer wardrobe, but also for the experience, as I think I could learn a lot from it.

READERS' JOBS

Egil Hagen, 32

I had a few odd Saturday jobs in various shops, but what I really enjoyed was working full-time at a theme park in my summer holidays. I loved that.

Tamara Deidier, 15

I work at Oxfam every Sunday and sort the clothes and work at the till. It's voluntary work. I would try and get a job that I get paid for, but I haven't come across any.

Christine Shepherd, 66

I worked in Jones and Higgins shoe department in Peckham. I made about 17 shillings for a Saturday and I had to give some of that to my mum.

Leon Moore, 50

I got 50p an hour on Saturdays at Londis when I was 13. It was fantastic. I gave my Mum some and spent the rest on a bike. It taught me the value of money.

Pauline Woodcock, 61

I worked in Salisbury handbag shop in Lewisham in the late Sixties. I got about seven shillings and sixpence and I bought things like tights and went out dancing.

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