My First Job: Author Albert Jack worked for a year as a petrol pump attendant

Memories and tall tales from the forecourt

The car screeched to a halt in the forecourt of the Surrey petrol station where 16-year-old Albert Jack was manning the pumps. A white-faced driver leapt out and launched into an account of how he had just picked up a girl hitch-hiker - and suddenly she had managed to disappear from the moving car! Now it was the turn of young Albert to turn pale. "Exactly ten years ago a girl hitch-hiker was run over on this stretch of road," he gasped, "and every anniversary her ghost re-appears and asks for a lift!"

No, there is not a word of truth in that friend-of-a-friend story, the urban legend of the phantom hitch-hiker which does the rounds in slightly different variations. It is true, though, that Albert Jack had his first job as a petrol pumper in Chobham, Surrey. Now 42, he compiles bestselling collections of bizarre information (Shaggy Dogs and Black Sheep is out now in paperback). He includes the phantom hitch-hiker yarn in his new hardback, That's B*ll*cks! (£12.99, Penguin).

Albert Jack (his nom-de-plume - his real name is Graham Willmott) left school without any qualifications and inherited the petrol attendant job from a friend who was going to college. "This was in 1980, before automated petrol pumps had reached us. There was no self-service; some people didn't even get out of their car." He liked to have three pumps on the go at once, inserting one nozzle and running to the next car - preferably without the first driving off while plugged in. "I wanted to be the best petrol pump operator."

What did he get out of it, apart from £28 a week (a bit more when he took cash for ten pounds-worth of petrol but rang up only £9)? "Confidence and the interaction with adults on a social basis. As a teenager, you only encountered parents and teachers. I remember talking to a businessman and seeing him shattered when I told him John Lennon was dead." He thinks the parents of another music star might have been customers: a Mr and Mrs Gabriel certainly had an account at the garage and Peter could have been their son.

After a year, he faced the prospect of a second winter pumping petrol. "I left because it was bloody cold - too cold to cycle five miles, freeze your tits off on the forecourt and cycle back in the dark."

He knew he had to get himself into gear. He had left school without any qualifications and was putting fuel into the cars of people who were often less intelligent than him. "I had to find a path from fuelling a car, to sitting in a car." At the time, that prospect may have seemed about as unlikely as a tale of a ghostly hitcher.

jonty@jonathansale.com

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Year 6 Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + D.O.E - Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone:...

NQT Supply Teachers

£80 - £100 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: NQTs required for short and lo...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home