My First Job: Novelist Josephine Cox worked in a vinegar-bottling factory

'The older women taught me about life and sex'

"I left school at 14 and got a job in a vinegar-bottling factory – well, shed – on the banks of the canal in Blackburn. It had green doors, like the ones in hospitals that they push stretchers through, with a 1ft gap at the bottom. The rats would run in from the canal, so we sat with our feet up on the chair."

One woman would put a bottle on the carousel, which would turn so that the next could fill it with vinegar, after which the third would jam on the cap and finally Cox would slap on the label. She found it fascinating: not so much the work as the fellow workers.

"They were lovely, very down-to-earth women, in their fifties. They all looked like my Aunty Rosie." And they talked, but perhaps more frankly than an aunt to a niece. "I was learning about life and sex." They showed each other their bras and laughed about their husbands in bed. They sound like the sort of characters who might come out of her warm-hearted novels. This is because some of them do.

Cox used one of her workers as the basis of a character in her first book, Angels Cry Sometimes, and another in her novel based on her own life, Her Father's Sins. In Let Loose the Tigers, outrageous women debag Tommy Trundler and shove him down a chute; he is based on the son who with his father used to come in reluctantly every day to run the ratty enterprise and be harassed by the female workers. Fortunately, the trousers-and-chute bit is fiction but the merciless whistling and winking was only too real.

"Tommy" never complained about being ridiculed but then people don't, not even the nymphomaniac – this wasn't one of the vinegary ladies – described so accurately in another novel that the neighbours knew exactly who it was. Thanks to a wonderful teacher who used to tell her stories and lend her books, Cox had always wanted to be writer: here was her raw material on a plate or, rather, in a bottle.

The work was mechanical and indeed must by now be completely mechanised. Yet Josephine believes it suited the fifty-something women: "It was a good job and paid well. They would have stayed there until they fell off their perches."

Cox lasted only six months, at which point her parents separated and she moved south with her mother and nine siblings. Cox then found work in a plastic-mac factory, where she did the belts. "It was really posh – no rats."

'Girl on the Platform' by Josephine Cox is out now, published by HarperCollins, priced £1.99, as part of the Quick Reads scheme for World Book Day ( www.quickreads.org.uk)

Suggested Topics
Sport
formula oneLive lap-by-lap coverage of championship decider
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly presenter returns to screens after Halloween accident
News
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Commercial Property Surveyor

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading firms of Cha...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Central London, Bank

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A truly exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Structural Engineer

£22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A keen Graduate Structural Engineer with...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Data & Delivery Guru

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Data & Delivery Guru is required to...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin