Dolcis 1976 : The Day I Found a Dead Body in the Attic! And the Girl with the Goldfish.
After my sudden and unexpected departure from The Good Companions the previous year my only source of income now, apart from my 50p a week pocket money was my paper round which wasn’t a great earner. On my pittance of a wage “doing papers“, how could I afford to buy the latest Slade or T Rex singles, the ever widening flared trousers, multi coloured flowered shirts, tank tops, 3 feet high Platform shoes not to mention my entrance fee to the weekly disco at the Padgate Community Centre. These were serious issues for a teenage boy growing up in the 1970s. But I needn’t have worried another Saturday job was lurking on the horizon.
In 1976, when I was 16 my mum worked at the Firth Company LTD at Howley, one of the many wire firms in Warrington at the time. A colleague and good friend who worked with my mum was Enid Wilcock. Enid had a daughter called Donna, who worked at Dolcis Shoe Shop on Bridge Street in the town on a Saturday and in the school holidays. I don’t know how it came about but on Tuesday, 1st June 1976 (as diary entry), when my mum returned home from work she told me she could get me a job in a shoe shop if I was interested. As my diary entry for that day states, as well as the obvious financial benefits it may also, “relieve me of my boredom”. I was more than interested in the job but had doubts about my ability to sell shoes, my shyness and lack of confidence immediately made me began to feel a little anxious and nervous about the whole thing. I never told my mum how I was feeling but she said if I was interested I was to go to the shop and see the manageress on Friday.
Friday arrived and I made my way to Dolcis to see the manageress Mrs. Burbridge. I made the following diary entry;
Friday, 4th June 1976: “Went Dolcis Shoe Shop to see about that job. I was dead nervous. The Manageress said I can start tomorrow at 1pm. I can’t imagine me selling shoes I’m too shy“.
That diary entry reflects very accurately how I felt at the time.
The next day my best friend Howard Denny came round to my house and I told him that I had a job at a shoe shop and started work at 1pm that day. We played records in the morning and I can remember playing Cliff Richards, Devil Woman several times as that record had been released in the April of that year. I never told Howard how nervous I was about the job. About 12 noon Howard left and I got ready for my first day at my new job. I don’t know where my parents were but they were out so I walked from my home in Fearnhead to town to start my new job at Dolcis. My diary entry for that day as follows,
Saturday, 5th June 1976: “Walked to town in afternoon to Dolcis. I wasn’t as shy as I thought I would be. Got to know all the girls right away. Made me feel welcome. Worked my 4 hours, it was quite easy served 4 people. Had a headache all day. They’re a good bunch of people to work with, make you feel very welcome”.
The diary entry for the following Saturday revealed that I got paid £1.80 for my four hours, 45p an hour. Because it wasn’t yet the school holidays I was only working four hours a week and that was from 1pm to 5pm on a Saturday afternoon. The senior staff comprised of Mrs. Burbridge, affectionately known as Mrs. B, Eunice the supervisor, Marjorie Evans and Mrs. Appleton. The rest were the shop assistants that included me and the only other boy, Philip Burgess, who I knew from school because we were on the school soccer team, the rest were girls and we were all about the same age as Phil and I give or take a year or two. So there were two boys and about seven or eight teenage girls. Two of the girls were the nieces of Mrs. B. Donna, who was instrumental in getting me the job was a lovely blonde haired girl with a great sense of humour. Donna was about two years my senior (still is). There was a girl called Nancy, a very thin and quiet girl, then there was Beverley, who I eventually became very fond of and Mrs. Appleton’s daughter Carol. Cindy King and her sister also worked a few weeks after I started and a chubby girl called Jackie Kilbride who was very very loud. There were a couple of other girls but I cannot recall their names.
The retail part of Dolcis shoe shop was on two levels. There was the ground floor which was at street level and catered for the ladies and a basement that sold men’s shoes. It was in the basement where I worked with Phil, Julie, Nancy, and two other girls the rest of the girls worked upstairs in the ladies department. In the Men’s department there was a stock room at the back that contained millions of “right” shoes. The reason for this was that all the shoes on display were “left” shoes and I suppose the reason for putting one left shoe out on display was to prevent people from stealing a full pair of shoes.
There was however, another part of the building that the public didn’t have access to and that was the first, second and third floors. These rooms were very dark and contained what can only be described as junk but there were items still kept on these floors that were still occasionally used. Sometimes I was sent up there on my own to fetch something or other and I dreaded going up there because I found the whole atmosphere eerie and quite spooky. The girls would never go up there and to be honest I can’t ever remember Phil going up so it was down to me, brave Gary who wanted to be a Policeman, he wouldn’t mind because he’s brave or so they thought. The perception was probably of a young man who wasn’t frightened of anything so I decided to exhibit a bit of courage and show the girls that I wasn’t scared of anything but the reality was very different, I was scared stiff.
One day Mrs. B asked me to go up to the third floor and fetch something down, apart from nearly passing out my knees started to shake but I had to pretend I wasn’t afraid (what would the girls think!), so I put on my macho face (even though I only looked about 12), and reluctantly ascended the steep steps to the top of the building. It was very dark and cluttered up there but after a short while I reached the top and began to search for whatever it was I was asked to bring down. I was rooting round for several minutes looking for this item, and then, as I removed a cardboard box and looked behind it I had the shock of my life …I had inadvertently stumbled across a dead body. I found myself suddenly frozen to the spot all I could see was the back of the head and the shoulders. After what seemed like centuries, I about turned and ran down the steps as fast as I could back to the basement only to be greeted by Beverley, who said, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost, what is it Gary”,
“There’s there’s a d d dead body up on the third floor Bev” I nervously replied.
“Rubbish“, said Beverley, “come and show me“.
so we coyly ascended the steps to the top of the building.
“Where Gary”, Beverley said,
“over there behind that box”, I said still shaking.
So we went gingerly to the scene of the crime and very slowly I removed the box to reveal the body.
“ Look I said there it is, what shall we do?”
. I noticed a smile on Beverley’s face,
and she said, “that’s not a dead body Gary It’s a dummy, a mannequin“.
I slowly turned my head and fixed my eyes on the plastic dummy and said,
“I know I was only kidding“,
but I don’t think my female counterpart believed me she just smiled and we returned to the basement, my pride somewhat shattered. I spent the rest of the day trying to explain that I really knew all the time it was a dummy but somehow I don’t think she believed me. I don’t think she told any of the girls; she just wasn’t that type of girl. Anyway I digress.
After a few weeks I began to really enjoy myself and got into the swing of selling shoes. We were all told by Eunice the supervisor, that when we had sold a pair of shoes we were to ask the customer if they were interested in buying a spray polish to go with their new purchase. I did this but very few customers would buy them. Eunice told me never to ask the customer a direct question because on the whole they will say, No Thanks. A bit of psychology that I tried at other times in my life with varying results.
Saturday, 26t June 1976 was the day after Warrington Walking Day. Silcocks fair had arrived at Victoria Park and I was at work all day at the shop and it was a very hot day, as my diary entry states,
Saturday, 26th June 1976: “Went work in morning worked very hard all day in hot weather. On my dinner break met this girl who I don’t know who I’ve seen a few times. At 6pm when I came out that girl was outside the shop with a goldfish, I went back in the shop because the bag was leaking”.
I don’t know who this girl was but she came in the shop earlier in the day with her mum to buy a pair of shoes, she looked about 12 years of age. When I came out of the shop for lunch about 12ish she was there waiting for me, so we walked round town and I took her in the Co-Op Café for a drink. I don’t know who she was or her name. I then walked her to the bus stop and returned to Dolcis to complete my shift. At 6pm when I left the shop to go home the girl was waiting outside for me and she was carrying a goldfish that she had won on the fair. I noticed that the goldfish bag was leaking so we went back to the shop to find a polythene bag to put the fish in. When this task was done I offered to walk her back to the bus stop but she didn’t want to leave me. I didn’t know what to do because I had to walk home and she wasn’t going my way. She began to cry, I eventually got her back on her bus and I made my way home to Fearnhead on foot and that was the last time I ever saw of that girl, never knew who she was and I suppose I never will.
As the Summer Holidays approached my hours were increased and I worked every time I was asked. I worked through the summer and earned quite a lot of money for my holidays. I could even afford those T Rex and Slade records and much more besides not to mention new clothes etc. which were now affordable to me. I stayed at Dolcis well into 1977 and look back at my time there with fond memories and remember the very happy times I had. My work colleagues were all lovely and Mrs. B was a wonderful person to work for. When I am in town now I often look at the shop that was once Dolcis and manage a little smile. I can honestly say without any reservation that working at Dolcis was my favourite job out of all the jobs I ever had.