1972 was the year I started my first job, voted for the first time in a referendum on the EEC and joined the local drama and musical society. My passions were writing and theatre but I needed a livelihood and a career. Choices were few and there was no money for University.
My job was as an apprentice in a Dublin inner city pharmacy, an old-fashioned system involving three years training in the shop and a year at the college of Pharmacy. My boss a woman with eyes like the sea on a stormy day and a tight smile.
Each morning I set out from my home facing a lovely park and the sea, to a dreary inner-city space where families were large and houses were small. I was a quick learner and enjoyed the doing and making – creams and lotions – two very different consistencies and mixtures. But the conditions were not good. I was required to be everything from a trainee pharmacist to a cleaner and load carrier. The large front window where we could see the local folk going by had to be cleaned by me in all weathers.
The biggest shock for me was the poverty and the number of women on Valium, a muscle relaxant. On reflection, I could see it was used to tranquilise people against poverty and against perfection. The state and the Catholic Church placed a burden on women to be mothers of many children, and to be the moral compass of the society.
It was a hard start for me whose family was not wealthy but was comfortable, well fed and clothed. We lived in a bonny area.
Contraception was only available on prescription and in very restricted circumstance. One customer who had six children, told me she was thirty-two. She had a prescription for the pill.
When I brought it to her, she said I’ll put this under my pillow. I must have looked alarmed but she smiled, said I know it’s a tablet. She leaned in, whispered ‘Me mammy says it’s not right!’
- Submitted by Rona Fitzgerald, 66, Glasgow