Helena Jansen van Vuuren

5 years ago · 3 min. reading time · ~100 ·

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The boss and the coat.

The boss and the coat.


I was 19 years old and worked in the accounts department of an advertising agency in Kensington, London.  Have no idea how I got the job because I was a 'hippy' of sorts, fairly scruffy and had a wild 'permed' hairstyle.   The female head of accounts must have been a brave person.

The agency was a fairly intimidating environment with a very trendy arts/production department and I recall all the directors were really direct and well educated. I was an Afrikaans girl from a small town in South Africa and had been in a girls boarding school  two years prior to landing in London. 

London was more than an eye opener it was really everything one read about it.  Yes I went wild - mostly mindlessly so, felt under real pressure to be cool. Failed miserably at this but that was my situation.

I loved my job at the agency as it gave me a sense of security and stability to balance the madness of London weekends.  When I was asked to 'run' to the bank - yes I did, I ran from the agency office to the bank and back again until somone said that in England it does not mean you actually have to run.  Ya learn hey!

My earnings for a week was £15 approximately and after paying room rent, food and tube tickets there was not much money left for anything else.   I went to college one night a week and had great friends and thought I was happy.

One day I was asked to go to the directors office - he asked me if I would come in a bit earlier in the mornings and man the reception desk.  The deal was that he wanted me to buy a coat and by working overtime I would be able to pay for it. Of course I would - it was cold out and a coat would change my life - no more wet either.  He said he knew someone who would help me to choose a coat and that there was a taxi waiting to take me to the shop.

The taxi run was lovely and I saw London from the warmth of a car - what is not to like. We were in a street with very grand looking shops but I knew I could not afford to go into any of them so just sat quietly and enjoyed the ride.  I must have been so engrossed at the street view that I got a fright when the cab driver told me to get out and go to a door he was pointing at.  He would not listen when I protested and told me to wait on the kerb when I came out as he would be able to see me from his parking spot and drive over to pick me up.

I was shaking as I walked up to the door.   A very sophisticated ultra smart foreign (in hindsight think she may have been French) lady asked me my name and told me to follow her.  The next half hour passed in a bit of a blur,  I was embarrassed at being fairly poorly dressed and was starting to glow(perspire/sweat believe ladies glow) from trying on coats in a warm shop.  Not long and I was taken to the door with a big bag in my hand.  The cab driver appeared from nowhere and took me back to the office.

That evening my friends were telling me that my boss would expect 'special' favours in return for this coat and I was quite worried for a couple of weeks.  The coat was never mentioned by my boss.  I would be seated in reception when he came into the office and he would greet me like he had always done prior to me getting my coat.

In addition to the coat, my boss quietly and without fuss treated me to some wonderful experiences. One day I was at book club lunch and heard Joyce Grenfell speaking. When I went to Paris with my friend we were given money to have a meal at a recommended restuarant. Endlessly kind. 

I had that coat for about 15 years before I sold it.

(Me and my coat in Paris.   Googled the name of my boss today, he made a tremendous impression on me at a time that I needed kindness.  It is good to see that he is well, and he continues helping young people.  George Pincus was awarded an MBE in 2013. I hope that if he ever reads this that this is my way of saying Thank You for being there for that lost/lonely/messed up girl from South Africa.)

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Helena Jansen van Vuuren

5 years ago #6

Thank you Ken - am very very fortunate that so many good people helped and guided me at my most difficult times and more often than not just helped me to change my perception of something at a particular point in time.

Ken Boddie

5 years ago #5

I love these happy tales of days gone, Helena. I too have fond memories of my few years spent in London.

Ian Weinberg

5 years ago #4

Mooi storietjie Helena Jansen van Vuuren Thanks for sharing and best wishes from the 'Old Country'!

Helena Jansen van Vuuren

5 years ago #3

Thank you Gert - I was so green it took me a year to realise that a Burberry trench coat is a very desirable item - I was warm and dry that was all that mattered.

Gert Scholtz

5 years ago #2

Helena Jansen van Vuuren What a good story! Thanks for the post Helena.

Helena Jansen van Vuuren

5 years ago #1

Thank you Numo - made me quite tearful remembering all the things he did for me.

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