Two other stories of his childhood about which Alice, my stepmother wrote to remind me were as follows:
"As you know your grandfather drank heavily, so the children had to try to earn money. As a young lad, your Dad used to go into the veld and pick mushrooms which he used to sell to the hotels in Johannesburg, until one of the chefs threatened to cut his throat if he brought one more mushroom". And the other was about when he was employed as an assistant to a tradesman who went round by horse and cart selling a brand of South African made biscuits. "At that time all the other biscuits [on the market] were imported. In order to persuade the shopkeepers to purchase [their brand], they would call a child off the street and give him sixpence to go into a shop and ask for local biscuits, instructing him to refuse to buy any imported ones as his mother insisted on having local ones. After doing this with a number of children, the shopkeeper would stock up on the local biscuits and then push them onto his customers. Your Dad always said he had a hand in starting the local biscuit business."
Then he would intrigue his listeners by saying, with a real twinkle, "Do you know that I was once a policeman?" Apparently, at the time of the General Strike, he and a friend went to the Police Station to offer their services as there had been a call for volunteers to help keep order. They were both sworn in as temporary officers of the law, but nothing had been properly organised and they were sent from place to place without anyone knowing what they were supposed to do. So, the following day they were discharged. He used to quip that his service in the police force had been "short but honourable".
At some time after he left school before his fourteenth birthday, he became an office boy in one of the Government offices; this was the Victoria Falls Power (V.F.P which later became ESCOM/or ESKOM) and then, later, he worked for an attorney named Farquarson. It was here that, finding he was left in sole charge of the office (owing perhaps to his boss being indisposed or away on business) he was faced with the task of writing to, or answering letters from, a number of clients. This was accomplished by his rifling through the files until a suitable letter was found and then, laboriously punching out a relevant copy, letter by letter, on the old-fashioned typewriter. Some time after this, he joined the stockbroking firm of Viney & Co. [During the years that followed there were changes in the partnerships of this firm and it was subsequently called Viney, Allen & Co. and later still Allen, Hesselberger. Eventually this last named was amalgamated into Max Pollak & Freemantle]
In the early days when Eric first started work he found that he really couldn't afford to buy lunch each day. However, at that time bananas were very plentiful and cheap so he found he could well stave off his hunger by eating a good quantity of these each day, the price being 30 for a shilling. He always bought them from one particular Indian fruit seller who was constantly astonished at his capacity for eating bananas, so much so that he started betting Eric would not be able to eat all thirty at one time ... if he could do so, then he would not have to pay for them at all! So, many was the day when he would force himself to eat his way through this great quantity of bananas simply to avoid having to spend the extra shilling!