From cradle to coffin . . .

August 16, 1996

Chris Johnston talks to students about the world of summer jobs.

Summer is a time when university students can relax for a couple of months, but many trade the stress of assignments and exams for a summer job. While some wait on tables or pull beers to save enough money for the next year at university, others find jobs that are more unusual.

David Valks is one such student. After finishing the first year of a musical theatre course at the Arts Educational London Schools in Chiswick, he started at Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey.

His role is probably best described as a character actor. Mr Valks entertains patrons at the fun park by becoming a caveman, Dracula, a baby or a soldier. Mr Valks has appeared in front of audiences for 14 years singing and acting in amateur productions, but he says this is unlike anything else he has done.

"There's quite a lot of improvisation and you have to be able to get out of situations quickly." As well as observing how audiences react, the student, from Grangemouth in Scotland, also says he is learning how to hold a character better. "It's quite difficult trying to be a baby when there's someone pulling your hair," he says.

For the baby character, Mr Valks drives an oversized motorised pram and talks mostly to young children and grandparents. His Dracula character, however, is a little less demanding - he simply opens the coffin doors unexpectedly to catch people unawares.

Iyabo Oba, a second-year politics student at the University of Essex, went a little further than Chessington for her summer job last year. The 22-year-old signed up with Camp America, and was posted to a camp at Silvern Lake in Poughkeepsie, New York State. "It was a perfect opportunity to get out and do something and see a part of the world that I wouldn't otherwise see for a while," Ms Oba says.

She was part of the Campower support staff, and acted as a secretary and a dinner lady for nine weeks. Camp America is more like a working holiday than a job - the organisation pays for a return flight and all living expenses, and pays some pocket money, but requires an upfront insurance payment.

Some students, such as David Ponsford, do a variety of odd jobs, in both senses of the word. A second-year geography student at the University of Wales, Swansea, his summer jobs have included driving a hospitality boat at the Henley regatta, stuffing envelopes, building construction, baby sitting and working as a golf course groundskeeper. The regatta has been the most enjoyable, as it is "well paid and fairly easy - driving a boat up and down the river". Working at a golf club is proving to be a little more difficult - Mr Ponsford says the 6am starts are a little hard to deal with.

Kate Hemmings is also familiar with odd summer jobs. The Durham University combined arts graduate has been a "data negotiator" for Thomson Directories, where she earned "a whacking Pounds 4.50 an hour" calling Chinese restaurants in Newcastle and farmers in Scotland and Wales.

Most recently, Ms Hemmings worked for United News and Media as part of a small group of students, spending a week in six of the company's divisions, including the Daily Express and Sheffield Star newspapers. The company sponsored each student during their final year and then offered a job upon graduation. Ms Hemmings opted instead for a place in ICI's commercial graduate scheme.

Lisa Lavery, a theatre design student at St Martins College of Art and Design, part of the London Institute, rollerskates around busy areas of London such as Leicester Square and Covent Garden, handing out advertising flyers.

She enjoys getting paid to keep fit and says while those who do a similar job on foot often have difficulty handing out their leaflets, she has found the opposite to be true. "People come over to me - they think I'm a busker," Ms Lavery explains.

A six-hour shift is worth about Pounds 60, but it does have its hazards. She admits to having fallen a few times, bumping into people, "you can only go so slowly", and even accidentally knocking over an old lady.

Ms Lavery adds: "It's just good fun and better than serving drinks in a bar or working in Tesco."

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