Here for the Journey
When I left school I decided to use my skills working in the general office of a metal wholesaler in Bristol. It was a large office with the usual assortment of mainly female staff. The Office Manager, an elderly man, huffed and puffed around the building and kept us girls under control (or so he thought). His assistant was the one to watch as she appeared to have eyes in the back of her head and was not averse to dropping us all in it.
The general office was divided into five sections. At the entrance to the office was the post desk and the comptometer operators (huge desktop accounting machines) with the post desk itself creating a partition away from the rest of the office. Behind the post desk was two rows typewriters where the invoice typists worked. On the far wall, to the left of the post desk was a section running at right angles divided into two glass partitioned rooms. In the far corner was the Office Manager and Personal Assistant and the other part housed the secretaries, two elite ladies who sat wearing earphones and typing for the Office Manager.
I worked as a junior on the post desk and my first job of the morning was to go round to all three offices, including the general office and collect the wax audio cylinders. These would be taken into a small room along the corridor, clipped into a machine and shaved with the mechanically, that’s right, SHAVED! Once shaved the cylinders would be distributed to the various offices for the purpose of dictation for the audio machines. These cylinders were 8-10 inches long and were used by the executives and reps to dictate letters and reports for the typists. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dictaphone
The post desk also gave us a grandstand view of the photo-copier, the best entertainment in the building. These were early days in photo-copier technology and ours was state of the art. More used to the banda and roneo machines for mass duplication of paperwork, most of the staff looked upon the new machine with a mixture of fear and contempt. Only one person was allowed to use it, Her Ladyship the Office Manager’s PA.
When the copier was switched on word would go round and suddenly people would find things to take to the post desk. In those days the piece of paper to be copied was fed into the machine. Everyone held their breath while the machine made dreadful noises and the piece of paper moved slowly through its great body. Then, just when the suspense was becoming unbearable, out it would come at the other end, followed by the copy – if you were lucky! Often both copies would come out scorched and once they actually came out with a big black burn hole in each copy, accompanied by a shriek from Her Ladyship! Most of the time the photo-copier stood like some sleeping dragon and everyone gave it a wide berth in case it should awaken.
During the afternoon my fellow office junior and I would run around with letters and other typewritten material needing signatures, collecting piles of post to be put in envelopes and franked. The post desk had pigeon holes for the companies that regularly received post so that the company could save postage.
Down the back stairs was Mavis’s kitchen. Mavis was the tea lady who came round twice a day with our tea and coffee. It was to Mavis’s kitchen we girls would go during the lunch break when we wanted to save our lunch vouchers for a special occasion or when we were trying to lose weight. It was Mavis who chased away the young lads in blue overalls, when we wanted to check our weight on the stockroom scales. It was Mavis who dried our tears when our teenage relationships bit the dust, and told us matter-of-factly that there were plenty more fish in the sea.
In Mavis’s kitchen was an old shopping bag that had seen better days. It was this bag that had been the undoing of so many of our diets. This was the bag that went over the café before morning coffee with Sid the odd job man. In the bag would be an envelope with money and a shopping list. When Sid came back the envelope would be replaced with sausage cobs and bacon sandwiches, giving off an aroma that ensured many future orders.
Mavis always ate and enjoyed a bacon sandwich before bringing the tea trolley up in the lift for the morning break. She was our confidant, our agony aunt and our friend, who never criticised us whatever we told her. We all loved Mavis but no-one could ever quite forgive her for being naturally skinny.
© July 2008