TTOT Chapter 2 – The Factory
From the moment I stepped onto the premises of Stafford Road Loco Repair Works, I knew it was not for me, any more that School had been.
To “clock-on” – a thing which salaried staff did not have to do, of course – I had to go along Stafford Road, walk along the big stone wall of the factory on the narrowest bit of pavement in the world, and turn in through a doorway. Inside that doorway was a little office on the left and a flight of stone steps on the right. The office was where salaried staff were logged in by an unsalaried man whose sole job seemed to be nodded to so that he could put a tick by one’s name in a ledger. No-one was ever booked in as late.
Had I been a blue-boiler-suited wage-earner, I would have had to ensure I had taken my round metal check off a check-board in the middle of the workshop wall before one of my workmates, paid a little extra to do the job, slammed the check-board’s glass door smack on the stroke of eight o’ clock. On fingers, too, if someone was still reaching for their check. Then, the latecomer would have to go up to the Shop-Office and tell the clerk of his lateness: “Book us a quarter” or “Book us a half” they would say to the clerk, and he wrote their names down accordingly. The time would be deducted from their wages.
Having nodded to the chap in the little office by the door, we clerks went up the stone steps and into the factory itself. Those posher types who worked in the Main Office turned in through their door at the top of the steps and made their way to their long desks via highly-polished corridors. Those of us who worked in the Shop-Offices had to rub shoulders with the common workmen to get to our small, grimy offices which overlooked the shop-floor. I started office-life in the Boiler Shop.
There were half-a-dozen workshops, each performing its specialised tasks. Everywhere I looked was dirty and brown with rust which had floated down over everything for most of a century. From the Boiler Shop-Office window, one could see the figures of the boiler-suited men crawling over the whatever they were repairing in the workshop. They looked like a colony of blue ants.
On that first day, I was taken up the stone steps and into the Main Office by the little chap who booked us in. There, Jock Davison, the Chief Clerk, was waiting for me. He took me to the Boiler Shop office.
To reach the Boiler Shop office, one climbed some wooden stairs. There was a sort of wooden porch at the top where the workmen had access to the two clerks via a small sliding window. They had to tap on the little sliding-window and wait until one of the clerks had opened it to speak to them. Through that window, they would book their latenesses or ask for an order to take to the Stores to get the materials needed for various repair jobs.
The office was split into two areas by a partition: a wooden-framed affair the top half of which was glazed. The Foreman and Deputy Foreman occupied that other half of the office. If a workman – even an exalted Chargehand – wanted to go and speak with the Foreman, he would have to have permission from a clerk first.
The whole thing really was like something out of a Dickens novel. Very little had changed in the decades which had passed since Stafford Road Factory began; certainly the class-structure held firm.
The Boiler Shop clerk was Harry Adams, a cocky little bloke with almost a DA haircut held in place by much Brylcreem. I was his Junior Clerk. I never found anyone at the Factory who liked Harry and his strutting, pipe-smoking manner. But he had been on mine-sweepers during the war and knew everything there was to know about everything. He drank a lot of beer and was not nice to his wife.
I never took to him, and we almost came to blows once when he tried to grab hold of me and give me a shaking for doing something wrong. Being a foot taller than him, he backed down before I hit him.
I learned nothing from Harry, and was deep-down sick at having to work at Stafford Road. It started to seem worse than School.
Eventually, when I was getting on for eighteen, I was transferred to The Big Shop office. In this workshop, they did a fair bit of taking the steam-engines apart and putting them back together again. There were two overhead cranes, one driven by an seemingly elderly widow (whose name I forget). If a man on the shop floor swore, she would make sure that the hook of her crane would accidentally tap him on the head. There was skill!
There were two other clerks in the Big Shop office: Dennis Emms and Olive Arrow. Dennis was a Catholic and a decent man who had a good word for everyone. He patiently showed me the tasks I – still a Junior Clerk – needed to perform. It was basically the same work as I’d done in the Boiler Shop, but Dennis helped me to understand what I was doing.
Olive Arrow was married to another Railway clerk, Jimmy. He’d had some sort of accident or illness which had left him “half-a-man” (according to popular belief). Anyway, she was a total harridan and what was known in those days as a “vamp” or a “teaser”. She made little secret that she was having an affair with a fairly high-ranking, and married, Office Manager who worked at Stafford Road Sheds, just over the road from the Factory. At her age – she must have been pushing sixty, if not tripping over it – all the make-up and tight skirts she wore didn’t make her any more attractive.
She tried her charms on me. She would stand very, very close to me, sometimes more or less snuggling up to me. That was embarrassing for a young lad. I managed to resist her charms! And that turned her against me. From that time, she never had a good word for me and tried on more than one occasion to get Dennis to tell me off.
Again, though there were some decent blokes working in the Big Shop, and they all tried to keep me happy with my work, I was extremely unhappy. I was good at paperwork, but never understood the point of it.
It was a great relief when I got my calling-up papers and knew that I would be away from all this horrible work in horrible surroundings for a couple of years. And, after those two years, who could tell . . . ?
Friday, 20 August 2010.
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