1939 – 41, Cluttons Part 2 of 3

I started on the Post Book stamping letters with a franking machine and recording each letter in the book, then balancing the costs against the record of the stamper at the end of every day. At the same time I acted as relief telephone operator with the instruction that as no calls were supposed to be private, I could listen into any conversation I cared to so that I might understand the working of the office as a whole. There is nothing more boring than listening to other people’s conversations, especially when one constantly has to break off to answer other calls.
I did that work for about a fortnight and then went to the Cashier’s Department, some times known as ‘Accounts’. We dealt with all the accounts of the properties of the Crown Commissioners and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, for which we were responsible. That meant most of London, with properties as disparate as Park Lane and Kennington and later I was to find they had odours to match. We worked at Dickensian-like desks, at standing height, with sloping tops, an ink pot set into the back of the desk, lids that lifted to reveal one’s personal possessions, such as they were, and a high chair for when a little relief for the back was called for. The ledgers were like the desks – of another age. Leather bound, they were huge and thick, about twice the size of a volume of the Encyclopaedia-Britannica, with pages which were twice as heavy. In these tomes we recorded every payment in and every payment out, we balanced every day, every week, every month and every quarter – and I still got it wrong. I was soon to learn the theory of reciprocal mistakes. This theory states, except that to my knowledge it has never been written anywhere, that if there is the most minute discrepancy, that error must not be covered, it must be found, because it is likely that there are two mistake which nearly cancel one another out What is more I have proved the theory to be true over and again. I have found this to be the case, not only in the field of finance, but in the design of structures as well. On my first balance I had some minuscule difference in the totals and suggested a modification in the pence column would save us all a lot of time and it would never matter in the long run. WRONGGGGG!! It did and when I trudged through the blasted ledger for the umpteenth time, low and behold, two horrendous errors practically cancelled one another out. Years later I was to find the same thing on more than one occasion in calculation which were far more important.
My antique monolith of a desk was one of a contiguous row and my immediate superior in Accounts, I’ll call him Fletcher, seated at the end of the row, was given to wise saws and common instances, (as the Bard said,) he would talk down to me most of the time as if I was the seventh idiot son of a seventh idiot. He was doing a line with a rather nice girl in Filing, housed in the basement, where he would take her off for, what I assumed was a kiss and a caffufle behind the rows of cabinets. As I said, I thought she was nice, she was certainly far too good for him. She had a sister who was a tease. Early on she discovered I blushed and when she felt she had a large enough audience, and most times goaded by the odious Fletcher, she would try one of her many ploys on me to make me go red to the tops of my socks. Sometimes when I would be working at my ledger, we each had a ledger or two to ourselves so we could never claim innocence when anything went wrong, she would come tight beside me and lay her copious bosom gently on the ledger so I could not fail to see it, and the chances were I would bump into it before I was aware of its presence. It was as if it was a gift she had brought me and set down for me to admire, not an appendage to her person. At just seventeen I was deeply embarrassed, as she intended. On other occasions she would squeeze past me so I was fully aware of what bits of her were where and often they were coming in touch with my protrusions. Again she was right on the button, she embarrassed me and was well aware of the fact, she couldn’t have failed to be under the circumstances. In the end, not knowing what I know now about the delicacy of ladies and their appendages, I shut the ledger on her pride and that put an end to my torture.
This was the impecuniary period, a time when my aspirations outstripped my resources, when I had ideas beyond my station, like going to the theatre. In London, at lunch time one could rent a seat for sixpence, to set at the side of a theatre, outside the entrance to the Gods, so that a place in the queue was reserved. In the evening it was claimed and one sat, being amused by the buskers until just before the performance, when the seats were collected. This all cost money and so there had to be economies, and it was then I discovered the Express Dairy in Victoria Street, with its current loaf and butter pats. For a while my lunches consisted of a small loaf of the bread, cut through the middle and buttered. This I would eat in the gardens along the Embankment or in St James’s Park, thereby swapping the rest of the money for a roast with two veg and a sweet, for an evening in the Gods at one of the City’s theatres

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