I often refer to myself as an idiot, because I have been one on many occasions, and because I have that sort of sense of humour. But eating wine glasses? I was a mature student, and so found some of the practices of the other students a little eccentric. We had an extrovert in our rowing club who, for a substantial bet, subscribed to generally, would actually chew wine tumblers in our local bar. No matter how closely I looked, I couldn’t see how he avoided getting cut. I was convinced he palmed the glass and munched something noisy like nutty brittle – if he did, the guys betting him were the nutty ones!
The Battle Of The Officers In 1950, post war, men had returned to jobs, others who should have retired were still in office, the slow deliberate attitudes of the thirties were being stretched, so there was change in the air and the archaic mores were being challenged by circumstance. An amusing confrontation demonstrated this metamorphosis. Barnes, unqualified, held a lowly position in a Design Office. During the war, he had been promoted to acting Lieutenant Colonel on the battlefield, later confirmed; at the other end of the age range was a veteran of the First World War, Masterson, demobbed in 1918 with the rank of Captain. Masterson was a blimp-like character, senior member of staff, the scourge of us all, and hid his inadequacies behind his regimental tie Barnes, was a lig, a character, a comedian, one who took life as he found it and would rise no higher. Masterson paraded round the office maintaining discipline, ostensibly checking work, although I don’t recall him ever being asked for his opinion, a sort of policeman. When he approached, those near Barnes would say ‘Colonel, the Captain’s coming,’ and there would then be, soto voce, derisory chuckles. The whole thing came to a head when another lig, the office was full of them, put a notice to the effect that Colonel Barnes was to go to see Captain Masterson True in detail, as Masterson was indeed looking for Barnes, but unwise in execution. Masterson in one of his circulatory perambulations saw the sign, he could hardly not have, it was the size of a tea tray and intended that none should miss it. The joker, though, had stretched what little humour Masterson had beyond its limit and the Colonel bore the brunt from then on.
Battle Enjoined I have since wondered if the ventilating system made people act the way they did in that office, it was as if some controlled substance was permeating the atmosphere which engendered practical jokes. The ventilating system was admirably designed for such a ploy, we had proof of it by the very nature of the secondary smoking we enjoyed daily. The behaviour of the staff was certainly unique. Perhaps it was because work was so boring, anything was a relief. to the tedium. We had a Greek engineer who grew his own tobacco and smoked it all day long. It was foul smelling and there were varied suggestions as to the additional ingredients including – the least obnoxious suggestion – shredded tram-drivers gloves. As the day progressed a fug, a dense cloud of smoke, no more than two foot deep, of a grey blue colour, eddied and swirled gently down the office from the top corner, where the Greek was stoking the embers, and at average face level so no one was exempt. This atmospheric coincided with some very strange behaviour. The ‘confrontation’ is a typical example.
The ‘confrontation’ started in a high class, ladies’ outfitters, at the scarf counter. Lunch time on a hot day, Matt, a lig, walking past the shop spied our tracer, a beautiful young woman who stood no nonsense from the men. She was standing examining scarves. Matt burst into the shop, strode over to the girl and said in a voice everyone could hear, ‘You spent all the housekeeping last week and the week before, and I suppose you are doing the same this week. Buy the damn thing and come on home.’ He then strode out of the shop. The girl was so taken aback she bought the first thing which came to hand and fled. Would you believe the man had been trying to ingratiate himself into the girl’s favour for some time? A few days later, Matt had left the office for a moment and his jacket was draped over the back of his chair. The tracer picked his pocket, removing his wallet, his season ticket on the train and his loose change. She knew he walked to the station and would not be aware of his predicament until he went to show his ticket at the barrier. It took him some time to find someone at the station from whom to borrow the fare home.