1939 – 41, Cluttons Part 3 of 3

My next posting was to the Rent Department. Miss Veezey, a charming if slightly tentative young woman hated being brought face to face with the seamier side of life, presented by the area that we had to work in. The Management had decided I was a more robust specimen. The day I was appointed I was called into the Secretary’s sanctum. The sheer fact of being called was proof enough that one was either to be honoured or due for a dressing down. From long experience with Headmasters Studies and knowing I never did anything I was likely to be honoured for, I went with my tail between my legs..
“Ah! Riggs,” No suggestion of sitting down. A bad sign!
“Do you possess a hat, Riggs?”
“No. Sir.” I said completely mystified.
“You will understand that this Firm has a long tradition, it is not long since all the staff were required to wear frock-coats and top hats,” he said, or words to that effect, with total equanimity, and not a smile such the idea might engender. I just nodded, aghast at what might be coming next, my mind distracted with the vision of tens of my colleagues going in and out of the office in stove-pipe hats and frock coats. He continued, “If you are to represent us you will have to provide yourself with a hat. If you simply can’t wear it you must carry it, but never go anywhere on business without it.” Class dismissed.
As I went back to my new desk in my new department I was thinking it was a bit rich, making me buy a hat, when all I received was one half-crown per week less deductions, but consoled myself that I was lucky, my predecessors had had to pay in tens and hundreds for their tutelage, while I was being paid. They, poor devils probably had to buy a frock-coat and a topper. I bought a Porkpie Hat, and proud I was of it, too.
Rent collecting was a juggling act, especially in the rain. There was the rent book with its hard, damaged cover, with all the names and payments and a thick red rubber band to keep the place in the book. There was the pouch with the cash under the jacket, the inevitable hat, the pencil, the householder’s rent book and last but not least the rent itself, and only one pair of hands. The routine was to stick the hat either between the knees or on the head, get hold of the money, that was most important, hand back the change, mark up the main book, mark up the householder’s book, say a nice thank you, put the rent book under the arm and retrieve the hat. Easy? Try it with an umbrella as well. Miss Veezey was no fool.
That was only the basics, there were always the garrulous who were hard to get away from politely, withholdingthe book and cash until they had had their say. Short of wrestling with them one was a captive audience, There were the flats where one had to climb uncarpeted stairs which children had dampened and the atmosphere was thick to emphasise the point. In some cases an elderly, undernourished, bodiless hand with a greasy, brown paper covered rent book, mucky money, would appear through the four inch slit between door and jamb – Miss Veezey.’s horror. Once I had shown myself capable of collecting rent and knew what I was doing, I was transferred upstairs to the Holy of Holies, the Surveyor’s Department, where another, altogether different class of being was housed. These people spoke a different language, had more freedom of movement and dictated their own letters rather than have them corrected, like essay-time at school. The dictating machines recorded mechanically onto a rotating tube of a black shellac-type material, and the playback needle was of bamboo. When the typist had typed up the letters she would engage a shaving device which would scrape off a thin shaving and reveal untrammelled shellac to receive the next offering – we have come a long way in 60 years.
I learned other things, but my main job then was to take a taxi each morning and visit the areas of our property which had been damaged since my last visit and make a superficial estimate of the percentage of damage both structural and cosmetic which had happened and note it down to enable the registration of War Damage claims. Sometimes, when the raids increased and occurred in daylight as well as at night, I could actually be out recording when further damage arose.
The day came when I received my papers and was about to head off to the Navy. On the day I departed, I left a huge ‘Property Vacant, This Space For Sale’ standard notice. Poor Sam Clutton! There was a guarantee given to us that all members of staff who were called up or volunteered for war service would be reinstated. Cluttons was a renowned firm and anyone who had managed to get taken on was not likely to throw up the chance of rejoining. To keep the place going through the years with men leaving like leaves in the Fall, he was ultimately faced with the problem that not enough of them had been killed. On release I went to the office looking for my job back, he nearly had a fit. I suspect I was only one of a long queue. When he discovered I had married an Irish girl and was temporarily living in Ireland, the look of relief and the persuasion he put into his monologue was a slight blow to my ego. I had worked directly under him and we had a rapport, but I could see his dilemma and someone had to go to the wall. I was probably just one of many.

Categorized as General

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