1950 -,Engineering

CHICANERY IN THE OLD DAYSWhen I was looking for my first engineering job I had taken part in an interview at the City Hall, faced by a phalanx of about fifteen councillors, They had asked a number of questions without getting to the meat, so I decided I would ask the question – How much? The answer appalled me, they were only offering two hundred and fifty pounds a year for a graduate with two children to support. I refused and t and took a job with a consultant at two hundred and sixty. Those were hard times.
When Sophie was looking for a teaching job we had to write out her application, her CV, her references photocopied and send copies of everything to twentysix councillors. We were astounded, but even that was nothing, to the indignity suffered by John, a friend, and my boss at one stage. He had never learned to drive, so he asked me to chauffeur him around from councillor’s house to councillor’s house. The councillors were mostly farmers and their homes were scattered over a whole county. The weather had been wet for some time with the result the lanes were like scrambler tracks. We started after work and finished in complete darkness with the humiliation of sliding into a gate post and damaging the car.
That, however was not the real humiliation. At each house we came to he went and knocked the door while I stayed in the car. As the evening wore on, when he returned to the car he became progressively disheartened at the berating he received from some who resented being canvassed and said that they were totally against it, while others told him it was a good thing he had come because they would not have voted for him if he hadn’t. The only way he could have succeeded was to have learned more about the system and done his homework better. He should have sought out someone on the Council to advise him of whom to canvass and whom not to, all he had been told was that if he hoped to get the job he should canvass all, which he did; but then he was English, with the mistaken idea that professional people were employed purely on their merits and that interviews were above board.
I remember a case where the engineer to a road contractor fell out with that contractor and resigned. A while later he answered an advertisement for a job with a Council and was told by a senior member of the staff that it was a walk-over as he was more experienced and better qualified than the other candidates. When he asked later why he had not been successful he was told, in confidence, that the contractor had objected to his candidature, saying he, the contractor, would not get fair treatment from the engineer in future dealings, and the Council then appointed another candidate. As I have said before, such is the way of the world.
There was the other side of the coin. It was Christmas, I was deputy on a construction site where we were buying stone by the thousand tons rather than the lorry load. Conforming to convention, about two days before we packed up, close to the end of the day, out of the darkness came a car loaded with good cheer. We knew the contractor who supplied the stone, and he was there that night, to show his appreciation in a material sense. We, the staff, no matter what was stated on our contract of employment, applauded. There was a turkey and a bottle of Irish whiskey for each man in the office. I went to tell the boss and by which time some of the goodies had been unloaded and our thanks had been expressed.
“Hand it back. Say a polite thanks, but no thanks,” was the order and that was how it finished. The whole lot went back where it came from, but that was not the end of the story.
Next day was that silly day when everyone turns up to work, nothing is done, and near lunch time tongues are hanging out for the ‘heavy’ which is standing, row on row, on the boss’s table, waiting for the twelve o’clock kick off. When all our glasses had been charged, the obligatory ‘thank you for all the good work you have done’ had been said, the boss raised the matter of the turkeys. I had noticed that he had been singularly liberal with the Scotch and suspected he was trying to soften the blow which had already fallen, a sort of vinegar and brown paper after the event.
“About the turkeys and Irish,” he said while lifting a wash-leather pouch from an inner pocket. “I received this, from the same source and, as you’ll see, it is etched with my name.” He held in his hand a beautiful gold cigarette case. “This is something I have always coveted, but it too has to go back, engraved name or not.”
I like a man who is even handed, even if he would like to cut off his own hand, perhaps especially so.

Categorized as General

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