by Karenne Griffin
It was my first job and I was just sixteen. I felt ever so grown up waiting at the bus stop in my new navy wool coat and black patent leather shoes with a kitten heel. Much more grown up than the gaggle of scruffy school kids also waiting for the bus, playing tag and shouting. And some of them were only a year younger than me.
‘Just look at that Ceri Watkins with her nose in the air,’ I heard Brenda Vickers say. Brenda with a cigarette clamped between her lips and her school uniform skirt hitched up so short you could practically see what she had for breakfast. I ignored her barbed comment. She was obviously jealous. She’d be lucky to get a job in the laundry when she left school, whereas I had a job in an office. And they’d chosen me in favour of a whole heap of other applicants.
Sadly I didn’t feel quite so high and mighty once I arrived at work. I was the office junior, and constantly reminded that although I had a CSE in Typing and Office Practice I still had a lot to learn. The office was a mysterious place with a hierarchy and a whole lot of baffling protocols that had to be observed to the letter. For instance, when I made tea I had to know who got chocolate digestives when the rest had plain ones.
This was before the days of computers, and all typing was done on a typewriter. Instead of contracting out to a printing firm my employers made their own stationery on a big, scary printing press. Mrs Mantel was teaching me how to operate it. You had to take the ink chambers out of its innards and fill each one with the correct colour. Then after use the ink chambers had to be taken out again and cleaned thoroughly with a pungent solution. It was a messy job requiring rubber gloves.
‘I’m going on my lunch break now,’ said Mrs Mantel. ‘I’ll switch the phone through to the print room.’
Great. Not only did I have to remember her instruction and follow them to the letter, but I had to drop everything and answer the phone when it rang.
Everything was going well. I had the ink chambers out, and had almost finished loading them with ink when the phone rang for the first time. I peeled off my gloves and took the call, putting it through to the boss.
He came down to the print room a few minutes later. ‘Everything going all right, Ceri?’ he asked.
‘Yes, thank you, Mr Prendergast,’ I replied. Mr Prendergast was so big and important he made me nervous.
He turned and left the room. It was at that moment that I noticed he had a streak of red ink around the back of his grey suit jacket. Glancing around the room I noticed I’d left the tube of red ink with its lid off close to the edge of the table. He must have brushed against it. After a moment of indecision I decided to say nothing.
I loaded the appropriate letters into the blocks and slotted them into the printing press. My task was to make compliments slips, three to a page, and then cut them neatly on the guillotine when the ink had dried. Compliments slips had to be sent with anything that didn’t have a covering letter enclosed.
I loaded the machine with paper and pressed the red button. The machine whirred into action. The first few copies came out a bit faint, but after a minute or two the ink worked its way through properly. I smiled proudly as I held the finished article aloft and inspected it. Just perfect!
I’d just answered the phone again when Mrs Mantel returned from lunch. The printing press was whirring away all of its own accord, set to stop when it had produced 1,000 copies. Putting down the phone I could see a frown on Mrs Mantel’s face.
‘What’s wrong?’ I enquired nervously.
She shook her head. ‘Silly girl! You’ve made a mistake on one of the blocks. You’ve put an ‘n’ instead of an ‘m’ so it reads ‘With Conpliments’ instead of ‘With Compliments’. I did tell you to check carefully before you started printing. Now one third of the slips can’t be used.
It was then that Mr Prendergast came storming into the print room having noticed the red ink on his jacket.
It was not one of my better days, but at least I didn’t get the sack. Luckily I got the ink of Mr Prendergast’s jacket using the cleaning solution. My punishment was to make the unusable slips into notepads for taking telephone messages. Nothing was wasted. Of course from then on I was careful to put the lids straight back on the ink tubes and double-check my typesetting.
Last Modified on: 05-11-2015