Monday Memories: Beginnings #14 – The World of Work

The basic working week for hourly paid employees, including apprentices, was 44 hours. 8am to 6pm Monday to Thursday and 8 till 5 on Friday. For we apprentices, Thursday was our day for college. We were exptected to clock in to work at 8am and be present at work for an hour before departing for college which started at 9:30 There were 3 sessions across the day: 9:30 – 12:30, 1:30 – 4:30 and 6pm – 9pm. We were not required to return to work between 4:30 and 6. We spent that time in a coffee bar in Hereford.

The local bus timetable was a poor fit for these hours. Whilst I could catch a 6:40am bus that got me to Hereford well before 8am, coming home on the same service meant either finishing work early to catch the 5:40pm bus or hanging around until 8:40pm. There was another service the route of which diverged about 3 miles outside the village but which operated a service that left Hereford at 6pm. I needed a bike so that I could cycle to meet that service at 7:15am, returning at 6:30pm. It was still a long day – leaving home at 7am and returning at 6:45, nearer 10pm on Thursdays.

Two schoolboys look on as a fellow rides a bicycle with dropped handlebars.
Advertisement from 1958 for Hercules Harlequin, the bike I purchased that year.

One of the annual rituals for school leavers at Reed’s was a trip to London to be kitted out with a set of clothing suitable for office work: a blazer and flannels or a charcoal grey suit. An allowance of 15 guineas (£15.25) was provided from the school’s trustees. By leaving early to attend my job interview I missed this day out. I was however entitled to claim the allowance which I used to purchase overalls and the deposit on a Hercules Harlequin from the small bike shop attached to the village filling station and garage. The owner of this business was captain of the bell ringers.

With 6 ‘O’ level passes to my name I was excused the first year of the 5 year National Certificate course which I now embarked upon. The maths and science elements had already been well covered. The technical drawing element was a deficiency but the firm suggested that I could spend some time in the drawing office during the first months of my apprenticeship in order to pick up the basics. Before that I spent three months in the development section or ‘Lab’ as it was generally known. Here I was able to learn basic Engineering skills using hand tools and the small machines used to manufacture prototypes and test rig components. I also assisted with various trials, recording temperatures and pressures at specified times.

In the spring of 1959 I was transferred to the Tool Room. My assigned task was manufacturing test pieces. The company operated its own alluminium foundary and every batch of alluminium alloy that was produced and poured into dies or moulds to create components had some part poured into a cylindrical mould to create a test piece. These then had to be turned on a lathe to produce the specific shape required for a tensile test to determine the strength of the alloy.

The lathe was fitted with a template which the cutting tool followed in order to generate the required shape. All that I had to do was to set the machine running then measure the test piece diameter, polishing the finished article with emery paper to eliminate any tiny grooves left behind by the cutting tool. It was important that the finished diameter be within close tolerances because strength was evaluated from the breaking load and the diameter.

Drawing of a tensile test piece

The job required very little thought so it was easy to permit my mind to wander, tackling political and philosophical problems in my head. I soon gained a reputation as a day-dreamer and caused several test pieces to be scrapped to the distress of the supervisor.

Eventually I was moved to the machine shop where I was given an even more repetitive task. Here, however, the setting up of the machine and the checking of the finished product were both undertaken by others. The patrol inspector was a woman in her mid-twenties and I was shocked to observe her beeing ‘felt up’ by one of the older machine operators, an incident that years later found its way into my novel ‘Transgression’, although inverted so that the machine operator was a woman and the inspector a man.

5 thoughts on “Monday Memories: Beginnings #14 – The World of Work

  1. In my extreme youth I used to clean out the saw rooms at my uncles’ lumber yard. All morning, on Saturday. They paid me 35 cents for the pleasure. Once I was about 8 or 9 and could paint I got 75 cents. Some Saturdays I didn’t want to go, or do the sweep out so this ancient black man who worked there would toss me up into a delivery truck, give me coffee and feed me at a little hole in the wall soul food place. When we got back he’d help me, showed me the cheat to clean the saws with an air compressor and tell me stories about dumb stunts my dad and uncles pulled when “they was shortin the britches like you.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. By the time I could do real work like unload boxcars? I asked for a raise. Because I knew what I was making as a paperboy and figured being 12 and throwing lumber around was at least worth a couple of bucks.

      Liked by 1 person

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