The Articled Particle: Part Four

In parts one to three, we left our hero being allocated a task that may not be quite what he is expecting..

Back in the office, Mr Mezillious has already left for his club; luncheon, these days is an extended affair, but his secretary, Jeanette whispers a ‘well done’. My suit is hanging on a coat hanger behind my chair. It’s seventeen minutes past midday and I’m already exhausted. I turn to the titles, take a deep breath and ring the Land Registry help desk.

To my, and I suspect their surprise they are helpful. I explain to Peter who agrees that I can follow up on their suggestion after lunch.

Lunch. Hmm. Some people assume lawyers are and always have been well-paid. In 1979, after the rampant inflation and high interest rates of the last decade that is not so at the pondlife end. My salary is £2450 per annum and, after tax and national insurance I take home £18.72 per week. My rent, ex bills is £15 per week. If I eat on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, it’s pretty rare, though recently I’ve discovered pot noodle; flavoured cardboard never tasted so good.

The government and my firm, please don’t think, are uncharitable. They allow employees a 15p a day luncheon voucher which is tax free and five of which are included with my weekly wage. Around me, the cheapest food is Giorgio’s cheese sandwich, coming in at 17p; add tomatoes and you top 20p. If Giorgio isn’t looking, you might be able to add a squirt of ketchup…

Tea and (instant) coffee are free and unlimited; decent coffee will not arrive in London until the early 1990s. I make a cup, take it to my desk and sort out what I need copied.

The firm of Crimbould Rougby & Co is not one to embrace the modern. Typing is carried out on electric typewriters; dictation is, for the most part delivered to a secretary shorthand, though Leonora, a senior lawyer who famously turned down a partnership insists of using a machine. Currently, I’m using a similar machine, though when Peter goes away Jeanette will be my secretary; it is a day I am dreading.

There are three other mechanical aides to our legal practice; the telephone, the telex machine and a photocopier. This last arrived a couple of months before me and caused some consternation.

In a strange reversal of the sexual stereotyping that is prevalent in the work place, the women/non-lawyers are generally the ones to use the machines. Consequently, the copier has been the subject of some internecine warfare between Ethel and Jeanette, the two senior secretaries as to who is in charge. Jeanette won and it is to her I must turn to acquire the copies that I will need of the five land registry plans and the three others that seem to make up the remaining parcel or parcels. It was made very clear when I joined that copying ‘willy-nilly’ was a frivolity that would not be countenanced. It has also become clear that the three partners – Our ‘enry, Helen and Peter – have no clue about this wondrous contraption. Thus if Jeanette says ‘it can’t be done’ her word is law. I fear asking for eight copies will prove a request too far. Still, nothing ventured…

At one minute to two, Jeanette and Ethel return to the office. They take luncheon together at the Fulbright tea rooms every day, leaving at one minute past one and returning at one minute to two. Each wears a smart coat, sensible shoes and gloves. Oh and a hat, a sort of felt pie-dish that perches on their perms. They do not speak on leaving nor, if one sees them on their way to or from Fulbright’s, while walking.  However, I’m led to believe they ask you to join them on your birthday, were it to fall on a workday and, as Peter confided in me ‘you’ll learn a lot’. I think I’m looking forward to the end of November.

In the possibly vain hope lunch will have left Jeanette favourably disposed to my request, I approach the secretarial room with some trepidation. Disturbing these wise old birds (as the rest of the office collectively knows them) after lunch is always delicate. This is because, while dictation is a morning function, it is after lunch the real work is done. Namely the typing and other tasks they have been given. These are completed before the post is proffered for signature about 4pm. Corrections, if such are needed, are then made and the rest of the post signed shortly before five. If the partner/other is not about to sign the same he/she will have left instructions whether they can be pp’ed. All letters are sealed and handed to the receptionist, Gwyneth who redirects all incoming calls to Peter’s room and takes the post to the post office on Marylebone Lane for dispatch on her way to Baker Street station.

Peter, being young and irredeemably modern, works late, hench all after hours calls going to him. ‘Late’ usually means he leaves sometime between 5.35pm and 5.45pm. I quite like the quiet of the evening when I can undertake research tasks I’ve been set which means calls coming in often fall to me to answer rather than him. I’ve learned not to panic; if I say I’m the articled clerk, the caller sighs and leaves a message, the expectation being that that all articled clerks are idiots. I have no intention of disillusioning anyone of this truism.

My last task, on which I have been instructed at least three times in my three months here to make sure I understand is to set the answer machine before I leave. It is the only thing on which I received some sort of helpful instruction; everything else has been the result of observation, desperate questioning of Jeanette, the most helpful secretary or Leonora, if she’s not shouting at someone on the phone. Peter should be the obvious source of such information but after three ‘no ideas’ in response to my first queries, I understood he had no intention of being the source of all office lore or wisdom. Of legal queries however he is nothing but helpfulness personified.

“Jeanette?” I know I sounded tentative; she is hunched over the enormous Olivetti that looks like it probably grinds articled clerks to pulp, if left unattended for long, doing something with the ribbon. This isn’t going to end well.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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26 Responses to The Articled Particle: Part Four

  1. joylennick says:

    Hi Geoff, Thanks for the glimpse into your office days. Most interesting. As a junior, and later senior shorthand-typist/secretary working for an agency, many moons ago, I experienced some v.varied posts! My kindest boss – an endearing, pin-striped-suited man who puffed on an unlit pipe a lot…and, when standing still, rocked back and forth as if to somehow increase his limited height, had a male personal secretary. ‘Nigel’- think Uriah Heap (?)was skinny, had bum-fluff on his chin, treated him like a God, and me like something distasteful on his shoes. I endured him for a while and then, with apologies to the boss, Mr. Sapte, sought pastures new. ‘They’ are out there…
    I can boast of a Swiss Count as a boss (charming) and, on one occasion, having an encounter in a broom cupboard with a lecher…Those were the days. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      The sexism and misogyny was dreadful but your ladies were expect to suck it up. Mind you, in the first firm Ethel and Jeanette were terrifying to a young lawyer like me. The hierarchy put me several rungs below them and rightly as the place couldn’t function without them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My £2.12.6d per week with food and accommodation thrown in, in 1964, seems a fortune in comparison!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Sadje says:

    I’m enjoying your memoirs!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting office days! I remember those huge Olivetti’s – they weighed a ton and could be used as door stops. I have no idea how you got by on that salary, but mine in the late 60s was $333 a month, of which $300 went to rent.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Olivetti brought back a memory of my first office job. I arrived for the first time and this huge Olivetti calculator was sitting on the desk taking up most of the space. I had no idea how to use it. Finally, I had to tally about a million rows of numbers so I decided to use the machine. I put in all the data and then hit the summary key. The stupid thing jumped and jived and walked itself off the desk and pretty much laid like a dead person still calculating. When it stopped I tore off the 20 foot tape with the answer and never used it again. I enjoyed your story today.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. V.M.Sang says:

    Oh dear. Do we have to wait to find out Jeanette’s response? I’m on tenterhooks.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. George says:

    Really enjoying these.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. willowdot21 says:

    I enjoying this Geoff.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. trifflepudling says:

    I haven’t read all these yet, but is this where my typewriter carriage return accident going to appear 😀😀?!

    Liked by 1 person

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