Let’s just say school was not the highlight of my life. My final year was a bit of a disaster. A very good English teacher left early in our final year. He was replaced by someone who appeared to suffer from the demon alcohol and had a preoccupation with getting us to read the same literary passage each day – something about ‘wisps of silken cloth sliding gently over her breasts…‘ It reminds me of the Monty Python skit in The Meaning of Life, where a teacher even made a live demonstration of sexual intercourse extremely boring to a class of 12 year-old boys. Our daily reading was not a titillating happening for we boys, but it seemed to give the poor inebriated Irish teacher some happiness. He was fired in our last term. Unfortunately the math/science teacher was not – and not one student passed the O level GCE that year. I believe that teacher did not return the following term. There were also other rumours about him, so unsavoury that I choose not to include them here. The following autumn I attended a tutor/crammer to obtain my math certificate.
When I presented myself to the local employment advisor she asked what I would like to do. I told her I would like to do something creative, maybe architectural drafting.
She looked at my GCE results and said “You may be able to become a clerk”. (pronounced clark in England). She gave me an advertisement for a junior clerk in the Chief Clerk’s office of a London burough. On my own I found an advertisement for a junior draftsman (that’s what they were called then), in the architects office of a national wholesale and retail chain. I applied for both positions. I also applied for a job with the telegraph office – but as my geographic knowledge at the time was pitiful and my spelling worse they didn’t think I was the most suitable candidate – thank goodness.
I was granted an interview at both the clerk’s and architect’s office. The Chief Clerk offered me a position which would consist mainly of filing.
The Chief Architect interviewed me himself. This was probably the most sensible interview I have ever attended or been part of.
I sat in front of his huge desk. He only asked me a few questions. One of them was this: holding up a flat ruler, he asked, “If I was going to use this as a beam in a building to support objects, which way up should I place it?” He then showed me the ruler placed flat, then on edge. I told him he should place it on its edge. He asked me why. I told him it would be stronger that way.
He then put an ugly ornate ashtray in front of me and gave me some drawing paper. “I’d like you to draw the ashtray” he said. “Do you have a pencil?”
“Not with me” I replied. He said he would lend me one of his. “Do you prefer a hard or soft lead”. I told him I much preferred a soft one. He smiled, took out a gold, propelling drafting pencil, gave it to me and said with pride, “This is the pencil I use, it’s a 6B”. (That’s about as soft as drafting pencils come).
I dutifully and carefully sketched the ugly ashtray. When I had finished, I handed him back his gold pencil and the drawing. He crumpled up the drawing without bothering to look at and threw it in the waste basket.
He told me he wasn’t interested in my drawing he just wanted to see how I treated the pencil. Then he took the pencil, pointed to his head and said solemnly “We think with this” held out the pencil and said “we communicate with this”. This will be your livelihood. He offered me the job.
I called up the employment counselor and told her about the two job offers and asked her advice. She seemed really miffed that I had been offered a job in an architects office and said “Well, you will just have to make up your own mind about that!” and hung up.
I wrote what I thought was a nice letter thanking the Chief Clerk for his offer of employment but regretfully declining.
My adventure working in London was about to begin. So was the insanity.