When I started in the architectural office of the national chain, I was assigned to the architectural drafting group. This was a team of about ten. George was the manager but the leader was Jack. This was a lesson in management – there is the official leader and the actual one. George seemed old to me then, but was a decent enough man who handed out the assignments. Jack was a real character. He was probably in his late thirties or early forties, very short in stature (often making a very realistic imitation of a chimpanzee, including hopping on to the work desk), he smoked incessantly, drafted with a 6B pencil, and laughed like a hyena. He was a very talented draftsman and designer. I got to work quite a bit with Jack. I went out with him to survey some farm cottages the firm owned. We were to renovate these ancient stone cottages and provide indoor toilets. Till then I didn’t know there were homes that didn’t have indoor facilities. My world was getting larger by the day.
Jack drove us to the farm. He drove like he did most things, as though possessed. I had never before been driven round right hand bends on the wrong side of the road at high speed. I learned a lot from Jack, especially about having fun.
Everyone in the group was a highly creative type. Many had outside interests like playing in rock bands, painting or professional photography. I soon learned that it’s not a good idea to let creative people become bored. Some of our work was indeed boring. An example was submitting plans for local authority approval. These plans were presented in 1/4 inch to a foot. Often these were plans of very large buildings. The drawings had to be reproduced in sets of eight and each set had to be hand coloured to indicate the material being used. A floor-plan showing a cavity wall that had 41/2” brick on the outside a 1” cavity and a 3” concrete material on the inside was drawn at 1/4 inch scale. A quarter of an inch on the paper being equal to 12 inches on the ground meant the lines were very close together. My job was to colour the brick material in a brownish red and the concrete material in green. The floors, if concrete, were painted with a pale green wash. Glass and metal was painted in blue. This was tiny, painstaking, excruciatingly boring work. It was not in any way creative.
Each of us had work that was boring.
When George was out at meetings we would occasionally let go of some of the frustration brought on by boredom. I think it’s called letting off steam.
One day, while George was out, someone decided to make a paper airplane out of office stationery. It flew right across the drafting office and hit Frank in the ear. (I don’t know what his real name was, I have forgotten. I am bad at names. In these stories I will name all the unfortunate subjects Frank. People were more likely to be frank in those days.
Frank, decided to make a better, sharper, faster airplane and the war began. Before long everyone was creating their own design and the air had more planes in it than the battle of Britain.
But we were not only creative types, we were competitive too. Before long we became bored with throwing paper darts around the office. Someone, probably Jack, noticed there was a train bridge quite a way from the office that we could see from the windows. “I bet you can’t make a plane that will glide all the way to the bridge” he said (He was a bit like Andrew in offering challenges).
That’s when the cry went up “Out the winda wiv ‘em” actually it sounded more like ‘out the windawivem’ (a number of the lads were from London’s East End – hence the accent – translated it means ‘Let’s throw the airplanes out of the window’). The large office windows swung outwards and soon we were all launching various designer planes out of the window – watching the way the air currents took them. Most made it only a few yards and then, caught by a downdraft, would plummet and crash. But some glided beautifully across the landscape of office roofs towards the goal. These successful launches kept us in the game.
One glided into the back of a pedestrian, who picked it up, looked about and wondered where it had come from.
It was at this point that one of us, probably Frank, looked down and said something like “Oh dear!” or something to that effect. We all looked down. Oh dear indeed! The flat roof below us, the one next to the executive boardroom, was littered with downed aircraft. Dozens and dozens of them. Someone, probably Frank, pointed out they were all made from our office letterhead. Each had the name of our little group boldly printed across the top. We decided this could be a problem. The only solution was to go down at lunch time, when the boardroom would be empty (the executives never stayed in the building over the lunch period) and climb out onto the flat roof and retrieve the planes.
As we didn’t want to draw any undue attention to this activity it was decided that just one volunteer (sacrificial lamb) should go. We agreed to draw lots to determine who it should be. I still think the whole thing was rigged! Anyway, at 12:01 I found myself stealthily casing the boardroom, opening the window and climbing out onto the flat roof. It took about ten minutes to collect all the evidence. All the time I was anxious that the Chief Architect, whose office was only a couple of doors down from ours, might look out of his window, glance down and see me. But I wasn’t bored.
My luck held. As far as I know I was not observed, except by the 8 pairs of eyes of my good friends and fellow aircraft engineers!
Whenever I see a paper airplane I am tempted to shout out “Out the winda wiv ‘em”.
Next time: The Shopfitting Department: Working in London in the early 60s Part 4