Anecdote – My Dad and a mug
My Dad and a mug
My old man worked up in Fleet Street. He ran a news reporters office. They all called him Ron. He demanded high standards and made sure he worked harder and longer than anyone else.
Every day he was up at half past six. He smoked a roll up and drink a cup of tea before sorting his breakfast. He’d catch the seven thirty to Waterloo and be in the office by nine. He finished at five thirty and was home at six thirty. Mum would have his tea on the table. He’d eat an then sit on the soafa reading all the newspapers, (he had every single national paper), checking out the stories, places and names, and watch a bit of telly. He’d either smoke his pipe or roll-ups. At ten he would make a milky drink and go to bed.
I used to think the Kinks – Well Respected Man – had some resonance with his life. It was regulated. There did not seem room for anything else. He worked Saturday and Sunday followed a pattern. He’d mow the grass, carve the joint and occasionally go down the pub for a pint on the green.
I think he found his work satisfying, maybe fulfilling, but to me it looked drab. I despised the predictability and the way it demanded all of him. My mum resented it too. She did not like the way he put his entire being into it. She said he never turned off. I wanted something more out of life. Work was not going to steal my spirit.
When I was seven or eight he took me up to work with him. We went up on the train. I enjoyed the bustle of it. It was exciting to go into his office. I remember him walking into the place with confidence and purpose. He was the boss. As he walked through the door the teaboy handed him a mug of tea – milk and two sugars – he did not even break stride. It was as if he had been waiting. He probably had. Dad was like clockwork. I was super impressed.
Dad took me to his office. We sat with mugs of tea while dad checked all the raw reports sitting in his in-tray. He corrected grammar and spelling and sent it off to the editorial office or filed it elsewhere.
I watched the office. I was intrigued. Dad had thirty people working for him on telephones plus a bunch of ancillary staff such as the teaboy and clerical staff. All of the telephone reported sat in little carels with headphones on and a Remington typewriter. Reporters at the scene would phone in their raw reports. The telephone reporter typed it up. They had to type at the speed the news reporter spoke – and sometimes they spoke fast. The task of a telephone reporter was to type fast enough to get it down and to ensure grammar, spelling and punctuation was correct. That was quite an ask.
I sat and watched, mesmerised, by it all. All around there were typewriters rattling away, mugs of tea being delivered and drunk, fags smoked and ashtrays filling to overflowing. There was a blue haze in the room. My dad sat in his office as report after report rolled in. He scrutinised, corrected and sent them on their way. Phones were continually ringing, people rushing about and a general buzz of excitement.
This was where the news happened. It was intense. You could taste the adrenaline.
Dad’s role was crucial. He hired and fired and ran the office. He sorted and made decisions about what to pass on and where it went. He corrected the script. There were deadlines and sometimes great spurts of activity so that he was inundated. Then it might ease off for a while.
Dad had a good team. He only employed the best. He told me his system. He always met with the person applying then he gave them a test that probed their weaknesses. It was a speed typing test with punctuation and spelling. He told me he had two tests – extremely hard and impossible. If he liked the applicant he gave them the extremely hard one. If they passed he hired them. If he did not like them he gave them the impossible one.
I enjoyed my day at his office. I was pampered by the clerical staff and the reporters. I could see that they liked and respected dad. I could also see that the adrenaline and frenetic nature of the job was addictive. There was a camaraderie and professionalism. It was hard, intense and required skills and concentration.
But what impressed me most was the way that mug of tea had been placed in his hand as he walked in. That spoke reams.