No. 15 – My First Day In The “Real” World

The daily journey to work which I first traveled on 12th August 1968 consisted of a ten-minute walk to the nearest train station, followed by a thirty-minute train ride to Glasgow, ending with a five-minute walk through the streets of Glasgow to the office of my new employer, which was a Chartered Accountancy firm with four partners.

At least that’s what I thought would be my morning routine for at least the following five years. As usual, I was wrong. Except for the second year after leaving school, when, for nine months I was to go full time to Glasgow University, seventy-five percent of my work-days were to be spent auditing, well, in my early years, assisting the auditing of clients’ financial records, at the clients’ premises. Therefore, on most days, the journey was different, and there were often periods when I wouldn’t visit the office for several weeks at a time.

I wasn’t expecting this. I had assumed that I would be working in the office all the time. On my very first day for example, I was told that my first job would be at the offices of a construction company which was building a new road bridge over the River Clyde, the river that flowed through the center of Glasgow. My first task was to carry a comptometer about half a mile through the streets of Glasgow. What is a comptometer? You may be asking.

A comptometer was an early, mechanical adding machine. They were large contraptions, which weighed about 25 pounds each. They had 10 rows, 9 buttons on each row, from 9 zeros on the bottom to 9 nines on the top. Then there were a couple of extra columns catering for the shillings and pence, which, in 1968, were still in use in The U.K. We students, didn’t use them, although in theory we could have, but we would have been very slow. Instead, the firm employed specialist comptometrists, who could add, or check the addition of long columns of numbers incredibly quickly, their fingers flying over the keyboard with lightning speed. It’s a pity, in a way, that, since the advent of computers, the skills of comptometrists have disappeared along with the skills of shorthand typists.

After lugging this heavy machine through the streets, I met up with my first “senior” who was in charge of my first “assignment”. My long-established technique of getting people to know, like, and trust me was being stretched to the limit. First, there had been all of the other employees I had met in the office, both students, all but one, a girl, who were older and more experienced than I was, office staff, and the four partners, of whom I had only met one previously, at my initial interview. Now, there was my first, temporary “boss”, the senior in charge of the audit of the financial records of the company undertaking the bridge construction, together with the comptometrist. They had both gone directly to the temporary office building at the construction site, and hadn’t gone to the office first. Then I was introduced to the staff who worked for the construction company. It would be their work that I would be checking and it was clear to me that they were the most suspicious group. “Is this strange-looking youngster with an awkward walk and shaky hands, really going to be checking my work?” That is what I imagined that they were thinking as I was introduced to them one by one.

After I had endured, what I felt had been a very awkward series of introductions, I remember thinking what a different world this was to the world I had envisioned it would be, as the senior and I returned to the small office that had been allocated to us. I had envisioned that I would have to get to know about a dozen people who I would work with every day, instead, I had met about forty people, and, to make things more difficult, I would have to endear myself to a new group of people every two or three weeks. On top of that, I had spent forty-five minutes lugging one of the heaviest things I had ever carried through the streets of Glasgow. My arms were still aching from the experience. But the unpleasant surprises hadn’t finished coming.

When we got back to the office, where the comptomotrist was working with the heavy machine I had carried with such difficulty from our main office with her eyes glued, not to the keyboard, but on the pages of an old book on which there were many columns of numbers. I was truly bemused. Then came the next obstacle to my dreams of an easy life.

“Okay Phil,” Bill, my senior said. “You did well there, during the introductions. Now let’s have some coffee. You’ll find a machine if you turn right at the end of the corridor. I’ll have black with no sugar and Mary will have white with one, please.”

I turned towards the door, grimacing as I went, and soon found the machine. Beside the machine was a plastic tube full of paper cups. I gingerly pulled the bottom one out of the tube, and placed it on a tray on the machine below a metal spout. I pressed a few buttons which deposited some granulated coffee, two portions of sugar and one portion of dried milk into the plastic cup. I then pressed the button labeled “hot water” and water, which appeared to be close to boiling, poured into the cup, stopping automatically, just below the rim. I stirred it with a plastic paddle-like implement which I found hanging from the machine before trying to gingerly lift the cup to my lips.

Unfortunately, the hot water had made the already soft sides of the cup even more flexible and my clumsy hand pressed too tightly and quite a bit of the coffee spilled onto the tray. By leaning down and grasping the rim of the cup with my teeth, I finally managed to stand up straight and finish what remained of the coffee, in almost one gulp. Actually, it was quite pleasant. After a moment’s thought, I shook my head and went sheepishly back to the audit room.

“You were away quite a time, Phil,” Bob said. “And where are the three coffees?”

I sat down and told Bob, the difficulties I had faced.

“I’m sorry, Phil, but nobody from the office warned me about this, but don’t worry, I’ll let everybody else know at the first opportunity I get. It’s no big deal. I’ll go and get the coffees for everybody.” I didn’t have time to tell him that I had already drank three-quarters of a cup, so when he returned a few minutes later clutching three full paper cups in his two large, steady hands, I had my second cup of coffee of the morning.

While we drank the coffees, Bob said. ”Phil, you’ll be going to a lot of different sized clients over the years that follow, some of which will have ladies who will bring coffees to you in cups, but in others, like here, we have to make do with plastic cups. If I were you, I’d carry a ceramic mug in my briefcase, which should help you a lot.”

“Thanks for the advice I replied,” and for the next ten or so years I carried a ceramic mug with me whenever I went to work.

“Okay,” Bob announced after we had finished our coffees. “It’s almost lunchtime, but I’ll introduce you to what we will spend the afternoon doing. You’ll understand this better after you have gone to your two-week introductory bookkeeping course, which I understand starts next Monday, but in the meantime just listen to what I have to say, and follow what I want you to do this afternoon.”

Bob showed me an old book, with pre-printed lines and columns which was full of hand-written narrative and numbers. He also had a few large files of invoices from many different suppliers of goods and services. “Okay, do you understand what we will be doing this afternoon?” Bob asked after he had spoken for about half an hour.

“Yes,” I replied. “It seems straightforward enough, although I won’t pretend to know why we are going to be doing it, or what purpose it will serve.”

“Don’t worry, just be a robot for the next week. Everything will become clear, one day,” Bob said before he left, saying that he had a lunch time appointment to see someone. Mary, the comptomotrist had brought her own sandwiches from home, and I wandered outside on my own. I soon found a shop selling pre-packed sandwiches and I bought a couple, together with a bottle of fresh orange juice and three chocolate biscuits. I ate the sandwiches and drank the juice in a park overlooking the Clyde and took the biscuits back, so everyone could have one with afternoon coffee to make up for me not being able to get the coffee.

I spent the afternoon ticking off amounts of money and names that Bob called out to me, using upside-down ticks made with a green pen. I then told Bob which, of about twenty columns, the amount had been duplicated into. This went on all afternoon. To say it was boring would be an understatement.

Finally, it was five o’clock, and I walked back to the station, caught the next train back to Airdrie, followed by another walk home. I was dispirited and disappointed. “This is a disaster,” I thought to myself. “And I’ve got to do it all again tomorrow, and the next day, and the one after that. Ugh.

So, all you budding Internet Marketers out there. Let’s compare one of the many “Shiny Objects” that I’m sure you have bought in the past, and will probably buy again in the future, to my first day at work over 55 years ago. I endured a day, that was not only completely different from the day I expected it would be, but I was way way out of my “comfort zone”. How often have you bought something that hasn’t worked after a day, and so you’ve either given up and let the software crowd your already overcrowded hard drive, or you’ve asked for a refund?

I can assure you, as I battled against the rush-hour crowds on the way from work either walking or while on the train, the thought of giving up ran repeatedly through my mind. But this wasn’t a $27 plug-in or a $47 single-click magic software solution, it was something I had worked 5 hard years to achieve, and the rest of my life depended on it. I had to make it work. I can remember making the following decision as I walked up the hill leading to our Airdrie house. If I feel as dispirited as I am feeling now in one year’s time, after my introductory bookkeeping course, and after my first year of Institute training I will investigate alternatives before I attend the 9 months of full-time university training that I’ll have to attend as it is an integral part of the scheme I have joined. But I have to give it a year. If it’s a year of hell, so be it. I must give it at least a year.

And you, Marketers out there in ‘Newbie Land” please approach whatever route you decide to follow with the same mindset. Don’t take my word for it, my mentor, Dean Holland says the same thing.

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