Thursday, 21 August 2014

Paper Clip Chains and Other Tales from the Office.

Back in the Sixties my big ambition was to be a high-powered PA or at least an executive secretary to some important company director.  The first step in my not-so-logical plan was to learn how to type so I hired a rickety manual typewriter and a friend gave me a book on the art of typing letters.  I learned to touch-type (more or less) and then another friend said I should learn shorthand so I did a Teachers' Diploma in Pitmans.  It was a struggle I will admit, a struggle I never really won despite achieving the Diploma.

Armed with this dubious qualification and a professed, though somewhat false belief that I could type, I set off from Ireland for the fleshpots of London. In those Swinging Sixties days you could earn double the normal hourly rate for office staff if you went temping.  The downside was you weren't paid if you didn't work.  The upside was the hiring company didn't test my typing or shorthand skills.  I went temping.

My first assignment was in a big advertising agency in London's West End.  I arrived neat and clean in the invoicing department and was asked if I preferred a manual or an electric typewriter?  I was gobsmacked because I did not know there was such a thing as an electric typewriter.  In answer to my undignified splutter they told me they only had electric typewriters and suggested I sit down and play around with one until I felt confident enough to do some real work.  It took me a week to get one puny invoice correctly typed up.  The supervisor was a lovely lady and I think she knew from the start that I hadn't a clue but she let me soldier on and by the time I moved on to a permanent job in the autumn (temping jobs were mainly in the summer months) I could type reasonably well. 

In my next job I had to use my shorthand skills and here I think my first spark of novel writing was ignited because most of the time I couldn't read back what the boss had dictated so I had to be creative.  I made some huge howlers but most of my bosses were both patient and amused and only occasionally irritated.

I was reminded of all this a few weeks ago while reading in The Sunday Times about the "score-settling memoir" The PA by Victoria Knowles which has received mixed reviews.  To be honest I haven't read it so can't comment on the actual memoir.  It seems that Ms Knowles has been very unfortunate in the bosses she encountered.
All I can say is that any boss I worked for as a secretary deserves a round of applause for overlooking my lack of secretarial skills.

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