4.3.70 [Two aerogrammes - it’s likely there was a letter between this and the last one recorded]
Where has this wretched year gone to already? I was all prepared for a few more days in February and when I looked around next it was March.
I seem to have mixed up a bit over Kevin Rowlands, though it doesn’t matter at all. Mike didn’t bring him up here, but just said he’d known him at home, though for the life of me I can’t say I saw much sign of recognition! [No idea what that means.]
About the job since you’ll no doubt be a little concerned. We’re all settling in, without any further losses [of trainees, I think], and now have the distinction of not being entirely new ˗ there being another class behind us. We have done quite a lot of time (an hour each day) on the switchboards, consolidating what we learn in class. There are still dummy switchboards, but have the advantage of someone being at the other end (as opposed to our Mrs Bullitt making the appropriate noise beside us in class) turning on the right lights and sound effects.
We spent all last week learning how to cope with connecting up people from overseas to people in Great Britain, and this week are reversing the process and starting to put through calls to overseas places. The whole business is fairly complex, and taken on terribly easy stages, so that none of us can fail to pick it up. When we’re out at these switchboards at these moment, we have an instructor behind us helping us along if we go wrong, and so you’re really mollycoddled all the way. What an incredible system it all is though! You can dial straight to all the places in the world except China on the boards we will use, and though your man in Little-Chipping-on-the-Mud wants to speak to his brother in Afghanistan, all he has do is pick up his phone, and after he has passed through about three exchanges in England, he arrives at us, and we then put him on his way, via another two or three exchanges; the thing is that it’s only at his end, and at our middle section and at the other end that he actually comes across operators; the rest is done by innumerable permutations of numbers connecting him via the unnamed exchanges. Everything, but everything is coded, and no doubt eventually the operators will only be required to patch up mistakes that the machines or the nuisance human subscribers make. Just at the beginning of this week they brought in direct dialling for the man in the street in New York! [China actually came on board while I was working in the Exchange, sometime later; though we waited all the first day for someone to actually want to ring the place.] Just imagine what equipment there is behind it all: satellites, cables, radio links, etc.
That motley bunch of folk in my class that I described to you last week are sorting themselves out. Mrs Rogers and Mrs Ingle remain buddies, and the only things they have in common are their two marriages, and nerves every time before going to the switchroom. Mrs I is a Catholic (though how she managed the marriages bit, I'm not going to ask), and is much more the pleasant of the two ˗ about fortyish, always well-dressed, bright as a button, and with a mad sense of humour; Mrs R is more severe somehow, though not without humour, and is a good example of the permissive society at work; she doesn’t question it, one gets the impression, but somehow agrees with its tenets, and takes advantage of her up-to-dateness. She is not to be argued with as both Mr Levi and I have found out, not because she’s right, but because she thinks she’s right, and there isn’t another point of view. She’s survivable, however, because she is only a shadow in the brightness of Mrs I who has ten times the amount of real life in her.
Mr Levi and I get on generally very well. He’s only half a Jew and hasn’t any of the mannerisms, and is only different from your average middle-class Londoner in that he is aware of things around him, and has a very good sense of humour : he is quite prepared to have the Mickey taken out of him and more often than not to take it out of himself. He is more sensitive than one might expect at first sight, and keenly aware of his own shortcomings. If it wasn’t for the sense of humour he would have a nasty chip on his shoulder stating that he is a ‘failure.’ As it is he can state this and smile. He is married, strangely enough, to a Catholic (what incredible Catholics there are in London) and doesn’t seem to get on with his wife at all by what he says. I suspect however that there is a good deal more security to his marriage than he would ever let on, and he is probably, paradoxically, secure in his failures. If you know your own faults, that’s half the battle; it’s only the small matter of correcting them then! [This long profile of Jerry Levi is interesting in the light of our future relationship: he was probably an alcoholic, though he had it under control enough to work, and we often went out after a shift and spent some time in a pub (this could be in the early hours of the morning, sometimes. He was a surprisingly open person, and we clicked strongly; he was like one of those slightly irresponsible uncles you have in some families. We worked for some time together (because the people you went through training with tended to wind up on your rosters. I don’t know whether the letters I have cover what happened with him: I went on holiday for a week at one point, some months later, and came back to discover he’d died suddenly, possibly from a wrong combination of alcohol and the medication he was on. I was in complete shock; he seemed to have been snatched out of my life. I never got to meet his family, nor heard what happened to them.]
The other guy, Hoss (as he’s nicknamed - he resembles in size, anyway, the Hoss of TV: I’m ‘St Michael’ ˗ so is the brand of Marks and Spencer clothes!; both of these are Mrs I’s doing) turns out to be the victim of the mass media mind, with an appreciation of trivia that would be hard to beat. Still, he is immensely good-natured, and on the surface, certainly, doesn’t appear to have a spot of badness in him. [I’m presume the ‘Hoss’ is the character from the TV series, Bonanza. I don’t know this fellow’s real name; it may have been Eric, as Hoss’ real name was, but it could have been something else entirely. Anyway, he was a big boy.]
The beanstalk girl of last week, is twenty, Irene, and gay. [‘Gay’ in the old sense.] She is the surprising product of a divorce but has the advantage of having always, obviously, been reasonably resilient and good-humoured. (It must be that only good-humoured people take on this job!) She is interesting to talk to, likes going round the city in her lunch hour looking at things (churches, what-have-you), reads books (unheard of amongst 90% of the trainees) ˗ there are about fifty or more) and is filling in time like the rest of us, I
suspect, though it appears she is rather thrown out on the world due to the nature of her parents’ present situations; and is too tall for me. Anyway, she isn’t a Catholic so it matters not!
The other two girls are thick in different ways; one is an inverted snob and thinks she’s always being [There’s a long article online about working in the Exchange, situated at the Faraday Building, across from St Paul’s. You could look out some windows and see the Dome floating above you. Women worked day shifts only ˗ except Sundays ˗ and men worked all the night shifts. So we lost track of the women who’d trained with us very quickly, since our paths never crossed after that.]got at and tells you to shut up if she can’t cope with you having her on, and the other, who is twenty-one, is just plain dumb, though impressionable with certain facts if persevered with!
...I’m finding life rather more trying than it was. This is no doubt the explanation: life has always been right for me, and I was content to go merrily along saying, Oh yes, I’m a Catholic, can’t you see? But in fact people couldn’t really see, and I think He wants something more from me, not just Mass two or three times a week and patting little children on the head, and giving a couple of bob to beggars, but some statement within myself that shows Him that I’m not only on the right road but am walking along it too ˗ not just sitting in the sun at the side. I’m no doubt being all waffly and vague again, and it all means something to me, but probably won’t by the time it reaches you!
I haven’t heard from the CIB yet, and no doubt the Good God has that all worked out too, but as usual Crowl thinks he knows best, and says there is something wrong. In the words of me mum, we’ll offer it up and He’ll let us in on it all when He’s good and ready.
It’s been snowing here today (started overnight) and up this way it’s about four inches thick and turning to slush. I was tripping daintily home after work (here we’ve been getting off a quarter of an hour early each night, and tonight three-quarters of an hour, because the weather was bad! Talk about kids!) carefully keeping my feet dry and walking along in the thicker stuff which hadn’t been trampled to muck, when I jumped down off the kerb to cross a driveway onto what I thought was cleared, wet gravel and it turned out to be a miniature Lake Erie; I gave up after that and sploshed along in the best of the slush, with at least one thoroughly sodden foot. (Yes, yes, I was wearing four feet this evening ˗ clever!)
Margaret and I went and had a meal the other night (she went off to Paris the next day) and sat there for four hours talking! She is incredibly open about herself and inspires confidence in others to be the same. So we swapped stories of ourselves and our troubles and joys back and forth, and spent a quite pleasant evening. However in spite of all the laughter that came of it, I came away rather depressed: Life does seem to be a messy business, doesn’t it? Very few if any folk escape some muck-up, and for all the good it seems to do you, you often wonder if it’s worth it. (I’m not feeling suicidal, it’s okay.) And that in spite of faith. Only goes to show that we’re lacking in faith somewhere, doesn’t it? Marg’s a strange person: she told me things I never thought to hear from any woman (except perhaps a future wife!) and yet it wasn’t sensationalism on her part or anything ˗ she manages to convey the joys and sorrows of things without making them coarse or obscene. I feel actually that it doesn’t do a man any harm to know an older woman very well if she is open like this: it helps him to understand women so much better and to be able to understand a woman of his own age; because one of these will never be so open ˗ it’s a fact of her age. And yet how else are you to understand the females? If not from themselves? [Perhaps thinking I now knew everything about women. I didn’t.]
In your last aerogramme you talked a bit about dad; if it doesn’t hurt you too much, or do anything harmful to you, would you mind whenever you have a spare inch or two of an aerogramme left over and don’t know what to say, just writing some things about him that I don’t know? I have an incredibly incomplete picture of him. Only if it won’t upset you, mind. [It was about this time that I started feeling more and more than there was a hole in my life, in terms of my father, whom I hadn’t seen since I was three. Nor had I had any communication from him since then. He died in 1965, something we only discovered after the funeral was over. At the time it made little impact, but gradually the loss crept up, and eventually took many years to completely dispel.]
I haven’t been cutting my own hair recently, though I’ve only had one haircut since and can now do with another, but thanks for the thought anyway. Tell Des that I tried again to get his trimmer, but they say here that they are such a rarely-asked for item, that no one seems to stock them. Love, Mike.