In 1969 I left school and began working for Post Office Telephones. Right from the day that I started I had to learn about such things as health, safety and security. I was taught where to find out the details of these things and this was in addition to being trained how to do my job. We held a copy of the relevant instructions in our office and for a few years one part of my job included keeping our paper copies kept up to date, filing the updates and destroying the old items securely. It meant that I could learn of the changes as they occurred. I knew the details of the various buildings, I learned the basic structure, layout and hierarchy of people and places. In those days we didn’t have computers in the office, no Internet, our work was all on paper. As a result there were many different forms, some of them dating back to World War II, when a department within the UK Government called the Ministry of Works was formed in order to organise the requisitioning of property for wartime use. After the war, the ministry kept responsibility for government building projects. In 1962 it was renamed the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, and acquired the extra responsibility of monitoring the government building industry as well as taking over the works departments from the War Office, Air Ministry and the Admiralty. Then in 1970 the ministry was absorbed into the Department of the Environment (DoE), although from 1972 most former works functions were transferred to the largely autonomous Property Services Agency (PSA). As I write, I can still imagine Sir Humphrey Appleby from the ‘Yes Minister’ and ‘Yes Prime Minister’ tv series delighting in all these changes! Sadly I can still remember many of the forms I used from those days, so clearly my training was well done. It meant that I was a Civil Servant, for a few months at least and when the Post Office became a Corporation on October 1, 1969 it seemed the majority of the rules and regulations we all had to follow didn’t change. I was bound by the Official Secrets Act and I still am, even though I stopped being in the employ of British Telecom after July 31, 2007. Time passed, technology progressed and a few years later much of my work entailed filling in many pre-printed cards which were then sent to a computer centre for processing. After a couple of years I was moved to a different department, still filling in forms by hand, just different ones. But a while later forms were discarded and computers took their place, which pleased a few folk as me being left-handed, my writing wasn’t the best! With all these computer terminals, for security reasons a ‘grade’ structure was still in place and each person was given their own key which plugged in to the terminal. This was to determine the level of access the user was allowed. Some keys allowed data entry, whilst others enabled backup and some other system features. It was all very well done. In time systems changed and this old key system was discarded. Also in my early days, first-line managers and those above were addressed formally, especially my own manager who was an ex-army major. In his eyes, rules were meant to be followed and orders obeyed without question but then perhaps politely enquired about afterwards, as a training exercise. He was someone who expected you to be alert to his commands at all times and that taught me a great deal. It was also where I learned that if something was wrong, to always speak up. If I saw it and didn’t say anything, let’s just say that it wasn’t in my best interest! For quite a while even office furniture was provided in the old Civil Service manner, so it amused me that where I worked, the basic grade (Clerical Assistant) was allowed a chair without arms, whilst the grade above (Clerical Officer) was allowed a chair with arms. Senior managers had larger desks, too. When I first started work, the site where my office was consisted of the telephone exchange, the adjacent office building and a yard that had a postal sorting office. But then Post Office Telephones became separated from the postal side and the old postal yard had a new building erected on it when the telephone exchange needed to be expanded. Peterborough itself was growing and new settlements meant more telephones as well as equipment to handle the extra call traffic. Within the complex we had a good Safety Officer, though some folk weren’t always too happy to see him as he ensured that rules were strictly followed. It is where I learned about such things as the foolishness of propping open fire doors with fire extinguishers! But we still see that occurring. Whilst I was working for the firm there were fire drills and on occasions the alarms would sound but our exit to one staircase would be deliberately blocked. So our fire warden would lead us to the alternative fire exit. These drills were and still are very important, as one day they could be for real and lives saved.
Most if not all of us have travelled at various times by land, sea or air, when we take driving lessons we are made aware of the many signs and signals. Those of us who have travelled by air are aware of the safety drills that are shown to us as the aircraft is making its way out to the runway, like wearing safety belts, no smoking and emergency exits. On all trains there are many, even numerous safety signs, but I am unsure whether too many people pay them all that much attention. I have noticed the changes in routines on trains, as over a period of time technology has required alterations to train staff procedures when both approaching and leaving stations. Carriage doors are now kept secure and locked until the train is at a standstill and locked a good few seconds before the train can then leave for its next stop. It isn’t so long ago that the doors could still be opened manually even after a train had begun to move, thus enabling passengers to scramble on at the very last minute, but I am not aware of that being allowed nowadays! I have already written in previous blog posts about my lovely cruise, but one of the things which impressed me with that cruise was the care and efficiency that everything was done. It seemed that everyone had a dual role, in some cases a triple role for getting passengers and their luggage along with the various provisions on board, then getting passengers to their cabins and looking after them, as well as what to do when assisting passengers ashore. Staff would also know what to do in emergencies. It seems that cruises may be starting up again, but I think we still need to be careful as travelling to and from some countries is not easy at the moment. During our present difficulties, getting bored can be a bit of a problem and there is an old saying that “The devil makes work for idle hands” so I try to keep occupied. We all know that the more we learn, the more we find there is to learn and I have mentioned before how it was that my parents taught me to keep busy and to learn, thus doing the things that I enjoyed. It is still the same now and I am enjoying all this writing! But I am researching too, still learning, sometimes reminding myself as well as others of times past. We can so easily allow things from our past to be forgotten. We say that when a loved one passes away, they are never truly gone whilst at least one person remembers them and the good they did, whether they were our parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, friends or neighbours. I saw the other day on Facebook how one person was asking what to me was a simple thing that I thought everyone would know, but they really did not. Then I recalled a time when students I had been talking to about early computers began to question my recollection of the memory capacity on my very first home computer. It genuinely was 1k, or 1,024 bytes! But as with all these things, old knowledge and skills can so easily be lost. In terms of knowledge, much is written down but skills, tips, tricks that we might never think of should surely be shared with others. For example there is a really clever trick to maintaining the accuracy of the striking clock in St. Stephen’s Tower, which is situated at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London. A great many people still refer to it as Big Ben, even though that is actually the nickname for the Great Bell within the tower. The original name of this tower was simply the Clock Tower but it was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The trick relates to placing old coins on the clock mechanism as balance weights to keep the time accurate. These are coins used prior to the decimalisation of UK currency which took place on February 15, 1971 and it seems the weight of these old coins works perfectly! To me, this sort of knowledge and skill needs to be remembered. Memory is important and we do find individual ways of remembering things. I know that I am going a bit ‘off subject’ here, but I feel it is very well worth me mentioning at this point that on Facebook I see what at first seem to be innocuous questions being asked and it is good that we remember these things. But revealing the name of your first pet or similar items of information is not something I approve of as these are often used as ‘security’ questions when changing website passwords! Especially your mother’s maiden name. Something to perhaps be mindful of please.
As part of my research I have found more and more ‘live’ online web cams, cameras showing places all around this beautiful world. Some of these are dedicated to specific interests like train spotting, others are for security but many are just there for folk to simply watch and even chat with each other. One I have found shows the hovercraft service from Ryde on the Isle of Wight to the mainland and even there a very strict, safe and secure process is followed. On arrival from the mainland, the passenger exit gate remains closed until the twin fan blades on the engines of the hovercraft come to a complete stop. When all is secure, the hovercraft’s hatches are opened and the passengers are allowed to disembark. Then about five minutes before the craft is due to depart back to the mainland, the next set of passengers are allowed to leave the departure lounge and get on board. At the correct time, the hatches are closed and inspected. When all is secure, a siren is sounded from the craft. A member of staff walks to a point where they are a safe distance from the rear of the hovercraft and they can see there is nothing behind it. A signal is given, the engines are started, the twin fans rotate, and then the craft raises itself into the hover and slides over the beach and onto the sea, where it departs across the water to the mainland. Sadly it is easy to forget a simple routine and that can be when accidents occur. It is often something just as simple as a cloth to clean up water from a wet floor as soon as it is seen. I am sure we all know 999 as the telephone number of the emergency services here in the UK as well as 111, the NHS Helpline number. We are glad of them when they are needed, which is usually when we least expect it.
Whichever office I worked in, I tried to make sure I kept up to date with the changes in the processes and procedures, knowing where the emergency exits were and who to contact. In fact there were times when audits were done when I would be called upon to talk one-to-one with an auditor. I would be asked what I would do in this or that circumstance, who I would advise if necessary and where would I go to find out the correct procedure. I was able to do that. There was one occasion when I saw a person walking along an office corridor who I did not know and who was not displaying any identification, not even a ‘visitor’ badge. Although visitors were not supposed to wander unaccompanied around that building anyway! So I politely stopped him and asked who he was. His reply was a rather rude “Don’t you know who I am?”. I assured him that I did not and he said he wanted to talk to my manager about me. I assured him that suited me and off we went. I politely escorted him to my manager’s desk, explained why I had brought this person to my manager’s attention and he thanked me. For all I knew, the person I had stopped might have been doing a security check of the building! Time passes, I still see some silly instances where folk haven’t done what I know they should have, most times without incident but occasionally with tragic consequences. With me now being in a Care Home and recovering from heart problems as well as this Covid-19 business I have kept myself occupied. Sadly it seems that some folk here simply let our beautiful world turn, they let time pass, some not able to distinguish when it is time for either breakfast, lunch or dinner. So it is a stressful time for the Carers, making sure that everyone is attended to in as polite and dignified way as possible. Our needs are different, mine are not perhaps as demanding as some of the other inmates, but I am having to come to terms with the fact that I do need help at times. All of the staff here manage very well, making sure that our individual needs are attended to. Most of all though our health, safety and security are maintained. Though it was frustrating for me when the Internet service here stopped working for a little while! So I went for ‘Plan B’. I read a book and listened to some music! Services were restored after a while.
It is now June, so it will not be too long before the longest day reaches this part of our world and the days begin to grow shorter once more. To me our lives are a continuing journey and as I sit looking out of the window to the gardens below, I am reminded of the following:
“A flower does not know the lives it brightens, but it shares its life with all who wish to enjoy its splendour.” ~ Unknown.