My second job was at a company in Sittingbourne manufacturing mens neckties, scarves, cravats and dressing gowns. Michelsons of London was, and still is highly regarded manufacturer and their products were sold all over the world, and especially in some of the leading fashion house names of the time like Hardy Amies, Gieves & Hawkes, as well as all of the leading department stores.
My role was as an export/import clerk – importing the expensive and precious cloth from around the world, and then overseeing the export of the finished goods to many exotic destinations. At that time the furthest I had ever travelled was Birmingham, I could never ever imagine that one day I would travel to many of the locations written on these rather old fashioned and detailed export forms. Herman Miller’s office in Paris is not far from a shop called Alain Figaret, one of the many shops I arranged shipments for.
We worked in an open plan office, with the 4 of us in the export/import department sat in a group of 2 x 2 facing each other – I wonder if that will ever catch on? The one practice which everyone adhered to, whatever department and whatever management level you were from were the rest breaks – this was when the factory and the office came together into the subsidised works canteen. A morning break for 15 minutes at 10.30am – a staggered lunch break for 1/2 an hour, and a tea break at 3pm – they worked extremely well and were much anticipated. I remember Bohemian Rhapsody blaring out over the factory tannoy system.
IBM Golfball Typewriter
The next piece of technology that I want to talk about was in the Michelsons office. It was something I wasn’t officially allowed to use, although I did get to play with it now and again – it was the IBM Golfball Typewriter – an electric typewriter. It was big, noisy and the height of technology as far as I was concerned.
The typewriter I was issued with was manual and the keys needed a good old bash to get them working. Not so with the IBM Golfball – just the lightest of touch would send the golfball flying around leaving it’s mark on the paper. What was even more astounding is that you could correct your mistakes without the need for Tippex correction fluid or paper (my skills at using Tippex knew no bounds!). This electric typewriter had no memory, but it had a correcting tape as well as an inked ribbon. That of course didn’t solve the problems of the mistakes which were made when using carbon paper.
In the Michelsons import/export department, this IBM typewriter was used mainly for those important covering letters – of which there seemed to be thousands. It was actually easier to fill in those complicated export forms on a manual typewriter.
It was a time when letters were put inside a folder awaiting signature by the manager who would check the typing and the grammar – reading back over my blogs, I think I could do with him beside me during my working life today.