My employer, IPS were given plenty of notice that I needed a trip to Holland. My primary objective was to visit old friend, Kees Korndorffer’s sister, Lotte, whom I had known in Pretoria. She lived with her husband and young daughter in Nunspeet. After a couple of days wandering Amsterdam, seeing the Rijksmuseum, Rembrandt gallery and revelling on the beauty of the city and its architecture, I went to stay a few days with Lotte, cycling around the pretty countryside on a borrowed bicycle.
Nico Burhoven-Jaspers had informed me by letter that he and his sisters, Greetje and Marianne, would be flying to Holland to visit their grandfather, Oupa Krijger, in Apeldoorn. I took a bus to meet up with them there. There was one memorable, amusing incident, I remember.
The old man was leading his grandchildren up the stair, when he farted loudly. He turned to the stunned trio and observed in surprise:
“My pants just coughed!”
Greetje and Marianne were to fly back to South West Africa in a few weeks, but Nico Jaspers had decided to join me in London. He and I hitch-hiked through Belgium to Paris which we explored for a few days. Suspicious as I was of Paris due to my past misadventures there, it was a better experience. We spent many fascinated hours in the Musée du Jeu de Paume and the Louvre, walking the Champs–Élysées, doing the Paris tourist thing.When we got back to London, we were stony broke and had to raid my brother’s Oxfam box as he was away. I’ve had a soft spot for Oxfam, ever since. The next day I took Nico to The Cut, where he also got a job with IPS. As for myself, they had been franticly trying to contact me to take over as supervisor at Barrow, Hepburn and Gale. Dennis Barrett had been promoted to management. I grabbed the chance, although with trepidation as I had never been in such a position before, but the job had been going for so long that everyone knew what to do. It led to other team jobs; each interesting and fun in their own way, and meeting new people. Often, these were Londoners; most of them salt-of-the-earth women, already used to working in factories.
The next job was at a confectionary factory, running a jelly-packing line. Besides driving the team to the factory, I had to keep the line supplied with trays of packeted jelly, cardboard cut-outs for the boxes, glue for the box folder, and cartons for packing the boxes into. It was an ancient machine and was often breaking down. There were two girls side by side at the conveyor; a tiny fifteen-year-old who was supposed to be eighteen, and a gran of seventy five who was supposed to be under sixty. The girl was so short that she had to stand on two upturned trays to reach her work station. One time the trays tilted, sending her crashing to the floor, swearing like a trooper as she went. She hadn’t gotten to her feet before the old duck gave her a slap across the head.
“Don’t swear! Pe’er don’t like it!”
“Sorry, Pe’er! I didn’ mean it but ‘ese effen trays effen collapsed, didn’ they!”
I hadn’t realised I had given away my shock whenever I heard a girl swearing. But they are sharp, them Cockneys. I felt a right twit. But the respect the youngster had for the old biddy was amazing. She didn’t seem to resent the slap at all.
The next was making gaskets at the Klinger gasket factory. They had a trial run for the new Ford World Tractor. If they could prove they could keep up with quantity and quality for the trial period, they would get the contract. Klinger’s management obviously did not want to employ more people until they had the contract in their pockets, so employed IPS to fill in in the meanwhile. However, the union got upset about it, claiming that their workers wanted the overtime, but they had a track record of not being reliable when it came to the extra hours.
Despite their managers saying we were doing a good job, after two weeks of continual friction and harassment, not least to me and my team on the shop floor, they eventually succumbed and terminated our contract. Beside being very interesting from a writer’s point of view, it had been a huge strain on me, juggling their management and the shop stewards as well as my team.
And Klingers didn’t get the contract, I learned some months later.
The team were also a bunch of characters. There were two sisters, both in the three-hundred pound range, who took the piss regularly. One of their tricks was to both get into seats on the same side of the van so that its shocks bottomed out on that side, until, by suitably humble begging, I could get them to sit one on each side. Their other amusement was to sit beside me and feel me up while I was driving; gales of laughter as they watched my ears go crimson.
Was I a prude, or what?