14 November 2016
Irene Lebeter recalls working in the offices of a Cambuslang steelworks in the Fifties.
‘Don’t be silly, they will teach you.’ I can still hear these words my mother said to me at the breakfast table that morning in April 1957.
Having left school a week earlier, following my fifteenth birthday, I’d been really excited to be employed as a typist in the offices of Colville’s Steelworks in Cambuslang. Now here I was blubbering over my cereal on the morning I was due to start.
My mother’s words were in answer to my fear that I would have to relieve the telephonist on the switchboard during her lunch hour. I was crying because I didn’t know how to operate the 5 outside line, 50 extension board. In the event my mother was correct; I was trained for the switchboard and I quickly fell into these duties without difficulty. I also enjoyed working in the typing pool. The firm was like a large, extended family and I made lots of friends among my colleagues; one of whom, Sandra, is still a close friend over fifty years later.
But one particular event from my employment there stands out in my memory. I was dredging through the filing cabinet one day, having difficulty in locating an important document which my boss needed by two o’clock. In the midst of my feverish search a much older male colleague, who came in from the next door office, asked me, ‘Do you want a hand, love?’
‘Oh, yes please, I can’t find the contract anywhere,’ I said, thinking how kind it was of him to help me look for the elusive document.
Something brushed against my bare arm and my scream that followed reverberated around the room and out into the corridor. My helper was standing at my side holding out his artificial hand, a large metal hook sticking out of his wrist where the hand had been.
When I looked round, some colleagues were grouped around the office door, doubled up with laughing at the expression on my face. Only then did I discover that this male colleague had lost his hand in a milling machine accident many years previously and the company had given him an office job.
Of course I then joined in the laughter and was comforted to know that I wasn’t the first to be the butt of his joke as he caught all the firm’s newcomers in the same way. With the passage of time I don’t actually remember locating the document but I guess I must have done as I wasn’t sacked but went on to work for another eight years with the company.
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