Friday, 20 November 2009

The excitement mounts...

...



As the slide rule post is grinding slowly to a climax, (and I can tell you, I've learnt quite a lot about people from the last post!), I thought I would add insult to perjury by explaining a little more, why calculators are so important in Quantity Surveying!

This really is rivetting stuff, and not for the faint hearted, so Ladies and Gents, pull up a pouffe, pour a green-tea, and I'll begin...

Up until the late sixties, the offices of QS firms operated a form of torture or apprenticeship, which would coincide with the starters getting qualified and moving up in the world. The difference between then and now is that calculators were a rarity, and not the size of credit cards which they are now. The machines we had were about the size of your average multi-tasking printer, with glowing lights and a keyboard rather like a Star Trek display...

(Little known fact - The hardware and software on the rocket and other kit, which took the men to the moon, was not as powerful as that designed into your everyday Beamer 7 series...)!

Anyway, back to Quantity Surveying! This really is exciting isn't it... (more tea Vicar?)

When sprogs were taken on straight from school, they usually had a couple of GCEs and a series of bruises behind the neck from being battered by schoolmasters like the one in 'The Wall'. Their first job was perhaps making coffee, buying Partners' fags etc., and coping with amorous telephonists, (I've got a nephew just like you; nice boy, strong legs, plays rugger...how old did you say you were...ooooh). But for real work, they were put in a darkened room, usually a small windowless cupboard with a single unshaded light bulb, and ordered to calculate, by hand, using duodecimals, a list of figures on a pile of paper about a foot high, which was constantly added to by immediate superiors who smoked Gold Leaf and wore mohair suits (40 Guineas...).

It went like this.

Year one - Lowest of the low, little self esteem, probably just kicking the 'Clearasil' years, usually ignored by older members of the firm, told to calculate millions of areas, cubes, lists, schedules, (without the use of a single cylindrical slide rule or anything mechanical or electric...), thought Luncheon Vouchers were better than salary, fancied Gloria in Accounts; and her mother.

Year two - Promotion to Worker-Up. (True Gals...)! This meant that he or she could actually do some writing as well, or copying at least. It had to be done correctly and checked. Once the processes had been carried out, there was proof reading as well, God how we lived then, it was magic!

Year three - More Working-Up and even being in charge of a 'job' and allowed to beat up all the other juniors like the year one guys, and steal their fags, sandwiches etc.

Year four - Promotion to Taker-Off. (Even truer Gals)! This was a skill which was earned by experience and a detailed knowledge of the Bible of QSing, "The Standard Method of Measurement". It entailed measuring quantities of building materials and labours from drawings prepared by Architects, who were an odd race that walked on water at the time. The Taker-Off would write all his numbers in lists on Bill Paper, (Not the bloke who lives at No 45, a pad of specially ruled paper, please keep up...)!

The Taker-Off was indeed secure for life. He or she would be among the first people ever to cultivate the 'Nerd Pack', (a row of coloured biros in the top jacket pocket), and these would be carefully laid out next to the pile of paper in readiness for the day's work. Pencils were frowned upon, but rulers were needed by the ultimate perfectionist.

One man had a folded Kleenex on which he would carefully wipe the ink which gathered round the Biro tip...)! A highlight of his work was a 'Colouring Friday', when he would colour up important parts of a building on the drawing, to define the detail more easily! Another chap would occasionally pop his head round the door, and say something inane like "I've just done a reduction estimate on Chase Farm, Heungh Heungh Heungh"; all in the voice like Bluebottle's in the Goons).

So that's it! This was the start of a career which actually veered away pretty quickly from the original course after all the excitement explained above, and which is probably why I never made a fortune (yet), but with the experience of all those rude procedures, telephonists...oooooh, small rooms (and shenanigans) in the basement, well, the world's your oyster, er, wasn't it...

Slide over Cylindrical Slide Rule, Floreat Electric Calculator...

Better now?

18 comments:

Philipa said...

Great post, Scrobs.

As I was waiting for my child to finish an activity I was chatting to a really nice older student who attends the same church and bemoaning the fact that my son doesn't like doing homework (hoping the older lad would endorse the benefits of doing so, which he did, bless him). The subject got on to what I used to do and was interested in so I described my Masters project. When I stopped speaking the lad smiled and moved away. I apologised, said I'd made it up and was a waitress really. The room seemed warmer.

Scrobs... said...

Hiya Pips!

Thanks for this - hilarious really! I think a Masters in dealing them off the arm is one of Life's big achievements!

When do you graduate to Consolidated Till Accounting and Tip redistribution...? ;0)

BTW, I'm sorry I seem to have missed several of your posts of late. It's been a bit full work wise this week, and Blogger doesn't let me know when Sign-In Blogs like yours have done something new, and you're unfortunately down there with Daisers - not literally you understand!

If I could get you up to the top of the list, then that would make it better wouldn't it!

Philipa said...

You got me up there with the slide rule, Scrobs. I haven't been the same since.

electro-kevin said...

I was a trainee QS for two years. Wates Special Works in Norbury. (IOB - not RICS. Failed 'A' levels)

I remember that guys would kill for a company car. (A Ford Fiesta)

I left to become a police officer and overnight my salary went to that of a qualified surveyor from £70pw.

Seemed like a no-brainer to me.

electro-kevin said...

I couldn't drive anyway.

Scrobs... said...

Know that office very well Elecs!

There was an assistant buyer who had a false leg, and his boss was one of the gentlemen of building!

You would have been there when I was in and out of the place I reckon, so, hey, it's nice to see you again...!

PS, It didn't really matter if you could drive or not, because parking was always a bugger there; I could never get my Cortina in because the underneath parking was chock full of Ford Fiestas...

electro-kevin said...

1984-1986

I vaguely remember a chap with a false leg.

The MD of Special Works was Martin Peat. (His surname is the only reason why I got the job)

I used to work with a chap called David Bone. I also remember a chap called John Fairbrass. There was a buyer called Nigel too. Frank Moth was one of my site agents.

I worked on 18 Conduit Street. The Oxford Street Plaza and the Plaschett School.

electro-kevin said...

Scudders Demolition, Frazer Kirkaldy (architect), J W Faulkner master carpenters.

Aah. It's all coming back to me.

I remember at the Plaza site they took my cabin away and left my desk in the middle of the excavation - the chair, the paperwork, stapler, telephone ... everything as though it were still in the office. I sat there all morning working with bulldozers driving around me. Truly Pythonesque.

Tony Wilson was my managing surveyor.

Scrobs... said...

Well well well!

In fact, I'd become the competition by then, David Bone's name rings a bell, as does a buyer - Nigel!

But I used to see Martin Peat quite a lot in the nineties; I met him him last about four years ago, and he's working mainly on his own now - semi-retired.

He's a nice guy too, and once, about ten years ago, when I actually had a salary (WTF's that...), he bothered to drive down to my office (Canterbury) for the day, first to see what work we had coming out, and second, purely as he bothered about keeping business relationships going. They're very important these meetings, and as his reputation is a big one, I was particularly honoured.

I'll try and find hie contact numbers if you want them!

One of the Wates Directors only has one arm, and plays golf like a demon! And one of the nicest (and funniest) ladies I've ever known in building works there in business development, and with any luck we'll all be meeting up in a few weeks time...

I'm going to try and find my old diaries now, and I may well be some time...

Trubes said...

When I started work in Lloyds Bank Executor and Trustee Company, I had the dubious priviledge of being the Investments Clerk.
This job incurred the task of using a little decimal machine called the Original Odhner Machine.
It was invaluable in converting foreign company dividends into £SD, then apportioning them into capital and income funds, on behalf of private client's trust funds and managed estates.

di.x
I suppose this valuable little machine, was the forerunner to the calculator....Ahhh the good old days

electro-kevin said...

I dunno. I let Martin down a bit. He took a chance on employing me and I ended up a dud. I passed all my exams though.

If you see him tell him I semi-retired about twenty years ago ... joined the railway, see.

It was a good company.

electro-kevin said...

Diaries ?

You don't keep your old Dim books too, do you ?

Scrobs... said...

Don't worry Elecs, the Scrobs' network isn't that big; I'll probably never see him again, not unless he wants all his old dim books back...;0)

Scrobs... said...

Actually, I might just do a post on all the old diaries; I'm sure that they'll be even bigger than Bliar's!

Hmmm - (thinks)...

More like Adrian Mole's - without the Pandora moments...

Scrobs... said...

Trubes! Now that sounds like a real machine to me!

Was it electric, and not like the comptometers that the lady in our front office used to do similar sums!

As I sometimes rate as a prime Saddo, I Googled my old London office where all this torture took place 40 years ago, and 'walked' up to the door...

Aaaaaargh...

electro-kevin said...

NO - it wasn't a false leg ... it WAS a false arm. I can picture the chap clearly now.

Shocking to think that a building company of that size (big but not Wimpey or Barratts sized) could have a fleet of cars and maintence workshops too.

Trubes said...

No Scrobs, the machine was totally mechanical, if you google The Original Odhner Decimal Machine, there is lots of info about them.
W.T.Odhner created the machine, he was a Russian and lived in St. Petersburg.
Quite ingenious really!

Di.x

Scrobs... said...

Elecs, that was the Wates man (James...?) himself; the Estimator/buyer I knew had a tin leg, I saw him walking several times!

I had a frightening experience in the park opposite after a visit to the office there. I'd stopped for a sandwich, and used to sit in the car and read the paper for a few minutes to let the crumbs settle...

There were several people around, but suddenly, a little girl wandered up to me, and said that she was being followed and was frightened.

This is absolutely true! I kept looking around but couldn't see anybody like that (this was about 1978, and paedos were'nt invented by the press then), but I was well aware of the consequences of a wrong move!

So I asked her if she lived round there, and it seemed she did, so we went the way she was pointing, and all I said was "just stay near me, and you'll be safe".

She eventually walked away when we reached the gate and there were a lot of women in a huddle, and I waited in case there was any repercussion, which thankfully there wasn't!

What the hell I would have done today I don't really know, but at least I knew that if there had been a predator, and the kid had really been followed, I was probably in the right place at the right time.

Frightening though, my Dad was a JP then, and a bit serious on such crime, he didn't help either...!