A Knight’s Tale (39: Down The Drain To The Dome)

At weekends during my last years at school I worked with Dad on his removals van.

On August 29th 2012 I met Michael for a drink in the Hand in Hand on Wimbledon Common.  Fifty-plus years ago, when I drank there with my own father, this greatly extended Young’s pub was a small spit and sawdust independent establishment run by four sisters.  As I was a little early I wandered across the green to look at a grand house into which Dad and I had moved a family at that time.  In the garden was a man, probably in his fifties, having a cigarette.  I told him about the removal, in particular that we had, with a piano we were bringing in, damaged a skirting board at the bottom of the stairs.  I omitted to mention that we had prided ourselves in lifting the small upright upstairs unaided, and dropped it. This man told me his family had owned the house for about that length of time. He would have been one of two little boys excitedly running about their new home. The damage had been repaired.

The removals work with Dad was a pocket money earner beginning in my schooldays which continued on Saturday mornings during my first career, in Marine Insurance.

My first annual salary was earned in the old Lloyd’s (insurance) Building.  It had contained the ‘Room’ of 1928 where all the underwriters carried out their business.  By 1960, when I began, a second Lloyd’s building, which has itself been superseded, had been built, and my building was occupied by the back room boys, such as me.  I dealt with marine insurance claims under the management of Mr. Goodinge, who once gave me a collection of his excellent shirts; and alongside people like Ray Denier who took seven wickets on his first turn-out for my cricket club, and Ian Frederick Stevens, otherwise known as IFS, who was a soulmate for a while.  More importantly, my secretarial work was done by Vivien, who was to become my first wife.  This building, known as ‘The Dome’, had no natural light.  You could never tell what time of the day or year it was, or what the weather was like.  It was here that I knuckled down to what I was assured was a secure pensionable job.  This, then, was more important than strange concepts like job satisfaction.  By correspondence course I set about qualifying for the Chartered Insurance Institute and thought that would be my job for life.  It wasn’t until I became a twenty three year old widower with a baby son that I knew I could do this no more.

The insurance world held me for the first six years of my working life.  I commuted daily on the very route, but on very different trains, that I used today; first from Raynes Park, then after marriage and the purchase of a first house, from Wimbledon itself.  The trains in those days had carriages with which viewers of period dramas will be familiar.  During the rush hour those carrying commuters from Waterloo into Surrey would become packed.  One evening two of my classmates who made such a journey were the first to occupy one of the compartments. 

Each stationed at one of the windows, they pulled grotesque faces and leeringly beckoned to other would-be passengers to enter.  In that way they kept the seats to themselves.  One evening, travelling back to Raynes Park, the train became fogbound.  We remained stationary right outside my home for an hour and a half.

The first three years of my time at Lloyd’s were spent in Leadenhall Street.  From Waterloo mainline station it was necessary to travel on ‘The Drain’.  This was the name given to the Underground journey to Bank station.  I can’t quite remember how it worked, but, at one end or the other of this daily grind there was a long tunnel through which thousands just like me tramped to their destination.  You had to go at the pace of the slowest. 

It felt like a scene from a film about zombies or prisoners of war, silent enough to be “Battleship Potemkin”.  Looking back this seems an awful mole-like existence.  But security was all, and we made our own fun, pulling each other’s legs and taking some amusement from misprints in memos and the joys of the German language.  The Westmonster Insurance Company caused some glee and we became hopelessly incontinent whenever we came across the shipping company whose name sounded like ‘dampsheepfarts’.  There were side streets off Leadenhall Street with provisions stores. I remember a butcher’s which, at Christmastime had turkeys hanging up like a film set for ‘A Christmas Carol’, and, during the winter months, lamplighters climbed ladders to light the gas lamps early enough for me to see them before I set off back down The Drain.

My memory fails me in attempting to recollect the name of the kindly gentleman who was my boss during my brief employment at the Yorkshire Insurance company in Leadenhall Street in about 1963/4. I do, however remember that he bought all his staff ties or other similar birthday gifts from Austin Reed, the upmarket outfitters on Regent Street,

visible from this corner of Brewer Street. I took this practice to heart, and, when I became a Social Services manager myself, gave everyone a birthday card. Since the staff numbers ran closer to three figures, that’s all I could afford.

It was Mike Vaquer, a colleague in the Yorkshire Insurance Company, who introduced me to the pleasures of colour slides as a medium, and took me with him for a year or so to photograph the West End decorations.  The two of us eagerly awaited these annual trips, each descending on the capital from our respective suburban homes.

Mike was a little older than me, didn’t have a family, and could therefore invest in a top of the range Pentax. Mind you, he still needed a rangefinder attachment.  I photographed him on our 1964 expedition.

More than thirty years later, I met another of those colleagues on Victoria Station. He told me that all my contemporaries were still working there. The only difference in personnel was that he had replaced the manager mentioned above. 

I considered that I had escaped a life of boredom when I turned to Social Work in 1966. How this came about will follow in due course.

Published by derrickjknight

I am an octogenarian enjoying rambling physically and photographing what I see, and rambling in my head as memories are triggered. I also ramble through a lifetime's photographs. In these later years much rambling is done in a car.

57 thoughts on “A Knight’s Tale (39: Down The Drain To The Dome)

  1. I remember my father advising my brothers how important it was to secure a pensionable job – all three started off their working lives as fitters-and-turners. You are spot on saying security (which included the pension) “was more important than strange concepts like job satisfaction”. In time, my brothers all moved into different fields which both paid more and gave them more job satisfaction. I think my father was relieved by my choice to enter the teaching profession. Ironically, he thought this would mean that I could always be home with my children … if only he really understood the exacting demands of that impression. Needless to say, none of my children ever considered education as a career!

  2. Interesting to read about your life. I didn’t remember about your insurance career. Typos can be very amusing, but I hope you weren’t all hopelessly incontinent too often. 😀

  3. You have led a very interesting and full life, Derrick, filled with sorrow and joy. I appreciate you taking your readers along on that journey.

    I am sorry about Vivien. She was Michael’s mother if I remember correctly?

  4. So interesting to hear these parts of your life I never heard about. I can’t imagine you as an insurance salesman.

    Perhaps, if it is easy, you could put links in to the relevant parts of your story you have already talked about in your blog. I know I’ve read about Vivien. This makes me want to read it again. Hugs yo you.

    1. Thank you so much, Jodie. Actually I wasn’t a salesman. I sat in an office and dealt with claims. In fact much of this story has been taken from previous posts. The memoirs were suggested by readers who had seen those. The idea of numbering these is to make the narrative accessible. I hope that works.

  5. Marine insurance, like shipping companies, were peopled by gentlemen with courteous (if somewhat stuffy) behaviours ( and women who could advance no further than the typing pool). Then along came containerisation and freight forwarders, and suddenly the world was full of cowboys. I can imagine the tie giving ceremony. Am enjoying this walk with you on these memoirs, even though we know the incredible tragedy of Vivien’s sudden demise is looming.

  6. I love the thought of you working for the same company as one of my favorite poets; T.S. Eliot worked in the foreign transactions department at Lloyd’s bank from 1917 until 1925 (from the age of 29 until he was 37). He punched in Monday through Friday (plus one Saturday a month) from 9:15 am to 5:30 pm. There’s a fascinating short article here that you might enjoy.

  7. The stories of the Dome and the Drain are particularly interesting and vividly invoked, painful too when you bring up meeting and losing your first wife Vivien. Your breaking away from a ‘pensionable job’ is understandable.

  8. Your life has been full and you’ve lived it well! You’ve navigated both the valleys and the mountaintops.
    I’ve always been so saddened by the loss of your first wife. You were amazing to step up and do all that you did for Michael and you, and for your futures.
    Your classmates “pulled grotesque faces and leeringly beckoned to other would-be passengers to enter” made me laugh! 😀
    (((HUGS))) and ❤ for you, Jackie, and all of your family!
    I've thought so much about your mum the past few days. Thank you for sharing her with us over the years. She's been an inspiration to me when I have tough days/times.

    1. Thanks very much, AnneMarie. I will be telling only generally about the Social Work years because I have banned myself from telling clients’ stories. Another comment fished out of the Spam

      1. That is strange that my posts are going to spam but technology has a life of its own. And for sure about keeping your clients trust. I am just interested in the type of work you did. I don’t know if it means the same as our social services.

  9. A colorful description of an extremely boring job during the times when ‘work satisfaction’ was unheard of. I thank you for a scene of the Potemkin stairs from the movie where I could see The Duke statue, on top of the stairs, which is the symbol of Odessa.

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