Monday morning. The office had slipped into its
unhurried routine hushed voices, rustling paper, the occasional ring of
a telephone and already after less than thirty minutes at their desks -
anticipation of the tea-trolley. Over on the left, near one of the windows,
Pete and Frank were having their usual post-weekend inquest on Saturdays
game. It was the only point of real animation among the twenty people in the
room, several of whom were day-dreaming and already looking forward to Friday
evening. Nowhere were there signs of people hard at work, dedicated to helping
their employers business succeed better due to their efforts. Newspaper
editorials and Government exhortation spoke of the work ethic and
export or die was a phrase heard a lot but no sign of it was
apparent in an over-warm, comfortably furnished office.
For this was the nineteen-fifties and everyone
in the three sections that made up the Cost Office knew that jobs were
plentiful, dismissals were virtually unheard of and no-one need try too hard.
Youd have to rape the Chairmans daughter to be sacked from
here these days as one of them put it, then added and have you seen
the Chairmans daughter? Certainly the younger clerks knew they
could leave on Friday if they chose and be in work again within days. Only the
few older men, with thoughts and plans firmly focussed on retirement, showed
any form of interest or dedication to their employer. That is except for two
men, sitting next to each other in the third file of desks. Each had his head
down, apparently diligently applying himself to the pile of papers on his desk.
The two were Harold Smith and Sidney Jardine.
Not that these first names were in common use in the office and most
certainly neither would address the other that way. There was a feud between
the two and each was formally Mister Smith or Mister
Jardine when either spoke to or of the other. This was soon noticed by
the others and in the office generally they were normally referred to as
Mister Tweedledum and Mister Tweedledee with the two names being
interchangeable. The names were almost inevitably from the office wags,
especially Ken on the back row and young Arthur, the office boy. Young Arthur
seemed never to be stuck for words about what he saw and heard around him, and
his irreverent comments were usually regarded as apt, often funny, but
sometimes going just too far. So, every now and then, young Arthur was gently
reprimanded and reminded about showing more respect for his more senior
colleagues. All very discreet and gentle, and just a minor ritual of its time
that everyone recognised as such and ignored. After all, standards had to be
maintained in this modern, post-war world.
The Tweedledum and Tweedledee names were apt.
Even the most straight-laced old fogey in the office had to admit that.
Like a pair of bookends was another comment, made as they stood
there together, flanking the young woman from the Personnel Department who
brought them up to their new home. Similar in height and build, both short and
a little overweight, both around the fifty mark, clean-shaven, thinning grey
hair liberally covered with grease carefully positioned to try to cover a
shining scalp and both men customarily wearing the standard office uniform of
the day three-piece suits in dark grey with a subdued striped tie, plain
white shirt, and highly polished shoes. Even the horn-rimmed spectacles looked
They had arrived at the office about three
months before. It was soon obvious that something was amiss between the two and
that they had known each other previously. Whatever the problem was between
them, they brought it with them, but whether they expected to be sitting just a
foot or so from the other is very doubtful, and the rigid layout of the desks
didnt allow any evasive action by either man. So, like new starters in
offices the world over, they dutifully sat where they were placed and tried to
ignore each other as far as they could.
New people moving into an established
environment everywhere are watched - sometimes openly - sometimes not.
Whichever way their new colleagues studied them, either blatantly or
surreptitiously, the chilly atmosphere between the men couldnt be missed.
Neither man showed any inclination to become close to anyone else in the office
so no confidences were exchanged and everyone was left wondering just what it
was all about. Even Edward, a long-time bachelor and known by all as a tireless
gossip failed to find out the cause of the feud. Give me time, give me
time. If theres a story there, then you all know Ted wont let you
The man who should have put an end to nonsense
like this was Mr. Mathews. He was their Section Leader and their direct
superior but his view never stated but clear was that as
long as it doesnt interfere with the running of the Section why
interfere? Young Arthur had noticed this and came up with the name of
Nelson for Mr. Mathews. He used the term one day to old Mr. Foster,
a man generally believed to be over a hundred and as he was always first in the
office and last away, thought by some to sleep overnight at his desk. Whether
he did or not, as was his way he gently reminded Arthur of his lowly perch at
the bottom of the pecking order, and then soon afterwards explained to Miss
Fothersgill, allegedly almost as old, just how the term had originated with the
great Admiral himself. Nelson Mathews himself meanwhile had his
thoughts on other and higher things. His mind and devotions were elsewhere.
Mr. Matthews was Section Head of his small group
in the office. He did little work and had minimal responsibilities - something
that was obvious to everyone else. With a powerful supporter in the Chief
Accountant, Mathews colleagues had found all they could do was grumble
among themselves and accept the situation. Undemanding as his work-load was, it
had been decreed that he needed two assistant clerks, so creating the vacancies
filled by Mr. Smith and Mr. Jardine.
Status dictated that Mr. Matthews had a large
desk by the window and next to the radiator. On the desk were two telephones
the second one allowing him to dial outside directly without going
through the switchboard. His two clerks each had smaller desks with a narrow
gap between them and no telephone.
Many men have secret passions, but Mr. Matthews
made no secret of his. He was a golf fanatic. He played at every conceivable
opportunity and was Secretary of the local Club that he ran from his office
desk, which had on it a framed photograph of himself following a hole-in-one at
The Club was a popular one and there was a
lengthy waiting list, but when a new Chief Cost Accountant arrived he became a
member almost immediately. By a fortunate and unlikely coincidence Mr. Matthews
had discovered an opening and he was able to add a powerful and valuable ally
to the Club membership.
Mr. Matthews also ran the Companys Golfing
Society. Regular inter-departmental games were arranged, and the latest project
involved a match with the Companys major customer in Wales.
If these games were not played during the
working week, then Mr. Matthews felt he had failed his colleagues. So, if
golf-playing staff members were absent now and then, others not in the
Magic Circle, as it became known to resentful non-golfing
colleagues - or golfers who were not selected - had to realise that these
mid-week matches were good for business and the Company stood to
benefit from all the goodwill generated. This raised a few cynical
His priorities in the office were well
established. Golf, then whatever workload was left a distant second. What did
remain was delegated to his two assistants. Neither Mr. Smith nor Mr. Jardine
Mr. Smith was a keen gardener. A shaved lawn and
rigorously controlled roses showed a degree of obsession but that was what he
wanted. His special pride was an apple tree that he nursed and cared for like a
baby, a tree which rewarded him each year with a rich crop of delicious fruit.
It was a tree with a problem, though. It had
been planted by a previous owner near the privet hedge that marked the boundary
between the house and the one next door. Years of prevailing wind and a lack of
support early in its life had resulted in a mature tree that leaned, and grew
with many of its branches overhanging the neighbours garden.
Then Mr. Jardine moved into No 14 Acacia Avenue.
Soon afterwards a large ginger cat started to be seen near Mr. Smiths
roses. As the cat always came from that side, he assumed it belonged to his new
neighbour, and a sighting of the creature one Saturday morning caused an angry
and increasingly heated quarrel between the two. Only after another neighbour
claimed ownership of the cat did Mr. Smith make a grudging apology.
The previous occupant of No 14 had accepted some
tasty apples as compensation for part of his garden being put into deep shade
by someone elses tree. Mr. Jardine curtly dismissed the offer of some
Coxs They overhang my garden so theyre mine
anyway and the tone of their future relationship was set.
Some days later a letter addressed to Mr.
Jardine but with the wrong house number came through Mr. Smiths
letter-box. He marked the letter Not known at this address
and put it back into the post box. When it did reach Mr. Jardine several days
later, he responded by cutting down those branches of the apple tree that
overhung his garden.
The relationship between the two was now icy. As
their paths crossed nowhere else, the friction between them was limited to
being neighbours who did not get along.
Each could recognise his neighbour as one of the
great tribe of office workers who lived in their dormitory suburb. They left
home at the same time each morning to walk to the local Railway Station,
boarded the same train taking them to City Central Station, then they went
their own ways. One Monday morning they found themselves walking in the same
direction and through the same door to start new jobs for the same Company in
the same office on the same day. They found themselves with adjacent desks and
the two had no option other than to work together.
Mr. Matthews had often said he would die happy
if it was during a good round. Whether he was happy or not as he was about to
drive off at his favourite 15th tee when he was hit on the temple by a wild
shot from the 12th wasnt clear. He died instantly.
This happened on a Sunday morning. On the
Tuesday following, Mr. Smith was part way through the Daily Mail
crossword when he was summoned into the Cost Accountants office.
Sit down, Henry.
Mr. Smith was slightly taken aback as he was
unused to be addressed by anything other than Mr. Smith.
Actually, its Harold, Sir.
Sorry, er... Harold. Shame about Peter,
eh? Hell be sorely missed. Hard working chap with quite a future ahead of
him. I went to see his wife - er, widow, yesterday, and she seems to be bearing
up quite well. Brave little woman. I expect you know the funeral is on
Thursday? Ill be going, of course, along with some of the Section Heads.
The office must show the flag on this sad occasion.
No need for you to go, though, Henry.
Someone has to keep the boat on course and the tiller steady.
The Cost Accountant had a small boat moored near
Kings Lynn, and he tried to sail most weekends. Young Arthur had christened him
What I am going to say to you, Ill
be saying to Stanley Jardine when he comes back from holiday. Next Monday,
isnt it? Mr. Smith nodded.
Regarding the future for Waste Recovery
and how it affects you, er...Horace. We wont be replacing Peter Matthews
directly. You and
. er, Sidney, can manage between you, Im sure. If
you both work together I dont see any difficulty. Just take on that
little bit extra each. No problem there, is there? The extra duties will be so
slight that there wont be any increase in salary, of course.
He paused, leaned forward in his seat glancing
to left and right even though there was no-one else in the office.
Ive heard whispers that you
dont get on together, Herbert. Is that true? If there is a problem you
can tell me about it. Try to forget Im your boss here in the office. You
can talk to me as man to man - in confidence, of course.
Mr. Smith chose his words carefully.
Your information is only partially
correct, Sir. Any differences Mister Jardine and I may have dont get in
the way of working together.
But Im told you dont even
speak to each other.
When its to do with work we do
converse, of course. The office always comes first. Socially we have nothing in
Well, quite frankly, I dont
understand it, but I suppose you know your own business. As long as the Section
doesnt suffer, thats what matters. Have you any questions
Mr. Smith saw his opening and took it.
Just about my position, Sir. Thats
Your position? Havent I just
explained that? Theres no change.
My position, Sir. My place in the
The Cost Accountant was clearly becoming more
exasperated by the minute.
I dont know what youre
talking about. Dont waste my time like this. Spill it out, man.
The desk, Sir.
What desk. What are you going on
Mr. Matthews desk. May I move to it
and use it in future?
Oh, I see. Well, I suppose so. I
cant see any reason why not. Yes, carry on. Thats all for now,
Mr. Smith was a happy man. Immediately on
returning to the Section he began to empty the drawers of his old desk, and
transferred his pens, paper, ruler and box of paper clips to their new home.
Behind the desk, near the window was a coat rack with an empty coat hanger on
it. He took off his jacket and put it on the hanger. The internal telephone
Waste Recovery Section - Mr. Smith
speaking. After answering the phone a quick look around revealed,
disappointingly, that apparently only Arthur, the office boy, had witnessed his
moment of glory.
He was ecstatic for the rest of the day and,
unusually for him, Mr. Smith found himself constantly looking at the office
clock in his keenness to leave.
At home that evening Mr. Smith restrained
himself until he and his wife had finished their meal and she was washing the
dishes. He was drying the cups and saucers when he chose the time to impart his
great news. Mrs. Smiths reaction was what he had hoped for.
If anyone deserves promotion, dear, it
must be you. You work so hard carrying that office. I know hes gone now,
and one shouldnt speak evil of the dead, but Mr. Matthews depended on you
so much, didnt he? And as for that horrible Mr. Jardine, well, its
time he was put in his place.
That horrible Mr. Jardine came back
from his holiday the following Monday. After a brief interview with the Cost
Accountant he returned to the Section, making no comment about what had
happened - just resuming his work at his usual desk as if everything was as it
had been before he went away.
Mr. Smith was troubled. Had he won? Was it as
simple as that? As the days passed he began to feel more relaxed, but he still
felt uneasy. A response was inevitable, he knew his enemy too well to expect
nothing in reply from him - but where was it and how would it show itself? The
lack of reaction worried him. Was Jardine planning his counter-attack, or had
he accepted that Harold was the winner? The fact that there was no obvious
concern worried him. It simply didnt seem in character for the man he
disliked so much.
With nothing said directly between the two men,
Mr. Smith began to watch out for the internal post envelopes that came to him.
He half expected an attack from his rival to come by this means. It was
something he might have considered as a possibility had the situation been
reversed so why wouldnt Jardine? After all, to avoid speaking he had sent
his neighbour memos through the system regularly since hed started work
here. But the brown envelopes that arrived twice a day didnt have the
poisoned dart he expected.
Jardine continued to use his original desk, and
the unused central desk showed a wider than ever rift between them. This added
to Mr. Smiths unease. The two never made eye contact and as far as Mr.
Smith was concerned Jardine seemed to be the perfect office colleague, hard
working and conscientious a man devoted to his work.
As time passed Mr. Smith found he was able to
relax and feel confident that he really had won. Even so, his day now began by
catching a different train each morning, one that put him at his desk
thirty-five minutes earlier, and importantly, thirty-five minutes before his
enemy. He knew his opponent was sneaky. It was too soon to lower his guard. He
would savour the real enjoyment of his victory later.
Just read that, both of you, then initial
it and pass it to my secretary for filing. It was four weeks after his
promotion. The office was pleasantly warm, and Mr. Smith was startled from a
near doze by the Cost Accountants voice as he saw him handing a paper to
his enemy. Well done...er, Sidney. Good thinking. We need more of that
around the place. He went back to his office without acknowledging Mr.
Mr. Smith knew that he must force himself to
look across at his colleague, and did so, to see him putting his initials to
the paper with an untypical flourish. Then the single sheet was pushed over for
him to read. It was similar to the mass of other inter-office documents that
regularly circulated around the office. People who needed to see the paper were
listed, and after reading it, each was expected to initial it and send it on to
the next name.
The sequence of names on the list followed the
rigorously enforced hierarchical system that existed in the Company of those
days, one which put individuals in descending order of rank. Protocol insisted
that people at the same level were listed in alphabetical order. There were
about a dozen names on the list, starting, as always, with the Chief Cost
Mr. Smiths eyes read down the list. There
the names were, clear and indisputable.
The last name was his. The last name in the
rankings of the office and the section.
The lack of a second initial had never hurt Mr.
Smith more than it did at that moment. For a moment he hated his harmless,
peace-loving father who was still alive and living quietly in Southport for not
giving proper consideration to the choice of name for his first-born. Somehow
he sensed that worse was to come. There was no reason to link this routine
document with his enemy but, somehow he knew, that this was the moment he had
been dreading. Uppermost in his mind was the fact that he was to behave at
least as well as his foe had, and show no weakness or emotion, whatever
Mr. Smith could sense, rather than see, that he
was being watched by his neighbour as he forced himself to keep his hands from
shaking, and to look down to read the single foolscap sheet. It was dated the
To. Mr. P.T. Raybould.
At yesterdays meeting of the Office
Working Practices and Economies Committee, we discussed the suggestion that
following a minor reorganisation in the Waste Recovery Section, certain items
are surplus to requirements.
The Committee agreed with this view and
decided that the Section Heads desk and the two telephones, internal and
external, should be removed forthwith.
As there are now just two people employed
in the Section, it was felt that they could easily use other telephones that
are elsewhere in the Cost Office.
Would you please advise the people
concerned, and pass on to Mr. Sidney Jardine of the Waste Recovery Section the
Committees appreciation of his suggestion.
As you know, the Company is always keen to
encourage suggestions that show how deeply employees at all levels take an
interest in their work. Mr. Jardines understanding of the value of
cost-effective communications and utilisation of resources is to be highly
The usual Cash Award will be sent to Mr.
Jardine in due course.
Signed. J. R. Jones Cost Accountant.
Mr. Smith kept his eyes on the paper for a
minute or so after he finished reading it. He knew he had to look up, but
dreaded the gloating and triumph that he would see from his neighbour. He
forced himself to look to his side, and saw his enemy, clearly waiting for
their eyes to meet.
Young Arthur was the only other witness to this
moment. He insisted that he saw Mr. Jardine look at his colleague and wink with
his left eye. No-one believed him though. Arthur was known for inventing little
tales and this was just too unlikely to be true.