Michael continues to relate his sobering experiences in his first job as a brewery tied-house supervisor.
He was soon to admire the speed and accuracy with which the stock clerks and especially the stock takers could count and add up. And it was a source of amazement to him that, in spite of the humdrum, repetitive nature of their work and the permanent concentration it required the stock takers at least seemed to enjoy their job. He’d put this down to the fact that they’d all been stock clerks previously and for them it was promotion. But, above all, he reckoned, it was due to the independence the job gave: for not only was each stock taker supplied with a small company car but, since they posted the result of each day’s work back to the brewery at the end of the day they only had to go into the office on Monday mornings when they were given the ten or more stock sheets for the pubs and off-licences they were required to take stock of during the week. As part of his training course to become a tied-house supervisor he did a four week stint working as a stock clerk after which he went round with an experienced stock taker before being allowed to take stock alone. He had previously viewed with some scorn this grinding work which he himself described as ‘counting your life away’, but the experience proved to be a lesson in modesty; for he was absolutely hopeless in both jobs – much to general incomprehension at the brewery where nobody could understand why a supposedly intelligent university graduate couldn’t even count and add up! And he himself never really understood why, for he always made an effort to do the job well. But as he was later to analyze, the difficulty lay in the fact that you had to establish some form of compatibility between two seemingly irreconcilable things: to permanently apply the whole of your concentration to an activity of a mindless, repetitive nature.
And so, if an inventory showed that a manager’s performance fell short of pre-calculated expectations it was part of Michael’s job to give him a stern warning and sometimes, in order to limit the accumulated proportions which these losses could assume, to recommend that stock be taken at shorter intervals – every week, or in some extreme cases, every day. If thereafter the tied house’s profit margins didn’t return to normal Michael simply informed the manager of his dismissal. But what made matters worse was that this kind of announcement could give rise to dramatic scenes where reactions could range from a deluge of tears to explosions of fury. For the manager and his family lived on the premises, and depriving him of his job also meant placing them in the unfortunate and sometimes desperate position of having to seek a new abode. And here lay another problem: since the brewery was legally obliged to give the offending manager one month’s notice of his dismissal, nothing stopped him from continuing to ‘fiddle’ or to steal stock during this period. To prevent this, what was termed a ‘lock-out’ was implemented: a locksmith was called in to change the locks on all the doors leading from the living quarters to the pub so that the manager was physically prevented from acceding to his previous place of work. A temporary manager living off the premises was then called in to replace the one who had been fired, and on expiration of the latter’s four weeks’ notice this substitute manager or a newly appointed one moved in. Michael had found himself temperamentally unequipped to resist finding these situations at best highly unpleasant, at worst acutely distressing.