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  • Alan Dale

A Little Industrial Monologue

or Free Comedy, Complete With High Metal Chairs



You never knew when it would be on – that was the best thing about it, in a way. We mechanical draughtsmen would be stood at our drawing boards, in those pre-CAD days, assiduously sketching the tentative outlines of intricate components or assemblies.


All would be studious hush and application. The muted tapping of calculator keys, or the swish and click of rotated pairs of rulers against paper, sounded unnaturally loud.


“It’s for you, George.” One of the young, earnest, frequently bearded design draughtsmen handed the receiver to the gaunt, deceptively serious Senior Engineer and Section leader.

Now, up to this point, we’d heard or seen nothing to interrupt the meticulous laying out of diesel crankcase casting sections or crankshaft webs. Nothing warranted disturbance of titanic struggles with cylinder barrel heat transfer equations or dynamic analyses of lorry fridge suspension systems.


All that was about to change.


“Hello, Tony,” George would say, in that gentle, insinuating voice, so suggestive of his eager anticipation of an imminent recital of disasters.


He’d follow this multi-nuanced greeting with a wheezing chuckle. Hand cupped over the mouthpiece, he’d glance around the office, convulsed with silent laughter, raising his eyes heavenwards in mock despair.


Instantly, all work ceased. A silence, for which any actor making an entrance would have killed, descended on the office. Draughting pens, pencils, compasses, French curves – all were abandoned, as we perched on our high, wobbly Dickensian chairs for the afternoon comedy slot.


A short silence followed, in which George, while listening to Tony, looked around at us all, assuming various expressions of exaggerated incomprehension or mock concern.


Have they, Tony?” Cue more sibilant laughter, in which several of us now joined, exchanging knowing smirks. “Well why’ve they done that, then?” We savoured his tones of admirably rendered apparent puzzlement. The indistinguishable speech from the other end of the line was becoming louder, rapid and agitated.


Really, Tony? I don’t understand that, no. What’s made them do a thing like that, then, d’you think? Well, yes, it must have been. No. well, you wouldn’t have been expecting it, would you, Tony?”


Our mild-mannered distinguished-looking silver-haired manager might well have emerged from his office by now. Seeing his uniformly captivated staff and George’s shaking shoulders, on hearing Tony’s name, he’d retreat back to his inner sanctum, chuckling and shaking his head.


“Well, yes, I suppose you’ll have to now, Tony. No, we can’t. Don’t think we’ve ever had to do anything like that. No… I’m sure we’d have remembered. Well, yes, I suppose you would have to, Tony...yes, what, you mean right from the very beginning?” Here, despite his admirably rendered tones of apparent concern, George would almost double up with uncontrollable mirth, inducing many similar reactions among his audience.


“What’s he done this time George?” one of the senior engineers would ask, grinning.

“Seems he’s mislaid a set of calculations for some drawings that haven’t been approved.”


“Always seems to happen to Tony, doesn’t it?” someone else would chip in.


“Funny you should mention that,” George would say, brows furrowed in a most convincing air of puzzlement. Thus the curtain descended, to general laughter and head shaking.


Our free matinee concluded, we all reluctantly returned to third angle projections, second order differential equations and the British Standard section shading conventions.


Epilogue


So – a ready-made monologue for radio, the middle of a short story plot idea, or a little slice of seventies British socio-industrial history. It could well pass for all three – I’ll enjoy taking my time to choose.

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