At the age of nineteen I once shared a house in Munster Road, Fulham, with my uncle who, believe it or not, was also a student at Battersea Polytechnic where I was attending an engineering course. During a long holiday break, I took a job with a company called Philip Mills. Located on the River Thames next to Battersea Bridge, the work was to collect waste paper and string for recycling.
Part of my duties were to assist the van driver in collecting and loading big bags of waste paper and string from various shops and offices throughout the London area. In the course of the day we also collected a quantity of tips which we divided equally. If we were given a small packet of Woodbines containing five cigarettes, we would cut one cigarette in half to make the equation balance. I liked being a driver’s mate. The work was physical and sometimes tiring, but the changes of scenery made it rather enjoyable.
However, the less congenial part of my duties was the time spent in the sorting office endlessly untying knotted string. I thought the monotony of the exercise would eventually drive me mad. Indeed, I noticed how the few people who worked there on a permanent basis untying knots all day long were in the habit of talking to themselves. Either it was their way of letting off steam, or, more probably, they had been damaged mentally by the stultifying boredom of the job.
After only ten days of this particular work I found to my horror that I too was becoming deranged and had started talking to myself without realising it. It was only when I arrived home one day that the penny dropped. Clearly the time had come for me to leave before the impending prospects of a lunatic asylum reared its ugly head.