Arts & crafts

The UBO Manager – a short story

12 Apr 2022 | Written by By Ruth Dudley

[Pictured above are the staff where Ruth worked. In case you’re wondering, she’s at the back in the doorway (left)].


Grace recently gave us ‘Workplace’ as a Creative Writing topic.  My thoughts took me back to my early working days as a young, inexperienced, Unemployment Benefit Office manager.

The short story which came out is an accurate re-telling. Those were my Mondays and Fridays, and everything else did happen in between them.

I was struck by how much things have changed since the strike-filled late seventies. And yet so much is still with us, not least unemployment.  I wonder though, how many of our grandchildren would put up with these working conditions?

We must all have experienced workplaces, which then seemed ‘the norm’, but looking back were strange, antiquated, or just plain fun. I, for one, would love to hear about them.



The UBO Manager

Monday, and I’m going unwillingly to work. Finding a space for the car along the crowded street of overcrowded terraced houses. Wafts of spices rolling out of each doorway and curling around me.

Just another Monday, to be spent in the long Victorian factory building ahead of me. Tall, multi-paned windows lining the walls of the old Gun Testing, now Signing, Hall. The lower panes glinting ominously through jagged, stone hefted, edges.

Inside, the staff are huddled, debating their approach to Management. Me. Their desks and chairs covered in sharp, glass splinters.  I promise to make another forceful request for window grills.  They agree to sweep up and work.  I call the window repair team. By the time the morning tea trolley comes around everyone is settled again.

Tuesday, and the weekly Police report is with me. Again, they recommend window grills. They can’t stop kids from collecting stones off the next-door railway line and lobbing them at our windows. I attach it to the quotes for fixing grills at the window and show, again, that this would pay for itself within three months, over the weekly window glass replacement.

[Pictured above is the building we worked in, prior to its demolition.]

In the afternoon, signing over, I hold another all-staff meeting about the new office being built for us.  They are a close community and not that impressed by being split up between the new, modern, offices. Worse it will mean the loss of hot meals in the canteen, and of the pool table. One of their requests is for soft toilet paper instead of medicated hard, scratchy Izal. That’s one thing I can agree as I’ll finally have a devolved budget.

Wednesday, it’s a signing day and we’ve had a jumper.  An over the counter jumper.  Frank and Chas force him back, but I send Jasminder home for the day. Another police report to file. There’s not a lot I can do as the staff refuse to have counter barriers installed. They care about their clientele and think screens would make it harder to communicate and defuse situations.

Then I get a message that William S insists on seeing the Manager.  His Giro isn’t in. Well, there was a good reason for that. I agree to see him, but he has a violent history and it’s the era before panic buttons. I ask a male manager to sit in the adjoining room. After I’ve listened to William, as knowing you’ve been listened to is a great calmer, I send him off to get his benefit claim in order. Exactly as the section supervisor had already explained he’d have to. I go next door to thank my colleague, to find that he’d gone to lunch a good while back. I’m so glad I hadn’t realised that!

Thursday, and the Thursday signers swarm in. There’s another jumper which makes the girls scream. But this one has six or is it eight legs? I call in the pest people for another flea fumigation. They’re running at one a month now.

The light-hearted part of the day is the annual fire extinguisher testing. The lucky few in the ballot get the fun of extinguishing the backyard (if only we could) while everyone else looks on.

Friday, and my steps drag their way into work. Yes, it’s Friday. The demolition men next door have gone through the water pipe again. Strange how it’s always on a Friday. By 9am the Shop Steward is in my office. If I can’t get the toilets flushing by 10am it’s ‘everybody out’.  Red Robbo has a lot to answer for, he trained my Shop Steward.  It’s on the phone to the Water Board.  Today I would have had them on speed dial, but these were the days of the massive plug in switchboard with its operator, in a room of its own and taking up an entire wall. The repair scrapes in just before the deadline.

Friday, and the Regional Office reply is back. No capital works. No window grills. The building will be demolished in three months. Not even though it would save money and make for happier, less embattled staff!

The weekend. Respite. Rest and recover, for on Monday it starts all over again.

Perhaps I could launch the wrecking ball.

Has Ruth’s story reminded you of any particularly memorable work experiences from years gone by? Share them below or submit your own story to us at: submissions@thejoyclub.com

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