Still the funniest man on earth, its official, “For what is life if you cannot laugh at someone less fortunate than yourself ?”
I have experienced the five o’clock whistle of course for it was part of our job to provide the equipment that made the five o’clock whistle blow, and god help you if you arrived to service the equipment that made the five o’clock whistle blow just five minutes before the five o’clock whistle should blow – you really don’t want to be stood there with nuts and bolts and parts of the thing that makes the five o’clock whistle blow when the second hand reaches 12 and the minute hand clicks to five pm and the five o’clock whistle doesn’t blow because its spread out on the floor in bits in front of you, people have been let off murder for lesser excuses than that.
We once used to service the equipment in a large tailoring factory in Leeds, five floors with around 100 women on each all beavering away at their sewing machines all day. On each floor was an individual clocking-in machine (or clocking out machine in this story), individual in that they weren’t synchronised in any way so they could all be showing a different time – which cause absolute havoc, hell and pandemonium at five o’clock.
You see the clocking machine on the ground floor was the one that made all of the five o’clock whistles on each floor blow, but when the five o’clock whistle blew on any floor but the ground floor then the actual clocking machine on that floor might not be showing five o’clock yet and if you clocked your card even one minute too early you would lose 15 minutes pay and be up before the manager the next morning – a heinous crime indeed.
So of course when the annual service was due we’d always turn up at around 4.30pm and service the ground floor one first, then set it around 30 seconds fast.
There was a central stone stairwell in the factory and if you stood at the bottom of it at four fifty nine and thirty seconds you’d hear the sound of the five o’clock whistle blowing on all five floors followed by screams of anguish from 400 backed-up women waiting for their clocking machine to tick over to five o’clock so they could clock out – the thought that the five o’clock whistle had just blown and they couldn’t clock out for another thirty seconds yet was one of absolute agony for them and when they eventually did they’d come down those stairs like a swarm of angry bees seeking out the maintenance department for angry retribution, the “maintenance department” being two old blokes in brown overalls who serviced the sewing machines – we’d be out the door as the stamped clicky-clacked down the stairs shouting and screaming their verbal abuse and the fooking useless maintenance crew and what they’d do when they got their hands on them, and one of the old blokes in the brown overalls would look at you, sigh and just say “You’ve done it again haven’t you ?” as he signed our sheet and we ran for the door before the angry bees hit the ground floor.