In a time before calculators, going the extra mile at work sometimes didn't add up

New kid on the block risked decimating colleagues' side hustle


Who, Me? When you start a new job, you always want to impress the boss by going the extra mile (or kilometer). But doing so can risk incurring the wrath of co-workers. 

Which brings us to this week's edition of Who, Me? and a tale contributed by a reader we'll call "Edgar" who was but a young wet-behind-the-ears apprentice back in the 1970s, when the UK was in the process of switching over to decimal currency.

Edgar was fresh from school when he landed an apprenticeship at a company whose stock in trade was adding machines.

Back then adding machines were engineered to calculate using pre-decimal currency, which saw the UK deal with a system that saw 12 pence add up to a single shilling and 20 shillings amount to a pound.

This scheme was referred to as "£sd" – it was basically wizard money. And don't get us started on why the abbreviation for "pence" was "d" – little in that era made sense.

Anyway, the company Edgar worked for manufactured and sold both those old-style machines and also the newfangled decimal ones.

First day on the job, Edgar was handed the task of stripping down and rebuilding a pre-decimal adding machine. With all the exuberance of youth, our correspondent applied his initiative and pluck, and not only completed the task but re-engineered the machine in situ to operate in decimal.

That's when all hell broke loose. You see, it turned out that Edgar's co-workers had a nice little side business going on, converting £sd machines to decimal ones for customers who either didn't want to or couldn't pay for new units.

Had the service manager found Edgar's handiwork – a decimal machine where no decimal machine should be – the game would have most certainly been up. No-one wanted that.

So Edgar's second task on the job, under instruction from his peers, was to strip the machine back down again and re-convert it to use the old money. That done, his colleagues were happy – and the company none the wiser.

As a footnote, Edgar tells us that the ability to convert adding machines from £sd to decimal was a borderline superpower in those days. He fixed the till for a local café that couldn't afford a new one and got a meal ticket for life.

Have you ever gone the extra distance, only to find yourself over the line? Ever done a job halfway, just to keep the peace? Tell us all about it in an email to "Who, Me?" ®

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