Let me take you back to a time long ago. A time before mobile phones were commonplace, where the internet was in its infancy, and where only a minority of houses had what we then referred to as a ‘home computer’.
1990, to be exact. The spring then was pretty much like this one has been – either rainy, or very warm and humid. For Helen and I, it was dominated by a creature we came to know as ‘Brick’.
Brick was a huge pilot case, about the size and weight of a breeze block – hence the name. It contained all of the workbooks which Helen had to complete as a trainee manager for Sainsbury’s. It also contained all of the workbooks that a previous trainee manager had completed.
The idea was that, in completing these workbooks and the assignments contained within them, the trainee manager would emerge as a rounded and knowledgeable individual worthy of being entrusted with running one of the departments within a busy store.
What actually happened was that both the trainee and the store manager – who had to sign off each workbook as completed – tended to regard them as an unnecessary intrusion into the business of actually running a store. The way around this was for the trainee to borrow the workbooks from one of the previous year’s crop of trainees and copy them. It was plagiarism, but plagiarism with the acquiescence of everyone involved.
Helen being Helen, the workbooks were started in September and then left until approximately June, when they were due to be handed in. This meant an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to completing them. An approach which never seemed to include Sundays, when neither of us would be working.
And there was another problem. Certain parts of each workbook had to be typed. We didn’t have a computer – we barely had a washing machine, remember – so this meant whoever had a day off during the week sitting at the kitchen table at Helen’s old typewriter and as the sun beat down outside, bashing away and copytyping someone else’s essays. It was hot, it was tedious and – in my case – it was slow. By the time that we had finished, I never wanted to use a keyboard again. Little did I know…