AN ODD EMPLOYER

B’s first job after he and Ursula were married was at the Blue Star Line, a part of the Vesty collection of Companies with its headquarters at Smithfield in London. Here he was a Management Trainee destined to work overseas at one of the many Vesty interests in  foreign countries.

He was to learn that the Vesty family ruled their mercantile domains in a very shrewd and unorthodox fashion and in whichever department he happened to be in, he heard examples of their methods. The stories related to B were put in semi-flattering ways, pitched so that the moral could be seen as a tribute to the brothers rather than a criticism of their curmudgeonly ways.

Mr Hodgson was the Superintendent of Commissariat Stores at the London Royal Docks, the main centre for the Blue Star Line fleet using London. Petty theft was rife amongst the dock employees and the position was a critical one for keeping this to a minimum as the opportunities were virtually everywhere within this vast port area. Mr Hodgson cycled to work from his home in Kent and arrived at his place of work long before his official time of starting. He was patient, street wise and frugal. He had saved from his earnings and bought himself a car; one of the cars that were being produced post World War 2 for the export market and not normally available for the British Home Market. But, by 1953 things were loosening in this respect and some cars were being made available for Domestic sale through a system of rationing selected from a waiting list. Mr Hodgson knew how to work the system and had got himself a car in this way;  One day he brought this car to work; a shining new Wolsey model which drew admiring looks from all who saw this rare object, as most cars at the time were shabby products built pre-war, 15 years earlier.

Ronald Vesty made one of his surprise visits to the Docks and saw this car. ‘Whose car is this , Mr Hodgson’? He asked. ‘it is mine , sir.’  ‘How can you afford to buy such a car on the salary we pay you, Mr Hodgson?’ ‘I work very hard for the salary you pay me Sir Ronald and have no time to spend money on such things as entertainment or holidays that most people now take for granted.’ Peering at Mr Hodgson for some time, ‘I am pleased you are committed to your work, and hope you will continue to be so.’ On Sir Ronald’s departure, Mr Hodgson chuckled and observed dryly, ‘They never give an inch.’

Another story told to B and his companion Jim Payne on a day they visited the Royal Docks was by a ship’s Captain. It was about a house of Lord Vesty’s on the coast which overlooked the English Channel. He had a powerful telescope installed in the grounds so that he could follow the progress of the Blue Star Line ships as they returned to their home ports of London or Tilbury. An unsuspecting Captain would receive a reprimand on docking for any neglect such as ropes lying about on deck, unwashed paintwork or an open slamming door on to the deck and wondered how these details could have been related to Lord Vesty. After a number of Captains had been criticised for for matters of neglect on their ships and had discussed the matter amongst themselves in a certain state of bafflement, news had been leaked out to them from the shore staff about the surveillance from the coastal house.  The Captains naturally took steps to ensure that everything on the ship that was open to this remote inspection was impeccable. Paintwork washed, brasses gleaming, everything put tidily away. The reprimands dried up and the Captains relaxed.

It was not to last.  Some time later, as Captain Cameron’s ship, Uruguay Star, entered the King George V dock, Lord Vesty was seen waiting by the quayside and was first aboard, after the gangplank had been put in place. The Captain made haste to greet him on board. The ship was docked port side to shore, the side Lord Vesty would have scanned as the ship had made its way up the Channel and, as it was to be expected, was in pristine condition. However, he made straight for the starboard side and to the consternation of the Captain found one or two points for which the Captain immediately received a ‘dressing down.’ ‘Why do you only keep the ship’s port side clean and tidy, Mr Cameron? he asked. ‘This star board side is disgraceful.’

Information about this new stratagem spread quickly amongst the officers of the fleet, and it was in this ‘cat and mouse’ way that the firm’s Management kept their employees on their toes.

February 13  2018