Yesterday someone on Twitter mentioned ‘flu jabs’ and it reminded me of one of the funniest yet disquieting episodes of my teenage working life. It has rattled on for nearly 40 years
It was 1976, I was 17 and was an Office Junior, I worked with six other people, five others aged between 18-32 and a gentleman old enough to be my dad who, in those days, kept himself to himself. The company was privately owned by the chairman. His grandson, who was three years older than I was being groomed for great things. There were five managers and a Personal Assistant also in the office all of whom we called by their surnames. Sales and portering staff numbered thirty three.
The chairman sent his grandson round in late October ’76 to ask each of us if we wanted a flu jab, this was the first time he had done this and he was paying for it himself, a kindness I have always appreciated. While five of my close colleagues were, like me, somewhat quiet, one of us, we will call her Karen, enjoyed being the centre of attention.
The question came to all of us, “would you like a flu jab?” I was the first and said yes please. ‘Karen’ was the second and bless her heart she did not understand what she was being asked; “a flu jab? Yeah I’ll have a flu jab, I’ll have a doodah and a wassname while I’m there too” she answered. We all laughed, we all answered and the grandson went off happy that we had all said yes.
One of my other colleagues, let’s call him Don, said “what’s a flu jab, what are we getting?” with that the phone rang, and the question went unanswered and forgotten.
Until two days later. When the doctor arrived to give us our injections Karen, Don and our older, notably quiet colleague found out what they had signed up for. Trouble broke out. Don was ok with having the injection but Karen and Mr Quiet were not. This was the strangest of alliances, these were not two people who would normally seek or cite each other’s views.
The chairman was not happy, he had paid for the injections and two perfectly eloquent people were saying they did not know what was meant by ‘flu jab’. Our chairman was polite but stern with them, they were the only two people on the whole company of 45 employees who were not having the injection so he told them they can decline the injection if they wish, but should they have time off because of flu, they won’t get paid. Mr Quiet acquiesced. Karen did not, vociferously.
The following day I was among 10 employees who tipped up to work but had to go home again as we reacted badly against the injection. Karen did not let this go, and she reminded us of this every year for eight years while I worked there, and beyond.
The whole episode left us all feeling very uncomfortable at first and for a long time we too. Eventually, after a good couple of years, we were able to laughed about it. Even Karen and Mr Quiet. Although we have not worked together for over 30 years, we all five, know where each other is, Mr Quiet having died ten years later, but even now, we refer to ‘flu jabs, doodahs and wassnames’ with amusement, even throwing ‘thingamybobs and effergies’ into the mix.