Friday, 6 November 2009

28 August 1942

Last night just before turning in composed a melody for a Cavalier ballad quoted in Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Woodstock’, chapter 20 titled ‘Glee for King Charles’.  This is the second song I have made since coming here.  The first one, which I completed about a month ago is a to a little poem called,’My Lady verily awaited me’ by Austin Dobson and quoted in F Amtey’s novel, The Pariah.  Many more people arrived overnight, apparently mostly young lads.  Out for a walk round 9.30 to 10.45 am.  Out again from 3 to 4.30 pm.  Walk and one ball game.  My rib is still painful on getting up in the morning.


My appointment was specified in the contract as that of book keeper to the Estate but it was stipulated that the manager could make use of me in any other capacity such as necessity demanded.  One point I omitted to mention in connection with my interview in London was Mitchell Thom’s reply to a rash query of mine as to the working hours on the Estate.  He just fixed me with his eye and replied coldly ‘twenty four hours a day and seven days a week!’ This was a slight exaggeration because we did go to sleep overnight.  However, it was the company’s intention that young men like myself should be trained in every branch of Estate work with a view to forming a reserve of future managers from those who displayed the required ability during the first five years.  A book keeper’s duties were not at all a full time job, so after a month or two I was given the whole manufacturing process from the reception of the liquid latex to the dispatch of the finished article and it was quite a mouthful for me to chew, considering that I had never before occupied a position of authority.  Besides I found myself all at once with almost 150 people under me and with all the power and responsibility pertaining to such a charge.  One department especially used to reduce me to a state not very far from blue funk.  This was the Sole Crepe room where between 50 to 60 girls and women were employed and I had to screw up my courage every time I entered there in order to be able to withstand the glances from a battery of over a hundred eyes and the smiles and soft spoken comments of the one to the other of the damsels there assembled.  It was most uncomfortable, the more so as I did not yet understand their languages and was therefore uncertain as to whether their observations were complimentary to myself or otherwise.  But one gets used to anything in time (even imprisonment) and it was not very long before I had a complete grasp of all the necessary details of manufacture and packing, I will endeavour to describe briefly what goes on inside an Estate rubber factory.  When the latex (literally the milk of the rubber tree) arrives in the factory it is received into large vats or tanks for the preparation of what is known as Crepe Rubber or into small rectangular basins in preparing Smoked Sheet Rubber.  Whether Crepe or Smoked Sheet is to be produced, the first equipment is to cause the latex to coagulate or bind together like, say, a corn flour pudding, by the addition of formic acid.  After being allowed to stand for two hours or so the mass is sufficiently congealed to be handled as required.  For making Crepe the coagulated latex is passed through a battery of rollers in lumps, starting with rough and grooved and ending with smooth rollers, eventually producing a strip of wet rubber, light yellow in colour, and from 8 to 10 inches broad.  This strip, which could be, if required, continued to any length, is cut off in lengths of about 10 feet to allow of their being hung up to dry on racks in the drying house.  The drying house is just a big shed containing four or five tiers of wooden rails about 5 feet from the ground and between each tier, some 8 inches apart and extending the whole breadth of the interior with the exception of a narrow passage down each side.  The Crepe strips are hung over these rails and left to dry, drying being complete within 5 to 8 days, depending on the humidity of the air.  In very wet weather, the drying process can be assisted by introducing a current of hot air into the shed by means of a special apparatus.  When the Crepe is dry it is removed from the racks, folded and packed in the regulation veneer chests for export of rubber.  Smoked Sheets being with coagulated cakes contained in the small rectangular basins which measure approximately 24 by 12 inches.  The flabby slab from each basin has these measurements and is, before milling, about 2 inches, thick and pure white.  This slab is passed through a battery of four graded rollers, ultimately emerging as a sheet of wet rubber, still opaque white, measuring 36 by 24 inches and about 1/8” thick.  These sheets are then hung to dry and cure in what is known as the Smokehouse.  Simply described the Smokehouse consists of a row of rooms fitted with racks as in the Crepe Drying Shed.  These rooms are situated on the first floor of the building, the ground floor containing large drums, usually converted oil drums, in which wooden logs are kept smoldering to produce both heat and smoke.  Each room has its corresponding drum and the heat and smoke rise through interstices between the planks forming the floor.  Within 7 to 10 days, depending on the weather, the sheet are dry and smoked to a golden brown and are semi transparent.  They are then removed from the racks and packed in veneer cases as is the Crepe.

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