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Kafka Saves A Worker And His Job

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Franz Kafka  (in the daytime) was a government employee who looked after the welfare of workers for the Imperial government. He was on the side of the workers – among other things, he is credited with inventing the hard hat.

In my novel about him, Kafka In The Castle, he has an encounter with a worker who needs assistance. This is how he would react.

Excerpt from Kafka In The Castle

 

16 February 1917

There was a commotion at the office today. It was late morning, and from far below, coming up the stairwell, I could hear a voice bellowing: “Doktor Kafka. Doktor Kafka.” It was a terrible voice, full of blood and darkness. I got from my desk and went to the door. There were other voices, trying to calm, saying: “He can’t be disturbed.” But the voice was louder, more horrible, close in the corridor.  “Doktor Kafka – for the love of God.”   My secretary wanted me to stay inside, hoped the man would just move along the corridor until the police were summoned. But – I was curious; the man had my name, and his voice was … terrified.

I opened the door and stood in front of it.  “I’m Kafka,” I said. The man lunged at me, and went to his knees.  “Doktor Kafka?” he said.  “Yes, I’m Kafka.” He reached out, grabbing for my hand.  “Jesus, Jesus, for the love of Jesus – they say that you’ll help me.”  He was a heavy man, and looked as if he had the strength to pull off doors, yet the tears burst from his eyes.  “I can get no work. I fell from a bridge, and my back is twisted and in pain.” He slumped against the wall, looking at my eyes.  “I have a family, Doktor Kafka. A baby not a year old.”  “You were working on this bridge?” I asked.  “Yes.” His voice slid down his throat. “I was helping repair the surface.”  “Then you deserve your insurance. Why can’t you get it?” He straightened up, and tried to stand. “I have to fill in papers; the doctor can see no wounds; the foreman said I drank; because my brother is a thief, I am not to be trusted.” I held out my hand, and he slowly stood. “I’m telling you the truth, Doktor Kafka.”  “If that is so,” I said, “you’ll get the money due you.”  “I’m so tired,” he said.

I gave instructions to those standing around – no other work was to be done until this man’s case was decided. I took him to my office, where he sat. He sat – practically without a word – for five hours. I summoned a prominent doctor to look at him. The doctor prodded, and the man screamed. Officials from his village were telephoned. I helped him with the details on the forms. His truth was in his pain. He left our stony building with money in his hand, and his worth restored. The people who assisted me had smiles on their faces. A man had needed their help.

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Gap Year Sets You Loose Upon The World

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I was pleased as punch when I realised the other day that I had taken a Gap Year many years ago. And I was surprised to find that ‘Gap Year’ is a term which started in the 1960s. I rather thought it was from Academia in England from centuries ago.

I was correct to associate Gap Year with travel to new places, or a time to do good deeds. But also – happily – it was also a year between high school and university for students to take a turn in the real world through gainful employment.

The latter was me – admittedly edged forward by the fact that my Algebra marks were deplorable. I got an almost immediate job as an Apprentice Plate Maker in a printing shop. I doubt such a job exists anymore.

My job was two-fold. I placed negatives of photos and text on a metal plate, that had a mixture of chemicals hardened to its surface. Then I placed the metal plate, with negatives, in front of two burning pieces of a substance I no longer remember. They looked like two large and thick pencils. I believe an electrical current set the pencils alight, and the resulting, concentrated fire, burned all the chemical surface off the metal plate, except for the part covered by the negatives. The end result was a metal plate with nothing but the required image upon it.

The metal plate was then coated in ink, which only adhered to the raised image. The image was then transferred to paper and cardboard, making logos (we did many spice labels) plus photos and text. There would be a separate metal plate created for each different colour.

Thus went my Gap Year, which lasted fourteen months. No travels of the world, and no altruistic attempts to make the world a better place.

But I did help sell spice.

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