Shipbroking is a middleman's job, basically that of finding a ship to transport a merchant's goods or conversely, of finding cargo for a shipowner's vessel. To be able to do this job well one needs a great deal of experience and know-how. To gain this experience one has to, as the saying goes, start at the bottom and work one's way up. That is how the majority of shipbrokers start their careers.
Shipbroking offices are, generally speaking, small, and often there are only a handful of people employed by a firm and so it is of special importance that they get on well with each other. We have one senior in our office who is always complaining about something or other, and on these occasions he cannot avoid strong language. His complaints are usually about the laziness or incompetence of some junior. When he is having his daily moan it is usually politic to keep well out of the way. Some are easily heated at his remarks - for myself I cannot help laughing.
Being an office junior I have to be prepared to do all sorts of jobs though at the same time I am given a certain measure of responsibility. The other day I found myself going on an errand to Greenhithe and Gravesend; on another occasion it was to hunt down another member of staff who was at lunch to tell him of an urgent message which had just come across on the telex. One cannot grumble about the odd errands but one has to be careful not to be too eager to do every odd job that turns up otherwise one would end up as everybody's dogsbody. At least we do not have to make the tea! We do not have tea brought around in our office - we have, instead, two twenty minute tea breaks when we can go out to the nearest tea shop.
My "old" school friends often ask me if I would rather still be at school. Well, I must admit I often think of those lucky ones hurrying home at 4 o'clock while I am still here in the office until 5 p.m. At other times I long for a lovely rough game of rugger with the boys back at school, which I quite enjoyed even though I was no good at the game. But one has to leave school sometime and my decision was to do so this year.
Shipbroking is not just another dull office job, with visions of high stools in poorly lit offices, heated by candle flame, usually guttering because of the perpetual draughts. Indeed a busy Chartering Shipbroker may spend up to half the day outside his office, in the Baltic Exchange. This is a large marble-veneered building in St. Mary Axe, very similar in its working to the Stock Exchange. Shipbrokers from a number of offices closely networked around the Exchange meet here every weekday for business; when agreements have been reached they return to their offices and do all the remaining business. This is a rather simplified example, as normally a fixture will take a few days before it is finalised.
This is a brief glimpse at the career I have chosen - I think that it is a worthwhile and interesting one providing an invaluable service to the merchant shipping world.
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