Ha! It’s times like this I know I should have been an author, but I just can’t retain the thread of a story long enough to get it down on paper. Not that this post is about my writing. It’s just that I’ve impressed myself with the title. Which incidentally bears little relevance to this post. And thankfully absolutely nothing to do with Harry Potter!
So, this continues my previous post “When I grow up I want to be…” which detailed the early years of my career. If you recall, we left off where I had just started work at the tender age of seventeen in a foundry, so actually my career hadn’t really started as such. The foundry was a hot, hell like place, and not surprisingly when I reflect on my desperate escape from my own Dante’s inferno, the vision of a phoenix arising from the ashes of my previous job came to mind. Good eh?
It wasn’t like that actually. I spent three years in the foundry and some significant things happened to me in those three years.
I met Sue shortly after I started work, and I learned to drive and bought my first car from my wages.
I learned that workmates can be real pieces of work – especially those on the shopfloor who took it on themselves to basically bully me everytime I walked past – in fact I found a long route round the foundry to avoid them.
I got mildly burned on a regular basis from the clouds of sparks that seemed to follow me around (again, never wear nylon in a foundry – it melts and sticks. Still have the scar) and was actually terrified of the molten iron. Actually, what I was terrified about was the ridiculously low protection afforded to the people working with it. On more than one occasion I saw good friends badly burned – an occupational hazard. I knew this environment was never going to be safe enough for me.
Speaking of which, I found I had a penchant for Health and Safety and soon became the unofficial apprentice of the drawing office manager, who was also the health and safety officer. A most useful experience which I would build on in later years, although I couldn’t improve on the safety around the molten metal. It was just an fundamentally dangerous place.
Most importantly I was given the chance to attend Chesterfield college, and I did fairly well there – I actually won Best Part Time Student of the Year with the Institute of British Foundrymen, and got to go to a proper dinner presentation to collect my award. I wasn’t the model student actually, a couple of times in my three year stint I slipped off in the afternoons to play golf at Tapton Golf Club with my classmates who lived in Chesterfield. But to be honest, we only skipped general studies (took by a weirdo in a poncho – no, really!) and practical foundry skills. Now, seeing as I was a lab technician and not at all interested in the practicalities of moulding and pattern-making, it seemed reasonable to me to forego this module. And ironically, I still managed sufficient marks to win the award.
Fast forward to my approaching 21st birthday. Every night I had to calibrate a sand mixing machine, and every night at 4.45 I made the trek, did the boring but necessary calibration of the mixed ingredients – which normally left me late out of work – and never paid any overtime for it. And on the one night I needed to get off on time so decided to forgo the calibration (one day wasn’t going to make a difference, the settings never changed and I would pick it up the day after), but unfortunately that night the boss was around and spotted I had not done the job. Carpet time.
Same day I was walking through the fettling shop (the place where castings were ground and ‘dressed’) on my way out of work and got a piece of metal in my eye, despite wearing goggles. Wrong goggles as it turned out – one of my health and safety successes, changing those specs. Fortunately no lasting damage but it meant an A & E trip the next day and thus turning up late for my “hearing” with an eye patch, which conjured no sympathy from the boss. Boss gets me in the office, (literally on his thick plush burgundy carpet), starts lecturing me about putting myself on a pedestal (What? Where did that come from?) and threatened me with the sack.
Same day, Chairman approaches me in the foundry and reminds me that my annual pay rise is coming up. Now, I am earning £28/week, while the guys on the shop floor get £110/week, so a payrise would be very welcome. £35 / week actually. Whoopee doo.
Same day, said Chairman also notes that at 21, I get an incremental payrise anyway which should take my total earnings up to £44/week, but in his wisdom, I can only have one or the other, and should choose which one.
Having met Sue by now and planning to get married, we were banking on those rises and really couldn’t afford to stay on that reduced salary. So I chose a different option – job hunting time.
I have to say, this is where pure good luck can sometimes intervene. I’ve complained in other posts about not always taking the adventurous path and taking a safe option instead, but in mitigation, I’ve always recognised a good opportunity and taken it.
And so, a fortuitous advert in the CHAD (local paper) the same week for an Asphalt Technician caught my eye, as a) it was lab work, and I already did that, and b) it was closer to home, so less expenditure in getting to work every morning – and earlier home each night. PLUS, Sue worked next door to the quarry at the local hospital, so I could visit at lunchtimes!
I applied for the position, and I got an interview.
There was no salary indicated, and I asked my dad what I should say that I was earning – I knew if I said £28/wk I would be offered something daft like £30, and that wasn’t going to work. “Double it and add ten” he said flippantly.
The interview went well. The asphalt company also owned the local sand quarry (actually the other way round), and I was familiar with their sand, we used it at the foundry. I also was familiar with the chemical processes used in the sand – So I had experience that might be useful to them. Plus a Higher BTEC certificate in Cast Metals Technology and Best Part Time Student award. Quids in as the latin saying goes.
“What are you earning at the moment?” I was asked.
Hmmm. 2 x £28 = £56 + £10 = £66. I’m sure my dad wasn’t being serious, but that sounded about right to me. Also – impressive use of my CSE grade 1 Maths.
“£66 eh? Well we couldn’t start you on that but let’s say £60 and we can revise it in three months if we keep you on”.
Three months later I am earning £66 a week. Girlfriend WELL happy. Wedding plans start in earnest.
I had great pleasure telling the director of the foundry that actually neither of his raise options were satisfactory, and even greater pleasure giving the manager my notice and telling him to put it on a pedestal.
Unfortunately the new boss forgot to confirm the post and in the end, my old boss had to ring him and ask if he was giving me the job or not. “Oh” came the reply, “We had wondered why he had not turned up for work”. The acceptance letter was delivered by hand the same night. Was this an indication of what was to come? Actually it was.
But, putting that minor oversight aside – THIS was the start of my career…