Toil and Trouble

I can't say I was ever in a rush to get a job. I see myself as an example of how not to do it. I have been trying to tell my daughters that if they want to nice houses and stuff they need to work hard at school so they can get a good job. Please, don't do what I did. I think as a general principle this is fair enough but we all know it's just not that simple. What you don't know when you're young is that your job ends up defining who you are, which is a scary thought and one I wish I'd been more aware of long ago when blundering into these decisions.

So who am I? Well, I am an engineer. I am pretty sure about that, even though that is not what I actually do, currently. I can't say whether I am a good one or not and I certainly wouldn't recommend the half arsed way I clocked up enough points to call myself one, even if only minimally qualified. You can tell it's a touchy subject. If you fling the question at me fast, the most consistent answer you will get is An Engineer. Other likely answers are pervert, movie poster collector, dad, geek, old or quite likely just a baffled expression and a strangled "Um..." depending on blood alcohol level and state of mind. My passport says Engineer and I would never dream of changing it, so that's it then.

When asked as a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up, as you always were by some adult at a loss for any other subject of conversation with a child, my most likely answer would be Scientist. The role model I had in my head was that of the traditional film Mad Scientist, because I thought it looked fun. I don't think anyone ever needed that much detail, so no doubts were raised about my evil aspirations. Later of course, I found out that Mad Scientists were really just the ideas guys, the real designer of the ultimate Death Ray would be an Engineer, probably not Mad but just as socially challenged and just not really thinking through the possible destructive applications for their wonderful shinny device. So I guess I ended up more or less where I wanted to be, when settling in the missile design department of British Aerospace. I should confess, I never got to actually invent anything lethal, the deadliest things I did as a technician apprentice and lowest form of life were inhale solder fumes and munch BAe meat pies.

So if I could do it all over again, what would I be this time? Hm, along the way I've had the occasional pang of jealousy about other people's jobs and a couple of missed opportunities. Once upon a time I interviewed for a Sound Engineer job at the BBC and I knew a couple of people who worked there. I could easily see myself fitting into the backroom production team, the seat of your pantsness of doing things that only have to hold together for the duration of the program appeals to me, it's half arsed but creative engineering almost by definition...right up my street. I completely blew the interview due to total lack of any real knowledge or experience, but maybe I should have learned something, gone back and tried again. Ah well.

A friend went to work in Forensics, bearing in mind this was 30 years before CSI made it look glamorous. I thought at the time that he had made the best choice of all of us leaving school that year. It just seemed like something really interesting to do. What else...I was out with a mate who ran into one of his friends, so we for a drink at the bar next to the Old Vic, you have to be known to get in so I was happy to crack another Bristol barrier. Being a journalist qualified to pass the door policy and I have to say I was quite impressed by that at the time. I have since come to fancy doing something involving writing but as you have learned from this little pockmark of self indulgence right here, I don't really have the right level of commitment for it. I can only write when I am in the mood and as you can tell by the completion status of this site and the frequency of updates I am in the mood about as often as a 60's sitcom housewife with an aspirin shortage. So, still fundamentally an engineer, but maybe I should have tried for something a bit more creative. Ah well, better luck next reincarnation...

So before I got into the rut that I have trundled through for most of my life, these are the odds and dead ends I did along the way that will never find their way into a résumé.

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Christmas 1976, Boots

I really wish I could find an old pay slip, because I tend to hang on to that kind of crap, so I could date when this was. What I do know for sure is that this was my first job, working Saturdays at Boots in the center of Bristol, for the 6 weeks leading up to Christmas. Which Christmas is where I am getting the here are the clues:

  • I had really bad spots, I remember this really, really clearly, they were sore as hell. They positively seemed to throb when I was eating my jam rolly polly and custard in the Boot's canteen at lunchtime. Not a very helpful memory seeing as I had bad spots up until about, well, now, although I have since made the connection with diet and spottiness.
  • No girlfriend so must be pre 1977.
  • I sat with two other teenagers at lunch and one of them was a big fan of a new band called The Ramones, also I seem to remember Queen's Somebody to Love being on the radio.
  • Oh, hang on a minute, I used to keep a precocious teenage diary back then, easier to just look this up, back in a minute when I have scaled the garage shelves for the Lost Tea Chest of Doom...

OK, so that settles it then, November - December 1976. This was before The Galleries were built if you know Bristol, so Boots was on the other side of the Fairfax St car park. As well as the shop, which was quite a big one, there was a storage warehouse a short walk across the car park away,  handy for skiving you might think but I was uncorrupted at this point. Even if not, nobody would have much chance for this, it was Christmas after all, it was all hands on deck.

I was working in the Record and Stereo department which I was quite proud about, I got to unlock glass cabinets holding exotic and expensive gramophone needles and cartridges. The one fly in the ointment was that I never really got the hang of ringing up anything on the til that cost more than £9.99, a bit of a problem in a department selling stereos. Luckily I had a partner who was a more permanent employee and tended to do the real customer interaction stuff. I quite enjoyed charging credit cards though, one of those carbon paper sandwich jobs for taking an imprint.

The big seller was a padded box for your LP records which took up a lot of valuable floor space in the shop so I spent a lot time walking back and forth across the car park to the warehouse to replenish supplies. A couple of customers asked me questions about the stereos and I remember one I gave which was an utter BS explanation of the RMS Power that I am way too embarrassed to repeat, even now. Georg Ohm would roll in his grave.

Anyway, I got paid real money in my first ever real job. I even got extra for working Christmas Eve, at 16 I felt quite the man strolling back from the bus stop after a hard days work. Working down town was fun too, I just went out and amused myself shopping in the lunch time, for once even spending my own hard earned cash.


I am even more vague on the timing for this, because it was such a casual arrangement. My points of reference on this one are that it was arranged through my mate Kev, so it must have been before the great falling out that estranged us in 1978. At the other end of the time line, my girlfriend was a big part of my life, so it must have been after March 1977. I can't remember if this was before or after Asda though, or maybe it was during...who knows.

Anyway, through Kev's uncle, he and his friends got engaged casually on any little projects his business needed doing. One was office cleaning, I remember operating those big rotating floor polishers which took a bit of practice but were actually quite Zen and relaxing when you got going swooshing back and forth. I also remember stripping out and moving the contents of a supermarket, especially grunting over the huge freezer cabinets. I was always glad of a chance to wear my industrial steel toe cap boots, I've always had a bit of a footwear fetish. For the supermarket move we were allowed to snag anything that wasn't moving, so I grabbed enough of the giant plastic letters in the shops logo to spell out my girlfriends name on my bedroom wall.

Mainly it was just physical work, moving, shoving or cleaning for cash in hand pay packets. The interesting thing was the people you worked with, being in the lorry cab with them as they leered at girls in the streets and eating breakfast in a real dirty spoon café before they got started. We were just doing this for some cash, these guys, well this is what they did for a living. An excellent example of why you should get your head down at school, not that it helped me realize that back then.

I think this is what you lose out these days though. Kids just don't do these kind of jobs any more, and it's a pity because it certainly gives you perspective. Of course that comment now make me an official old codger.


Probably in a similar time to the Laboring: Kev wasn't the only one with family connections for casual work. I had my cousin Howard who was a manager for Radio Rentals. He needed people to post leaflets through residents doors advertising whatever TV and Audio equipment deals Radio Rentals was currently promoting.

The rules were simple, all you had to do was push a leaflet through every door's letter box. The downside was, the pay was terrible, I think it was One Penny per Ten leaflets or something like that.

He would usually drop us off near some big dodgy council estate like Filwood or Patchway, where we would start posting leaflets, as many as we could stuff into a letter box at a time. Some residents had those signs that say "No Hawkers, Peddlers, Leaflets or Solicitors" so we would be sure to stuff hundreds in those. Since we were paid according to the arithmetic from how many leaflets we still had left when Howard came to pick us up, we had to make damn sure as many as possible were gone. Usually around about 4 O'clock we would start a nice fire.

Howard would invariably take us round the pub at the end of the day where we were knackered from outrunning dogs and other urban ankle biters and pay us probably about 10 quid each. We sat there sipping our pints and reeking of burnt cardboard feeling absolutely no guilt whatsoever. I've always suspected Howard knew full well what our game was.

Tuesday 31st January 1978, ASDA Supermarket

A hypermarket was being built over in Whitchurch and they ran an advert looking for hundreds of people in all sorts of jobs. Although I think I applied for something else, what I can't remember,  I got a job as a Porter. Funny title, I had visions of carrying steamer trunks. It apparently meant you worked in the warehouse at the back stacking shelves, cleaning up and being a general dogsbody.

To be honest, there really wasn't enough work. I was only on for Satrudays and four nights a week but there was a lot of full timers who took care of most of it. I worked for the Warehouse manager who I saw rarely, he looked like a Ron, short, stout and Brylcreamed thinning hair. I learned an important lesson that has held true ever since. Don't ever go and tell your supervisor you have nothing to do. He gave me a mop and told me to clean the loading bay. Managers get very nervous and irritable if they have to find ways to keep you busy. I used to get so bored I would go and get the mop anyway some nights just for something to do.

Picking up the cardboard scattered around the shopping area could pass the time if someone hadn't beaten you to it. Even more fun was putting it all in the cardboard crushing machine that made it into bales for recycling. When a big cheese of some sort came to visit I had to clean and polish the cardboard crusher, just in case the Duke of Edinburgh or whoever the hell it was decided to come and see it. One of the full timers, Stretch, who looked like an elongated Eric Morecambe with coconut hair, generally staked out the crusher as his little empire so I didn't get to play with it as often as I would have liked. According to his mate, who I can't remember the name of but let's call him Ted because he was an aging teddy boy, Stretch was shagging his Auntie. I am sure it happened all the time over on the Withywood estate he came from.

Ted's big joke, which he performed with minor variations in name and characteristic every time you saw him, was to lurch into your face and say:

"He's a slimy c*nt isn't he?"

"What? Who?"

"Brian the Snail!" Where he would wander off laughing his little white socks off.

I worked with with some pretty advanced full time skivers who could show me the ropes if I was so  inclined. They were also nicking everything they could lay their hands on, the security guy who I naively thought was very friendly but was clearly checking up on us, used to have a table of shame in the canteen. Every week he would lay out all the chocolate, nuts and biscuits he had found in various warehouse workers secret stashes. He would try to watch the faces for reactions as we all filed past it to go get our tea and buns. I never saw this technique work, these were hardened Crimo's.

We used to have trolley races with pump trucks when Ron wasn't paying attention. A mate and I found out they had put all the expired bananas out into a skip at the back, literally tons of them. We stood squelching in that skip stuffing over ripe bananas into our mouths and under extreme banana intoxication throwing eggs at the big illuminated ASDA sign on the top of the warehouse. For years whenever I drove past I could still make out the trail of egg smears, I kid myself it's still just about visible to this day.

Eventually I weakened and started doing the same as everyone else, bugger all. I supposedly worked in the warehouse with a guy I could never find, one night he showed me the secret castle he slept through his shift in, built out of boxes of Huggies.

One Saturday I was caught taking three tea breaks when I was entitled to one. This was stupid of me; I'd noticed it seemed company policy to purge all the part timers every six months where possible, to prevent them earning benefits. They just itched to catch people doing anything that would give them a reason. Although I was fired over the tea break incident, between my Dad's appeals and my Uncle Ogwyn writing to head office with legal facts about first warnings and such, they hired me back.

They couldn't demote me in position because I was already the lowest of the low, but they could give me a crappier job. So they made me a trolley wally, out of the comfort of the warehouse and into the cold outside retrieving shopping carts all over the car park. One of my coworkers almost got me fired there too, asking me to hold his fag while he went to the loo. The new security guy was on me in seconds reminding me it was against the rules to smoke. Luckily Ron saved me, he knew I didn't smoke, so he told them I must be telling the truth when I said I just held it just for a second for a customer.

I knew my time was up there though, sooner or later they would find a way to fire me, it was hard work trying to keep busy, so I gave up and resigned while I still could.

ASDA was another warning about the kind of job waiting for you if you didn't get some decent qualifications. Which was a ironic because I was doing everything I could to fail all my A Levels. I had a job, girlfriend and mates, I was finding very little time for studying.

Most of the time there I was bored out of my tree. I was probably the wealthiest I have ever been though. All I had to support was a motorbike. I was still at school and still living at my parents so the 16 quid a week went a surprisingly long way. Instead of chips at the end of a night in the pub, I could now afford Chinese.

June 1978 - August 1978, Leaving School and On The Dole!

Note the dates, this was a time when unemployment was supposedly high. When my friends and I left school I don't remember anyone really having much trouble finding a job. "Labor isn't Working" Thatcher was coming soon enough but this was the terminal Callaghan mess, heading into the Winter of Discontent. Unemployment creeping toward 1 million was causing hysteria.

In the face of all this, we all left school and got jobs. In my case I wasn't in any hurry. I had failed all of my "A" Levels so I wasn't going to University even though some of my friends were. I suppose I was in denial, or just indulging my innate laziness, but I was being paid just enough money by the DHSS to hang around The Harvesters playing pool with Nick. As long as we nursed a pint and caught all the balls before they actually fell though the pockets in the pool table.

My days started late. I was staying up later and later and then sleeping in until lunchtime, which was of course driving my parents insane. There just wasn't much compulsion to do anything about it from my point of view. I was used to a cycle of summer holidays when school ended and I felt entitled to a summer holiday this time round too, especially as it was likely  the very last long one I would ever see.

Dad was helpfully going through the newspapers finding any job he thought I could do. I wrote to plenty and did my duty down at the job center every Thursday morning. Thinking back it was like I was in a daze the whole time, no sense of purpose and content to just wallow. Eventually dad was successful, he got me an interview with a local company and drove over Goblin Combe, where I was camping, to drag my arse back to attend it. That was the end of the big dozy summer of '78 for me.

August 1978, Trist Draper Friction Materials

As noted above, Dad found an advert in the Evening Post for some kind of technician at Trist Draper down on the Bath Road, very near the secret Flowers Hill Nuclear Bunker that every 6th former had known about. This was in the department that came up with new friction materials for automatic transmissions, clutches and brake pads. They were proud of having the contract for supplying the disc pads on the Challenger Tank.

Since I was quite relaxed during the interview, it really helps if you don't give a toss whether you get the job or not, they seemed quite enthusiastic about me. Even though they really wanted someone with a degree, they seemed more than happy to take me on and then send me to Bristol Poly on day release to get an HNC in Physics. I was interviewed only by the lady from personnel, she seemed to believe I had enough science and maths to do what they needed. I was told I would have to join the Union which for them was the Association for Scientific Technical and Managerial Staff (ASTMS). For all I know, I am still a member.

I worked with two other guys, I was put under the wing of the older one who showed me what they were trying to do and what polymers were mixed with rags and asbestos to make friction materials. Thanks to the carcinogens my new job meant regular chest X-Rays, oh, that's got to be good.

I can't remember anyone's name but I can picture the older guy looking a bit like Mr Price from Please Sir and the younger one having a Doyle perm, moustache, beard and driving a Honda 750 Four. We were in an old upstairs office painted in those hospital institutional blah colors. Downstairs was a workshop housing the dynamometers. These were basically huge flywheels that you spun up at speeds that would have taken them to Bath if they'd broken loose, then braked using whatever friction materials we were testing. My favorite was the Train simulator, a series of Rank Gong sized cast iron flywheels on a shaft. One of my jobs was to fit the material to test, spin it all up and time how long the material took to bring the flywheel to a stop. Then I had to do some calculations to get the coefficient of friction for that material. State of the art stuff, I can tell you are impressed. I was permanently covered in oil, breathing asbestos and once again bored stupid.

There really didn't seem to be very much to do. I kept getting the evil eye from Charlie, a fourth member of the team but who seemed to belong to the shop floor rather than us "Scientists". He wore a brown coat instead of a white one like us. He was in a different Union too, and it all seemed to matter oh so much. Doyle would joke every Timecard day about putting an extra hour in for Explaining It To Charlie. I was doing stuff he would normally take all day to finish while he'd just nipped out for a fag.

There was also a secretary, who these days we would call an admin, who worked for our boss. She was a middle aged lady with a dodgy hip, she would take all day to get up the stairs and I got reprimanded for impatiently squeezing past her one day. I rarely saw our department head, I have an impression of a cadaverous shadow lurking behind a painted glass office door. He wrote an article for the works newspaper on his return from a business trip to Rumania or somewhere like that, it was just a long list of questions with no answers, like "Why is that donkey smiling at me?". Weird stuff, weirder guy.

I think the pay was about £2,000 a year. My spots were aching on their diet of asbestos and grease and even killing time watching Challenger Tank brake pads being made over in the main shop floor wasn't doing it for me. I'd had enough and luckily Dad had managed to find me something else through a family connection.

2nd October 1978, British Aerospace PLC


So this is how I snuck into BAe. My Aunty worked in personnel at BAe and she spotted that a guy named Phillip Addison was looking for a technician to replace a Summer Student they had been using. All I needed to be able to do was solder and follow a wiring diagram and I was in. I was interviewed before the vacancy was even advertised. Lord knows why but Phil seemed to think I would do. This of course turns out to be "It", the pivotal decision, the critical step on the road I have stumbled along ever since.

I was to be Lost in Space. This was the bit of BAe that constructed satellites and I was going to be working on a bit of what would later become The Hubble Space Telescope. To be exact, my department was working on the Photon Detector Assembly (PDA), part of the Faint Object Camera (FOC). This was all relatively exciting, digital electronics was a new technology. My first job ever was to build a 20 MHz clock source, regarded as being bloody fast at the time, and running tests on the sharpness of the pulse edges. The one flaw I had noticed all though my working life so far, the fact that there was never enough to do, now turned into an advantage.

When I was done soldering, wire wrapping or running tests, I was surrounded by books on digital electronics, manuals of operating details for TTL IC's and relatively young graduates who didn't mind taking a quick break and explaining how to clock a shift register to make some disco lights flash in sequence. That, and I had something called a Req Book, which  was a magic key to all the treasure held in the main 1220 Lab Stock, guarded only by the evil troll Fred, a grumpy old bloke in a brown coat, who could easily be defeated by knowing the right account code to book it to. You could requisition virtually anything electronic and better still it was all MIL-SPEC. So when I wasn't building stuff for Hubble, I was building stuff for what the other engineers called Home Office, G-Jobs or Foreigners and learning a lot from my flashing LED's. I went full out geek, I started getting all the electronic hobby magazines and learned how to compact complex circuits onto a scrap of veroboard like copper origami. One of my circuit layouts even made it into a real life piece of NASA satellite test equipment, a geek achievement I still don't think I have equaled since.

Although I felt like I was really where I wanted to be, I had a nagging sense of inadequacy. I was replacing an undergraduate summer student who'd had to go back to University, Beaker, who was still revered by the two engineers I was working with, Dick and Richard. These guys were good. I was impressed just listening to them talk about how their stuff worked and mocking each others design decisions, "You're using an FPLA? Oh come on, that's cheating...". Every time I had no idea what they were on about, which was often, I scurried off to look it up. Mind you, this was 1978, no chance of Googling, it was off to the library for everything...but I learned a lot just by sheer osmosis around these guys.

I found a buddy Chris, who was just a bit older than me, but he had an HND so met the minimum qualification to be a proper engineer, even if it was a mechanical one. I was (am) always a bit immature but I especially upset Chris once by giving him a hearty welcome of "Right, you wanka..." when spotting him in the line to pick up our wages. This was a perfectly normal friendly greeting to anyone from Briz but Chris was put right out and stalked away grimacing. Apparently the aggressive culture of comprehensives didn't extend into the workplace, I would find this was true of a lot of values and attitudes I hadn't yet grown out of.

They were quite a social bunch, we went down the pub a lot at lunchtimes. I probably owe them all a lake of beers, I never got my round in nearly enough, I was always short of cash so nursing my own. Of the three pubs in walking distance, we generally went to The Plough so that Andy could ogle Sonia the barmaid. I can't remember the other middle one, but Chris and I also hung out in the Anchor which tended to have more of the younger crowd and the local psycho's who Chris christened the Crimmo's, while Andy referred to them as Drongo's. Either way, they could be a scary bunch, especially the Southmead barmaids they seemed to employ a lot of.

Still, it was Christmas and Richard was putting up his Page Three Calendar with the nipples replaced by flashing red LED's. I wasn't the only one with maturity issues.

I really wish I could do a better job of recalling everyone's names, but this is what I can remember about the space team: Phil was my boss, bald, clever and a little too intense to relax around. He was pretty forgiving of my many mistakes and did not make a big deal of finding me asleep at the desk post pub lunch when I thought I was the only one working over Christmas. He was mildly annoyed to discover one day that I was so lazy I turned all the expensive test equipment off at the one mains plug every night, causing a massive surge when I turned it all on from the same switch in the morning.

Dick was young, had relatively long ginger hair, glasses and looked like any other student as far as I was concerned. He left sometime after Christmas for a year to drive a Van across Europe with his girlfriend.

Richard or Ricky as he would have liked to have been known but wasn't, was short with a beard and as I arrived very excited to be the new owner of a Renault 5. Richard was quite an odd character, I struggle to describe his personality, he was single but seemed hen pecked anyway. I really quite looked up to Richard though, he had a great sense of humor, quirky mannerisms that were almost physical comedy and was clearly a very good engineer.

At this time I was still relatively close to just having left school, so the idea of hanging out with guys who were really only a few years older than me was all too alien. Chris was only a year older than me, I think, and even he seemed ancient.

Who else...well on the periphery, a mere Test Engineer as Richard said on one occasion, there was Andy, the team alcoholic. Not that I seriously think he was, he just liked a drink, perfectly normal by British worker standards. Alan was a pleasant enough friend of Richards that came by frequently, balding with long hair at the back like a jazz musician. Our actual musician was Roger, laid back, with swarthy stubble. One of my jobs was to assemble a Nascom Z80 based computer kit for Roger, it was going to do all the automated testing of the PDA, this was long before anything would be called a "PC". Chris and I of course spent a whole day Poking memory to get a risqué silhouette to appear for about 2 minutes before a power glitch erased it.

The only other guy who stick in my mind was Charlie, blonde and flabby, not unlike Boris Johnston, who was always leering after one of the secretaries. Which reminds me, we had a secretary and I am going to take a wild stab in the dark that she was named Carol, because back then, it seemed like they all were. All of them were engaged to a black belt and getting married any day now, or so they always told the panting engineers. Charlie was always trying to come and get me to build power supplies for him, but I had no interest in "Old Fashioned" analog electronics, plus, he gave me the creeps.

There was also a Drawing Office, down in Wine St, in the city center. Obviously a trip to Wine St, inevitably on a Friday afternoon and involving lunch with H, the mad draughtsman, could lose most people a whole day. Sadly, I never got to go, but H was a character that still impresses me. He could make the most profane and offensive statements without actually using any swear words, his exclamation of surprise "Well, suck my aching stump..." still makes me laugh to this day.

Lessee, what else...I was driving a motorbike to work each day, starting with the GT125 then moving up to the GT380. The car park was bloody miles away and you had to be some kind of corporate star or really old to get a Car pass to drive into the actual campus area. Bikes though, you could easily get a pass for and park more or less anywhere there was space. I got to know a couple of the hairy old biker guys who all parked in the same area. Richard (a different one) was a classic old biker, with a collection of classic old British bikes. He even showed up as one of my surprise instructors when I did my RAC Bike Training class. He would often come in on his 1000cc Vincent Black Shadow which was well worth seeing.

On the Golf Course Lane site, which was where space was, there were actually two main buildings, the office one, where I was and the actual spacecraft assembly area which had the clean rooms. This was important because the Spacecraft Assembly building had the pie machine and it was a bloody long walk to the main canteen. We weren't supposed to go into Assembly unless we really had to, and it was a dangerous place, the wire girls working on the Space Telescope Solar Array (STSA) were quite a scary bunch. However, all you really had to do was what James Bond always did, pop into the locker room and nick anyone's blue coat, slippers and clean room hat that wasn't locked up. Obviously the pie machine wasn't in the clean room itself, but you had to go through it to get to the rec room. Most people in the Assembly building were hourly paid non-staffers, there was a real divide between hourly and monthly paid workers. They were certainly very touchy about you eating their pies, the union rep over there got very uppity with me about it on one occasion. Phil warned me not to wind them up.

Monthly paid staff got to finish work at a staggered time throughout the week, to try to ease the massive release of traffic into the Filton ring road. I think it was Mon 5pm, Tues 5:15, Wed 5pm, Thu 5:15 and Friday 4pm. Hourly paid workers started an hour earlier than us, had lunch at 12 and then left work at 4pm.

Thinking back, this is my brief period of being younger than everyone else. As mentioned, I had an immature inbuilt Us and Them mentality still lingering on from being at school. My friends until then were nearly all my own age, in the same classes with me. Anyone as old as say a teacher was definitely Them. Even though a lot of my teachers were actually relatively young, my head of house Mr Slinn was a pupil at Briz himself until 1966, but he seemed ancient to me. I was often told I was immature, in fact I think I still am, and it has a lot to do with inertia when it came to leaving that Comprehensive School mentality behind. So in the workplace Us was just Me. Making the  transition to accepting that I could connect with people older than me took a while.

Soon enough, I would have to backtrack through all my mistakes, blowing my A Levels meant I would have to do it the long way through part time classes. It wasn't long before I was the oldest guy playing catch up in the class and it's stayed that way pretty much ever since. I still think I am the most immature person I know, surrounded by people younger than me. Am I bothered?

Although I was still in Space, I was told by Phil I would be loaned to a different department as the PDA team needed my meager bread boarding skills less and less. The new group was the L-SAT team, which stood for Large Satellite, a new spacecraft that hadn't yet been given a proper name, like Giotto. My paranoia about being desperately under qualified amongst all the proper engineers jumped to new heights as I contemplated having to start over.

To make a good impression I started to arrive in a powder blue spots coat,...urgh, what was I thinking...I was put out about being dumped by Phil but in many ways this was a nicer bunch to work with, not quite as elitist as the PDA team could be sometimes, some of these guys had HND's rather than Degrees. They also went out more together and I was less intimidated about going along with them. Ironically, I can't remember a single name, although I definitely did connect more with a couple of them.

It was way past time to get some qualifications. I had friends also trying to recover from their A Level disasters doing City and Guilds on day release or HNC's. I knew from some of the apprentice's that very occasionally passed through Space that the man who could do this was the feared Mr Cripps. Chris's suggested I go talk to his boss instead, his principle was to always go to the highest authority you could reach when you needed a decision. Another very valuable life lesson.

Well, on went the blue sports coat and I made an appointment to see Mr J.B. Rillett. Short, stout and scary as hell. I am pretty sure this is a verbatim recollection of what he said to me after I laid out my tale and asked if he would sponsor me to go and learn to be a proper engineer. It is burned very brightly into my memory, I can still see his eyes squinting at me:

" lets get this straight. After sneaking in through the back door you want me to pick you  up, dust you off and spend a fortune on making you into someone useful? Why on earth should I do that".


"Ray, can you come in here a minute?",

Enter Ray Cripps from his office next door, the head of Apprentice training, looking completely baffled.

"This is Mark, he's joining your Junior Technician program..."

"Er, OK, but we've allocated all the places this year, we're half way through and..."

"Start him at Rolls Royce Technical College, next week, then get him into the next term at Brunell Tech for an H-TEC Diploma in Electronic Engineering..."

"Er, ok...:" Mr Cripps then gave me the kind of look that says "I don't know what kind of blackmail photographs you have of him but they must be bloody good".

I don't know either.  The deal was, I had to leave Space if I wanted to do this. Mr Cripps was putting me into the main BAe Guided Weapons division to use their Apprentice program. I would later find out that an assignment in Space was something every Apprentice in BAe coveted, the competition was intense and I was warned there was very little chance I would make it back in again. On the other hand, they would make me a real engineer, well a technician first, since right now I wasn't even qualified to make the tea.

I was gutted to be leaving behind Space, but I felt it was worth it if I could come back as an engineer. Unemployment was still rising although the 3 million now was Mrs Thatcher's problem; it seemed like a good time to go get some real qualifications.

I realize I have rambled on quite a lot about BAe. Even though I was in Aerospace for 6 years. I have come to enjoy scribbling this all down and there is quite a bit more I remember after Space and becoming an Apprentice that I want to get off my chest for one reason or another. So Maybe Aerospace gets a whole section of it's own...after Aerospace though, we get into the part of my Resume that features people still alive so we will be stopping there.

More British Aerospace Adventures


bae_wages.jpg (46251 bytes)

BAe Wage Packet, told you I keep a lot of crud

chriselvis.jpg (240002 bytes)

Chris overexposed and out of focus, the picture isn't very good either

Me and the Space men. H, Ken, Richard, Roger, Me and can't remember

The Space men again plus the L-SAT team who were good blokes but I can't remember a single name. Chris is the one with his head on the table

Oh ramblings were discovered! This is how they look todayish, I'm jealous, still pretty much the same! L-R Ricky Bussell, Jim Watkins, Scott Mitchell (how could I forget Scott, my L-SAT buddy) Ken

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