Firefighter and more (2014)

Location : Norfolk, Cambridge, London

Interview with WISEArchive on 14th August 2014

Engineering
training at Wymondham and the draw of the Navy

Perhaps
we can start by asking where you went to school. Was it in Norwich?

No, Wymondham College. About ten miles south
of the city. I went there in ‘67, the year that they moved the last house out
of nissen huts. We were still taught in nissen huts, all the classrooms were in
nissen huts, but they had just finished the sixth boarding house, so apart from
the few lads who were in the annex because there wasn't enough room in the
houses, everyone was living in the blocks by then. I went in '67 and I was
there until '74 having done my A levels. The last two years: A levels –
engineering based, maths, physics and engineering design. I must admit the
skills I learned there in the workshops I am still using today.

So it
was good experience?

Yes, it was good. For example I have built my
own furnace for casting metals just from what I learned at the school. I've got
my own lathe. I did screw-cutting and so on. Skills I learned at school.

You had
a good experience at school and left with O levels and A levels. You then had
to choose a career. How did you go about that?

Again, at Wymondham College I got involved
with the combined cadet force. I'd gone up through the Navy section and ended
up one of the senior NCOs by the time I had reached the upper sixth. By the
time I got to the fifth form I had decided I wanted the Navy as a career and
I'd gone down three consecutive years for a commission. Gone down to
Portsmouth, HMS Sultan, where they did the interviews. Three years I failed. So
I sat back, looked at it and decided, "Right, if I can't get in as an officer
I'd go in as a tiffy (artificer apprentice)." So, having failed in the
September/October for the commission I filled in my papers as an artificer,
interview in Norwich, down to London for a medical and just after Christmas I
got a provisional offer for HMS Fisgard down at Torpoint.

Rightly or wrongly I went down there, I did
my basic training. Unfortunately, I had a perforated eardrum on the range and
it was touch and go whether they kicked me out or I could stay in and I think,
honestly, with hindsight, I went into the Navy at the wrong time in my life. If
I had taken the Easter entry and not done my A levels, I might have done 22
years. If I had waited till the January to go in, I might have done the same
thing. I went in in September, I finished Wymondham College, a boarding School,
I'd worked the summer – I'd never been so well off in my life – and then I was
suddenly back in some ways in a very similar situation to boarding school. OK,
you could drink, you could smoke, which you couldn't at boarding school, and
you were being paid for it …! It was touch and go and in the end I decided I
would come out.

How
long were you in?

Three months. I'd done my basic training and
everything and was just starting trade training, which was literally repeating
my A levels.

Mechanic
or tax man?

I came back to Norwich, looked around for a job
and found that Jarrold's Office Equipment were hiring. They were looking for a
photocopier mechanic – or trainee photocopier mechanic, because the new thing
that was just coming out was plain paper copiers. Up till then it had all been
electrostatic, the coated paper. They were pushing this new plain paper copier.
The senior photocopier mechanic had done the training course on it and the idea
was he would do all this new trade, and I would come in to follow behind him
picking up his previous work on the electrostatics. Unfortunately, it didn't
take off. They had just moved … when I started there we were on Exchange
Street, and then they moved down to Barrack Street, they had a big office
equipment warehouse down there. I think they overreached themselves. It was not
taking off as they thought and there was talk of redundancies. I thought, "I'm
not going to be made redundant – I'll start a new job." I was offered two jobs.
One as a tax officer with Her Majesty's Revenue and the other was as a
semi-skilled motorcycle mechanic with Chapman's of Duke Street. I can still
remember chatting with mum and dad, and them saying "Do you still want to be
messing around with motorcycles when you're 60 years old? … Or would you like
a nice job with a pension?" So I took the revenue job. And as it turned out
here I am, nearly 60 years old and still messing around with motorcycles!
(Laughter)

Starting
in the Fire Service in Cambridge

It was
quite a lucky start, if you like, to get sorted into a career. How did you
finally get into the Fire Service?

I finally got the all clear with my ears from
the hospital. Obviously when I had come back to Norwich I had been referred to
the hospital and they'd done investigations and found that whatever it was had
cleared up, healed up and so on and I was A1 again. It was the summer of '76,
the hot summer. I was working at Nelson House, at the bottom of Prince of Wales
Road. The work I was doing involved a lot of contact with the Collector of
Taxes who worked out of Norfolk House on Exchange Street. I'd be on the phone
and you'd hear the two tones going past then and you'd have about another two
minutes chat and you you'd hear them haring past. My father'd been in the Fire
Brigade (my stepfather) and he'd done 26 years and he'd retired just before the
'74 amalgamation. So I thought, yes, I'd always been interested, I'd love the
Fire Service: and so I applied for Norfolk and heard back "we're not recruiting
at the moment" so I started firing off letters to Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and
Lincolnshire, being surrounding brigades. Cambridgeshire and Suffolk both sent
application forms back. Suffolk was about ten pages, Cambridgeshire was four.
So I filled the Cambridgeshire one in and went down for an interview and was accepted.

I started September '76. I did a week down
and Cambridge and then they sent me to Birkenshaw in West Yorkshire for my
training.

How
long was the training?

I finished literally days before Christmas
and had Christmas leave and then started on the watch early in 1977. It was
very interesting up in Yorkshire. The training school had to train you for
everything the brigades sending you up there had in the way of equipment. So
consequently I did my training on wheeled escapes, Merryweather ladders, Lacon,
Angus ladders as well as the 105 Dewhurst, Ajax, call them what you will.
Different brigades had different names for them.

I came out of training just before Christmas.
I was given all my accumulated leave for that year and started back on 3rd
January 1977 on a night shift at Cambridge Station.

Do you
remember your first call-out?

Yes. The first night shift, as I say, I
turned up there … in those days we were working a 48 hour week, and
consequently we worked till half past seven. There was normally something like
topography at night. And then we stood down and we were on the station for
calls until seven in the morning when we did the appliance bay cleanout before
breakfast, breakfast, and then we were relieved at 9 o'clock the following
morning. So I turned up at 6 o'clock for my first night shift and I was
introduced to a fireman who I would be riding with and who would be looking
after me for the first few days called A.P. A. was into everything. He left the
Fire Brigade and went to be a police officer in the end.

So I was detailed at the back of the water
tender with this man. And we went up for the lecture session in topography in
Cambridge. They all knew the whole of Cambridge. As for me, I was struggling, I
was floundering. Because they had put an overhead up with a part of the city,
with no names, and you had to give the names -and you were hoping that –
especially when they got to the last few little streets and closes – they'd go
onto the next one before they got to you. But some of the old hands there, they
could literally tell you every street in Cambridge, just from the layout of
them.

They didn't handle me too bad that night –
they knew I was new to Cambridge. So we stood down, we had our supper, drifting
round the station. "After 11 o'clock you can get your head down if you like."
So left it till about half past eleven and crawled into my bunk fully dressed,
just took my shoes off and had my jumper rolled up to the neck laid beside the
bed so if the bells went you were literally out from under the blankets, into
your shoes, pick up your cigarettes, pick up your jumper, drop it over your
head, down the pole drop, across and you took it from there. I thought I'd
never get to sleep, but I suppose I drifted off, it was just after midnight.
Cambridge had a control room in the station, so when a 999 call came in a light
bell rang and the controller'd answer it. Sometimes you'd get a call in the
middle of the night saying stand down – one of the retained station shouts – a
small fire. Occasionally it would come in from the police or whatever and say "drop
the bell straight down" and the lights would come on. Anyway the bells went
down, I dropped down to the appliance bay and made my way across the appliance
bay and those full lights came on, the tones went, water tender, to house fire in
Stow Cum Quy. So I piled in the back of the fire engine, putting my kit on, as
we turned out from the station. If you know Cambridge, Stow Cum Quy is a
village on the eastern side, I suppose about four or five mile out of
Cambridge. So as we are going there, A. and the other lad the other side donning
the breathing apparatus. I said, "Do you want me to do the board?" Because we
had the BA control I'd done it at training school. "No", he said, "We'll just
stick our tallies in there. It's a house fire so we can bend the rules a little
bit. Whichever side we come up," he said, "we'll grab the hose reel. If you can
keep the reel cleared away … we don't know how long the path's will to be.
We'll take it." So we pulls up and out the two BA men, masks on, hose reel out,
quick squirt of water, up the path, I am feeding this hose reel up. So in they
went and about five minutes later they came out, took their masks off, give
them a hand to put the hose reel away; they got their sets off, hose reel made
up, putting it back on the drum. And A. said, "Come on, let's show you what we
had." It was a kitchen fire. This family had got back from wherever they'd been
away for Christmas and New Year. Obviously had been driving most of the day,
got home late, going to have a snack. So they put the chip pan on ..

Classic

Classic. First one – chip pan fire. I always
remember to this day walking in there and looking around and thinking it had a
little bit, not too much damage, oh those are a nice brown cupboards, until I
put my finger down one of them and they were white. The brown was just the muck
from the chip pan.

So we cleared up, back to the station, turned
back in and of course dozed off. Six o'clock in the morning down go the bells
again, water tender again, and we got a lorry inside of a house south of
Cambridge. What had happened, January, ice cold morning, this lorry driver thought
his brakes had frozen on. So he went underneath to free off the air tanks and –
don't quite know what happened, but basically he was at the top of a hill and
when he cleared it the brakes came off and he went down, hanging underneath the
axle of his lorry, straight into a house.

Was he
injured?

No, he wasn't, luckily. Nobody in the house
was injured. I think the daughter or son who was in that bedroom had gone back
to college the previous day. It hit it, but of course nobody was injured. In
fact I've still got the paper cuttings of that first job.

It
seems to me there's sort of like three main elements to the fire service. One
is putting out fires, of course. Then you have the accident side of things –
cutting people out of cars and things and so on, and the education side of
things as well. Educating people, certainly these days. Have you got any
anecdotes of any of those three areas, apart from the one you've just
described?

Yeah. We'd be here all night! Jumping
forward, I transferred up to Norfolk, and I ended up as brigade photographer.
So for about five years I attended every fatal, every person trapped, and every
major fire in the county. Always informed of, supposedly. The one I did miss –
Norwich City Football Ground. They rang me at six o'clock in the morning and
said, we've been at this … "Well, you didn't ring me!" "Oh yes, we did. You
didn't answer your phone." I said, "No, the phone didn't go." I'd got one of
those big old Bell phones beside the bed. Then they found out there was a
problem with the autodialer and if they didn't get it dead right it didn't
always ring the right number. So I never got to that fire.

Yes, I've picked up some. I mean, I had six
fatalities in two weeks at the end of the Attleborough by-pass when that was
first opened. Wymondham by-pass, dual carriageway, went into the single
carriageway at the Attleborough by-pass it was badly signed. And, as I say, we
picked up six fatalities there in a fortnight.

New
shift patterns and developing specialist roles in Norfolk

But if we go back to Cambridge, I was on the
watch down there and of course, in 1977, the first national fireman's strike. Nine
weeks out of the doors. That was a hard winter. We went through that, we got
the pay that the government had been promising us for many years and got back
to work and one of the things that was coming in was the 42-hour week. There
was now going to be four watches and we did two nine-hour days, two
fifteen-hour nights, and then four days off – which was always a joke because
your, if you like, fifth day, you had worked from midnight to nine o'clock in
the morning. So you'd done a nine-hour day already before you left off and they
had the joke to call it a day off! So, yes, you did two nine-hour days; the
third day you went on for a fifteen-hour night shift till the fourth day, nine
hours off, back on the fourth day, do a nine hours …

So they
squeezed it in.

Well, it worked. If you were lucky, you got your
head down. It was a day off, but by the same token if you'd had a busy night
you'd come home and sleep. Two days, two nights, four days off. In a quiet
station maybe, but in a busy station you really only got three days off. Having
said that, forty-two hours a week as opposed to forty eight. The pay had gone
up. It was good.

About that time, we had just gone onto the
forty two, my dad died and so I made the decision that – my brother was at
university in London – I'd try and get back to Norfolk. So I applied for and
got up to Norfolk in the May. Just after the forty-two hour week. Norfolk had
had one person drop out of their training course so they had a vacancy at
Sprowston. And so I came up to Norwich and was posted to Sprowston fire station
in the May and in those days it was a two-pump station. While I was there, they
took a pump away – one of the early cuts. Gave us a chemical incident unit in
its place. Cut the watch strengths by two men. Which unfortunately meant when
they were short at Kings Lynn – last in, first out – I got posted to Kings Lynn
for six months. Had to have six months over there as a fireman before coming
back to Bethel Street.

So you
had to adjust to different watches? Different groups of people on the watch.

Yeah.

I came back to Norwich, Bethel Street, and
spent about two or three years there. I was studying for my promotion
examinations at this time and about this time they were advertising for a
leading fireman driving instructor. So I applied for and got the post at
headquarters, training department, working at Hethersett. They sent me off down
to Kent fire brigade at Maidstone to do a driving instructor's course. After a
month down at Maidstone I came back and I started teaching the firemen in
Norfolk to drive.

Miscellaneous - Blue Watch Norwich.jpeg (232px x 320px)

Blue watch, Bethel Street, Norwich. Contributor
kneeling at the front

As a
driving instructor do you also have to attend fires? Do you spend
proportionately the time on each?

No, once you tend to go on to a specialist
role – be it fire prevention, training, driving – you tend to go onto a nine
day fortnight system. Having said that, the photography gave me some fireground
time. Also I was living down at Wymondham by this time and so I was locally
retained at Wymondham when they needed me and that gave me a little bit more fireground
time.

Five and a half years was in the Training
Department and I did breathing apparatus training, general training. For some
reason I ended up as a normal ladder instructor for the recruits courses.
Obviously also did the specialist appliances, hydraulic platform (mainly
because that was part of the driving role). Did a lot of pump operating
training.

So you
weren't just an ordinary fireman, as it were. You developed your role
throughout a whole range of things in the Fire Service – training and other
things.

The only discipline I didn't spend very long
in was fire prevention. We'll come to that as we go on. But I did five and a
half years in Training and I thought it was about time I got back actually to a
watch. An amount of promotions, some officers' promotions and transfers were
coming up and I managed to get a sideways move to take a watch over at King's
Lynn. My old watch at King's Lynn – the watch I'd been a fireman on, I went
back as their officer-in-charge. I had two years over there. Again a very
interesting two years. I asked for a move back to Norwich and was told, "It's
fire prevention". I didn't really want to do fire prevention but it was put to
me in a way that – I was going to do it!

Off to
London, Dalston and Millwall

It was
what they wanted …

Yes. So I got hold of the previous week's
orders and got the application form for London. They were asking for station
officers down there. So I applied for London, went down there for an interview
and medical. I got accepted, just had to wait for the board to end. In the
meantime they posted me up to fire prevention in Norwich and as I say, five
weeks later I packed my bags and was off to London.

So a
very brief experience of fire prevention.

Obviously every fireman does a certain amount
of fire prevention on the watch. Actually as an FPO I only had about five
weeks.

So you
are now in London.

This is 1990. I am now down in the East End
of London. I am posted as officer in charge of White watch at Kingsland Road –
which is Dalston, Hackney. A very very lively watch. A very busy watch. A very
busy station. Going from an area of King's Lynn where we were travelling miles
– I mean, if you know Norfolk, King's Lynn's ground went out as far as West
Bilney level crossing. So that was a ten-mile run. I was taking over a station
ground of about a square mile.

Miscellaneous - WW Kingsland.jpeg (320px x 211px)

Kingsland, London, contributor in the cap to the right

Very
very different environment from Sleepy Norfolk …

I think the busiest night I ever had down
there, we went on duty at 6 o'clock and I hadn't completed the parade by the
time the first machine turned out. I had a hydraulic platform – two pumps and a
hydraulic platform. So occasionally got the hydraulic platform shout. But by 8
o'clock the following morning we had attended, I think it was sixteen calls
from the station including a four-pump persons reported. We'd had people led
down ladders and so on. As I say, the bells had gone at the station, I think
sixteen times that night for various things. Someone pump, some two, some the
whole lot. I think that was the busiest night I had ever had.

How
long were you down in London?

I finished my time in London. Or they
finished me! I had a motor cycle accident. I was trials riding, three mile an
hour and my foot got caught. Came off the back of the bike and it messed my
knee up. But that's jumping forward a little bit.

I'd been down there a couple of years and
they put a film crew on our station. A fly-on-the-wall documentary. And to be
quite honest, it went pear shaped on me and I ended up with a punishment
posting down to the Isle of Dogs.

Was
this for the television?

It went out on ITV in 1991. I don't think it
has ever seen the light of day since. Which I am not too sorry about. I ended
up a little bit of a scapegoat because of it and I ended up – they split the
watch and I got sent down to Millwall fire station. Bottom of the Isle of Dogs.
Very quiet station because historically you had two bridges on the island and
if both bridges went up at the same time the island was cut off. So they always
kept at least one of the machines on the island. The only busy thing, Canary
Wharf was part of my patch and I spent a lot of my time running up and down the
bottom of the island to Canary Wharf for false alarms caused by somebody
sitting on the M25 and looking across and thinking "Oh, that looks like smoke
coming out of the top of Canary Wharf" and dial 999.

Was this
during the construction of it?

This was after it was occupied. We actually
did find out that because it was such a big building and they had got all these
air conditioners and pumps and so on, it actually formed like a little mini
weather system. What people was seeing was effectively a cloud being created by
the environmental systems on Canary Wharf.

A
microclimate …

Microclimate round the top of it.

I'd had enough of Millwall and I went to see
the personnel DO, human resources you call it now. And said "I want out of
Millwall. Anywhere. I don't care where I go. Anything – temporary, permanent.
You know."

He said, "Technical and services. Station
officer has to go to Moreton-in-the-Marsh for ten weeks. I've got to fill his
hole; do you want it?" "Yes please." I found out at the end of the week and I
started there on the Monday. I got on well with the divisional officer in
personnel and he admitted to me at the end of the week, he said "You are
certainly one, aren't you?" I said, "What?" He said, "Monday and Tuesday I had
it really in the neck over bring you up to area headquarters because of all the
trouble at Kingsland Road." He said, "By Thursday afternoon the technical
services DO's are trying to ditch their own station officer and keep you as a substantive
here. It basically was that through all my work in training in Norfolk I knew
how to handle non-uniformed staff, outsiders and suchlike whereas the lad I was
covering for had been a fireman on a watch all the way through his career. He
expected to treat everyone like firemen and it don't work in the …

Hadn't
got the same range of experience?

So I did ten weeks there – it turned out to
be twelve because they kept me back for two weeks to give him a hand, to really
settle him in and hand over everything I was dealing with. Which normally
should have meant I was back down to Millwall because my temporary had
finished, but about two weeks before he came back they had a problem at the E
Command staff unit and they were short of a station officer there. I
volunteered myself and they took me and so I'd been posted a month before to the
staff unit and as soon as I'd finished there I went across the yard to take
charge of the command staff unit.

The command staff unit at the time I took it
over was 26 fire stations in our command. We did all the manpower movements,
all the vehicle movements, all the equipment movements in real time. Every
vehicle or personal accident came across my desk to get the identity number. I
had two control units – a forward control unit and the main control unit. The
forward control unit went to all four-pump fires in the command, the control
unit rolled on six. So every major fire in the command I was going on. I had a
very enjoyable time there. I did get pulled back to area headquarters once when
they went over to – they tried to computerise the fire reports and the area
commander knew the way I dealt with things in T.E.S. [Technical Equipment Services]. And I got pulled across: "You do
understand … (I'd read the technical training notes). Here's the person at
headquarters who's running it. Here are the people who are inputting it. If the
input is wrong, or you're not happy with the information, you pull it out, you
contact the station and you sort it out." And I had a very interesting two
months literally going round every watch in the command, teaching them and
explaining to them why they should be filling it, and the cost implications if
you did it one way as opposed to another way.

It was very interesting time. Then London had
a reorganisation and reduced the commands from five to three. I took on an
extra 10 stations' staff. We went from 26 to 36 stations in the command. I was
enjoying it and as I say, unfortunately, I had a motor cycle accident.

So you
became unfit?

I had the operation just before Christmas. In
the January I went to Jubilee House in Penrith, which is part of the Fire
Service National Benevolent Fund, now the Firefighters' Charity, rehabilitation
centre. I had two weeks intensive physio up there. I came back and the MOs kept
saying "unfit … unfit." And after a year they made the decision and classed
me permanently unfit. Gave me ill-health retirement and I've been on pension
ever since.

And
then you had to look for something else to do. And you made the choice of
heading for the Probation Service. That seems to be moving to a very different
thing to do.

The Probation came about five or six years
later.

Three
jobs at once, Red Cross ambulance, postman and motorbike wiring

When I was working down in London, I got
involved with the Red Cross. I had been a First Aid instructor in the Fire
Service in Norfolk. When I went down to London – I'd been down there a year,
eighteen months – and my First Aid instructor's qualification was due for renewal
I applied to go on a course to renew the instructor's certificate. "Oh, we
don't need you as an instructor." I said, "Wouldn't it be handy on the watch?
It is only a refresher." "No, we use our own people for training, we don't need
you." And I thought it would be a shame to lose it, so I approached the Red
Cross in Cambridgeshire where I was living at the time. "Oh yes, we'd love to.
Come along and do the refresher training. … Well, you should really be a
member of one of our groups here." So I ended up with the Ely centre as Group
Leader. I was a trainer; I became ambulance qualified and I spent most race
days on the racecourse. We covered three racecourses. We covered Newmarket –
the Finish ambulance at Newmarket which was a nice little number. You sit just
past the finishing post and watch all the horses come galloping down towards
you. I did 80 percent of the meetings there. Then we did Huntingdon, which was
a jumps course, and we had three chase ambulances there. So we did that. And we
did Cottenham point-to-points.

So you
were employed by the Red Cross, or was it voluntary?

The normal First Aid duties were voluntary,
but I was paid as a trainer – a commercial trainer – and for ambulance
attendance I was paid as a driver. Because the majority of ambulance qualified
people were of working age, for them to take an afternoon or a half day off to
go to the races, not a lot of people do it. So I was employed as a driver and
the ambulance duties were paid. Obviously this was not full time, as and when
they needed me.

Then the local postmistress collared hold of
me: "We need a relief postman in the village." So I started delivering letters
round the village. There were three girls doing the post and I covered their holidays
and sickness and so on. They normally called me in for short hours at
Christmas. I wouldn't go in for the six o'clock start. They would go in and do the
sorting, I'd go in at seven and they'd have sorted part of the round and I'd go
out and deliver.

This
was alongside the First Aid?

Yes. The First Aid was the occasional
four-day course. And I started making wiring looms for classic motor bikes. As
self employment. So between the three things, and my pension, I was comfortably
off.

Three
very diverse things …

Yes. Well, the problem was, I fell into
things. Nothing was planned. I came out of the Fire Brigade. Stayed home the
first day and then the Post Office collared me. Something had been going on
virtually since I'd been down in London. I suddenly decided I wasn't going
anywhere – a little bit here, a little bit there. So I took six months off from
the Red Cross. I'm not going to do anything. Post Office: Give me six months'
break. I came back after six months; I'd spent some time driving around
England, seeing people I knew. I'd got my pension so I was alright. I came back
and I thought, "I want to find something to do."

Hotel,
lorry driving and security

I bumped into somebody I knew. Oh, so and so
is running a hotel. He's looking for a handy man. So I went down there to work
as a handyman, I think it was four days a week. And I ended up doing silver
service and everything for the Christmas dos. But it wasn't really the right
thing.

Where
was this?

It was in Mildenhall in Suffolk. I'd moved from
Wymondham down to a little place called Isleham.

You
mentioned silver service, which is restaurant-type work?

Yes, the hotel had big Christmas dos, and it
was all hands on deck for those. The manager said, will you come in on
overtime? The way they worked, the experienced staff did on silver service and
everybody else took the plates out and … This particular day I was doing
this, and I went back into the kitchen and done my table with plates. "Potatoes
for such and such a table …" Everybody looking around. I said, "Well, give
‘em here, then." And I picked up the spuds and I didn't glance over my shoulder
and the restaurant manager was hovering fairly close behind me. Of course, in
the Fire Brigade we occasionally used to have officers' dinners and there was
three of us who used to go in and do the silver service and wine waiting. So
I'd got experience a bit, but I'd never told them that. Of course the manager:
"I'd never expected to have a handyman that could also silver serve!"

Again, it wasn't leading anywhere and again
it was money and I was having to bodge. I looked around and thought, "What can
I do?" So I went lorry driving. I was driving the Daily Mail out of Surrey
Quays and delivering it round East Anglia, in a seven and a half tonner, or a
ten tonner. Or that was my plan. I went in and did my first two days, the
company training and so on and I went in on my first night shift and we were
all called up to be told, "We've just lost the contract." So I did a couple of
weeks driving with them and I thought, "No. Don't go and learn all these routes
to be laid off come Christmas." So that was my lorry driving.

So I looked around then and thought, "What am
I going to do? … I want something a little bit more." I saw a job advertised for
security and I spent about three or four months on the gatehouse of Chivers
jams at Histon. Twelve-hour shifts. Never been so bored in my life on the night
shifts. The factory shut – the last one went out about ten o'clock – I was
working seven to seven and the first one came in about half past five to get the
things going.

The
Probation Service

I thought, no, this isn't really me and by
chance I happened to buy the EDP because I'd been told there was an article in
there to do with the family. So I bought it and read it and, as you do, you go
through the classified ads, and they were advertising for supervisors. Must
have handyman skills; ideally some form of disciplined background. There were
four jobs going, two at Thetford and two at Norwich. One two days a week and
one three days a week at each location. I thought, "Well, Thetford would be
nice." And that would give me an excuse to move back into Norfolk and I could
always transfer up to … Anyway, they offered me Norwich. Since two of us were
starting at the same time, "Do you mind going to Yarmouth to train?" So I was
actually travelling up from Cambridgeshire to Great Yarmouth for the first
three weeks.

What
was this in?

This was the Probation Service.

The job was basically taking out people who
had been ordered by the Courts to do a certain number of unpaid work hours.
Again it is the way perceptions and things changed. When I first started, it
was called Community Service. It was then Community Payback, no sorry,
Community Punishment, then came enhanced Community Punishment and now it is
Unpaid Work or Community Payback depending on which way you look at it.

The attitudes have changed with successive
governments. Initially it was very much, it was the time, the fact that we were
taking time off these people as the punishment. We went onto this enhanced Community
Punishment and we were actually mean to be working with smaller groups,
teaching them skills, getting them involved with problem solving and so on.
It's gone completely the other way now. I started off doing three days a week.
With the enhanced Community Punishment they needed more supervisors, so I went
full time. Then my domestic situation changed and I was working every weekend
and my partner didn't like it. She said, "Give it up, I'll take a job on." That
didn't last and eventually about two years later I saw it advertised again: and
it said, "some weekend working". So I
applied for it, no it was the wrong advert, it is every weekend again. So I
said, "I don't think I want that, what can you offer?" And they turned round
and they offered me Saturday, Sunday and Monday every week at Great Yarmouth.
So I said, "No thank you. But do you still want sessionals?" "Oh yes, please,"
they said, "We'd love to have you back as a sessional." So I went back as a
sessional and there is still am.

I still do sessional work, again the numbers
go up and down. It was getting to the stage where they'd offer me two days a
week and all of a sudden it would build up to four, sometimes five days a week.
Then it would drop down. I still run my own motorcycle wiring business. As I
started to build it up they wanted me more days and it would never work, so now
I'm down to two days a week maximum and I keep the rest of the time to do my
own work on motorcycle wiring or whatever.

So
you've come through quite a disciplined start with the Navy, then through the
Fire Service – again quite a disciplined thing but demanded quite a lot of
different skills and then you moved into a whole range of an assortment of jobs
with different skills, different applications. Very versatile thing to do. And
that's where you still remain in a way, isn't it? In control of your own life.

The Fire Service (in some ways still is) at
the time I was in it, was very much a job for life. The pension was weighted to
keep people through their 30 years. You'd build a sixtieth of your pension up a
year for the first twenty years; then you were building two-sixtieths a year.
So it wasn't spread out over the 30 years equally, it was weighted. Once you
were 14 or 15 years in: "Hang on a minute, I'm going to get a good pension." So
people didn't leave, it was a full career. Consequently getting an ill-health
pension it meant that, yes, my basic living needs – the house, gas and
electricity and everything – were paid. I didn't have to worry too much what I
was doing. If I didn't like a job I could walk out of it. With the way the
benefit system is in this country, I am outside benefits with my Fire Brigade
pension. So it is not a question of if I don't like it I'll walk out and go on
the dole. That's never been the case, I've never signed on the dole. By the
same token, if I don't like what I am doing or I haven't got the experience I
need for where I am, there's nothing to stop me moving on to the next thing.
Which has been a nice sort of situation to be in.

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