Not just a telephone engineer. PART 2.

Location : Tottenham; Loughton; Norfolk

Continued from Part 1.

Signing the Official Secrets Act

Just to go back to happier times, you were telling me that when you started working at the G.P.O. you had to sign the Official Secrets Act. So tell me more about that. Why did you have to do that?

Well, at the time when I joined we were all classified as Civil Servants, and, as a Civil Servant, I think every Civil Servant was obliged to sign the Official Secrets Act, and it was only when BT, the Post Office, the telephone communications side broke away from the postal side that we lost our Civil Service status, so anybody joining after that wasn't required to sign the Official Secrets Act. It was only because we were Civil Servants at the time, and there was a fact that we did have to go into … I mean I did quite a lot of work in the Air Ministry Offices. There was Ministry buildings that you had to go and work in, so there was a certain degree … I mean this was just my experience. There were other engineers that worked in the Houses of Parliament and other Ministry buildings, obviously 10 Downing Street and places like that. So it was more relevant to them than it actually was to me. But that was the reason we had to sign the Official Secrets Act.

When did the G.P.O. split away from the Civil Service?

I honestly can't remember. It would have been …. I really can't remember. It was some years after I joined. But it was quite relevant at the time because we thought we were going to lose a lot of our … "bunce" is the only thing I can think of! …. a lot of the advantages we got of being Civil Servants – but it really didn't make a scrap of difference to us at all. We just lost the title of Civil Servant. We managed to keep on with some of the Civil Service … the Civil Service Motoring Association which I'm still a member of. We also had a thing, I think it was called the Civil Service Sanatorium Society. I think this was formed years ago, when tuberculosis was rife, and it was for people to recover. It's since been renamed Benedon, but when I actually left BT I was able to carry on paying a subscription to that, so it's like a private health service that I've still kept going. So there was benefits that we all thought we might lose, which we didn't lose.

Anyway, eventually I left BT, much to my annoyance, and I still feel bitter about it even now, because I never imagined … I always thought I'd stay with BT to the day I retired, because what they were also doing, they were making people then, at that time, retire at 60. 60 was your official retirement age, but everybody I knew up till then could have stayed on if they wanted to to 65, which was a lovely little bonus, because you got your pension paid to you when you were 60 and you were still getting your wages, so if you worked for BT for 40 years you got half pay pension. Say you was on £20,000 a year, you would get £10,000 pension, plus your wages, so you was on like time and a half. You know, it was a nice bonus to work with, and a lot of people did that, and it was good for them to do that because they managed to amass a nice little bit of savings for when they finally did retire at 65. But when it got to 60 towards the end, anybody who got to 60 they just made them leave, irrespective of what their chances of getting another job might be. As I say, in my case it was 55, and the day I left BT, I think I'm right in saying this, when we left there was about 15 people left at the same time as me, and I think it worked out that 300 years of experience walked out that door that day, which is absolutely ludicrous! And some of them were really clever. I will say this. As I said before, self-praise is no recommendation. I wasn't the cleverest, I wasn't the most qualified Instructor in there, but I think I was a good Instructor. I enjoyed what I did and the students used to appreciate it. I always got on well with the students and if we had to break up into groups, if there was two Instructors or three Instructors, a lot of them would rather have gone with me. Because I'd struggled in the past to learn things I could appreciate their struggling, so if they didn't get it one way I would try and put it over to them a different way. So I got a great kick at the end of the course when the student was telling me what to do. That was a great thing for me to do that. But, as I say, when it got to the point where I had to leave I had a 4 drawer filing cabinet full of all my notes and everything, and I thought "There's no way in this world that anybody else is going to get these notes", so I shredded ‘em all and threw ‘em in the waste bin. Got rid of the whole lot of them. Just wouldn't pass them over to anybody. I've kept two of my notebooks upstairs, for keepsakes, but I just wouldn't …

It's a shame that it finished this way after a very successful career.

I was really, really chuffed about this, because I've got a younger brother and an elder brother. My elder brother passed the 11+ which we spoke about earlier on. My younger brother passed the 11+ and yet out of the three of us I ended up with the best job, which kind of like pleased me a little bit. I'm a bit smug about that! (laughs) But I've enjoyed learning. I've enjoyed learning things myself and I've enjoyed teaching people things, and I think I had a technique and a way of doing it … It worked for me anyway.

Gardening and maintenance, and into retirement

So I now found myself out of work. I found myself without a job, and I wasn't happy with that, because I'd never been out of work all my working life. I did a little bit of gardening for people just to try and get a few extra shillings. Then we were living in Loughton in Essex and I saw a job advertised … I found it ever so demeaning to go to the Job Centre and ‘have to sign on. I'd look at people there that obviously didn't want to work and they were quite happy to go and get their benefits, and I just felt belittled doing it. It just wasn't for me. I just couldn't do that. I hated it. And I saw a job advertised at a Residential Home for adults with learning difficulties. It must have been about two months I'd been out of work then, and because I'd got redundancy pay I could only get my benefits for so many months and then it would stop, so I wanted to get a job before that happened. And I saw this job advertised for a gardener and maintenance man, so I phoned up and got an interview, went up there and I got the job as a maintenance man and gardener, which meant that I could use some of the old skills that I had learned when I was doing the gardening for the Council. So I had some idea how to use the lawnmowers, digging … the skills were there. And over the years of being married of course you learn how to stick a bit of paper on the wall, how to paint, and generally do a bit of plumbing work, so I had a general knowledge, and I actually got a start up there. But the money was nowhere near, nowhere near .. . .! I think it was £5 an hour I went down to then from quite good wages. But it supplemented . . .'cos I was getting me pension, so it supplemented the pension. So I worked up there for about four years I think, and I actually found it very interesting. I've got to be truthful. I found it very, very interesting.

When I first went up there I was very nervous because adults with learning difficulties .. . and you were a little bit nervous about people like that, you know. You think to yourself "Are they safe? Are they going to suddenly start ranting and raven' at me?" But they didn't. They were people with Down's Syndrome. There was some that had had a nervous breakdown and never fully recovered. There was various forms of … most of them I think were Down's Syndrome, and that always made me wonder to myself whether it was a good idea … There was some that were up there that had lived with their parents all their life and then put into the Home when their parents had died, and they just couldn't settle down, they just couldn't get used to it. And others that had been put in there from children and they knew no other way of life, and they were much more happy. I know that sounds a bit of a funny old way to put it, but there was S., there was D.. And there was one called E.F.. I really, really liked him. He was a twin and his first brother … this was at a time when they never did scans, so I don't think they knew that there was twins coming along. So he got air starvation as a child and I think that affected his mental ability. E. and I got on ever so well and he loved to play trad jazz. This place was right in the middle of Epping Forest and you'd ‘ear this music belting out over the fields, and we used to sit outside when we ‘ad a cup of tea, we'd sit outside together.

I used to take ‘em out in the minibus, we'd go to Southend in the minibus, and one of my fondest memories was walking along with the residents at Southend and there was a girl called P. and she was holding my hand – ‘cos they did that, you know, as you was walking along – and coming towards me was my brother and sister in law with their husbands and wives. And we were walking slightly in front of these other people, and the look on their face when they saw me walking along holding a lady's hand, it was a treasure it was! "We've caught him out!!" (laughs) And then they saw the other people there. But E., as I say, he was something special, he was. But then unfortunately he got cancer and he died, and I went to his funeral. His brother used to come and visit him, his eldest brother would come and visit him once a week. But at the funeral in the crematorium, they played "He's not Heavy, He's my Brother", and I tell you what, there wasn't a dry eye. It was really lovely.

So you continued working there?

I worked up there for four years, and let's just say I felt I wasn't being appreciated, and I decided that I was going to set up and work for myself. So I thought "Well, I'm going to do this properly. I'm not gonna do it on the side. It's got to be done with tax returns and everything else. It's gotta be done properly." So I got my son-in-law to print me off some flyers, which I put through letterboxes. I did a few jobs and then that led on to other jobs and other jobs, and in the end I was so busy that I. would actually come out and help me sometimes. I was working six days a week doing this. The hardest part for me was the paperwork. Very strict – when I finished work I would come home and do the paperwork straight away. You couldn't say "Oh I'll do it tomorrow" ‘cos then it'd build up and build up. But I was very lucky because we were going to Loughton Union Church there, and one of the ladies there was an accountant, and I said "Look, I've got my first self-employed tax thing coming up. I'm in an absolute mess over it." She says "Don't worry, I'll come and we'll do it between us", so she came and she helped me do the first one, and so I knew then what needed to be done. So the following years I just altered the figures for that year. I knew the format.

So how long did you keep that going?

I kept that right up until 2001, and then I came up to Suffolk on an Art course, because I do a little bit of paint work, came up on an Art course. I. came with me. The course was only one half of the day, the other half of the day you could please yourself what you did. And we started looking in Estate Agents. I. was coming up to 60 to retire, I was now 62 and we looked around and we realised what a nice place Suffolk was, and then we moved further and further north and we realised what a nice place Norfolk was, and, to be honest, we also realised what value for money we could get if we sold where we were living, our home in Loughton, and moved up to Norfolk. So in 2001 I. retired from work and we moved up to Norfolk.

And you retired at that point?

I retired at that point, yeah.

That's quite an eventful life, actually. You've done so many different things. You've followed your interests as well.

I think there were several things. Although I hated working in that factory right from the very beginning it taught me to be persistent. It taught me, no matter how boring something is, to see it through to the end. Because when you're making thousands of the same thing you can't just say to the foreman "Oh, I'm fed up with that now. Can I have another job?" You've gotta see it through and that's with me now. In fact the more boring something gets the more fussy I get about it. It's a really, really strange thing. Instead of rushing it I get more and more fussy with it when it's boring. So working in that factory in some respects was good trainin'. And the Council work was good because that gave me another completely different aspect on life. You wasn't being watched every five minutes. You wasn't being told, as I was on one occasion working in the factory, when I turned round and said a couple of words to the fella working next to me, I was pulled up by the foreman that "You get paid to work, not to talk". It was a completely different lifestyle. I mean when I worked round the schools we would walk up to the kitchen in the morning and they'd give us a cup of tea, and there was nobody chasing you all the while, you know. As long as the job was done when the boss of the Parks came round to see, as long as there was no complaints and everything was done, you wasn't being. . . So that was good.

And starting off with the G.P.O. that was a good confidence booster as well, that sort of builds yer confidence up going in different places. But for me the biggest boost was when I went in the Training School. It was a bit like acting. It was a little bit like acting, ‘cos never mind how fed up you might be and how many times you'd done that course you still ‘ad to be full of enthusiasm showing the students what to do.

So each one of those jobs has given me something. I've never really thought about it before.

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