Several years have passed, by now I am now married and living in Norton. From nowhere I had the urge to build another model railway, but space was limited, so I looked into ‘ N ‘ gauge.
Things had progressed in ‘ N ‘ gauge quite a lot since the old days when I dabbled with the ‘ 00 ‘ gauge, outside rail as a boy. The only thing was I struggling with was the tiny pieces, having large hands and fingers but I enjoyed building and finally running it. By then we were in the early 1970s.
I got to hear about the Bury St Edmunds MRC who were still in Bury at that time, so I went along and joined. It was a very good time to join as they were then just packing up the layouts etc. to move to Drinkstone.
For a few years I helped to construct the new room from a pig unit into a decent room, and then build a new large layout.
It wasn’t long before I started another layout for myself, but this time it was ‘ 0 ‘ gauge. Lima were making ‘ 0 ‘ gauge models at a very cheap price and it was some thing I could get to grips with. There was just enough space in the room in the loft to accommodate it. The plastic models were very plain but it gave me hours of enjoyment making them into some thing special.
I had always admired the Hornby Dublo 3 rail, possibly because my cousin who I once lived with, had a set. It was Sir Nigel Gresley. He kept it in the cupboard in my bedroom and quite often I would have a peep at it, so when I saw several bits for sale, I made a part exchange deal with the Lima ‘ 0 ‘ gauge.
I collected the 3 rail for many years, until it became too large for the loft, so that too was sold on.
I constructed several layouts in the garden shed, all ‘ 00 ‘ gauge and each time I learnt from my mistakes, then 3 years ago we moved to a smaller property, so the layout was again sold.
I am now building a smaller, portable layout which I hope, one day to take to exhibitions, and show off the collection of loco I have been working on.
In the very early 80's I was working as a Trainee Architectural Technician for our local council in Staffordshire. This was back in the day where if you worked for the council or a bank, then it was a job for life.
The job was very easy going. We were based in a totally separate building a good way from the main council offices. There were 6 of us including the head of department Geoff. I was the youngest by a good 20 years. We kept our own hours, Friday afternoons were a total right off due to too much imbibing of alcohol at lunchtime. No one disturbed us and as long as we got the job done no one minded.
At this time we were still standing at drawing boards and using Rotring pens drawing on Mylar sheets and erasing any mistakes with a razor blade to scratch the ink off and then cleaning up the drawing with a lump of bread. Plans and drawing were "copied" using an Ozalid machine, which produced "blueprints" in reverse - blue / grey lines on a white background.
As I said, things were very relaxed there.
One day Geoff (my boss) sauntered across to my drawing board and said "Mike, we're going to get a computer in the office for doing drawings on and I've been talking to the chaps and we've decided that we'd like you to learn how to use it and then for you to show us."
I replied that I knew nothing about computers, to which he replied "Well your dad's a computer engineer, so you must have picked up some general information". My dad at that time was working for ICL (International Computers Ltd.) and fixed mainframe computers.
"OK" I said, "When are we getting it?
"Oh, not until next week" he said. All the "chaps" in the office were grinning from ear to ear with relief that they'd been let off the hook.
A few weeks go by and this mini computer duly arrives is installed with a number of monitors and keyboards dangling off it. It had an architectural drawing package loaded on it and you could make any amendments to drawings without having to trace it, mistakes could be got rid of easily and it outputted drawings to a plotting machine.
I soon got to grips with this beast and started showing the others how to use it. In fact I was so taken by it that I took myself off to night school and did a few computing courses. My dad wasn't that impressed as the mini didn't take up three dehumidified and dust free rooms and didn't require a small army to keep the thing going.
Then things changed. Working in local government or banking was no longer a job for life. The council started making redundancies and the happy go lucky atmosphere disappeared. Everyone had their nose to the grindstone and trying not to stand out. Friday afternoon booze ups became a thing of the past and people started working "proper" hours.
After about 4 months or so, the atmosphere was really horrible and word had it that someone in Architects had to go. I went and saw Geoff and told him that I'd go voluntarily as "the rest of you old buggers are going to find getting a new job a lot harder than I am and I don't have a mortgage or kids."
Telephone calls were made and I was ultimately given notice. The "chaps" took me out on a blinding booze up on my last day as I'd managed to secure their jobs for a while.
I now found myself newly unemployed. The job situation the Midlands was diabolical and I was sort of resigned to a life on the dole for quite a while. Well as luck would have it in the local paper the previous Friday a job was advertised for a trainee graphic designer / CAD/CAM person working on computers at a small company in Lichfield. I applied and got an interview. I got asked the usual questions and then was told about the job. "Yes, I can do that" I told them stretching the truth somewhat (actually a heck of a lot). I got offered the job straight away with a salary that I could only dream of and was to start the following day.
The following day I made my way to their very very swanky / plush offices and was met by my boss who showed me around and was introduced to numerous people who's names I instantly forgot. I was then shown to my desk and with a computer on it - a Silicon Graphics Box (well two boxes actually). I was then shown what I needed to do and if I had any problems to either ask anyone in the office. So, there I was sat at this computer which I didn't know, which ran software which I didn't know, doing a job I'd lied through my back teeth to get and feeling very sad and sorry for myself. I worked out how to open a drawing eventually, and then I got stuck. I asked for some help and explained that it was a software package I was unfamiliar with. I got some help over the next few days, but was always pestering people for help and I felt really uncomfortable that I was totally and utterly out of my depth.
I should add at this point that the company did only a little computer graphics work and their main business was the supply and support of Silicon Graphics, Hewlett Packard and Compaq computers. Some of their customers were the MOD, Ford, BNF and Dowty Rotol who made wings for Airbus.
A day or two later my computer died on me. I jiggled the leads at the back and it remains dead. I then phoned our support guys, who we're based in an industrial unit the other side of town. I spoke to someone there who told me that they were busy and to "fix the effing thing yourself". Hmm. I thought, this isn't going to go well, but what the hell. I went and scrounged a couple of screwdrivers and removed the cover on the main graphics engine box (about the size as a bedside table). The other box held the floppy and hard drives. There I was faced with row upon row of printed circuit boxes. I unclipped a couple and blew the dust off having absolutely no idea what I was looking for and plonked them on my desk observing no static precautions. I took out a couple of more boards and blew the dust off them and then shoved them all back into the case. I plugged all the leads back in and lo and behold the computer powered up. Oh deep joy.
A few days later and the Managing Director came into the office and leaned on the back of my chair peering over my shoulder. I'd met him on my first day and liked him. He was very tall with the type of deep imposing voice that automatically demanded respect.
"I've been hearing things about you Mike".
"Yes. I understand you fixed your computer the other day".
"Yes that's right".
"I also understand you're not very happy in this job".
OK, give me my P45 and I'll go quietly I thought.
"I take it that you're not very happy with my work then?".
"No, but we don't want to get rid of you. We can see promise, but not doing this job. We have a couple of vacancies within the company either as a trainee programmer or trainee engineer".
I knew a couple of people who programmed and they lived on coffee and slept for inordinate lengths of time. The only people I knew who were computer engineers were my dad and a few of the guys he worked with.
"How long have I got to make my mind up please?" I asked.
The MD looking at his watch and in a deep resonant tone said "Thirty, twenty nine, twenty eight, twenty seven, twenty six, twenty five".
"I'd like to go for the trainee engineers post".
"Great,. Make you way over to Engineering in the next day or two and I'll let them know that you're going to be working with them".
He turned to go and I cheekily said "I don't suppose I'll be getting any more money for doing this then?".
Without batting an eyelid, the he said "Oh yes, considerably more".
Two days later I found myself at Engineering. They were based in quite a large industrial unit the other side of town, but nearer to home, which was good.
The place was piled with bits of computer suff, oscilloscopes, a couple soldering stations, cardboard boxes and loads of rack shelving.
I was introduced to the guys and given a list as to the guys preferences for teas and coffees and where the kettle and Kenco coffee jug was.
Mike, my new boss then showed me into a small room tucked away in a corner. There were no windows, but there was an air con pack bolted to the ceiling, a desk, a telephone and note pad, a Silicon Graphics box and plotter. The rest of the space was piled floor to ceiling with manuals and bits of paper.
"This is going to be your home for the next month or so Mike" said my boss. "You're going to be taking every internal and external support call. If its a hardware problem and needs a visit let one of the others know and we'll arrange a site visit. If it's software or can be solved over the phone you can get it sorted".
"I don't know what I'm doing" I said. "I've never done anything like this before".
"All the information you need is here" Mike said gesturing his arms to the piles of manuals.
With that he left and I was on my own.
I picked up a couple of manuals and had a read. Fired up the Silicon Graphics and had a play for a while.
Then the phone rang and it was a customer. OK don't panic I thought. As I said earlier our customers were the MOD, BNF etc. and they were pretty big players and I didn't know much about them, apart from what I'd read in the newspapers or seen on TV. Very much pre-internet days. I asked their name and number and made a note of it. I then asked them to describe the problem, which I wrote down saying that I didn't know the answer but I would find out and then get back to them.
I then rummaged through the mountains of manuals and eventually found what I thought was the answer and got back to them, saying that if the solution I offered wasn't the right one or if it did or didn't work, then to please let me know.
After a couple of false starts I got to the bottom of their problem, so typed out the question and the answer and printed it out and put it in a folder for future reference.
A few days go by and I realise that a pattern is beginning to form and that the problem related to Fred Blogs issue in Portsmouth sounded very much like the problem I solved for Joe Smith in Newcastle a few days previously.
Anyway this is how things went for the first couple of weeks. I was very much a duck out of water and was knackered. I was working about 18 hours a day 7 days a week and living on coffee. Things got quite a bit easier. I was learning. I was not only learning how computers and software worked, but also how to fix them. My hours reduced as I now knew where to find the information and how to relay it back to the customer.
A week or so later I was then figuratively hauled onto Mike's (my boss) carpet for hiring a skip and ditching a huge number of manuals.
I explained that the manuals I'd thrown out were all old obsolete or multiple duplicates, but I'd made sure that I'd kept at least one copy for reference.
It transpired that I wasn't being told off for throwing out the manuals, but that i'd paid for the skip myself and had should have put it through expenses!!!
After about five weeks I was led out of my room like a pit pony blinking daylight for the first time.
I was then allowed out with the engineers, essentially having my hand held and being told to "Take the screws out and remove such and such a board" or "Type this that or the other". My apprenticeship before being allowed out on my own was about two months. After that I soon realised that still living with my parents and having no girl in tow at the time was beneficial. I was treating home like a hotel, bunging my mum £20 or £30 a week housekeeping to keep me in ironed shirts, not having time for a girlfriend but being paid an obscene amount of money doing a job I'd started to love. The job was hard both physically and mentally. In the just short of three years I was there I was driving about 100,000 miles a year and flying about 50,000 miles. A typical day was get up at about 3.00 am. drive down to Earls Court for 6.00 am and sort their problem out. Then go up to Milton Keynes and sort out a problem a customer had there. I'd then go to Thermos at Thetford (never ever thinking that one day in the dim and distant future that I'd spend two years living there). Once they were sorted out I'd be paged - mobiles weren't around in the early days, could I go to Milton Keynes and sort out a problem there and on my way home go to Dowty Rotol in Gloucester and do this that and another. Oh, by the way, I'd need to be in Glasgow by 9.00 the following morning, Belfast at 10.00 the following morning and could I get the early bird Concord (10.30 am) to New York on Monday?
Ah happy days. I learned a lot but couldn't keep up with the pressure and stress of living such a hectic yuppy lifestyle. Yes, I did have my hair in a ponytail, work gave me a Gold Amex and was told to buy what I wanted, be it a hotel room for the night, a meal or a handful of cassettes to listen to in the car, wore Armani suits and Duster coats and we all drank Krug like fizzy pop on nights out in Brum at the weekend.
Yesterday I was at my local CO-OP buying a large bag of Purina dog food for my loyal pet and was in the checkout queue when a woman behind me asked if I had a dog.
What did she think I had, an elephant? So, since I'm retired and have little to do, on impulse I told her that no, I didn't have a dog, I was starting the Purina Diet again. I added that I probably shouldn't, because I ended up in hospital last time, but that I'd lost two stones before I woke up in intensive care with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IVs in both arms.
I told her that it was essentially a perfect diet and that the way that it works is to load your pockets with Purina nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry. The food is nutritionally complete so it works well and I was going to try it again. (I have to mention here that practically everyone in the queue was now enthralled with my story.)
Horrified, she asked me if I ended up in intensive care because the dog food poisoned me. I told her no, I stepped off a curb to sniff an Irish Setter's backside and a car hit us both.
I thought the guy behind her was going to have a heart attack he was laughing so hard.
I'm now banned from the CO-OP. Better watch what you ask retired people. They have all the time in the world to think of daft things to say.