I blame Hitler. If his army had not invaded Poland, Neville Chamberlain wouldn’t have declared war and my mother would not have had to leave London eighteen months later when she was pregnant with me. My father would not have been killed whilst dropping bombs on Mannheim two and a half years after that. And I wouldn’t have been sent away to boarding school before my 11th birthday.
I spent my early childhood in a three up, three down stone built cottage beside a stream close to the Black Mountains on the English side of the border with Wales. To me it seemed idyllic. For Mum, used to life in the city, it must have been a nightmare; no electricity, no piped water supply and a three mile walk to the nearest shop and telephone.
The boarding school was Reed’s School in Surrey. Famous in recent years for nurturing tennis players like Tim Henman, in the 1950s it was a small school all of whose pupils had lost at least one parent. It still maintains a few places for such children but that charitable element is supported by the presence of around 600 fee-paying pupils.
English composition was my favourite occupation at school and I harboured ambitions to become a professional writer even then. I blew that, thanks to a severe bout of writer’s block in that part of the English ‘O’ level exam. This was the age of science. Nuclear energy was going to provide us with low cost electricity, the first Sputnik was orbiting the Earth, and jet aircraft were being flight tested in the skies above Surrey.
Opportunities for budding journalists were limited; there were still only two TV channels available for viewers in England and they broadcast only a few hours daily. Newspapers were much thinner than today, with no weekend supplements. I was advised to seek an Engineering apprenticeship.
I quickly discovered that, when the task in hand does not require much thought, the brain turns its attention to other things, a state of affairs that led me to make many stupid mistakes. One day I used a brand new pillar drill to make a hole in an aluminium component. At some point I became aware that the nature and colour of the swarf being produced by the action of the drill bit had changed. I had failed to take the necessary precautions to prevent the bit entering the table of the machine. It was fortunate that I was, at the time, under the tutelage of a superb craftsman and human being. After issuing a gentle reprimand, he carried out an invisible repair of the damage I’d caused. Few people ever found out about that particular exhibition of clumsiness on my part. There were, however, many others. In January 1961 the authorities decided that I was too much of a liability on the shop floor and posted me to the drawing office.
One or more springs were a vital component of the valves we manufactured. The force exerted by a spring depends on a combination of factors, including the thickness of the wire, the diameter and length of the spring. These last two are usually constrained by the space available in which the spring is contained. There is a complex formula Engineers use to calculate the appropriate size of spring for each application. These days I suppose such calculations are done in milliseconds on a computer which sends instructions directly to the machine that makes the spring. Back then the calculations were done by hand using a slide-rule. I became the ‘spring king’, the specialist to whom all such design problems were assigned.
It was during this period that I met and fell in love with the girl who would become my wife. Nowadays young people move in together and no-one bats an eyelid. In those days such things were unheard of, so, when, soon after I’d completed my apprenticeship, we decided it would make sense for us to find a flat in Hereford in order to eliminate an expensive commute to work, we announced our intention to get married. Two years later our son was born.
I do not claim to be especially ambitious, but I was always conscious of the need to secure an income that would support a reasonable standard of living for myself and those who depended upon me. So, in 1968, we moved from Hereford to Coventry where I joined an organisation that was, at the time, a household name producer of fibres and textiles. Whilst working for them I travelled to their facilities in various parts of the British Isles and, most notably, to South Africa where we lived from August 1973 to January 1975.
I was part of a team modernising a pulp mill that supplied raw materials for the manufacture of rayon in the company’s plant at Grimsby. At the end of the 1970s, I went to work at the Grimsby plant, in the rapidly expanding acrylic fibre unit. One of the innovations in which I played a part was the burning of waste products in the company’s boilers. The company generated steam and electricity to power the manufacturing processes. There were several boilers, both oil and coal fired.
In the early 1980s, Grimsby Borough Council installed a domestic waste segregation station close by our plant. All combustible waste from this facility was transferred to our plant where it was mixed with coal and burned in one of the coal fired boilers. Meanwhile, a local entrepreneur had begun collecting worn out tyres which he stored on a disused airfield. When chopped into fist-sized pieces these too could be mixed with coal and fed into the boiler. That was the theory. In practice the presence of lumps of rubber prevented the smooth flow of the coal. I was called upon to solve this problem by designing a separate system for feeding the rubber chunks directly into the furnace.
Since the mid 1970s I had become involved in various community activities as a volunteer, whether helping my son’s scout group in South Africa, Coventry and Cleethorpes, or as a member of the residents’ committee for the estate on which we lived. A group of people from the hospital radio service in Coventry decided to expand their reach by creating a community broadcasting unit. As an aspiring writer this had enormous appeal for me and I soon found myself scripting, directing and providing voice-over for mini-documentaries, as well as filming various events. The resultant videos were shown in old-peoples’ homes and day centres.
The community broadcasting service also produced a monthly digest of local news which was distributed on cassette to visually impaired people. Not long after I moved to Cleethorpes I read about someone trying to get a weekly talking newspaper service started in Grimsby. I offered them the benefit of my experience gained in Coventry. As well as direct involvement in editing and production of the tapes, I became treasurer and took part in many fund raising events, including a 25 mile sponsored walk. I did this a few months after completing the Lyke Wake walk with my son’s scout group. For those who don’t know, this is a 40 mile trek across the North Yorkshire Moors, which has to be completed within 24 hours.
I’d always been interested in politics so when the SDP was founded, in early 1981, and it looked as if the Centre Left might have a future, I joined the Liberal Party. Four years later I became a County Councillor, one of 4 Liberals holding the balance of power between 35 Tories and 36 Labour members. After 18 months of permitting me generous amounts of time off to carry out my council duties the firm offered me a generous inducement to leave.
We decided to invest some of my severance package into a retail business. The next few months provided many lessons but that’s a whole other story. I took a part-time job writing and selling advertising for a business magazine. The writing was enjoyable, the selling was not.
Following the debacle of the 1989 council and European elections I found a job as a draughtsman once more, and then became a Planning Engineer on a series of power station overhauls, refinery installations, a steel works and, finally, aerospace contracts.
This necessitated another relocation, this time to East Yorkshire where I founded another Talking Newspaper. In 1993 our son married an Irish woman, so when I retired from Engineering in 2006 we moved to Ireland to be close to him and our granddaughter. I began writing fiction seriously in 2010, joining a writers’ group whose members offer enormous encouragement and support. I still do voluntary work in my local community, helping maintain the gardens at a support centre for cancer patients and their families.
(Note: I am not the only author with this name so only the books shown here are mine!)