I was first sent to work when I was 14. Wasn't that illegal? Yes. However my father was keen that I got some 1st hand experience on site. So off I went. Unfortunately it corresponded with going short sighted so that made it tricky. I couldn't see beyond about 4 feet in front of me and I didn't have any glasses.
The 1st day was at BIP, a company down the road. Start at 7.30 am and work till 4.30pm. Strange thing I didn't seem to feel tired. I found myself totally out of my depth. I couldn't stand it. I was working with an electrician who at one point asked me to put a fixing into a wall and left me to it. I climbed the ladder and started to make the fixing. Unfortunately the ladder slipped and since I knew that hitting the floor would be a painful process I grabbed hold of a conduit on the way down. It was getting a little desparate with the conduit bending under my weight when someone noticed me and put the ladder back. No questions, no recriminations that was just how it was.
I went to an industrial copper processing plant later in the week. The conditions were awful. Working near furnaces that were refining copper it was blisteringly hot, and filthy with everything covered in soot. The people were a revelation to a 14 year old grammar school boy. Everyone swore. Everyone had breakfast of great slices of bread with sausages, eggs and bacon and big mugs of tea. One man used to fill his mouth with his food then poke a hole through it with his fingers and then pour down the tea. I was appalled and it was all seen in a blur.
Having only lasted the week my father decided that I should repair some heaters for the Co-op Butchers. These devices consisted of a metal box with a heating element in it. The way they were used was that a pack of sausages were put together by hand and then covered in a cellophane like substance. The cellophane was heat sealed. These devices had been used for years and the wires had become brittle. So my job was to open the box up, rewire the element and screw it back together again. The problem was of course that the whole box was covered in animal grease. I'm afraid that despite my best endeavours I didn't get many of these boxes done.
When I got my specs and could actually see again it didn't seem such a daunting proposition to go back and do some work. I went off for a week to help take out the wiring at a power press at a company called GKN.
The power press was massive maybe 40 ft high by 20 ft wide. The press was proudly date stamped 1896. My job with the electrician was to strip out the existing wiring so that the press could be dismantled and shipped to South Africa to start work again! The cables were all rubber which had rotted under the oil that had been continually sprayed around the place.
Everything you touched was black gooey and slimey. It was a job I could actually do. I crawled under the floor boards black with oil, soot and rubber and cut away cables. I climbed high in the air on the press and cut away cables. It was great. I was 15 and working 7.00am till 7.00pm on site and making a difference. I arrived home every night black and covered in oil. Of all the jobs I did I think this was the best.
On one occasion we had to repair some lights in a factory. The easiest was to get to them was to walk across the beam on the trolley crane. The crane was about 60 ft in the air and there was no support or protection just a 12 inch wide girder to walk along. I'm afraid I bottled it and shuffled along on my bottom much to the amusment of the guy I was working with.
The local council hold illuminations in the park every year in Autumn and we wired them every year. So when I was seventeen I got the job of helping to put the wiring up. It was a doddle of a job, there really wasn't enough work to do and I was bored stiff most of the time. We used to try and climb up ladders resting against nothing. You had to see how far you could go before it fell over.
There was an old fashioned wind up tower which was probably about 15 feet high. You'd get into the basket and your partner would winch you up into the air so that you could change a lamp that had blown. One day when I was up in the air they decided to swing the tower so that the top described a great arc with me in it. I must have described a 60 ft arc. It didn't seem particularly worrying at the time. This was the sixties when everyone else was out there enjoying themselves. Like they say if you remember the 60's you weren't there. I do and I wasn't