« Suicidal Tendencies | Main | Epilogue 1 »

Two Rooms And A View: 61 - Back-to-front Drawing

...Ernie was a very keen cyclist but it was on two legs, not two wheels, that we shared a weekend away together. At very short notice, we decided to go for a hike and camp into the Northumberland hills. What was different about it was that we went in midwinter, following some heavy snow.

Hiking was difficult.. The temperature below zero, and sleep was impossible. The scenery however, was magnificent. I think we pretended we were in Switzerland!...

Robert Owen, a man gifted with a photographic memory, continues his life story. To read earlier chapters please click on Two Rooms And A View in the menu on this page.

In that September, I reluctantly found my former redundant boiler suit and re-commenced a factory career. This meant reverting to a 7.30 a.m. start which was quite a shock after three months of not commencing work until 8.45 a.m. in the D.O.S.

I was sent to work in the relatively new air-blast switchgear department at the Hebburn Works. This type of switchgear used compressed air cylinders and was well known for the loud bangs made when testing the equipment. In order to avoid shocks to visitors and fellow-workers, a system of two long blasts of a whistle, was introduced to warn colleagues of the forthcoming bangs.

The work was interesting and well paid but could be occasionally fatiguing due to climbing up and down scaffolding.

One colleague I remember from this time was Alan Hockey. He was a fitter who proved life does not end at 5.15 p.m. He was a Scout Leader and had an active acting and singing career out of work. He must have been good because several years later, he left Reyrolles to start a professional career on stage and television.

My next move was to a small out-of-the-way department that assembled a range of small equipment for several types of switchgear. It was mostly light bench work and required a range of skills not unassociated with those found in the Relay shop.

A fellow apprentice working in this department was Alan Robinson. By working as a team, we got to know each other fairly well and went swimming together on a Saturday morning.

Alan was a senior member in the Boy Scouts, as I was in the Boys' Brigade. We had some serious, and at times heated discussions, about the respective virtues of each organisation - to the surprise and amusement of our fellow workers, who said it was a pleasant change from the usual discussions on football and sex.

Another friendship born out of working in the factory was with Ernie Ovington. Like Alan, he was a member of the Boy Scouts and we had similar discussions and disagreements.

Ernie was a very keen cyclist but it was on two legs, not two wheels, that we shared a weekend away together. At very short notice, we decided to go for a hike and camp into the Northumberland hills. What was different about it was that we went in midwinter, following some heavy snow.

Hiking was difficult.. The temperature below zero, and sleep was impossible. The scenery however, was magnificent. I think we pretended we were in Switzerland!

During the academic year 1953/54, I gave up most leisure activities - apart from football - and concentrated on my studies. Every spare moment was devoted to the study of Mathematics, Mechanics and Engineering Drawing. I was very careful not to neglect the two subjects I had passed in, because one student I met had been successful in all three subjects but not at the same time. He failed a different subject every year.

My sacrifice finally paid off because in August 1954, I found out that I had been successful in all three subjects. This allowed me to proceed to the final year of the O.N.C. course and perhaps more importantly, I could now take up my belated place in the drawing office.

A few weeks later, I threw away my boiler suit for the second time, said my farewells to the factory and presented myself for work in the firm's Drawing Office. Whether by accident or on purpose I shall never know, but I was sent to the Cable Section where I had worked as an Office Messenger four years previously.

Once again I was welcomed by Harold Mordue and I remember him saying, "I think you are after my job!" After a few minutes of informalities, he took me over to Alan Miller, the sub-section leader. In his usual busy manner, Alan guided me to a vacant drawing board and said, "If you do as well on the board as you did as a Messenger, everything will be okay."

The place had changed in four years. The old-fashioned prewar fixed angle drawing boards and stools, had been replaced by adjustable angle boards and swivel chairs. These were much less space consuming and took only about half the area of the old section.

Alan Miller was a small, fit, hard-working individual with straw-coloured hair. He was about forty years of age and seemed to do everything at the double. Alan had a very sharp tongue but his bark was much worse than his bite. We got on well together, and I also knew several other members of the section who worked there when I was a Messenger.

Unfortunately, I soon announced my presence with a mistake that caused amusement for weeks. Drawing paper came in different sizes and was pre-printed at the bottom with the company name, with spaces for title, number, date and signature etc. In my haste, I put the paper on the drawing board back to front, with the 'T' square covering the mistake until my first drawing was finished two days later.

It reminded me of my early days in the factory when I put the lockwashers on the screw instead of the nut. Fortunately, the outcome was not so unpleasant. Alan said that it was the first time he'd seen this done during his twenty-five years in the drawing office. "It must be a sackable offence!" he joked. At the very least, he expected I would have to return to the factory. He had me nearly believing him, much to the amusement of the rest of the section.

Eventually the joke expired and it was decided that the best thing to do was to cut off the bottom part of the drawing, turn it over and stick it back on with some sellotape. I have often wondered if this was the only back-to-front drawing in Reyrolles.

My colleagues never let me forget it with continual jibes such as, "Got your paper in the right way, Bob?" or "Are you sure that's not upside down?"

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.