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Two Rooms And A View: 111 No Regrets

...Throughout my life I have often been asked, "Did you not want to meet your father?" My answer was always, "No," and I have no regrets. I followed the example of the family who always said that they had no desire to speak to him again after he walked out in 1939 and left his wife destitute with a three-year-old child....

Robert Owen did not attend his father's funeral.

On the route to work I used to pass Lancashire County Cricket ground at Old Trafford every day. During the summer of 1966, when Lancashire were playing Northamptonshire, I decided to look up my old friend Malcolm Scott, who was playing for the visitors. He was unaware that we had left South Shields and when I spoke to him on the boundary he was more than surprised. We met at the end of the day's play, but he politely refused an invitation to supper, due to a pre-arranged evening out with Colin Milburn and his team mates.

The summer of 1966 will also be remembered for England winning the World Cup and Geoff Hurst's famous goals. Three years later, the decade ended on an even higher note when everyone watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.

On the down side, I recollect reading about the terrible disaster that overwhelmed the small Welsh village of Aberfan in October 1966. A 500 ft. mountain of slag from a colliery pit heap poured down in an avalanche upon a village primary school killing 116 children and teachers. I thought back to a time only fifteen months earlier when I was unsuccessful in obtaining a teaching post at Merthyr Tydfil, only four miles from Aberfan.

We had not lived in Sale very long when I got a telephone call from my mother saying my father had died. Evidently a woman, very likely Annie Lamb, had knocked at my mother's door in John Clay Street and said, "Jimmy Owen is very ill in hospital and is not expected to get better. Do you want to visit him?" I am told that she thought long and hard before saying, "Yes". This surprised the family. She argued however, that they had been married 53 years, she still wore his wedding ring and they had never divorced. He died the following day and Mabel Owen's name appeared as the informant on his death certificate.

Throughout my life I have often been asked, "Did you not want to meet your father?" My answer was always, "No," and I have no regrets. I followed the example of the family who always said that they had no desire to speak to him again after he walked out in 1939 and left his wife destitute with a three-year-old child. Also, he never once made any attempt to see me, his only son, although at times he lived less than a mile away. Symbolically, after 1955 he moved down the hill and we moved up!

Mabel Owen lived for eight more years after her husband's death. She enjoyed life at John Clay Street with good neighbours and only fifty yards from a bus stop. She used to tell everybody she had the best landlord (Mr and Mrs Willey's son-in-law) in town. "He even stays for a cup of tea," she boasted.

She continued to attend St Andrew's Church when her health allowed, visited us in Sale on a number of occasions, and was pleasantly surprised by our prosperity.

Due to failing health however she eventually had to give up her own house and she spent her final years living alternately with her daughters in South Shields and Birmingham. Although in ill health and requiring much looking after, that was the way she wanted it - proud until the end and not accepting what she called 'charity'. Looking back, I owed her a great deal.

The late 1960's were years of expansion in further and higher education. I used this to my advantage to obtain promotion, first to Mid-Cheshire College at Northwich in 1967 and then to Stockport College - both without moving house.

They say that former employees of Reyrolles can be found in most large industrial and educational organisations. I proved this to be true at these two colleges. First at Northwich, I met Arthur Arnold for whom I used to run messages in the Cable Section seventeen years earlier. Then at Stockport, I bumped into Peter de Santos, a fellow apprentice from 1951 - 1956. Both were lecturers in engineering and were surprised to learn that I had transferred to the world of business and management.

During the years 1965-71 I continued my part-time studies with a vengeance. Working in an educational establishment helped. As a mature student seeking quick results, I combined various methods of study. First, while at Mid-Cheshire College, I was fortunate to obtain a day-release course over two years to study for a Teacher's Certificate at Huddersfield College of Education (Technical). I found the educational philosophy of this institution unique and it greatly influenced my future thinking.

At the same time I enrolled with Wolsey Hall Correspondence College and used their self-tuition course to study for 3 GCE 'A' levels in Economics, Economic History and British Constitution. I needed these A levels as the traditional University of London had refused to recognise my ONC in Mechanical Engineering, or my Diploma in Management Studies as an entry qualification to study for their external degree.

After obtaining these I then studied with Wolsey Hall for another three years to obtain a University of London External BSc (Economics) degree in 1971. So much for failed 11 and 13 plus examinations years ago!

Given the self-motivation, I found the Correspondence College method of study of excellent quality and a quick route to a degree at moderate cost. Many people thought I took the examinations via correspondence. This was not true. I took the same subject examinations as the 3-year full-time students at the University of London. Tongue in cheek, I told everybody I did Economics at Cambridge. I did, but it was only a week's full-time revision course at Churchill College during the Easter holidays of 1971.

I recall the Cambridge professor who opened the course by telling the story of the Managing Director who asked the Personnel Officer to advertise for a one-armed Economist.

"Why?" queried the Personnel Officer.

"Because I'm that sick of economists telling me '- on the one hand this, and on the other that, replied the MD.

As someone who has studied and taught on many part-time routes of study, I continue to be amazed at the neglect of this method of learning. It's much cheaper to the country than its full-time equivalent and when paralleled by relevant work experience, it can be much more effective. I often wonder, have the tens of thousands of full-time students who emerge from the universities every year with degrees and a large overdraft, ever heard of this mode of study?

The fall in the number of apprenticeships linked to part-time study, has also led to a drastic shortage of skilled craftsmen and women. As one distinguished Field Marshall once said, "It's no use having well qualified Generals, if the troops at the front line can't shoot straight!"

Personally, I used my hard work and years of part-time study to advantage when in May 1972 I got an interview for the post of Principal Lecturer at Huddersfield College of Education (Technical) now part of the town's University. I remember the occasion very well because the interview was held the day after I had been in hospital for a minor operation. I walked very tentatively into the interview room that afternoon but still got the job.

In September 1972 we moved to Harold Wilson's former home town in West Yorkshire.

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