Book Release

“Freddie the Fox was a strange fellow, announced on stage as if he was the returning conquering hero. He was taller than me and dressed in a multi-coloured stripped jacket. The response from the assembled crowd, (about a dozen small children) was immediate. They sat mesmerised as Freddie the Fox appeared at the front – and right at the front was our Alana. Now as Freddie didn’t actually say  a lot (nothing in fact – he just nodded occasionally) it was left to our glamorous host to engage with her now captivated audience and get them up and dancing and doing all the games that you do as four/five years old. The room wasn’t blessed with that many people, and it would seem pretty apparent that a lot of mums had been dispatched with their off-spring to kiddies-club while the Dads had five minutes peace. And then it happens – that dreaded moment when the glamorous compere thinks it would be fun to see some of the adults up on the floor with their children, or as in this case grandchild. The fact that I won a ‘not even announced’  competition the best (but only) dancing Grandad was bad enough, however the humiliation wasn’t completed until I went on stage to collect my ‘certificate’ from no other than Freddie the Fox, and was made to perform again with him – like a pair of performing seals! Jesus. The things I do for love.”

Written over a few months, before and during the Covid 19 Pandemic, “Nought to Sixteen – A Grandad’s Journey  is part memoir and diary snippets, part ‘how to,’ and part travelogue. Mainly, it’s about celebrating and welcoming a new generation.

Image is of Proof Copy.

On the day the clocks have gone back one hour it’s a timely reminder that in reality you can “never go back in time”.  Thoughts that you had wished you had done things differently will not change your past, missed opportunities will always be just that – “missed opportunities”. From an unexpected pregnancy to the challenges of being a grandparent in a vastly different society, and yes the Pandemic – it’s all here in “Nought to Sixteen – A Grandad’s Journey”. Brilliantly edited by the wonderful Di Toft I hope it makes you smile, makes you laugh and hopefully makes you think.

“Nought To Sixteen – A Grandad’s Journey” will shortly be available to purchase through Amazon, or you can pre-order a copy direct from myself at andylewis1953@gmail.com

Finally – in Glasgow today they gather for the UN Climate Change Conference. If we are to secure the future for our grandchildren then we all need to take action. We can only hope to understand the world of our grandchildren by being part of their lives now. The giving of our time costs nothing but the rewards are immeasurable.

we need to do more.

It’s a Thursday afternoon in October and I am attending a ceremony at a local South Bristol Primary School to mark the occasion of a change to the name of the Academy Trust now responsible for the running of that school. As I sit listening, firstly to a group of children reciting a poem that they had written about a tree, and then to a line of children who each told us of their “hopes for the future” I, and I am sure all the others listening, could not help but be moved by the honesty and sincerity of all them as they spoke. And of course – it made me think!

Climate Change, Racial and Sexual Discrimination, go alongside Food Poverty, Mental Health, Homelessness and Bullying as some of the challenges that we are having to face up to in a society where still, in many cases, material possessions and holidays abroad mean “more”.

As Christmas falls upon us again what choices will we make as parents, grandparents or guardians on what is “important”? Do we really expect young children to understand that “Christmas” cannot be all be about the receiving of presents? How many of us still ask the same question every year – “What would you like for Christmas”, or “What is Father Christmas bringing you this year”. On Christmas Day many parents will once again be posting photos of their children against a huge mountain of gifts on the many social media platforms that currently exist. They do so “because they can”, and not surely because anyone else is a least bit interested! Again this year we will be reminded at some point that there are far too many children who will receive nothing from Father Christmas. There will be too many families, the young, the not so young, and the elderly – who will struggle to keep warm as the temperatures drop – and others who will just turn the notch up a bit on thermostat rather than put a jumper on. For many, a traditional Christmas lunch” is something that “others have”. For them it’s not about choice – for them, living in food poverty, is something they have grown accustomed to.

We are all guilty in part for the situation we find ourselves, but not for all of it. When I was child we had little in comparative terms – and yet we had everything.

As I sat listening to those children there was a realism for me that perhaps the choices we have made in the past may not necessarily have been the right ones. They seemed like it at the time – the replica football kit, the new mobile phone, the X-Box, the Games Station, but in doing so have we not added to a problem that is becoming ever more apparent, and that is – how do we manage the expectations of the generations that are following us?

It’s easy to demand change when you live in a world that others can only dream about. It’s easy to blame successive Governments for allowing us to get into this mess. But perhaps we should all take a good hard look at ourselves, consider the choices we have made and continue to make – and then ask ourselves this question

“Am I really doing enough to safeguard my children and my grandchildren’s future?”

“Due Diligence”

Undertaking “Due Diligence” – the process of icarrying out an investigation to a business or indeed a person prior to signing any contract. I wasn’t involved in many of these during my working career, just a couple. It’s a process for instance used by a Company looking to acquire another Business, and they need to ensure they are actually getting “what it says on the tin”. So in this new modern and wonderful world of labelling, where we have to ensure that the label clearly states what the product is made up of, thereby limiting the chances of somebody have an “allergic reaction” to the contents – there shouldn’t really be any surprise should there?

It has become common practice in many industries to “outsource” elements of their businesses. The industry I was employed in for many years outsourced their IT department many, many years ago. Every five years or so the retendering process would commence, and the successful bidder would go through a “due diligence” process, just to make sure we hadn’t told any “porkies” during the whole tendering process. At the end of it all the staff involved ended up with a “different label at the top of the tin”, but the contents remained the same.

But does “due diligence” really work?

Well, in as much it would certainly ensure that everything financially was in order, and that you are able to confirm the fixed assets actually exist, then yes it probably does work.

But what about the other assets, for instance staff? Well, if you think you are taking on some four hundred directly employed staff and a number of contractors then again- yes. However, when you consider that many Companies love the concept of repeating the slogan “our staff are our biggest asset” – I have never heard of an occasion when somebody considering buying another Company has walked amongst the “unloved” asking the question –“what is it really like working for this mob?” In fact it’s often the case that the workforce doesn’t know anything about a potential “take over” until it’s actually happened.

The reality is of course in any acquisition you aren’t going to know what it’s really like until you have made the purchase and taken the lid off the tin. And when you do so and everything inside looks healthy and be cautious – because when you stick your spoon in and start uncovering bits of the contents it may not be as you hoped or imagined.

On the other hand if you are just one of the mere morsels stuck in that tin you might just be waiting for somebody to buy you, and when the lid comes off you can through yourself towards fresh air with new hope and shout “free at last”.

A New Year – But Has Anything Changed?

So the trimmings have been packed away and the final remains of the Christmas Cake are either loitering around on the kitchen worktop somewhere wrapped in cling film, or have been “de-iced”, and deposited to the freezer, where they will lay until the desire to keep to this years’ new healthy eating plan has finally disappeared! Of course there still remains the challenge of all those packets of nuts, nibbles, biscuits and crisps that were horded before Christmas “just in case somebody unexpected popped in – which of course they didn’t. So they will remain there, normally with the same “eat by” date until somebody realises they all have to be ate by “next week”, where upon they will all be consumed in one single weekend, reversing any hopeful trend of a diminishing waste line. Why do we do it? The children should have returned to school but haven’t and the daily routine, established during the first lockdown in 2020 has been dusted off resumed. I am somebody that needs a degree of structure to my life. Not, as some would believe, a regimental repetitive regime – but just a focus. What am I doing tomorrow? What are my options?”

What 2020 has shown me is that the battles between right and wrong, or good and bad, are still as ferocious as they hall always been. Those early days of the Pandemic when we all crammed around the TV to listen to the latest news and government advice eventually led to many of us avoiding the TV at all costs – sick and tired of listening to the endless stream of mind-numbing questions over and over again, as good battled bad, and wrong attacked right – or was it all the other way around? Claim and counter claim followed accusation and counter accusation. Our hopes that with the BREXIT done we would be saved from this continuous ritual of hostility, proved eventually to be only a “pipe dream”. And to make things worse – whilst we have been very much focussing on the here and now others have seemed to have found it exactly the right time to bury “potentially bad news”.

Today, the 7th January 2021, British Gas Engineers commenced a five-day strike, with the GMB stating that a staggering 89% of its 9000 members voted in favour of Industrial Action. So what is this dispute about – an increase in salaries? No, it is not – it has been brought about because their Employers want to reduce staff and transfer others on to inferior contracts, a so called “fire and rehire” plan.

Last year a number of other Utility Companies announced staff compulsory redundancies, whilst others are doing a Centrica, (the owners of British Gas), by reorganising and reducing numbers, leaving many on less favourable terms and salaries. It seems one again that Companies have dusted off their true and tested methodology of engaging External Consultants to undertake the review that supposedly will support the outcome that they desire. Of course, many who read this will argue that at least these staff will still be in employment, whilst others have lost their jobs as a consequence of the awful pandemic that continues to impact us all.  And yes, one can argue that it a perfectly valid opinion to hold.

It seems the battle between the rights and wrongs, and the just and unjust continue. Whilst we now focus on what could be another extended lockdown and wonder “when will it be our turn to get the vaccine” – others are working away under the radar on their own plans.

I’m sure “a service of some-sort” will be restored eventually – but what service it will be will be very much dependent on what workforce is actually left!

Beware of the Grim Reaper!

As I stood dressed as a pumpkin recently at my local Community Space (it was Halloween) I was approached by a boy dressed as the “Grim Reaper”. He looked at me suspiciously. So I explained that I was in fact a “Pumpkin”, and that I suspected he had never seen a “talking Pumpkin” before? He pointed the scythe (or it could have been a sickle) he was carrying at me and announced that “with his weapon he could cut me into pieces”. I suppose if you’re a pumpkin this is a pretty vulnerable time of the year, a bit like being a turkey at Christmas!

Who your personal Grim Reaper is depends on your role in life I suppose. In industry Christmas can be a pretty anxious time for many employees. One of the reasons being that within many organisations, especially Utilities, employees have a three month notice period (depending on service and T&C’s) if they are facing redundancy. With the Financial Year commencing on the 1st April, serving redundancy notices around Christmas will ensure that Business’s start the new financial year with a reduced headcount. “Sorry, but we are going to have to let you go, but would you like to join us for a mince pie and a Christmas Sing-a-Long?” “Go **** yourself”, being the most suitable response!

In late 2015 I was involved in a “re-organisation” that would mirror the above, with the consultation period being immediately before the Christmas of that year. It was my job, and I did it professionally – but it was somewhat distasteful. However, as the following year unfolded a new “head man” assured all the staff that were left that the “mistakes of the past would not be repeated”, and he would correct all the errors those previous people on extortionately high salaries had made. When I left in 2018 the total number of employees on the payroll exceeded the number that was there prior to the re-orgnisation.

As 2020 ends there has to be real concern over the general employment situation in our Country. Many industries have been ravaged by the impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic, and many families throughout the world will be facing a bleak Christmas.

In my local Community Space everything continues to be done to ensure the staff continue to be employed in some way. It’s just a small organisation with a small group of staff, who are reliant on the hours they work. But they are not just employee’s they are part of the fabric that make the place “work”, and they are valued not only as employye’s but people.

Elsewhere, partly hidden amongst all the angst that otherwise exists, bigger Organisations have unleashed their own Grim Reaper once again. No repeat of the mistakes previously made but just a whole set of new one’s of their own making – with those at the bottom of the ladder having less distance to fall,  but being impacted more by the damage done.

Where will you spend Christmas?

She sits alone in her chair and stares out of the window. Her mind defies her age but her body has now succumbed to the impact of those years. She remembers clearly the Christmas of 1940, that was eighty years ago she thinks, and recalls that fact slowly and quietly to herself. She was alone then as she is now. The building she was in then was cold and damp, just like this one. Somebody walks past her window, they are wearing a mask. She also wore a mask, but not like the ones people are wearing now. The one she had was black with straps and had a large filter stuck on the front. She went everywhere with that mask that year, she even took it to school. She remembers the noise of the sirens and running to the shelter. There are no sirens today, but everyone is wearing a mask.

I was a child then she remembers. She didn’t really know what was going on, she just did what her parents told her to do, well what her Mother and Grandmother told her to do –Father was away, doing “his bit”. People all about her had plenty to say, she just wanted to play. And now it seems she is back to where she started – alone again. She thought they would end their days together, but he left before her. Since he’s gone the days for her can be dark and the nights lonely.

“I always enjoyed Christmas, even as I grew older, and now, well now things are “different”. The world seems to be spinning as fast as it did all those years ago. Like then I don’t know who is winning or who is losing. They say “it’s in my best interest – to keep me safe”, they said that back then too”, But nobody is listening.

She turns to the television, it’s the Queens speech. “I’m as old as her she thinks. I wonder if she’s spending Christmas by herself.”

“We are all in this together – are we, really?”

How often have we been told to “make sure you read the small print?” It’s something we often hear but how often do we actually do it? There is no doubt that the current Pandemic has focussed a lot of attention on our wonderful National Health Service, and of course the plaudits for those working in the NHS, and its associated support services cannot be understated. Well, reading the “small print” to me, means looking under the surface to understand what is going on elsewhere, and actually trying to decide whether we are actually are “all in this together”

What has been fascinating is watching the response to the emergency by many other businesses and individuals within this “great society” that we have all created. I was intrigued last week to see that a well know utility company decided to post a message on social media  “paying tribute to the many field workers that were out there working on their behalf – “keeping things going”, and maintaining “social distancing”, as per the Governments requirements. Of course the person who posted this message was probably doing it from a lap top in the comfort of their own home! One has to ask surely why is it so many of this country’s small businesses have taken the difficult decision to close, knowing how difficult it will be to recover, whilst some large companies appear to continue to operate as normal? “Essential work”, that’s what the PM said didn’t he!  He also said “If you can work from home you should”, and I have heard this particular message many times over my working career, especially when it came to “snow days” or Christmas and the New Year Holidays. An example of this was just a few weeks from my retirement when we were hit locally by a snow storm. I wasn’t in the “operational arena” at that time, so dutifully logged on to work from my home and sent an email saying “”working from home, available to come in but somebody will have to pick me up”. The car was snowed in and I wasn’t going to walk the four miles to the office. Less than 30minutes later they are sending me 4×4 to pick me up. When I got to the office it was virtually empty! The reality is that events of this kind can bring out the best and worst of people. “I have a cough, so I am self-isolating”. If you have a cough your action should be applauded. If you don’t have a cough and are just exploiting the situation to sit at home on full pay for a week then you should be bloody ashamed of yourself.

Sadly these events do present an opportunity for some. I have always been dubious of the output of some of those who are supposed to be “working from home”. Of course there is a large number of people working in roles where it is impossible to work from home, especially in the utility industry. The reality for them is often being told to “take holiday” or “unpaid leave”. The other reality is that many of the people who are responsible for the Health & Safety of these staff will be sat with a laptop in the comfort of their own homes, whilst the staff they are responsible are left to fend for themselves. Does anyone really think that the executives responsible for these companies will actually be visible during this crisis, checking that ALL their staff are safe?  It’s called “leading from the front”. It’s saying “we all stand together”. Are people in the workplace throughout this Country actually all being treated equally?

What makes some people automatically use every situation to their own benefit, whilst others wouldn’t consider that path under any set of circumstances? Why do some people find it so easy to leave others to pick up the additional work load created by their absence? Of course those that don’t benefit from being paid when they are genuinely sick don’t have such options. Can you blame somebody for trying to hide that “small cough” they have if they are going to lose a weeks’ pay or more?

What world have we created when elements of society are prepared to selfishly ignore the need of the many to satisfy their own personal need, or greed! A society that allows the mindless exploitation of the vulnerable, or where teenagers burn food delivery vehicles, or thieve from local shops knowing being confronted is less likely to happen during this particular crisis. Being “in it together” only works if we live in an equal society, and it would appear that we have never been “less equal” than now. There will be those that will jump on this last statement and immediately try to politicise it. But can we really blame one political party of the way we have ended up? Have we all become to materialistic? How can you explain a society where some children are safer in school than they are at home? Or a society where children are wearing the latest trainers but are undernourished, due to a lack of proper food.

 It would seem that we live in a very unequal society, and whilst we have made some progress since the Generals in WW1 stood at the rear ordering the masses   “over the top men, for King and Country”, we still have so much to do.

“We are all in this together”. Whether the words are being uttered from our Politicians, Businesses, or even our favourite football team that are on the brink of relegation – the “response” will be as much around the way we have been previously treated, or indeed the way that we have been raised, as it will be about the particular crisis facing us all.

As Richard Branson probably sits in one of holiday homes somewhere asking the people of this Country to bail him out, many employees up and down the country will be receiving similar messages from employers. Many will look around and ask themselves the question “what have you done for us?”

A Portishead Apprentices Tale

We all departed from the Training School at Yelland in the summer of 1970. The year had closed with a formal dinner at the Sports & Social Club and an open day for parents to come to the Training School to see what we had all be doing in our first year away from home. It was also an opportunity for parents to visit the lodgings where their off-spring had been staying and could meet the various landladies – if they so wished. Those who would have read my first “Blog” about Yelland may remember that I mentioned the rumour that one of our group was supposedly “romantically involved with his landlady”. This memory made me think about how awkward the conversation could have been if the parents had actually met her. “So you are my sons landlady and for £3 10s a week he’s also shagging you”. I suppose you could say that’s pretty good value for money!

We had all taken our exams at the College and using the end of year reports Joe Kemp and Alan Fisher had sat us all down as individuals and “suggested” what route we might now like to take – Mechanical, Electrical or Instrument Apprenticeships. I was offered Instrument and took Electrical. Mainly because the Instrument course meant another year away in lodgings – at Penarth I think? My Parents turned up and I introduced them to Phyllis Becklake and her husband Stanley – and then we all departed for home.

The first disappointment I had was that unlike School we didn’t get six weeks off for the summer holiday! So after a couple of weeks leave I was off to Portishead and its two Power Stations, one coal and one that had been converted to oil.

In a list of my “best or worst anti-climaxes” this has to be at near top. You spend a full twelve months away from home – working in a very controlled environment, learning techniques that would hopefully last you for a life time. (I spent bloody hours making that tapered drift so it was parallel to 3/1000” all over. God know how many hours I spent with a file in my bloody hand). And when I got to Portishead – well!

Looking back now you have to take into context where we were at that time as an industrial nation and of course the power of the Trade Unions at that time. I became a fully paid up member of the E.E.P.T.U – who had the one and only Frank Chappell as its General Secretary. The Shop Steward for Union was a certain Ray Critchley – and he approached with the application form to join within about 10 minutes of me arriving at the Electrical Workshop on my first day. I duly signed up – after all it was a “closed shop”. If you mention “closed shop” nowadays people thing the local convenience store has been wound up! Apprentices were not allowed to do anything on their own – and we certainly were not allowed to carry our own tools. I recently published a book about my career at Bristol Water and in it I reflect on the working practices that existed throughout the whole of the 1970’s. There must have been around ten apprentices in total at Portishead and we did have a laugh – even if we were spread over the two Power Stations “A” & “B”. However, the life of “A” was coming to a close.

All the Power Stations (1960’s terminology) had their characters, that was obvious from the discussions we all had when we met up every three months in Barnstaple to attend the College. As apprentices we were often “set up” to be the brunt of some mischievous act of some sort. In the 21st Century they would call it “abuse”, we knew it as “banter” and part of our learning about “life in the workplace”. We had a Fitters Mate at Portishead who was rather “well endowed”. Mates used to hand out the tools to the Tradesman. They would set up an apprentice to do a job in a tight space so the apprentice had to be handed the tools with his back to the mate. He would wait for the apprentice to put his hand behind his back to be handed a tool and then flop his own “tool” in his hand! You wouldn’t get away with that now! I was once told that a “water otter” had got into the bottom of the intake and I should go and have a look. I climbed 80ft down the ladders to see a bloody kettle (“water hotter”) sat at the bottom. Trips to the stores for “0BA Flogging Spanners” and “Long Weights” were routine for any new apprentice.

One of the other things often found circulating around the workshops was pornography. Like many of my age group at that time our knowledge of the sex industry had been limited to “Tit-Bits” and “Men Only”. When one of the tradesman thrust a coloured magazine in my hands and said “get some of that”, I wasn’t sure which way up I should be looking at it! This was hard-core stuff – and not something I had ever seen before. People sometimes talked in code. I learned what taking a “2171” was – bizarre. The telephone number for the station was Portishead 2171 (again, what a useless piece of information to retain after fifty years). If you were sick you had to ring in – so going sick was called “taking a 2171”.

Industrial Britain was going to change but not that drastically or indeed quickly in my years as an apprentice. There being two Power Stations on the same site provided ample opportunities to go “missing for hours”. High up in the roof or low down in the basements, or take a walk out to the coal plant. We had two bicycles with large baskets on the front so we could cycle around the site. On a good day go out on the roof and watch the boys from Portishead Nautical School (a local approved school for miscreants) row up and down the docks between the Station and Albright & Wlson, the chemical plant on the other side. I say “nice day” but these poor souls would be doing this in vests and shorts in the middle of January. If it rained we put on our wet weather gear and got paid “wet money”. If we worked in the dust we got paid “dirt money”. The highest additional rate was for working in the electrostatic precipitators, and if my memory serves me correct that was an “extra” 7s 6d per hour. There were numerous advantage points for Tradesman to get “lost”. As an apprentice the tact was to find a tradesman that was actually “interested in the apprentices”, and not seeing them as a “hindrance to their day”, and then build a relationship with that tradesman so you actually benefitted from their guidance. The practice of moving the apprentices around so they got the benefit from the various skillsets all the tradesman only really worked if you ended up with someone who was intend to train you. I found some of the practises bizarre. How many men does it take to change a light bulb?  Or at Portishead – how many different trades can you involve in disconnecting one bloody fan? An electrician to disconnect it. A fitter to remove the coupling guard and the coupling bolts. A rigger to put the strops on. A crane diver to move the fan to a dilly and a dilly driver to drive the actual dilly. And when it was all back together a bloody painter to paint two numbers on the side of it!

We routinely went off to North Devon College, at the top of Sticklepath Hill, (Barnstaple)  and these  three month get together’s were often an opportunity for getting pissed in the evenings and occasionally causing havoc.  Celebrating Birthdays was a favourite – usually by giving the individual the “bumps” in the refectory (posh name for canteen) in the College and then throwing them up that high they went through the ceiling tiles! Our relationship with the Lectures had progressed to Christian name terms, whether they were comfortable with that or not. The drugs scene passed are way – getting joints was easy if you wanted them.

I was lucky to have lodgings with a great family in Fort Street – the house has since been demolished to make way for the widening of Alexandra Road. I had the same lodgings for the next three years. I’m not aware of anyone in our intake that did not complete the apprenticeship, but that isn’t to say there wasn’t anyone – I just can’t remember this far on.

I still find it odd how the smallest decision, sometime taken out of your control, can have a huge impact on your life. Such was Trade Union dominance back in the mid-seventies any tradesman position that became available had to be offered to an apprentice coming out of their time in the first instance. If there was more than one apprentice it had to be offered to the oldest first. We competed our final exams in May/June 1973, and shortly afterwards a vacancy occurred on shift at Portishead. My fellow apprentice Barry Helps (sadly now deceased) was a couple of weeks older than me was offered the post – and declined. I was offered and accepted. There were two Mr Lowe’s at Portishead – “High Low” and “Low Low” they were called. On offering me the post Low Low said “I don’t like appointing apprentices but the Union says I got to” – he sure new how to inspire confidence! Of course in many ways he was right. You serve a four year apprenticeship where the work you do is completely controlled. You are rarely, if ever, given the opportunity to work on your own – and then you get an appointment as the only bloody electrician on nights for two power stations!

I’m not sure what would have happened if Barry had accepted the post – perhaps I would have gone elsewhere. To another CEGB site maybe. Barry took a job at Yelland and married a girl from the area. I stuck it on shift for five months and then left – taking a post at Bristol Water.

The apprenticeship I had was probably one of the best that existed at that time. The first twelve months gave me a basic grounding in engineering and gave me skills that I would not have ever had otherwise. In a world where there appears little basis for the so called friendships that are created through the world of social media there was a camaraderie between all of us throughout that four year period. No, of course we weren’t all “best buddies”, that was never going to happen. Many of us came from different social backgrounds and had differing views on many things. But we were all aware that on “this journey” we would sometimes need the support of each other.

Whist we eventually benefitted from a telephone at home any real desire for keeping in touch when we all went our own way didn’t exist. It is now all these years later that we sometimes find ourselves thinking “I wonder what happened to xxxx?” It’s also now that I find myself with time to record some of the events over a lifetime at work – as much for maintaining my own sanity in retirement as anything else.

As I left Portishead Power Station for the last time on December 31st 1973 Britain was in turmoil. The Government was in dispute with the country’s mine workers, and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in particular. The country was on a three day week. In January 1974 the NUM turned down a 16.5% pay rise and Prime Minister Edward Heath called a General Election for the following month, February.

In the last few weeks I met up with Steve Savage, a fellow Portishead Apprentice of the same year group. We spent a great few hours reminiscing over those years and as he had stayed in the industry, he was able to update me on the whereabouts of a couple of our former colleagues., and also on a couple that had sadly passed away.   Many of you reading this blog would have lived through the same period as me, and probably remember some of the turmoil and the angst created in those turbulent years, as well as the great times. Perhaps it’s because we were the first Post War Generation and we understood  some of the hardship that our parent’s generation went through,  or maybe  just maybe – it’s simply because, in a world free of the technology that now exists where distractions were limited we only truly had the support of one another to get through it. But we did get through – didn’t we!.

Zion History Group – Tales of Bedminster Down and International Woman’s Day

With it being International Woman’s Day I thought it would be appropriate to pay tribute to the many woman who have had a pivotal role in the making of this great community of Bedminster Down.

At the end of the 19th Century the Community of Bedminster Down was still very much a mining area. It sat between the old Bristol Boundary at the bottom of what is now Bedminster Down Road and the Village of Bishopsworth, which was then in Somerset. As the years progressed and the building of a new housing estate came it was populated with many families that had moved from the poverty stricken areas of the City. This was still very much a male dominated society, something that wouldn’t change for a hundred years. It was the woman in the community that became the rock of all families, staying at home to raise the children, whilst the men worked, often long long hours or in subsequent years when they went  to serve their Country in two World Wars. When WWII ended many family’s were left short of a husband and father.

In 1927 when the first school opened in Cheddar Grove it had four staff. In charge was a Miss Salter, and Miss, Brown, Miss Orchard and Miss Pearce were her Assistant Teachers (as they were then called). The Infant school continued to have females at the helm with Miss Moon, Miss Latimer and Mrs Lovell dominating the years that followed.

Whilst Bedminster Down Boys’ Club had a male Leader, its success over the decades that followed can also be attributed to the huge volunteer support network it benefitted from – especially the Ladies Group. Initially ran by Mrs Hurditch (Eastlyn Road) it was driven for many years that followed by Stella Rogers (Brunel Road). The Ladies Group contributed thousands of pounds to the clubs fund raising over the years – including providing at last two new mini buses.

Our uniformed organisations always had women involved, and whilst that might be typical of the generation of its time, in this “new world” the work being undertaken by the likes of Charlotte at Blenheim Scouts, and the staff at St. Oswalds that are the forefront of providing what limited services that remain on this estate. “The Grove” as it was called at its inception was the dream of one local mother, determined to provide facilities for the young females of this estate.

I was lucky that I worked with some fantastic female colleagues over the years, both in Employment and in Youth Work. Yes, of course I saw discrimination at first hand, and its sad that in this 21st Century many industries are still so male dominated at a decision making level.

The Elected Local Councillors in South Bristol are both male, and it would seem that even Political Parties do not understand the concept of “balance”.

So, on this 2020 International Woman’s Day, I salute those woman from the Community of Bedminster Down who dedicated so much of their lives for the benefit of others. I see the work that goes on a daily basis, from those involved in the many support groups at Zion, to those who work with our young people, those who work with the vulnerable in our community and those who strive to bring about the change that is needed.

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“A Year at Yelland”

In September 1969, I packed my suitcase and made my way to Bristol Temple Meads Railway Station. This was to be the start of a four year Apprenticeship with the CEGB (Central Electricity Generationg Board), and the first of those years would be spent at their own Traing School on the grounds of East Yelland Power Station, midway between Barnstale and Bideford in North Devon. There were to be around forty eight of us from all over the South West. From up as far as Berkley across to Southampton and down as far as Cornwall, and all points in between. Many had never been away from home before for any significant period  – it was going to be an eye opener. Now, over fifty years many of us have retired – and we look back with a great deal of pleasure on that “Year at Yelland”

Looking back after so many years now it is difficult to recreate the obvious fears and level of apprehension that many of the intake had during those first days and weeks. For me I wasn’t that uncomfortable about being away from “home”, however, what was it going to be like living in lodgings with five others?

We had been met at Barnstaple Railways Station by a member of the Training School staff, who it was is now a distant memory. I travelled from Bristol, and a lad called David Lloyd (not the tennis player) from the same school was making the same journey. I didn’t know this beforehand which is a pretty good indicator of the lack of any contact we had during our schooldays! I can remember quite clearly from looking around the train that there was quite a few of us of a similar age, making the same journey, which was endorsed when we changed trains at Exeter St. David’s and a large group of 16-17years olds with suitcases all changed platforms to get the train to Barnstaple. Of course, in 1969 we would have all been guaranteed a seat – it would be rather different some fifty years on.

I was being l was going to be in lodgings in Fremington, three miles outside of Barnstaple. It might as well have been Mars to me as I had never heard of the place – and “Google Maps” hadn’t been invented then, we didn’t even have a home telephone.  Our landlady was to be a Mrs Becklake, and the early indications was she was going to be pretty “formidable, and certainly not backward in laying down the law with her new intake of lodgers. There was six of us – two to a bedroom. I was going to be sharing a bedroom with Graham Parry (Plymouth). Colin Miller (Fawley) and Derek Jenkins (Porishead) were in one of the other bedrooms, and then two older Engineering lads, Steve and Malcolm in the third. Mrs Becklakes long suffering husband was the diminutive Stanley, and to make the whole thing more interesting they had a sixteen year old daughter, and a younger son. Mrs Becklake (Phyllis) was the ultimate matriarch, which was probably exactly what was required.

It was comforting to know that all of us were pretty much in the same boat, and the first morning we were all in the same “bus” as the Yelland Bus picked us all up on its route from Barnstaple to the Training School on the grounds of  East Yelland Power Station.

If I thought that moving from school to a work environment was going to be a huge change then a certain Joe Kemp, Head of the Training School, was going to shatter that illusion. I had visited a few Borstals, or “Approved Schools” as some were called in previous years (educational visits I might add), and the disciplined environment of my new work base mirrored elements of those establishments. I have to admit that having 48 or so young adults in that one environment needed some controlling, and Joe Kemp, Alan Fisher and the team ensured that happened. It was “Mr Kemp” and “Mr Fisher”, there were no “first names”. If you forgot your locker key you were sent back to your lodgings to get them, and they would deduct your pay, although I am sure this was just a threat as I can’t remember it ever happening. Our starting pay was £6 4s 8d – funny what useless information you can store in your head isn’t it. We paid our land ladies £3 10s per week, which was paid separately into your weekly wage packet.

At the end of the first week I started to think “who is going to our washing”, after all “my mum always did it”. We weren’t going home at the end of every week, none of us had cars, well not any of the Craft Apprentices anyway. We had been told that arrangements would be made to take us home about every eight weeks or so, which meant one weekend between now and Christmas. The answer to my washing dilemma was through a local lady who had an arrangement with Mrs Becklake to do our washing, at a cost. Every item was charged individually, socks, pants (this was pre-boxer shorts), shirts, and trousers – our washing was returned with a slip of paper detailing the payment required.

The backgrounds and “worldly experience” of the group was as diverse as it could be. There was the loud gregarious, confident ones, the quiet ones, and the slightly devious ones. When it came to money there was those that would always run out by the end of the week, and those that “still hadn’t opened last week’s packet”. There was some that ran a good “money lending side-line”. There was those that drank and those that didn’t. there was some that had never been in a pub – which was no more obvious in the first week when a few of us went into the The Fox & Hounds in Fremington (is now just called “The Fox”?) and somebody asked for “ half of brown-split!”.

And so we began our “Year at Yelland”, for many of us it was our first year as a member of Great Britain’s industrious workforce. We bonded as much as any large group could. We had a football team – and good one that we kept going throughout the four years of our apprenticeship. The dire nights of a winter in Barnstaple were eased by visits to The Regal and The Classic, Barnstaple’s two cinemas. Watching “dirty films “ at these venues wasted some time. I slept through 2001: A Space Odyssey, and when ten or so of us went to see “Oliver – the Musical”, we were all thrown out for “sobbing” as Oliver sat on a coffin singing “Where is Love”. And “where was love”, well two of our intake must have found it as at the end of our first year they announce their girlfriends were pregnant, and there was also a story of one of group managing to get his leg over the landlady”.

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There is no doubt that our “year in Yelland” gave us knowledge and skills that would never leave us. Whether everyone was comfortable in that environment I couldn’t say – I was, I loved it. At the end of that first years we all gathered again every three months, to attend North Devon  College. On the odd occasion I drive through that area I pass the Wrey Arms Hotel, as it was called then, at the top of Sticklepath Hill, and I smile. Joe Kemp used to drink their – a pint and whiskey chasers, accompanied by a fag or two.

Yes, Yelland was a good year.