Life Changing Moment

Isn’t it strange how very small events and random situations can change your life – permanently

I was 19 and working as an apprentice following a HND course in electronics engineering.  This was in a Marconi Research Unit in Chelmsford in 1966.  I had very little career advice from school or anywhere.  It was assumed that engineering was the future for me as Maths Pure, Maths Applied and Physics were my A levels.

And that is what I thought – I would become an engineering scientist.

So there was I with my oscilloscopes admittedly rather bored as I worked on goodness knows what projects.  I looked at research scientists that had been there for years and began to wonder about this as a career.

AND then it happened…

A top scientist guru (I still remember his name – Malcolm) came in to work full of the joys of spring.  He had been working for about eight years on a new transmission aerial.  His design had been accepted and the company were going ahead with production beyond his prototype.  His moment.  He was full of it.

Now let me tell you more about Malcolm.  We had heard a lot about his aerial.  Sitting down for lunch we would all talk about football, holidays, what was on the box, women.   None of that for Malcolm – apart from his aerial I really knew nothing about him.

What next?  Four of us apprentices were invited to go and see his work of art!  I wasn’t sure where this was but I should have taken note as Malcolm put on wellington boots, a hat and gloves.  Being 19 I had very little to shield me from the elements.  We were driven through the Essex countryside on a freezing cold winter morning and arrived at a field with a hanging fog.

What became immediately plain to us lads was that we were to go over the field and climb a mast that disappeared into the fog.  These days Health and Safety would just not allow what happened next.  With freezing cold holds gripping on to freezing cold metal we were to climb this mast.

We were all looking at each other in disbelief.

Did Malcolm notice?

Not at all.

Malcolm just kept on talking – ABOUT his aerial and what made it so good.

Anyway we all got up to the platform and there it was – his transmission aerial – about the size of a dining room table.  Lots of fiddly bits and so on.

The tuition from Malcolm carried on “the frequency response of this ….blah blah blah ….attenuation ….. blah blah blah …. and the amplitude  ……  blah”

The words were drifting over me – in one ear out of the other.  I can totally recall that I stood there thinking about his wife.  What did he go home from work and talk about.  What did he talk about to anyone.

Something much more important had happened to me.  At that moment I realised that I would never be a top engineering scientist because I could not put that much passion and devotion into a LOAD OF METAL

That was it.

I put in my notice.

Now that sounds neat – but of course what was I going to do.  There was no plan B.

My Dad

My dad was a very blunt Yorkshire man and life had not been good for him.  He didn’t come out of the war well and was not a well man.

He had one or two opinions about me leaving a course during the first year.

I got the “we tried to give you the best we could’ talking to.

Along with – “what are you going to do now?”

My initial reaction was that I thought that teaching would fit me better but there was some time to wait before I could get on a course.

My Dad “What are you going to do till you start your teaching course?”

Me “I will randomly select a job in the local paper and go for it”

Dad “What?”  (a very exasperated huffy what

And that is what I did.

Kelvedon Spastics Society Education Centre

I opened the jobs page, shut my eyes, wiggled my finger around and it landed on ‘Spastics Society House Father’  (Now called Scope).

It was a further education place for severely disabled students who were exceptionally intelligent.   For example one of them was a political history expert who wrote for various papers.   He typed with a stick held to his head.

At 20 years what an experience it was – the students were quickly my friends.  It was hard work and I lived in so I never really felt off duty.  I wasn’t trained though.

What a difference it all was from the oscilloscopes at Marconi’s

My future was beckoning.  I realised that I needed to train in nursing.

Thank you Malcolm for that day up the mast.

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