I’d been there a couple of weeks, two weeks into my working life, 17 years of age embarking on a career of surveying/estimating for an electrical contractor who specialised in installations in the entertainment industry, nightclubs and cinemas our speciality, I’d only been there one day when I found out that the company I had joined were under police investigation as the contractor who had done the installation in the Summerland Centre on the Isle of Man, you know, the one that had burned down the previous summer with a loss of 50 lives – fortunately it turned out not to be the electrics, but for a while I did start to wonder how long my new career would last.
So after two weeks of adding up long columns of numbers with the aid of an electro-mechanical “calculating machine” that was the size of a shoebox and required some immense pressure on the numbered buttons to key in the sums, it was decided that I should be seconded to the stores in order to learn what all the thousands of bits were that comprised an industrial electrical installation, stuff like conduit parts, what “pyro” was, glands of all sizes, steel boxes, clips by the million, cables ranging from 1 to 100mm in diameter and lots of other good stuff that I hadn’t a clue about.
I was mentored by John Pickard the company buyer, a man who knew what every one of those thousands of parts were used for, and what each individual part number was – thats one thing about the electrical trade at that time, all of the manufacturers had obviously got together and compiled a huge catalogue of their parts and accessories while at the same time standardising on the metric system (the first trade in the country to do so) and on their part numbers – and John Pickard knew them all, and in my worst nightmares I still awake in the middle of the night shouting out things like “2535, single switched socket outlet, top bin next to 5010 cooker unit…” yes, I too learned all of the codes, I too learned what John Pickards system was, I worked alongside him for twelve months until I had learned all of the myriad of parts, what they were and where they went in his stores.
Not that the stores were in any sort of order o the first day, oh no.
The stores were in a separate building in the basement of the office block, 30 yards long and ten wide JP opened the door on that first day and stuff fell out – it was crammed absolutely full of stock, full to bursting, and nothing on the shelves but everything piled up on the floor in the wrong boxes, randomly chucked on the floor by electricians who came in every morning and just sifted through this huge pile of stock until they found what they needed but all the time mixing up the stock more and more.
“This” JP said, waving an arm expansively in front of him, “needs someone to sort it all out and put it neatly back on the shelves again” and I nodded in my agreement, it certainly did, this whole stockroom looked like a bomb had gone off, there must be tens of thousands of pounds worth of equipment in here and yet it looked like a rubbish tip.
“It certainly does” I agreed.
And we stood at the doorway for a while pondering on that statement, me still not comprehending that the “someone” was actually me.
“Anyway” he said, handing me the key to the stores, “have fun, and I’ll be upstairs waiting for my cup of tea at dinnertime” and then he was gone.
It gradually sank in that it was to be my grand task to lick this stockroom into some sort of shape, then I noticed a filthy old kettle in the corner along with a filthy old tin with some coffee in it and a filthy old cup, I made myself a coffee and sat on a big pile of cable reading a three week old newspaper for a while.
Soon it was lunchtime and so I went back upstairs to make JP’s tea for him, “Hows the sorting out going on?” he asked.
“Oh cracking” I lied, “getting on with it really well”.
The only thing I’d moved all morning was one coil of cable that was sticking in my arse while I read the old newspaper, “Anyway John I can’t sit around here all day talking to you, I’ve got work to do”, I was a silver tongue’d devil even in those days, I knew how to impress your employer even when you’d sat on your arse all morning reading the paper.
I was in that stockroom for three weeks and fell into a routine of fifteen minutes worth of sorting stuff into boxes, then a half hour sit down to get my breath back, I found some electricians secret stash of porn mags one day in one of the boxes, obviously been brought back from a building site somewhere and forgotten about, its surprising what young naked ladies will get up to with farmyard animals I tell you, it certainly broadened my mind and all served to add to the apprenticeship.
Each lunchtime I’d make sure my overalls were suitably dusty and then go back upstairs to sit in the office for lunch, then leave them early stating that I was very busy downstairs and must get on with my work and they took to pleading with me to sit down for a bit longer, “You must take your proper lunch break” they’d explain, “No. no” I’d insist, “I must get on with this job, its very important you know” and I’d go back downstairs, lock the door behind me and read about what Lucy did to Porky the Pig when the lights went out.
I was getting paid for this, couldn’t believe it, I found a brand new washing machine underneath a pile of boxes one day and told JP about it at lunchtime, “I wondered where that had gone” he muttered to himself, there was thousands of pounds worth of stuff in there and no-one had a clue what they were sitting on – every time we won a new contract JP would order every part, last nut and bolt, from one of the wholesalers, it would be delivered to the building sites then when the contract was finished whatever was left over would be brought back to the stores and just dumped in the doorway – then when the next contract started rather than see what was already in the stores they’d just order everything from the wholesalers again.
And because one of our major clients was the Star Cinema Group we did the electrical installations to all of their Hofbrauhaus, Scamps Disco and Cinema outlets, there were hundreds of spotlights in the stores, even some very expensive lighting projection equipment, the sort of thing that would fill a darkened night club with funky lighting effects in the 1970s and you won’t be surprised to learn that some of that stuff found its way under my coat and on the bus back to my house some nights – I had the funkiest bedroom in Leeds and even our dad started to cadge stolen lightbulbs off me for the living room when the normal ones blew – we ended up with a very funky living room with our dad reading the Evening Post underneath a purple light while the lamp on top of the TV set cast an ice blue glow over that end of the Living Room and my mother cooked our tea under a stroboscope in the kitchen.
Some time later I attended a party at some friends who were at Leeds Uni and shared a student house in Headingley – I happened to have purloined a 2kw spotlight shortly before and had it in the back of the van when one of them asked if I had any “special effect” light bulbs – we hung this huge spotlight (it was almost 12 ” in diameter) on a flex down the stairwell which blinded everyone as they walked in the front door – sometime around midnight someone mentioned that the stair carpet was on fire, leaving a 2kw spotlight in close proximity to it hadn’t been a good idea and the house was evacuated while some neighbours fetched a hosepipe and I hurriedly packed away the too-hot -to touch spotlight back into the van – they lost their house deposit that year.