By the time it got to July 1974 I’d had enough, of Leeds Modern School that is.
I’d done my statutory five years and completed my GCE O levels to a standard that by my standards was just very ordinary and to the school was just shockingly poor, but I’d done enough and that was that.
So clueless was I at the age of 16, wandering through the day with all the wide eyed innocence of a new foal that I had no idea of what I wanted to do in life and not the slightest inclination to leave the school that I had actually enjoyed being a part of, not for any educational benefit but just for the laughs, our age group were the Monty Python Generation, we played at life for laughs and I was enjoying every minute of it.
So in the summer of 1973 when 90% of the class left school at 16 years of age to go get a job in the adult world I stayed on, hanging around the school gate kicking at stones in the dust until it was time to enroll for the sixth form and FURTHER EDUCATION.
Let me say here, the FURTHER EDUCATION in 1973 was not compulsory for every kid like it is these days, indeed it was not encouraged, for to go into the sixth form to study your FURTHER EDUCATION you had to be interviewed by the head of the sixth form, a slavering, permanently liquid-mouthed man called Juicy Adams (how appropriate our nicknames for the Masters were) who would then decide if you were suitable material for his sixth form and whether you would benefit from his sixth form, and if you spoke nicely enough and your father had been to the same university as him then that would help too.
I qualified on none of those counts and yet somehow in September of 1973 I found myself sitting in Juicy Adams’ sixth form common room staring at a timetable that proved that I had signed up for Art and Geography A levels and a retake of my Maths O level, I had to attend classes for a whole two days every week – perfect for my master plan of drifting through life for another two years then.
A mere nine months later and we are in July of 1974 and I’ve had enough of the FURTHER EDUCATION, the best bit about the Geography A level had been the week long field trip to Falmouth – that had been fun – and the best bit about the Art A level was there was no best bit, it was a dreadful course taken by an old woman who had personally known Van Eyck and all the Flemish painters, she was besotted with Flemish painters and included copious amounts of Flemish art history in her tutoring, she was an old bag and could teach me nothing and only succeeded in making the subject that I loved seem like a terrible academic choice to have made – I was ready to leave.
“I’m leaving school” I told my father one evening towards the end of June.
He said nothing, hidden behind his copy of the Yorkshire Evening Post, I heard a rustling of newspaper and then flying across the room came that evenings four page pull-out section of job vacancies.
“Well pick something out of that then” was his instruction “and don’t think you’re going to sit around on your arse in this house without a proper job”, wise words, my father could always be relied upon to give sage advice when needed.
I picked three jobs out of the newspaper, phoned them from a call box the next morning, got three interviews arranged, went to the first one and was offered the job there and then, my first and only job interview these past forty years, yes kids, it really was that easy back in 1974.
My first real job started the very next Monday and for the stipend of £960 per annum, yes children, pocket money for you but an annual salary for me, £80 a month and then they took tax off that too, but right from the start the job was fun, building sites always are fun, or at least they were before all of the health and safety bollax that goes with having to visit building sites these days.
My job was an office job, provisionally called a “trainee estimator” the training consisted of sitting opposite Frank Leadbetter, the most nervous man in the world, officially, and working the “modern” calculating machine to total up all of his measurements from building plans – we actually called them “calculating machines” in those days of yore because they were still mechanical affairs like the old fashioned typewriters, you hit the press-down keys very hard on the calculating machine to make the levers inside do their magic, then pulled a lever at the side to enter the number into its mechanical machinations and eventually, and with very sore fingers, you’d pull the lever one more time and it would whirr a bit and then print a number onto a paper roll which you always assumed was the sum total, not being bothered to go back and check everything manually and all.
But the part of the job I enjoyed more than anything was the site visits where the definition of the word “banter” was invented, if you were the worlds most nervous man like Frank Leadbetter was then you’d hate walking onto a building site in the 1970s because everyone, and I mean EVERYONE was ready to take the piss or pull a stunt on you – I can’t recall how many ladders I’ve climbed up only to find one of the wooden treads to be broken and everyone knew about it so was watching, or walked along free-standing scaffolding four storeys high that swayed from side to side with every step (and with no guard rails or kick boards or other modern nonsense) only to tread on a board that was split neatly across the middle with everyone waiting and watching to see you curse them all – such larks Pip.
I can’t actually watch that video all the way through, it reminds me of just how shit the charts were that summer but its also the summer when my parents went on their first holiday to Spain with Dan Dare Airlines, Danair, an airline created specifically to use up all of the old stock of first issue jet aircraft and as long as the flights were less then two hours in duration you’d probably be ok and nothing would fall off and you’d probably not have to use the emergency exits at any time during your journey with them, probably – it said that on the ticket under “Destination”, on my fathers tickets it said “Costa Del Sol, probably”.
My mother came back from that holiday enthused for Spain and how the hotels were, new, not quite ready for business it has to be said, but new, and the breakfast that you got was on a buffet basis and we didn’t even know what buffet meant, we though it was a stool you rested your feet on when you were watching TV, “They serve breakfast on a buffet?” Ned and I asked each other curiously.
Cold meats for breakfast the Spanish have, informed our mother, and runny poached eggs on the side, one look at our fathers face confirmed that he didn’t bother much with the food in Spain but they returned every year after that and eventually our dad went to live out there, so Viva Espana indeed, I still can’t bring myself to watch the video though.