Colin's Cornucopia

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Work and College

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Chapter 4

Work and College

Colin started work when he was thirteen years old. His father’s factory had languished until there were only two very old employees left, both already beyond retiring age. Father, grandfather, the two employees and later Peter and Colin formed the total workforce. The Old man worked only about 30 hours a week. Peter and Colin were still at school and worked Saturday morning and school holidays to earn good pocket money.

Colin’s first experience was in the Easter holidays when he worked for two weeks and earned himself enough to buy himself a sports jacket. His parents could not afford this in addition to the mandatory school uniform. He did not mind. On the contrary, he was proud of his ability to pay his way. The only difficult thing was that the work required him to stand all day. For the first three days his legs ached, but he soon got over that.

After that he worked every school holiday. He took time off when he wanted to do the things that teenage boys do in school holidays. But when they got bored to tears he went to work. On the day he left school there did not seem much point in not going to work.

In September he signed on for day release at the local Technical College. Although he had been keen to leave school he had an avid appetite for knowledge. He knew that to realize his potential he would need to exercise his brain and his faculties. He signed on for three night school courses as well. By this time the two employees had retired, Peter had left to join the Navy and the Old man worked only a few hours a day. Father and Colin ran the workshop so giving day release was a considerable input from father.

Father was a highly skilled and very well respected artisan. He had had a reasonable education and always actively pursued edification in matters of technology, physics and astronomy and much of this had rubbed off on the boys. But he was hopeless as a teacher. He showed Colin much but would let him do nothing. Colin undertook his own course in self- development in the lunch hour. Father took his lunch from 12.30 to 2.15 so Colin had plenty of time to practice the things father would not let him do.

His natural ability, lunchtime learning, and college education soon put him streets ahead of his father. He never dared reveal how much as his father could not accept any challenge to his long time leadership of this now tiny company.

Soon after his seventeenth birthday he bought himself a motor-cycle. It was quite literally a wreck. It had no saddle and the only electrical equipment was a headlight. There was no wiring. But the machine ran. A friend had used it for riding around a local farm for some time and it was pretty filthy. The one good thing about it was the price. Six pounds and ten shillings changed hands and Colin and his friend pushed it the five miles back home.

Colin took the machine into a corner of the factory and stripped down every single piece except the front forks. He never did figure out how they went together but they appeared to work well so he left them alone. Every part was sand blasted and re-sprayed with an amateur spray gun operated by a vacuum cleaner. Paul’s father taught him to spray and rub down and polish. It soon looked well. His father helped him re-bore the engine and re-grind the crankshaft.

The wiring was the major task. He bought a book and studied it for hours. The most expensive part was the regulator that cost nearly as much as the bike had. Slowly he assembled existing and new parts and then started wiring. Each addition was carefully tested to ensure it worked correctly.

One lunchtime he started the bike for no better reason than to admire his handiwork. He flipped the throttle a couple of times and suddenly the engine roared to full speed. The throttle had jammed open. He held his hand over the air intake to try to starve it but to no avail. The engine would soon destroy itself. Panic. He grabbed the plug lead. Wow! He leaped off the bike and danced around involuntarily on the end of a twelve thousand volt generator pumping huge gobs of gut-jolting current through his body. Fortunately the engine, starved of sparks, came to a halt after a few seconds. That was a lesson Colin never forgot.

He learned more about engineering from his experiences than any college course could ever teach. But he was never fool enough to believe in a dichotomy of theory and practice. It was many years before he was able to formulate his morals into a coherent system but basically he understood that thought without action was idle speculation and action without thought was a tragic waste of energy. More practically, that theory and practice were simply separate sides of the same coin.

When the bike was finished, its first outing was to be at Easter. Colin and an old school friend got on their bikes and headed west. They had gone only twenty miles or so when they decided to hot the pace up a bit. Colin wound on some throttle for the first time and suddenly a bloody great hand reached down from the sky and yanked him backwards. His friend following behind had had a couple of years experience and realized what was happening before Colin did. He stamped on the anchors and followed Colin across the road and into the gate of a field. Fortunately the traffic in those days was much less than now.

The seized piston had freed itself before they came to a halt and the only serious damage was to the primary chain that had shed its rollers. A garage was found and repairs effected and the journey completed. This was the first of many such journeys. This friend and Colin still meet every Easter, 33 years on, to do silly things.

The Old man had a stroke while digging a sewer in the middle of a hot July day. Father bought him and his wife a flat in exchange for his bungalow and the family prepared to move in. Grandfather had bought it about ten years before and started ripping it to pieces. He attempted to rebuild the whole place but finished very little. Thirty years before he had built by hand a factory which was to serve the family for over sixty years but now he was too old. Father attempted to continue the rebuilding program and achieved a little.

Eventually Colin bought the house and between the three they spent 44 years rebuilding it. By then it was a very livable property but what a price to pay.

Back in 1960 Colin simply helped where he could. He had learned a lot about electric wiring and set about rewiring the bungalow. This was about the only area where his father was prepared to step aside and the two could avoid clashes. He read books, manufacturers leaflets, adverts and any source of information was read and stored for reference. He wired rather than re-wired as the existing electric wiring was almost non-existent. In the event his efforts lasted 20 years until he again re-wired it as an experienced adult. There were relatively few faults considering it had been installed by a green 18 year old.

One day in 1959 a letter arrived at the factory. The office had long since fallen into disuse and all paperwork was kept on a bent nail hanging in one corner of the workshop. This letter had been glanced at and put aside. Colin took care to read all the mail every lunchtime to keep himself abreast of the business. This letter concerned him. It was a recommendation from the Principal of the Technical College that Colin should be entered into a full time course. This was a rare event in those days and was quite an achievement. Father knew little of this and cared less. Eventually Colin had to bite the bullet and confront him. The end result was that Colin joined a Sandwich Course that was equivalent to an engineering degree course in all but name.

This was quite a blow for father who had to carry the load by himself for six months of the year. But he understood what Colin also knew. There is no such thing as sacrifice in a rational life. There is just a price to be paid. You make your choice and pay the price. Colin made the choice and his father picked up the tab - but the debt was to be well repaid later.

College opened up a complete new life for Colin. The social life was not up to much. He still lived at home as did many of the students. But the exposure to academia sharpened him. And he learned much. He worked hard for three years and finished with good grades and soon after was elected a Chartered Engineer. He was quite pleased.

Another unfortunate accident seriously embarrassed him and seemed to harden his attitudes. One lunchtime a group of them ate in the cafeteria as usual but were just a little late arriving. The cafe was full and Colin was the last to be served. There was only one seat in the whole place. It was right next to the best looking girl in the whole College. Colin might have walked out and taken his meal back to a lounge but some of his friends were seated at the same table and so he took the vacant seat.

The first problem was that this lovely girl was a student of the Arts Faculty and he of the Engineering School. These two sets of students never spoke to each other under any circumstances. He had long admired her height and beauty and long dark hair.

He ate is meal comforted by the presence of his friends even though they were not near enough to hold a conversation. Then the unbelievable happened. Within two or three minutes the room emptied. Around two hundred people just melted away until just he and the beautiful dark haired art student were left sitting next to each other in deathly silence. They were both so embarrassed they could not even get up to move away. He flashed a sideways glance at her hoping to at least break the ice. She stared stonily ahead. They sat and ate for a very long five minutes. Not a word was said. Not a glance shared. Eventually she got up and left and Colin was left wondering if he had two heads or something.

The experience did not improve his ego one bit.

It was around this time that his friends first chided him for incessant swearing. Not particularly foul but a constant stream of minor expletives. One day in the cafeteria they challenged him not to swear to five minutes. He accepted the challenge but lost within a few seconds. He tripped up a step on leaving the cafe. Oh Shit!

He had grown apart from the father whom he loved dearly. One Saturday lunchtime he had a drink with dad in an hospitable local pub and he asked whether the education had been worthwhile, he knew perfectly well it had but was fishing for a thanks. Colin gave it to him. But the best compliment he was able to pay his father was to ask him to take him to the station on the day he emigrated to Canada.

He had wanted to emigrate to America since the day in 1944 he had nearly been run over. The four year old had been sent to the Post office to post a letter for his mum. This involved crossing one of the city’s main roads. But in those days cars came past once a fortnight and buses could be seen for miles. He went to the post box and then like any four-year-old decided to run home. He sprinted up the road and straight across the pedestrian crossing on the main road.

There was a screech and a whine and a terrible grinding noise. The boy stopped dead in his tracks and looked up. There in front of him was a massive monster. He ran to the side of the road and turned to look. Steel heads appeared out of the top of the half track and shouted and cursed with strange accents. Then they started throwing things at him. He cowered on the ground as the missiles bombarded him from every side.

There was a terrifying grinding of gears and a whine as the caterpillar track accelerated. More shouts and more missiles bombarded him as the American monster took off down the road. The boy looked at the ground and saw the missiles that had been thrown at him. He reached down and picked one up. Then he picked up the other nine sticks of Wrigleys chewing gum. In the Britain of 1944 that was like manna from heaven to a four year old boy. These young soldiers on the way to the beaches of “D Day” and a war in Europe had taken the time to chastise and comfort a young boy on the roadside. He never forgot.

When he finished his apprenticeship with his father’s company he went to work for the local factory of a national manufacturer, Bristol Siddeley Engines Ltd. They had been formed by Bristol and several other meaero engine manufacturers and wer led by a former Rolls Royce director. They made the engines for Concorde and had an excellent product line in the Olympus and Pegasus ject engines. The deparment he worked in was set on teh edge of a wartime airfield at Ansty. There they produced jet engines for industial and marine purposes and had a small section manufacturing roscket engines. The main product was the Stentor of which around 1000 were made and it was very successful. Its purpose was to power the Blue Steel Nuclear Missile. This was designed to be taken as far across Europe as possible by a Valiant V Bomber and release to be fired by rocket onto Moscow. They did strange things in those times.

The department he worked in there dealt mainly with instrrumentation and electronics and he learned well.

Later he moved to a nearby Whitley plant of Hawker Siddeley Dynamics to work in Europe's largest Wind Tunnel. The factory had been built by Armstrong Whitworth as one of their first projects after their amalgamation and it designed and produced the Whitley Bomber which was the mainstay of RAF Bomber Command until replaced by the Lancaster and Wellington from around 1942. The wind tunnel blower had been brought from a mine and blew up just before Colin Started so he never actually swa it running.

At this plant they built the Sea Slug and Sea Cat missiles and also overhauled the Nike Ajax which was an American battlefield missile with a small nuclear warhead.

In between this he had worked for two months for a manufacturer of very high pressure air systems but it involved a long commute which was not at all to his liking.

But the urge to see the world was growing and his desire to see America.He had an opportunity to emigrate to Canada which was near enough for starters so he took it.

He joined a company there and rapidly became a senior member of the engineering staff. He stayed there for seven years before returning to run the family business with his brother. But that story must wait its turn.

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