I went to see the Head Master of Queen Mary's Grammar School, Mr Darby and announced my intention of leaving in September 1972. I already had 4 A levels ( 3 A's and a B in case you were wondering) having taken them a year early. I wanted to go to the local technical college and study to get an electricians qualifications. (Family company and all you understand)
He said, "If you leave now you will never go to university in this country. I will write you a report that is so bad that you will never be admitted anywhere." I was amazed and hurt. However I buckled under the pressure, agreed to take the Imperial College scholarships and stayed on. So it wasn't until the next year when Mr Darby had got his capitation allowance for my attendance and I could leave that I went to work for the local manufacturing company called Crabtrees.Crabtrees made switches and electrical gear in some premises in Walsall.
I wanted a car. My father decided that I should have a Triumph Herald which he found in the paper. It was manufactured in 1955. So we towed the car home and he decided to respray the machine. I still don't understand how or why I was to have such a wreck. We could well have afforded a decent machine. Anyway we put this thing back on the road and I drove it around. The brakes were completely useless and it did less than 10 miles to the gallon. It rattled horribly.
I was driving to Crabtrees to start work and suddenly the road was no longer where it should be. It was 2 inches from my ear. The car was sliding on it's side. I crawled out and sat down dazed. The police arrived and I sat white as a sheet in their car. The ambulance arrived and the policeman commented, "Here is the meat wagon, they are going to be disappointed."
What had happened it transpired was that the stub axle on the front of the car had broken. The wheel had come off and the car had toppled. The local garage charged me £15.00 to tow it away. They offered me £5 for scrap. The police could see the brakes hadn't worked but in a rare moment of kindness agreed to forget it. I didn't own another car until I finished at university.
Crabtrees was a large sprawling manufacturing plant which occupied a large site in Walsall. I was hired through a bit of string pulling as a lab technician for the period until I went to university. The lab was wonderful. Everything a lab should be. Benches with test tubes, reagent bottles and test areas.
We had to test the properties of the bought in materials and ensure that quality was maintained. Every day the company had batches of strip brass delivered to be incorporated into it's switches and I had to test the hardness. This involved taking a piece of metal and using a special (and expensive machine) pressing a diamond into it using a definate pressure. You then measured the size of the indent and then calculated the hardness. Hardly difficult stuff.
We decided that as a project I should design a test rig to look at the stress fatigue properties of the strip brass. The design involved attaching a piece of iron to the base of the strip, then suspending the strip between two electromagnets. The magnets would be switched on and off in sequence and the strip would bend left and then right. We decided to run a few million ops and then look for stress effects. We had about a dozen strips cycling within the rig at any one time. We tested the rig for a few days to ensure all was well.
One day it was too hot in the lab so I stood on the bench to open a high level window. As I climbed down my trouser leg caught on the rig and knocked it over. As it fell I had a choice, I could either catch it and save several weeks work or I could let it fall. The first choice unfortunately involved catching live mains terminals and getting an electric shock. In true dedicated fashion I chose the shock, and saved the project.
We decided to leave the rig working overnight to get the cycle numbers up and the first night it burnt. We came in the next morning to find a smoldering wreck. That was the end of the stress cycle experiment.
I tested the screws to ensure that they met the relevant British Standard. When they didn't I tested some more until they did. These were not tests to rock the boat.
The works shut at 5.00pm. This meant if you wanted to be paid you had to clock out not earlier than 5.00pm. A long queue would form from around 4.40pm with people holding their cards ready to clock out at 5.00pm. They would then run to their cars before driving off in a long queue. By 5.05pm the place was deserted. At 5.10pm you could amble to your car and drive off easily. All very bizarre and it must have cost a fortune. The weeks drifted by easily and happily without stress. All too soon it was time to leave to go off to university.