The beginnings.

Many people can explain the moment that was the spark of energy which set them along a certain path. Perhaps there is some specific genealogical trait that forged a track that left no alternative route. There are those particularly in the more artistic circles who can point to their upbringing in the dressing rooms at theatres or wandered with parents around galleries.

I found out only recently, after my retirement that my paternal great grandfather had been an engine tester in the epicentre of what was the machine shop of the British Empire. Hunslet, a suburb of Leeds,produced engines and locomotives that would be exported worldwide to be the motive force for the industrialisation and communication lines in India, Africa and most of the developing world in the mid 19th century.

My maternal grandfather was a sewing machine mechanic in the late Victorian era when textile production employed many thousands of workers in Leeds. As many as ten thousand employees at Montague Burtons;just one of dozens of garment manufacturers, some huge, some small operating in the city. I did know my grandfather and knew he was a sewing machine mechanic but the thought of following his footsteps never occurred to me. I was only eight years old when he died. Perhaps as well as most of these factories started to disappear as cheaper methods of manufacture evolved in the far east.

In all honesty, I think I stumbled into the motor industry as I did into many of my ‘projects’ while I was day dreaming. My schooldays consisted of one foggy day after another. The fog was nothing to do with the weather. It is the best description I can offer of what was going on in my mind at any given time. I find so many things interesting and in many cases so fascinating that it is impossible to push them to one side while I concentrate on the so called matter in hand.

The result, I think, is that I have developed an ability to remember pieces of information that is irrelevant to most and can engender incredulity from friends and family who wonder where such information came from!

So I had a good education, many would consider it an excellent education but I did not make the most of it. School was a social occasion for me. I would look into space and transport myself to wherever the foggy path allowed me to go without falling into something unpleasant. My teachers often referred to me as lazy. I was shocked recently to read my report from my grammar school teachers. In my defence, I don’t think I was lazy. My brain was always well occupied just not with the subject matter the teachers were occupied with.

Consequently, I left school at sixteen years old with no qualifications at all. Eleven years of looking into space rewarded with the only piece of paper available to me; a list of marks alongside subject titles. No marks indicated were high enough to give me a certificate.

I am not blaming anyone for all this. And I rush to protest that it was not time wasted. Later, much of what had drifted into the fog did eventually materialise into something that was very useful indeed.

I am sure many of my teachers would have been happy to know that I remembered information and principles that they had left me with. I thank most of them very sincerely for their efforts, although there were some who almost succeeded in breaking my inner spirit.

No, when I left school I really had no idea what I was going to do for a career or even a job. Tomorrow would be very interesting indeed but I was not scared at all. I still had my dreams but they switched track much too quickly. Was I going into a bank, results pushed that to one side thankfully. Into printing another now failed but at the time very successful Leeds industry? They showed no interest in me at all. The motor industry then? A motor mechanic with a grammar school education? Might as well!