Wednesday 29 August 2012

Manland School, Harpenden 1959-1966

We had moved to Harpenden a few years before I started at Manland County Primary School in September 1959. In those days there was far less provision for the under-fives – no such thing as Mother and Toddler Groups in the 1950s – so starting school was a really big event. I don’t have many memories of my pre-school life which is a shame as I’m sure my Mother spent more time with me during those 5 years than in the rest of my life put together. The Second World War had only ended 14 years previously and it would still have been very fresh in the minds of all the adults in positions of authority.

The distribution of primary schools within Harpenden was most peculiar. Manland, ¾ of a mile away from my home, was easily the closest school and luckily was regarded as the best in the town. There was another school in Batford (mainly catering for the large council house estate there), St Dominics (Catholic) quite close to the town centre and Roundwood on the opposite side of town to Dalkeith Road. So it was Manland or nowhere, especially as in those days my Mother couldn’t drive a car. The school on Crabtree Lane, 50 yards from home, wasn’t built until many years later.

I started school just before my 5th birthday and I can still recall odd bits of my first day. My class teacher was Mrs Avis-Jones and I sat next to a girl called Helen who was wearing a brown cardigan with flecks of other colours in it. I can remember being terribly surprised that there were children in the class who couldn’t read. I thought it was some kind of strange joke when I was the only child in the room who could read all the words written on pieces of coloured card mounted on the walls.

We sat at desks arranged in rows and teaching was rather formal. Of course it needed to be because Classroom Assistants were a long, long way in the future and Mrs Avis-Jones was expected to cope on her own all day and every day. 

Thursday 23 August 2012

Early days in Ashby (Leicestershire) - Part 6

I wasn’t sorry to leave United Biscuits. I had been there just over 3 years and in all that time I don’t remember learning a single new scientific skill. I did take away with me an absolute determination that when I became more senior I would never use the “management by favouritism” technique as practiced by my first boss. I don't even recall having a leaving event although I suppose I did?

I left to take up a lecturing position down in Somerset. It was our next door neighbour who mentioned that you didn’t need to have a teaching qualification to teach in Further Education and I can remember calling in at the tiny public library in the town to look through the Times Educational Supplement.

I saw a job advertised teaching food technology, I applied for the post and in due course I was called for an interview. Somebody clearly wanted me to get the job because when I arrived at the college I was greeted with relief because all the other candidates – I think there were 3 – had dropped out. So it was a matter of appointing me or re-advertising. To call the recruitment process casual would be a fair comment. A tour and a short chat was rapidly followed by “when can you start?”.

They actually offered me the job on the wrong money because once I had started they redid the sums and I ended up 50% better off than when I had been at United Biscuits. They even offered me a college owned house to rent while we house hunted. My holiday entitlement was 14 weeks which compared rather well with the 22 days at United Biscuits.

Saturday 18 August 2012

Early days in Ashby (Leicestershire) - Part 5

Towards the end of my three years with United Biscuits there was a proposal to move many of the staff from Ashby to Maidenhead. This would have involved moving from an area of relatively cheap housing to an area of very expensive housing so unsurprisingly many staff were less than thrilled at the prospect. Adding to the problems that this proposal would have created was the fact that many of the staff had partners who were also working in the Ashby area and a fair percentage also had children in the local schools. The financial and social implications of the proposal were enormous and in many cases any such move would have been quite impossible.

The explanation for this crazy suggestion was almost unbelievable. It seems that the newly appointed head of the Technical and Research Department lived – yes you have guessed it – near Maidenhead. It seems that because he didn’t want to up-route his family dozens of other families were going to be expected to face exactly what their new boss wasn’t prepared to do himself. Talk about selfish!

Predictably all sorts of other reasons were given for the move. The advantage and convenience for staff being located nearer to Heathrow Airport being one of more fatuous. Unfortunately I left before the issue was resolved so I don’t know if the wholesale movement of technical staff ever happened.

About a week before I left I was called into a meeting with my boss’s boss. He droned on for ages about some project that would have involved being based away from Ashby for months at a time. I sat there wondering why he was telling me all the details about the sacrifice that the chosen victim would be expected to make for the sake of the firm. Then he announced that following “numerous meetings” and “extensive consultation with my line manager” I was going to be expected to take on the role. His face when I told him that I was leaving the firm at the end of the following week was priceless.

Clearly the meetings with my line manager had never happened but why such a senior person chose to lie to me remains an unanswered mystery.

Sunday 12 August 2012

My review of the Olympic Games

Before they started I was rather pessimistic about the Olympic Games. I had visions of an endless stream of bureaucratic and security oversights plus “plucky Brits” coming in 8th (out of 8) in a wide range of events. Well I couldn’t have more wrong could I?

My two days as a spectator couldn’t have gone more smoothly. The train, the tube and the Docklands Light Railway, both there and back, scored a perfect 10/10. The volunteer helpers were excellent and the security checks at the venue were efficient, but also quick and friendly.

We watched judo, boxing and weight lifting and saw some Team GB success in all three. Everything ran like clockwork with events starting on time and what was happening being well explained by enthusiastic and knowledgeable commentators
The only thing that disappointed me was the Queen at the Opening Ceremony. She looked both bored and ill and was busy picking her nails when Team GB came into the stadium. We were not amused.

It was only 16 years ago when Team GB won just one gold medal throughout the entire Atlanta games. We were 36th in the medal table and it was so depressing watching some of our Olympians, particularly in some of the more fringe events, performing like novices.

I remember that Manchester had created quite a strong bid to host the games and in the first round of voting they were far from disgraced by getting 11 votes. Belgrade, who were never going to win, came last in the first round and I think it was assumed that their 7 votes would go to either Athens or Manchester. Curiously it now seems as if Melbourne were the main beneficiaries of the Belgrade votes, and with most of the Manchester support also being transferred to Melbourne, Manchester were doomed.

Things have certainly moved on since then. We are a world power and punch massively above our weight.

Go GB!!

Monday 6 August 2012

Early days in Ashby (Leicestershire) - Part 4

I think a social scientist would have had an interesting time analysing the interpersonal relationships that existed within Convenience Foods. The strangest employee of all was Linda R. She was either friendly and co-operative, usually towards other women, or she was rude and aggressive, usually towards men. It turns out that her father had been drowned not long before I first met her and I have always wondered if that was something to do with her behaviour.  Every week one member of the department was allowed to go to the other United Biscuits factory in the town to buy damaged biscuits at a heavily discounted price.  When it was Linda R’s turn to do this task she was almost invariably “forgot” to buy anything for other people although the rest of us always seemed to be delegated to buy things for her when our names came up on the rota.

I never worked out exactly what role Linda R was supposed to carry out in the department. She didn’t seem to have any obvious duties or responsibilities on either the creative side or on the technical side of the work that was carried out. She had an accomplice, July S, who was a pleasure to work with when Linda R was away but who was almost as difficult as her mentor when the two of them were together.

At this early stage of my career it was most unpleasant to have to work in the same department as the two of them and I wasn’t even a tiny bit sad when circumstances separated us. Needless to say I would have loved to have been Linda R’s line-manager when I was a bit more experienced in dealing with people!