It was ineveitable that a day would come when I arrived at the bus stop to see the bus disappearing into the distance. There was nothing for it but to continue my journey by bicycle. What I learned was that cycling the 12 miles to Hereford and back again at the end of the day was not as difficult as I had imagined. So once the days lengthened through spring and summer I abandoned the bus and cycled to work daily.
With the first aniversary of my appointment approaching, I was surprised by a transfer back to the Development Department. The day arrived for the annual performance review. I was worried because I knew I had not lived up to expectations at work although I had done well in my college studies. I knew Mum had been invited for the afternoon interview. I spent the hour from lunch until the appointed time shaking with anticipation. No call came. The set time for the meeting passed. What had happened? Had Mum missed the bus?
Eventually I was called. Entering the General Manager’s Office I was confronted by him and the Production Manager, the man with overall responsibility for the apprentices. No sign of Mum. Nor had I seen her departing as I arrived. What was going on?
I soon found the answer: she had preceded me into the meeting and had pleaded with them not to dismiss me. In addition, perhaps as part of her plea, she had evidently given them the impression that I was not pulling my weight at home. I was now subjected to a severe ticking off for my failings. Not just at work, but at home. It was time I grew up and shouldered my responsibilities as the man of the house. I was going to be given a second chance but only out of sympathy for my mother’s position as a widow.
Rightly or wrongly I felt betrayed. Not only was I not the ‘man of the house’ but, in my eyes, I was more than ‘pulling my weight’, with summer evenings and weekends spent assisting with gardening and DIY home improvement projects. I sat there and took it, neither willing nor able to present the truth of our situation at home. My nose began to run. I probed my pockets for a handkerchief, found none. I have never been so miserable in my life, consumed by self pity.
At home very little was said.
My stay in the ‘lab’ continued for about six months during which I got to know the craftsmen there, and a couple of the new intake of apprentices, well. One of these was fond of practical jokes. We had a morning and afternoon trolley service for our tea breaks. We had to provide our own mugs to be filled from an urn. One morning I dropped my mug which smashed on the tiled floor. That lunch time I went into the local branch of Woolworths and purchased a plain white china mug as replacement.
It so happened that the woman behind the trolley, who had witnessed the morning’s incident, was part of the catering staff who also worked as a server in the canteen. She recognised that my plain white mug was identical to mugs provided in the canteen.
She began to rib me, implying, in fun, that I had stolen the mug from the canteen. I protested my innocence. In this I was encouraged by our practical joker who insisted I raise the, by now full, mug so that the woman could see the Woolworths logo on the base. I didn’t remember having seen such a mark and said so.
“Honest, Frank, it does. Hold it up. Go on.”
I couldn’t understand why the woman blushed and my colleagues doubled over laughing. We had, in the department, a supply of red enamel paint and small brushes with which to create labels for the test rigs. Unbeknown to me, my young colleague had used this to write on the base of my mug the phrase: “Wank’s piss pot”.