I believe the decision to seek an income from retailing, taken in the wake of accepting voluntary severance from Courtaulds, was not in itself a bad one. The mistake was not to pursue our original intention to enter the glass and china market. When the initial proposal fell through, because the proposed premises were no longer available, we should have searched harder for an alternative, if necessary waiting until one turned up. Instead we were seduced by the prospect of taking over an existing business in the gourmet food sector. The consequence of that is described here.
The decision to leave Cleethorpes was driven by a number of factors. Principle among them was the need to be closer to the motorway system in order to reduce travel time to power station sites. Would I have taken the decision if I’d known that my sojourn in this industry was destined to be short lived? Probably, since it reduced travel time to most destinations. But there was something else that made the move attractive. Our summer in Shropshire had served to remind us of our rural roots. Whilst Cleethorpes was on the coast and offered seaside walks, it was part of an extensive urban area. This meant that whenever the weather was decent the shore was crowded. The countryside was some distance away.
Although we looked at potential homes on the edges of a number of Yorkshire towns, the possibility of residing in a small village not too far from retail outlets was what attracted us. Years we spent there were good, despite various ups and downs in my career. Membership of the Village Hall Management Committee, starting a talking newspaper, working in Hospital Radio, however briefly, supporting other voluntary organisations and being a part of the project to convert a disused school into a community centre were all sources of satisfaction outside of the world of work.
So far as work was concerned in this period, decisions were mostly taken out of my hands. Other people were responsible for determining the duration of contracts. It was not until the opportunity arose to join another “blue chip” company ten years before I was due to retire that my future finally seemed assured.
Do I regret joining a corporation heavily involved in the development and manufacture of advanced military systems and materiel, some of it sold to regimes with controversial human rights records? Yes and no. Yes, because, as someone with lifelong sympathies with pacifism, I deplore the proliferation of weapons of all kinds. No, because those weapons exist with or without my contribution. It’s a morally bankrupt argument, I know: if the UK does not sell weapons to these regimes someone else will. The other argument, that if our enemies have advanced weapons we need them too, in order to prevent them being used against us, is slightly less disingenuous and I believe it is valid.
The truth is that I have worked in industries each of which is at odds with my belief in the importance of protecting the planet for future generations – plastics (synthetic fibres), power generation using fossil fuels, weapons manufacture. All are now widely believed to be complicit in damaging the environment in various ways. Perhaps only the last, if I choose to believe that the possession of the most advanced weapons ensures the maintenance of peace, was the least harmful. I have also worked in a place where my small contribution helped improve the economy of a state that was, at the time, one of the most reviled, based on overt racism.
You may choose to call me a hypocrite for making public my concerns about the environment, my support for liberal politics and philosophy and the need to make drastic changes in order to mitigate against the coming climate emergency. You would be right. I do it myself all the time. But I also believe that having “been there, done that” (but never having worn the T-shirt!), I am better placed to understand the problems than those who haven’t.