The big wide world

A couple of years after I had completed my apprenticeship I was being sent all over the country. I was sent to Scotland to work on a power station. All in all it got me down so one Monday morning I gave in my notice. The head of personnel wasn’t pleased. He reminded me the company had spent thousands of pounds on my training paying for me to go to Day College and night school. I was resolute. I’d spent five years in an apprenticeship earning less than a plumbers mate. I felt I’d been paid them back and my skills were down to my own efforts.

A week later, I trawled through adverts in the paper.  It wasn’t  difficult finding employment. A London based firm was seeking a qualified plumber for regular work at good pay rates. I was interviewed at an office in Tottenham (London) and started work the next Monday morning. It was a shock.

There wasn’t any plant or machinery I could call upon and I soon realised it was a tin pot “bucket & bike” organisation.  I was working in Edmonton in a huge waste burning  establishment running a water supply to a sink in a back room. John, the foreman, turned up and said he wanted me to work in a restaurant kitchen through a Friday night. It had to be night as the restaurant was busy until midnight. I said I’d do it but asked what was needed and how much would I get? He offered £30 cash so I asked for £50. We settled on £40. I had to take out a steel hot water cylinder replacing it with a heavy duty copper emersion cylinder. I said I wanted to see the job before I started and was given the address in Edgware Road near Marble Arch.

It was a very up-market Indian restaurant and when I explained why I was there the maître d showed me to the kitchen. I was shocked at the heat and general conditions those men were working under, but said nothing. The steel cylinder was in fact a large commercial upright calorifier, tucked away in a small room all by itself, right at the back of the kitchen, there weren’t any windows in the room. It was huge. I estimated it at something like eight feet tall by three feet six wide. I rang John the next day and we had a row. When he finally calmed down I explained I could easily disconnect the primary and secondary feed and returns but the room must have been build round the calorifier as it was too big to get out through the door into the kitchen. That being so there was no room to install the new copper cylinder. Clearly, John was rattled by this news and arranged to be at the job about 1 am, on the Saturday morning.

I was at the restaurant at midnight that Friday and watched in bemusement as the staff cleared away washed up and replaced unused food back into containers. They were anxious to get home themselves. I asked the manager to leave the electric on for me.

I traced the water inlet valves back to the boiler but the valve was seized solid. I had to go through the upper rooms of the building before I located the massive water storage tank, in the loft, feeding the down services. By the time I’d isolated the right stop-cock and drained down, John turned up with his brother and I cut through the pipework to the old calorifier. That freed, John and his brother who just smashed down the door frame and breeze block wall forming the entrance to the room.

“That was easy shouted John to his brother, now you do your thing, the new one is outside on the van”! It was near to 7am before I completed the necessary pipe connections and I was knackered.

I have often wondered how much I could’ve got if I’d asked for more when we saw just how hard the job was.


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