Wow, sorry about this. Apparently I have more to say on the Filton years and it's going to take some more space. As a preamble here are some additional snippets that I somehow left out of the earlier accounts.
Another department that was in 1220 was something to do with deciding what parts and materials it was OK to order. I think these were the guys who produced the coveted Lab Stock book. I think the main man here was Jeff Morgan, again not that much older than me but he seemed considerably cooler to me at the time. I bumped into him twice out in town, once in The Dugout when I thought he was some bloke trying to pick a fight with me but it turned out he was just trying to get my attention because apparently I was ignoring him. He was experiencing my strange contextual blindness, I never recognize people out of the environment I am used to seeing them in. The last time I saw him was at our end of term party when I finished my HND. He had a cartoonishly sexy girlfriend along with him, to anyone he spotted staring at her fishnet stockings he would maliciously exclaim "I'm shagging that tonight...". In revenge my class hero Richard snuck up on her as she posed on the staircase and stuck his willy in her ear. The double payoff was the shock as she turned round to face what she obviously thought was a wet finger and nearly got poked in the eye by a post pee penis. Though the main reason I remember Jeff is all geek, he had a great ASCII text art picture of Vampirella pinned above his desk, I was so jealous.
I loved that you could pick up all sorts of industrial junk around Aerospace. The swarf bins in building 5 were a good place to try for sheet metal if you had a project on the go. I was once very tempted to take home a battered Swingfire missile casing that was just sitting there. Also, at the weekends, various workshops around the site would light up with cars having engines pulled out and clutches changed at some foreign governments expense.
There was some sort of reservoir or water tank down the hill that somebody obviously had decided would be great to stock with fish. It was always worth stopping by to stare into the gloom and see what might glare back at you. I remember too the surreal joy of being overtaken on the Filton Bypass by a Challenger tank at full tilt on it's way to get some wire guided missiles fitted.
November 1980, Thick Film Hybrid, 1220 Labs
Another good chance I am wrong on the dates but oh well. I am absolutely certain though that I was here for Christmas. I think this is the Thick Film Hybrid Lab in 1220. Remember again, in 1980 silicon chips are still fairly recent news. BAE was experimenting with printing, etching and embedding its own custom chips to put into missiles. It may not sound much now but this was pretty cutting edge back then and these were analogue chips not digital, quite novel at the time.
Once again, no names that I can remember, oh except one, remember Susan? Well, it was this department she was work experiencing. I was now on the other side of that same barrier, not that she remembered me. She turned out to be a nice girl, even if distracting in what she always wore. She only came in very occasionally now, to visit her old mentors. For some reason she chose to spend her Christmas Eve there, traditionally you came in on that day purely to go down the pub at lunchtime, so I think she assumed her old team would be going. Well, they all had other ideas involving skiving off early to be with their families. So to my immense surprise, she accepted my invitation to go down the Anchor, which is where I was meeting the other apprentices. I wish I could relate a more interesting story but we just had a couple of drinks, she seemed to have an innocent fascination with the chaos of the Anchor filled with drunken teenagers. Susan told me she had spent her summer in 1220 doing a school project that was basically putting a Disco Sound-to-Light system into a single hybrid chip. Tens of Thousands of pounds it would have cost for that custom chip and you will be happy to know, they charged it to Qatar under a Rapier account code. Now you know why defense spending is always so high, and all I charged to it was my Knock-Knock doorbell circuit.
Once again, I can picture some of the other people in the department, but not their names. The team lead had glasses with thick black frames (Let's call him Dave), there was a matronly lady who may have been the secretary. In a flash back to my Trist-Draper days, there was a guy in brown lab coat who did a lot of the actual production of the hybrids. Since this involved a centimeter of gold wire being evaporated in a vacuum chamber, he thought being the keeper to the keys to the gold wire safe (cupboard) made him a very special person.
The highlight for me was that Dave had one of the first Commodore Pet's I had ever seen in the flesh. I spent most of my time here programming it. I even wrote my own Adventure like game in BASIC. Again, lame by today's standards, all it did was let you choose one of three corridors, choose the wrong one and it would drop you down a hole visualized by an ever expanding circle. I was very proud of the Sine Wave formula I used to draw and expand it at the time. You could also play Trek on it. Dave got annoyed to find me playing the office cleaner on it, who was a kid about my age who showed up in the late afternoons and was just trying to learn more about computers. I don't know why he got so huffy, he still swept the place.
This was one of the last departments I went to and I think Mr Cripps was hoping that it would be my final resting place. He seemed to forget to post me anywhere else, several months later Dave obviously wasn't thrilled that I was still hanging about so he prodded the process to get me transferred elsewhere. I would have been offended but it wasn't my ideal location either. But, things could be worse...
Systems Integration Engineer, System Studies and Integration Engineering 822 Dept, May 1981
There are some names I can remember for here. Dave Batten was the big cheese, we all worked for him. He was a gruff, surly troll who hid in his office most of the time. When I arrived we had a crowded porta-cabin down the hill at the back of The Plough. Later on we moved to new and better digs near the Space building on Golf Course Lane.
I got my one and only Jolly in this department, a trip to the MOD over at Endsleigh near Bath. We were to show up for some meeting but the absolute highlight, that my new colleagues were in raptures about, was that we would be taken to dinner in the mess - and the MOD would pay! Wow...yep, this is how boring this department was. I can't remember much, I do remember the look of excitement on the face of the two engineers I was with, in what looked to me to be a very ordinary canteen, when our big day came. I got more of a thrill having our invitations checked out at the gate of a MOD installation but there you are, we all got our grins in different ways.
There was a secretary, probably called Carol, who the aging engineers would declare their love to when they got drunk. Yes, she too had a black belt boyfriend, allegedly. There was another, a real raven haired stunner who looked like a young Linda Lusardi, who would get a lift from one of middle-aged engineers trying very hard to look young and cool in his Fiat X1/9 with the roof open despite whatever weather Bristol was suffering. On the days she didn't need him, he would sulk and come in on his Suzuki GS1000 instead.
We had loads of parts catalogs and memo's we needed to work with that were all stamped "Restricted" or "Confidential". This may have been the lowest Official Secrets Act ratings but it meant the documents had to be signed into a Safe at the end of every work day. Of course it was a lot easier to just Tippex out the "restricted" banner and leave them all over your desk. There was a hierarchy too, detrmining what furniture you ere entitled to. Only a team lead could have a double pedestal desk. I qualified for a staple remover, but not a stapler.
Once again, this was a department full of losers. A non-descript engineer who peculiarly I can remember was called Colin, got into a big fight with a diminutive Welsh guy who I can't remember the name of on my first day. It was all childish name calling and 5th year school flashbacks. I certainly didn't want to end up here but guess what...
Yet, when the music stopped, this was the only chair left. After the move out of the cabin I ended up working for an ex Navy artificer named Robert Forest Kelly. He had augmented his team lead double pedestal with some MFI Shelving to accommodate more Certificates than a Brain Surgeon's waiting room all declaring his prowess according to the highest standards of the City and Guilds.
Bob was a nice guy but everyone on his team was ancient. Ken was the kind of prickly corporal you see in old black and white British war films. Brylcreamed hair and always nervously fingering a roll-up. He worked in tobacco, any time you wanted something from him it would cost you an ounce. Jeff Mason was a meticulous old Navy guy, here just as something to do until he retired. He spent hours trying to get me to write legibly on 80 column IBM input cards to edit the Rapier parts catalogs we maintained for Her Majesty. Mike Minogue was definitely no relation to Kylie who hadn't been invented then. Mike was recovering from a heart attack and Bob made a big deal of making sure we did nothing to stress or upset him like asking him to work. Alan was the most irritating person I had met up until then, bald with a beard and incapable of saying anything that wasn't sarcastic, pompous or just plain smack-in-gob deserving. His claim to fame, such as it was, was that the woman who had recently divorced him on the grounds of being an complete a-hole, was incredibly beautiful. It was the only nice thing anyone ever said about him "Yeah, he's a total dick but bloody hell you should have seen his wife...". One of those great mysteries, was he a normal human before, then losing his goddess turned him into a a huge pillock or had he always been one and it just took her a while to realize? Who knows?
The last but not least member of our little team was Tommy Atikins, who ended up as my best mate, despite him being a very old looking sixty if a day. Quite a departure from all my hang ups in connecting with anyone even a few months older than me. Tommy was the only thing keeping me sane in that department, he was just such a nice guy and we just talked about nothing all day. He was always giving me books to read, forcing me out of my Horror, Sci-Fi rut while I tried to explain to him what a microprocessor was and why he should care.
Tommy was married to a very nice lady named Mary who worked in BAWA managing the weekly Lottery. Long before I knew where Mary worked I went off on a big rant to Tommy about how implausible it was that the 300 employees of Bristol Aerojets, a small subsidiary, always managed to make it into the Winners. Their success at winning the Lottery was massively frequent despite being dwarfed by the Thousands of Dynamics and Commercial BAE employees who made up the bulk of BAWA. I smelled fiddle. Coincidently, shortly after ranting to Tommy about this, I won the weekly BAWA raffle! When I found out that Mary ran this, I always wondered about it. Had I been given hush money for not exposing the BAJ lottery scam? Since I only won about 50 quid I am guessing it was just fate just having a laugh.
The Falklands War! As this started to break, Jeff our resident old salt, assured us that HMG would never put up the cost of oil required to steam down there and sort it out. Not often remembered now, but just before the Falklands, Maggie declared a Defense Spending Moratorium. This was resulting in massive redundancies across the defense industry, we were all in deep fear for our jobs about now. Unemployment was still very high and Maggie's popularity was plummeting. Funny how these things turn out isn't it? All it took was a little war and suddenly we had guaranteed employment, overtime and strange mixed feelings about seeing the weapons you worked on every day actually responsible for peoples deaths. It worked out for Maggie too, riding the wave of the Falklands Factor through the next election.
I was always quite proud of the shiny pointy things our Company produced that were now being used for their real purpose. No longer just the abstract parts numbers we poured over to earn our blood money, they were actually being fired off in anger, or in some cases, desperation. Initially there was pride that Seawolf and the venerable old Seadart worked, shame that Rapier didn't and anticipation that some of the stars of our annual Company Air Show Day like the Vulcan would finally get a chance to prove themselves. We all rooted for our own favorites, I think I was hoping for one of Prince Andrew's Sea Skuas to go boom up some Argie's tail pipe. After HMS Sheffield and Atlantic Conveyor it was much harder to brag about missile kill probability specs as it clearly wasn't a game any more. BAe wasted no time in having all it's product brochures reprinted with "Combat Proven" starbursts all over them, whether that was actually true or not.
Of course this wasn't their first war for most of the people I worked with, even the youngest of them had done National Service and mucked about in foreign parts. I enjoyed the unique language from their generation. What happened to words like pukka, buckshee, bagsie, schtum, shambolic, boffin, digs, bell end, parky, khasi, dekko, bumf, duff gen, prang and doss that I used to hear during tea breaks? Extra points if you can use these in a sentence.
Ken was always accusing me of "giving him duff gen" mainly because he just didn't understand anything I said that was post 1950 and his paranoia that I was a young whippersnapper after his job. Odd, because I already had his job and was seriously starting to panic that he was the wrinkly face of my future. I started to have a lot of deep and meaningful conversations with Tommy who told me I really needed to get out of this retirement home and not end up like him. He told me he'd already had his career and life experiences, he was happy to just have a reason to polish his shoes every day now. Mary and him were going to retire to Andorra when the time came. He was right.
I had already noted a disturbing trend in this group. We would go off to the pub to celebrate someone's true and final retirement fairly frequently. Everyone would get very drunk, the retiree would reach a unique blend of alcohol induced sentimentality mixed with desperate lust as they realized they wouldn't even be able to break the monotony of home to come in and leer at Carol. Retirement seemed to be the end of it all. It was very sad, until it moved to tragic, when the news would filter down to us a few months later that Fred or whoever had died. That was it, that was the cycle. I saw over and over again. Work, retire, die.
OK, so the love of a good dog and an allotment could extend your post retirement lifetime but even so. I felt like I needed to get out before I became as gray and desiccated as they were.
We had some new blood. Granville Sherborn joined us. He was an animated Welsh engineer who'd been poached from Ferranti. Along with Sperry Gyroscope, Siemens and Marconi there were a bunch of defense contractors who always seemed to be rotating each others folks. Granville was a great guy, although his relatively young blood was very middle-aged, he fit in perfectly as the 3rd musketeer with me and Tommy. Maybe more of distaff Moirae, to my Clotho and Tommy's Atropos. Sorry, that was pretentious and only here courtesy of Neil Gaiman but Granville was a ray of sunshine.
Granville was on a mission to clock up as much overtime as possible, something we rarely got to do. One of our main tasks was to write 80 column computer cards to edit the main parts database. Somehow he managed to build up a relationship with IT or DP as I think they were called back then, and persuade them we were grown up enough to be able to actually produce the IBM punch cards to accomplish this ourselves. Grudgingly, they let us have a go unsupervised on their punch card machines on Saturday mornings blindly following JCL instructions. I immediately learned you could persuade the machine to punch out every single little square in an 80x12 IBM Punch card in a whirling electromagnetic din and confetti storm of chads. Did I mention my maturity issues? Ever pushing the boundaries, we eventually graduated to using an actual Keyboard and 3270 terminal running VSPC to edit the database directly. This was mainframe stuff, no PC's yet and DP was not at all happy about us encroaching into their turf. By guessing at random commands and typing them in I was learning enough to seriously break things. Saturday morning overtime was usually a two man thing with me typing and Granville reading, supervising and making sure I didn't try to get the line printers to produce rude words.
Trying to remember all this keeps bringing me back to the shock of a world without computers. We communicated by using a nest of real physical folders with our names on them housed near the secretary who caused the information to flow. There was an internal mail service, my Uncle Dennis was one of the Postmen who spent all day travelling the campus chatting to the secretaries and delivering all the memo's. To make anything happen you wrote a memo. Unless it was unofficial, the Secretary actually typed up the memo then send it to wherever it was going. Since she was generally busy and most of us were very low on her priority list, memo's could take days to actually go out. Generally our desks were supposed to be kept bare, nobody except the department head or maybe a team leader was allowed a phone to clutter it up. My parents wouldn't dream of trying to call me at work, nor would anyone else. In the rare cases where someone did, you would expect a grumpy team leader to take a message and stick it in your Desk's In-Tray (Post-It's not invented yet in case you were wondering) and upon finding it you would walk to the nearest pay phone to find out what was up.
Cards for retirements, birthdays and other celebrations were circulated with an envelope for donations and you would cross your name off then hand it to the next person on the list. This is also how the Humor passed around too. The photocopier was a relatively recent bit of technology, visual jokes were photocopied and passed on. Some photocopies had art all of their own thanks to being multiple generations removed from the the original. A finger print on the original would be exaggerated by photocopying until it morphed into a globe threatening blob by the time it got to my desk. Weirdly, for some reason Blue ink wouldn't photocopy, which was handy in some nefarious situations.
On holiday in Majorca with my girlfriend, we met a Scottish couple who asked what I did. When I told them I worked for BAe they asked me if I knew...and this happened a lot because BAe was such a big employer...Granville Sherborn! What? The only time I actually did know someone. Even with Granville cheering the place up, I was still in the last resting place of the damned. Time to do something else.
This was not engineering and to do the real thing I needed better qualifications. I now had enough TEC classes under my belt through going to Brunell Technical College one day a week to do either a proper Degree or keep going with the Day Release and get a Higher-TEC Certificate. I knew I couldn't afford to go off to University anywhere away from home and wouldn't be qualified to unclog the U bend at Bristol University. I really didn't think a H-TEC was going to get me back into Space which is still where I really wanted to be. So the compromise was a 3 year HND at Bristol Polytechnic. I would be poor but I would have a job during the holidays, a small bursary from BAe and even some Grant money. By living at home and not driving my car so much I could probably do it.
Time to go and chat to my old buddy Mr Cripps again.
I found myself drunk in front of The Anchor, watching Bob trying to play the Kampuchean National Anthem out of Granville's half empty beer glasses, Ken smoking a roll-up and Tommy telling me this would be the best decision I ever made. I felt like I had just escaped a near death experience.
That was me leaving then, about to head off for 3 years of full time studenthood at Bristol Poly. I knew some of the other Apprentices that were about to go into the same program. They were of course all much younger than me. I was finally catching up to where I should have been at age 18, I was now 4 years behind.
Bristol Polytechnic, September 1982, HND Electrical Engineering Year 1
If I ever get round to writing it, the Bristol Poly saga will be a separate chapter. It was the most important reboot for me. I finally did some real engineering and gained the best friends I would ever have and still have. It was the time of my life. Of course educationally it would still prove not enough, later on I went back, once again, to part time higher education. I would finally get my Engineering Degree when I was 30, but I still don't think I was mature enough. I don't recommend it as a career plan, especially if my kids are now reading this. My life clock is permanently stuck running about 12 years behind everyone else's.
April 1983, Industrial Experience, Dept 253 M Hosking
I have no idea what or where this was. I may have become completely confused and already written about this somewhere else. According to the memos, this is where I came back to for the HND's required Industrial Experience placement and holidays after my first year at Bristol Poly. Nope, sorry, complete blank.
I had two friends from HND back with me, now I was an official part of the Undergraduate program. Bob Roberts was teasingly in my old Space job, John Morgan was also back somewhere and I know I must have spent a lot of time hanging out with them both. All I can remember is it was Bob that told me how to claim social security for all sorts of things I had no idea I could. But...can't remember anything more of it. There is just no way this bit is going to have any interest or value. Ah well.
Sept 1983, Dept 673 J Perry
Once again, no clue as to who or where. Still between Year 1 and Year 2, after my industrial experience period.
Bristol Polytechnic, Jan 1984, HND Electrical Engineering Year 2
Well, back to Bristol Poly after recharging on my BAe wages. We had now split from the Mechanical Engineers so it was just Electrical classes. More when I revisit as it's own chapter.
July 1984, Dept 891 D J Parry, Missile Design Department
I really wish I could remember how this worked. It was the Holiday between HND 2 and HND 3, so I must be back in BAe and I am guessing I have been adopted by Missile Design since this is where I ultimately end up. Also, I have a memo warning about an industrial dispute that shows me on the distribution, it is dated Feb 1985. I would have still been at Poly then but the Org Chart shows me as belonging to Dave Luker's team.
Whatever gaps my memory of the timing may have, I do remember this department. My last job in BAe.
We had an obscure perch above one of the large hangar like shop floors, it says 04-M for my address. Lots of those small square window panes, all of which had been painted over. My first job was calculating the voltage level difference to the actuators on the fins of a Seawolf missile that was getting control signals flickering between +0 and -0. I know you are dying to know so the answer is...none.
Dave Luker was my bespectacled team lead, a shorter Eric Morecambe without the sense of humor. He particularly hated personal calls coming in via his phone. I am sitting here looking at an old org chart that says we are the Seawolf-Bloodhound-Ikara Missile team. We consist of:
I wish I could remember who these guys are but Phil is the only one I really know, because we ended up going on to many further adventures after BAe as mates. I rented a bedsit from him too which also deserves it's own Chapter. One of these guys had a sideline building Speakers, the ones I bought from him are still the best I have ever had. Somebody had an amazing talent for sleeping at his desk, while apparently reading a technical manual which he would even turn the pages on periodically, despite being completely unconscious.
Bristol Polytechnic, Sept 1984, HND Electrical Engineering Year 3
When I finished my HND in March 1985, I came back just long enough to repay Mr Cripps and BAe Dynamics for restarting my life by resigning and taking the skills they had paid for to an exciting new American Company a couple of miles up the bypass. I didn't even wait for the official end of my Undergraduate Apprenticeship which would have taken place in June. Ray Cripps took it wryly, and wished me good luck in the future. There's really not a bad thing I can say about him or anyone at BAe. I owe them big time. It's just not where I wanted to finish up, no matter how grateful I should be. Even though on paper I was taking a demotion from Engineer to Technician, sometimes you have to slide down the snake to get to a better ladder. It was clearly the best decision I would ever make.
Somewhere I should have fitted in something about the BAe/Rolls Royce Friends and Families days. Private air shows and fairs for the employees that were actually pretty damn good days out. My favorite was watching them play darts with a Rapier missile, the real thing but with a solid warhead, shooting up a guide wire to thunk quivering into a giant wooden target on a hill every 60 minutes. You could fight the temptation to play Godzilla in a hangar full of every imaginable Airfix model spread out across acres of floor from the BAe Scale Modeling Club. The Vulcan Olympus flying test bed would put on a show, as well as President Reagan's sinister secret F111 force hanging out at Filton between trips bombing Libya. Concorde was, of course, always an honored guest even though most of the time we had our own one hanging around looking neglected anyway.
Looking back, the bits I can remember, I remember fondly.
I wish I could remember more.
BAe Wage Packet, told you I keep a lot of crud
Concorde Simulator Cockpit - Photo from University of Surrey web
BAe corporate arms on display at Farmborough sometime in the early 80's - Combat Proven! Hm...
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