Tony Cable regales us with more stories of his adventures as an apprentice.
So, after leaving school at 15 and spending six years as an apprentice, I could finally call myself a proper electrician; just in time for my 21st birthday!
Six years was a long time as an apprentice but back then the first year was basically to see if you were suited to the trade and your firm. After that, my father signed my apprenticeship indentures when I was 16 years old.
I was lucky as my firm, Drake & Gorham, made sure that apprentices covered all aspects of the trade. About two years before I was 21, they assigned me to the small works department attached to their head office based in Victoria.
One drawback was that we only got fares from the office to the job and, as most of the jobs were around the Victoria area, it really meant little or no fares.
I lived in Morden then, and, as cash was tight, I had to cycle in every day. I was much slimmer and fitter then. I was working with one of the older foreman who, in the past, had run a lot of large jobs, but was now nearing retirement.
“I was lucky as my firm, Drake & Gorham, made sure that apprentices covered all aspects of the trade.”
To put it politely, he had been put out to pasture – in the small works department. It was quite handy for me as he would let me do most of the work.
However, he was not one for change and when pyro came onto the market, we virtually swapped roles as he could not get his head around making off the ends and running and dressing it in.
I would mark out the fixings, he would drill out the holes and I would take the ends off and run the pyro in. I became very good at it which was handy as it was excellent for alterations and additions because it was so flexible.
I worked with him until I was almost 20 before I decided that I wanted to get onto a big job for more experience. I asked him to see the personnel manager and request a transfer. Nothing happened for a while, then one day I saw the manager in the corridor and asked him what was happening with my transfer request. I found out that no request had been put in. The old foreman did not want to lose me as he had trained me to do the majority of the work. It was only later that I realised that if he got a younger apprentice he would have to do a lot more work until he was trained.
I have said for years: “If you don’t get crafty when you get older, don’t bother getting old.” I must have learnt it from him.
I eventually got my transfer but the old foreman was not happy, accusing me of going behind his back to the manager. Unfortunately, we parted on bad terms, which was very sad and it still upsets me. He had been a great influence on my life and he taught me a lot, for which I am very grateful.