NICEIC’s Tony Cable shares some memories of his time as an apprentice. Here, he remembers the age old practice of apprentice initiations.
I’m going to paint a picture of what life as an apprentice was like back when I was starting out and the differences to how it is nowadays.
One of the first jobs I worked on was a block of ﬂats in Battersea, London. There were three 10-storey blocks in all. We had three huts – one was the foreman’s office, one for the stores and the other a tea hut. As an apprentice we had to take turns at making the tea usually for a week at a time.
You actually did very little electrical work that week as you were also in charge of the stores and had to take in all the deliveries as well. Not only did you make the tea but you had to go out and get all the men’s food and cigarettes, everyone smoked in those days and I remember all the real heavy smokers had yellow ﬁngers.
“As an apprentice we had to take turns at making the tea usually for a week at a time. You actually did very little electrical work that week as you were also in charge of the stores and had to take in all the deliveries as well.”
When I started I didn’t earn enough money to buy cigarettes although I did smoke later on, but only for a few years.
We did not have the luxury of an electric tea urn but had to boil a large kettle on an open ﬁre. We had a metal drum that we punched a few holes in, stood it on bricks and had to go all over the site scrounging wood to burn. It was a full on week as you had to be back and forward to the chippy, or to the corner shop (no supermarkets, McDonald’s or KFC in those days).
Once the men left the hut you had to wash up all the cups and mugs up and sweep up and tidy the hut up ready for the next session. Most apprentices hated making the tea that week as you were like a slave on site.
Of course being an apprentice you also had to go through an initiation test – a bit of a ritual in those days, for all trades – and something that is a bit of a touchy subject nowadays.
In our trade, the apprentice was usually held down and tallow was smeared on his private parts. It might seem cruel now, but it only happened once and generally meant that you were now part of a trade.
About 30 years later, when I was teaching, I had an apprentice officer come to me and say it had happened to one of his lads. I explained that it used to be an accepted ritual but I had not heard of it happening for many years and I believed the practice to have died out. The apprentice’s father had reported it to the police and the guys who did it were being prosecuted for sexual harassment. I never did ﬁnd out what happened in the end, but I know that some sites clamped down hard on any initiation ceremonies – although sparks being sparks I know a few who have come up with a few different ways of welcoming newbies to the industry.