My Life 2.3

 My Last Stand



We had a project to develop some more new aerials for oil rig communications. We had to take existing designs and scale them for a different radio frequency. This was not just a question of overall scale, but changing the relative dimensions of the hundred foot high wire cage that was our creation. It was ‘bi-conical’ – in three-D it was like an irregular diamond shape twirled round on its tip. So we had a series of wires attached to the top and the bottom of a mast, pulled out part-way down by wires fixed a long way out to make a cage.

 We had to put them up on Shetland. So the testing of the prototype……….

Was at Ilfracombe!

 In the summer!

 We took a couple of hours to test and analyse each configuration of the aerial. While we did that, the gang went down the beach for a swim.

 When we’d got the results, we calculated the next change in dimension.

 When the gang got back, they had to climb the mast, let down the wires, cut them to a new length, and re-rig the new configuration. So it was our turn to go down the beach.

 And so on for a week … necessary work, but enjoyable all the same.


So, in the restaurant at the harbour in Ilfracombe, we sat. My companion wiped his knife on his napkin. At the end of the room, a man sat on a high desk. The Proprietor. Within minutes, he appeared. ‘Is there anything wrong with your cutlery, Sir?’

 My companion said ‘Oh, sorry, it’s an old army habit, no reason!’

 Was the man convinced? Maybe. He retreated, at any rate.

 A few weeks later, when we had to do some more testing, in the same restaurant my wife and I ate a lovely, freshly-cooked four-pound lobster, with some delicious Muscadet (little did I know that it would become our ‘local’ wine twenty years later). I still remember that lobster. We picked it from the tank, we saw it fresh and steaming, then presented at the table, split, on a bed of ice.

 Ilfracombe was also the site of the infamous ‘Eskimo’ incident, at which my wife was definitely NOT present. * see here (you can come back after)



 We had a station on the Isle of Wight. Unfortunately, it was falling into the sea. Slowly, but inevitably. We had a new site up on the clifftop that probably would buy us another few hundred years, but we didn’t want to move the existing masts unless we had to. So I decided the best way to check was to measure the tension in the stay wires. Sure, they went up and down with the temperature, but any slip would show up differentially, that is the stay blocks on the downslope would move first, and the increase in tension would be noticeable.

 So unfortunately, every couple of months, I had to go on a day trip to the Isle of Wight to measure the tension and record it faithfully for the records. In the school hols, I took my family and left them at the beach for a few hours before I rejoined them. The lads at the station were not allowed to do the measuring – they were radio operators, they sat at consoles and chatted to their pals on the ships – most had been ship’s radio operators, who’d ‘come ashore’. They were a great crowd, always joking, friendly. 



 I was having an idyllic time. Then one day the big boss called me in. ‘Why don’t you try for accelerated promotion?’ He said. Promotion was slow at the time, and there was a backlog of worthy candidates waiting for jobs. It seems they’d decided to fast-track people who were coming up behind the jam and those caught in it.

 I’d never been ambitious. I had a great job, with no one on my back. My boss was my mate. I had everything ticking like a clock. But perhaps I did need a change.

 ‘Okay’ I agreed.

 I got it, didn’t do badly in the lists either. I’d had a long discussion with my wife and we’d agreed that although it would probably mean a drop in real income if I wasn’t travelling, and also for me it meant the boredom of travelling into London every day, it would probably pay off in the long term.

 So I found myself a job. I went to see the bloke, we agreed. He offered it to me.

 The business said ‘no!’ Apparently fast-track candidates were ‘assigned’. They were not allowed to find their own jobs. They told me the job they wanted me to do – a desk job in a totally boring department. I found out from the people there that they had trouble filling this job because no-one wanted to do it. Ridiculous! I thought. Without being conceited, to me it seemed crazy to pick the so-called ‘best of the bunch’ and stick ‘em in crap jobs that no-one else wanted.

 So I told ‘em to stuff it. OK, I’ll wait, I said, for normal promotion, then I’ll choose my own job, thankyou.

 Meanwhile my own bosses and the bloke who offered me the job went to work. After three months I got a letter. It had a long rigmarole about how I had to be assigned, how I could not choose my own job. Then at the very end, one sentence told me I had been officially ‘assigned’ to the job I wanted!  

 It taught me about bureaucracy.


So I said farewell to my erections, and started a brand-new life…but in this one, I didn’t just drive my family on holiday all over the UK, all expenses paid, I took them to the Black Forest in Germany, and eventually, to Finland! (hee-hee).



 Before I left, I took the new guy up to Skye to show him what we did. We flew to Glasgow, picked up a car, and drove north. We stopped by the sea. It was April. The sun was hot, the sky was blue, a breeze fluttered. Taking in the fantastic view, he asked me.

 ‘Is this work?’

 ‘Oh yes’ I told him, ‘it can be hard at times!’


In truth, there were times on Shetland, trekking through a couple of feet of snow in a blizzard in special protective clothing, or on a Scottish hillside with rain running down your  neck, soaking you to the skin, that is wasn’t so pleasant. Unsocial hours, driving 500 miles at a stretch to get to an appointment at a radio station when the weather broke -- not everyone would want to do that. But I haven’t spoken about that, because I want my readers to be jealous. :-)


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