Monday, January 23, 2017

From the North End to Paradise

Yes I was born in the North End of Birkenhead. 
To some that sounds terrible, but we lived a little bit away from the worst of it.
My mum and dad moved into a rented house, when they married before the Second World War, and lived there until they moved to sheltered housing in the 1980's. I was born in 1950, the youngest of 3 and the only boy.

Gautby Road School provided my primary education and Miss Pegg drove me on so that I passed my 11 plus exam and moved up to Park High School for Boys.
The Gautby Road School Country Dance Team. I'm middle row 4th from the right
I wish I could say I had a wonderful education at Park High but in all honesty I hated the place. Except for Art and Physics I universally rejected the whole system which in those days was based on rote learning and corporal punishment. I steadfastly refused to do homework despite being caned by the headmaster every month.
Eventually I woke up to the fact that I'd have to get a job somewhere when I reached 16 and after sitting the O Level exams.

We had text books that covered each subject from end to end so for the last year of my school life I read those text books from cover to cover.
I was amused to find that I passed in 5 subjects out of 8 with distinctions in 2 of them!

In 1966 there was a boom going on and I applied for jobs all over the place. I interviewed for 6 jobs and was offered 4. The one I really wanted was as a Lithographic Artist. To be honest I had no clue what a Lithographic Artist did, but a guy around the corner who had a motorcycle did it, and told me he could get me an interview. 
Unfortunately they wanted to see some artwork and I had never considered keeping any of it, so that didn't happen.

The local shipyard Cammell Laird's (Laird's for short) filled my head with tales of becoming a Naval Architect and I signed up for a job there. A new training scheme had started in which apprentices would be cross trained in multiple disciplines in an effort to get rid of “Demarcation”. That was a system run by the unions with strict rules that dictated which trade did what work in the industry. The rules were so complex and archaic that the whole UK shipbuilding industry was being crippled by the resulting inter union squabbling and strikes.

My first year was devoted to basic engineering study at Birkenhead Technical College. We learned the basics of ship design and construction in the classroom and sheet metalwork and welding in the well equipped workshops.
I took to it immediately, finding that welding was fun!

After the first year we went into the shipyard. What a culture shock! Suddenly we were in a huge area filled with literally thousands of people and with huge pieces of equipment that could kill you in an instant.
We were to rotate through the different disciplines in the production department. They were basically Welding, Plating and Shipwrights. Welding is pretty obvious. Plating is the art of bending, cutting and shaping the huge steel plates that make up a ship. Shipwrights were the people who laid out the shapes of the ships, placed the pieces together as they were assembled and did several other major technical tasks involving launching and docking ships.

I started in the welding section.
My first job was welding the “House Front” on a large car ferry. The whole front of the “Bridge” of the ship was laying face down inside the workshop. I had a funny shaped section to work on. The foreman told me to use “High Penetration” welding rods, then vanished. I worked for a couple of days on it but every time I nearly got it a big hole would open up and I'd have to start again. Eventually another apprentice came up and took me around to the other side of the piece I was working on. There hanging down like bunches of steel grapes was all the molten metal that had fallen thru as the holes fell in! Together we fixed the problem and he took me under his wing.
Next I was given the stern door area to work on. The foreman told me to try doing a vertical weld to see if I could do it. Most apprentices only did downhand (Flat) welds until late in their training. I'd done them at Tech College and liked doing them. I welded the stern for about a month, this time with no holes opening up. The foreman re-appeared and asked me to try an overhead weld. Again I had done them at college and soon I was out on the ship welding brackets in the overhead which would hold cable trays and pipes.
I had really enjoyed the welding department and they did try and tempt me to stay there to finish my apprenticeship, but I was eager to explore more of the shipbuilding process.

The Plate Shed was an immense covered area with cranes running high above on overhead rails, gigantic plate rolling and bending machines and oxyacetylene cutting torches creating dazzling showers of molten steel that sprayed everywhere.
Unfortunately I was assigned too a rather dull “Journeyman” whose sole task was marking the cut outs on stiffeners for drain holes! I spent a lot of time visiting my friends in other departments and getting into all kinds of mischief for a couple of months before I moved on again into the Shipwrights department.

My first task there was fitting air bottle foundations on a nuclear submarine. A very exciting prospect for a teenager. I was introduced to the techniques required to fit a basically square box to a 3 dimensionaly curved structure. I had an advantage here as I had built model planes since the age of about 5 and knew about 3 dimensional shapes, so when they explained how it was done I grabbed it and ran with it.
I moved to another “Conventional” submarine and worked on handrails for a while before being summoned to the “Mould Loft”, a place mentioned in hallowed tones by other Shipwrights and a complete mystery to me.

The Mould Loft turned out to be a big open area on the top floor of an old black shed-like structure. The foreman and his assistant sat in a glass cubicle so they could keep an eye on the workers. Partitioned off from the main area was a modern looking, well lit space known as the “Monopol Office”. 
The head foreman Mr Jane called out of the office for one of the men in the main shop and I was introduced to “Charlie” who would be taking care of me. Soon I met Alf, Ian, Ginger, Old George and Nutty Norman and my introduction to being a “real” shipwright began.

The mould loft was were the paper design of the ship was transformed into the full sized ship. The sections of the ship were the “Moulded Lines”, they started as a chart giving the distance from set horizontal and vertical reference lines. The chart was called the “Offsets” and the shipwrights laid them out full size in chalk on the black painted floor of the loft then checked that the lines were smooth, called “Fair”.
Once they were correct, templates were made to check the steel would mate up with adjacent pieces of the ship.

A new innovation back then was a machine called a “Monopol”. It cut steel plates using oxyacetylene torches 2 at a time using 1/100th scale photo negatives. The negatives were produced by the “Monopol Office”. In there the sections to be cut were drawn 1/10th full size in ink then photographically reduced to 1/100th scale.
All this was fascinated me and I launched straight into it.

A couple of things happened after I'd been there about 6 months. Firstly I was asked to make a model of a portion of the front of a ship from a set of offsets and a drawing. It was where the bow of the ship met the Main Deck and included the pipe that the anchor chain went down. I was to make a model of the frames and develop the flat shape of the pipe as if it had been “Unrolled”.
Being paid to make a model was great, I'd been doing it unpaid since I was a kid. I'd learned all the geometry for unrolled shapes in Tech College. I had it done in no time. After I completed it Alf took me to one side and told me that what they'd had me do was in fact the “Trade Test” given to apprentices when they completed their 5 year training to see if they knew their trade. I had passed it after 1 year.

The second thing that happened was when the foreman told me to report to the Personnel Department and to see Mr Sykes. I knew Mr Sykes as the man that filled my head with stories of being a Naval Architect and as the math instructor at Tech College. I had no clue what he wanted me for.
It turned out that the company wanted me to represent them in a competition for Shipwright Apprentices. It would be in nearby Manchester, there would be an interview about my shipbuilding knowledge and skills. The company would provide a train ticket and some money for lunch while I was there. A day off with pay sounded great and I had no fear of interviews, having been in the Air Cadets for years.

At the interview they asked about my progress in my training, what I'd done, what kind of ships had I worked on, what I knew about some of the new innovations in the industry etc. My Tech College classes had given me all the answers there and I felt completely comfortable thru the whole thing. In the waiting room I met and talked to other apprentices from across the whole of Northern England who were there for the same thing.

After a couple of weeks back in the yard I was summoned to see Mr Sykes again. It seemed I had been selected as the best candidate and I was to be entered in the National competition in London in a month or so. The competition was for “The Queen's Silver Medal for Shipbuilding Apprentices” which was a solid Stirling silver medal presented by Her Majesty herself!

Again I wasn't phased by this and seeing that I would get 2 paid days off, a train ticket to London (where I'd never been before let alone on my own) a night in a hotel. (I'd never stayed in a hotel before either) I decided that was good for me!

The interviews were in the “Worshipful Company of Tailors” Guild Hall a very impressive building with ties to the Masonic Guilds and the Trade Guilds of London. Apparently the “Worshipful Company of Shipwrights” Guild Hall had burned down in the London Blitz of the Second World War and they shared the Tailors hall when they needed it.

A large number of apprentices from all across the country were sat down, one at a time, before some very imposing people from the executive ranks of the shipbuilding trade. The same kind of questions as in the first interview were asked, and I remember they specifically asked about the new technology then entering the world of shipping - “Containerization”.
Containers are commonplace now but back in 1968 they were unknown. I had listened to a gentleman (Tony Ford) at the Tech College talk about the advantages of them over conventional shipping methods and read an article in a trade magazine “Motor Ship”.
Evidently it had sunk in because I was able to launch into a detailed description of the pro's and con's of them and the idea of transporting them by sea, rail and road.

A month or so after I got back to the yard I was summoned to see Mr Sykes again and told that I'd been selected as the top apprentice in the nation and that I should plan a trip for myself and my parents to London for the award - all expenses paid!

Apart from a solid silver medal and a fancy certificate I was awarded a sum of money annually that had to be accounted for and shown to be spent “Wisely”. Although it may not seem a lot now the award of 240 pounds a year was a huge sum for a young apprentice.
Consider that we used to dream of becoming a journeyman because they earned 1000 pounds a YEAR. We couldn't imagine how you could spend so much money, after all a brand new top of the line Triumph motorcycle only cost 220 pounds back then and you'd have to buy that on credit spread over 3 or 4 years.

When the time came for the big ceremony I was accompanied by my Mum and Dad and my girlfriend Barbara. I managed to “Arrange” the expense report so that by chance there was enough left to buy Barbara an engagement ring, so we were celebrating doubly.
The ceremony is kind of blurry, I remember a big crowd of people milling around and Dad and I being plied with scotch and water. Which is possibly why it seems blurry! My Mum was speaking in her “Posh” voice which she put on when she thought she was in “Upper Class” company. I caught her trying to talk the Chairman of Appledorn Shipyards into hiring me!
Barbara and I with the pigeons in Trafalgar Square
We had a day exploring London, seeing Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square and the usual tourist stuff, then headed home.

I had to take the medal everywhere with me to show everyone. The local newspaper took our pictures and we hit the front page under the headline “Local apprentice - top in country”.
Barbara and I (front) my sister Jackie, Mum and Dad (Back) in the Birkenhead News picture
I have the distinction of being able to add “Queens Silver Medalist” after my name on fancy correspondence if I wish. I usually save that for job applications!!

The cash was at first difficult to dispose of “Wisely”. The apprentice training officer for the company seemed to want to direct how I spent it. Luckily I was developing a knack for “Adjusting” expense reports in my favor (a skill that has done me well over the years!) and I managed to arrange a large motorcycle and a fine array of tools to go with it, without the Worshipful Company finding out and thus stopping the subsequent 2 years worth!
Once back at work and Tech College (Which we attended 1 full day and 2 evenings every week) I got talking to some friends who worked in the “Drawing Office”. They suggested that I bring the medal up to their office and show it to the “Chief Draughtsman” who ran the design side of the yard.
My friend Jim Boscoe (L) suggested I talk to the Chief Draughtsman.
Ray Vickers (middle) and Brian Casey (R) helped me squander my youth.
Fame has it's advantages and he (Charlie Wood) was very interested in the details of the competition. He said he would see what he could do about bringing me into the design side to complete my apprenticeship.

Within a week I was told to report to the Drawing Office.

With my classroom studies, experience in the welding, plating and Shipwright's shops I had a very clear understanding of how ships were built. In the Drawing Office I was again sent around different disciplines in the design side for 6 months at a time so they could figure out where I might best fit.

Initially I was assigned to the Ventilation Department where the heating and cooling systems were designed. It was completely new to me, I'd never considered how large spaces were heated and cooled. I was involved in testing some new systems out on the ship to check that they complied with the design, a skill that must have stayed with me although it would be almost 40 years before I would use it again!

Next I was assigned to the steel structural design group. I felt at home there and was given a complicated trunkated cone bulkhead that was the end of a deckhouse on a cruise ship being built. The geometry was second nature to me and I sailed straight thru it. I received several complements on it from fellow draughtsmen (as designers were called back then). 
Then one morning a BIG plater came up out of the yard yelling that he wanted to find “the **!##** who'd screwed up the design of the deckhouse”
The supervisor came over with him to my draughting table and stood back to watch the show.
I knew the drawing was right and stood my ground. Eventually I proved I was right and that the plater had misunderstood the complicated layout. He went away happier and my star rose a couple of notches with the bosses.

The final stop was in the “Outfit” department. They lay out the decks of the ship and ensure that all the furniture fits in, and that it is pleasing to the eye when installed. I immediately found my happy place and was soon arranging complete decks with all the cabins, bathrooms, storage spaces, fire fighting equipment etc. I decided to finish my apprenticeship there and did so.

At 21 I was a fully qualified Draughtsman, although back then you weren't a “Journeyman” and didn't receive full pay until age 30.
At this time the yard was starting to build “Sheffield Class” guided missile destroyers for the Royal Navy (RN). The first ship in the class was being built by Vickers Ltd in Barrow in Furness with 2 other yards being “Follow Yards”. They would produce more of the same design ships to keep the class standard and allow them to be constructed all at the same time. Several people from the office had been sent up to Barrow to perform “Lead Yard Services”. They watched the “Lead Ship” being built and ensured that the many modifications made were passed on to the other yards. Tall tales were told about how rich these people were getting on the expenses they were being paid.

In October of 1971 Barbara and I were married at St James's Church in the North End of Birkenhead and we found a flat in a big Victorian house in Devonshire Road Oxton. Our happy marriage was immediately tested when I begged and threatened my way on to the Lead Yard squad up in Barrow where I hoped I would be able to get rich too (My award from the medal had ended the year before!).

Instead of being on the Sheffield Class I was sent to the Warship Design Office and started the very first drawings on the “Invincible Class” of Harrier Carriers. The Harrier was the “Jump Jet”, the worlds first vertical take off and landing jet aircraft.
The labor government of the day had just announced that they were scrapping the Royal Navy's aircraft carriers (A move that bit back later in the Falklands). They said the carrier had no place in a navy that had no empire to defend. The Invincible Class could not therefore be called a “Carrier” (even though that was exactly what it was!). The ship had to be referred to officially as a “Through Deck Cruiser”.
Whatever it was I was very proud to be working directly for the Chief Naval Architect who was in complete control of the design. I sat right next to him and discussed how he wanted each piece of the structure of the ship attached to it's surrounding components in the basic documents that defined the ship. These were the Scantling Plan, The Body Plan and the Midship Section.

I think it all went to my head because after I finished there I was sent down to the Outfit Drawing Office and given some more mundane stuff to do on the Sheffield Class. I was not a happy camper. I was bored and rebellious and basically just goofed off for several months. Whenever I could I slipped out and went across to where the Lead Yard Services office was so I could hang out with them.

A guy I'd sat next to back in Laird's, Mike Johnson, was very excited about a job he'd been offered in Southampton in the south of England. It involved “Contracting” and apparently you could arrange your pay and expenses so that you paid very little income tax. The expression “Travel Expenses” got my entire attention. I made sure I had Mike's address and phone number when he left so I could see how it all went.

I had had enough of Barrow, and Barbara had had enough of me being away 5 days a week, so I announced that I would be going back to Laird's.

That only lasted a couple of months however as I had been calling Mike Johnson and finding out that he was really having a good time in Southampton and had just been offered a job in Greece making 3 times what he'd been making in England. Several other people in the office had been sharing this information and before long we were all in Southampton! So much for Barbara getting more attention!

We were working for Vosper Thorneycroft, a well know shipyard that built fast naval craft and frigates. Back then they were building Type 10 and Type 21 frigates for the RN, the Brazilian Navy and the Iranian Navy (Before the Shah was overthrown).

I smoked back then and the cigarette machine was in the reception area by the main entrance to the building. In the days before cell phones everyone had to use call boxes to make a call. The one call box for the entire building was next to the cigarette machine. As I picked up my cigarettes the phone rang. 
I don't know to this day why I picked up the phone, but I did. 
The guy on the other end wanted to talk to a particular draughtsman named Alex Bone, a Scotsman who I'd never met. I said I'd try and find him and get a message to him, then the guy asked what I did in the yard. When I told him I was a draughtsman he immediately offered me a job in Holland starting the next week!

After a little negotiating of pay and finding out about airfares, accommodation etc I jumped in and accepted the offer. I hadn't said anything to Barbara about it, nor did I have a current passport! 
Both things sorted themselves out. Barbara thought living in Holland might be neat and arranged to quit her job after Christmas and join me out there, and the 1973 oil crisis was in full swing, so by calling the Passport Office and spinning a story about going out to work on North Sea oil rigs I got priority handling on my passport!
The deal was that they would have an airline ticket waiting for me at Liverpool airport and I would be met at Rotterdam airport by somebody who would take me to Rosenburg near Rotterdam. I'd be working in Verolme shipyard designing cargo tank piping on Super Tankers for BP.

I started work on Monday and they sat me next to Alex Bone who apparently had got the message I'd put out for him to call the guy who had hired me!

I had to share a secret with Alex. I knew NOTHING about piping design! He shared some of his knowledge with me and we bought a book on designing chemical plant piping. This worked amazingly well and soon we were working evenings in an Oil Rig design office doing weight estimates. We apparently were doing such good estimates that the prime contractor suspected we had somebody in their organization feeding us their data! Then the owner of the company we were working for asked if we'd do a THIRD job at night working on a repair to an oil tanker for which we could name our own price!

This was all heady stuff for a 23 year old kid from Birkenhead. I was making 4 times what I'd have been earning back in Laird's, we were working 3 jobs, it was all paid in cash, no taxes were being paid anywhere and Barbara and I were sharing a large 2 bedroom flat with Alex and his wife Ann, so our living expenses were very low.

After 6 months I began to worry about the tax authorities catching up with me in Holland. The agency I was working for had an office in Canada and when I told them I was looking for something else they offered me a job in St Catherines Ontario. I was pretty blasé about the whole thing back then (and I still am now for that matter), so picking up a ticket at the airport and flying in to a completely different country for the first time seemed normal.

Their man in Toronto identified me as I came off the plane by the purple suit I was wearing (!) and gave me written directions to get to the shipyard and the address of a hotel they had booked me in to, then he dropped me at the station where I took a train to St Catherines.
Pretty soon I was working in the Engineering Design Office, not knowing a thing about what I was designing, but luckily I had been assigned there as a stop gap, as I was supposed to be doing design of the plumbing in the deckhouse, but they needed an Engine Room type and I had been dropped in to fill the gap.

I say it was lucky because I also knew nothing about designing plumbing! By feigning ignorance of Engine Room design I was able to get educated by the Assistant Chief Engineer - John Cooper. A real nice Scotsman who knew his stuff.
If I had actually gone to the Plumbing department they would pretty quickly have figured out that I didn't know what I was doing.
So now I had 2 more design disciplines under my belt, cargo tank piping and engine room design. Things were going great.

In November the Canadian winter came in - feet of snow, sub freezing temperatures, freezing rain. I wasn't impressed and we left at Christmas despite pleas to stay and become permanent staff.

I worked as a contractor for BICC in Kirby for a couple of months then one day the boss called me over and told me the job was completed so he had to let me go. As we talked his phone rang, when he answered he got a puzzled look on his face and handed the phone to me.
Luck was smiling on me again, it was an agency in Holland looking for designers. My old pal Mike Johnson had given them my name and somehow they got the phone number of my boss in BICC!

A week later I was in The Hague working for the Netherlands United Shipbuilding Bureau almost next to the Houses of Parliament. There were about 40 Brits working there as contractors, many of them Scottish and all great characters. I worked there for 3 years until we finished the project.

We returned to UK and I had my rosy colored glasses firmly on. We would buy a house and settle down. We bought the house on Palm Hill and I promptly got offered a 6 month contract in Brazil. Strictly bachelor status. 6 of us would lead the design of a new tanker for the Verolme shipyard in Rio de Janiero. It sounded fabulous.

Reality was much different. I was locked in the same hotel room for 6 months, the job was terrible, the shipyard was 200 miles from the office! Nobody knew what they were doing and they were all blaming somebody else.
I had this same view from my hotel room for 6 months
When we arrived they started blaming us behind our backs. In 3 months we apparently had made the PREVIOUS ship 2 years late!
I found out about it when I overheard 2 of the Dutch bosses talking. They didn't realize I spoke pretty fluent Dutch. I tipped off the other guys and we put a call in to the agency in Holland. The owner arrived next day on Concorde!

All hell broke loose and in all the yelling and screaming we managed to demonstrate that the 2 people they had in charge of the design office knew nothing about ships and had seen us a perfect scapegoat. 
Those 2 people were moved out, and in the negotiations one of us was to be returned to Holland to work in the office there.
I was desperately unhappy and volunteered to go, but they decided a friend of mine Davy Hamilton would go instead and I had to finish another miserable 3 months away from Barbara.

To make up to her we decided to meet in Miami Florida and rent a camper van for a month. We agreed that there would be no more bachelor status contracts for me. Wherever we went from now on it would be together.
Our camper van on Daytona Beach. Me with my Brazilian tan!
I went back to Palm Hill and got a job designing Diving Systems for a company in St Helens. (Well by now I could do just about anything!) Our daughter Sally was born that January and I moved on to working in a chemical plant in Ellesmere Port designing piping.

One day the guy I car pooled with, Bren Kelly, showed me a clipping from the Liverpool Echo looking for Ship Designers in the USA. We called the number and got interviewed a couple of days later. When we showed up for the interview half of the Lairds office was there!

It took us 3 years to get our Green Cards which granted us immigration status, due to a mix up with our address by the embassy in London. We went back to Holland to the same office in The Hague for 2 years while we waited for the Green Cards.
Eventually we got them, only to find out that the yard in New Orleans had no work! I talked them into letting me come over and to find a job contracting until they got a ship order, at which point they'd hire me and pay back all the moving expenses we'd incurred.

After a spell selling vacuum cleaners door to door(!) I found a contract in the oil fields doing drawings of an existing installation for burning the oil out of drilling mud.
One happy day I got a call from the shipyard and caught up with all my friends and more importantly the expenses.

We had been there about 6 months when we decided to buy a house. It was everything you dreamed about in an American house - when you lived in England. A big ranch house with a 2 car garage and a big yard front and back. We could live here quite nicely despite the atmosphere in the office which was pretty dictatorial. After we'd been in the house a couple of months a pay raise was passed out based on the annual performance evaluations.

I actually got the highest evaluation handed out that year - 98%, but no pay raise. When I questioned the boss (the dictator) about it he told me that I had bought a house and therefore I wasn't going anywhere. There would be no raise for me.

At the same time this was happening a shipyard in San Diego was in New Orleans trying to hire designers. My old mate Mike Johnson happened to be working in San Diego at the time, so I called him and got the name of the manager who was doing the interviewing.
The manager, John Murray, agreed to interview me based partly on the fact that Mike had mentioned my name. He not only offered me a job but a 15% pay raise, all expenses paid for the move and 2 months rent on an apartment when we got there. The very next day I threw my resignation on the dictators desk and we were in San Diego California a week later.

We loved San Diego, the weather there is rated in the top 10 climates in the world, semi tropical and virtually no rain. We were there for about 9 months, our son Fred was born there, but things got slow in the shipyard and rumors of lay-off started.
I don't do layoffs.

Out of the blue I got a call from a guy I knew from Barrow and St Catherines. His name was Brian Geldart and he had a lead on a job in Baltimore Maryland, way across the other side of the country, about 150 miles south of New York. It was contracting and all those pretty words like “Expenses” and “Self Employed” were floating around.

On December 5th I left Barbara, her Mum who was visiting for Christmas and the 2 kids in San Diego and drove 2500 miles to Baltimore. It was dark and raining, I drove through miles of terraced houses and industrial areas. 
I felt I'd come back to the North End! 

It was a big let down after San Diego but soon were were settled down in a nice new housing development with lots of cash flowing and tons of new friends. We eventually bought another house in Gambrills Maryland.

A year or so went by and a fight broke out in the agency that was running the job. The place went under and a different agency stepped in but wanted everyone to take a $5 an hour pay cut to up their profit. I dug my heels in and quit rather than take a pay cut.
For a couple of years I unhappily worked as a construction manager at a couple of US Army bases before again falling out with the bosses and getting fired!

I was out of work and very depressed for a couple of months. I found a contracting job designing ships again about 150 miles from home in Norfolk Virginia and commuted at weekends.
One happy day my old boss from the shipyard in Baltimore walked into the office. He wanted to know what I was doing on a drafting table. When I told him my situation, he offered me a job in Washington DC about 30 miles from home. I was to go in as a designer, but he also quietly told me they were looking for a design supervisor so if I showed them what I could do then the job would be mine.

And so I began a job that lasted 20 plus years. I daily fought the horrifying traffic in DC. The Design Supervisor's job was soon mine and I moved to a brand new section based in a slum in downtown DC! It was the cheapest office space in the area and helped us keep our overhead low so we could compete for Navy work. We were so successful that our competitors complained we were being unfair in our biding practices.

I had to learn AutoCAD quickly as the design side moved to computers, then I was seconded to the computer steering committee for the company while still doing my supervisor job.

My job also involved traveling out to ships all around the planet to take data for future changes and refits. I was truly in my element. The client found out that I could do ANYTHING that involved ships from structure to outfitting and ventilation. Pretty soon they were demanding that I specifically had to be sent to the various ships, and my bosses loved it because I could go alone. We'd beat the competitors bids just because we only paid for one person to travel whereas they priced based on travel for 4. The only thing I didn't do was electrical.

I was promoted to engineer, then manager then program manager. My star was really shining, but slowly the stress built up until one day I got in the car to drive to work and I couldn't turn the ignition on.
I was a wreck. Some medication and an understanding boss who was also a good personal friend got me back on my feet.
My great friend (and Boss) Mike Maloney.
(remember when you had all that hair Mike??)
Then another opportunity appeared out of the blue. A young engineer came to see me about something and happened to mention that his section was looking for someone who was prepared to move to San Diego. I jumped in with both feet and went straight to the head of his section. They would consider me if I could get my boss to release me. I went to Mike Maloney, my boss, and told him all about it. Bless him he said he didn't want to lose me but he knew how much I loved San Diego and he wouldn't stand in my way.
So a couple of months of negotiation with my new boss (who was a skinflint), and I got the pay raise I wanted, an all expenses paid move and a hotel room paid for until I found somewhere to live.

Pretty soon we bought another house with a 2 car garage. I was inspecting and supervising the testing of systems on a new class of supply ships for the Navy. I was the only person who actually understood ventilation systems so I was in demand.
San Franscisco Bay at dawn during a shakedown cruise.
The 3 year job lasted 10 years and we retired in San Diego.

Unfortunately we couldn't afford the mortgage and taxes in San Diego on our retirement income so we decided to sell everything and buy a big motorhome then we would just travel the country full time.

We've been doing just that for the last 1 ½ years and have plans for at least a couple more years. Our daughter lives in Birkenhead now and so do our only grand kids. We'll be back to visit them soon. Our son lives in Baltimore still, and we rent out the house in Maryland that we've owned for 25 years. We don't expect to live there again as the winter isn't to our liking but it's a fall back if our plans change.

So there that's how a lucky kid from the North End of Birkenhead came to live and work in San Diego California which is pretty much Paradise.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Overwhelmed by art!

Well we got Christmas and New Years over and done, thanks everyone for their cards and messages!!

In the break between Xmas and New Year we heard from our friends Fred and Judy who are planning on being in Florida January/February. After a few exchanges of details they made reservations at this park so we'll have a couple of weeks to catch up on all their news. 

Al and Jackie were in Melbourne FL for Christmas so we spent a day down there having lunch and talking fulltiming. They are hoping to try it too and are in the planning stage, we swapped some good/bad stories with them to keep them fired up! They are planning on being back in FL in March so we'll be meeting up with them again.

Talking of planning – we've made a decision on the where when and how of the trip we want to make to Europe in 2017. We have pretty much decided that it makes sense to store the rig and car here in FL and fly out of Orlando. That's based on our ability to store at a couple of places where we have a membership and the price of flights to UK. We're aiming for May 17 to September 5th right now.

Then we have made a BIG plan for next winter but that's a secret for now. Just wait and see it'll be FUN!

Work on rig maintenance has come to a halt for a while. I needed a ladder to change out the camera on the rear view system but the one I have is too small. I ordered a special telescoping ladder for in-store pickup from Home Depot.  I got the ladder but the weather has been too cold to get the job finished.

On the maintenance list so far:

Change the engine oil and filter.
Flush the hot water heater and replace the anode.
Drain the fresh water tank.
Install a new water filter element.
Rework the bathroom floor and rebuild the “Commode”.
Replace an awning pull strap.
Fix a couple of lights that I screwed up a year or so ago!
Change the shower head and hose.
I think I can handle all of those.

The Fiesta is in for it's seemingly annual transmission repair. 
It gets old. 
I keep hoping that this time will be a permanent fix from Ford but within about 5K miles or so it usually starts rattling and lurching again. Ford has extended the transmission warranty out to 100K miles, at this rate we might get 5 more repairs before the warranty expires!

I've been painting steadily and I have a form for entering the park's Fine Art Show in February. I'll have to sort out my favorite painting and get frames on them.

My "Informal Art Group" at the park has had it's first meeting and 9 people showed up! We'll be having weekly meetings each Tuesday at 2 pm from now on.

An Art group in Leesburg have restarted their weekly “Studio Sessions” at the Leesburg Center for the Arts after the Christmas break so I joined in that this week. I'm pretty excited at the prospect of being with group of other artists. Working alongside somebody else just adds flavor to the creation process and you learn so much.
Open studio
The first session was a review of the basics of perspective, a basic skill in drawing that if done wrong is immediately obvious. The class “Leader” is a retired High School art teacher and really made a solid easily understood presentation.

Next on the agenda was painting a piano. Not a painting OF a piano, actually painting ON a piano! There is a movement around the country that wants to put donated pianos in public spaces. This piano was donated locally and will sit outside a local wine store. Anyone passing by is welcome to play, in fact it will say “Please Play I'm Yours” right on there. 

The victim
The Leesburg Art Association (LAA) has been volunteered to decorate this one with something involving wine, drinking glasses, bottles etc. Unfortunately it was delivered just before the Christmas break and now they want it FRIDAY!
Being a go getter in my previous life I jumped in with both feet and we sketched out some basic shapes to get some ideas going.

A simple scroll to break up the space 
About 6 artists os all skill levels had added to it. It's been fun dropping by each day and seeing how much it's progressed. I must admit to have covered a LOT of it with my contributions, I hope nobody feels left out. The lady who did the “Zen Tangle” work on the cover for the keys is hugely talented but keeps saying she isn't! I think all artists have an anxiety thing going.

Here's some pictures of the work as it progressed.