20 October 2010

Back in the day

I was chatting to one of the young guys in work today about getting started in the industry and it occurred to me that it was a long long time ago and things were different to today.

Back in 1988 when I finished my degree I had planned to go offshore mud logging but then Piper Alpha slowed down recruitment and oil at less than $12 per barrel pretty much killed it. I had a 2.1 degree and a plan to do a PhD the following year, but I was also very skint and needed money now. I worked briefly as a landscape gardener in Cardiff before heading back to North Wales. I arrived home to a letter from a friend who sent me some job adverts. I called them up and had an interview the next day in London with a small company called GAPS.

I drove down to the smog and found their office. It was a converted house in Putney. I later found out that it had been converted by a 60 year old Polish exile in his spare time – it looked like it! The interview went fine despite me telling them I only wanted the job for a year and they offered me the position on £7500 per year. It sounded ok and I knew it would be good experience.

So I moved down with all my possessions load in my car (a £100 mazda) and started work. The job was ok, the people friendly and I was on a steep learning curve. Three summers of working in a car show room washing the same cars everyday had long taught me that the best way to get through the day is to be busy. Siphius knew what he was doing. So I threw myself into it and tried to get as much out of it as possible.

At first I stayed with my cousins in Orpington (1.5 hours away) away but they justifiably got bored of me after about 4 weeks so I moved out. At this point I realized that £7500 was not enough to live on in London when especially when you already have significant debt. So for the next 5 months I slept on peoples floors, sofas and very rarely spare rooms. The people I was dosing with generally didn’t have much more money than me so they didn’t have large flats with lots of space, but they were hospitable, generally for about 4 weeks before the subtle hints would start and it was time to move on. Eventually my girlfriend got a flat and for my last month we had a home, but we were so skint, its hard to imagine it now. Still we managed to party and climbed at the free wall in Imperial College and on the crappy southern sandstone.

The people I worked with were a motley crew but a good bunch. They appreciated that I was keen to learn and gave me interesting jobs that allowed me to develop. There was fundamental Christian who would describe rocks as Jurassic but refused to believe they were older than 6000 years; a big Welshman who was trying hard to be a father, his wife would call up and he would rush home at lunch time to do the business, then come back to work and laugh about it; there was one of the owners who worked in the lab downstairs and used to tip mercury down the toilet and used HF with no gloves – HSE in the workplace! There was a couple of other young guys who partied hard, their exploits are beyond this post and, there was some good geologists trying hard to do a good job. Many of them are still active in the business and I still run into them from time to time.

By February of my year in Industry I was bankrupt and the bank was not interested in my pleas. I got an opportunity to start a PhD in Birmingham immediately. The project came through a contact I had made from the Company and was highly relevant to my future career so I jumped at it. The money was even worse (£1850 year) but at least I could live like a student again and more importantly the bank got off my back for a few more years.

I could say I had “done industry” and also that I had lived in London. I was only there for 7 months but that was long enough to say “that was fun but never again!”

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