Who Was Margaret Thatcher and What's She Got to Do with Me Anyway?
What Good is a Life Without Challenges
This is a bit of an 'about me' article, and the effect Maggie Thatcher had on my life because of her omnipresent appearances at pretty much all the critical moments. It is a relatively short, potted history, so hopefully you will find it entertaining if you decide to read on.
So there I was fresh faced and nineteen years old, I had just played rugby in a seven aside tournament representing my then employer Rank Xerox. It was a bit of a shock to everyone when we actually won, especially when as a result the England full back Peter Butler was asked to come and present us with the winning trophy. It was his famous boot which had been used to kick so many of England's conversions and penalties during his career playing for Gloucester and England. Mostly at a time when Rugby Union, even at the highest level, was an amateur sport.
That might have given you a clue that this was still the 70s a time of economic turmoil, industrial unrest, Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher, oh! and a little bit of the pipe smoking Harold Wilson and his mate Jim Callaghan. Need I say more. The year I left school there was a three day working week in operation and two general elections as Heath, in trying to wage war against the miners, sought public support. The hung parliament as a result of the first election then saw Heath defeated by Harold Wilson in the second. In 1975, my first full year in employment, Margaret Thatcher got the leadership of the conservative party consigning poor old Ted to the back benches. Still it gave him a bit more spare time to go sailing I suppose. So there you have it, my illustrious career in industry started pretty much in parallel with Margaret Thatcher's meteoritic rise on route to becoming the first and only female Prime Minister of England.
For anyone that was around during that period, you will probably have realised that just being in employment at that time was a bit of a challenge. I finished my apprenticeship in engineering around 1978 only to be told that the job as a product engineer I had been offered was to be withdrawn. There were going to be some serious cutbacks on staff levels. Unfortunately it wasn't just Rank Xerox that was cutting back, it was pretty much the whole country. I think we can call that 'Challenge Number 1'.
As for Maggie, she was gearing up for the big time, I was at a rugby cup final at Twickenham and she was the guest speaker before the match started. As she stood up the whole crowd booed and hissed, thousands of angry rugby fans venting their spleens. Maggie just stood there, waited for the noise to subside and then carried on as though nothing had happened. No wonder the Russians ended up calling her the 'Iron Lady'. I have to admit I was impressed by that and have never forgotten it, even if I can't remember who was playing or exactly which year it was.
Margaret Thatcher - The Authorized Biography, Volume One: Not For Turning
I have mixed feelings about whether Margaret Thatcher was good or bad for the country, on a personal level I found it very difficult to get work in my chosen profession and it wasn't until she was out of power that my personal career took off. I am still not sure to this day whether that was just a coincidence or not. But one thing I would never do is dance and celebrate in the street at her departure. She was a human being after all and I have no doubt in my mind that what she did, she thought was the best for the country - the debate should be whether it was or wasn't.
This is the authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher and might give you an insight into who the woman that divided a nation was.
Even when she died Margaret Thatcher managed to divide a nation, some loved her and always will and others loathed her. With this book you might understand why!
Life in the Military
The Royal Airforce
I wasn't the first of my family to join the military, but I think I was possibly the last. My father and most of his brothers had done national service during the war. My uncle was killed in Italy but my father served his time and survived in the Far East.
I joined after being prompted by a fellow co-worker at Rank Xerox. He told me that having taken a semi-skilled QA (quality assurance) job, instead of my engineering offer which was withdrawn, that I could now look forward to the next 25 years watching half built photocopiers pass in front of me while I checked someone had done their nuts up tight enough. I'm still not sure what he meant by that, but it was enough to convince me that there was another way. I duly applied for the Royal Air Force and was told that I had done so well on the aptitude tests that I could choose any trade I wanted.
I elected for the lofty position of 'in flight engineer', I was going to be air crew. Actually there was a slight hiccup, someone said we just need to check you are not colour-blind. You guessed it, I was and my choice went from any trade in the air-force down to a choice of 4 trades, yes FOUR.
Challenge number 2 I guess, but the thought of those half built copiers and no engineering jobs anywhere else in the country told me, that 4 was better than none or what I was currently doing, cheers Maggie you are doing a great job of ruining the country, sorry I meant running the country; clearly.
So I decided to stick to what I knew and took the trade of General Technican Workshops, the RAF's equivalent to an engineering job. Trouble was they didn't recognise civilian training, so I had to start all over again, with training pay to match. You are probably thinking that's not so bad for a twenty something, but I sort of forgot to mention that I had by this time fathered my first child (1979 just when Maggie became Prime Minister), got married and bought my own house when I was 19, just after that photograph above was taken actually. So decision made there was no going back, it was going to be old clothes and porridge for a while, otherwise known as 'Challenge Number 3'.
Once the training was over things got a little easier, a proper pay packet helped especially as child number 2 came along around the end of the training in 1982. My son was born on the day before Prince William, if he had hung on one more day we would have got a 'commemorative crown', sent out to all the children born on the same day as William. Or so I was told. Still he came out in one piece and was healthy so I can't complain.
I was enjoying life in the military, but it wasn't to last, married too young the relationship went the way of the 1 in the 1 in 3 ratio, I was posted and my children had to stay with their mother. My decision was to leave the air-force and get a job close to my kids. Easier said than done really, it took another 2 years to get out and the day I left there was still no job offer. 'Challenge number 4', I would say.
The Miners Strike in 1984 & Poll Tax Riots 1990 - Maggie's Finest Hour? - Not Sure it Was
She was and still is the longest serving Prime Minister in British history and there were some highlights but also some pretty dire times. There is no doubt in my mind that Maggie Thatcher influenced some of the events that occurred in my life.
Back in Industrial Employment - Oil and Gas Exploration
In 1989 Maggie had been Prime Minister for 10 years, I had left the air-force and was seeking employment once more as an engineer. But my career as a general technician was one that was more that of artisan than engineer, it was all touch and feel. Working as an advanced sheet metal worker, the general mode of employment was to be given a broken component from an aircraft and re-produce it using the broken part as a model. It was all hands on, tweaking and twisting until you got a completely new part that could be used as a replacement. There wasn't really a lot of call for engineering drawings, not for quite a long time in my air-force career.
Oh! I forget to mention, that 6 months after joining the air-force, war broke out in the guise of the Falklands Conflict with Argentina. Now that was lucky, the first war for a very long time and I joined the services just in time to see it all kick off. Actually I didn't really get involved because it was all over by the time my training was completed, it started in April and was finished by June. The national pride that came about as a result of kicking Argentina out of the Falklands did however see Maggie get re-elected the following year. This meant she was able to pursue her policy of de-regulating banks, battering the miners into submission as she eroded the power of unions and believe it or not there was a significant upturn in the economy. Thatcherism was in full flow and people were making money again, although given recent economic events, de-regulation of the financial sectors and the banks may not have been quite the good idea it seemed at the time.
Still people could buy their state housing now, Harry Enfield could talk about having 'loads of money' and, all in all, there was a bit of a feel good factor going on. Well if you ignore the massive property crash in 1988 and the poll tax riots.
So there I was job hunting after leaving the air force, with a nice big mortgage, which was very easy to get back in those days of free financial markets, and no money to pay for it. I took a job working as a sheet-metal worker to tide me over and pay the bills, not what I wanted but hey! those bills don't pay themselves.
Then I got an interview with an oil and gas exploration company, not doing actual 'oil and gas exploration', this was in research and development designing and manufacturing the equipment for directional drilling. Did I know anything about it, not really but I was keen to learn. During the interview things were getting a little technical, ~remember I hadn't even seen an engineering drawing for around 10 years~, but then they asked me a practical question :
"what would you do if you wanted to buy a component from a manufacturer and they said your quantities weren't enough to justify the tooling costs?"
I answered that I could always go to the Citizens Advice Bureau for some free impartial advice. Both my interviewers were highly amused by my little quip and after I made a more serious attempt at a correct answer. I won't bore you with that bit.
This was however the turning point of the interview, now they were on my side and to cut a long story short, I got the job and never looked back. Oil and gas exploration had become my industry and it proved to be a very interesting occupation. My new career in research and development was to last for the next 18 years. The culmination of those 18 years was that, after being sponsored through a degree in technology, I actually got to be the head of the research and development department with the grand title of 'Technology Manager' and a boss who was located in the USA.
Who would have thought that when I started my new job as a product engineer. Challenge number 5 then was becoming proficient in my new profession, but I think in this case there were a few '4. some-things' in between.
Maggie didn't last that long, she was gone by 1990, a casualty of her very unpopular initiative to introduce a community charge. She was replaced by the grey man of politics the right honourable John Major PM. He managed 7 years until 1997 when he was defeated in a general election by Tony Blair wearing his 'new labour' hat.
Directional Drilling with a Rotary Steerable System
Time for a Change - France was Calling
It's surprising how quickly 18 years can go by, kids all grown up with families of their own. A job that gradually changed from being that of an engineer to one where the emphasis was on managing budgets, finance and health and safety initiatives. Nothing wrong with any of that, but throw in a fiftieth birthday looming, a little bit of a health scare and it was time for a change. A long held ambition to live and work abroad suddenly became a prominent part of life's intended direction.
Tony Blair was the prime minister that would see me through to pretty much the end of my career in the oil industry, because in 2007 the decision to quit the day job and start a new life was made, and Le Moulin de l'Argentouire was purchased. Challenge number 6 was probably the biggest so far, a new country, a new business and a new life. Oh yes, and a new language to learn; unless you count schoolboy French from nearly forty years earlier.
This was about the time I decided a course learning website design would be a good idea, I would after all need a website for our new business, a self catering apartment in the South of France. I also discovered that I was pretty good at it. Putting colour blindness aside of course, I still have to ask my wife what colours work together.
So now you know why I ended up having to register, initially anyway, two businesses in France, the holiday apartment and my website design business. That was only the start, we then had to register my wife as an 'auto entrepreuner' so that she could start working in interior design and soft furnishings and I had to add internet marketing and book publishing to my portfolio. Well nobody said it would be easy.
This was all after our permanent move to France in 2008 ~ four years that seem to have passed by in the blink of an eye. Squidoo actually reminded me of how long it was because I discovered Squidoo when I was looking at Internet marketing and ways to promote our holiday business and I was recently given my four year award since joining .
So that's where we are now, surviving in France, making a living and, as my profile says, living the life of a millionaire that can't get staff. It's fun and we enjoy it. We do have our struggles, just like anyone else, but it is a completely different lifestyle and certainly while we are fit enough, one we want to continue.
So who is prime minister of England now, well after Tony, Gordon Brown did a stint (that was exciting) and he just about managed to finish the country off before he got turned over by David Cameron. To date I am not sure if trying to finish off what Gordon Brown started or whether his approach will actually benefit anyone in the long run. I suppose one thing is for sure, you cannot spend more than you earn indefinitely, even at a government level, so something had to change and fingers crossed the chosen strategy will work. Living in France doesn't mean I don't care what is happening in my native homeland.
British Politics and Margaret Thatcher
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