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The Night Before The First Day

I arrived in Manchester the day before I was due to start work and, like a number of employees who were not able to live at home, I stayed at the YMCA at Montgomery House in South Manchester.

Although I'd visited Park Works some months previously for my interview, I needed to ensure that I could find the site and so I did a trial run that evening. Things went fairly well until, on the return journey through Manchester, I turned left at the bottom of Portland Street into Oxford Street and met four lanes of oncoming traffic! Fortunately, traffic was light and they were slowing down for the lights so I was able to do a U turn without incident.

The First Day

I started work at M+P on 6th September 1976. In the morning I arrived at work, parked the car, and signed-in at Reception. A couple of other young recruits were also there looking equally anxious. We were escorted through the Training Department - no hi-tech equipment here, just typewriters, carbon paper and Banda machines. Then, out into the passageway and down what, at the time, seemed like miles of parque-floored corridors to Syndicate Room 2 which was to be our base for the week's induction.

Induction started off with an introduction from John Gill who was the Training Manager at the time. After that, there were personal introductions from each apprentice - these were enlightening. Coming from Wales, I hadn't heard a Lancashire accent before. It was all I could do not to laugh with words like "he-ur" for "here". One apprentice was going on about how much he enjoyed "bawling", until I'd heard enough of the context to realise that he probably meant "bowling". After hearing about motorbikes, the Church, camping and whatever we sat down to videos about M+P products, safety information, had a tour around the site and factory and, most importantly, found out where to collect our salary.

The memory of one particular induction video lasts to this day. It showed a tower block, somewhere in South America I think, that didn't have a fire sprinkler system but did have a fire. People above the fire moved up to the roof and when the fire reached the roof they started jumping off. This was no disaster movie - the video showed real bodies after they'd jumped from the top floor. Now, whenever I go into a high-rise building, I always check whether there is a sprinkler system and if there isn't, then I check where the hose reels and the exits are.

A Brush With The O'Brien

At home time I went back my car and there was a note on the window. Oh!, a reminder to get a parking disc? No! A note saying "Park in your own space!" and signed "Eamon O'Brien, 13 Bay". Well that threw me - I'd upset the natives on my first day. I only hoped I didn't have to visit 13 Bay and work for him sometime. Consequently, I found that I wasn't supposed to park in that particular car park but across Grimshaw Lane next to the railway.

Different Backgrounds

On the next day, friendships started to form quickly between those of like minds. It surprised me at the time, though not today, that we grouped together by the type of school we attended. The co-educational and comprehensive people got together and the privately educated and those with Cheshire accents got together. The whole group comprised Alison Peace, Stephen Bennett, Peter Barton, Nick Sole, Jonathan Thompson, Andrew Potter and me. There was another apprentice but he was sent to Garstang in Lancashire (pronounced Garrrstang in Lancashur) to work on Outside Erection for Fire Engineering.

Piccadilly Gardens

A few days later I was driving to work early in the morning through Piccadilly Gardens. In those days there were lots of traffic lights placed very close together and they were synchronised. I thought I had accidently driven through a red light and looked in the rear-view mirror to check. Yes, I had, and promptly drove through another set at red!


The Training Department clearly wanted to keep tabs on us. Every Friday afternoon, when everyone really wanted to get an early start home, there was a meeting back at Park Works with the other apprentices. This was usually hosted by John Gill but also involved George Newman and Brian Antrobus on occasions. The session was to bring everyone up to date with how things were going and for each apprentice to give a presentation on their current area and what impact they were making there. Having a major impact on an area was not necessarily a good thing. An apprentice from another year, David Radish I seem to recall, was frequently trying to help by suggesting completely impractical ideas. Another, Nick Sole, fancied himself as an inventer and contemplated means of getting an acid accumulator to produce AC current.

Financial Assistance

At the time, there were Government schemes to encourage people in areas of high unemployment to move elsewhere to obtain employment. As a resident in Wales I was lucky enough to receive a Disturbance Allowance which was paid for twelve months.

The Company also gave me a bursary to assist with general expenses.

Halon Discharge

The 1982, M+P purchased a DEC VAX 11/780 to perform its engineering calculations. At the time, an Applicon CAD system was also installed. Both systems were located in a specially built computer room that was protected by an M+P Halon system. Some time after, a service engineer was performing some routine maintenance on the Halon system and had the floor tiles lifted in the print room. Someone said to him "are you supposed to be doing that?" to which he replied "yes, it's a two-knock system - it takes two detectors to trigger the system so working on one at a time is fine". You've guessed it: 10 minutes later the alarm sounds, followed by a full Halon discharge. Unfortunately, I was in the computer room at the time. The room filled with fog, my ears popped and I ran for the door. Fire Engineering employees worked just outside the computer room and they were always modelling discharges to ensure that the Halon was discharged within 10 seconds: some wit asked "did anyone time the discharge?".

The PTW (Practical Training Workshop)

The first thing that struck you about the PTW was the smell of cutting oil and hot metal. The second thing that usually struck you was the Section Leader's boot if you broke a twist drill or dropped a micrometer down a lathe sump.

The machine tools were reasonably old and had probably seen long service on the shop-floor prior to being relegated to the Workshop. Most had suffered at the hands of previous apprentices with every conceivable size of hole drilled into the machine vices and machine beds. The paint was chipped, the chucks had bell-mouths and the backlash in the slides was horrendous.

You could borrow tools and gauges from the Tool Stores. This was located under a stairway and below Alf Twist's office - he was the person in overall charge and dealt mainly with the Craft Apprentices.