Ted Barrett                                                   - Training, Consultancy and Technical Services
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Blog for July


Okay Peeps, here is my blog for July. We had what the media was calling a “Heatwave”, I thought it was what we used to call “Summer”. If you were a sparky working in a loft or roof-space my heart goes out to you. I had plenty of that and its no fun in those conditions.

I just about managed to finish the bathroom and have started a major rework of the garden with a view to putting in a swimming pool next year so standby for reports on that.

Luckily had a very light month work-wise so only did Devizes, Wimbledon and Dunstable (actually did Dunstable three times, but that was only due to a “senior moment” where I went on the wrong day; ho-hum).

Went to see Burt Bacarach in July and what a privilege that was. The man has worked on so many tunes with so many people. It was an honour to be in the same building as him. I can’t think of anything he has worked on I didn’t like. I remember as a little kid listening on my mum and dad’s radio to “San Jose” and “Say a little prayer” and loving it. Compared to the Beatles “Yeah Yeah” Burt was pure gold.

Funny really, but show business was how I came to be an electrician. Me and my mate Keith George were interested in electrical science and involved in the Drama club at Cherwell School doing the stage lighting and setting up the projector for film shows along with loudspeakers and PA gear on top of the science block roof for school sports day etc. It was therefore a natural conclusion that when I left school I would be an electrician for stage or film. Accordingly, I went to my interview at the New Theatre Oxford with a spring in my step and great hope in my heart. However, when the Theatre Manager told me that the job involved periods of intense activity (working all day in preparation and then through the evening operating equipment) followed by periods of nothing at all until the next performance, it sort of burst my balloon and decided to pursue a more traditional route to being an electrician. That was how I became an apprentice electrician and not long after my fifteenth birthday found myself shoved under the floor of a Chinese restaurant with a big drill and told to drill all the holes through the under-pinning for cables to run through. That really wasn’t what I was looking for but after you’ve made your bed etc. I think Keith George went on to become Head of Electronics at Oxford University but sadly we lost touch.

My old boss and much-respected lecturer Adrian Hickinbottom has been involved with stage lighting for quite some time and as far as I know still deals with stage electricians known as the Strand Group in London in helping them to get electrical qualifications. In addition to that he is involved in a national stage scheme where he inspects and advises on stage lighting installations.

I think it is this range of career opportunities that makes electrical engineering such a fascinating profession and I think gives a great range of career routes. As has now been proven, forget IT and Media. These have nowhere near the interchangeable/transferable skills such as planning, drawing, measuring up, pricing, stock control that we find in the electrical trade. The list is endless, and as dealing with the public or other trades is a big part of our job we also develop pretty good “people skills”; we can manage staff, defuse situations and interestingly we get to “read” people.

Of course, some sparkies stay in one job their whole lifetime and if they are happy to do this then so be it. Personally, I do not think this is a healthy objective for the individual or organisation as it means the electrician does not encounter different working practices or solutions to problems. For example some electrical contractors may only deal with domestic work such as rewires, if this is what you’ve done for a decade or so how will you get on if made redundant? Can you do Conduit? Trunking? NO? How about Maintenance work? How about setting up your own business? This is where a more rounded experience comes in useful, if not essential.

Those of you who have been involved in maintenance work or fault-finding will have a little smile and nod at the comment above about being able to “read” people. As part of the fault-finding process we often have to deal with machine operators etc to get information. Very often you will get “I didn’t do anything” as an opening line which immediately puts you on your guard. But we get to be like those poker players who can read the “tells” on an opponent’s face: the wide open pupils, touching the nose and sweating etc. If they don’t tell us the truth if can take a long time to find a problem caused by operator error. It must also be said that sometimes faults aren’t faults. Its not unknown on night-shifts for personnel to sabotage equipment through boredom or frustration. And again its difficult to trace a fault if the spanner that was rammed into a line has been removed and those concerned have arranged their features into those of the junior school choir. On one occasion I was looking for a faulty grinder reported by a night-shift. After searching for it for some time the guys were all clutching their stomachs with laughter and pointing upwards. They had only welded it to the roof girders! 

Passed my 18 Edition exam this month so now ready to receive the hordes that will also want theirs. I must say that I have never liked the 7671 series of exams as I think that 60 questions in 2 hours (2 minutes a question) is very demanding. For the average working spark, who needs this qualification to keep their grade I think we need a lower level exam that just proves they can navigate the book, not have an in-depth knowledge of it.

I have noticed a lot of traffic on Facebook recently with the storyline “Be Kind”. Well, that’s great. I can’t argue with that but unfortunately there will always be people in this world that take advantage of kind people. I am still disturbed by the old dear that was pursued by so many tele-sales charities for donations that she committed suicide. I would prefer the motto (Mel Brooks style) “Be kind, but don’t be a shmuck”.

God bless all my readers and those that aren’t. Stay safe and keep your hand on your ha’penny. Until next month, Adios mi amigos y amigas.


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