On my second day as an apprentice the
boss gave me the supposedly harmless task of dusting out the back
of a TV. He fixed me up with vacuum cleaner and a dry 1" paintbrush
and went off to see to something else. I plugged the vacuum cleaner
into the nearest power point and made a start. The vacuum seemed in
need of replacement. It just didn't seem to run up to speed and
couldn't have sucked the skin off a rice pudding. I carried on
doing the best I could. Who was I to complain. Pretty soon a
strange smell pervaded the air. I had a look round and noticed with
interest a pool of dense grey smoke coming out of a box at the back
of the bench. It was a kind of heavy smoke which sort of crept
across the bench top and then fell onto the floor.
"Hello" I shouted hoping someone might hear "He-lp yeah?" The
boss came in, quickly sized up the situation and unplugged the
vacuum cleaner. I'd plugged it into what's known as an isolating
transformer. It's a safety thing designed to run TVs under repair
conditions and maybe a soldering iron as well. They only have
limited current capabilities and I'd certainly exceeded it by using
it to run a 1000 watt vacuum cleaner. The expensive transformer was
a write off and the smell lasted for days. It could have been worse
I suppose. Might have lost the bench...or even the whole workshop!
Well...nobody told me I shouldn't plug it in there did they, but
what a good start to a new job!
Workshop safety standards weren't as strict
as they are today. The bench tops rested on Dexion (a sort
of angle iron with holes in). It was pretty convenient for hanging
hot soldering irons on. I lost many a pair of trousers because of
this. I'd go up to see what sort of fault was being worked on by
one of the engineers. A hot feeling around the thigh accompanied by
a burning smell meant that his soldering iron was hanging unnoticed
on the Dexion so ruining yet another pair of trousers. In the end
my Mother said that she couldn't help out with the cost anymore, so
patches were the only answer. All of my trousers ultimately had
patches on, usually somewhere between the fly and trouser
That wasn't the only trouble that the Dexion benches caused. The
bench top and therefore the Dexion was roughly at the height of the
male naughty bits. This meant that if an electric shock was
received the spark went in through the finger and headed for the
nearest path to earth. In this case that meant out through the
'male anatomy' to the Dexion. I think this is where Disco dancing
had it's origins.
Precision wire cutters aren't cheap.
When changing a TV on/off switch I quickly destroyed the boss's
ones by cutting through the mains lead while it was still plugged
into the mains. With a medium to loud bang and a few sparks, two
neat little 'U' shapes were melted into the blades. Mains plug
fuses weren't usual back then so not only did it ruin the cutters
but we had the job of mending the customers house fuses as well.
Saying sorry seemed so inadequate. However, justice was served a
few weeks later when I did the same thing again, but this time the
cutters were mine. It was the last time this was to happen to me.
Ruining the boss's cutters was OK, but ruining mine really pressed
the lesson home. In years to come I would sometimes see other
engineers' wire cutters with two neat 'U' shapes melted into the