I left St Philip’s Grammar School, Birmingham in the early summer of 1971. I’d scraped three middling ‘A’ Levels. I didn’t have a clue what to do next.
At St Philip’s, once you had signified you had no interest in going on to university you became a non-person. All you were doing there was damaging their statistics by drifting away into the general world of work. I recall one interview with a disinterested careers teacher, the task probably an unwanted add-on to his normal job. He had no more clue than me, which is why he was a teacher I suppose. I think any of us that went to see him got the same takeaways – try Banking or Insurance.
Yeah, I did six weeks at Eagle Star Insurance on the Hagley Road, since airbrushed from any subsequent CV. I was so miserable in the office there that I pushed my resignation letter under the manager’s door, walked out of the building and never heard from them again.
I had no plan and no one to turn to really. All I really liked was my sport. I wrote (this was well before internet days of course) to the elite PE colleges of the day, Loughborough and Carnegie. I even went up to Carnegie in Leeds but recall nothing of the college or interview. Anyway, though I loved my sport I wasn’t considered good enough at it to tempt those bastions. Perhaps if I’d aimed lower, if I’d been advised where to aim, then my career might have been very different.
I spent hours wandering around Birmingham trying to find inspiration. I found none in the then heavily-industrialised streets though I’ve since developed a great liking for post-industrial landscapes. I wrote other letters. I was invited to interview for an apprenticeship at British Leyland – I didn’t go. British Rail sent me a rail ticket to London to attend an interview. I used the ticket to go and see a football match instead.
I earnt a bit of money in a few local factories doing odd jobs, sweeping etc. I don’t think I impressed the foremen, neither did I fancy it as a long-term prospect.
I spent time in the local library – they had a couple of big books on careers. I studied them for hours looking for something that I might be suited to. Everything under the sun, and I had qualifications for most but I was in a hopeless rut. So hopeless that I kept turning to the same section in the middle of the book, Lighthouse Keeper.
Lighthouse Keeper. I rather fancied that. In Birmingham you’re pretty far from the sea so it would be an adventure. The money wasn’t bad. The way of life appealed to me – weeks at a time on duty, then a free week or two. Not much to do, how difficult could it be to keep a light from going out? I liked reading, I’d have plenty of time.
I never got around to writing to Trinity House. I never got around to doing anything much. In February 1972 I sort of fell into the world of accountancy and never left. I see they don’t need lighthouse keepers these days but I still wish I’d had a go.