Friday, 1 June 2012

View From The Site by A. S. Park

View From The Site - The Old Breed

I received an email this week asking if I can post this article up on here. A view from the site.
Written by London based electrician, A. S. Park

If you would like to write a piece for the blog or have any ideas then please get in touch

Father time. Old codgers. Ageing git. OAP's. Old boy's. Old timer's. Grandad. They all and each go by many names. I prefer one above all. I honour, The Old Breed.

They're the same on every firm. Each has had at least one......
They're the one who sits quietly in the same seat in the canteen. Order's the same breakfast on a Friday. Buys the same paper day in day out and read's it cover to cover completing every crossword and soduko the red top has to offer. Where's shirts and shoes to work. You are all picturing your Old Breed now, if you're not, there's a good chance you are one.

I was very fortunate in my apprenticeship. I joined a good firm, kept my head down, learnt my teachings. I quickly noticed the Old Breed of sparks. Back then they we're Father time. Old codgers. Ageing git. OAP's. Old boy's. Old timer's. Grandad. But I never questioned there ability I was amazed by it. At 65, they were getting into voids I struggled too at 16. Or lifting 190mill armoured's up dry risers of building 30 stories high, forever quite and never complaining.

Over time the attitudes change. From that of 'Silly old git, wont see me doing that at his age.' to putting yourself in the void space through sheer admiration. The same you'd show a family member. It can take 2 years, maybe 4. But most apprentices will have this admiration by the end of there apprenticeship, and that in itself is an NVQ level 3. Alas, some do not...

Throughout all of our careers, we have come across sparks. Most can recognise the differences. You have the 25-30 year old spark, starting a family, just trying to do a good days work so he can give his kid the best start in life. Coming home to his pregnant wife knowing everything's going to change when the nipper arrives.

The hour hunter, nothing will stand in the way of my task spark. (He's Ok though really, he's just in need of money more than the rest of us, clearly.. But down the pub he's a nice enough guy.)

The middle management spark, who through no fault of his own somehow found his way back onto the tools. Possibly as a charge hand or foreman. But is nearly there, forging his way one way or another.

Closely followed by your average spark. Here because 'I may just make a career out of this palaver'

The jack - the - lad spark. At a different end of the spectrum. The purpose on site is to make the days roll quicker. (He's not the greatest on the tools, but he'll get there. He's good for the crack for the time being)

The Subby. Now the Subby comes in all different shapes and sizes. But I'm talking about one in particular. This subby completed his 1 year apprenticeship and received his 'Qualification'. He did this off his own back and has been passed from post to post, to site to site. He his slap dash, he is rough, he is un-professional.

Now don't get me wrong, he may mean well and if so, fair play too him. But I'm referring to the ones who don't. And we have all come across them.

And last of all, we have the Old Breed.

Now from leaving my old ship because of a termite problem, which caused her to sink internally, I myself have been forced down the path of the 'self employed'. Taking this long walk armed only with my 17th edition, full apprenticeship, NVQ Level 3, 2330, and NVQ Level 3 Old Codger Admiration. Never at anytime throughout my career have I relied more on the last. You see, the Old Breed of sparks is only valid in certain scenario's. Teams of gents who have worked together for years for example. Permanent staff, as you will. This does not exist in a 'hire and fire environment'. For what links all of the sparks described above, is the Old Breed themselves. Without them, the industry collapses. A 65 year old on site, is just a grandad until he can prove himself, but that's the irony, A) He'll be long gone onto the next site before he even has a chance too, and He has spent that last 45 years proving himself, he now, in this environment, doesn't need too, but is expected too. He is but a UTR number.

I was taught from day one by the Old Breed. The way it's supposed to be done. I would go as far as to say that I may be one of only a handful of young electricians who have had this privilege. I work with a subconscious, the unspoken voice in the back of your head that tells you what your doing is correct and not a bodge. The same voice that makes you go back the next day and alter what you've done the day before, because you've gone home and its played on you that it just doesn't look right... The same unspoken voice of the Old Breed who, back when you were a Joey, explained to you the correct way of doing a job safely, correctly, functionally and aesthetically pleasing...Art.

The teachings that the Old Breed give can never be told or taught by a Regulatory book. This information is burned into the very fabric and nature of our trade. It is written between the lines of the 7671. It is invisible, it doesn't need to be written out, its just right. It's almost mythical, it is passed from Old Breed to Joey, to the point the Old Breed is surpassed, and the apprentice becomes the MD. The Old Breed, receives another apprentice, and the cycle continues.

This is of course back in the day when you could never do to much for a good Governor. Because he has been in your shoes, he has worked with the same Old Breed that is teaching you now how to make box spanners from 20mm tube. Of course, everyone thinks the MD's a prick! But all under him will have a reason he's not. And that reason will stay tight lipped on every bloke until the day he dies. Because the MD's the offspring of the Old Breed, weather he likes it or not. He may aswell be your brother.

This industry is now held up on matchsticks.. I hope I have written a picture of just how precarious our situation is. The Old Breed had a job. It wasn't installing cable's, or metal work, or fancy lighting systems. His job, was to pass the teachings down to the young puppy's. To educate them on how to become with time and experience, the new Old Breed. For that is effectively every electrician's duty. To pass on his teachings to ensure his trade, no matter how arduous it can be at time's, is kept alive long after he has received the P45 from the sky. Without a structured system of new / Old Breed, the Old Breed die out or retire without passing on there teachings. And those of us who have been lucky enough to receive these key practices of life; by the time we are in a position to do so, we are 'finishing up this week'. Onto the next site. 'Sorry son.', and away we go. Leaving another keen youngster in limbo, wondering if he'll ever be as good as the pillar he has just met. And the unfortunate reality of it, is he wont.

We can, are, and have been delaying it. The BESNA fight for example is a massive win. However it is but a delaying tactic. Through natural selection alone, the Old Breed's teachings will be passed onto less and less each year that roll's by. until one year, it will be lost altogether. Ten years, fifteen, twenty? I doubt that long. Until one day sparks of the future will be working on a project considered a 'lash up' in our trade today. One Hyde Park, The Shard, The Olympic Orbit... They will go in to do a general rip out, and exclaim, 'Christ! they really done this job properly didn't they! Talk about over board! This is going to be a bitch to rip out!'. Take a second to think about this if you have worked on these projects.

Perhaps the Old Breed know this. Perhaps they've seen this coming for years. The blatant disregard for safety and skill which is paving the way for increased profit margins on shody structures by under qualified individuals. Which combined, is decimating one of the most highly sort after skill's in the world. The British 17th Edition Electrician. Perhaps this is why they sit there in the same chair quietly each day. Completing there soduko to remove themselves from the situation if only for a few brief minutes. We will never know until we are the Old Breed.

I am saddened to see an increasing nomadic industry which is collapsing around me. And yet can be held up by but a few Old Codger's with there ways. To read this now one would assume I am the Old Breed, that I must be finally speaking out against the youth and 'Management consultants' of the day........ I am 21 years of age.


  1. Rite on brother a old guy said to me a few year ago they dont want trades men anymore they want speed merchants bak then I thought hes ful of shit but now I understand wat he meant.

  2. so very true very wise words for young spark you are a philosospher