Against everyone’s expectations in passing the 11+ and being offered a place at either St.Olave’s, ‘Chis & Sid’ Grammar or Cray Valley ‘Tech’ I cannot now recall why the latter was the preferred academy for Spence minor, but with hindsight it was undeniably a decision that greatly influenced my later life and career.
I arrived at Cray Valley in September 1966 and remember clearly being greeted by a sixth former named Rose, a friendly face at a daunting time, who guided me to the appropriate classroom. Assigned to Rochester house, the teachers who over the next five years most influenced my future were; ‘Spike’ Hughes (Maths and jokes), ‘Paddy’ (no such word as ‘got’) Wedlock (English), Colonel Richmond-Coggan (French and war stories) and Messrs. Gale, Parsons, Brickell, Lugg, et al (practical engineering, technical drawing and smoking).
Family circumstances meant there was no option to stay on for A levels, so in 1971 I departed Cray Valley and in October that year started an apprenticeship with Molins Ltd, initially in Deptford and later at their two sites in St. Mary Cray. It was a sign of the times that on leaving school that June, my classmate and friend, Paul Mathews and I had no problem in finding temporary employment in one of the many factories along Cray Avenue. In addition I had received offers of apprenticeships with all the companies applied to, viz.; Vickers (Crayford), RARDE (Fort Halstead), British Telecom, and Molins Ltd.
By the time of completing my apprenticeship the economic situation had changed dramatically, and none of the 25 apprentices of my year were offered permanent positions. A fellow student in my ONC class at SELTEC suggested I apply to SEGas, as they were looking to recruit instrument technicians. Having attended a rather strange interview, with no relevant technical questions, I was surprised to be offered a position as Technical Assistant which, being imminently unemployed, I gratefully accepted. It later transpired that due to an administrative error I had been sent to the wrong interview, but somehow managed to secure the vacancy.
SEGas, and later TransCo, were benevolent employers and funded my further education through HNC, a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, and a post-graduate management degree. I qualified as a Chartered Gas Engineer, a Chartered Mechanical Engineer, and later achieved European Ingénieur status and election to Fellowship of the Institution of Gas Engineers.
In the early ‘90s, with a generous redundancy package on offer, TransCo and I parted company and I joined a civil engineering contractor, working as Engineering Manager on the huge undertaking bringing natural gas to Northern Ireland.
My final career move was in 1998 when I joined Jersey Gas Company in the Channel Islands, initially as Distribution Manager and later as Engineering Manager. Jersey is a truly special place to live and, having gained full residential status, it is now the place my wife Pam and I call home. We have a beautiful house overlooking the Royal Bay of Grouville and the French coast beyond, and for the past 20 years have enjoyed the many pleasures of keeping Irish Wolfhounds.
I’ve elected to retire in April 2016, although continuing to work part-time as a consultant.
There is no doubt that the underpinning knowledge, problem solving skills, and aptitude to work from first principles learned at Cray Valley, both initiated and lubricated a career path that has been stimulating, (largely) enjoyable and rewarding.