I was born and brought up in Kington St. Michael in Wiltshire, and grew up with Jeremy Corbyn until the age of about 10, when his family moved away. He did not turn me into a Marxist.
I failed my 11 Plus exam, because I was ill at the time, and you were not allowed to sit it later. As a result I was sent away to boarding school for seven years.
I had decided that surveying was the job for me, and I went to Bristol Technical College (now The University of the West of England) for three and a half years full time, where I did the professional exams of both the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Chartered Auctioneers and Estate Agents Institute. I passed the first, intermediate and final exams of both, and then they joined together! However, I was entitled to join as either a building surveyor or a valuation surveyor. I chose the former.
I was a member of the local RICS branch, and one of the interesting visits that we had was down the last of the North Somerset coalfields. The coalfield was due to close within the next few weeks, and the branch managed to arrange a visit. The coal seam was only 2’6’’ high, and this was the reason that it was uneconomic to continue mining. We were fully kitted out, and had to crawl on hands and knees for half a mile through the open seam, with the mechanical cutter running back and forth up and down the seam, pushing us against the other side. I would not have missed it for the world.
Whilst in Bristol I joined the Royal Naval Reserve, and there were two drill ships in Bristol Docks, HMS Flying Fox, a first world war frigate, HMS Locust, a Yangtse River gunboat, and a sea going minesweeper, HMS Venturer, 550 tons.
The longest period that I spent on board Venturer was one month, when we sailed from Plymouth to the Mediterranean. We were based in Gibraltar, with ten other RNR sweepers and an escorting destroyer. Regular navy sweepers joined us later, and in the end we numbered 15, a fleet almost as big as the navy is now. We paid visits to Lisbon and Casablanca. When I joined the RNR I had failed the eye sight test when undergoing the medical. I was advised that I was colour blind (which I knew already – red, green, brown), and that I could not go to sea as a seaman. I had two choices – engine room or supply. Not wanting to get my hands dirty I opted for the latter.
However, when we went to sea I was always a seaman, on the wheel steering the thing. Still, we did not hit anything whilst I was on the wheel. The sweepers were all part of the Ton class, and they were ‘pigs’ to steer, especially in bad weather. We were armed with a 40mm Bofors gun and twin 20mm Oerlikons, with the minesweeping gear consisting of traditional sweep wires, a heavy acoustic hammer and a mile long heavy electric cable.
I have always been interested in naval matters, and there was a toss up between the navy and surveying. As you will have seen from above the latter won. At about that time I managed to get an invite to visit the largest aircraft carrier in the world, the nuclear powered USS Nimitz, a real monster. 92,000 tons, a four and a half acre flight deck, 85 aircraft and 5,700 crew, men and women. The ship itself only needs refuelling every five years, but aviation fuel and food have to be replenished every two days or so.
In my professional career I have been involved with many projects of various types and sizes. Professional wok undertaken has included structural surveys of residential and commercial properties, party wall work, dilapidations work arising under leases, building work, mainly concerning repairs, and defects analysis.
I have developed a light industrial estate in Wiltshire, been involved with the management of estates belonging to a large pension fund, been involved with the planning and conversion of Housing Association properties, and have even undertaken an inspection in order to prepare a schedule of condition of part of the Victorian Circle line tunnel between Paddington and Edgware road stations. This was in connection with a development of a terrace of houses above. I had to undertake a London Underground course beforehand, to prove that I was not a complete idiot, and the inspection was undertaken between 12 midnight and 3am. You would be amazed how many workmen descend on to the tracks as soon as the power is turned off, and also at the amount of water penetrating through the brick arched tunnel. Why do we not fry when passing through in the train? Unfortunately only a photographic record could be taken, with the tunnel being formed with millions of bricks rather than the steel tunnel lining sections now used.