They say that pride comes before a fall, but I was 19 and had just attended a life changing training course given by the best tutors I had ever encountered. A course that not only taught me new things, but also consolidated everything I had learned in the previous four years. During my apprenticeship, I had spent time in all the various areas of the business but today was a special day, I had been handed the keys to my very own “Moggy Minor” van because field service beckoned.
As I collected my tools, my workshop colleagues just shook their heads; they couldn’t understand why anybody would volunteer for field service. After all, field service were misfits who we blamed for stealing our solder and tools if we didn’t lock them up. They were the bodgers, and twiddlers whereas we were the guys who could fix the unfixable, or so we thought. I didn’t care, I had spotted something more important than being able to find the solutions to the Test Cases in Practical Television, field service were the guys who had wheels and thus freedom and I was going to join them.
I was allocated a call sign, I wasn’t just an apprentice any more, and I was now a number. To be factually correct I was now an apprentice with a number who was about to become the “Float Engineer” so named because I would float into other peoples areas to help out without actually having an area of my own. It would be taking an artistic liberty if I were to omit that this was actually the lowest position in field service. The “new van” was the most thrashed, worn out, dented and abused vehicle in the fleet whose previous occupant had either never washed his feet or had owned a pet rat that had died somewhere amongst the ankle deep fag packets and general litter. None of that bothered me because I was on cloud nine, my workshop attire was now swapped for a very smart field service jacket and I was ready for anything.
Back in the control room, a few field service guys were still congregated, exchanging jokes and stories before they departed on their rounds. The manager had informed them that I was going to be the new float engineer and they each duly issued me a couple of jobs to get me started. A quick stock check of the parts drawers in the back of the van revealed that all the drawers with parts that I was ever likely to need were empty. Half an hour later, restocked and replenished I was ready to go.
I had several jobs and four of them were timed calls which typically meant before 12:00 or after 3:30 and the like, so my first challenge was organising my day to fit these in. Despite my eagerness, nothing could have prepared me for the nightmare that I was about to experience; one I would never forget. First of all, the jobs were so very much more difficult than I had expected and half of the customers were amongst the rudest people I had ever met in my life. The first customer suggested that I was too young to be repairing their set adding that it cost too much money for a kid to be messing about with. The second said that if I needed a book to help me fix it (schematics) I couldn’t be very good, as no other engineer had ever needed to do that.
For the next job, I found the street but couldn’t find the number as all the numbers finished long before the number I required. Surely the control room girls couldn’t have made a mistake? I tried to call base on my RT (radio telephone) but I couldn’t get a signal. The next customer was actually very nice but the house wasn’t, I could feel my shoes sticking to the carpet as I squelched my way to the TV set. I spent the rest of the day scratching my shins; I think the cat must have had fleas.
By the time I returned to base that evening I was totally dejected, my spirit broken, I just wanted to return to my old workbench, back to my comfort zone. I seriously thought that I had made the biggest mistake of my life; I reasoned that my overconfidence had stemmed from the company-training course and I just wasn’t ready for field service. Our manager was still there when I returned; he could read my face and knew things couldn’t have gone well. I just let it all out, I told him about the house number incident, the various faults that I had dealt with. I felt that the timed calls and the rush hour traffic had made it impossible to reach a couple of the calls. He asked to see my completed job cards and when he flicked through them he laughed out loud and without explanation he told me not to worry and to go home, he would see me in the morning.
The next day I met up in the control room with the rest of the field service guys. I now had a pigeon hole with my number above it where I would collect my job cards, so it looked as though I still had a position in field service. Nobody spoke or made eye contact with me, which left me feeling uneasy, I guessed they probably already knew by now about my previous day so I just proceeded to read my first job card. Instead of the customer details it read “Welcome to Field Service” Puzzled by this I looked up and my new colleagues had surrounded me applauding, hooting and laughing. Suddenly it dawned on me what had happened – What Total cads! Yes that missing house number was a fake job, carefully crafted because they knew the house had been pulled down in a slum clearance years before. In fact every job they had given me on my first day was contrived; a timed call, a difficult job, a difficult customer or a combination of all three.
This was my inauguration and their way of putting my feet back on the ground, welcome to field service indeed. One thing though, field service was a hell of a lot easier after that.