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Interviewee: Mike Kelly

Date: 21 May 2019

Interviewer: Bill Onwusah

Q1: Bill Onwushah A: Mike Kelly Q2: Felicity Hawksley Q3: Nikki Shaill

Q1: This is an oral history interview with Professor Mike Kelly conducted by Bill Onwusah taken on the 21 May 2019 at the Archive & Local Studies Centre, Valence House in Barking. This interview is being conducted as part of The Barking Stink project run by Thames Festival Trust. Also in the room we have Felicity Hawksley and Nikki Shaill.

Q1: Could we start with your full name?

A: Yeah, I’m Michael Kelly.

Q1: Date of birth and place of birth?

A: 18 February 1953 and I was born in Plaistow, E13.

Q1: And your parents’ name?

A: Patrick Kelly, Pat Kelly, and Hilda Kelly.

Q1: And what did they do? What was their occupation?

A: My father was a lighterman and a tug skipper, so he worked on the River Thames all his life. My mother was a secretary and then latterly a school secretary.

Q1: Thank you. Tell me about the first home that you remember.

A: The first home I remember was in Barking in Hertford Road where my parents moved when I was about six months old [coughs], and that’s where I grew up until I was seventeen in Hertford Road, and spent my childhood there. Went to school and then onto secondary school, and that was in the early 1950s.

Q1: Hertford Road. Tell me about Hertford Road. If you walked out of your front door, what would you see outside in Hertford Road?

A: Well, Hertford Road’s on the very edge of Barking. It was a turning as you came over the River Roding, coming out of Barking on the London Road, it’s the--, it was the first on the right there. Houses on one side of the road, on the other side of the road were factories. There was an engineering works, a paint factory, a variety of other manufacturing and machine tool manufacturers, and so it was a busy industrial place Monday to Saturday lunchtime, and then at Saturday lunchtime it would all fall silent, particularly when the engineering works stopped. Sanders and Forster was the company there. When they packed up at lunchtime on Saturdays, suddenly silence fell. And over the back of the houses were playing fields and the--, one of the tributaries of the River Thames which--, the River Roding which by then had almost dried up, there were allotments and playing fields. So, it was quite a quiet environment at weekends, but during the week it was a busy industrial place with lorries coming and going, deliveries to the factory, and as I say that was home till I was about seventeen. The street itself, many of the people who lived in the street actually worked in either on the River, there were several other families who were lighterage families as well as dockers and crane drivers. And so, of course, as a child I thought there was nothing unusual about living with neighbours who knew one’s parents and had known one’s parents since they were children in some cases, through the industry and through the River, and the docks and all that sort of thing. And, of course, it was very easy to get down to the docks and the River, single bus down to Eastham Town Hall and then the 101 down to Woolwich, which passed through the Royal Docks on its way.

Q1: You mention River--,

A: Uh-huh.

Q1: As a child, River Roding. What was your relationship with the River?

A: Well, the Roding itself was pretty much out of bounds. You couldn’t actually get to it because the factories in Hertford Road backed onto it, and the Water Board I think it was, had a works there, a water station, so you didn’t see--, well, you could see the Roding when you crossed over, you could smell it, but you couldn’t access it. There was a kind of access at what was called the Town Quay where there was a lock which was colloquially known as The Rushing Waters or The Russian Waters, a kind of mispronunciation I guess, which was where the river was locked, above which you needed to get through the lock to go above to some of the factories like Cape Asbestos and a number of others. And the barges came up from the Thames and the lightermen would bring them up, and then they rode them through the lock and up to the factories. You couldn’t get a tug up there to pull them. The main river, of course, the River Thames, our relationship was a really quite close one because one, my father worked on it, so did my grandfather, and so had his father. So, lighterage was in the family blood almost, and almost our entire social circle, or my parents’ social circle, were made up with people--, made up of people in one form or another, connected with the River with lighterage and all of that kind of thing. Including many of the guys that worked in the allotments over the back of the house, they were also lightermen and [inaudible 0:05:11] [[laughs]. So, it was quite a--, and they’re an interesting group. There’s quite a close-knit community. Although they worked geographically from Tilbury up as far as Brentford, the interconnections of the people who worked in that industry and the families that worked in that industry are--, were very real, and that was the kind of community in which I grew up.

Q1: Thank you for that. Can I just ask you what lighterage was?

A: Well, lighterage is the carriage of barges from ships into docks. It was--, the barges were originally called lighters for the very simple reason that as you unloaded the ship it got lighter. And the lighter was the barge into which the cargo was loaded from the ship and then taken to some other destination that the ship couldn’t access, either because the bridges were there or whatever. Lighterage was the trade associated with moving the barges about. Originally of course, they were either rode manually or sailed, but of course by the 19th century steam-powered tugs had taken over a lot of the heavy duty pulling and made the whole thing much quicker. And it was a very busy bustling trade because London was in those days the busiest port in the world in terms of import/export. It was also an entrepôt port meaning that the cargoes came into London to be re-exported to other places in say, Europe or Africa, so it was extraordinarily busy.

So, if for example, you went down to the park at North Woolwich or the park at Millwall at particular times of the tide, you know, there’d be ships as if they were in a convoy going past as they made their way to various destinations in the docks to be unloaded. It was an extraordinarily busy place, and the people who worked on the River--, it tended to be a family business in the sense that if--, to be apprenticed as a lighterman required that you had to have someone to sponsor you as--, to whom you were apprenticed, and very often it was fathers and sons, or other male relatives and nephews and that kind of thing. So, there were lots and lots of what they called lighterage families, families who’d worked in the trade for years and years and years, generations and generations.

TIME 7:50 

Q1: Thank you. You mentioned the Roding and the smell [laughs].

A: Uh-huh.

Q1: What--, can you describe the smell to me?

A: Well, it was an extraordinary cocktail of industrial pollutants of various kinds in the atmosphere, and sewage. And it was a smell that varied, of course, according to whether the factories were working and what the tide was doing, but it was ubiquitous really, particularly as you got close to the River. Not so bad if you were a few hundred yards away, but close to the River it was pretty foul. And of course, extremely dangerous if you fell in it, you know, you’re as likely to be poisoned as you were to be drowned. It was not a clean river at all in those days. Quite different now, it’s beautifully clean, there are salmon and seals and all sorts of things, but in--, even in the 1950s it was pretty filthy.

Q1: Were there any occasions where people did fall in?

A: I can’t recall anyone, because as I say access to the River was quite difficult. It wasn’t an easy--, it wasn’t a leisure environment. There were places you could get down to it, I suppose, but even the kids I knew, didn’t do that, it was a bit just too difficult. The most famous example, of course, of people poisoned was the disaster that happened in Barking Reach in the 1870s when the pleasure cruiser, the Princess Alice, which was bringing back day-trippers form Margate was in collision with a collier I think, and sank. And most of the deaths were caused by poisoning. And that’s, of course, because it sank almost opposite the northern outfall and southern outfall sewers, and the water was absolutely lethal. Although that’s well recorded in the historical literature of the--, in the 19th century. Nothing like that happened to my knowledge in my time as a child there. Quite--, when I was quite young at the age of eleven, I joined Poplar and Blackwall Rowing Club on the Isle of Dogs, that my father and grandfather had also both been members of, as a coxswain initially. And again, if you fell in you had to make sure you had a good--, jolly good wash when you came out to ensure that, you know, the rubbish in the River and the foul water didn’t do you some serious damage.

Q1: Was that the River Thames generally?

A: That’s the River Thames, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Q1: Did you row anywhere near Barking Reach?

A: No, we didn’t come down that far 'cos actually from the rowing club at Poplar it would be about ten miles, I suppose, or nine miles, something like that. We used to row down as far as Woolwich and then back, and up as far as the Tower of London.

Q1: Thank you. The River Roding, we’re talking late fifties into maybe the early sixties. Commercially, what kind of state was the--,

A: Well--,

Q1: That area in?

A: [Sighs] Well, first of all the--, some of the factories which bordered--, which were adjacent to the river had wharfs, so there was trade coming and going. On the Hertford Road side where I lived, as I said, the factories opposite backed down onto the river and some of them undoubtedly would have had cargo going in, although most--, to my knowledge, most of the cargo that went up that far onto the Roding was heading to the Cape Asbestos works. And there was regular movement of barges carrying asbestos into the Cape Asbestos works into the late 1960s. Below the bridge on the London Road, again there were factories on either side. There was an oil works, The Crow Company I think it was called, and they were busy and working, and a little bit further along was the old Masters Match factory along the London Road there, which latterly became Delaney Gallay, a manufacturing company providing parts to the Ford works in Dagenham. So, industrially it was very busy, and all of the noises, the sounds, the movement, the people, the smells, associated with a busy, industrial, productive area were all around us at that end of Barking.

Q1: Could you distinguish the different factories by their smells?

A: I don’t think as a child I could, no. I wasn’t an industrial chemist [both laugh], but in what’s called now Abbey Road, I think it used to be called Fisher Street, I haven’t--, someone was explaining that to me, but it was called Abbey Road when I was a child, which was--, which runs down to the ruins of the old Barking Abbey. There was a park called Abbey Park. I think that’s now just open land, but in those days it was a park with gates and fences and so on. Now, the significance of that, it’s where my primary school used to play football. That’s where we would go one afternoon a week from the primary school. We used to walk there from the school, in our football boots. No such thing as changing rooms or anything like that. Walk there in our football boots, and play on the Abbey Park pitch. Now, the thing I do remember as a child, as a--, ten/eleven--, say, nine/ten/eleven-year-old child playing football in Abbey Park was the smell because sometimes, it was almost choking. Now, I don’t know which factory that was coming from. I assume and I assumed then it was one of those that were nearest by, in other words the factories alongside the river there. What the smell was, I don’t know, but it was utterly unmistakable and, you know, [laughs] you’re running up and down trying to play football, it was--, it took your breath away. But Abbey Park was also on a hill, so we played running up and down a hill which made us one of the fittest teams in the Barking primary school league, and we were actually quite successful [laughs]. But it was a--, it really was quite something, this aroma that pervaded the park. And very close to St Margaret’s Church obviously and the Abbey ruins which were at the bottom end of the park there.

Q1: Did the choking smells ever put you off playing football?

A: No, of course no [both laugh]. Football was just the thing, you know, you lived for, that--, and then did you get selected in the school team for the following Saturday morning? But [laughs] no, it never put anybody off. I mean, you carried on regardless. And no, you know, it’s important to note, and you have to be very careful not applying the standards of the contemporary world to that world of the last 1950s/early 1960s, because I don’t think there was any understanding, or at least any worries, about the nature of the atmospheric pollution and the aromas. It was just there and you--, you know, that’s where you lived and grew up and that’s what you--, you just did it, it wasn’t anything especially alarming. I suppose in this day and age there are all sorts of health and safety concerns that might be raised, but in those days they certainly weren’t.

Q1: Thank you. Could we turn to your education?

A: Uh-huh.

Q1: Which schools did you go to?

A: I went to St Joseph’s Primary which was in William Street then, the old building there. It’s actually I think, the oldest of the schools in Barking. It predated the schools the council built by about five or six years in the 19th century. So, a very old building. [Laughs] The--, I think there were only six classrooms, and there were tow playgrounds. One playground for the infants and the girls, and there was a boy’s playground. They were all simply tarmacked all the way through, so if you fell over, you know, you were grazed and bruised, and so on. There was no soft landing. The boy’s toilets were open in the sense there was no roof on them, it was just a set of urinals up against a wall which backed onto the houses [laughs] next door, next door to the school. So, I suppose it was pretty crude really. There was a tap in the playground if you fancied a drink of water, but the facilities were about as basic as it could get, I think. Actually, interestingly, the school moved out of those premises in the late 1960s to a purpose-built new school in Gascoigne Road, and I--, so that was purpose-built and new in say, 1970, but the old school, the building is still standing to my knowledge, and I went round there a couple of years ago to have a look. And the architecture and the build that the Victorians put in place has stood the test of time rather better than the modern 1970s building that they moved into from that school. I think it’s a club now or something like that, but it was adjacent to the church, the Catholic Church, St Mary and Ethelburga’s Church and so then I went to that school from the age of four till I was eleven. And at the age of eleven I passed the eleven-plus and I went to St Bonaventure’s School in Forest Gate, because of course, there were no grammar schools in Barking. If you passed the eleven-plus you had to go out of borough, and so off I went to Forest Gate to the Catholic secondary school there.

Q1: Did you enjoy your time at school?

A: Yes, I did. Primary school was--, as I say, it was pretty basic, but one never thought it was basic, you know, that’s just what school was like. The buildings were perfectly functional for what they were used for. There were no--, there was no central heating in the place, each classroom was heated by coal fires so, you know, there was--, the caretaker would come round with these great big buckets of coal and shovel them onto the fires during the winter to keep the place warm. And of course, if you went out to the front of the classroom, if you were called out to the front, you had to be very careful if you were standing in front of the fire, you didn’t get roasted, because it was roaring away in the front of the classroom. I mean, again, one--, can you imagine, you know, four-year-olds being in a room with a great, big blazing open fires these days? Probably not, but that was the reality. And yeah, it was good. It was a small school, as I say, only six classes so an entry--, probably thirty children each year, something like that. So, Bonaventure was a much larger school in Forest Gate, around about eight to nine hundred boys in the school. And that was an all together bigger place, a bit difficult to adjust when I first went there when I was eleven but, you know, by the time I was in the sixth form it was--, it was really--, that was also pretty, I have to say, basic [laughs] in its facilities and certainly, when I first went there, they still had the coal fires in parts of that school too. 1964 that was. Did I enjoy school? Yes, I did, and school provided all the opportunities that came my way, first of all through the eleven-plus, and then being able to go to university, subsequently from St Bonaventure’s.

Q1: Thank you. When you think back to your school days, either primary or secondary school, is there a smell that automatically just sends you back to that time?

A: Well, that one in the primary school yes, 'cos Forest Gate was miles and miles away from the River, so it didn’t apply. But the smells of Abbey Park do take on back. If you could conjure it up, it was certainly very distinctive. Yes.

Q1: Thank you. In terms of the subjects you were studying, was there anything you studied at the time that really coloured where you are now and what you do now?

A: Well, I suppose I was a bit unusual as a child, because I was interested in what I came to realise in later life was public health. And there are several things that struck me as odd as a child. The first was--, it’s like I’ve already mentioned football, and I was a keen football fan. I used to follow West Ham, go over to watch the games at Upton Park with my dad, and every Friday the Stratford Express, which is one of the local papers, published the best reports of these football matches. So, each Friday I’d look forward to the local paper being delivered, and reading the reports and seeing the photographs in the Stratford Express of the game the previous Saturday at Upton Park, or wherever they’d been playing. However, something very odd began to strike me as a child, eight/nine/ten, was the regularity with which inquest reports in that paper which were reported each--, as all the Court proceedings were, but the thing about the inquest reports that puzzled me was that so many of them reported deaths related to asbestos disease, what they in those days called asbestosis. And it did strike me as rather odd that this was appearing each--, well, regularly, I don’t know if it was each week, but they appeared regularly enough in the papers, and yet no-one seemed to put two and two together and try to do something about that. I went to university and I read economics and sociology, and through a variety of things including my PhD which I did in psychiatry, I developed an interest, an academic interest in public health and eventually taught public health in the universities of Glasgow and Dundee and I moved--, spent a period of time in Scotland. Now, of course, that then--, the interest that one develops in that kind of academic career meant that the--, some of the interests that--, things that had puzzled me as a child--, I began to find both the scientific evidence and the explanations for the things that had puzzled me. The other thing that did strike me as odd as a child was why some people looked so poorly. As you walked around, particularly if you left Barking and went down to other parts of what’s now Newham, I think--, you know, I remember asking my mother, “Well, why do the people look so different?” And, of course, what it was, was years of hard work, relatively poor nutrition, and poor social circumstances that left a trace on these people’s faces. You could see, you know, they were inscribed with the hard labour of working and living in those environments. And again, I thought this was very strange. My mother couldn’t give me a straight answer to this, she said, “Well, they don’t look that different, they’re like us,” and of course, they were. But it was an observation which to this day I’m still very very interested in the way that--, and indeed am studying in Cambridge the relationship between the social conditions in which people live, and the impacts that has on their biological functioning, on the diseases that they acquire, and so on. So, yes, it shaped it very particularly. I also had a great interest in history which was nurtured both at St Joseph’s and at St Bonaventure’s. And therefore, the history of public health and its impact over time is something that to this day I spend a fair bit of time pondering and thinking about, and occasionally even writing about.

Q1: Thank you. You mentioned asbestos.

A: Hmm-hmm.

Q1: Were you aware of any--, of asbestos in schools at the time you were there?

A: Yes, but not in the building, not as it used as a building material, but rather--, because St Joseph’s was so small, it also used to borrow classrooms from Northbury School which in Victoria times, in the early 20th century, was known as North Street School. So, that was the closest other school to where we--, and we had to borrow classrooms there for certain types of activity. And we didn’t have a dining-room either by the way, we used to have to walk over to the Friends Meeting House in North Street for school dinners which was a--, you know, three or four hundred yards away, I suppose. The thing about Northbury School was the--, there were times when you went over there where you thought these kids are really lucky because they’ve got snow, and what the children were able to do sometimes, was pick up this white material and they could throw snowballs at each other and this kind of thing. Of course, they weren’t--, it wasn’t snow at all, it was asbestos, because the Cape Asbestos factory was adjacent to the school, and from time to time the emissions from the factory must have blown into the school, and probably more widely into the atmosphere. So, insofar as asbestos was a problem, I don’t think anyone then imagined it was the kind of problem we now understand it to be. The--, it wasn’t asbestos that was used in the building, in fact I doubt that St Joseph’s or even Northbury School had asbestos at all in them, it wouldn’t have been put in as a fire retardant when the places were built, given when they were built in the middle of the 1850s. But it was this floating stuff in the air that caught one’s attention. But insofar as--, I mean, you know, at the age of ten, what do you think about? You think, mmm, it’s fun to do that, with no sense of--, and certainly me, not making that connection with reading the inquest reports. I wasn’t that astute. [laughs].

Q1: You mentioned asbestos in the school. Presumably--, would you have seen it in the wider environments, outside of the school?

A: I don’t think so. I don’t remember that. It might have been the case, and clearly, the--, there is--, asbestos fibres travel in the atmosphere, they also travel on people’s clothes, the things they pick up. So, you know, it would be I think wrong to suggest, and I certainly don’t have any recollection of seeing asbestos more widely as it were, in the atmosphere but, you know, given what we know about the way it travels, clearly I’m sure it would have been. And that’s why, of course, some of the deaths occurring--, 'cos the thing about asbestos is the--, there’s a long what they call latency period, that’s the time from exposure through to when the disease develops. Sometimes it can be very quick, but it can sometimes take as long as 40 years. So, cases were still appearing a few years ago with people who never worked in the factories, or any of other industries that used asbestos locally. So, it was, you know, being transferred by other means and exposure. It’s important though, just to remind ourselves that if I were to do a post-mortem on you today, we’d probably find trace of asbestos in your lungs, and it’s--, so it’s quite a normal thing. It’s the repeated exposures that--, what’s called a dose response relationship, that leads to the build up. And of course, not everyone is equally susceptible to developing the forms of cancer which come from asbestos exposure.

Q1: You mentioned latency of the inception. Looking back, do you think possibly you would have seen some of the early signs with some of the people around you, of asbestosis?

A: No, but what you need to remember is that in those days--, so I’m talking about the late fifties/early sixties, smoking was ubiquitous. Every adult I knew smoked, so the amount of respiratory and chest disease in the population was extremely high. And so, what there was a lot of were people with bad coughs who were chesty, who developed bronchitis and emphysema I presume, and those--, the extent to which some or all of those things were linked to asbestos is--, well, now would be a matter of conjecture, we don’t know. But one of the other tricky things about asbestos-related disease is its what they call synergistic with tobacco smoke. So, if you’re a smoker and you are exposed, the risk rises quite high, it jumps up. So, given I suppose, in those days about 80% of men would have been smokers, it’s almost impossible now to disentangle all of that, to be precise about it.

Q1: Thank you. Going back to your early days in Barking, what did you do at the weekends?

A: Well, Saturdays, my father didn’t finish work till Saturday lunchtime, so the weekend didn’t begin till Saturday lunchtime. He and I would often then go over to Upton Park to watch West Ham play football, and then Saturday evening the family would have a meal all together, like myself, my sister, my mother and father. On Sunday, the normal routine was for my grandfather to come and visit on a Sunday morning, and at about five to twelve he and my father would head off to one of the local pubs where they met other lightermen and talked about the River, and we would have Sunday lunch at about quarter past two when the pubs shut at two. My mother always said her life was dominated by two routines, one was pub opening and closing times, and the other was of course, the tide. Because the thing about lighterage is that it’s not nine to five. So, when my father went to work in the morning, he might be called on at say six o’clock, you would never know and he wouldn’t know when he was going to get home because they could--, their finishing work was dependent on what--, whether the tide was ebbing or flooding and where they finished up on the barge, and then getting home from there. So, our family during the week, the routine was completely driven by the tide table, so--, and as I say, all the lightermen then would meet together on Sunday lunchtime to reminisce about the week that they’d just had on the River. It was--, a really important thing to say is that lighter is a very oral culture, by which I mean the patter, the patwa, the banter between these guys was something that was quite--, well, I assumed all--, this was what all people were like, as a child, but of course they’re not. But this oral culture of telling stories and of being, we did this and this and then that happened there, and then the ship came round and we had ... and so on, and so on, and so on, was part of a very verbal/oral culture which I grew up in, and I suppose some of it rubbed off on me. Sunday morning too, we’d go to church and go to mass at the St Mary and Ethelburga Church alongside the primary school, and then home. And of course, as I got older and went to secondary school, I had other activities. I myself played football, took up rowing, and things like this, so yeah.

Q1: What would Barking have been like in--, on a Saturday night?

A: Well, it’s important to note that Barking was not a poor place. Because of all the industry, because there was plentiful employment not only within Barking itself but of course, you’ve got the big Ford factory just a few miles away in Dagenham, as well as all the office jobs in London itself with very good commuting from Barking Station into Fenchurch Street. So, it was what sociologists would call, an affluent working-class community. So, people had money to spend, the pubs were full, the--, there weren’t many restaurants or anything like that, I mean, the pub was the focus of social life, and there were lots and lots of pubs in Barking, and they tended to be very jolly places on a Saturday evening. Some were rougher than others and, you know, one quickly got to know which ones not to go to. Also, which ones you could drink in under-age, at the age of sixteen I knew--, and fifteen even, I knew which pubs we could go in and the landlord would serve under-age [laughs]--,

Q1: Which ones were those?

A: Well, I’ll tell you precisely. One was called The Brewery Tap at the end of Linton Road, and the other was The Red Lion which are quite popular haunts with young men like myself, pretending we were eighteen, but of course, kidding no-one. It’s also something that I think people find quite hard to imagine almost. I’m of the age where the school leaving age was fifteen. Now, at Bonaventure’s there were boys who finished--, you know, they had their fifteenth birthday on the Friday, and they were at work on the Monday. I knew no-one who was unemployed. You could--, it was--, it made sense in many cases just to leave school because the opportunities for well-paid, manual work were plentiful. And, you know, I stayed on at school, I didn’t do that, and my parents encouraged me not to, but the opportunities for earning good money were considerable then. And the factories and the various industries provided for a community that, yeah, was--, in the jargon, was an affluent working-class community in those days.

Q1: So, you left Barking and went off to university.

A: Hmm-hmm. 1971.

Q1: What was life like for a lad from Barking--,

A: [Laughs].

Q1: In the high echelons of education?

A: Well, a bit of a shock at first in the sense that it was the first time in my life I was mixing with men and women who’d been to--, who’d been privately educated, but also been privately educated in places like Eton and Harrow and these kinds of schools. So, it was a bit of a shock, but what I pretty quickly realised was that the--, I was actually as bright as any of them which sounds a bit arrogant I suppose, but don’t be deceived by the accent and the manners. That it’s what’s kind of going on in your head that’s important. And so, I loved university actually. It was fantastic. It was a huge opportunity for me, I was the first person in the family to go to university, or college, and it was a fantastic experience. To meet people from all these other kinds of backgrounds that I certainly didn’t come across in Barking too often. The most well-educated person I knew was the doctor, you know, the only person I knew who had a degree. And so, the--, yeah, it was--, so, the culture shock didn’t last very long at all, I settled into university. And, you know, actually [laughs] I was telling this to someone the other day, the fact that I grew up in the kind of community in which I did grow up, the rough and tumble of the working-class community in the East End of London, in this highly verbal culture, had equipped me with a range of skills which turned out to be extremely useful in higher education.

Q1: What kind of skills?

A: Being able to talk, being confident to talk. I suppose I was also a bit of an autodidact in the sense that I’d--, you know, I’d learned how to learn without being told how to learn. I could work on my own, and that was an invaluable skill. I’d spent a lot of time up in the public library in Barking, going through sometimes history books, sometimes subjects that I was doing at A-level, things like that. So, I was quite able to fit into the way universities worked without much difficulty at all in fact.

Q1: Could we discuss your father?

A: Of course.

Q1: He was working on the River. Was there a family history of this?

A: Yes, yes, his father had been a lighterman too, and so too his father, my great-grandfather. And as it happens, my son has done an apprenticeship and he’s a part-qualified waterman as well, lighterman.

Q1: Did your father ever take you to work?

A: Yeah, yeah, oh yes. Well, he--, lightermen worked as--, they looked after a single barge basically. So, the lightermen in a tow following a tug, there’d be six lightermen, one on each barge, and they would be responsible for picking the barge up where it had been discharged from the ship and taking it to wherever it’s destination was. And when the tug let the barge go, the lightermen stayed with the barge to supervise its unloading by the dockers and the stevedores. Now, clearly you couldn’t take a child into that kind of environment, it’s far too dangerous. I mean, to watch a lighterman jumping about on barges, you know, across four or five foot gaps between the barges when it’s just the River underneath you, they were extraordinary athletes and acrobats almost. I used to marvel at watching them do it. But once my father became a--, worked on the tugs, first as a mate and then as a skipper, he was able to take me onboard, and I used to go up and down with him sometimes as--, you know, during the school holidays, or something like that. And it was absolutely thrilling because of course, you travelled all the way up through London, through all the bridges, past the Houses of Parliament, all that kind of thing, or down all the way to Tilbury, the Tilbury Docks. And if you had a really good day, you did the whole trip from Brentford to Tilbury in one go. And, of course, the tourists were shelling out money for this and it was just [laughs] what life was like. And do you know what? I never met an unhappy lighterman. They loved the work they did out on the River in the open air, and the sheer joy of being on that environment which is--, it was actually quite tangible, quite palpable. To be out on the River at seven o’clock in the morning when the sun’s just coming up on a day like today for example, is one of the nicest experiences you can have. And these guys just loved it. I suppose there must have been unhappy ones, but I never met any of them.

Q1: Thank you. What kind of loads did they carry?

A: Oh, general cargo, so it could be timber, it could be machine tools, it could be sacks of sugar, it could be sacks of wheat, you know, all sorts of stuff. The company my father worked for was called Vokins Lighterage and they were a general lighterage firm, in other words the barges they had carried any kind of cargo that had come off the ships. And London, being the kind of port it was, the variation in stuff was enormous. So, yeah. What they didn’t carry in that--, they didn’t carry oil because you need obviously a specialised craft to carry oil and fluids, but anything that can be bagged up, or loaded like logs and things like that, could be carried in these great big barges.

Q1: Did your father ever tell you about his apprenticeship?

A: Yeah, he was apprenticed during the Second World War to his own father and they had a pattern during the apprenticeship where he spent some time as what they called a boy on the tug which was the most junior hand on the tug, so the first--, you did work on the tug and you learnt about the ropes, and under the supervision of the mate on the tug. It would be the senior lighterman as it were working on the tug, as well as the other hands, or the other lightermen coming off the barges. He also spent time at various wharves learning to supervise or learning how to load and unload. It was a seven year apprenticeship in those days, long, long apprenticeship, because it wasn’t just about the loading and unloading, but it was learning the River. The thing about the River Thames or any type of river actually, but the River Thames in particular, is that its mood changes both with the tide, and the weather and the wind. And it can be a very very dangerous place as well as a beautiful place. And learning the nooks and crannies of the River and the way it works, and the way the currents flow in order to get the best movement of your craft down or up the River, was something that, you know, this is what they learnt how to do. They also had to learn the names of every single wharf from Tilbury to Brentford, so every single one of these places had its own unique name. Sometimes rather confusingly, the names they were known as colloquially bore no resemblance to the names on the wharves as they went by, but the lightermen knew where these places were, and that was another part of the kind of lighterage knowledge if you like, that they had to do. And he came out of his apprenticeship and as he finished it, he went into the Forces at the end of the War, into the Royal Navy.

Q1: Can you remember any of the names of these wharves?

A: Well, let me think. McConnochie’s, Dundee Wharf which was the Dundee & Perth Shipping Company, Orient Wharf, that’s still there, it was a big tea wharf where they used to unload tea. As you go round the Isle of Dogs now, I mean, they’re all very very expensive flats on the site of those wharves, but they were--, all and every one of them would have their own unique name. I think--, well, you might well be talking to other lightermen in this project, and I think they’d have a memory of the names 'cos I was never apprenticed, so I don’t--, but that--, you know, very exotic sounding names very often.

Q1: Thank you. Apprenticeships--,

A: Hmm-hmm.

Q1: Were notorious for pranks and tricks being played by masters on their apprentices. Did your dad tell you about any of those stories?

A: No, I can’t remember him ever talking about that. They may have done, and of course apprentices being what they are, they’re young men and [laughs] sometimes not very mature, so I’m sure there were. But, don’t forget, that the barges and tugs were an intrinsically very dangerous environment. When the tow rope is on the back of a--, on the stern of a tug and it’s pulling, it’s under enormous pressure, and as the tug turns it moves, and you have to very adept at keeping out of the way of the ropes and lines. And if a rope breaks and it flew across, it could kill men, as it did. So, they were intrinsically dangerous environments and so, perhaps some of the pranks you might have seen in factory settings or shipyards, were not to my knowledge anyway, something he ever talked about. He certainly never talked about it. Though, you know, he remained friends until--, well, until his dying day with people who’d been apprenticed at the same time as him and worked all their lives on the River too, and they would meet regularly and have a beer together and talk about old times. And the other thing they used to talk about actually was swan-upping because the--, annually, groups of lightermen had the privilege to be made members of certain livery companies in the City of London who had in turn, the privilege to go and catch the swans for the monarch, the Queen. And so, once a year in July they would set off in rowing boats from--, well, it used to be from Kingston-on-Thames and row up the river, and catch the swans and mark the beaks of the swans according to the marks on the mother swan’s beak which indicated they either belonged to the monarch or one of the livery companies. And they--, that was very popular. A bit of a jolly actually, but [laughs] ... and it was an enormous privilege to be invited to go and become a swan-upper, and it was only watermen and lightermen who could do it. These days, the swan-uppers take a vet with them and a health and safety person and all sorts of things, but back in the fifties and sixties, it was much more free and easy.

Q1: Thank you. Did your father ever tell you or discuss with you the changes that he’d seen on the River?

A: Oh, absolutely. The most important of which was very strong advice to me not to go afloat, not to become a lighterman because in his view, correctly, the trade was going to die or certainly contract from the as it were, tens of thousands of people who were involved in the trade in the 1950s, down to the tiny handful of watermen and lightermen that there are working now. He didn’t think there was a significant future, his own company Vokins, closed down. He was then--, went over to another--, he worked for Thames & General for a period. He also spent a spell as a docker down at Tilbury because of the National Dock Labour Scheme, if you wanted to stay working in the trade, you could, but he moved in--, over as a--, became a forklift truck driver down at Tilbury Docks, and then went back into the--, into tugs latterly before he retired. So, the changes he talked about by the time I was in my teens, were of decline of an industry that was going to contract. And the signals were pretty obvious, that the London Docks were simply not big enough for the kinds of ships that were being developed, or for the container trade. And in the end that’s what killed it and the containers moved up to the ports on the east coast as well as Tilbury itself. And, of course, none of the docks in London are any longer doing any kind of trade. So, that’s what he talked about, but also of course, they talked about the heydays and the heydays were the mid-1950s when, as I said, London was the busiest port in the world and it supported, you know, hundreds of thousands of people directly in the dock industry. Docking and lightering--, docking and stevedoring, or in lightering and tugs and--, there was also sea tugs and, you know, it was a huge, a huge industry which, you know, people in the East End of London, many of them were employed directly or indirectly in it. But he knew that was on its way out, and I was better guided towards university than apprentice as a lighterman [laughs].

Q1: Thank you. If we could move onto your professional career.

A: Hmm-hmm.

Q1: It looks as if there always seems to be a pull-back to Barking, professionally with--, there are reasons for you to come back to Barking. Would you say that’s correct?

A: Well, to one’s roots anyway. My mother and father lived in Barking until, let me think, around ten years ago--, fifteen years ago let’s say, and so I was always coming back to Barking wherever I was living and working in those days. Baring’s an interesting place though, and if you are interested in your environment, if you’re interested in your social history, Barking is a fascinating place. And I suppose that’s partly the pull, it’s the roots are the pull, but also as I say, there are some intrinsically very important things from a professional point of view that emerge from it. But I do other stuff than Barking [laughs].

Q1: I’m sure you do. Do you visit Barking that often?

A: Well, I’m here today.

Q1: [Laughs].

A: I came--, since my mother and father moved away, and they both are now dead, but since they moved away obviously my visits have become much less frequent. But I came a couple of years ago, three or four years ago, when I was working, doing some work here at Valence House, some research, and I went and had a look round Hertford Road where I lived, round by the school, I went to St Joseph’s School, up to the Cape Estate there, where the old Cape Asbestos factory was, the Friend’s Meeting House which I think is now a Sikh temple, but it’s still there in North Street. And the--, yeah, I--, Barking--, it was interesting because it was on the edge of London originally, it was in Essex, it wasn’t in--, it wasn’t London, it was outside of the LCC area, but that sort of on the edge was one of the reasons some of the industries came because they didn’t have the regulation which the LCC had for some of the control of things, I think. But of course, it was intrinsically also part of London, given its location, next door to East Ham and West Ham, and so on. And I--, in fact, one of the very first projects I did as an undergraduate was--, I went to university in York and we had to do a project at the end of our part one, and I chose to do a comparison of working-class communities in South Yorkshire and in East London, with particular reference to dock work and lighterage as the case study, and mining in South Yorkshire. And looked at the similarities, and there were a lot, and the few dissimilarities, both in respect of politics, trade unionism, the industrial history, and so on. And that was--, that really I suppose was the first pull-back that I got to come back to Barking. These days, Barking--, one of the projects I’m doing presently, I’m working my way through the reports of the medical officers of health of Barking, the first one of which is in 1895 I think, when Barking became an urban district, a council, rather than a parish. And looking at the various data that are contained in those reports which are basic statistics on the birth rate, the death rate, the growth of the borough from--, the growth of the district, I think, around about 9,000 inhabitants in 1895. By 1919 at the end of the First World War, it was nearly 30,000, so it was growing very very fast. The arrival of the different industries are plotted in these reports, the arrival of oil. William Warne, the India Rubber Company in the old jute mill in Barking there. The growth of the population, and all these things are documented in fantastic detail, and they’re all available digitally on the Wellcome History of Medicine website. You can get them all from there. But I did discover that I had no notion of at all. Our GP was in Linton Road in Barking, Dr Fenton, and the first medical officer of health in Barking was one Dr Fenton who I think is his father or his uncle. I knew that they were a dynasty of doctors in Barking, the Fentons, but what clinches it is the address. The medical officer of health’s address is also Linton Road, so is working in the same surgery I think, as the one I attended as a child when I was--, coughs and colds and all the rest of it. So, it’s--, the history of Barking is in a sense, the history of London in the 19th and 20th centuries, and of course the changes that are still going on in the borough and, you know, the recent regeneration efforts and all this kind of thing are emblematic really of the history of our country in lots and lots of ways. So, yeah, it’s a very interesting place [laughs].

Q1: Thank you. You mentioned the industries and it’s sort of towards my winding-up [laughs], which industries to you characterise Barking?

A: [Sighs] Well, the ones that were closest to my home, the engineering, the paint factory, which was a pretty smelly sort of environment too, they were the closest to home. At the top of the road you had the tin--, self-op--, extraordinary name this place had, The Self-Opening Tin Box Company, and as a child, ‘What is a self-opening tin box?’ Well, actually it means one with a lid, it’s not one that opens itself, but it was called the The Self-Opening Tin Box Company at the top of the road. It was metal working industry, and just over the bridge, Crow, the oil company that was on the River there. And then just further along, Masters Matches, which had been--, was an offshoot of the works in Bow I think, originally. The Masters Matches factory, as I said, changed over to become an engineering works in the 1960s and became Delaney Gallay. That said, when I was at school, at primary school, my guess would be half of the children in my class that their fathers worked in Ford’s because that really was a gigantic works and a huge employer locally in Barking and Dagenham, and from further afield too. So, the industries, if you were coming up the Gascoigne Road the smell of the William Warne rubber works was unmistakable, but the environment was one in which yeah, industry was just ubiquitous, it was everywhere. There weren’t terribly many green fields at our end of Barking really, at least not as you headed into town.

Q1: Thank you. If, when you were a child, somebody walked up to you in the street and asked you what they thought about Barking, what do you think they would have said?

A: When I was a child?

Q1: Yeah.

A: Well, I don’t know. I don’t know--, well, let me put it this way, I can’t recall people--, our neighbours talking extensively about a desire to move somewhere else. There were opportunities, the Council--, you could move further out into parts of the countryside, but I don’t remember--, I can’t remember anybody talking longingly about wanting to be somewhere else. Because it was a convenient place to be. The transport links were good, they still are, the amenities for the kind of place it was were good, with the exception of the fact there were no grammar schools. But aside of that, the Council did a pretty good job. There was a lovely swimming pool, there were playing fields, Barking Park itself was a very pleasant environment with the lake and the boathouses and all of this. That was--, you know, when I was a teenager, that was a magnet for teenagers to go to at weekends. These days I suppose you’d say we ‘hung out’ there, but we never knew there was such a thing as ‘hanging out,’ we’d used to just go there. And Barking was so convenient because of the railway station and the buses, you could get into London very quickly, and you could get to almost anywhere else in the East End quite easily. So, there were--, in that sense, in those days, it had a lot going for it. But above all else, it had employment, it had jobs, and that’s what keeps--, or kept people and provided for their livelihoods.

Q1: Thank you. Looking with the benefit now of a number of years of not living here, do you think people’s views would have changed?

A: I’m sure they will have done, because the social structure, the social fabric of Barking--, Barking in particular--, not Dagenham I don’t think, but Barking in particular has change, there’s been a churn in the population over the last fifty years or so, and so whether the--, and of course, a lot of that employment has gone, the factories aren’t there now. Certainly not employing people in the kind of occupations which provided for livelihoods in the fifties and sixties. So, I’m sure there will be different attitudes to it, but I think one has to commend what as far as I can see, the Council is trying to do in terms of the regeneration because that clearly will be pulling people in, but also--, and the idea of converting and changing the town quay into a leisure environment, I suppose that was obvious, you could have done that in the sixties, but no-one thought of it. You know, it was a kind of back sewer almost, but it’s--, you know, it--, one has to say, it clearly has potential and one that I’d like to encourage I think.

Q1: Thank you very much.

A: I don’t, you know, hanker after the good old days, there were lots of good things about it, but clearly there were hard times as well even if you were working, you know, it wasn’t an easy life. But you were working.

Q1: There’s one person that’s missing that we haven’t talked about which is your mother.

A: Hmm-hmm.

Q1: What was her life like?

A: Well, she was born in the East End in Custom House, and her--, well, she had two--, one brother, one sister, and they--, their father who was a sea captain died when my mother was seven. So, she was raised by her widowed mother through the 1930s up to the outbreak of War. She passed her, what they called scholarship in those days, which got her a place at grammar school in West Ham, but her education at grammar school lasted no more than a few months because they were all evacuated down to Wiltshire. So, she spent her secondary schooling days in Wiltshire, she grew up essentially as a teenager in the countryside. Unlike some evacuees, she just loved it. She got on really really well with the family that she was evacuated to and until she died was still in touch with that family down in Wiltshire. The lady of the house where she was evacuated taught her how to do all sorts of things that she wouldn’t have come across in Custom House, like preserving fruit, all sorts of cookery and gardening and market gardening, all this kind of stuff. So, we always had a lovely garden as a consequence of this experience. At the age of fourteen she left school and came back to London to start work, so it was during the War. She met my father aged fourteen at a youth club. She was fourteen, he was seventeen, at a youth club in Custom House, and they were then together for the rest of their lives. She worked--, she got a job at the age of fourteen as an office junior in one of the factories in Custom House. She worked for Associated Lead at one time, and a company called [Vanestas 1:04:11]. She also worked down on the Isle of Dogs for a period for one of those companies. She worked up until the time that I was born, and then she had time out to raise me and my sister, and then when we were at primary school she went back to work as a secretary with these office skills, and she worked in the Delaney Gallay factory. She was secretary to the plant engineer there in Delaney Gallay’s. And then not long after St Joseph’s moved to its new site in Gascoigne Road, she became the school secretary at St Joseph’s where she worked until she retired. And when she died, four or five years ago, I remember talking to one of my colleagues at the university about it. So, I mean, the odds were stacked against her and her brother and sister with a widowed mother living in pretty [straightened 1:05:16] circumstances. Various attempts by no doubt well-meaning Social Services to try and remove the children from their family home were made, which were seen off I believe on one occasion with my grandmother throwing a broom at the man from the Council. She kept the family together and actually my uncle got a degree in engineering and my mother’s sister became a nursing sister and a midwife, so--, but the odds stacked against them in those days, terribly ill as a child, my mother had terrible diphtheria when she was quite young, but they came through all of that, and the person who really suffered actually as a consequence of that, was my grandmother who was perhaps one of the people I had in mind when you could see the--, she aged much much more quickly than, if you like, chronologically. It was visible to me as a ten-year-old that she was looking really really old, when she was actually, well, younger than I am now, but in her--, really in her early sixties. And she died when she was 67 I think, of chest disease and so on. So, she was the one who bore the brunt I think physically of what happened to the family, but the children were able to find their way to professional jobs in various ways as they got older.

Q1: Thank you very much for that. I’m sort of at the end of my questions. Are there any questions from the room?

Q2: I think you talked quite a bit about the kinds of cargoes that the lighters would carry.

A: Yeah.

Q2: Did you father ever describe any of the ways that they smelt?

A: [Laughs] Well, yes, because some of them were particularly pungent. What I will tell you though, one of the most popular cargoes to carry for the lightermen was asbestos, and the reason for that is if the lightermen had to sleep overnight on the barge, asbestos sacks were by far and away the most comfortable to get your head--, you could make a nice pillow with this stuff 'cos it was so soft. The other great advantage about the asbestos barges, they had no rodents on them, so you didn’t get to--, if you were on a barge that was carrying corn or grain, there would be rats. If you were carrying sugar, you were--, in the summer anyway, you were overrun with wasps. So, asbestos was quite a nice cargo [laughs] from the lightermen’s point of view. On the River though, there was always a smell. The River from Brentford to Tilbury smelt--, the background smell was always of sewage because of the outfall works at Barking and at Crossness over on the other side of the River, as well as the various industrial pollutants. So, I don’t think there was any particular cargo that had a special aroma, but the aroma of the River was absolutely mistakeable, and as I say, ubiquitous to the experience of being there. And they used to wash it down with tea and all sorts of things to get rid of the smell, and of course once you were on the tug, the smell of the diesel then blotted out the smell of the River [laughs]. None of it was desperately pleasant, I’d have to say. But what you do, I think--, because of the nature of the tidal Thames, one of the problems Barking had, particularly with the River Roding, is that sewage would wash up. It gets as far as the town quay where the lock is--, much worse problem in the 19th century than in the 20th century, but was still a problem. And although Sir Joseph Bazalgette the person who built the outfall--, a brilliant bit of public health engineering for the rest of London, poor old Barking suffers because it’s all downloaded and outloaded into the River there, just by Barking Creek. And it’s only been in the most recent years that the--, that smell has disappeared. But even as a teenager living at the other end of Barking by then, you know, there were days when that’s what you could smell. So, I’m now talking about the seventies where the--, you know, you couldn’t get away from the--, that aroma. I wondered whether they just hadn’t built enough sewers on the Lefley Estate which is where we moved to when I was seventeen, but I don’t think it was that, I think it was the more--, as I say, the ubiquitous smell. It’s also important to--, on top of that, was often overlaid the smell of the Beckton Gas Works which was pumping out stuff all the time. And then the electricity power station that was built in Barking meant that by the time we’re thinking of the--, say into the 1930s, forties and fifties you’ve got the Beckton Gas Works, you’ve got the power station, you’ve got the sewage, you’ve got the industries like the rubber works and the oil works, so the place was pretty smelly, one would have to say. Now, one of the things I’m hoping to find in these medical officer of health reports when I’ve been though them all is the extent to which respiratory disease was linked to these sorts of things. Were there seasonal changes, and--, I don’t know presently, but it is--, it was certainly the case that you couldn’t escape from it. But as I said earlier, you know, that was normal and you kind of got used to it. If you were in Romford there was the ubiquitous smell of the brewery. A bit more pleasant perhaps than sewage [laughs] but, you know, that was just the way life was I think and as I also said, I think one has to be very careful not to judge then according to the standards of now. 'Cos we put up with things then that, you know, you just wouldn’t now, in all sorts of ways.

Q1: When your father came home, could you tell what he’d been working on?

A: Sometimes, yes you could, there would be distinctive smells of the cargoes that he--, particularly when he worked as a lighterman, so he was up and down in the barges. And sometimes he was filthy, you know, he would be black from head to foot with the sort of--, if it was a cargo that was particularly dirty or sooty or whatever. [Laughs] In fact, I do remember as a child--, I was quite puzzled for a while because at the weekend there was this clean-shaven, clean chap who lived with us who seemed quite different to this bloke that came in of a night and--, a little while to realise it was the same person [laughs]. You know, and they worked, and, you know, hard manual work in those sorts of environments, you don’t come home clean. And there was no facilities for them to wash or anything like that, no wash-houses or anything of that kind, they just came home as they were and, you know, it was--, [laughs] well, anyway, so I was quite puzzled till I was at least two and a half and realised this was the same bloke [laughs].

Q1: Thank you. Any further--, yes, there’s a question behind.

Q3: This is Nikki Shaill asking this question. Just wanted to ask a little bit more, you’re Professor Mike--,

A: Uh-huh.

Q3: But just wanted to ask a professor of what and just hear a little bit more about your--, yeah, what you do now in your career, and what--, your areas of research and what your career entails.

A: Okay, well I was an academic for 27 years, first at the University of Leicester which was my first academic appointment, then in Dundee, then the University of Glasgow, then I came and worked at the University of Greenwich, and then after 27 years as an academic I moved over into the National Health Service and I became Director of Research at an organisation called The Health Development Agency. Now, the Health Development Agency was the successor body to the Health Education Authority, so we ran and were looking after campaigns on this, sort of health education, prevention, all sorts of things. Then in 2005 that organisation was merged with the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence as it was called then, or NICE, which is the body responsible for determining whether treatments or public health interventions are clinically and cost-effective. So, for ten years I was Director of the Centre for Public Health at NICE and led the programme on prevention of what they call non-communicable disease, diseases associated with smoking, alcohol consumption, lack of physical activity and diet, and a number of infectious diseases like HIV, hepatitis, and so on. And I did that for ten years until I retired from the National Health Service, and then I moved to Cambridge where I’m kind of out to grass, where I’m a visiting Fellow and I spend my time there picking up on some of the research interests I have related to my time that I’ve been talking about this morning. But other projects I’m involved in presently include the one I’ve already mentioned which is about the relationship between people’s social conditions and the disease patterns that emerge. Second, I’m involved in--, a co-investigator in a study running in the north west where we’re doing a cohort study of the introduction of fluoride into the water system. We’re following up every baby born after the introduction of fluoride into the system, till their fifth birthday, to see what if any are the consequences of that. Strange to say, it’s the first cohort investigation of that done anywhere in the world, but anyway. You wouldn’t have thought that, but that’s the case. Third project I’m working on presently is with colleagues at the University of Edinburgh and Queen’s University at Belfast where we’re studying the impact of the introduction of twenty mile an hour speed limits in both cities, to see what the impacts are on air quality, road accidents, casualties, as well as the propensity for people to do more walking and cycling in an environment that is--, where the traffic is going more slowly. [Sighs] I work very closely with the end of life care group in Cambridge and have been involved in a variety of different studies funded by, for example, Marie Curie and others where we’re looking at the patterns of care as people come towards the end of their life with disease. Obviously with things like cancer, but also other conditions which cause people to die. And so, it’s not much of a retirement really, I’m keeping pretty busy with one thing and another. So, my interests are broad and varied, and that’s why I finished up in Cambridge, through the National Health Service, through NICE, and starting at St Joseph’s in Barking in 1957 or whenever it was I went to school.

Q3: Fascinating, thank you.

Q1: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

A: Well, yes. I, of course, was a beneficiary of the employment opportunities available in Barking and as--, when I was at school I worked every summer in various jobs and then when I was a student, I worked each summer all the way through to help supplement my grant. Now, two perhaps most notable--, the two which I really really enjoyed, one summer I worked as a cook and a chef in Ford’s in Dagenham in the, what was called, the departmental heads canteen, and actually it was the summer I’d just done my A-levels and I wasn’t at all convinced that I’d done well enough in my A-levels to go to university. And what Ford’s did through a series of lucky accidents anyway, was put me on the City & Guilds training scheme to become a chef. So, I spent that summer learning the basics of how to cook, how to cut vegetables, how to do basic frying and I acted as the commis chef in that canteen. The skills I picked up were subsequently able to get me employment almost every summer thereafter as a cook in various--, and I had some remarkable escapades and failures as a cook, I have to say. But the job at Ford’s was really good, and I thought that--, and I actually made the decision, if I hadn’t done well enough in my A-levels to go to university, I would continue the training as a chef, and that’s what I was going to be. And I don’t know whether--, there were no such thing as celebrity chefs in those days other than Fanny Craddock perhaps but, you know, I kind of thought I’d run a nice restaurant, that would be good. And I enjoyed it, I enjoyed the work, it was really good. The last job I had in Barking was as a dustman. I’d finished my degree and I came back from university, waiting to go on and do my postgraduate course, and I got in touch with the Council and said, “I’m looking for work,” and they said, “Report to the depot in Ripple Road on Monday the--,” whatever the date was, and so I did, and I spent the next very happy three months pursuing the dustbin van round Barking. And I mean, what was great about that, it was in the open air, and although you might think rubbish is horrible, you get very quickly used to the smell, and we--, in those days, I don’t know if this is still the case, but Barking used to have paper sacks, so you would pick up the sacks and lob them into the back of the wagon, and then take them down to the landfill site at Creekmouth. And there was nothing quite like--, you know, you started at half past six in the morning and at about quarter to nine it was breakfast time, and there was nothing quite like stopping at Arthie’s caf on the Ripple Road for eggs and bacon and sausages and--, 'cos you’d built up this huge appetite. Usually finished by about two o’clock in the afternoon because the trick was, you did it--, you ran basically, jogged round, because the quicker you finished it, the quicker you finished work. I suppose we were on pay till four o’clock or something in the afternoon, but as long as the round was finished, it was done. And my goodness, was I fit by the time--, the end of that summer holiday when I’d been jogging round in the open air lugging these great big sacks onto the back of the dustbin truck. So, that was--, yeah, that was good, and, you know, the dustbin guys were just fantastic, you know, and no-one batted an eye-lid. “Oh, you’re a student, oh yeah, well as long as you can run behind the lorry and don’t hold us up, we don’t care what you are.” And so, indeed I did. So, yeah, I never--, it was never, never the possibility that one wouldn’t work in the summer. Certainly, no possibility that I would take a gap year or anything like that 'cos I didn’t have any money, so it was an absolute imperative that you had to go to work when you came on vacation or during the summer holidays from school. But they were good experiences because of course, you pick up all sorts of things that a university education doesn’t teach you [laughs].

Q1: Well, thank you very much.

A: Okay, thank you.


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