Ego Integrity: 1/8 Why did I leave school?

This is the first in a series of eight “old age” reflections on this period of my life. The process and place of such reflections is described in the final paragraph. It conjures up the words, struggle, doggedness, learning experience, responsibility, family. They’re not in any particular order but it definitely set a platform for the personal values that would be with me to this day. I hope you can spot them in the post.

I have very few memories of note about my school days, but I certainly remember leaving! I was 16 and had had enough of comprehensive school life that had begun as grammar school life before a government reorganisation! I’d also had enough of sarcastic teachers and the suffering of my poor mother struggling to raise me on her own after my dad had left her 6 years earlier. Time for me to become “the man of the house” and a wage earner.

We lived in Haverigg, a small Cumbrian village on the west coast which was mainly a mining, iron making and farming area. The only job I could find at first was as a “boy labourer” at the local tannery. I worked in the goods-in section which was an old hangar from WW2 and my job, on reflection, was horrific! I was given a full length leather apron and a large machete as my tools-of-the-job. The goods coming in were stinking, slimy, bloody cow hides and salted sheep skins as stiff as boards. The job involved trimming these free from bony bits or maggot infested bits and by the end of a long exhausting day you were splattered in blood and with salt in any cut or cracked areas of your exposed skin. I was paid £4-10s-0d per week and gave £4 to my mum which almost paid for our rent and food for the week! The rest she got from random cleaning jobs. It was after 4 weeks I got news of a vacancy at the local ironworks in the laboratory as an apprentice lab technician and I jumped at the chance. Wouldn’t you?

Chemistry was one of only three exams I’d passed on leaving school and to be honest was the only subject that interested me. To get a job involving chemistry was a dream opportunity, and it also involved going to college on a day release course twice each week for one whole day and evening, plus another evening. The main problem was the 30 miles bus ride up or down the Cumbrian coast to Whitehaven which meant that twice each week I didn’t get home till around 10.30pm. But after 3 years I had an ONC in chemistry and bags of experience working in a laboratory controlling the quality of blast furnaces, a foundry, and everything that came into or left our small ironworks. Within 30 mins I could analyse a sample of pig iron, taken from the molten iron inside a blast furnace, for Carbon and Silicon content. Within a further 30 mins I also had the Sulphur and Manganese content. I had the authority to phone the Blast Furnace Foreman and tell him to “tap” the furnace or to wait. I was just 19 years old! By now I was paid £9-0s-0d, and it felt like a fortune to me and my mum. But I had become ambitious and knew that I had already got as far and high as I could inside this small ironworks employing less than 1000 people. I could continue attending college to get an HNC (Higher National Certificate) in chemistry, but the work and experience gain had plateaued. There was only one thing for it, I had to leave home and find a job with more scope elsewhere, but still provide for my mum somehow.

It was late summer 1966, England had just won the football world cup which we had watched on our tiny black and white tv, when I caught the bus out of the village to travel about 150 miles south to work in a massive steelworks employing 13,000 people, that was 6 miles long, and in a country I had never visited before. I was just 19 years old and about to meet the man who was to completely transform my life!

{The type of reflection in this post was described by Erik Erikson who was a psychologist and existential philosopher! One of his most significant pieces of work was to propose a series of life stages we all go through from birth, with the final stage being labelled as “Maturity”. Nothing very significant in that. But …… he postulated that each stage triggered a conflict within us, a tension between two polar opposites, which for Maturity as a stage is the battle between Despair and Ego Integrity. In simple terms Ego Integrity would be having satisfaction with your past and what you have done, and feeling a sense of wholeness. Despair would be having disappointment in oneself and having regrets. My earlier post Reflections on Old Age explained this in more detail and now I am publishing a series of posts on my own Ego Integrity reflections}


Categories: Philosophy

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11 replies

  1. That first job must have been awful but motivated you to do better. Good for you for looking after your mother. An enjoyable read.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m curious: what set you apart to get you the apprenticeship? Surely there were other applicants.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No there weren’t. This was a small village and a friend of a friend recommended me so I was “sent for”! I guess it’s how it was in those days and despite what my chemistry teacher thought about me I was very good at it.

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      • Wow! That is small – but they must have employed everyone for miles around with 1000 employees. Haha about the chem teacher !😁

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      • Take a look at google maps for Haverigg in Cumbria, the Irish Sea to the west, next stop USA, mountains behind us full of sheep, a small town called Millom a mile away built in the 1800s specifically for the iron ore mine and ironworks. Today it’s a ghost town, dead, just like my home village!

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  3. Enjoyed the read…sounds like you got off to an interesting start. I think hard, physical labor can inspire one to reach for more, and instill a good work ethic.

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  4. Fascinating personal history. I look forward to the next instalment!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Jane, things like this can be a very ego centric and full of self congratulation, but this has not been my intention. I’ve already written all 8, which was a worthwhile exercise, and then reflected on what each part of my life told me about myself. Very easy with hindsight! I hope it inspires you and others to do the same, and that you get as much out of it as I have done. I look forward to any comments you might have each day ….. 4 this week and 4 next week. Thanks for following me too which I’ve just noticed, I’ve reciprocated and look forward to reading some of your own posts.

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  5. My father left school early for not dissimilar reasons and, like you, things turned out okay after a move away from home and lots of hard work.

    Liked by 1 person


  1. Ego Integrity and understanding your identity. – Buddha Walks Into A Wine Bar ….
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