Ego Integrity: 2/8 Who guided YOU when you needed it?

This is the second 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, friendship, education, humility, mentor, professional. Some became personal values, others signposted a new direction to my life. I hope you can spot them in the post.

I began my new life away from home as a “lodger” with a bedroom in a terraced house in Shotton, North Wales.The owners were a middle aged couple who frequently took in short term lodgers connected to the steelworks which was situated a short walk away across the River Dee and the coastal railway line. It cost £5 per week for bed, breakfast and evening meal, just under 50% of my new wages which were £12. I sent £4 of the remainder each week to my mum in Cumbria.

My new job was in the massive John Summers & Sons Steelworks, as mentioned in the previous post, 13,000 employees and 6 miles long. It was a scary experience entering this “manufacturing city”, with buses inside the works to travel around and with each department having its own numbered red Mini for other travel between units and offices. My first day was also a shock as I discovered that I’d been taken on as an apprentice lab. technician, my previous 3 years counted for nothing and I was at the bottom of the heap. Nobody was interested that I already was capable of analysing iron and steel for relevant impurities, had controlled two blast furnaces and a foundry. I had just encountered the power of trade unionism where promotion rules included job protection, last in meant last for promotion in the main laboratories!

I soldiered on for two years like this, the major benefit though was in attending the local Kelsterton College to get a Higher National Certificate in chemistry, just a 10 minutes bus ride away. The work, albeit on the lowest scale of pay, did at least take me all over the steelworks where I got to know, and create an impression with plant managers, engineers and scientists from the research division.

Then one day the Chief Chemist from the quality control laboratories called me into his office and told me that the head of research, Dr Bill Tickle, would like to see me! I met him the next day, to me a very scary man …. a Dr, pipe smoking, larger than life character, who decided scientifically so much development work going on inside what had now become BSC Shotton Steelworks. I remember very little of the meeting except his occasionally mischievous laugh at various things I said! When I left his office a few of his scientists stopped me and said “well, did the Doc offer you a job?”. I was really quite naive in those days and didn’t expect to be offered anything. When I got back to the main laboratories again, the Chief Chemist called me in and said, “Well done, Bill wants you in his team, start tomorrow, you’ll be Grade E Research Chemist”. I was stunned, the scientists here were graded A to H and I’d just jumped from A to E. It seemed that with my 3 years experience in the small Cumbrian ironworks plus what I had demonstrated in my conversations and activity here, I would be the chemist with the widest range of analytical know-how in the research laboratories. Good grief!

The next 12 months were an absolute joy, I was now living in a shared apartment in the city of Chester with three other lads my own age, 21, attending the West Cheshire College taking Royal Institute of Chemistry exams, and with great work colleagues who looked after me in the bigger scheme of things. The Doc and I had regular conversations about all sorts of things ranging from cricket to galvanic coating of steel sheet, and from local history to the protective properties of various oils also used on steel sheets intended for car bodies. Mostly these conversations were over afternoon tea in his office where it seems he always picked someone each day for this “honour”. It was now 1969, I was 22 years old and had just completed the first part of the Royal Institute of Chemistry exams attending college one day per week. Very few people passed the final part through part time studies and I didn’t fancy my chances of becoming an Associate then a Fellow like this.

After several conversations with my college tutor and a lot of agonising I decided to go to university full time. I’d shopped around and been accepted on an MSc in Analytical Chemistry at University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. I couldn’t get a grant and had worked out I could fund myself from savings and some part time work. All I had to do now was to pluck up the courage to tell the Doc I was leaving. I wasn’t looking forward to this and entered his office in trepidation.

{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

Tags: , , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. Beautifully written and inspiring. Everyone should do this.

    Liked by 1 person

%d bloggers like this: