The closing months of last year brought about a turn for the better, I became gainfully employed.
Was asked if I wanted to conduct an analysis of weld test failures for a minimum of three months to help ascertain the resons why the tests were failing.
It's a quality related issue, so I have the background for that, but to be honest, I was scared stiff of falling flat on my face, after all, what do I know about welding ?
You take two bits of metal you want to fix together, introduce some heat (lots of it) and voila, you've welded something. That's how Wally the Welder does it so he tells me.
If you are in the business of providing stainless steel pipe fittings to the nuclear and petrochemical industries, it's a bit more complex than that.
The certification involved is pretty mindboggling. A fitting has to be provided with an array of test certs for hardness, tensile strength and resistance to pitting corrosion at temperatures up to fifty degrees C, which is where I came in.
As I mentioned, my first three daays, I asked myself a hundred times a day, why am I here ? I'm going to fuck this up and I'll be back up the jobcentre by the end of the week.
The first thing I will say is that I was surrounded by some pretty amazing people. A variety of characters who all know their jobs really well and were happy to help me aclimatise .
I had a blank Excel spreadhseet in front of me and had to decide whilst looking through a wide range of information on weld procedures, consumables, heat treatment methods and the test data itself and decide what was relevant and what wasn't. In fact three months in and I was still adding a column or two and adding some new data.
I've learned an awful lot about specialised welding. there's a whole educational process you can do which crosses over into the chemistry of metal and the gases used and how they can alter the quality and result of the weld.
Now I could bore the tits off you with the details of the job and how much fun I had doing it. I won't.
I will say that some things were a journey of discovery. I discovered that it was very easy to adapt from unemployment to the routine of going to work every day. You often hear it thrown up in employment circles that someone who's been languishing living on benefits, just can't cut it in the real world of work, the concept being that we shirkers don't rise til well after nine in the morning and by the time we've finished scratching our arses and having a yawn or two it's lunchtime.
Of course this is utter bollocks, a popular myth put about by the likes of Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith to demonise the unemployed. Remember the curtains closed in the morning remark ?
Before I started, I pressed my trousers, ironed my shirts, bought a bus pass and arrived at work on time every morning.
My own personal problem was the health problems I still have to deal with. The cramps in my side and the tiredness. To combat the lag I tended to be experiencing in the afternoons before I started the job, I made sure that I had the energy to get through a working day and not show any sign of flagging. I did this by getting plenty of sleep, often going to bed at 8 or nine o clock at night, but it worked.
Like the Borg, I adapted and despite the cramps, the kidney pain (from what remains of the stone in my left kidney), I managed to do my work to the best of my mental ability and not collapse in a heap.
The routine didn't leave a lot of time for doing anything else and weekends were taken up cleaning the flat (a bit) and washing and ironing clean clothes for the week to come, but the trade off was a decent wedge of money going into the bank every Friday.
This meant I was able to buy gifts at Christmas for people. I've managed to buy some decent clothes and get a few treats.
I bought a new coffee machine, a posh one. Didn't go for a bean to cup, but it does have a container you just put the milk in and a mechanism that gives you a frothy cappuccino with no messing around.
I discovered a company online who pride themselves in their range of coffees and have been working my way through a world of coffee. One blend called Born Free has utterly blown me away, mainly Ethiopian Harrar with other stuff in, it's rich and has a licorice aftertaste.
My other favourites so far are the Harrar and El Salvador. Poorest was the Indian Robusta which came a s a surprise, because I generally like Robusta coffees. The Brazilian was a bit gutless too.
One of my colleagues Cockwomble, is a bad influence. He bought his Bose noise cancelling headphones in for me to listen to.
Living in a flat where I am conscious of noise, I never put my B&O system together, it's still in the spre room and I have the TV on low.
Ended up going to Currys and spending a lot of money on a pair of Bose bluetooth headphones. I didn't need noise cancelling as despite the nutter downstairs, this place is pretty quiet.
I have to say as someone who used to design sound systems for expensive cars, I have never heard a set of headphones with the tonal range of these things.
Mid -last year, I bought some Sony over ear headphones and though they are OK, the mid range was flat and I stopped using them as music was no pleasure.
The Bose are utterly brilliant. I've listened to a lot of stuff from my musical past. ELP's pictures at an exhibition, quite incredible. Prince's Lovesexy I can't stop listening to.
I decided to stick with my Vodafone contract in December and upgraded to a Sony Xperia Z1.
This is the best phone I have ever owned. I'm not going to bang on about that, but it leads back quite nicel to the headphones. I'd only had them an hour or so and was pairing them up at work to the bluetooth on the phone.
We had a listen and they were nice, but again, gutless. One of my colleagues commented that they could be a bit louder.
When I got home that night, I had a play with the settings in the Sony Walkman software on the phone. I found the dynamic normaliser and boy, did that make a difference, boom banga bang.
Let my colleague listen again the next day and he to was blown away by the power and quality of the sound.
Now the bad new is that just before Christmas, one of my other colleagues know as Junior or Little Cockwomble seemed to have found a solution to the failing G48 tests. It's an industry secret, I can't even give you a hint, or else the silverbacks would come round and pull my lungs out through my anus. The good news (for me at least) was that the G48s started failing on another type of welding method, so I was put on that case too, thus extending my employment.
Anyone who follows me on twitter will surely agree when I say that work was not only responsible, but a lot of fun too. Not a day went by that at least once a day I would laugh til I was aching in my side. Standing in the factory waiting for a press to be set up so I could photograph it, one of the apprentice welders went by on a forklift and shielded his eyes rather like he would from a welding arc, just because I was wearing a bright salmon pink shirt. Or the day I went to photograph the furnace opening and the glowing hot fittings going into the quench. As the door opened the warm breeze suddenly became a fierce blast as 1120 degrees of heat travelled the thirty feet or so to where I was standing. The silverbacks who operate the furnace and are made of asbestos said I would be fine where I was. Lying bastards. I didn't want to wimp out by moving away and spoling my shot, but I did start to worry when I smelled my jacket which was starting to singe and the skin on my face felt a bit like leather.
One thing I have noticed about the difference between being in and out of work and that's the calibre of people you deal with.
I can't extol the virtues of the crew I've been working with strongly enough, it's been an eye opener. Then we compare them to the likes of the people I interacted with when I was out of work and attending that utter waste of time, the Work Programme.
Remember the woman with the chipped nail varnish who could talk a glass eye to sleep, but never once helped me in any way shape or form or the other idiot who told me that if I didn't apply for 37 jobs a week I WOULD be sanctioned ? Motivational stuff that.
I shall be making observational comment on those types as I get back into being a soapboxer once more. I shall try to write on a regular basis, but I will confess, my heart needs ot be in it and frankly it wasn't.
More than one person has commented on what a confidence builder this period of work has been.
Couldn't be a truer comment. I was commended by my employers for the quality of the data I provided. I got a huge buzz from learning so much in such a short space of time, a buzz from finding all my old analytical skills from my quality management days had not been lost, just gone to sleep for a bit.
I shall be keeping in touch with my old colleagues, in fact me and the new ops manager are getting together in a week or tow for a teatime curry and I have a feeling Little Cockwomble will tag along too.
Very strange feeling sitting here when normally I would be on the bus going to work.
One thing I won't miss is the packs of feral schoolkids who behave appallingly in the bus station each morning, little shits.
As I click the publish button, I do wonder if anyone's going to read this