“Volts push amps through ohms to create watts.”
Among my electrical tutors were three chaps who I thought were tip-top, frankly this was because they were.
Martin was tall, with a look of Ron Mael from Sparks. He had a very tidy salt-and-pepper goatee, also – he hardly spoke. This was very intimidating at the start of my course, but became an expression of exasperated irony as I got to know him better. This, as you might imagine, took quite some time because he rarely used more than three words in a row.
When we began the practical side of the course, we had to erect two lighting circuits, a ring main, a cooker circuit, a shower circuit and an outdoor bulkhead light in a small chipboard cubicle in a large industrial estate on the south coast. I had only ever changed a fuse in a plug, so I really didn’t know what I was doing. Still working on my first lighting circuit, I ran a second length of 1.5mm² cable from the consumer unit in my cubicle to what would be the second light on the first circuit.
I began, quite rightly, to doubt myself, so I asked Martin if I was doing it right.
“No,” he said, and walked away.
I loved Martin. I’m pretty sure he would have explained what I’d done wrong if I was genuinely getting in a flap, but as it was, I just stared at it for a moment, realised I was a moron, hooked the second cable over a non-load bearing joist which was mostly for show, and looped in from the first lighting point.
When Martin walked back around the class of cubicles, he looked up at me on my ladder and took a deep breath through his teeth, as if to suggest I couldn’t have been more wrong. He did an excellent job of portraying my self-doubt until I had no choice but to stop second-guessing myself.
Phil talked a mile a minute, had a nifty little bank manager’s moustache, called me ‘Pixie’ and made jokes about us not having electricity in Devon, so I was, in effect, getting trained for a technology that didn’t yet exist.
When we came to the written exams, we stayed in Southampton for a week.
On the Monday, we revised for the electrical installation exam on Tuesday.
Tuesday morning, we had the exam, and in the afternoon we revised for the building regulations exam in Wednesday.
On Wednesday, we had the building exam in the morning, and revised for the portable appliance testing exam on Thursday.
Thursday morning, we had the portable appliance testing exam and went out to dinner.
The electrical installation books were huge and very detailed. We were glad to have fast-talking Phil talking us through the revision because this meant he would read eight-hundred pages of electrical jargon, and explain it over the course of a day. Almost all of us passed the exam. All of us would have passed if it hadn’t been timed.
I have never had much patience for sitting exams. I wind myself up, like everyone else, but I was taught to speed read from a very early age. Being able to read terribly quickly means that I don’t have to pour over the question for very long. This, in turn, means I can get out of the examination hall before the end of the exam. This works out better for me because then I don’t have to stare at a wall doubting my answers for very long. For example, I completed my driving theory test in nine minutes. Got my results. Passed. Left.
We had two hours for electrical installations. I was out in an hour and six minutes.
We had an hour for building regulations. I was in the car park, having a coffee and a fag, after twenty-four minutes.
We had forty minutes for PAT testing. Gone in eight and a half minutes.
I passed everything. Only dropping two points over the three exams.
The tutors were quite pleased.
Dave was impressed. Dave was the kind of bloke with whom you could go for a drink. He had one of those answerphone messages where an automated voice gives some of the detail, and the remainder is filled in by the person whose phone it is.
I had intended to leave a message for Dave, and this is what greeted me:
Voice: “This is the messaging service.”
Voice: “.. is unable to take your call at the moment..”
Dave: “.. because I’m f&*king busy!!!”
Voice: “Please leave your message after the tone.”
Dave got more than one message of me laughing.
He wore his wristwatch facing inwards, like me, because he said: if you were a sniper on a rooftop, you wouldn’t want the face of your watch glinting in the sun and giving away your location. I have no way of knowing whether or not Dave ever was a sniper, but lord knows, it’s the answer I give when people ask me why I wear my watch the wrong way around.