Chapter 1, Keith, Starting Work Early Is Illegal Now.
It was a different time. To be specific, March 10th 1969. My family had just moved from the bungalow in Westhoughton, which is a small town outside Bolton, to a shop in Hadfield, Derbyshire, just on the edge of the Peak District, UK.
I was just 5 years old, but had been brought up to believe that hard work is required by everyone if you want to make anything of yourself. So from the day my parents opened the shop, I stacked shelves after school. It wasn’t a big shop, just about the same size as the one in Open All Hours, and we were Open all hours , 7 days a week wasn’t unusual from 8am to 8pm.
I wanted to earn more than my parents were willing to pay, so I got a paper route. Mr Thomas, the news agent, gave me his longest route, about 5 miles from start to finish. Fortunately the end of the route took me past the primary school, so I was never late. My reward for doing this 7 days a week, £1, but you could buy a house for around a thousand, so I was thrilled, for a while.
I wanted more. So I took a second route on the Sunday after my first route finished, I was now getting £1. Two shillings a week and happy, for about a month. Call me a greedy kid, but I wanted more. One of the shops on the high street was the town green grocer and I also delivered his Sunday afternoon news paper. So being a cocky little kid, I simply asked for a Saturday job, and he said be here at 9am Saturday and let’s see if you’re any use.
Well it turned out I was useful, he asked my parents if I could work after school so he could go to the allotments and get fresh vegetables from the local growers. By September 1969, at 6 years old, I was earning the princely sum of £4 10 shillings and six pence a week.
Now many of you will be thinking, that is illegal, no child would be allowed to work at that age. As I said, it was a different time. Most of the paper boys were under 8 and having a Saturday job was normal.
So what did I do with all this money? I saved it for three years and eventually had enough to convince the National Westminster Bank to allow me to open an account. My dad had to co sign everything, but at nine years old I had £600 in savings, which gave me a start in life.
By the time Britain went decimal, my savings were up to over a thousand pounds. 1971 was an interesting year for a few reasons. Strikes and three day week were wreaking havoc, I was asked if I wanted to do my 11+ at 8 years old and my dad had heart surgery.
Let’s look at the second one there, doing my 11+ at 8 years old. I would bet that most people reading this would have imagined that my school grades would have suffered because of the jobs. The problem with the education system then was it didn’t cater for the exceptional, I was fortunate that my math and science teachers had been in grammar schools for 20 years and were used to spotting exceptional students.
I still worshipped my dad, so I was so proud to be able to take my results to my dad in hospital after his surgery. Not only did I get the second highest grade that term, I did it worried that my dad could die. Obviously he didn’t, he was too strong to let heart surgery beat him. Spoiler alert, he was given two years to live, the valve that maintained his heart beat finally failed in 82, eleven years later and nine years longer than the best estimate. He was determined to get the most out of life, a lesson that still guides me today.
So what did the 11+ actually mean? Well for me it meant that I was able to go to the top grammar school in Manchester, don’t forget, I was nine when I started my first term, everyone else there was over twelve years old. I had skipped three years of mind numbing secondary school education. My age group were learning their times table parrot fashion, I was learning algorithms, algebra and physics. Little wonder I built a digital watch and a basic computer by the time I was 14 and did my masters in computer sciences by the time I was 15.
Now I have skipped a whole bunch of stuff, just to get us this far.
Chapter 2 will focus on my school sports prowess, or to be accurate, lack of it. My first experience of bullying, the day I blew the wall out of the chemistry lab and the day I got run over by a car and ended up in hospital with a fractured skull. The biggest thing by far was the subarachnoid cerebral haemorrhage I had at 14.
Hope to see you in chapter 2, The Dangers of a 12 Year Old With Explosives.