Industry: water, steel & energy

Aitkenhead, Geoff (1 of 7) National Life Story Collection: An Oral History of the Water Industry

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  • Recording date

    2011-03-04, 2011-07-20, 2011-07-21

  • Interviewees

    Aitkenhead, Geoff, 1954- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Gilmour, Alison (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: Geoff Aitkenhead [GA] mentions elder brother. Description of early memories, mentions moving house aged three. Description of first house: mentions bath in the kitchen. Comments on hearing stories from father and grandfather, hearing about being born at home. [3:09] Description of father, mentions father’s brother died aged 21. Parents born 1924, gives birth dates. Mother called May [MA]. Father from Cleator Moor, Cumberland; mother from Egremont. Comments on hearing about family’s hard times: mentions grandfather worked in coal mine, no paid holidays, no National Health Service, father worked as errand boy. Father left school after eleven-plus examination. Story about headmaster telling father to say he had failed examination because his family could not afford secondary school fees. Father began work at Meadow Dairy, Cleator Moor, learnt to be a grocer; was called to marines during World War Two. Comments on modest background of parents, describes parents as self-educated. Father finished the war in Wilhelmshaven, came home to be married in 1946, and then returned to Germany. Mentions Father worked for grocers in Gosforth, run by Jackson; then opened hardware shop in same building. Comments on what father would talk about at home, relating to work and the war; mentions father was involved in D-Day landings, Normandy, 1944. Father returned to France on D-Day anniversaries. Description of going to France with father and mother for 60th anniversary; remarks on stoicism of their generation. [11:10] Reflects on parents’ sense of proportion when GA and brother Les [LA] were children. Comments on father’s reasons for returning to sites in France; mentions father volunteered as Branch Secretary for local British Legion. Reflects on father giving so much time to charitable institutions; GA’s reaction as a child. [14:35] Description of father’s response to eleven-plus experience: mentions father’s regret at not training to be electrical engineer. Father’s younger brother, Uncle Jim, went to grammar school. Comments on impact of father’s experience on GA and LA. Description of grandfather’s response and encouragement. Comments on wanting to do an apprenticeship, father not allowing it, choosing maths and science subjects to study engineering. Story about graduation day from Civil Engineering Department, Newcastle University, being asked to do a PhD but choosing to work for Northumbrian Water. Mentions father’s response. Father called Allan [AA]. [18:56] Description of MA as ‘the heart of the home’, comparison to AA. MA worked part-time at shop where AA worked. Mentions being close to both parents. Comments on mother’s ambitions for GA. Story about parents being there when GA took a hat-trick when bowling, mentions Primary School Master Bill Kelly’s [BK] response. Mentions parents’ response to school reports, parents’ evenings. Mentions AA helped LA to choose career in accountancy. Comments on explaining GA’s intention to work in civil engineering to parents. Reflects on parents’ interest and influence on decision making. [0:25:31] Description of MA’s background, mentions her mother died young, father was unable to run household and bring up MA and younger sister. MA’s father, iron ore miner, emigrated to Canada for work. MA and sister were brought up by aunt, who is like grandmother for GA. MA’s father moved back to United Kingdom and remarried. Mentions feeling close to Aitkenhead grandparents. Description of weekend visits to see grandparents. [29:23] Comments on being conscious of family’s mining background. Remarks on family value of never getting into debt. Mentions hearing stories about First World War from grandfather (Aitkenhead), who was shot by a sniper and survived. Remarks on feeling lucky. Comments on envying friends who had done apprenticeships; wanting a car. Description of going to Newcastle University sports grounds near Hexham on Wednesday afternoons, feeling lucky not to be working. [33:50] Description of relationship with LA while growing up, being competitive. Comments on limited home entertainment at the time, mentions Popeye. Mentions LA passed eleven-plus examination at Gosforth School, attended grammar school in Whitehaven; comments on looking forward to grammar school. Description of changes to education in England. GA attended new comprehensive school, Egremont. Mentions LA attained highest grade in eleven-plus. Reflects on being similar to LA. [39:37] Description of childhood gang and parent’s jobs: Pete Jeffrey, Philip Birnie, Joe Ratcliffe, Colin Cowman, Doug Birnie, David Moore. Description of playing sports, fishing on River Irt at Holmrook, Santon Bridge, River Bleng; taking apart a motorbike, going to beach at Seascale or Drigg, climbing trees. [43:47] Mentions extended family in the area and London. Uncle Jim lived in Cleator Moor, worked in Whitehaven, then moved to North East England. Auntie Francis lived in Whitehaven. Mentions spending more time with MA’s family. AA worked six days a week, visited family on Sunday. Description of family picnics at Matty Benn’s Bridge, outside Calderbridge, or at the beach. Description of annual family holidays to Coulderton, fishing for dinner; not thinking about nearby Sellafield and risk of radiation from fish. Description of journey to beach in AA’s shop van. Description of holidays to Penrith in October, staying with family friends; mentions AA’s cars. [49:33] Description of family routines at Christmas: mentions lack of alcohol except for at Christmas. Comments on growing up and being drawn into adult pursuits like playing cards; mentions both parents smoked. Comments on observing adults. Description of Christmas meal: mentions AA would travel for work to Wasdale Valley, Eskdale Valley, Seascale, and come home with a turkey. Description of Christmas stockings and receiving presents; examples of presents. [56:39] Remarks on reasons for family buying a television. Mentions AA bought first car after GA was born. Mentions parents went to Egremont for weekly bath. Description of first television. Mentions AA’s friend Sandy Powell from Seascale who could repair television. Description of television programmes: ‘Children’s Hour’, ‘Watch with Mother’ programmes, ‘[The] Woodentops’, ‘Tales of the Riverbank’, ‘Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men’, ‘Crackerjack’ with Leslie Crowther. Comments on grandfather switching television off if somebody arrived at the house. [1:02:22] Description of crying on first day at school: St. Mary’s Primary School, Church of England. Description of BK as a role model, and teachers: Mrs Simpson, Mrs Fisher. Mentions being friends with Mrs Fisher’s son, Christopher. Description of transition to secondary school, being held back a year due to young age, but studying first year secondary school work at Gosforth Primary School due to Mrs Fisher’s arrangement with Head of comprehensive secondary school, John Sharp [JS]. Description of interview with JS. Mentions subsequently being fast tracked to second year in secondary school, joining peers. Comments on difficulty with joining school in second year. Mentions friends Ian Warren [IW], from Annan, and Philip Harrison, who was GA’s best man at wedding. [1:11:49] Remarks on not being allowed to join secondary school with peers due to age; mentions other possibility for GA to attend boarding school at Keswick. Description of first day at secondary school: feeling lost, anecdote about following IW after class. Reflects on impact of this experience. Reflects on secondary school: comments on downside of JS not believing in competition. Mentions other teachers and pupils would organise games; GA became Secretary of school rugby team, organised fixtures with other schools. [1:19:05] Description of school uniform. Description of subjects studied at O Level; favourite subjects. Mentions helping daughters Emma and Joanna through Scottish Highers, calling maths ‘puzzles’ to change their mindset. Mentions physics teacher, [Mr] Warbrick; biology teacher, Ruth Schofield. Comments on choosing A Level subjects. Story about failing mock chemistry O Level. Comments on choosing civil engineering option: mentions maths teacher Arthur Smart helped GA to choose A Level subjects. GA attended Newcastle University to study Civil Engineering. Remarks on choosing public health engineering as final year specialism, which also involved biology and chemistry, and was related to the water industry. [1:24:55] Comments on deciding to attend Newcastle University because LA studied Finance and Economics there. Also attended interviews at Leeds and Manchester; gives reasons for choosing Newcastle. Mentions parents’ input; being able to borrow AA’s car. Reflects on LA going to university, feeling that the house was empty. [1:28:30] Comments on starting at Newcastle [University]: LA’s advice, living in university owned accommodation. Mentions friend from school who also went to Newcastle: Roger Whittaker, from Eskdale, who had attended boarding school at Keswick prior to joining Wyndham, GA’s school in Egremont. Comments on university social life: freshers, Civil Engineering Department football team. [1:31:39] Description of Civil Engineering course. Description of structures examination. Comments on being attracted to highway engineering prior to discovering public health field. Mentions working for Brims, part of Swan Hunter Group, in Gateshead during summer of first year; gives wages. Mentions previous jobs: work on local farm in Gosforth, helping AA with shop and agricultural show. [1:38:09] Comments on visiting home while at university. Mentions working for Norman Coupe [NC] during summer of second and third years in Gosforth; staying at home. Description of civil engineering work with Brim, Gateshead; and work on housing with NC. Comments on enjoying building and creating things. [1:41:14] Description of GA as a student. Story about receiving news about getting a place at Newcastle University; AA’s response. Comments on making the most of university. Remarks on third year: running civil engineering football team, living in Garnet House beside St James’ Park, Newcastle football ground, socialising, studying public health engineering, writing to potential employers. [1:44:39] Comments on wanting to pursue public health engineering: mentions project studying state of River Tyne, a ‘dead river’, and consequences of ship building industry on the river. Mentions subsequently working for Northumbrian Water on projects that cleaned the Tyne. Story about being tied to Redheugh Bridge, dangling sample bottles into River Tyne. Mentions another project with tutor, Anderson, involving waste from Searle pharmaceutical company who made birth control pills. Comments on difficulty treating the waste stream; emerging awareness of impact of oestrogens on water environment. Mentions another project on waste from pig farm due to copper element in pigs’ diet used to enhance growth rate. [1:49:00] Remarks on PhD opportunity offered by Ken Anderson. [1:50:26] Description of interview process with Northumbrian Water at Gosforth office and being asked to visit Director of New Works department, Neil Buchanan [NB], after interview. Remarks on NB’s advice to GA to do his best with degree. Description of NB; reporting to NB once a quarter. [1:53:36] Comments on knowing little about Northumbrian Water prior to interview, 1974. Description of reorganisation of water industry, formation of water authorities across England and Wales. Comments on this holistic approach to water industry by catchment area. Mentions Environment Agency and development of regulatory bodies. Remarks on not being coached prior to industries but showing enthusiasm. [1:55:39] Description of GA when leaving university: conscientious about work, mentions keeping a diary during training. Mentions Northumbrian Water took on work of the Tyneside Joint Sewerage Board. Comments on learning from colleagues: mentions NB; Team Leader, Geoff Stansfield [GS]; Resident Engineer, Austin Iliffe [AI]. Mentions playing football with LA's work team on Sundays. Mentions Northumbrian Water football team: played in amateur leagues in Newcastle area. [1:59:13] Description of job offer from Northumbrian Water, 1975. Mentions spending the summer before starting work with Helen [HA], also from West Cumberland. Remarks on salary increase prior to starting work. Description of starting work in September: reporting to Morgan Howe [MH], Principal Engineer, or GS, receiving briefing for works at Howden by River Tyne. Description of design offices in Regent Centre, Gosforth; comments on smoking in offices. Mentions Principal Engineer, Dick Field [DF] and colleagues working on design of sewage treatment works for Teeside. Story about DF smoking a pipe, keeping pipe in his jacket without putting it out. Mentions women working as tracers in the office. Description of design and drawing authorisation process; comments on receiving constructive criticism and learning the language of the industry. Description of team: mentions GS; Chartered Engineers, Kem Osgun and David Crittenden; Keith Allen; Technician, Mike Stanley. [2:07:46] Description of work allocated to different teams for works at Howden. Mentions colleagues Jim Nesbit, John Carslake. Comments on learning protocols for design. Mentions first job: designing emergency overflow for works. Description of three year traineeship designed to prepare candidate for chartered engineer examinations; seeing Howden project through construction and commissioning of works. Mentions leaving Northumbrian Water, 1981. [2:12:54] Description of additional training received by graduate engineers at Northumbrian. Mentions taking examination at the Institution of Civil Engineering, London. Mentions going there two weeks ago to receive Fellowship. Comments on sitting examination: going to London with HA, feeling confident. [2:16:37] Description of GA’s activities and responsibilities at Northumbrian Water relating to River Tyne works. Mentions working with Hydraulics Research Station, Wallingford, on the [River] Thames: building a model to simulate flows and determine risk of erosion of sedimentation tanks. Mentions working with electrical mechanical engineers; needing to understand equipment. Comments on opportunities to visit other sites, NB’s influence. Description of Kielder dam project: mentions tunnelling from Kielder to Newcastle Tyne Valley, Tyne Valley to Sunderland Wear Valley, Wear Valley to Tees. Comments on tunnelling machines. Remarks on decline of chemical industry on Teeside since Kielder was completed. Comments on press coverage of Kielder project; mentions articles in technical journals about Kielder and Tyneside sewerage scheme. [2:24:08] Description of assessing quantity of materials required for projects; producing bills of quantities for contract documents. Mentions conditions of contract used for contract terms and conditions. Mentions proofreading tender documents with GS and Tony Foster, another Team Leader. Remarks on learning to have attention to detail. Mentions sending tender documents out to contractors. [2:26:50] Remarks on doing daily design work; office environment. Description of GS's background: a civil engineer, had worked in Nigeria but returned without concluding contract, was opening a hotel in Jesmond with his wife. Remarks on GS's enthusiasm. [2:29:25] Comments on ‘sense of mission’ and energy at Northumbrian Water, mentions significant schemes at Kielder, Tyneside, Teeside. Comments on design competition for new logo. Description of feelings when leaving Northumbrian Water; wanting to work abroad. [2:31:05] Comments on treatment processes used for sewerage treatment works compared to processes learnt at university: comments on learning that process design was completed quickly, and that structural design calculations, drawing and tendering processes took longer. MH provided guidance on processes. Mentions having minimal contact with biologists and chemists. Description of involvement with short project on waste water treatment works: taking samples to analyse each treatment stage, working with scientists for analysis. [2:35:40] Comments on how work changed when GA moved to the site [at Howden]: switching from office hours to contractor hours, involvement with construction work, mentions enjoying this work. [2:37:17] Description of relationship between contractors and engineers in 1970s: mentions working with Foreman or Engineer in contracting team, AI worked with Site Agent for contractor, remarks on 'adversarial' atmosphere. Comments on learning about contractual claims: mentions contractor RM Douglas, gives original tender price and settlement price for contractual claim relating to Howden job. [2:40:31] Gives example of resolving an issue with contracts: mentions issues relating to Clause 12 and ground conditions. Comments on difficulty with site at Howden, dealing with condition: ground heave, caused by removal of a hill from the land. Description of dealing with ground heave; comments on potential for contractual claims if works are suspended. Remarks on impact of relationship with contractors on atmosphere at work. Comments on Northumbrian Water team handling claims directly, subsequently employing QSs (Quantity Surveyors) from Turner & Townsend to handle claims.

  • Description

    Life Story Interview with Geoff Aitkenhead, Asset Management Director, Scottish Water

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