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I suppose it's because I have so much time on my hands these days, that all these memories come flooding back to me.

The Exam

Although I was employed as a subbie welding inspector on the site way up in the north of Scotland, I had not passed the official exam so I was not certified. This 'ticket' as it was known then was called CSWIP which meant Certification of Welding Inspection Personnel, a bit of a mouthful I know.

I could not expect a full salary until I had passed this exam, yet I was not allowed to sit the exam until I had two years experience as a welding inspector. So, basically, what the welding institute was doing was making it harder for people such as me to sit the exam. Their ideal students would be people to attend the two week vastly overpriced course at their HQ in Cambridge, with a guaranteed pass and certificate at the end of it.

It was a catch twenty two position I found myself in, along with my colleagues who I worked back to back with. It was almost impossible just to go down to the institute and sit the exam, yet I phoned nearly every day to see if there had been a cancellation. While I was doing this, I got to know the woman in the admin office who handled such matters; in fact we were almost friends without actually meeting.

Meanwhile I kept up my studies, which was just as well as the institute had made another rule which made the whole process even harder to achieve. What they did was to make such candidates as myself bring down a copy of the specification which you were to be tested to, knowing perfectly well that such books were never even allowed out of the office, let alone the site!

So I was very fortunate in having a friend on the site who was actually a welding engineer and my boss. In fact, had it not been for him, I would never have had the chance to sit the exam at all. We did, indeed, help out each other, as he wanted to actually do some welding in various processes to gain a better understanding of the practical side and I still had some contacts in the welding school where we could accommodate him. So it was with great surprise that I received a phone call from my friend informing me that there was a vacant spot on the Friday of that week. I could not believe it! After all that time and all those phone calls, I was actually going to have a chance of sitting that exam.

My welding engineer friend handed me the copy of the spec, informing me of the importance of not losing it at the same time and wished me the best of luck. I had attended an interview with another large company some months earlier and had been told then that, although I had enough experience for the job, I needed the CSWIP ticket to get the position. The fact that I had been refused the time off from work to attend this exam, did not really bother me, as I knew of this earlier interview I had in London. So, after completing the twelve hour night shift on the Wednesday, I left the site to make my way down to Cambridge.

It was a long train journey and I was feeling very tired after working the previous night. I had to change trains which involved a long waiting time so, by the time I arrived at the welding institute on the Thursday afternoon, I was shattered.

Mind you, when I actually met my friend in the admin office who had made all this possible, I was more than just cheered up. We filled in all the appropriate forms to sit the exam and organised a room for my overnight stay. By the time I got into my room I was feeling drowsy, so the prospect of doing some further studying was soon forgotten and I got ready for a well earned sleep.

Now it so happened that the Embassy world snooker competition was ongoing at the time and, unfortunately for me, my room was right above the TV lounge! So the well-earned sleep that I was so looking forward to was not going to happen, as I heard them all below shouting and screaming as every snooker ball went down. In the end I just gave in, got up and dressed and went down to watch it with them. As they say 'if you can't beat them, join them!'

I must admit it was well worth it, as it was a very tense match that went all the way to the last frame. Unfortunately for me, the last frame finished with Taylor lifting the trophy at two thirty in the morning! Needless to say I was not looking my best when I turned up for the first part of my exam at eight in the morning.

The exam itself was in three parts and took a whole day to complete. By the time it came to the oral section in the afternoon, I noticed that the other two candidates were in the office for a mere matter of moments. Yet when it came to my turn, I was kept in there for forty five minutes; this was explained to me later by one of the examiners who claimed to know me.

As it turned out, this examiner used to work in the very same welding school that I had been working just recently. He said that he had heard of me and my so called unconventional methods that despite all objections were later proven to work. He went on to explain that the other three examiners in the panel kept asking me further questions to try and catch me out, as I had attended the residential course at the institute. However, he kept the best news until last, whereupon he informed me that I had passed! He went on to warn me that this was unofficial and for me not to tell anyone until the results were posted.

So it was with great pride that I returned to the site and handed back the specification book to my engineer friend, who then told me that he knew my result before I even got back. It transpired that he, being a Fellow of the Institute, had been following my progress daily with the aid of my instructor friend.

I was making my way down to the site and heading for my office when I saw my client's manager storming over towards me. I knew he was coming in to tell me (with great pleasure) that I was being terminated for leaving the site without permission. So, as he entered the office, I looked up from my desk which I was in the process of clearing out and told him that I was quitting, that I had never been fired in my career to date and that he, of all people, would be the last person to do so.

As I walked out of the cabin with my head held high I received a standing ovation from all the welders who had scurried across to the cabin to catch up with all the latest events. In my absence that manager had been going round telling everyone that he was going to fire me as soon as I returned. So it was with a bow and a wave, I left my crew of welders on that windswept site far in the north of Scotland to take up my new position as Qualified welding inspector on a site miles away down south.

To this day I can still see the look on that managers face as I turned and acknowledged the applause I received from my merry gang of welders.

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