"Excuse me Miss, Mr. Costain said to see you when I needed help with the rewiring of this place and I thought it better to find out who was available and when, before I started."
Carol Pearman, Mr. Costain's personal assistant, looked at me with some distain before replying, "That had better be Nicky, she's pretty useless in this office and we'll be better off without her." I noticed the spite in her voice.
"No way, Carol. Make Sally help him or get one of the garden staff," Nicky responded angrily, "You've no right to make me go with him and do manual work."
"We need Sally to answer the phone and do the filing, and without having to correct your stupid mistakes, we can run this office more efficiently."
"I didn't expect to have a girl helper and expected you'd have the authority to hire a young lad as an apprentice because with just me to rewire this old house completely, will take months. Another pair of semi-skilled hands will reduce the time and could give a boy a start in the job market."
"No, I don't have the authority to do that. And what do you have against girls? Are you gay?" Carol smirked and went on, "Women have equal job opportunities these days, or haven't you read the papers?"
"I'm not going to work with him, and that's that. I'll go and see Daddy and he'll put a stop to it," Nicky butted in.
"Just because your father owns the place, doesn't mean he'll alter my decision."
"Okay ladies, okay, I'm setting up a workroom in the basement and when the catfight is over, perhaps one of you will be kind enough to let me know who will be available and when." The whole situation promised to escalate into a nasty scene. Not an auspicious start to my new job and I certainly hoped I wouldn't have the boss's daughter as my work mate, and he'd appoint someone more appropriate.
I'd worked on the maintenance staff for Costain Industries since leaving school at 16 and by taking night classes and attending day release school, became a fully qualified electrician as well as being able to turn my hand at almost any maintenance jobs that came up. The selling of the company to a multinational conglomeration and with it (along with many others) the loss of my job, came as a complete shock. Fully expecting to either be unemployed for a long while or having to move from my home town, the request by Mr. Costain to see him in his office on the last day before closure, took me by surprise as did his offer of employment. "Mr. Tildeman, Terry, as you probably know, I also run a financial advice business as a sideline and I intend to continue with this in the old manor house I have bought. The place is run down and the survey said much of the electrical wiring is unsafe and in parts of the house, dangerous. From the report, I understand, the newer part of the building, the part the previous owner actually stayed in, had its wiring renewed in the 1950's and while it doesn't conform to present regulations, should be safe if not subjected to undue load. Would you be prepared to do the renewal of the wiring and any other work that needs doing at the same rate of pay you now enjoy?"
Of course I accepted and we went on to discus the projects and my requirements, one of which was my need for an assistant and a properly equipped workshop. Neither created a problem for him and having sold his main company for an undisclosed amount rumoured to be several millions, money wasn't a problem but the fact that I couldn't hire an apprentice, puzzled me. "Ask Carol Pearman, my P.A. when you need assistance and she will appoint someone." Very strange but now I began to see why.
My pleading with Daddy did no good at all and I soon learned that he'd thought of the idea saw it as a way of placating Carol and her bitchiness concerning my working in the office. I know I made mistakes but doesn't everyone? Not that office work really appealed to me but to work as a lowly apprentice, for that is what Daddy said I would be, to a man not much older than me, seemed degrading, to put it mildly. My verbal protests, the stamping of my feet and my tears, were all ignored and my refusal to accept the job received the ultimatum, "Take the apprenticeship or pack your bags and look for other work. You're twenty-four now and still living with us without contributing much except for a few hours unnecessary office work for which you get paid. Not like your sister Sarah, who is doing very well for herself as an accountant." As usual he had to bring her into it. Can I help it if she has brains and I don't? It's not as though I fooled about at school, I just couldn't grasp maths and stuff and quickly forgot what I did grasp so there wasn't any chance of my getting into university.
After reiterating his ultimatum and forcing me to agree to his terms, he took my hand and almost pulled me downstairs to a large room in the basement that I knew had been allocated to the electrician when he started three days previously. Fortunately it wasn't a dark, gloomy place and looked reasonably tidy and clean.
My thoughts on being set-up were confirmed when half an hour later, Mr. Costain literally dragged his daughter into my workroom. "Terry, we can be on first name terms in this house unless I have clients, this is your new apprentice, my daughter Nicky. Treat her as you would any other apprentice, make her work and ensure she learns the trade and can handle jobs in her own home in future."
"I don't intend to learn anything," Nicky sullenly interjected.
"I'm sorry Terry but as you can see, she's not very willing. She has the alternative of moving out and finding a job herself but she's not keen on that either. Please take her on a month's trial and don't put up with any of her nonsense. If she plays up, put her across your knee and spank her bottom, something I should have done years ago."
I could see Nicky face mirroring the shock on mine but I suspect with a different viewpoint; me imagining have my hand on her bare bum while she squirmed on my lap, she with the humiliation of having her trousers down and being chastised by a man only a little older than herself. I shook my mind free of the images and asked about work clothes and tools for her, but again, money wasn't a problem.
Throughout the morning Nicky feigned indifference while we walked through the house with the survey report in hand and ended up in a bedroom in the old wing that hadn't been used for years by then I'd had enough of her attitude and wondered if I should take Ralph Costain at his word and put his daughter over my knee. Grabbing her shoulders, I pushed her down on the bed and from her struggles and swearing, I guessed she expected me to spank her but I decided to leave that for another time. "Nicola Costain, I'm lumbered with you for at least a month unless you bugger off and get yourself another job. You didn't want to be with me and I don't want you, not unless you at least try and show some interest in the work. If you're going to shut your mind to everything I say, one of us is going to end up dead! There will be times when I'll be handling 440 volt lines which can kill a person in the blink of an eye and I don't want that person to be me and despite your attitude, I don't think you'd really want to be responsible for my death either or suffer the aftermath enquiries." From the way her eyes opened at the realisation of the dangers, I knew she had at least taken that much in. "What sort of job would you really like to do?" I asked a little later.
"Anything, nothing, I don't know."
"Well at least give this one a try if only for a month. You will find there's much more variety in it than sorting paper in the office and you won't just be feeding cables through holes in walls."
The first hint of a slight breakthrough came at lunchtime. The cook provided a light lunch for the family and those working in the house and we all sat round a large table with Carol and Sally opposite Nicky and myself. "It doesn't look as if she's done any work with him either, Sally, her hands are not dirty and nor are her clothes. Maybe they found a quiet room to be together."
I saw Ralph Costain look at her but I stepped in and in a loud voice that drew everyone's attention said, "Miss Pearman, please lift your thoughts from the gutter. My new apprentice and I have enough to learn and do without suffering snide remarks from a secretary who knows nothing of the inherent dangers or the work involved. Please leave her alone because the time may well come, perhaps not that far into the future, when you will require her services." I gave Nicky's hand a covert squeeze and she looked relieved that I'd outspokenly defended her.
The next morning didn't start very auspiciously, at least for Nicky. I arrived early from my one room bedsit and in the kitchen, Karen, Nicky's mother, answered my query as to Nicky's whereabouts, "She's still in bed. Last evening she sulkily complained to Ralph and me about being apprenticed to you and being made to crawl into dark cupboards and go into the attic with the spiders and bats when she hadn't even been given proper clothing. I think she's in rebel mood again but she also hates the threat of being thrown out and made to find her own way in life. "You're blackmailing your own daughter," she grumbled to Ralph. I suppose we are but we think it is for her own good."
"Is her door locked?"
"No, none of the doors in this part of the building have locks, I guess they didn't bother too much in those days and we observe the rule that if the door is shut we don't go in without knocking."
.... There is more of this story ...