Above: R.E.S.P.E.C.T Aretha Franklin (she received the Freedom medal Feb 9th 2005) who is ‘retiring’ but to take her career to a new level on Broadway. And we all want to do that, we all want to feel that our lives are progressing.
Like Charles Blake.
I met Charles when he was painting a shop front in West Bridgford a couple of weeks ago. I walked past him but for some reason I had to stop, go back and compliment him on the assured and pleasant way he had become part of the street scene as he worked.
We met up, had a chat, last week about painting and decorating (below)
To sum up our conversation, we need to think about secure jobs, training and development for everyone throughout their lifetimes, remember that people are more important than systems.
We need to help people move on to the next level, to find development at every stage of life that makes sense to them.
Also, for our own health, we need to feel effort is fairly rewarded and success has been fairly won. That’s hard. Increasingly there’s a premium on not just getting up the ladder but preventing anyone else getting there.
I’m the king kind of thing.
That’s bad: for a sole trader and the small business
Charles Blake, 40 years this year, painter and decorator has developed knowledge, skills and experience of people and kinds of jobs that are traditional and important.
The problem though, is having the time, resources and capacity to train and professionally develop in a working environment that undermines trust and camaraderie. Charles has achieved a lot since he left school, the world of work and accreditation in his trade and the related building trade has become too competitive to foster that spirit.
Now Charles has reached a stage in his life where he’d like to join a professional body, like the Painter and Decorators Association give something back, maybe going back to his old school and to find enough good domestic and commercial work for the next ten years. He loves his work but wants to work with people who value his knowledge and experience, he never wanted to do anything else.
Charles “I wasn’t very good at school, I used to get into trouble, fighting, never did anything really bad…never went to prison…but if I hadn’t changed the way I was I would have ended up in prison. Teachers…..
Charles “I went to Derrymount school….Arnold”
open city “What was right/good about it?”
Charles..”It was good for me, … my concentration level was awful.
All I wanted to do was work, make money …my parents weren’t clever but did well. Mum was a nurse, dad a miner, he emigrated to Florida though didn’t want me to go down the pit …at first I wanted to be a bricklayer and then I changed my mind…left school with no qualifications whatsoever, I didn’t know what I wanted to do…I tried to get a job at Raleigh, couldn’t get in there….’
open city: ‘You know, if you saw this, now (I showed Charles the Ron Deering UTC the University Technical College…..)
(University technical colleges (UTCs) are government-funded schools that offer 14–19 year olds a great deal more than traditional schools. They teach students technical and scientific subjects in a whole new way and are educating the inventors, engineers, scientists and technicians of tomorrow).
open city “This is basically a skills academy, apprentice academy, instead of going to school they’re treated like young business people. At fourteen they can learn technical engineering and construction, The Ron Deering College, Hull’s first university technical college. They go in at fourteen and they’re treated like grown ups.
Charles ” They should do that”
opencity “They feel grown up, they’re treated with respect. That’s the thing, they’re backed up by the universities and the businesses”
Charles: “I’d have been good at that…”
open city ” You would” “I’d like to see what you think of this. It’s the Ron Deering College, Ron Deering used to be the Chancellor of Nottingham University” He signs up for information from their website.
(Ron Deering was Minister of Power during the time of the Aberfan disaster, October 1966 when a coal tip collapsed onto a primary school, killing 116 children. This experience shaped his later activism).
opencity ” This could be great: it would be worth sending them your info, make a connection. It could be part of what you do in the future. You’ve got skills you could offer, they’re focussing on the latest technology and mechatronics but we need these kinds of skill developments, training, learning at our age too….how old are you?
Charles “I’m fifty five now”
opencity “the same generation as me. There’s nothing there for us”
Charles “No. But I’ve never had to struggle, in my life…I’ve never had problems. I’ve had work”
opencity “Because you know what you’re doing, you’ve got a trade and you’ve got people who need your skills”
Charles “Yes. I don’t even know what struggling is, everything’s always been pretty easy for me to achieve”
opencity “Which is great..”
Charles “It’s my wife…she does my books, organises everything…she’s bang on. I like to just work, give her all the receipts and everything, she puts it all in order and that’s it. The presentation is fantastic and I just pay my tax bill.”
opencity “So you went to Derrymount school,
Charles “it was a no hoper school then…”
opencity “Not now…”
Charles “I got all agitated when I had to read with the teacher and when I used to get a word wrong she’d shout at me”
opencity “That’s horrible”
Charles “That’s how it was and then later it was better, I enjoyed it, it was more laid back..it didn’t do me any harm but I wouldn’t say I learnt anything
(Here’s a book they could have done with maybe….No Outsiders in our School by Andrew Moffatt)
opencitydesign “But they didn’t help you learn.”
Charles “No, not really, no I don’t think so at all…but I liked it. I did like it”
opencity ” Did they like you? Did you get on with people, become the class clown?”
Charles “Yes I did, I was awful”.
opencity “So you were really bright but you didn’t fit in”
Charles ” I didn’t want to work, didn’t want to read, write I just wanted to go to work”
opencity “Do you have brothers and sisters?”
opencity ” How did they do?”
Charles “They did really well but I’ve done better than them!”
opencity “Because in the work you’ve got you’ve always had work, they’ve had to cope with peaks and troughs…?”
Charles ” I’ve always walked into a job…never had to do CVs, never had to try, I’ve never had to have an interview, never been for an interview” (He probably has but because it was in the service of something he felt in control of, where he wanted to talk about what he new about he probably wouldn’t have felt it was like an interview. What everyone feels at present is the layers of additional form filling, accreditation that seems to take control and autonomy away from people).
opencity “So that’s really good, you have that sense that if you step put of your comfort zone you’re going to lose control, so you’re not going to go out of that. But now, you’ve go to a level, you’ve got to an age, where actually you know you need to learn some things but you’re going to learn on your own terms?”
Charles “Yeah, yes, on my own terms. I want an easy life. I don’t want computers everywhere. I don’t want all this technology. I’ve done alright in the way I’ve been doing things all my life. Why should I change?”
Charles: ” I’ve got to a stage in my life where there’s not a lot I want to achieve any more, not that much because I’ve done it”
opencity: “Thats great, that’s really good”
Charles: “I’ve got a lovely wife, house, everything’s paid for, no debt, whatever. I’ve got nothing to go for”
opencity: “That’s fantastic. That is amazing” (heart sinks for a moment)
Charles: ” I want to keep working, that’s all. I’m not bothered about earning thousands a week any more, I’ve done it, got the T shirt. It’s hard work doing that now. I just want an easier life but still work”.
opencity: “So do you want domestic or commercial or a combination of both?”
Charles: “A combination of both. I like domestic work and I like commercial, dead easy…to you it would be hard..you’d think…how do I do that…but I know exactly what I’m doing, sort things out. I can project manage, you know not a massive job but I know what I’m doing”
opencity: ” So when you come into jobs is it through networks, is that how you’ve got your work?”
Charles “always through recommendation, I do a job and they’ll recommend me to someone else. That’s how it’s been. For some reason it’s late coming this year, a slow start but I think I know why it’s a slow start. Becasues normally jobs that I would have had from last year overspill into this year, the next year but because I worked everything up last year, finished everything…
opencity: “You’re on top of everything..”
opencity: “So now…customers are people who are talking about..people moving in, spring cleaning..and the same thing for commercial (but in the evenings or weekends). Do you think commercial work is improving or is it staying the same?”
Charles: “I don’t do a lot of it but when I do it I enjoy doing it. It is enjoyable and you can earn good money…bigger spaces, clear, no obstacles…as long as they unplug their computers…for example I did a job a couple of years ago now for a council, Kirkby In Ashfield..anyway I priced up for the job..the office manager said could I start it straight away because they were at the end of their financial year and they would have to pay him in advance in advance otherwise they’d lose their budget. I priced up the job, contract all in writing, put in the price.
Anyway, I did the job, I anticipated…it was two jobs…one was for one week and the other was for two weeks..I anticipated that the whole work would take me three weeks in total but because I did it a week earlier, I finished and I worked my backside just to get it done and she admitted to me I can’t fault your job or anything like that….
opencity:“they had to pay you less?”
Charles: “No. They wanted to knock my money down because I’d done it a week early. It was all tidy and everything, bang on..”
opencity: “And you said, no, sorry, I can’t do that”
Charles: “No, yes…
opencity: “Did you manage to fight back and get your message across?”
Charles: “No…they’d already paid me up front.She wanted me to reimburse them. I thought, no I’m not doing it. You accepted the price, you couldn’t get anybody else to do it at the time and the price I gave you, to me, seemed fair. When I think about it now I suppose it was bit over the top but I didn’t know. I gave them a price. I didn’t know I was going to get the job, she wanted the money back, she said that could have gone onto something else…..
opencity: “So you felt bad that you’d taken from the school funds because you know how they’re jiggling around their funds…but that’s difficult isn’t it?”
opencity: “It’s really hard”
Charles: “because of that I didn’t get any more work because I got it done, within the time limit
opencity: “but then you felt they thought you were trying to…”
Charles: “rip them off”
opencity: “Take advantage of them”
Charles: “I never, ever would have done that”
opencity: “So you need a bit of diplomacy with that school, you need to go back, you need to go back and explain to them and explain that understanding”
Charles: “She wouldn’t listen”
opencity: “Which school was it?”
Charles: “It was a school and it was a day centre as well but I could only do it out of hours.They wouldn’t let me in in the normal day time hours so I was working Saturday and Sunday all through the bank holidays, so to me that justified the money because it was unsociable hours. I could have been doing something else. Because I’d done it, a week earlier. I wasn’t on my own, there were others working…”
opencity: “You have a real conscience, a sense of reciprocity with a customer and then you feel as if you’ve lost it”.
Charles: “Yes, yeah, it hurt me big time, it really did…”
opencity “But you are vulnerable when you’re working on your own, you are a lone worker. And these are the things that people don’t understand…you do have your ups and downs…you have your nice people and your bad experiences and you have to deal with it on your own.”
opencity “It’s one of the pitfalls, isn’t it…Is it because all of the support (emotional connections, emotional contracts perhaps) are being sidelined because everyone’s running around looking at their budgets, hoping that they’ll meet the budgets..they haven’t certainty.”
(And the temptation to ask for some money back without thinking of the loss of relationship with a supplier because of it, a relationship where if the buyer of services was able to communicate and empathise better their service and understand the people who work for them)
Charles “Yeah, it really upset me it really did…she had the audacity to say to me, she tried to put me down that I wasn’t worth that kind of money
opencity: That’s the point isn’t it: blue collar, white collar
Charles: “She shouldn’t have said that really, it was as if I was supposed to have been down here, I shouldn’t be earning as much as a professional person…I don’t know what she does but she doesn’t know what I do…she shouldn’t put people down”
opencity: “That’s really true..it comes back to your frustration, you feel as if you’ve come this far, you’ve done so well but somebody (ironically, in that school environment) can still get you, can still make you feel as if you’re not worth it.
Charles: Yes, yeah, that’s it.
opencity: “It’s terrible isn’t it?”
Charles: “It’s not on.”
opencity: “But that’s part of..there’s hope there because of that, just because you’re not hard, you still feel, you have feelings, she has feelings…we’re all dressed up in this system that maybe isn’t right, you know, that maybe is over bureaucratic, there is this problem, we need to free that up gain, don’t we and I think that this is the thing…you know when you said to me oh I’ve got everything I need..my heart sank…because I think that no-one should say that ever..even if you have everything..it’s like…there is this feeling that things can be better…for more people, more of the time..
opencity: “And they can be better for us..and, you know, you can learn..you can change things that you need to see changed..you know if we write a story about your view…this is really interesting, about your view…did you grow up in Nottingham then?
Charles: “Yes, I’m a born and bred Nottingham man. I was from Carlton originally..born in Nottingham City Hospital lived in Hyson Green for a year or two..then we moved from there to Carlton.
opencity: “When you were a kid where did you want to live?”
Charles: “It was my mum and dad…because everyone else was moving forward…we did..my dad wanted the same…he was a miner….he started in the 60’s…and probably finished in the mid 80’s…he left Nottingham in his late forties….left here, this country…mum went first and he followed after..”
opencity; “And you stayed?”
Charles: “Yes… I stayed…at the time I was too into my mates… to really go…
opencity: “your parents went together?”
Charles: “No,my mum went first…she went to New York first…to work for a jewish family as an au pair and then, when she settled, then she sponsored my dad..to come over..in a way it was a good thing, it was like a trial separation ….my dad ended up missing her, they got back together..and about a year later he got back to his old ways…moody my dad is…very moody..he doesn’t realise he’s doing it..in the end…my mum was so stressed out she got cancer…and she died. A lot of it was stress related, a lot of it was, I think, was my dad..I’m not saying he killed her..but he just kept going on and on and it stressed her out…It did. I used to see it all, they used to fight a lot. That’s what made me really determined not to be like them. I wanted to work hard, didn’t want to argue with my wives or anything like that. I just didn’t want to be like my dad.”
opencity: “What was going on in his life then? He must have gone through a lot”
Charles: “He was an orphan as a kid, brought up by different members of the family, came here in his early twenties in the late fifties and I think he had that drive …
opencity: “To do well..”
Charles: “Yeah to do well
opencity: “But noone was…., was anyone helping him?
opencity: “So he did it all on..
Charles: “his own, yeah”
opencity: “Is he still alive?”
Charles: “Yes, he’s still alive, he’s eighty this year, he lives in Springhill, Florida”
opencity: “And he’s got a reasonable life…he’s happy?”
Charles: “Yes, he married again, he’s still moody…”
opencity: “I bet, if he’s like you he regrets what he’s done”
Charles: “he always used to put me down, my dad did, I wasn’t going to end up as good as my cousin..and I was worthless I was never going to be anything”
opencity: “but sometimes it’s fear that brings that out in people…you know like, when people feel pressure…immigrant families…my mum was Irish and there was this feeling that you’re doing it for your family because you love your family.You love your children more than anything but ‘appearances‘ are so important, ‘keeping up appearances‘ and don’t let people see…”
Charles “I know…”
opencity: “And you’re living for other people…and it’s that Hyacinth Bouquet thing, isn’t it?”
Charles: ” I know, I know…”
opencity: “It’s so funny…because we had, my mum was catholic and she had four of us…my dad died..in a car..he just had a heart attack and died in a car…we were on our way to buy a birthday present for my sister and he just had a heart attack and died at the level crossing in Colwick..”
Charles: “You’re joking..”
opencity: “We were the first car in the queue at the level crossing..and he just died. She had four children to look after on her own and she just went round doing cleaning jobs and work in shoe shops, just part time jobs and at the time women couldn’t earn, (widows on a pension could only earn £2 per week) but she had a brother who was a clothing manufacturer and he used to send us clothes with gloves, little Chanel style suits and we’d go to church and get the Mickey taken out of us by all the kids…you know like who do they think they are… and it was off to church…did you go to church?”
Charles: “I did when I was a kid I went to Baptist church and I hated it”
opencity: “I didn’t like church. It was so hypocritical, hated it”
Charles: “I didn’t like church much at all because I was forced into church when I got to twelve, thirteen and I could think for myself, I just said mum I’m not going to church any more and she couldn’t make me go. I used to have to go to church in the morning, come home quick snack then off to Sunday school. That was what did it for me, doing two things…but I hated it. I wouldn’t say I’m an atheist but I just can’t be doing with religion crammed down my throat. I don’t like it. Puts me off the way this world is, what’s news and whatever…I don’t know..christianity it shouldn’t be like that”
opencity: “It’s being used as a weapon, isn’t it? A weapon of mass deception. I think, what strikes me is that when you think about all the things that have happened, when you think about your generation…when were you born?”
opencity: “I was born in 1958. It’s interesting to think about this generation.They’re doing a project at Nottingham Contemporary, you might be interested..there’s an event this morning (16th Feb) about the new museum of black culture Museumand the museum without walls. You can do their survey about your family here
(The new exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary The Place is Here links into Roots, tells you all about the eighties the culture the stories are amazing the talent, the amazing things people have done..they haven’t got people who were just working in jobs….)
Charles: “I’m going to watch Roots, it’s recorded, when the weather gets better so my wife doesn’t fall asleep…I saw the original….
opencity: “So painful to watch. It’s hard to watch”
Charles: “I’ve watched bits….my wife works for a solicitor ….
opencity: “how did you meet? Were you painting and decorating?”
Charles: “No…it was one of my affairs really…when I was in my late twenties…”
opencity: “And then..you fell in love..”
Charles: “I did actually, yeah..and she didn’t know I was married until the xxxx really hit the fan.She knew I was with somebody but I never told her I was married…”
opencity: “I bet she went mad”
Charles: “No she didn’t, she was alright”
opencity: “Was she?”
Charles: “She was alright about it.She said she knew something wasn’t quite right. She knew I had children, which I did. I was only young at the time but when she found out that I was married, that I waist a marriage..well…she was shocked for a bit…but she laughs about it now…she uses it as a joke…”
opencity: “It’s a part of your past isn’t it really…”
Charles: “Yes it is…”
opencity: …”How did you get your training as a painter and decorator?”
Charles: “I worked for a big company Topliss Painters. I started off with a small guy and he had two of us and the other lad was a bit younger than me. After a couple of weeks, he kept hinting that he wouldn’t be able to keep us both on..and I thought I know where this is going but he had the decency, instead of just getting rid of me..he knew somebody at Topliss Painters Ltd…
opencity: “Because he thought you were good”
Charles: “Yeah, yeah and he arranged an interview..it was on a Friday…any way, as we were going home he dropped me off I was still in all my overalls, dropped me off he said I’ll wait for you…I walked in and said I’ve come to see somebody about an interview and nobody knew anything about it.Anyway, eventually somebody came down, one of the supervisors. He said I’m sorry lad, I didn’t know this was happening, he says what’s your name? He says You like painting then? I said Yes. You’ve got overalls? Yeah! Well come to the yard
opencity: “and he gave you a job…that’s amazing”
Charles: “That was my interview”
opencity: “Was the pay alright?”
Charles: “At that time…it was £16 per week in 1977. In 1978 I received a tax rebate against my first year in work. I came out with £400 tax rebate…so I got all that money…went up to nearly £20 and then I was helping this guy who was a pinter at the weekends and that topped my money up for the week. I was earring more money than my dad, at 17. When I was 18 I was doing jobs at the weekend I did an outside a full outside (of a house) was £95…that was a lot of money then..to me it was… I did that on top of my job and gradually all these jobs were coming in on top of my weekly wage..I was on big money. I was earning £120-£150.
opencity: How was that economic situation affecting you then…if you think about it this was the time when the motor companies, strikes, automation, there were layoffs…
Charles: I didn’t get laid off..I only got laid off once…but then I had my own work….
opencity: “So you were ok? How did you develop that…people used to see you in you overalls and say..can you give me a quote?”
Charles: “In those days …you’re making a good job can you give me quote for my house?And then so on and so on…a lot of my old customers have died now…that’s the way I used to get my work…I’ve never been out of work. I’m not out of work now…
opencity: “You just have less work…there’s always money coming in…but not very much”
Charles: “But I save a lot…because I don’t need a lot I don’t send a lot..money I save during the year is enough to keep us going for eight months.
opencity: “And you’re a business and you’re going into a place, giving them a good quote and that money is enough. So really, if you needed some help it would be in contacting commercial companies in Nottingham.
Charles: ‘I don’t contact people, don’t force myself on them….”
opencity: “Do you think that’s right…I need to understand this…most people who have a customer base do go back to them..you want to do a good job…you don’t want to pressure people. Each job is separate and you move onto the next one. What you could do in marketing if you could create some resources…your services, your skills..when I looked at your card the I wrote the little article I made a category called paintinganddecoratinginanopencity there’s the photo of you that’s what I wrote about you when I saw you working on Gordon Road, West Bridgford last week You need now to think about what you’ve done over the last forty years. In this fortieth year you need to think about a consolidation of what you’ve done, the skills you have, so maybe a skills audit, the types of jobs you’ve done the people you’ve worked with, create a story about the work and then think about making interesting materials that can promote you. Not in an arrogant way but just in a nice way so it’s things like a new business card and a really nice leaflet. Would you go far away for a job…?
Charles: “I’ve done it…London…if the work was there…it’s very well paid..I would do it occasionally…the money is so good….flats, apartments…one offs…
opencity: “So What you’re thinking of is having a varied and good working life for the next twenty years…
Charles: “Well I want to retire…semi retire at sixty….”
opencity: “Semi retire…you still want to do a little bit..”
opencity: “So really, what you’re thinking about is just having a good way of life, a good working life…maybe looking at the type of work you’ve done would be part of that..will kind of inform what you think..the kinds of jobs you like to do..what sectors need you…”
Charles: ” I don’t want big contract jobs working around scaffolding. I just want normal…(relationships?), just redecorations, I don’t want refurbs where you’re working amongst builders. I’ve done it, it doesn’t work out. They’ve got no consideration builders haven’t…”
opencity: “they’re under too much pressure…”
Charles: “Everybody is for themselves. When it’s like that it’s an awful situation to be in”.
opencity: “Does that mean that it needs to change? We need to have better collaboration. Where does that problem come from?
Charles: “Definitely…everything has to be done yesterday. That’s why I can’t be doing with these rush jobs because you’ve got everybody with you. What’s ruined all aspects of the building trade…you get everybody going to college..not like when I started when you would work for a firm and once a week you’d go to college..you know, working and going to college, now it’s the other way around. You go to college and you’re supposed to be experienced first…it doesn’t work like that…
opencity: “It’s an unfair expectation on the kids as well”
Charles: “We went to college over a three year period , whereas now it’s like a six month course now…it doesn’t work like that …leave school, go to college…and then you’re a painter…and you can see they’re not proper painters.They don’t wear proper overall, they’re covered in paint, ok you’ve got to look the part
a) Look clean, properly dressed,
b) have proper tools (I looked these up afterwards):
2. Filling knife
4. Roller pole
7. Paint kettle
8. Stirring stick
9. Quality brushes
c) a decent, clean car when you pull up in front of someone’s house
opencity: “So you feel that there’s a real problem.There’s a hierarchy of trades and painters are at the bottom and you’re feeling angry about that…that same anger that you had when you were at school. It’s like everything has changed for you but nothing has changed for the wider society”
Charles: ” No.”
opencity: “You’ve been the change you want to see for yourself but the system and you look around you and think but what about everyone else?”
Charles: “Yeah, yeah. I think if you’re a painter or have a trade you should wear your overalls, the appropriate overalls that go with your trade. Not blue overalls, painters couldn’t wear blue overalls. It’s alright if you’re doing you’re own projects or whatever. If you’re a painter you need to wear whites, total whites”
opencity: “Is there an association, professional association for painters and decorators?”
Charles: ” I don’t know, I really don’t know”
opencity: “I think you should really get into that (here is the link to the Painting and Decorating Association) you could influence the way the management of your trade is done.
Charles: “I don’t know”
opencity: “I think you need to be heard”
Charles: “If you’re a pinter or a plumber…a plumber should wear blue overalls, or green .All painters should wear white, that’s it..now they’re just like ragga mens now, raraggamuffins now…”
opencity: ” They’re vulnerable though..a lot of self employed people, small businesses are vulnerable to drugs because of the distance and lone working part of their job, alcohol…chefs are…labour intensive businesses (with such a high emotional demand expected but not properly trained or paid for). People need to rest and relax and they don’t have time.They smoke weed and they’re good lads but they’re vulnerable.”
Charles: ” I used to have some of them working for me. I used to have a contract with new houses and the lads I used to get were unbelievable…good lads but all they thought about was the weekend…and during the week they didn’t have two ha’pennies to rub together for their bus fares…I used to take them to work …my wife could see this happening and she used to be furious with me..’cos probably I used to go out of my way to drop them off home…”
opencity: “Because you knew what they were going through really…”
Charles: “but to keep them…”
opencity: “That’s the problem…because people see them as the cause of all the problems but they’re the victims of the problems”
Charles: ” And I babied them too much…instead of saying…I’m not picking you up, that’s it you’ve got to find you’r own money to get to work…”
opencity: “You just hoped they would make their own way…but they wouldn’t because there are too many obstacles (and too few positive expectations) in their lives…nothing there for them..the thing is, you’ve seen your dad do everything but he didn’t succumb to drugs or alcohol or anything like that…but they did. The opportunity for him to take drugs and alcohol were different to the opportunities for them. You did say he was a moody xxxxxx ”
Charles: “Yeah, yeah , he was…”
opencity: “What he went through was awful…”
Charles: “Yes, it was…it was”
opencity: Let’s think of a plan…your experience, skills, this fortieth year (and your dad’s eightieth!) perhaps to think of a way to connect your experience to the Painting and Decorating Association and your old school, make some good resources ….
More to follow……