Richard Fisher

When I grow up and where it all went wrong...

The one common questions asked of every young child is always “And what do you want to be when you grow up?” I remember being asked this many times and the only response I can remember is “When I grow up I want to be a…. digger driver”. This was, as far as I was concerned, an excellent and obvious career choice, who wouldn’t want to work with a big shinny digger, digging holes to make things like houses, offices and roads. As far as I was concerned this was the only choice for anyone, why would anyone want to do anything else? Well, I was far to young to drive a digger so I had to come up with an alternative until I was old enough, this went through many stages.

Playing in the garden was not always possible so construction continued on the kitchen table, not with the Tonka toys but with Lego. With Lego we could design and build anything, offices, houses, rockets, space ships, we could even design the machines to make them.

After a while Lego became to restrictive, technical Lego was years away and there is only so much you can do with square blocks of plastic, what I needed was something you could make real machines with, something you could bolt together and construct things with, something like Meccano.

With Meccano you did not only make the digger, you made the individual components of the digger, the motors, the gearboxes, the controls systems. Over time the final project was not always the target, the individual components where much more exciting, could I make a smaller, stronger and better gearbox than I did last time? As time progressed non-Meccano bits we’re added to the builds, these were often electrical bits, switches, motors, relays etc to enhance the functionality of my latest gadget. With this new interest in electrics I looked around to see what else I could make and discovered the world of electronics.

This was the late seventies/early eighties and electronics was the new kid on the block. A trip down to WHSmiths had rows of electronics magazines, Electronics Today International and Hobby Electronics became regular reads. Along with the projects and articles, two things all the magazines had in common then was companies selling surplus equipment and Maplin electronics. At pocket money prices I could buy old kit and strip it down for parts or buy new components for my designs.

It was at this stage of my life when, much to my parents annoyance various things were taken apart around the house, upgraded, with varying amounts of success, and sometimes put back together.

Many other projects were started often just for experimentation but never completed in to anything useful. With my interest in bits and pieces I inherited the internals of my granddads gramophone, an old record deck, valve amplifier and speakers, I put them together and made my first stereo, this was fun! My interest in audio was born.

Around that time a youth club started in the village, this was a time when youth clubs were places where kids met and chatted, all very civilised. I think someone took some music along, a cassette player or radio, what ever it was it was so quiet that only a few people could hear it. The next week myself and a mate Paul took my valve stereo along with a pile of records and cassettes, set it up in the corner of the village hall and played music that people could hear and dance to – my first disco.

This was even more fun but the kit we had wasn’t really practical, a single record player in a wooden box and an open chassis valve amplifier, not very safe at all and some heavy wooden speakers. Time to put my new electronics skills to use. Using these wonderful devices called opamps we built a twin set of record decks (both different of course) with a mixer and microphone input so we could introduce records like the radio 1 DJs (who knew!). We needed a name for the disco so it became the 741 disco after the opamps in the mixer. Over the next few years we did quite a number of discos and gradually added and upgraded the kit with new decks, new amplifiers, new speakers and a light show, all the kit was home built. We evolved into the “After dark disco” and we’re quite popular around the Northampton area. Borne out of our interest in hifi we always prided ourselves on the quality of the audio, it made us smile when we had people complain that the disco sounded better than their hifi at home. PS, that’s not me in the picture!

We were still doing the disco when I left school and I had made a 50 watt hifi stereo amplifier from Maplin parts for home and put it in a big metal box. I took this along to my first interview for a job and whilst it didn’t work very well (bits kept blowing up), the wiring was messy and the metal box looked like it had been beaten from old washing machines it contained all the aspects of what I had learnt over the years, mechanics, electrical and electronics. Using this I was able to explain all of the design and build process, functionality, improvements and why it did not work. It must have made a good impression as I won an electronics apprenticeship at the royal aircraft establishment in Bedford, 1 of the 8 taken on that year from over 200 applicants.

All the old diggers, lorries and tractors were eventually thrown away, the Lego was passed down from brother to brother but the Meccano still sits in the loft waiting for retirement so I can once again relive my childhood! As for the electronics, that part of my childhood still lives on today along with the new skills I have learnt since then. I never did drive a digger but still remember it as my earliest career choice but through a series of connections from those early days I am convinced it put me where I am today.