Some years ago I went to a scrap yard to buy a long tube of aluminium. Metal scrap yards are fascinating places. I enjoy looking at how the owner or manager organised the yard. I suppose we all envy the owners who have big crushers that swallow up a car and spit it out in a square blob.
I paid for the aluminium with cash. He needed to give some change. He went on to pull an enormous roll of notes out of his coat. I remarked on the size and the amount of cash that he was carrying. He informed me, very patiently, that when a foreign ship arrived, carrying various types of metal, he needed to be able to pay cash.
He had obviously been educated before the advent of the eleven plus examinations. Yet he had skills and talents to be envied.
I wonder just how easy it is to climb into the hold of a ship. Look over a pile of metal, offer a price - and then `pay the man’.
I wonder too what it is like to sit in the captain’s cabin and peel large numbers of notes off a roll.
The scrap yard owner spoke softly and gently at all times. His throat was not damaged by smoke. There were no lines or any indication on his face that he had lived anything but a healthy and blameless life. He mentioned his grand children twice in the brief conversation. A proper family man. A very proud man.
Naturally we dream that the grandchildren mentioned above find their way to sixth form and then onto university. We hope that with their enriched academic education they too land up being wealthy and happy.
The skills of passing a rather abstract examination are very different, however, from the skills involved in the barter of tons of scrap. I just hope that somewhere along the line some parent will say: `Enough of all that work. Let us get on with acquiring practical life skills. I really want you to be happy. Be like your granddad. Be a proud man.”