During December of 1991, it was becoming very apparent how vulnerable I was at Midland Printing. Each month I was told whether I could stay for the next month, at one point in December I had nothing to do for ten days, the printing industry was being devastated by the recession. The situation at work was very tense as everyone knew that the management was about to introduce computers and everyone felt very vulnerable and they realised their jobs were under threat. They had reason to be worried. There were twelve people working in the reprographic section of the company. This was the department responsible for taking the artwork from the studio, making the colour separated film, and creating the plates for the presses. Today none of these skills exist, it is all a click of the mouse. I knew things couldn’t carry on in this way. I needed the job but in truth I was pretty miserable there. It was a the sort of work an intern would do today, and the role more junior to any job I had done before I went to Roffey. But it was a job and the only one I could find in a thirty to forty mile radius! One day in January Donna and I decided to pray and ask God for some direction. We prayed, I went to work and by 11am I was told I no longer had a job there! That was a swift answer to prayer!
A ‘MAKE OR BREAK’ MOMENT
I signed on the dole, but I knew that looking for work wasn’t the answer. The answer was that I needed to get experience in using a computer, and since I couldn’t do this whilst in work, I would have to borrow some money and buy a computer and teach myself. I knew this was a ‘make or break’ moment. If I didn’t master it, I would never work in Graphic Design again. It is difficult now to convey how difficult the task was in learning to use a computer. Up to that point, Graphic Design was quite an art – literally sticking card together and using a drawing board. Now it became a science and I had to learn about memory, hard disks, RAM and so on. Then there was the enormous cost of investing in a computer. My mother came to the rescue and lent me around £6,000 I think, to buy an Apple Macintosh computer and a second hand black and white scanner. I also got a grant from the council of about £2,000 to buy a laser printer and the software I needed. In all I needed around £8,000. To put this into context, before I left work to go to Roffey six years before in 1985 I was earning around £9,000 per annum, so it was just a bit short of an annual income.
The computer was a Mac LC (which I believe stood for ‘low cost!’). It had 2 megabytes of RAM and a 40 megabyte hard drive and boasted a 12 inch colour screen. It was the ‘entry level’ professional computer.
I had made a friend who was a screen printer, and graphic designer called Irvin Timms. He had received a grant from the government to help train people in computers, and was running a training centre in Leeds. So Donna and I and the children went to Leeds to stay with Lawrence and Eileen for a couple of weeks, whilst every day I went to the training centre and worked my way through the computer manuals to teach myself. I was utterly exhausted by the end of the day, but bit by bit I managed to get a grip on the new technology.
Lawrence came down to Shrewsbury and kindly converted the garage for me, so that I could use it as a studio / office for my computer, and I settled in to a daily routine of continuing to learn the software and trying to make some contacts in the local area who might want some graphic design.
None the less, we had plenty of family time together and made the most of the beautiful countryside in Shropshire. There can’t have been a castle or abbey that we didn’t visit. Every weekend we would take the children on a picnic, or if it was raining, we would bake at home. Since I had some time on my hands I took the opportunity to develop my hobby of photography, and took the portraits of the family at Stokesay Castle above.
For Donna and I, this was without doubt the most difficult year we had experienced in our marriage. Donna had her hands full as Luke had started infant school, Alana was attending a playgroup and she still had Jess at home. Meanwhile I was preoccupied with becoming proficient on the computer. I don’t recall we argued much, but we were certainly under sustained stress during this time – neither of us being able to perhaps truly appreciate the scale of each others challenges. However our time as a family was still very special and we enjoyed many days out in the countryside. By this time we were very involved in the local church, and as a consequence had a number of friends with small children.