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Saturday, 19 September 2015

Sweeping around a Corner.

Retirement. It is so hard to believe that such a turning point would happen to me. Sure, I have seen it happen many, many times. Always to others of course. As for myself, how I could I have ever thought it would happen to me? Indeed, retirement gives me the opportunity to look back on my entire life.

Such as, I could recall in the most sharp memory images, when I was a young boy growing up in Pimlico, close to the north bank of the River Thames in London. Rollerskating up and down the quiet street, with far fewer cars parked along the kerbside than at present, this was one of two parallel streets forming an elongated rectangle, with both streets bearing the name of St. Georges Square. In between the two streets was a strip of public garden, fenced and gated. It was here where dog walkers brought their pooches while I kicked a ball across the long-disused area of hard tennis courts, which had their heyday before the War, and the adjoining area of lawn was ideal for picnics during the summer. And every year on November 5th, a giant bonfire dominated over thousands of fireworks let off by older children, many unsupervised by adults, yet according to my knowledge, there was no record of any accidents caused by misuse. Such was the 1950's and early sixties style of discipline.

Pimlico apartments where I grew up

One end of the street joined Grosvenor Road at a T-junction, where I only have to cross the main road to walk alongside the river. On the other side of the river, heavy industry hums away on its daily business, many of its buildings blackened with soot. The industrial estate was dominated by the four classical chimneys of Battersea Power Station, resembling the legs of an upturned table. Across the other side of Chelsea Bridge, the heavy industry on the south bank of the Thames gave way to Battersea Park, famous for its permanent Fun Fair, dominated by the Big Dipper, the largest wooden roller coaster on the site. Close by was the Water Chute, where a passing car speeding down a long incline threw water with powerful force onto a glass screen shielding us from a soaking.

How I loved standing by that screen as the water hits it just a few inches from where I stood. Outside the fairground but within the park, there was the Tree Walk, a long boardwalk suspended high in the trees, passing a building where inside, a room moved - throwing us from one side to the other, while near its roof a giant figure of Popeye stood, flexing his muscles, and next to him was his oppressor Brutus, who continually swayed to and fro in permanent laughter. The street where these amenities were located was lined with all manner of stalls, giving a permanent carnival feel. I also recall the miniature train, and a magnificent fountain display just outside the Fun Fair. Not to mention a couple of swing parks as well - Battersea Park really was a fun paradise! And the four chimneys of the nearby power station looked across the whole park as if silently supervising the area.

At present, Battersea Park is only a shadow of its former glory. Thanks to a fatal accident on the Big Dipper roller-coaster in May 1972, where five children were killed, the fair closed down and everything demolished and removed, including the boardwalk and all other facilities. Also all the stalls disappeared, and nothing would ever be the same again. Oh the highlights of childhood, devoid of responsibility, that early phase of life when owning a train set or Meccano was far more important to me than my parents earning enough to sustain a family. As Battersea Park metamorphosed from a fun paradise with a carnival atmosphere to an area of quiet greenery occupying a square hemmed in between Chelsea and Albert Bridges, so reaching teenage years involved the loss of that sense of innocence that comes only in the early years as more responsibilities takes over - especially after leaving school.

Battersea Fun Fair before 1972

Water Chute, Battersea Fun Fair

And here such a big change of life came in April 1968, at age fifteen years, when I left school with no qualifications, and landed a job at a family-owned business in manufacturing period furniture. And my very first task on that initial Monday morning? Picking up the broom leaning at a corner and sweeping the floor. Than having swept the floor of one department, I had to repeat the process at an adjoining shop floor. Every weekday morning began with the sweeping. I did not feel bad about that, as back then it was the accepted routine carried out by every school leaver who had failed to achieve any educational levels, let alone a university degree. Although pushing a broom was very humbling among a workforce of skilled craftsmen, I believe it was the broom which transformed the boy into a man, rather than at school.

But I was always perceived as different. Everyone at work made sure that I knew my place, at the bottom rung of the ladder, and they made sure I stayed there. And somehow I was made aware that I as an Italian was seen as inferior to the British, even if I was actually born in England myself. The War was often mentioned, with their boasting that it was won by the British, with the Italian forces relegated to uselessness in military conflicts. The truth - which they made sure remained quiet - was that the War was won by the Allies, with the U.S. fighter 'plane Elona Gay dropping the first atom bomb on the Japanese island of Hiroshima, thus ending the conflict when Japan surrendered. By heck, I wish that I knew all this as an adolescent while sweeping the floor! Such knowledge would have been a weapon in its own right to shut the mouths of everyone in the factory.

Do I want to write a self-pitying dirge? No way! Rather as an opportunity to glorify God, along with the liberating power of the Gospel. And how comforting to know that there is a Strong Tower into which the righteous run into, and they are safe. Now as one retiring, I can look back at my working life, and calculate that, of the 47 years since leaving school, only less than six years of production didn't involve time spent cleaning. This was when I worked in a precision engineering firm between October 1973 to June 1979. All other times involved cleaning, even as a pool lifeguard earlier in 1973, when I had to mop down the pool edge walkway, and even jumped in to scrub off the scum from the safety rail within the pool's edge. This was done early in the morning before the amenity opened to the public. Then from August 1980, after trying out various other jobs including a few months in a warehouse, I eventually became self-employed in domestic window cleaning, which kept me going for the next 35 years.

Living in a country where social class is such an obsession can really be disheartening. As I watched one former Prime Minister shout Education! Education! during Parliament, I have seen the obsession among young people of both genders become enthralled with the possibility of achieving their A* Level which would open the door to University. Their obsession is as if their lives depended on it. Let's face it; imagining themselves sitting at an office desk in front of a computer, and maybe with a telephone as well, is far, far more appealing to these young students than the thought of pushing a broom in a noisy factory shop floor.

Only today (Saturday) an article appeared in a national newspaper, which was written by a Psychiatrist, criticising the appalling bureaucracy which has such a hold on the National Health Service. He relates a story out of personal experience about an elderly female patient who had fallen from her bed, and as she lay on the floor, she called for help while wedged between the bed and the bedside cabinet. Her cries was heard by a nurse who sat at her desk, taking her coffee break and ignoring the patient's calls. When the doctor summoned her to help in lifting her back to her bed, the nurse refused. The situation was resolved when a visitor entered the ward and assisted the elderly woman back to her bed.

The Psychiatrist explained that the nurse was a victim of a system where a university degree is now essential to enter the profession. This has developed a culture of "Too posh to wipe" - a bad attitude - confirmed by one of my clients who works as a nurse herself - where such graduates believe that wiping a patient's bottom is far too menial to merit their degree. The writer then explained about the ambition of many a young nurse to climb the career ladder into Management, where she enters the office staffed with men in suits and who had never handled a stethoscope, and yet were responsible for meeting financial targets and destroying the compassion towards patients, which was the whole object for having the N.H.S. in the first place.

Swimming pool where I was lifeguard in 1973

The man in a suit who has never pushed a broom in his entire working life. How much I wanted to be one myself so many years ago, perhaps because that was what my parents would have liked me to have become. The suit, a symbol of high education levels and career success. Held in reverence by society as a whole, even by some manual workers. Instead, I was shown my place and kept there. Despite my knowledge of the Bible, accumulated over the years, I was never permitted to teach or exhort. I recall one of the Elders, who is not with us anymore, who answered my request to teach a class by saying that someone else was better qualified for that role. Better qualified? Because he worked in an office? Then this blog page. When this was typed, my total score of hits topped 51,000. At first this looks healthy. But I was tempted to change my blogger name to Dr. F. E. Blasi. If I had, chances that the total score of hits might have been closer to 100,000. But I would be deceiving my readers. Lying is not exactly godly. Then again, the general flow of all my blogs does not reflect those written by a doctor. I believe that many readers would have seen through the ruse.

So I look back at 47 years as a manual labourer, with the last 35 years as self-employed. Now I'm entering retirement. Unfulfilled ambitions? Rather, I believe that pushing a broom across the floor was very beneficial psychologically. The feeling of humility, I believe, was the key in converting to faith in Jesus Christ. It was the driving force to grasp knowledge of the Bible, and to plead with my Maker for the Big Picture of God's entire revelation. Faith in Jesus and Bible reading has inspired me to visit Israel as early as 1976, which opened the door to world travel. Faith in Jesus had always been the backbone of feeling content about living in rented accommodation instead of home ownership, and riding a bicycle instead of driving a fast car. Faith in Jesus as Saviour has put life in its proper perspective, not to chase riches here on Earth, but to store them in Heaven. It has helped me from envying other people's good fortune or higher social position, knowing that the same fate awaits us all.

Battersea Park was indeed a fun paradise for families. In a way, the whole park was a reflection of Heaven - a place of joy, happiness, a cessation from worry, anxieties. It was a place of rest, to refresh the soul. True Heaven will have all this and much more. It will be eternal, a place of everlasting joy.

But to get there, I had to trust in Jesus Christ - his death, burial, and resurrection.

To help me towards faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, it was necessary to stoop low and push a broom in full view of all my betters. 


  1. Dear Frank,
    Praise God that He is no respecter of persons. To Him, all that matters is whether or not we know His Son. Whatsoever we do, may we do it heartily, as unto the Lord and not as unto men.
    May we all have a servant's heart as He did, and boast only in the cross.
    Thanks as always for the excellent post.
    God bless,

  2. I have to admit that I have never felt inferior to anyone, and just as Jesus is no respecter of persons, neither am I. My grandfather was a Jew who owned a few shops in a couple of areas, who walked for miles from shop to shop sometimes in sandals and wore a tie that was held around his neck with a piece of elastic. He always helped the poor and never looked down on anybody. Fancy dress and only associating with the rich brings no contentment because there will always be competition. I am glad I had a grandfather and parents who taught me to just be myself.