an engineering cameo at the Royal Bath & West show

There’s no finance angle – it’s a snapshot of an early retiree going along for the ride at a trade show, something I used to do at work.  It was good just being a grunt, rather than the organ grinder

One of the odd things about retirement is doing something that reminds me of my working life, but in a different context. I’ve done enough trade shows for work, both as a visitor but also as an exhibitor. Things like that don’t fall naturally to an introvert. Engineers often become engineers because they are better with things than with people 😉  But you can learn. And so it was that I had a very minor walk-on part on a stand at the Royal Bath & West show in the imagineering tent.

The show itself is an agricultural show, so there’s the usual bits of horsing about, and exhibits of sheep and pigs. Some of the vintage vehicles were pretty neat. Farming kit aplenty, and it would have been a good place to load up on wellies if you are going to the Glastonbury mudfest in a few weeks.

the train set was fun

the train set was fun

I was lucky enough to be there early in the show’s run, an agricultural show can get pretty high when the weather is warm 😉

Imagineering is all about introducing kids to engineering. I’d never heard the word before, though it has a half-century history in the States. Personally I had been pretty cynical about the idea. I’m of the view that if the interest is there, it will out. I learned a fair amount of electronics from picking TVs out of skips (people were throwing out their B&W full-size TVs in the 1970s as they replaced them with colour TVs) and scavenging the parts1. I learned from books and magazines that were written for adults.

The head honcho of the stand I was on was doing most of the schmoozing and pressing of the flesh, and I observed with great pleasure how this was done right, and great pleasure that this was not my responsibility 😉 Often in the FIRE scene peple say they miss the feeling of making things happen or being of influence. I just don’t have the Calvinist gene, I was happy being a fly on the wall.

I also took the time out to have a look at some of the other Imagineering stands, and perhaps the cynical mustelid heart softened a little.

The Imagineering stand at the entrance
Some strapping young fellows from the military
Amateur radio
EDF’s stand, come build Hinkley point with us… I remember those pipe and loop buzzer gizmos from my schooldays, sometimes an old design is a good ‘un, eh?
The IET’s stand, robots galore

I was on the lookout for ideas and how other people bigged up their stands – movement and blinkenlights were an easy win. There were a couple I couldn’t get a picture of – Augusta Westland helicopters had a great demo of the Bernoulli effect with a blower and a ball and some paper helicopter rotor models.

Because I have never worked in Somerset, I have no real idea of the big organisations and employers. It appears there are quite a few engineering companies in Bristol2. I am also amazed at the very high presence of the military. RNAS Yeovilton saves the region I live from the daily pest that is jet aircraft noise that infests most of the UK and was an increasing problem over Ipswich, but the downside is noise from the occasional helicopters and general aviation. These tend to not go on too late at night, however, unlike jet aircraft from Stansted which sometimes went on past midnight and started up before six am. Anyway, back to the military – it has a much higher profile both in that there must be a lot of companies in the Bristol area in the supply chain. And it seems to be recruiting in a big way. I’ve been used to the military scaling down – Suffolk had a lot of USAF airbases that were being decommissioned after the Berlin wall fell, I certainly don’t recall such a strong presences at the Suffolk show.

There were a fair few punters there and they did seem to get some of the kids involved pushing and pulling things. I was surprised at the scale of the Imagineering tent. Perhaps some of these youngsters will grow up to work in the field. Maybe there is a better way than the way I learned 😉 I didn’t miss being the organ-grinder in the thick of things one little bit. I’ve done my time, and it was good to watch others do the schmoozing that I used to have to do against the grain.

Imagineering’s aims

  1. That wouldn’t work so well nowadays, because then consumer electronics was built out of largely general-purpose parts that you could re-use. Nowadays the level of integration is much higher and components are smaller, there aren’t going to be any street urchins repurposing SMD passive components, never mind a ball-grid array. I was fortunate enough to be dealing with components that had colour coded bands and vacuum tubes that you could  often work out the pins and function by inspections. On the other side of the balance, nowadays many things are to be had from China cheaply and new, and test equipment is far cheaper. 
  2. Bristol is not Somerset, but is the largest nearby conurbation 

14 thoughts on “an engineering cameo at the Royal Bath & West show”

  1. Hi Ermine, good to read, hope you’re enjoying life in somerset and have settled in. Out of interest, can you share a little about how you got the invite to the trade show? Are you actively keeping networks going through old contacts, have you found it difficult to make new acquaintances having relocated to the south west? The world of work clearly offers lots of opportunity to interact with people, potentially with common interests or with different world views to yours. Replacing this in early retirement, is something i personally recognise could be a challenge for me. Interested to know if there’s anything that’s particularly worked for you?

    Bristol concorde museum well worth a trip if you’ve not already.


    1. > Out of interest, can you share a little about how you got the invite to the trade show?

      I’ve still dabbed in engineering a little, the odd paid project and a fair amount in making hobbies or community things work better/at all. So you do get to know people or get known for sorting stuff. Nobody has any money, of course, but as a retiree that’s not necessarily a killer. Sometimes the ride’s interesting.

      So it was through connections, my role was simple in providing some activity, but I also did have a look at the overall stand, at others, and opined on what could be done better. It was low pressure.

      > Are you actively keeping networks going through old contacts,

      No. Sure, I see some of the people I used to work with when I go eastwards or they are working down here, but that’s purely socially as friends. Many of the people I worked with have retired . Remember that I have now been retired nearly a quarter of my 30 year working life.

      > have you found it difficult to make new acquaintances having relocated to the south west?

      No. We knew a few people, but a retiree has the advantage of time, and an ex electronics engineer and ex software guy has useful skills in the community. I’ve made recordings, films, run PA, pointed people at lighting hire folks and been involved with some technical training of young adults. Stay connected, be known for helping people out and they will help you. Diversity of activities and the things you think about, plus diversity in the people you deal with keeps the engine of the mind running

      > The world of work clearly offers lots of opportunity to interact with people, potentially with common interests or with different world views to yours.

      Common interests, yes, but the range of people I know at the Firm was surprisingly narrow in terms of social class, compared with those I know now.

      > Interested to know if there’s anything that’s particularly worked for you?

      Get rid of your TV You won’t have time for that in retirement 😉

      Be curious. Aim to learn something you didn’t know each day. Don’t carry a damn smartphone with you, you see the world clearer when not plugged into the hive-mind. If you move to a different area for God’s sake switch the sat-nav off – I had no real idea what was where for the first year down here because of that. Do stuff for/with people. In my case I am never going to be a great leader of men, though I can speak OK in public. But I can see opportunities sometimes to do more with what people have. Lift stones and see what’s under them. Travel slowly, if you are moving more than 150 miles in a day you are doing something wrong*. I was first warmed up to that by Philip Greenspun, but I never had the time when I was working.

      * I have a camper van, the cost of accommodation may alter this formula for most people, although if you are rich enough to deal with that the principle is still good. Roadsie accommodation is both more plentiful and cheaper in the US than here.


      1. Thank you for sharing this and your experiences, I really value it, you put things in such a clear, practical way which resonates with me.

        I very much appreciate your website and writing, your post on “How a short pension can help early retirement” is pinned to my desktop and has had a massive impact on both my thinking and actions. This is something that will pay dividends to me and my family in the years to come. Just got to stay the course!

        Appreciate a bit glowing this, but wanted you to know. Thanks again

        Liked by 1 person

      2. >Out of interest, can you share a little about how you got the invite to the trade show?>

        It’s quite easy to get an invite to any trade show. Go to the online registration page of the show, give yourself a business name such as Widgets-R-Us and use your home address. Tick all the boxes about how you’re an executive with responsibility for purchasing decisions etc, that you’re a visitor and not an exhibitor, and that will likely be enough to get you in.


      3. >If you move to a different area for God’s sake switch the sat-nav off – I had no real idea what was where for the first year down here because of that.>

        Totally agree – on my frequent sorties to London years ago, in the early days I’d get off the train at King’s Cross and go straight underground, only emerging from the gloom somewhere near my destination. But I used to really hate the claustrophobic conditions on the tube and so I started taking the buses overground – still crowded, but at least I could see the sky. And then from the bus journeys I actually learned where places were relative to each other, and so afterwards I’d often get off the train and then just walk to where I was going.


  2. Sounds an interesting visit ! I know you have a bit of a downer on British industry, the future of work in the UK, and how we’re all going to hell in a handcart because it seems (1) the growth of AI, (2) well-qualified TCNs prepared to do the smart techie stuff on the cheap and (3) low-cost imports from Asia will kill everything off here, but it’s really not like that at all on the ground when it comes to making things. Even the oldies like me are still in demand.

    Building things in China and the far-east might be the favoured option if you’re churning them out by the gazillion and saving pennies-per-unit is your main criterion, or you’re building a ship that needs tens of thousands of tonnes of steel and millions of manhours to construct. In either of these cases, the place of supply is not important – the small physical size of say iPhones means the unit cost of transportation from Asia is trivial, and of course the ship can be sailed to its buyer anywhere in the world.

    However, the majority of European engineering projects have either a fixed site location, or are small production runs / one-offs requiring highly specialised industry-specific knowledge and skills to engineer, and to be delivered to very demanding clients in short timescales, so suppliers outside of Europe rarely get a look in. Even many larger projects are carved up by the clients into smaller chunks and the work is spread around.

    A lot of this project work is taken on by the unsung specialist manufacturers lurking in the corners of every industrial estate in the UK.

    I derive around half of my income from designing stuff for a few of them in my area. And they’re not all long-established firms who’ve been around since the nineteenth century – my current best clients are manufacturers of specialist tools and equipment that have started up in the last half-dozen years. But this doesn’t mean they’re all equipped with state-of-the-art machine tooling – they generally have only basic fabrication & machine shops but well-equipped assembly shops – they simply sub the really precise stuff to even smaller suppliers who’ve invested in just one or two all singing & dancing machine tools.


    1. > A lot of this project work is taken on by the unsung specialist manufacturers lurking in the corners of every industrial estate in the UK

      So it seems, I am surprised to see that even in my small town there are a few oddball engineering firms in the industrial estates, and I was totally puzzled by the amount of activity in the Bristol area.

      The Firm was a large part of the ecosystem in Ipswich, it’s move from R&D to jobbing shop decimated the electronics supply chain around, to the extent that when I was looking to get a run of circuit boards made a few years ago I gave up and assembled them myself. Although I don’t know where I’d get that done here, I have more confidence I could find a prototyping manufacturer here within driving distance.

      Perhaps I could have found a job in this ecosystem somewhere, but then I am not running out of money but I am running out of time so it came good in the end. I do accept I got a distorted view of the state of British engineering from the slow demise and surrender of The Firm, however.

      Sometimes I wonder if I should get a really decent oscilloscope and return to my first love of analogue electronics – there’s opportunity enough in sensors and measurement front-ends. It seems something the young ‘uns have no feel for and don’t get taught at university or pick up on the job. But then I would surrender time for money, and I am too old to do that lightly now.


    1. > really old school

      I’ll inspect what lurks at the bottom of pint glasses down the pub before taking a swig 😉 Though at well over 50 I think I am safe from the King’s shilling. We are some way away from the stage of the Red Army approaching Berlin.

      Just checked, and the REME is indeed a division of the Army. I wouldn’t want to get the Services wrong, because the local crew are the Navy, operating from RNAS Yeovilton. Didn’t want to park the Army’s tanks on their lawn by mistake 😉

      I know COTS is all the rage, but really, outsourcing HR in the military does seem the height of dimwittedness!


      1. “We are some way away from the stage of the Red Army approaching Berlin”

        On a Guardian fast Ermine ? 🙂


  3. RNAS Yeovilton is also home to the rather good Fleet Air Arm museum. It’s been some years since I last visited but they have Concorde 002 on display and you can wander through it. It was mainly full of test and monitoring gear with a few seats for schmoozing the big wigs at the back.


  4. I’ve currently got 3 people subcontracting for me on the consultancy project I’m working on (including an electronics designer). It’s an awesome product idea, working for a very inspirational entrepreneurial type.

    This project could last for a few years based on current estimates.

    Everybody is freelance. Everybody works from home. The worst ‘manager’ anybody has to deal with is me 😉

    Just sayin.

    I don’t think you should let those skills die – you obviously still love it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s