At the time the daily routines of prep, choc lunch, morning meetings and learning texts seemed routine and uninteresting- it is only with the context of time do I truly appreciate how lucky I was to be raised there. I began school in September of 1994- the era of grunge, Nirvana, baggy t-shirts, Brit-pop, chokers and cool Britannia. Well, I didn’t really notice the era – like anyone whose childhood began in the 1980s, my 11-year-old-self looked like she’d been kicked through a charity shop, and the culture at the time didn’t extend beyond Mr Welbrock’s jazzy ties. But nevertheless, I have such fond memories of my school days at the Mount.
I was incredibly sporty – in fact my name is still engraved on the tennis winner’s board near the swimming pool (although the real reason I won that year was because Jian Wu had the flu, but I’m not going to let that dull my sense of achievement!). I threw myself into every activity, sport and club I could. I won the Latin Reading Competition in 1996, I was the U14 Yorkshire & Humberside Epee Champion in Fencing (I later quit fencing as I grew tired of being stabbed for fun!) and received the Rachael Garside Award for outstanding contribution to sport. I was a member of the Debate team, appeared in numerous plays, idolised the older girls and every year complained that Year 7s were getting cheekier and cheekier!
When I was approaching the end of my time at the Mount, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had my Maths and Physics A-levels and a vague interest in Engineering but I was one of only about two people in my year with no University place. Well, I say I didn’t know what I wanted to do… what I wanted to do was become a rock star Goddess from Mars and tour the world playing guitar. I wasn’t going to let little things like an inability to play guitar, never having written a song or not having a band get in the way of my dreams!
After a year dipping my toe into the working world upon leaving the Mount, I enrolled at Leeds College of Music to do a Performing Arts BTec (I was utterly bobbins). When I chanced upon some Sound Engineering students in one of the recording studios learning Music Technology, I had a lightbulb moment and saw Sound Engineering as my way to combine my love of music and my interest in Engineering. After changing courses half way through the year and scraping a B in a Music Technology A-Level, I applied to De Montfort University to study Sound Engineering and got accepted.
Once at University I actually found a band who would accept my complete devotion (in lieu of actual talent) and we began writing songs and gigging.
We were really quite dreadful, but over the years, with hard work and determination we rose from ‘yikes’ to ‘could be worse’, to ‘actually not bad’ before finally reaching ‘quite good’. Music was my life. My student days were spent in the Studio and my evenings were spent lugging amps and mics to venues across the Midlands. When I finally graduated, I got my first job in a Nottingham Recording Studio and after recording my first EP as the hired help I realised… that I hated it! It turns out that I had made two schoolgirl errors when choosing a career in Sound Engineering: 1) I thought that all musicians were inherently talented, interesting people; and 2) I thought that the music I would be recording would be good. The reality of being a Sound Engineer, for the first 10 years at least, was rather recording anyone who’d let you, and invariably spending more time than you’d spend with your own family on mixing the musical equivalent of a barbershop quartet of cats fighting in a tumble dryer. So not what I had in mind. At grand age of 23, I found myself at a career dead end.
I joined a temping agency to find some work, completely lost as to what I wanted to do with my life, and was randomly sent to be the administrative assistant of a Piling company. (Piles are a type of foundation used when ground conditions don’t permit traditional strip till or shallow footings by the way. Its ok, I didn’t know what they were either.) Ground Engineering was so far off my radar, I had no idea the industry even existed. I saw the Estimators in my department pour through Ground Investigations, applying maths and formulas to different types of soils in order to ascertain where various section of foundations would support specified loads and I was honestly transfixed. Estimating combines maths, physics, and geology, and crucially provided the mental and intellectual stimulation that I didn’t realise I’d craved. I explained my position and education to my Manager and begged him to train me up as an Estimator. He still needed to get the idea past the board of Directors – and got me approved for training with the rather sneaky wordplay of explaining that my Engineering degree was sound. That I had a sound, Engineering degree (rather than a Sound Engineering degree). And it is this play on words that gave me the career I have today.
I have been an Estimator in the field of Geotechnical Engineering for 12 years now; worked for Balfour Beatty Ground Engineering, Vinci Construction and Babcock International as well as in Australia with Zinfra Group (the weather was too cold here and I fancied some sun so moved to Melbourne for 3 years. Lovely place. Bad bugs. Great food.). Having the money from my 9 – 5 meant that I could do music in my spare time, and my band had moderate success – TV appearances, tours of Italy, the Netherlands and UAE supporting Paul Weller and The Wailers (funny story- my boss at the time was called Bob Marley. I literally had to ask Bob Marley if I could have annual leave to tour with the Wailers. It was brilliant).
There are many traits I learned and honed at the Mount that has helped me to be the person I am today. It sounds strange but acting in School plays – having the courage to stand up in front of a room full of people and hold your nerve whilst everyone looks at you, has helped me in numerous interviews and social situations. Debate society – learning the arguments for and against before standing up and convincing others that your point of view is the right one – so important in life and working with others in a busy office whilst you are negotiating contract terms and need to hold your own in a room of hostile Quantity Surveyors. Also not having your intellect or competency being questioned because of your gender. I can’t say that I haven’t experienced sexism in the Construction Industry because I have, and it was a shock. But the Mount taught me about having courage and faith in yourself and your abilities, and today’s Mount girls need to absorb all that confidence and faith in themselves because they are going to need it. My message to College Leavers is to be fearless and be strong and know your onions and speak your onions and don’t let people talk over your onions or belittle your onions because they are your onions and they are brilliant. Apologies for the metaphor. Onions.
Would you like to see your story featured on this blog page? Get in touch with Lucy Marsh firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what you’ve been up to since leaving The Mount School. #MadeAtTheMound #WeKnowGirlsCan