Living life as one creative hobby

by Keith Inman, Canada

Work, hobbies family and pleasure seem to have all intermingled with the common thread of an engineering approach that shaped my life… We all need to be stimulated to do something.

A close friend said to me “of all the things you do, the one thing I don’t think you do is play some kind of musical instrument.” I replied you are totally correct, I don’t but I think I can sing if I had to! At the time I detested music and the teachers never stimulated me that much.” Today – the story is different… It is never too late and maybe I should add this to my bucket list..

  • Cycling is a passion that I grew into because my father encouraged me, last year my friend and I, apart from local races, rode from Trieste to Athens in 10 days and clocked 1980 km
  • DIY, I achieve tremendous satisfaction from repairing something that normally would be thrown away. In fact, making something from something else that already exists to avoid market obsolescence is a passion. Our house is still a work in progress on maintenance alone, but we also have many ideas for improvements
  • Gardening, I learnt these skills from Dad as a small boy, there is something about growing your own food and being independent of the retail system
  • Kayaking, a return to this sport after my intense teenage kayaking years is on the list
  • Metalwork this goes back to my apprenticeship days, where I still apply all that I learnt many years ago
  • Painting, sitting there with brush and oil paints and capturing a scene is like lazing away on a sunny afternoon, I need to do more
  • Sewing, well this came around more through need than want due to my rather lightweight body construction and stature. Not the case now but in those early days in Canada I could never find clothes that were a good fit. In years past my Mother had taught me some basic hand sewing skills. In B.C. I eventually bought a sewing machine out of frustration, made a shirt which fit well, and my hobby grew and so did the types of sewing machines, I love machinery if anyone had not guessed
  • Suba Diving, ever since I saw Lloyd Bridges in Sea Hunt as a small boy in the UK on a black and white TV, I was captivated by what lay out there in the ocean. I became a diver in 1981. It is hard to explain the peace, the synergy of creativity that the ocean yields with no emails or text messages…yet!
  • Wind Surfing, a return to this sport after a few year’s layoff is imminent as my #2 son has taken up Kite Boarding and is encouraging me, well to be honest applying great pressure to join him
  • Woodworking, my father taught me a great deal and I had a wonderful woodwork teacher from Kenya when I was in high school. I have never forgotten his comments as I was always rushing to move on to the next exciting project… “Mr. Inman it is not quantity that we want it is quality that we need.”

Formulative years – the start: My first recollection of being creative was as a child of about 3 years old playing with empty cornflake boxes and metal pots and pans. There was deep and natural fascination of how I could reshape the empty boxes into something else finalized by stacking pans on top to form towers which inevitably collapsed into a crescendo of noise and disarray. At the time my father was superintendent of the gas turbine machine tool maintenance shop at what was English Electric in Whetstone, Leicestershire. Eventually he became the gas turbine erection shop GM where I recall one exciting day of him taking me around the factory when I was about 5 years old. He had a difficult time persuading me to come home that day as I was literally enraptured by all there was to see including the blue and yellow curled metal chips or swarf from lathes and milling machines; all of which I wanted to take home to add to my “engineering” collection of acquired bits and pieces.

Little did I know that those early days of engineering awe would set a foundation of how I generally live life to this very day and a tidal wave of interests. Work, hobbies, family and pleasure seem to have all intermingled with the common thread of an engineering approach that has very few discernible boundaries and really shaped my life. I really enjoy my working career and I have learnt so much and had the benefit of being mentored by some very intelligent and wonderful people, where I apply this career – based knowledge in a reciprocal nature with my domestic life as much as I can.

Education – life’s continual process: I guess I could say I was a late developer and managed to fail all but one of my UK GCE O levels at grammar school due to too much interest in training and racing cycles, the peddling variety of course, which in actual fact I am back into since about 2010. I had to start my career on the tools as a craft apprentice at English Electric Gas Turbines which became eventually GEC ALSTOM Gas Turbines.

As a craft apprentice I learnt how to operate many machine tools, such as lathes, milling machines; both horizontal and vertical, radial arm drills, drill presses, surface grinders and boring machines. During the same period of time I learnt how to use all the hand tools and marking out equipment associated with the wide range of basic metalwork and foundry practice. My early years working with my father in his garage on a variety of both woodwork and metalwork has in fact established an excellent groundwork to add on even greater craft skills. Regardless the shock of my “O” level results had a deep impact and was the catalyst to propel me forward to learn more and work hard get back to where I should have been after passing O levels moving to pass A levels which would have then allowed me to move on to college and university.

My thirst for technical knowledge had finally surfaced and has largely remained unabated ever since. With good craft apprentice year 1 grades I moved upward to technician apprentice which meant heading to a local engineering technical college. Within another year I was upgraded to student apprentice which then translated to about 70% classroom time and 30% training school time. Finishing the five – year apprentice scheme as a student apprentice allowed me to go back to school full time. I was accepted at Leicester Polytechnic School of Mechanical Engineering now Simon De Montfort University.

Evolution – a career of hobbies: My hobbies have also grown in parallel with all my college years. I built a couple of kayaks from marine plywood and applied all the various skills I had at my disposal to produce an accurately joined up seaworthy vessel. This was a worthwhile investment as I was rescued by UK coast guard after getting into serious trouble in a rip tide in the English Channel. Each kayak construction was based on 3mm thick marine plywood using a stitch and glue fiberglass joint technique. My hobbies gradually started to grow in parallel with my career development and now outnumber the amount of time I can actually put into them.

The growth of those hobbies still includes cycling and road racing, DIY on the house, gardening, hiking, kayaking, masonry, metalwork, sailing, scuba diving, sewing where I use 3 different machines, windsurfing and woodworking and a few more. A posting to Canada in 1981 with GEC Gas Turbines as the senior commissioning engineer for the Hydro One Bruce B standby generators opened more doors than I could possibly have realized at the time.

However, let’s back track somewhat to those years at Leicester Polytechnic. Although I had selected mechanical engineering, I added on some supplements of electrical engineering, electronics, control engineering and thermodynamics. It was really hard going and absorbed many hours of study to get through all the engineering course material, plus I had to support myself financially as I refused to take money from my parents. Initially I had good fun working the weekends on an open – air market in Leicester UK. Here I learnt some of the best sales skills to install self – confidence as I had to yell at the top of my voice to the clientele. I worked behind a fair number of pubs and bars and eventually found Saturday work at an automotive and tools type store that paid enough for just working Saturdays. Initially I worked on repairing cars such as tire changes, exhaust systems and radiators but the manager encouraged me to drop that part of the business and move into the store on retail sales work. Knowledge is precious and I just kept adding it in a very logical pattern. Finally, I graduated from Leicester Poly with an HND in Mechanical Engineering with Distinctions in control engineering, thermodynamics and one other but cannot recall what that was.

Working career – a hobby: Graduating in 1975 and moving back to GEC Gas Turbines as a commissioning engineer – the next 10 years were spent on and off in the Middle East in some of the most difficult and arduous countries. I certainly had some adventures, met many wonderful people and mentors and eventually reached the principal engineer level. My electrical, electronic and control engineering knowledge was reasonably sound but a great melange for enhancement. I started to really like working on gas turbine analog governors, AVR’s and P&C equipment, the more of them I commissioned, the more of them I wanted to commission. In 1981 as mentioned, my career and domestic door opened very wide with GEC GTL and a temporary resident working visa posting to Bruce B nuclear power station in Ontario. We eventually emigrated in early 1984 to the Toronto area after I had completed the four 15 MW machines in late 1983.

It is really difficult to condense what has taken a lifetime of learning to accomplish, so in order to assist this process let me state some of the things that identify and make up my character. I really like working in the electrical and electronic world and have a constant urge for increased knowledge. I am very keen on standardization, organization, repeatability and user friendliness and ease of use coupled with inventiveness and innovation in business and at home. I really strive to make a habit of being environmentally responsible by trying to repair anything if I can rather than stoop to the ease of our throw it away society. I really like making things where I can apply all the technical and practical skills I have learnt. I find it especially rewarding where I can re-invent or make something from another standard product or in fact make an item that does exist but does not make me reliant on buying it or being subject to it changing in the world of obsolescent product markets.

My friends think I need to see a therapist at times with my quirky engineering focused ways. For instance, every time we hike in the mountains, I always build a kitchen out of anything I can find, stone, wood and debris so that I can cook for everyone; it is now a well – recognized and organized personal trademark.

Our years in Oakville and Cambridge Ontario were rather difficult in grasping and assimilating to a new culture and climate as immigrants. One would think a move from the UK to Canada for a pair of Brits would be so easy, but we really found it hard going. At one stage we gave up and returned to the UK in early 1993 but we came back to Canada after five months and moved to BC in late 1993. Those early years in Ontario consisted of working in the field for GEC Canada on a variety of electrical commissioning projects across Canada and some parts of the USA including a two – year period commissioning transit system 600Vdc invertors on ALRT trains, where again I had some great mentors and teachers who helped me with what I did not know.

Eventually I found my way into the engineering department of GEC Canada around 1987 and then realized that people were actually out there selling what I was designing. I wanted in but could not find the key to the right door, the story I suppose is somewhat like a rock star in that a couple of really good managers more or less discovered who I was, what I knew and was capable of, they had some faith in me, gave me a chance and invited me to join their band. I signed on and was sent to Montreal for several weeks to work as the commercial coordinator on a massive HVDC project for Hydro Quebec. That job over I hit the road on P&C sales in Ontario and spent some wonderful years learning all I could about micro-processor-based relays and metering equipment and associated software, John and Graham I owe it to you both for all your help and patience and apologize for my initial dumb questions. Yes, one of my first questions in sales which I was naturally concerned about was “how will you know if I am being successful John?” The answer came back very simply… “we will definitely know.”

House built – full of hobbies:

After several years on the road in P&C sales from 1988 coupled with one or two relay project commissioning work periods, we moved to BC in 1993 after our five – month return period in the UK. By 1993 we had adapted to live in Canada. From a hotel in BC we moved to a basement rental and took on the biggest DIY project of our lives. We decided to design, contract out and build a 3,200 square foot house on 1/4 acre lot. All I can say is that I applied everything I had learnt over my life. We literally flew by the seat of our pants sleeping on the floor of the basement entry house for a year while the house was built. We have remained in this house from 1994 to this very day.

In 2000 the sales model of ALSTOM T&D changed from specialist to generalist. Overnight our Canadian sales team became multirole combat type sales managers (KAMS). We suddenly became responsible for just about every electrical product sale within the ALSTOM T&D complex arsenal. Again, it was a major learning curve dealing with anything and everything from a $100 auxiliary relay to a 250 MVA rectifier transformer. I am going to end this story stating that I moved out of GE Grid Solutions who had purchased ALSTOM Grid Solutions in 2015 and joined F&M Installations in 2016 as the business development director. More learning more adaptation all of which came about from riding my bike on what is referred to as “End to End ride” ie one end of a country to another. In 2016 I rode with the president of FMI from the top of Italy to the very bottom in about 10 days. On returning to Canada I made the career move to FMI and again have learnt so much. Without family support from my wife Jan and the great friends I am blessed with, this article would never have made it to the print shop. Thanks to everyone who has come into my life.


Keith Inman is the Director of Sales and Account Relations for F& M Installations, a Vancouver Island based electrical construction company.

Keith was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, UK and moved early on in his life to Glenhills, Leicestershire where he spent all of childhood, teenage and part of his adult life up to age 33 before moving to Canada in 1984.

He graduated in 1975 with an HND from Leicester Polytechnic (later Simon De Montfort University) which took him into the world of gas turbines, starting as a senior commissioning engineer for GEC Gas Turbines in many parts of the Middle East, Europe and Canada.

He later worked in different positions for Alstom, Areva and GE Grid Solutions, before joining FMI as Director Business Development in 2016.