Thursday, 15 March 2012


A mild winter compared to the last one.

There's a bit of a change of format here folks, we have quite a lot of old photos from 1988, so I'll put them on display and do a bit of rambling  underneath them.

Here goes....

I know this is a pretty poor photo,as, I'm sorry to say, most of them are ! But this shows the rear of the tenement that houses Michael Heraghty's Golden Star Pub. You might be able to make out that most of the windows are blocked off, the roof is in a state and the whole building is on the verge of collapse. Michael and his family scraped up enough money to buy the whole tenement and restore it. Now all of the flats above the pub are rented out by Michael's family. Thank goodness another Glasgow tenement was saved. Up until then, even if the buildings had historical interest, they would be pulled down without a second thought. Glasgow City Council ,over the years, has done more damage to the city than Hitler's Luftwaffe.

A view of Govanhill Street outside the garage. You can see the tenements opposite are being cleaned and refurbished. The Glasgow city Council managed to extort millions of pounds to supposedly rescue the Govanhill area which was rapidly degenerating into a total slum. For over six months prior to this photo being taken, this street was more or less blocked off, while they drilled into the foundations of all the buildings to pump concrete into the old mine shafts under the buildings. Battlefield Gardens was a classic example of the damage done by the old mines collapsing. The leaning Tower of Pisa had nothing on our tenement in Battlefield Gardens ! But the problems this caused us in the garage were horrendous ! Sometimes we couldn't get in or out for an hour or so, the liquid concrete got everywhere, and the noise of the drilling made it almost impossible to listen for faults in a car. I really thought it was going to put people off coming to us, hell, I wouldn't have put my car in for repair on a bloody building site !

However, despite this, we did attract some faithful customers. This nice old E12 BMW 525 belonged to one of the roughest looking wee characters you could ever meet. This was his pride and joy. If it needed something, it got it, money was never a problem as far as this car was concerned. And the money was always cash, in used notes. Here's an example of the way this wee guy worked...he brought the car in complaining of a coolant loss which turned out to be a cracked cylinder head, which even at our rates was still a thousand pound job.

" Tell ye whit son, if I get you a good second-hand cylinder head, will that keep the cost down ?"

"Sure would, but I'd need to check that is actually OK"

"Right, I'll get one delivered to you in a couple of days"

And right enough, a few days later, he turned up with a truck and unloaded a complete engine and gearbox.

"That cylinder head should be OK, the car that we took it out of was running fine."

I would have sworn that I could still feel heat coming from the engine, and I had to point out to him that I couldn't help noticing the serial numbers on the engine and the gearbox had somehow been recently erased !

" Aye, well, I know you're dead honest so I wouldnae ask you to do anything dodgy, just tell me whit numbers tae pit on and I'll dae it maself"

Now, I've no idea how he got that engine and gearbox, but I've a suspicion that it was not entirely honestly. So much so that when we'd finished the job, I asked him what he was going to do with the gearbox, which even second-hand was worth a lot of money.

"Ach, just you keep it son, you'll be able to sell it on, I'm sure"

That gearbox hit the dump as soon as he was round the corner !!

A real faithful customer, in this case faithful till death ! We hadn't seen him or his son for a couple of months when it came over the local news that a couple of major drug dealers in the east end of Glasgow had been  gunned down, supposedly by some rivals. We had a good idea that they were perhaps not squeaky clean, but that came as a shock to us. Especially when later I spoke to a cop I had got to know through George Spence, and he told me that as far as the police were concerned, they were delighted, they'd been after him for years. And he was a major underworld figure in the drugs trade in Glasgow. Personally, I couldn't fault the wee man, he always paid right away,

"I'll pay ye now son, ye never know whit could happen to me when I leave here...."

and I think he'd taken a liking to us because he frequently said

"See if anybody's bothering ye, don't go tae the polis, just tell me an' we'll sort it for ye !"

And I think he would have .

Which brings me to the House of S*** ! What is it about BMW's that attract a criminal element ? Another somewhat suspect character started bringing his BMW in to us for work and it turned out he knew the recently departed. Probably a lot more than he was letting on. Now with these kind of people you just don't ask them about their business, but if they tell you anything, you don't repeat it....for a long time ! This was another Mr S***,

" Aye, but I'm wan o' the poor yins, I dae the stuff for them that they dinnae want people tae know about. Ma family in Pakistan work in their spinach canning factory an' I'm telling ye thae cans are no always  filled wi' just spinach. How dae ye think they got so big so quick ? So, I just dae as I'm telt, I've got ma family in Pakistan tae think about !"

This lovely wee Renault Caravelle belonged to the bass player in a Glasgow band called Texas who had quite a few big hits around this time. I'd started doing some work for their manager Rab Andrews, and strangely enough our Dave also did joinery work for him for a number of years. Rab Andrews was a bit of a car buff and he had quite a collection of real odd-ball things like the huge convertible Mercedes Benz that John F Kennedy was driven about in when he was in Berlin. Through him we were put in touch with Ivor Tiefenbrun, the guy who started Linn Hi Fi . I think the two of them kind of competed with each other to see who could get the strangest vehicle with the strangest history. Linn Hi Fi had a totally unique Leyland Sherpa Estate bus that belonged to Prince Philip. This was a special project by the Land Rover factory to create a 4x4 estate bus suitable for driving around Balmoral. Jings, it was a nightmare to work on. Nothing was standard, If anything needed replacing we had to get the parts made ! Interesting though.

Linn Hi Fi 's V12 Jaguar engine bay. Black Bob said if he dropped a spanner in there he'd never be able to find it again !

This was taken at that year's Langholm Common Riding. My good friend John Dunn was working in Langholm at the time so during a visit  he suggested we spend a day at the Common Riding. The man on the platform is giving out a rousing speech in the local dialect, that is to say it's almost unintelligible to anyone not from Langholm. A whole week in Langholm every year is given over to the Common Riding. It would be unkind to say that it's just an excuse to charge about the countryside on horseback getting as drunk as you can, but there is an awful lot of drinking goes on !  The whole thing is steeped in tradition going back, oh, dozens of years ? One of the traditional things they do is to get the town band to lead a polka down the main street on Friday evening to meet with the last train from Edinburgh at the station. Now this still goes on, although the last train from Edinburgh was in 1968 and the train station was replaced with a block of council houses a year later ! Friday morning, I think, is taken up with the town band marching round to the ceremonial cutting down of the town thistle which is then lashed to a pole and paraded through the town along with a barley bannock "auld style !" which has a salt herring attached to it with a "twal'penny nail" and a huge sort of floral crown.

You can just see the thistle on the left top corner.  To give you an idea of the scale, the bloody thistle is about six feet high before it's attached to the carrying pole ! And on the right is the barley bannock with a fish nailed onto it.

One of the final highlights of the week is a mad charge up  a steep narrow lane in the town by hundreds of folk on horseback, and it's a poor year if there are  less than a dozen serious casualties. And that's not counting the horses !
Health and Safety my arse ! If anyone tried to suggest wearing hard hats they'd be strung up, and probably start another tradition of "Hingin the Kill-joy !"

Not the sort of thing you'd expect to see on a piece of bleak southern Scottish moorland ! This is Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Temple in Eskdalemuir. The Tibetans have been here since the Chinese marched into Tibet and the British Buddhists in high places have given generously, or managed to divert funds, to build this centre. And it gets bigger each year, you should see it now ! But it's great, the Buddhists are off their heads, and they know it ! And can you really have anything against people who bring a bit of joy into other folks' lives ? If only other segments of society had their sense of good humour and tolerance. We could all learn something positive from these people. This was another one of the places that John and Irene Dunn took us to when we visited them in Carlisle. John has a true talent for finding places of interest. You all know of people who can live in a city all their lives and know absolutely nothing about it, in fact casual tourists have often seen more of their city. John Dunn is the total opposite ! It seems to be in his nature to be able to gather as much useful information as possible about any area. Ask him and their older daughter Jenifer about  London bus routes or try and engage them in a discussion about the London Underground. Fascinating ! John and Jenifer are true 21st Century scouts, not the Baden-Powell sort, more the Lewis and Clarke sort. I would be very surprised if John and Captain Cook didn't share the same blood-line. You can see the similarities that John Dunn and James Cook share, incredible attention to detail and a deep concern for the welfare and well-being of other people. That was why John was so good at his job and how James Cook opened up the world. There will be more about him later....promise !

Meanwhile back at the ranch, here's me, Mimsie and Blandine with Clara, a young French student. My cousin Paul Swift and his wife Julie from Wolverhampton came up with a bit of a scheme that year. They had heard that if you took in a cultural exchange student for a few weeks you would get expenses for housing them, feeding them and showing them round the cultural treasures of the United Kingdom. One of my aunts from Wolverhampton said to us later that she didn't know what they were thinking of. The poor girl certainly wouldn't learn any English from them as they spoke broad Wolverhampton, which is a separate minority language according to the United Nations and has very little to do with English ! And the nearest to culture she would get was a few nights down the Cleveland Road Working Mans' Club with a couple of halves of Banks's shandy. The lassie wasn't daft though, she knew exactly what she wanted. She didn't want to be trailed round dreary provincial musems and stately homes. She wanted forty cigarettes a day and a bottle of gin every other day and a trip to Edinburgh because the French love Edinburgh ! Hence the visit to us in Glasgow.  And she was happy to live on McDonalds because McDonalds hadn't really started their invasion of France at this point, so to her this was a great novelty.She was quite a character, you know the type,fourteen years old going on twenty five and full of confidence....and gin ! A few months later Paul and Julie had an addition to the family....a pedigree Weimeramer dog,that had less brains than a budgie !I never asked where they got the money for it .

Here's our Dave and Cousin Paul.

This is a good friend, GeorgeMorrison, the Porsche man, who had been so helpful to me a couple of years previously.This was taken in a coach park at Le Mans after a twenty two hour trip in a coach from Glasgow. The trip was a bit of a nightmare and when we eventually arrived some wag said,

"Jings, another couple of hours and we could have been in Tulsa !"

This all started a few months beforehand when George told me he was booking a coach for a trip to the Le Mans 24 Hour Race, for the Motor trade and a bunch of the usual ne'er do wells. This seemed like a good idea, it'd been eight whole years since I'd been back to France and I'd never seen the Le Mans 24 Hour Race. Although I had seen, several times, the Steve McQueen movie ! So, for a bit of a treat, I booked myself and Black Bob onto the trip. I hoped that it might widen Bob's horizons a bit.

" O, F***! France, that's past Blackpool isn't it ? Do they no talk funny there? Will I get McEwan's heavy there ?" 

""Yes, yes and yes !"  I lied ....a bit .

Black Bob and the man from Tulsa making a bee line for a bar. Although they'd done nothing but drink on the coach for the last twenty two hours, that was just to pass the time , that wasn't really drinking. Could have fooled me !

Black Bob and John Cherry in the hat taking up position at a bar, I've no idea whether he saw any of the racing at all. 

"Whit am I gonnae eat ? I'm no eating ony o' that French stuff !"

So I fed him baguettes with porc rillettes and told him it was potted hough that they brought in specially for the Scots people.

This was taken going over the Dunlop Bridge to rendezvous with the guy with the white shirt and folded arms. He was another good customer who had started coming to us. He and his partner had a good going second hand car business in the west end and were finding it increasingly difficult to get someone to repair BMW's at a sensible price. He was happy to deal with us and had said that if we met up at Le Mans he would buy us a couple of  bottles of champagne. So there you are , some one else in the motor trade who kept a promise !

Now, just to prove that it was actually Le Mans we were at, here's a photo of one of the winning Silk Cut Jaguars on it's last lap. This was the first time Jaguar had won  at Le Mans for many a year. The British crowd got really excited and you could see elements of football fan behaviour setting in. Crivens, it's only a race, it's a bunch of guys driving round and round for twenty four hours, it's not like we won a war or something !
But despite the journey into hell, despite sleeping under a bush and queuing for an hour for a toilet it was an experience I wouldn't have missed. I was totally fascinated by everything. The sheer spectacle  of the start, when the noise of the cars under full throttle blends into the clatter of the flock of press and TV helicopters and when the ground shakes as the French military jet formation passes over and adds another dimension to the sound. The sight of the cars at night tearing along the Mulsanne straight at nearly 180 miles per hour with their headlamps blazing. The French families who seem to treat it as just another entertainment for the family picnic and the serious enthusiasts who sit at the trackside recording split times for twenty four hours solid.

 So even with  characters like this on the coach, the return journey was pretty uneventful, apart from the coach getting wheel clamped in 
Paris, and one of the young guys getting arrested for insulting a prostitute.
As soon as the coach arrived in the UK, half of them, led by John Cherry, jumped ship and headed for an airport intending to fly back to Glasgow. As it turned out, the coach got back before any of them, and it cost them a fortune and an uncomfortable night in an Airport dressed like this. Those were the days when if you had money you flaunted it and if you were a damn fool, there was no shame in flaunting that too !

1988 saw one of the best things to happen to Glasgow for years. The Glasgow Garden Festival of 1988

It was centred on old dock lands near Govan and what a transformation it was ! It really was Spectacular! A lot of people Mimsie's age said that it stood comparison to the Empire Exhibition that was held in Bellahouston Park before the War.  Mimsie and her cousin Greta spent days there. Unfortunately I could only manage to visit it on one day and still regret not have got more often. Click on the link and you'll get an idea what it was like.

Here's Mimsie and her cousin Greta enjoying themselves with Para Handy, they even had the Vital Spark moored there. It lasted all summer but had a bit of an unfortunate ending. The idea was for it to end in September with a spectacular fireworks display in the evening and wee all trooped down to Govan to see it, only to be told on the news that it was cancelled as the guy in charge of the fireworks had just blown himself up. I'll bet he wishes it had really been a damp squib !

During the summer I decided that we could afford to finance a new works van as my poor wee Citroen Dyane wasn't up to the job of collecting full engines and automatic transmissions. So here's a picture of our first works van and behind it Sandra's new company car. They gave her a nice Honda Accord with a 4-speed auto box which Sandra just loved.
Around about this time I was asked if I wanted to become an agent for a new car alarm company that was starting up. Black Bob and I spent a week in Birmingham going round the factory and being trained in fitting these new alarms. This was all the rage then, it was before the vehicle manufacturers decided to install alarms and immobilisers in the factory. But we, or rather I, had a good run with it while it lasted. At one time we were fitting a dozen alarms systems a week, plus remote central locking and power windows.
Bob  by now had just about perfected the art of being a drunk ! So I decided that we would close for a fortnights holiday and this would give me time to decide what to do about Bob.

Off I went to Knoydart in what passed for a Scottish summer rather than Spring. Here's a view looking down into Loch Nevis. Even in the Height of summer I walked and camped for four days and never saw another person.

This at one time must have been somebody's Granny's Heilan Hame. Been a while since this was a going concern I think!  But this was where I made a decision about Bob, I was going to have to let him go. I didn't feel at all good about it, but I'd tried  and tried to get him to do something about his drinking And I felt it was only a matter of time before he screwed up big time. As it was, I wouldn't let him drive because I'm sure that even the next day he would have failed a breathalyser test and I found that I was giving him less and less work to do because I just couldn't trust him.
So regrettably  Bob had to go ! He actually called in to the garage to see me years later. He'd sunk about as low as he could go and was out of work for several years until one day he just stopped drinking, just like that, no AA, no counselling, just stopped. He said he really wished he'd chucked it earlier but better late than never I suppose.

The garage in Cathcart.

I had a lot of other things on my mind at that time too. Sandra convinced me that I should be looking for bigger premises and this time I should buy and not rent. This really was a huge step for me. However Sandra  found a workshop for sale in Cathcart which was an ideal situation. The place itself was badly run down and would need a lot of money spent on it but it was cheap and the banks at that time were practically forcing money on you. We had built up a lot of equity in Minard so it was easy to borrow against that. I just had to put to the back of my mind the fact that if the business failed I could lose everything, house, garage , the lot! And I was in an awkward position. I couldn't stay as a one-man operation so I had to expand even though I didn't really want to. As it turned out it was just as well I was cautious. More of that later.
So when I came back from a week in Knoydart with my mind made up, I took off again on a bicycle to cycle the Southern Upland Way which is a 200mile long path that goes from Port Patrick in the south west to Cockburnspath on the east coast. Much as I loved walking I was gettting drawn back to my first passion, the bicycle.

Here's our Dave, disguised as Little Red Riding Hood. We were walking over the Campsies one day and the reason he's looking so pleased is because he'd just found, lying on the ground, a fine big Swiss Army knife with about a hundred different blades and attachments, even one to put stones into horses hooves !

This was his reaction when I suggested that we take it and hand it in as lost property to a police station !
He just got off his mark !

Here's Lucy on her seventeenth birthday blowing out the candles on a Mimsie special birthday cake. She was walking out with one of George Spence's nephews around this time, her choice of suitors never was her strong point !

This is James McGowan, Sandra's Dad at Lucy's seventeenth birthday do. Jimmy deserves a whole blog to himself ! He was one of those breed of Glasgow men of a certain era, who could, and often did absolutely anything. His was the generation that made astounding advances in science, engineering and medicine. But probably most important, huge changes in British politics. It men like Jimmy McGowan that helped make Britain surely the best possible socialist state. I could listen to Jimmy for hours, talking about anything from sport to cooking to politics. Very occasionally he would talk about his wartime experiences. He was one of the last off the beach at Dunkirk and amongst the first to land in Normandy. He was there, unable to do anything but watch, during the disastrous Operation Market Garden. Click on this link and you'll see what I mean. A wonderful man, truly missed.

I've been told I've got to cater a bit for animal lovers. So, animal lovers, here's a picture of a cat ! You can skip over the next few lines if you want.  

This brute was most inappropriately called Lucky ! It was the meanest, most spiteful, vicious cat I'd ever had the misfortune to meet. This was the cat my Dad used as a lookout when he went over the wall scrumping the neighbour's apples for cider. It would steal the meat off your plate while you were eating, and face up to you if you reproached it for doing so ! It would settle a quarrel by taking a crap on your pillow before you went to bed and then disappear for a fortnight until your rage had subsided.  One of it's tricks was to get into our Dad's good books by dragging in a road-kill rat and pretending to Dad that it had done this by itself. Dad would hardly hear a bad word said about the brute. It should have been called Machiavelli !

OK, are we all back together now, animal lovers and all ?
During the closing months of 1988, we were all very busy, Sandra and I were in the throes of buying the garage in Cathcart and raising the money to buy it and finance the rebuilding. We were dealing with builders, architects and Glasgow Planning Department and Building control. This was when I started to realise that thousands of people were employed by the Council who were nothing but parasites and did nothing at all but retrench themselves into a job for life. I'm afraid I found it very difficult to accept the reality of the real world. Now I do, but still don't like it.
But we're now living in France, the country that invented bureaucracy ,so I just get on with it ! I suppose the only difference I can see between British and French bureaucracy is that there is not so much hypocrisy  in France ! It not really any more efficient !
As you can see from the photo, there was a major overhaul of our kitchen about to start. The kitchen that we ended up with lasted us another eighteen years and was still the same when we left the house in 2007.
The Great Organiser, John Dunn was planning a mass invasion of Brittanny for the next Summer so we were looking forward to another French family adventure. There will be plenty more on that in the next Wales declared war on France and how we found ourselves apologising for sinking the French fleet and stuff.

So , last entry, here's Sandra at the Christmas Dinner table convulsed with laughter over something. I'm sure it would have nothing to do with that thing on her head !
And yes, that is Ricky behind her, putting in one of his rare appearances. 

Stay with me and well see what next year did to us all.

Monday, 12 March 2012


March in 1987. Nice ? Not really ....

The first few months of 1987 passed quietly enough. In the garage I'd started an apprentice. Bob Bradley, a third year apprentice with a driving licence. He'd been out of work for a few months since his last employer just folded up and closed the doors. This was  happening a lot in Glasgow. Many mid-sized garages were finding it harder and harder to stay in business for  many reasons, the rise of the fast fits like Kwik Fit , reluctance to invest and I have to say it, just sheer incompetence, being among them. Bob however came to me by a recommendation from an old friend in the motor trade, Alex Jarvie. Bob had met Alex in the Mulberry Hotel and asked him for a job so Alex had sent him along to me. Perhaps the lesson to be learned is, if you're looking for steady, reliable, sober sort of people don't expect to find them in pubs !
Anyway, Bob was settling in after a fashion. I can't beat about the bush on this though, in those days he was an awful driver! He drove in a state of constant panic, as if at any moment, the world was going to crash into him. Quite the reverse of course, Bob was more liable to drive into them. He spent too much time looking left and right and peering into the rear view mirror to have any time left to look where he was going. Never his fault though, it was because every other driver on the roads of Glasgow were vindictive psychotics and they were all looking for him and him alone. That was why they would slam their brakes on just in front of him ! It was a shame really, because the wee Bedford HA van, that another good friend, Jock Murdoch, had given me, would almost certainly have continued to serve us well for another year. Not with a set of smashed headlamps, a wrecked radiator and an origami styled bonnet it wouldn't !

So , we all woke up one morning in March to find the above. This paralysed Glasgow for the best part of a week. Bob from Castlemilk obviously couldn't get into the garage. I was closer, so I walked, but there was very little I could do, customers couldn't get in and I couldn't get any parts I needed. All I could do was finish off any jobs we had going and do some garage housekeeping. Mind you, I've always wondered how Bob could get to the Mulberry Hotel most evenings that week because the garage wasn't that much further ?

I was building up a pretty good list of regular customers, mostly by word of mouth, which I've always found to be the best way. Of course there were some real "stoaters !" These are the ones that stay longest in my memory for various reasons. There were some people that I just did not want to get involved with, either because of their reputation or quite simply, I just didn't like the cut of their jib. What's the point in trying to have business relations with somebody when there's an air of distrust hanging over ?  That goes for both parties, if I felt I couldn't trust someone or got the impression that they couldn't trust me it was no go.

 "Sorry, I can't help you, why don't you try the main dealers or the garage round the corner ?

"Because they sent me to you !"

 This was when I learned just how small Glasgow is, and how quickly a reputation spreads. And I'm talking about customers here, not garages ! At that time there existed an unofficial motor trade Black List and woe betide you if you ever ended up on it. We knew of some people in Glasgow who had to go to extraordinary lengths to get work done on their cars just because they were on this Black List.
Black Bob, hands in pockets !
I'll give you an example of one, actually a family or a clan. I'd opened an account with House of S*** because if you chose carefully you could get good proper brand name components and equipment at very good prices. It was a kind of warehouse that would sell absolutely anything if it could turn a coin on it. Especially tinned spinach, remind me later if I don't tell you about S*** Brothers and Tinned Spinach !! And because they intended to eventually dominate the market they had nothing to do with any of the other wholesalers, especially the Motor Trade specialists and in this case particularly if they were American , like Dana. So because they weren't really experts in motor trade stuff they usually priced their stock about 20% above their buying price and this led to some really good bargains. One morning I was in the warehouse stocking up when I was approached and told that Mr S*** wanted a word with me. I'd actually met a couple of the older S*** brothers when I worked in Fairbairns so I thought maybe one of them just wanted to see me in the office to say hello and maybe give me a better discount on some things just for old times sake . Aye, Right !
"There's a car at the door waiting to take you "
"Where ? Look, I've got overalls on, for goodness sake !"
"It disnae matter, you're to come up tae the hoose in Pollokshields"
So there I was in the middle of the back seat of a BMW 7series with a bunch of characters who could have stepped out of a bad British urban crime movie listening to them  talking Urdu.
We swept into the drive of one of the bigger houses in Pollokshields and I was ushered into a hall and invited to take off my boots before being led in for an audience with Mr S***. The room was practically in darkness, the curtains drawn tight and the only light came from a couple of candles. And there, reclining on a pile of cushions was Mr S***. One of the younger Mr S***s, not the one of the older ones who I remember always wore well tailored three piece suits. He was wearing the white  shalwar kameez with a pashmina shawl round his shoulders. When my eyes got used to the candlelight I looked around the room and got the feeling that I could be in a medieval oriental chamber. Especially with Mr S*** there looking like a desert prophet.


Not "would you like to be seated ? " or "Let me find you a chair" because as far as I could see there wasn't a chair in the room.
So I sat......and waited,......and waited .
Then, without taking his eyes off me, he reached over an rang a wee bell. I kid you not ! An old woman came shuffling in, fully veiled, and and listened to him for a few seconds then scuttled out only to return within minutes with a tray of food which was laid before me.


 was the second word he said to me.
I waited till he had said grace then making sure I only used my right hand I ate from the side of the platter nearest to me. I didn't eat much because I had my lunch box back at the garage and although I couldn't fault the food offered  I wanted to leave room for the lunch Mimsie had made me. I noticed that he only ate as much as me and when Allah had been invoked a few more times the bell was rung and the old woman came in to clear the tray away.

"There is no alcohol, we live according to the teachings of the prophet, peace be upon him. Would you like water or coffee or tea?"

By now he was becoming positively chatty.

"I'll have the same as you, please"

Then over a couple of glasses of water we had, not exactly a conversation, but also not quite a sermon. He told me that the family now had six BMW 7 series and were about to buy a couple of new 5 series. They were all going to stay in the family as he didn't believe in trading cars in, he only wanted to buy new. But he regarded it as his duty not to be wasteful with money. Yes, this was a man with six, going on for eight, fairly new BMW's, not second hand Nissans or Toyotas. He had decided that the family was paying too much for maintenance for the cars because

 " you know, these are good cars, they don't need all this servicing every year, this is just a western trick to get money from us !"

 He didn't want me to service the cars to make sure that they didn't break down, he wanted me to fix them when they broke.

"These 7 series of ours have never broke down in the three years we've had them "

" That's true, that's because they've been getting serviced in the dealers. If they hadn't been getting regular oil changes etc, they surely would have broken down"

"Yes, yes, I understand, you only want to do the servicing so that you can make some money too. OK, OK, but we'll tell you when the cars need servicing, not you ! And if we ever do ever have a little problem with one of the cars, you'll give me your home phone number so that we can call you any time we need you ? Like just now, one of the cars has had  a silly yellow light on the dashboard for a couple of months that won't go out, and it's making a funny noise now when we brake."

" That sounds to me like it needs a set of disc pads and possibly a set of discs too, not a cheap job "

" No! no! no discs ! That's what the dealer said, but they're just trying to rip us off. It just needs front pads and we have some in the warehouse that you can use. So how little much money (sic) do you want to fit them? And will it be ready for four o'clock to collect the children from school ?"

Now, that is not at all the way the conversation went, in between what was said above were bits like
 "Why do you let your women walk about the streets like whores ?" and
 "AIDS is a plague sent by Allah to punish the west, that's why Islamic countries don't have AIDS"  and
 " You might be an honourable man but I can't respect you until your beard is longer" and
 "You people are always getting divorces, our marriages are all arranged by the family , that's why we never divorce "
 And all the time the poor prophet, peace be upon him, was being dragged into it. There was a lovely Irish family I used to know very well, and the old mother was forever coming away with things like "O Mary, Jesus and Joseph bless us all "  and "Jesus and all the saints in heaven preserve us ". They were like linguistic flourishes, or ribbons in a girls hair and to me they were charming. But the way Mr S*** spat out his holy remarks reminded me of punk T-shirts with provocative offensive slogans written on them.
People that know me say that I can be pretty thick-skinned when I want, I would rather say that most of the time I choose not to react to hostility. That afternoon I definitely felt hostility. And I chose not to do any work for Mr Sher...ever ! Like I've said before, good business relations are based on mutual respect and trust, and no matter how long my beard was Mr S*** was never going to have any respect for me.

George Spence and John Cherry.

But was there a life away from the garage ? Sure was ! I'd become very fond of walking through the wilder parts of the west of  Scotland in the Spring. Particularly Knoydart. It's one of these places that can seem so remote nowadays and I always got the feeling of a civilisation in retreat when I go there. I've often been to parts of Scotland where it seemed as if I'd just missed it and  only got a glimpse of something vanishing forever, like the ripple on the surface of the loch. I could almost believe in ghosts in these places. I was fond of the profound silence and the total absence of the signs of mankind. So why on earth did I go that spring, to Knoydart, with George Spence ? George is one of the most entertaining men I have ever met. But, jings, does he talk ! I'm scrambling up a hill with him, gasping for breath  and he's still talking ! I swear he breathes through his arse ! He most certainly doesn't talk through it !
A bit of a background to George. Sandra had known George and Linda Spence for a number of years through the property business. Every time they were in Sandra's office she would tell me about this really fascinating character and I was really keen to meet him. As it turned out I met him for the first time through an acquaintance in the motor trade and not unnaturally  George got talking. It pretty soon came out that this was the character Sandra had been talking about. Glasgow, small world and all that sort of stuff ! Next thing Sandra and I were invited to an evening at John and Marge Cherry's, John Cherry being the mutual acquaintance from the motor trade. We started seeing a lot of the Spences then. They were fine hosts and damned good company.
George in Barrisdale Bothy in Knoydart.
George just about to vanish .
George was a military man, he was totally addicted to the smell of Blanco and Boot Polish. His entire life was run on a military regime. I'm not being unkind when I say, a slightly fantastic military regime ! George would have been a perfect Field Marshal for Alice in Wonderland's Red Queen. To give you some examples, George was a bit older than me and he'd done National Service in the army. He was posted to Borneo and this was the high point of Georges life. He'd learned jungle warfare and survival techniques to probably the same level as modern day Special Forces.

 Go for a walk on a hill with him and he could genuinely disappear in front of your eyes, his grasp of the principles of camouflage were so good. He was never any more than twenty seconds away from his survival pack, waking or sleeping. He demonstrated to me how he could survive with his pack for at least a fortnight anywhere in the UK. If George had decided to go missing, the authorities would have found Lord Lucan sooner. He could fascinate me for hours describing the best way to sharpen a bayonet, how to cook a lizard, the best way to shoot an enemy through jungle foliage, and how to swindle Her Majesty's Revenue Collectors. What did George do for a living ? Good question ! Only George could really tell you that. Some things you'd know about , like the time he was employed as chief of security by some American Oil business and had an office in Park Circus. He also did well buying and selling collectables like porcelains and the kind of stuff you see on Antiques Roadshow on BBC tv. At one time he had a fair going wedding car hire business. But his biggest success, and biggest downfall was The Cooker Factory. At one point the social services were giving poor people money to buy cookers but then, when they found out that the money was being spent on drink and drugs they would only give a voucher that could be used to buy a cooker. This is where the Cooker Factory comes in. George would take the £100 voucher in exchange for a second hand cooker worth £30 and give the voucheree £20 cash, drink money and sit back and congratulate himself on his £70 profit.  "Wait a minute, the arithmetics surely agley here is it not ?" Not at all, in a couple of weeks, the voucheree would bring back the cooker and sell it back to George for £20 worth of Buckfast tokens. Yes I know, the arithmetic still doesn't work. Eventually Her Majesty's Custom and Excise people also came to that conclusion. Her Majesty being of course the occupier of Buckinham Palace, not Alice's Red Queen.
 "Well" said George, " I walked out that office without a penny in my pocket. I even had to give them the keys to my bonny Mercedes. So I took off my socks and my Anello and Davide hand crafted brogues and walked home barefoot because I didn't know when I would ever be able to buy another pair of shoes!"
 This was when George declared war on HM custom and excise and HM revenue and any other like minded minions such as Glasgow city council and the TV licencing authority.
So George lived on his wits, and he lived well on his wits. I often wonder just how well he would have done if it hadn't been for his vendetta against authority? Because it was truly obsessive. He would often leave the house in total disguise in case they were watching him. And everything was cash or barter and any bank accounts were just for show.
So that might give you an idea of George Spence. I'll tell you later about his brother and his nephews and their involvement with our family.

Life at Minard was settling down into a sort of routine, money was still very tight as Sandra and I were bearing the full cost of the mortgage and quite a lot of the other bits and pieces. We still don't know to this day if what we did then was really for the best. Sandra and I had decided that we weren't going to give Mimsie the full financial picture as at the time we didn't think she could have coped with the implications. Which could have been, the family getting split up and living in council houses in the back of beyond. We should have told Dave and Ricky. But I didn't want to worry them. I didn't think that they could have done anything at the time anyway, so what was the point in us all being unhappy. My Dad used to say that ignorance is bliss and if you didn't know about something it wasn't going to worry you. If there was a monster round the corner, worrying about it wouldn't make it go away, but at least you'd be happy right up to the point where it jumped out and ate you. You must admit his philosophy was attractive in some ways.
So if we were wrong, we're sorry. All we can say is that we thought we were doing our best for everyone.

Me disguised as a Scotsman.

Mimsie was getting back into the way of it by now. She had kind of filled the gap that her sisters had left in her social life with her cousins Greta and Ian and their families. I'll always be grateful to them for that, despite what other people will say.
I've put in some photos of a cousin's wedding we were at and you can see Mimsie was enjoying herself. I, perhaps was not over enthusiastic about following the tartan herd, but there you go, my one and only time disguised as a Scotsman !

Mimsie not disguised as a Scotsman !

Lucy was doing well at school but Sandra thought that it was time she started learning about how a household actually runs. Thinking back on this, we should probably press ganged Dave and Ricky into this then it wouldn't have been such a shock to them when they had to fend for themselves . Anyway, we decided that Lucy had to learn that the rubbish in the house wasn't taken away by fairies during the night and that there wasn't a secret magic wand that did the dishes.  Hutchesons Grammar School was too upper crust to teach the "gels" about that sort of thing, that was surely what servants were for, weren't they ? So Sandra drew up a work list for Lucy to do, take the rubbish out to the bin, wash the dishes, learn how to drive a washing machine, learn how to shop for food and other necessities and how to prepare an evening meal for the three of us. We sound like a couple of Victorian monsters don't we ?  But I think Lucy is glad we did it, because nowadays she's running her own household with two kids on her own and she's doing just fine !
Lucy supposedly doing the washing.
And she did well out of it financially too. She would spend the housekeeping budget very wisely and any savings she made went right into her purse. As if we didn't know !  We weren't complaining, other people were getting fish and chips for their dinner, we were eating smoked haddock souffle ! And we dutifully listened to her telling us how scandalously wasteful we were with toilet paper and if we didn't improve there was going to be rationing ! She also learned the art of delegation. Occasionally I would drop in to Minard in the afternoon to find Lucy lying back in her chamber listening to Nick Kamen on the record player while a bunch of her pals were washing the dishes and doing the hoovering. Or, she knew that if she told Mimsie that she couldn't remember how to set the washing machine that Mimsie would do the washing for her and probably do the ironing too! What could we say ? the work was being done and we were getting a laugh out of it....and smoked haddock souffles !

Lucy doing domestic duties, properly !

Mimsie's Greenhouse.
Mimsie had sort of taken over from Dad in the garden. Sadly there were never to be any more fresh home grown vegetables, that was just too much work for her, but she got a great deal of pleasure out of her garden. It was a madcap sort of garden but we liked it. Often when Mimsie planted stuff we had no idea what was going to come up, it was frequently a surprise and all the more welcome for that.
So for Christmas that year we all clubbed together and bought her a greenhouse to bring on her flowers and plants and later it became a sort of wee sunhouse for her to have very exclusive garden tea parties in. It had to be exclusive as there was only room for two in it !

That, more or less was 1987, the next year would start to see my business taking off, meaning more work, more expenditure and bigger risks.

Lucy and the Daughters of Darkness.

Sunday, 4 March 2012


My memories of the first few months of this year were of working in Park Automobile Company, where I was supposedly only temporarily filling in for their breakdown service.This suited me as it was a fairly regular income and I really wasn't keen on servicing and repairing cars in the open during the winter. However I somehow managed to attract the attention of the manager, Jim Fallus, a thoroughly decent man for whom I had a lot of respect technically and personally. He was very keen to have me working full time in the workshop as my talent for diagnosing problems was a bit of a rare commodity. Jings, that sounds big-headed, but it was true. Bigger garages then, were organised so that everyone did what they were best at, which I think allowed people to settle into ruts and certainly didn't encourage original thinking. If your bonus depended on turning out as much work as possible why waste several hours on an electrical problem when you could have changed umpteen sets of disc pads and not needed to think at all ! So although I enjoyed the experience I was picking up, because of the bonus system I was getting all the poorly paid  problem jobs that nobody wanted. Fair enough, there was no money in them ! But by now, I was even more convinced that there was a market for my skills.There must come a point when an owner just gets fed up of being fobbed off by big dealerships because they just don't know how to fix the fault in the car. I saw this in Glen Henderson's Porsche dealership. The cars had become so complicated electronically that workshop people were totally in the dark, there was a total lack of diagnostic equipment and training. It was so bad that faulty cars, if they were within the warranty period, were actually shipped off to Reading, Porsche's UK headquarters, and then eventually back to Germany. And if your car developed a fault out of warranty ?  "Sorry sir, it's just too expensive to repair, we don't want anything to do with it ! Take it to George Morrison in Rutherglen !" I'd met George when I was in Glen Henderson's and we hit it off right away and became good friends. We both had the same idea about actually repairing cars, rather than just replacing bits with your fingers crossed, hoping that this would cure the fault. But George had started out a few years before me and now had pretty good premises in Rutherglen, and he was doing well !! Sometimes working right through the night, but that was George !
Sandra's Honda Quintet
So I needed a workshop, which meant I needed money, which I wasn't going to get working for Park Automobile Company. I was honest with Jim Fallus and told him what I wanted out of life so we parted on good terms when the weather picked up around March. Now I had a lot of work lined up to do for myself and with a bit of luck could make enough money to pay for renting a workshop.

But before that, Sandra and I had a holiday, actually it was our honeymoon ! The last time we'd been on holiday, just the two of us, had been in 1969 when we spent a few days in Wolverhampton with my Gran. Poor Sandra, she drew the short straw with this one ! She got to sleep in Gran's feather bed that Gran was so proud of. I'd slept in it a few years beforehand and knew what it was like. It was so soft it was hellish !
And even the last real family holiday had been in 1979 which was the first time we'd been to France. Holidays then were low on our priority list, we needed every penny to keep the roof over our heads and Lucy at school. Everything seemed to be working against us for so long, it was hammer blow after hammer blow.Like the time we discovered serious dry rot in the floor joists in the living room. I really though that was the last nail in my coffin ! But surely we'd come through the worst of it ? I'd won a few days free accommodation in a smart hotel on Bournemouth so we only needed to get ourselves there and pay for meals. We could afford that. It would be a chance to clear our heads on our own for a few days. Sandra at this point had a nice Honda Quintet as a company car. Compared to some of the ways we'd travelled south this was going to be luxury. It was good! We both still think back on that time and laugh about it. 

My idea was to detour from our route and go and see Stonehenge, don't ask me why, I've always had a sort of fixation about these things.  Sure enough, we found our way to the site and duly paid to park the car then walked through the tunnel under the main road. I don't really know what Sandra was expecting to see but I can assure you she was decidedly underwhelmed ! 

 "It's only a bloody bunch of stones !This is a swiz !  I want my money back !" I didn't tell her at the time, but I do agree with her and I think that all the stories put forward about Stonehenge are a lot of nonsense. I think the whole thing was put up around the turn of the last century as a tourist  attraction to coincide with the rise of  railways and the popularity of photography ! Think on it, that was the time when they thought up the great Piltdown Man hoax, which had the experts fooled for years, and only a few years later someone invented the Loch Ness Monster Hoax which still draws them in. I rest my case !

Sandra in Bournemouth.

I couldn't resist putting in this photo of Sandra in the hotel. I'd just told her about another stone circle at Avebury and suggested that we might  take a trip to see that on the road home.  I think she said something in Russian, it definitely ended in "-off !"

And we never did go to Avebury.

What we really came to see was my Dad's old boat, HMS Alliance, in the Royal Navy Submarine Museum over the Solent in Gosport. A short ferry trip and a pleasant wander along the water front soon brought us to the museum. In those days it was pretty ramshackle using Portakabins mostly but now it's seriously state of the art stuff. I just hope the money hasn't run out because when I was there last, in 2010, the poor old Alliance was looking the worse for wear, showing signs of serious hull corrosion. 
HMS Alliance
For me this was like finding the Holy Grail. As a kid I was brought up on tales about our Dad's time on submarines and I would spend ages gazing at the old photos of the Alliance we had. And here it was, right in front of us, and we can actually go on board ! Fantastic ! 
Sandra had no problems at all about going on board but I must admit I was a bit concerned whether I would feel a bit of claustrophobia. I'd only learned about the Alliance being preserved as a showpiece from my uncle Tom, Dad's older brother, and he said he didn't know how Dad could have coped with it. However he obviously did and so did I. But I did feel a bit emotional when the guide showed us the stokers bunks. There was Dad's bunk, exactly the same as in the photos that I'd been looking at for all these years. Yes, gave me a sort of queer feeling . 
When I was about twelve Dad was stationed in the Gareloch where the latest nuclear boats were based and I remember asking him how the new boats compared to the ones he was used to. "Like bloody palaces these new boats, they'll be putting Wrens on them next they're so comfortable !" The Royal Navy couldn't have sunk any lower in Dad's opinion when they abolished the rum ration, a centuries old tradition. "That's it, I'm swallowing the anchor now !" Mind you he did go back to sea, but that's another story for another time !

Our Trials Bikes
Do you remember my good friend Gordon Stoddart ? By now he was staying in a fine big house in the west end, and doing well in the legal trade. He was always a terrible man for the boredom though. We came up with this mad idea one night over a few beers in the Golden Star. We would buy a couple of proper trials motorcycles, you know, real off-road competition bikes, get a trailer and spend our Sundays trying to avoid breaking our necks. It was a truly mad idea, the bikes we got were temperamental to say the least. Fortunately it was Gordon's generosity that funded the whole thing. Maybe just as well, the unreliability of the bikes kind of curtailed this venture. Did you notice Charlie O'Neill in a photo from 1985. A week after that photo was taken he was in hospital suffering a broken pelvis sustained by demolishing a dry stane dyke with his off-road bike. He was lucky, from what we heard it could have been much worse. As it was, his arse was in a sling for the best part of six months.

Camping in Glen Clova
I was still clearing the cobwebs away at weekends by going for good long runs on my Honda FT500 motor cycle. Weather permitting, that is to say if it was not freezing or snowing, I would occasionally take a run to Carlisle to visit John and Irene and the girls.Another time we rendezvoused at Loch Lomond to help put John's brother Alec's speedboat into the water. Good fun !With the better weather, I would also get away with John for the odd,with the emphasis on the odd !, camping weekend to places like Glen Clova and get in a bit of hill walking.

Alfa Romeo engine on the way back in.
I was getting plenty of work coming in now, more than I could cope with unless I worked late into the night. I only did that when there was no option, I had neighbours to consider. No luck however in finding premises. We scanned the papers for adverts,Sandra, being in the property business,knew what to look for. But the only places that were coming up were far too big for me, I would need to take on staff, and at this stage I wasn't going to stick my neck out that far although the bank then was falling over itself to give me money. Looking back, I'm glad I never fell into that trap, a few years later it would have turned out to be a real disaster. The other reason I enjoyed working at home was because I could keep an eye on Mimsie. Sandra , Dave and Ricky were out working  and Lucy was at school, so she was rattling about in a big empty house on her own. Although she seemed to be coping with losing Dad, she really took it hard, and I did worry about her being left on her own all day. With me being there, if she didn't have any cakes to do, making lunch for me was something to keep her occupied and she enjoyed company. I felt as if she didn't want to be on her own doing nothing. She was getting there but it was taking time.

The Old Priory at Ross-on-Wye.
Well, things must have been looking up,because in June, Sandra and I were off on another holiday ! Again it was a deal where the accommodation is free but you pay for the meals. We went to spend three days in Ross-on-Wye in a lovely old hotel. The weather was so good we were even swimming in the open air pool. This was really living for us, was it not ? While we were there, I had to have another antiquity fix, so we had a day in Bath touring the old Roman baths and a good prowl round Bath itself. Another grand day out !

It must have been around this time when we had a couple of visitors from Canada, Dorothy Meechan and her sister in law Janet. I still remember going with Ricky and the two girls to a Chinese restaurant in Shawlands, and somehow or other ending up in the Sherbrooke Hotel for drinks. I think we even ended up back at Minard to borrow one of Mimsie's bottles of home-made wine. This was a phase in my life that was being well wound down by now....Home Brewing ! When I think back on that it was a miracle no one was killed. Does anyone remember the story of the distillery in the basement ? And the night everything went quiet ? Maybe that'll be another chapter !

Dave, Mimsie, Sandra Ricky and Blandine.
Late September, and I was beginning to despair about premises. I just didn't know what I was going to do with the work coming in during the coming winter. The day this photo was taken, Sandra came across an advert in the paper for a workshop, suitable for motor trade, in the south side of Glasgow. A phone call later and it turned out to be a spare workshop belonging to a business I knew in Govanhill Street. I knew exactly where the place was, I'd actually been in the premises at one point. But £600.00 a month ? Where was I going to get that and still have enough left over to live on ? Sandra had more confidence in me than I had . 
"Stop messing about, we're going down there right now to sign the agreement. Look at the work you've got coming in, you'll never be able to do that in the open air in a few weeks time !" And, as usual, she was right.

Govanhill Street with Black Bob, my first apprentice.
So over the next few weeks I started moving my equipment into Govanhill Street where I was to stay for the next three years. Ricky made up a sign for me to hang above the door and that was me open for business.
The very first job that came in off the street seemed to be the shape of things to come. A guy had an older BMW 728i and it was running like a proverbial "burst arse" Gobbling fuel and pouring black smoke from the exhaust. He'd had it into Fairbairns, the local BMW dealers, who'd told him that it could be anything, in other words they hadn't a clue what was wrong with it, but whatever it was was going to be mighty expensive. So more in desperation he'd noticed the sign and brought the car in to see if I could do anything a bit cheaper than the main dealers. " If you can even just do a temporary job on it so that I can run it up to the market and sell it. Even though I love this motor, I can't afford to run it at those prices"
I'd come across this fault before and I'd developed some test equipment for it. Fifteen minutes later, the car was running like brand new, the guy couldn't believe it especially when I gave him the bill . " Fairbairns were going to charge me twenty times as much as that, son. I'll be back, and I'm going right now to my golf club so give me a handful of your business cards and I'll tell my pals what you've just done for me !"
Govanhill Street Workshop, compact and expensive but dry !
Within a week, I'd booked in four of his fellow golfers for servicing and MOT work and within a month I felt like the repair shop for the Mearns Golf club, I was getting so much work from them.
So I wasn't so worried about the rent now, if it kept up like this.
I took a trip to the Motor show in Birmingham in the winter of that year and signed myself up for a lot of equipment, a vehicle lift, tuning equipment etc. Because I was working completely on my own I had to devise ways round jobs that required assistance so a lot of money went on equipment.
But then, despite working regularly till after midnight, I had to admit to myself that I just couldn't cope with the amount of work coming in. If I couldn't look at someone's car for three weeks I reckoned I wasn't really offering as service ,was I ? And the kind of work I was doing was often of unknown unknown quality. Some jobs like the one I just described took no time at all, but other tricky ones could take hours of diagnosis.
It wasn't easy, I needed an assistant.

So after working all through Christmas Eve and well into Christmas Day I made a new year's resolution. In January I was going to get an apprentice....

Sandra not snarling !

Fifteen year old Lucy posing !