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 !

No comments:

Post a Comment