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.

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