Saturday, 24 November 2012

1993

First Audax card.



This was probably the year that cycling became a bit of an obsession with me. 
At the beginning of the year I joined Audax UK, a branch of the Parisian Club. The aims of the club were to foster the spirit of long distance cycling, self-reliance and self-determination. Although some of the "fast and fit" members regarded some of the events as races, the organisation was such that out and out racing just wasn't possible. Most of the time it was a case of yourself and your bike against the clock, or calendar even !
I was pretty much on my own with this though. It didn't appeal to most of the people I knew, especially the longer distance events.
Towards the end of last year I'd tried to get the bunch of usual suspects to ride from Glasgow to Ecclefechan, a distance of 130km. We were supposed to camp the night there but our camping gear was to be carried in our works Suzuki van driven by Sandra and Maureen Blackbourn.
The whole thing was a fiasco from the start. A bunch of us set off early from Minard passing through Rutherglen and Hamilton into an increasing headwind.There were clear signs of flagging before we reached Douglas and found a cafeteria for a break. I wonder if anyone else remembers Granny Shell-suit ? An encounter with a group of Disadvantaged that you might have expected to meet in one of the poorer purlieus of Glasgow, not in a douce wee country town like Douglas. However, by this time the heavens had opened but Sandra and Maureen had rather miraculously managed to make a rendez-vous with us at the cafeteria. Despite getting lost in Hamilton and asking directions from a blind man complete with dog and white stick !
Most of the bunch decided to jump ship, and who could blame them ? So we decided to turn round and use the tailwind to blow us home. Apart from the ones who'd decided to cram themselves into the van and get home dry. 
I know it sounds ridiculous, but that ride home in the pouring rain and howling tailwind was one of the most exhilarating runs I'd ever done on a bike.
The weekend wasn't wasted though, when we got back to Minard we all warmed up in the showers, dried off and settled down to a takeaway curry banquet. We spent the rest of the evening playing board games, listening to music, soaking up some beer and generally having a right good laugh !
They all decided that it was a blast, but maybe we should cut back a bit on the cycling part of it ? Especially the headwind and rain and distance part of it ?
Fair enough, that's what the majority wanted, and we all had a good time anyway.

But this still left me feeling sort of at a loss, I wanted to do distance riding, and in Scotland that meant coping with wind, rain and cold. And Loneliness !
I needed a challenge. Loneliness I could cope with. But could I stand hour after hour of the usual Scottish elements ? 
I was determined to find out !


Steve, Allison and Alistair on our first Harrogate Moulton Run.

But before my first Audax run, Alistair Rickett and I drove to Harrogate late in February just minutes in front of a snowstorm that was being blown in from the north west. We were to meet up with Steve and Allison Mundie for a run with the Moulton Owners Club.
Alistair and I were booked into a B&B and spent the evening semi riotously in a restaurant in Harrogate watching the snow rapidly making the roads undrivable. A good evening, even if we upset one of the locals with our banter.
The next day, although the snow had mostly disappeared, it was still a bit icy in places, so the run was shortened somewhat. This gave us time to get to know Steve and Ally better. Steve was from Aberdeen, Ally was a Yorkshire lass and they both met in Oxford while studying. both were keen cyclists, especially on Moultons. Ally was involved in a local horticultural research establishment and Steve was very much in demand for his IT skills. A really nice welcoming couple ! This was the start of many a weekend jaunt to Harrogate.


So what was happening back in Minard at this point ?


Dave and Rena, Lunch at Minard.

Aunty Rena had started to call in for lunch with Mimsie once a week and that was good. I think that they both realised that they'd wasted too many years being apart and when Aunty Sheila died they'd come to their senses. I was glad, I'd missed Rena, and so had Mimsie so it was good to listen to the two of them going over the usual nonsense like family history and what's happening next. Very little of the outside world concerned them, it was all about family. Maybe I was realising something, at least I was learning. Dave was out of regular work for a long time so Tuesday lunches were Mimsie, Rena, Dave and myself. I wouldn't have missed them for anything !
Rena was so different from Sheila and Mimsie that she often used to say "Isobel, how're we so different ? We both had the same mother " "I know Rena, but we had different fathers, it can make a difference !" 



Rena, Donald Sinclair and Sheila at Rutland Crescent.


Mimsie was at least a dozen years older than Rena. When their mother, my Gran Sinclair, died, Rena moved in with us in Preston Street. Mimsie decided that Rena, fourteen at the time, would be better with us rather than being brought up by her father Donald Sinclair. Donald Sinclair was an admirable man to me, totally politically incorrect nowadays of course, but he was the kind of man who built an Empire for Britain. But of course, that's not a thing we're to be proud of today....apparently !!
I'll have more to say about Donald Sinclair later. After all one of the reasons I'm doing this is because I hardly new any of my Grandfathers and only heard bits and pieces about them. I really wished that they could have written about their lives, short as they were, and I might have understood them better.
But anyway, Donald Sinclair was quite happy to have Rena being looked after by her big sister, after all, what man really knows what teenage girls need ?


However, Dave and I must have been the nephews from hell. We teased her mercilessly and clyped her for smoking at every opportunity. Rena was our Sunday School teacher at the time and every week took us to the Church of Christ at Paisley Road Toll. Looking back on this, I can see why we went to Sunday School. It was bugger all to do with religion ! It was a chance for Mimsie to get a couple of hours respite from looking after three kids. And it was a chance for Rena to hang about with her pals from the Sunday School. Rena  tried to make out she was very religious in those days, but Dave and I knew ....!  She actually got baptised one Sunday and to this day she can still get us into fits of laughter when she starts talking about it .
However, I'm getting off the track here, back to what was happening in 1993 !




The first of quite a few !

The beginning of March came around, cold and wet and windy. Alistair and I set off for the outskirts of Edinburgh to start our first Audax run. Ten o'clock and we set off with a bunch of about sixty other cyclists heading for Peebles. I wasn't at all used to riding fast in a big bunch so I fairly quickly slid out the back of the peleton. Alistair, of course, had done this before and he was off with the front runners and I didn't expect to see him again until the stop at Peebles. After an hour or so I settled into it and began to actually overtake some riders as the headwind got stronger. So I was surprised when I saw Alistair riding towards me. He told me that he was just having a bad day, that he was going back to the car and would see me when I got back. I was in a bit of a turmoil, should I turn back with Alistair and go home, or should I press on and finish the ride knowing that Alistair was going to have to hang about kicking his heels ? But he said "Go on, if you're up for it do it ! I'll see you at the finish"
So feeling a bit guilty, I pressed on. Eventually I rolled into Peebles, found George Pennell's cycle shop and got my card stamped. After a mug of cycle shop tea and a slice of home made cake I was off again. This time with a good brisk tailwind. I'd noticed that the people who seemed to be struggling the least were the one's who could ride steadily in close formation. To me that was an ART ! So you can imagine how I felt when a small group of older cyclists overtook me and said " Come on, sit in behind us and we'll get back before the rain starts !" So very nervously, I followed as closely as I could the rear wheel of the guy in front. And I noticed the effect immediately ! It was so much less effort ! I was keeping up with them and flying up hills I'd been struggling with on the road out ! Eventually the old guy, he was at least twenty years older than me, waved me up to ride beside him. " This your first time ? " he asked.
" Ah weel, you're doin' fine ! Remember, you're doing this to enjoy yoursel' "
So we got talking, and I noticed that his bike was, to my eyes, an antique.  Sturmey Archer three speed hub gears and a head clip on the handlebar stem gave me the impression that the bike was at least as old as me. It turned out he'd bought the bike in the early fifties, rode it to work every day and did miles and miles on it just about every weekend.He'd toured all of the UK and Ireland on it and even Toured parts of France with it.
"But I'm retired now, so I can really start getting the miles in."
"A new bike ? Whit wid I want a new bike for ? This one's fine !"

Something in my thinking processes changed at that point !




Thanks to my wee cousin Lorraine I can now correct what I wrote about last year, 1992. 
Lorraine and Tom got married in August 1993 ! And this was the wedding that I enjoyed ! And I even know now who was in most of the photographs...Thanks, Lorraine and Donna !

Tom and Lorraine at the church.
The Bridal party outside the church.

Donna; a picture !


So Mimsie was probably listening to Rena getting all excited about this wedding coming up that she thought it's about time we had a party ! Well, maybe you don't know, but Sandra and I are the worst party people out ! No, no, we don't get drunk and cause a commotion or anything like that, it's just that we feel so out of place at parties, we can't help it , it's just the way we are. Boring and dull and content with our own company, don't sing and don't dance, that's us ! Pathetic, aren't we ?
Now Mimsie, on the other hand, always loved a good party, especially if she was running it ! So she came up with the idea of a surprise party for my 45th birthday. Of course I knew all about it within days of the plot being hatched but I went along with it with as good grace as I could manage. Lots of people were going to enjoy themselves so I wasn't going to let them down. But I still don't know who's idea it was for the fancy dress ?  Any confessions ?

I think the photos tell more than I can....


Sandra as Mrs Fox before she scare the Buddhist Monk away !

While Sandra was getting into her Mrs Fox get up complete with feather boa, a Buddhist monk came to the door looking for some sort of charity. The look on his face was classic as Sandra went for her purse while trying to kick the cat who was in a life or death struggle with the feather boa round Sandra's neck. And meanwhile the daughter of the house was floating about the hall waving a half empty bottle of gin and doing a very good impersonation of Princess Margaret.He was invited in to join the party, but as soon as he got his donation he turned and fled !


Mary, Ricky and Marisol at my 45th Birthday Party.
Donald and Andy Blackbourn and Mr Cholomendy- Warner.
Marisol, our Dave and Princess Margaret !


Marisol, Duncan, Maureen, Donald, Alistair, Andy and me.

I didn't know it at the time but this was just a rehearsal for the real party in 1995 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of VE day. More of that later ....






Well before we knew it it was time for our holiday in France. The Dordogne this time. This was surely John Dunn's biggest ever holiday arrangement. It could have been classed as an invasion actually ! I seem to remember at the start driving fast on a rainy Motorway trying to keep up with John's Saab and meeting up with a whole bunch of other people a a Motorway Services. We took a Hovercraft to Calais and I just followed any car that had a British number plate. I had no idea where we were going but we had overnight accommodation booked in a wee town just outside Paris.The only thing I can remember of that night was wandering about in the dark looking for a bar ! The next day, somehow or other, Caroline, a veteran of our very first group holiday in France, and Jennifer Dunn were in Sandra's Honda with us when we fell out of formation and took a detour through Poitiers. Caroline and Sandra were oblivious to this but I could sense that poor Jenifer was on tenterhooks because she knew that we appeared to be lost. But we found our destination eventually. We'd practically taken over a whole hamlet near Sarlat. It was a bit of a mad scatter of old farm buildings that had been bought and converted by an English couple. You had to admire what they'd done. It was obvious that the place had been unchanged since Napoleonic times but they'd turned barns and pig pens into perfectly acceptable gites. And with a huge communal swimming pool !


Our berth in the gite, with real sunshine outside !

Now let's see if I can remember who was actually there. Apologies right now if I miss someone out !
John and Irene Dunn with Sasha and Jenifer, Irene's sisters Libby and Christine with their husbands Raymond Weir and David Murphy.Libby and Raymond's two children. Irene's Mother and one of her Aunts. Our friend  Caroline. John's brother Alec, his wife Barbara and their two daughters. David Murphy's Mother and Father. John's old pal Jock Murdoch with his wife Ruth and their two children. And us !


Jenifer, Irene and Carolyn at one of the communal soirées.



Ruith and Jock Murdoch and Alec and Barbara Dunn.


The holiday was great ! But Sandra and I couldn't help thinking that it'd taken an awful lot out of John. He's always a perfectionist and worries about things that almost certainly wouldn't happen ....but might ! And he was going through a real hard time with his work. I wonder if everyone realised the effort John had put into the whole thing ? I hope so .

I'd taken a bike with me, one of the second hand Saracens we'd bought in the Lake District. I had no idea what the roads were going to be like so I took something sturdy with a good range of gears and a pair of sturdy road tyres. It turned out to be a good choice. I remember fondly getting up really early just as the sun was up and cycling the 15km or so to get a bag of croissants for breakfast.
And surprisingly, I found out that I more than coped with cycling in the heat, I absolutely revelled in it ! As long as I could get plenty to drink I was fine. The countryside was spectacular, lots of long climbs with tree shaded sections seemingly just put there to give you some respite from the sun. And fabulous fast, technical  descents ! This was the first time I experienced just how passionate the ordinary French people are about the bike. One afternoon, I was grinding my way up a long relentless climb on a narrow country road, when I became aware of a car coming up behind me.The road was too narrow for him to pass me safely and I thought if I stop it's going to be too steep for me to get going again. So while I'm swithering what to do, the car manages to overtake me and disappeared up round the next bend. So I'm thinking that the French are just as impatient as the British when I crawl round the bend and see the car tucked into a space at the side of the road and a couple of young guys getting out.
"Oops ! " I thought " they've obviously taken exception to being held back, and they're maybe going to have something to say about it !"
I didn't like the look of this but I was too close to turn and flee, and f*ck ! one of them was digging something out of the boot !
Next thing, the first guy's clapping his hands and shouting " Bravo ! Courage !" and the other guy's handing me up an opened bottle of mineral water out his cooler !!
"Aye, right !" I thought, "they're taking the mickey !" 
But no, they were quite genuine, they were honestly encouraging me to do the climb.
" Just round the next bend and then a bit of a false flat then the descent, Allez! Allez! "
 So I managed to drink some water without wobbling too much, squared myself up and allez-ed as hard as I could to the top. They followed me all the way down and as they passed me just before the town leaned out the window and cheered as if I was a real cyclist !!
The French have some sense of humour I thought .... but later experiences taught me different !



David Murphy with Libby ,Rachel and Liam.

But even then we detected a hint of Dordogne-shire about the area. Lots and lots of UK registered cars about, as if ours weren't enough. There was even a local newspaper in English. The French people seemed quite content about it but I couldn't help thinking about foreigners and saturation ....
The Town of Sarlat was a delight. It was one of the first towns in France where the authorities had been persuaded to preserve rather than renew and it really worked ! Lovely wee place !



Canoeing on the Dordogne.

One of the highlights of the holiday was when just about all of us hired canoes to paddle down the River Dordogne. Barbara, Alec's wife was petrified of the water but Sandra coaxed her into a canoe with herself and me. "We'll be fine !" she said. 
I wasn't so sure, but kept my thoughts to myself !
So off we went, like a re-enactment of the Battle of Trafalgar, bumping into other tourists in canoes and nearly coming to blows with a French family who were swimming in the river and had the nerve not to know what "Get to f*ck out the way !" meant. At that point Barbara said " I'm glad I'm with you and not in a boat with Alec !" I managed to apologise to the family while the rest of the fleet steamed ahead.



Sandra, well and truly roasted !

It turned out to be a spectacular day though. Once I'd got the hang of the canoe and Barbara relaxed a bit, we had a great time. This is what rivers are for I thought. I would have loved to have done more but I realised that it wasn't going to happen in Scotland ! Just not the same atmosphere. Too much like life or death for me !



Caroline and Sandra at Rocamadour.

Then the holiday just drifted by, lots of good meals, either all together at the gite, or off somewhere in nice wee restaurants.
We did all the touristy things like the Lascaux Caves and a visit to Rocamadour which were fine, I enjoyed them.
A memory often comes back of that holiday, I was cycling alone up a shaded road in the heat of the afternoon in total silence when I was surrounded by thousands of tiny brilliant yellow butterflies which stayed with me for what seemed like ages. An almost mystical moment !
Anyway it wasn't over yet. For our last night we were all booked in to a local Auberge. These are supposed to be a means for local farmers to get a share of the tourist trade by feeding them produce from their farm often using local recipes. Because they're farmers, the very strict health and safety regulations that apply to other restaurants, are relaxed a bit, and so you'll get mis-matched crockery and cutlery to eat from and meat is often roasted on a bonfire in the yard. But it's a great experience if you get a truly authentic Auberge, which this one was. This was as near to dining with a French farming family as you could get. It reminded me of Sunday dinner in Minard a bit . As it turned out, the farmer's wife was having a birthday party separately from us but still serving us at the same time. I suspect there was a degree of drinking going on. And the French seemed pretty drunk before the night was out too ! Because there were so many of us, the tables had been squeezed into a big room in the farmhouse. I was sitting in the fireplace with Sandra and Caroline on either side. I can't remember how many starters there were, there was no menu, you were just served with what Madame had cooked. But I remember soup and then some foie gras. Caroline is a tender hearted soul and, with difficulty,tries to avoid thinking about animals actually dying before they reach our plates. She was horrified when we went to a demonstration of geese being fattened up by being fed corn through a funnel. She thought it was absolutely barbaric, to my mind, the geese were loving it, they were pushing each other out the way to get to the funnel. We are talking about bird brains here !  So anyway, when the foie gras, which is made from goose livers, appeared on the table, Caroline asked me " that's not that dreadfully cruelly made stuff, is it ?"
 "Of course it isn't, that stuff would be too expensive for the likes of us, this is just farmhouse pate " 
So she dug in, enjoyed it and asked for more.
I rest my case.
Then there appeared cauldrons of cassoulet, beans cooked with chunks of goose or duck. I still remember it ! And there wasn't a bottle of wine to be seen ! No, it was jugs, and what looked suspiciously like a huge flower vase, that were plonked onto the table and refilled with local red wine as soon as they were emptied.
And when the desserts were carried in we all sang "Happy Birthday" to Madame.
A great night, but just as well Sandra was driving !


So it was time to go home. What we hadn't taken into account was the fact that we were going to be travelling on "Black Saturday" the busiest day in the whole of France. Everyone goes on holiday on "Black Saturday" and the roads are packed. John had sensibly booked a hotel for all of us near Calais so that we could have a meal and a nights rest before crossing the Channel and driving up through England. But there was no way the convoy was going to stay together and it was a miracle that we all eventually found the hotel all be it five or six hours later than anticipated. The staff in the hotel behaved perfectly, they sat us all down to a fine meal even though most of them looked half dead on their feet. And we were worse, a lot of us fell asleep during the meal and had to crawl off to bed. I felt sorry for the staff because most of them were up at crack of dawn while we caught up on our sleep.

And that was that, a damn fine holiday! Now back to plain claes and parritch !





So I went back to the Garage with not a drop of work booked in. A few years ago I would have really panicked, but this time Andy and I just carried on preparing for the work that would come in eventually. And it did !
By this time we'd lost John Stoddart and Douglas Reilly, so it was back to just Andy Blackbourn and myself.
John had, sensibly I thought, decided to go back to full time education to get some basic qualifications. Although, in many ways, John was good in the workshop he really wasn't in his element. He needed to get out there and find out what he was best at. So good luck to him for trying !
Douglas, ah Douglas ! Douglas Reilly had a lot of good qualities, unfortunately clear logical thinking wasn't one of them. He was an artist, quite a talented artist, but somehow or other he'd made his mind up he wanted to be a mechanic. Maybe it would have been kinder for me to have told him sooner that he just wasn't cut out for it, but for one reason or another I kept him on. I actually sent him to college to learn Automotive theory and practice. He certainly did well there, he always got pretty good marks for theory and ended up with enough paper qualifications to cover a garage wall. But this just reinforced my opinion. I'd met a lot of people, somewhat like him, who had loads of qualifications on paper, but when it came down to it, couldn't put a nut in a monkey's mouth !
I remember one young guy in Glen Hendersons, the Porsche Dealership. He was the perfect showpiece mechanic. He had just about every certificate from Porsche GB and probably the best kit of Snap-On tools this side of the Atlantic.
But he was bloody useless in the workshop ! Worse than useless, because his head had been turned and he really thought that he knew it all. And slower than the coming of Christ ! His downfall, in my eyes, was when we took in a fairly new 911 for a persistent misfire and flat spot on acceleration. A week later, I kid you not, 40 working hours later, he still couldn't tell me what the problem was. And by this time the 911 was taking root on a ramp and the engine had been dismantled down to the last nut and bolt and laid out for inspection all over the workshop.  I'd been forced to let him loose on it, I'd been to busy to help him with any diagnosis and anyway, he should have been more than capable of a basic diagnosis. After all he was being paid plenty. Well above his capability in my opinion ! 

Worn camshaft....Plain as the nose on you face !


To get to the point, I was in the workshop on the Saturday morning, he didn't work overtime, that was beneath him !, and I couldn't help looking at the dismantled components laid out. I almost immediately spotted a classic example of a worn camshaft which was the root of the problem with the car. 
Now , not only had he failed to carry out a basic half hour diagnostic check with the car running which would have pointed him in the right direction, he hadn't even noticed the worn camshaft when he was dismantling the engine and cleaning the components !
This was SO basic I could hardly believe my eyes ! 
The atmosphere in the workshop was distinctly blue for the rest of that day....!

Back to Douglas Reilly. He'd come in to the office one morning in a bit of a state. He was obviously upset about something. So he then tells me that he feels as if he's not getting enough respect in the workshop ! Now remember we're talking about a back street garage with four people working in it, not some High Street Dealership ! 
Respect ? What was he on about ? 
It turned out that John Stoddart had been teasing him and this had brought it all to a head. He also felt that he should have a Title ( ? ) and a wage increase, after all, look at all the qualifications he had !

"Right, Douglas, let me think about this " I said.
Later that morning we had a Peugeot turn up with a failed heater blower motor....or so it would seem ! 
I called Douglas in and said " Right, here's a diagnostic job for you to show what you can do ". I said " I don't know what the problem is, but remember, start simple and work your way through it logically. And I want it ready for 3 o'clock !  OK ? "
So he started at 10.30 and worked non stop, even through his lunch break. At quarter to three, I couldn't stand any more and stopped him just as he was about to pull out the front windscreen ! The steering column was in the boot by this time, both front seats were out and the dashboard was lying on the back seat !
" What the f*ck are you doing Douglas ? "
"Where did you start and how did you end up here ?"

"Er, well, you see, ......I don't really know !"

" Yes, Douglas, I'm afraid that's just it.....you don't really know !"

Respect ?

I called over John and Andy, who'd both been taking a quiet delight in Douglas's ineptitude, but to their credit had tried to help. Neither of them were particularly enthusiastic about electrical diagnostic problems, but I asked John " Right, blower not working, where would you start ,"
"Fuse" he replied, "Then battery, blower switch in and out then on to the motor if the switch checks out ok !" 

" Well, there it all is, show me !"

Within five minutes, John had diagnosed that there was no current flowing through the blower switch but if he applied current to the blower motor it ran fine. Andy scooted over to the local Peugeot dealers to get a switch and while he was getting it we rapidly rebuilt the interior of the car. When Andy came back he plugged in the switch and the heater was back in full operation. I'd just finished writing out the invoice when the customer came strolling in just before 5o'clock.

"Any problems ?" he asked. 

" No, no, not at all.... " I replied " A fifteen minute job !"

Later that week, Douglas and I had a long talk. I told him that I thought he should go back to the welding. He was more than talented at that, he was gifted ! But he was still determined to see if he could crack it as a mechanic. So we decided that it would be better if he tried working in another garage to see if a change of regime would help him gain a bit of controlled thinking. As things turned out, the change didn't really help him at all apart from making him realise at last that he wasn't cut out to be a professional mechanic. But he did pick himself up, moved to the USA and took up welding again, and the last I heard from him he's doing fine. He's earning plenty, he's into sky diving, he's got a race car that he maintains himself and his latest stunt is witchcraft !

Douglas Reilly.


So there we were, just Andy and myself. But we had too much work to turn away, we had to get someone else in. Should I advertise for a time served mechanic or should I start another apprentice ? Making this decision caused me a lot of grief. I felt that we were at a stage where we couldn't justify employing a qualified mechanic. The wages we could afford to offer were well below what a dealer could, so what class of person were we likely to get ?We decided to approach the Glasgow Training Group for an apprentice.This way we could get someone without any acquired bad practices and it would be up to us to train them up the right way.
Aye, indeed ! Very ambitious. Don't forget, we were still just a wee garage up a back street !
However, Glasgow Training Group, which is actually a branch of Arnold Clark Ltd, which is in turn effectively the Motor Trade in Scotland, supplied us with young Stephen Harvey, straight out of school.
As an apprentice, Stephen didn't exactly set the heather on fire, but his personality more than made up for it. He was a genuinely, likeable kid. And let's face it , there were times when we needed a laugh. Some of his antics were priceless.  Stephen was the oldest boy in his family and he was a good well behaved teenager, didn't smoke or drink or do drugs....quite unusual we thought !
Once he'd settled in and became more used to working with tools I decided that it was time for him to start doing some of the more time consuming jobs that I was having to do. A common job in those days was repairing broken studs in BMW cylinder heads. This was a job that took quite a while and needed a steady hand and a good eye, but it was a good earner ! The dealerships just didn't want to know about jobs like this, too fiddly and wildly expensive at their rates. So we were getting plenty of referrals from Harry Fairbairns. One morning after I'd helped Stephen remove a cylinder head from a BMW 320i , I mounted the cylinder head onto the work bench and started to demonstrate how to drill out the broken studs, fit  inserts and replace the studs.
"How many of these studs do I have to replace ,"
"All twelve of them."
"Would it no' be quicker just getting a new cylinder head ,"
"Sure, but that would cost £650 and then there's the labour on top"
"Oh my god ! So this is serious stuff then ?"
"Sure is, this is what mechanics do"
By this time he'd went very pale. 
"But what happens if I f*ck it up ?"
"You die!" I said.
Then he fainted !
 But he was desperate to be eighteen so that he could go through this Irish rite of passage whereby his father takes him into a pub and buys him his First Pint. He used to dream about this mystical First Pint and we always asked him if he'd never once drank beer, 
"Never ! I'm saving myself for my First Pint !"
" But, Stephen, what if you don't like the taste of beer ?"
"Are you mad ? Of course I'll like it, I'm Irish am I not ?"
Well fair enough, there was no arguing with that, was there ?
As it turned out, despite my concerns that he would overnight turn into a boozer, it wasn't really the beer he was craving for, it was the atmosphere in pubs he wanted. Especially the Karaoke ! This was , for Stephen, better than the second coming ! And he was a huge fan of George Michael.
So we had weeks of amusement when it came out that George Michael was homosexual. Stephen was a carefully brought up Catholic boy you see, and this news was devastating for him. At first he just went about in semi-mourning. "I'm sorry, Ronnie, can I just get some easy jobs today, I'm too upset to concentrate properly " I should really have reported him to Andy, our Human Resources Manager, but that would have been a waste of time because he was too busy laughing !
But his mood changed quite a bit when Andy and I suggested that maybe there was a deeper reason for Stephen liking George Michael so much . The wee tear in the corner of his eye was dashed away, his voice dropped an octave, he pulled back his shoulders and  burst out "I'm no' like that at all ! I'm a man ! and I've got work to do !" And off he'd march into the workshop and get well and truly stuck in !
So for months after that, when he looked as if he was just coasting, we would just subtly bring  George Michael into the conversation, stand back and watch the spanners fly.

Stephen and I helping Sandra"s sister Marie flit.



Right, what about the rest of the cast in Minard ?
Mimsie was fine, going about her catering stuff although that was winding down now and she preferred doing cakes.
Dave was still getting work but tending to keep to himself in the basement more and more.
Ricky and Mary had been more or less living together in a bed-sit for a while now but with Blandine going back to France there was now a flat needing tenants in Paisley. So Sandra and Blandine got the two of them settled into Blandine's flat which was actually just round the corner from where Alistair Rickett and Marisol were staying. Ricky and Mary seemed pretty content with each other and we saw them every weekend for Sunday dinner.
Sandra was getting fed up with S&D Properties and despite her pension arrangements she looked about for a change. A couple of big firms tried to head hunt her but the more she thought about it the more she decided she was going to stick it out at S&D. Ian McDonald had somehow or other managed to wangle himself a directorship with S&D and he was determined to rule the roost. The man was an out and out ignorant, crooked arsehole ! Sandra will probably think I'm letting him off easily at that. He'd been a pretty incompetent joiner doing odd bits and pieces for S&D for a number of years and now mysteriously he had got his hands on the money....a lot of money ! About this time S&D alone owned about £11 million's worth of properties and that's not counting all the other branches of S&D Holdings. So the money went to McDonald's head, via his back pocket !
There'll be more about the rise and fall of Ian McDonald later ....

Lucy was now working in the Abbey in their prestigious city centre building where, by coincidence, her immediate boss was married to one of Sandra's cousins. She'd also decided that she was going to make a career out of Law so she started on a part time Degree Course with Strathclyde University. So this meant a full time job, several evenings and most Saturdays. And she stuck it ! Despite still being under the spell of that creep John Neil.


So towards the end of the year, that was the state of play.
Sandra and I asked Dave, Ricky and Mary if they would like to come with us on holiday to France the next year. This was of course pre-internet bookings, so we sent off for the Gite de France Catalogue and spent a few weekends deciding where we would like to go. We eventually got ourselves a place booked in the Champagne region but that'll be another story for next year.
Meanwhile I was determined to do more Audax rides the next year so I was out every weekend either on my own on my road bike or off the the usual crew to the Queen Elizabeth Forest on my mountain bike. We actually had some really good days there that winter, especially with Charlie O'Neil and his big camper van. We would turn up at the big car park in Aberfoyle, set out for a day's ride through the forest and when we got back Charlie would fire up the generator and proceed to power-wash all the bikes. Meanwhile the coffee and soup was being prepared....this was luxury ! Great fun, good memories !

Not too bad a year at all !











































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