Austerity?

What is meant by austerity? I am sure my early childhood was not unusual. There were many families in the same, perhaps even worse predicament. A description of austerity then, with details would be very different from today. To my knowledge, there was never electricity in my first family home and that precludes installation of things like televisions, telephones, microwaves. The occasional introduction of a flashlight (torch) as a Christmas present for me was about as near as we would get to electricity and the quality of the battery left much to be desired. Of course when the battery failed, there was no money for replacements so that was the end of the torch. The final act was to try it again some time later to find that it still did not work and the battery and much of the interior of the torch was reduced to a sticky acidic mush. So if there is no television, there is no games console.

The only time we saw professional sport required a visit to the actual live match. Big matches, whatever the sport, would get limited coverage on the Pathe News at the cinema so the general public were aware of international matches and FA Cup Finals and that was how we would be dissolved into a state of awe by 10 seconds of poorly focussed, black and white magic from Stan Matthews or the legendary cricketers such as Don Bradman or particularly, in my case, as a Yorkshireman, Len Hutton. Yes, the ‘action replay’ would appear about two weeks later on the big screen.

Since Christmas got a mention, lets consider a typical seasonal celebration. Turkey was not an option. Even chicken was too expensive for most folks. To be fair, beef seemed to be, from my experience the normal meat for the weekend so pork made the table for Christmas. Most foods were still rationed. Bread was rationed until 1948 and sugar, meat and other products did not become free from rationing until well into the 1950’s. Little prospect of prawn cocktail starters, Turkey with the trimmings and as for Black Forest Gateau after six years of war with the Germans? Let’s not go there!

Christmas presents were, of course, limited by the family budget. The stocking would be hung on the mantel shelf and in the morning would appear magically bulging with an apple, an orange (probably a satsuma or clementine), a few nuts (requiring cracking open with the flat iron) and a brand new penny. There would be one ‘major’ present. I can only remember one of these major present. It was a train set. It had a circular track roughly eighteen inches (half a metre) in diameter and the train pulled a coal tender and a single carriage. The power source was clockwork. It ran for about three circuits of the track before the power was all consumed and the train stopped for refuelling (rewinding). I loved it! There was however an incident involving the train that left me in tears. My dad had a good friend who was doing the refuelling one day and he decided to add some reality to the proceedings. He placed a burning cigarette in the funnel of the train and set it off round the track, apparently with steam issuing from said funnel. I was young, naive and inexperienced. I reached out to touch the smoke and, of course, burnt my hand before I could be restrained. That was the end of reality although there was some authenticity in the train clattering along a metal track on the cold stone flags of our room!

Even if we were going to get more or bigger presents we would not really have an idea what to ask for! The lack of television meant that there was little visible advertising of products other than in the relevant shops, on advertising hoardings or at the cinema.

There was not an overabundance of money available even for the basic things in life so advertising tended to be limited to those things that, at the time might have been essential or at the very least adding gravy to the kitchen table. So we would see pictures of a couple of kids with an apparently desirable aroma wafting past their nostrils under a caption of ‘Aah Bisto’.  Oxo cubes were advertised as a meal, not just additional seasoning.

Cigarettes of course were essentials and they were advertised everywhere. Well everyone smoked didn’t they? So the brands were at war. I remember Craven A, Senior Service, Woodbine, Capstan Full Strength among others and the associated images endure!   At the cinema, the same products were advertised of course and there have been many critics over the years of the way that smoking was glamourised. In fact an enduring feature of any trip to the cinema in those days was the fog through which we observed our heroes.

Unless we were in a shop that sold them, we did not see the top rated toys of the time. Meccano Construction sets or Hornby train sets were saved for the rare occasion when, as a treat, we were taken into the large toy departments of the big shops in Leeds City Centre. In some ways, although it was well intentioned, in reality it was quite cruel. It is reminiscent of the old television show when the losing ‘finalist’ is  finally ground into the earth with the immortal words ‘Let’s see what you could have won!’. We were looking at extravagant displays featuring huge construction sites littered with wonderful creations made from lengths of steel held together with screws and operated by clockwork (later electric) motors. An array of Hornby electric trains, passenger and goods would clatter round a track many feet long with all sorts of junctions, rail-side furniture such as signal boxes and level crossings. At no time was there the suggestion “choose which one you want”! In any case I was five years old before I lived in a house that gave us access to the wonders of electricity.

Birthdays were the same but ‘less extravagant’! I have a vague recollection of receiving a toy car for one birthday but as my birthday is in August and we were on holiday with family in Blackpool. I think the car was bought by Grandma and Grandad who I am sure would have been imbued with the spirit of the holiday as motivation to treat me!

I repeat, I am in no way complaining, I was no different from most of my peers. We did not know what we were missing. Sweets were on ration so the odd occasion when we did get them, it was a real treat.

I am told that I was such an undemanding child that the first time I asked for an ice cream, my parents were so taken aback that my dad ran around the streets of Hunslet searching for the purveyor who pedalled around on a tricycle that had a cold storage box fitted between the front pair of wheels. I am sure that I would have been at least as surprised to get what I asked for as my parents were to be asked!

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Driving Mad

Of course driving is intrinsic to a being a motor mechanic. There is no way even now for someone to be able to do the job properly, understanding the way a vehicle works and diagnosing faults if you can’t drive.

I was sixteen the week after I started in the job and I did not have too long to wait before one of the other young mechanics who was a qualified (he had passed his test) driver suggested that I have my first taste of the behind the wheel experience. I protested my innocence in such matters. I did not have any idea how to control a car but he was very persuasive and it was not long before I was sat in the driver’s seat of a Ford Popular (Pop). This was the model that Henry Ford produced for sale at the unbelievable price of £100.00 as long as you were happy with the choice of colour – black. No other choice was available!

Basic as it was, it was far too complicated for me to master. I need to explain the layout of the garage. Cars were repaired on the first floor and Trucks on the ground floor.  To access the car workshop, there was a steep ramp that went up the side of the building. At the top there was a sharp left hand turn, straight again for a few yards and then another left turn into the workshop which was usually packed with cars but fortunately not at this time.

I still do not know how I made it! My ‘instructor’ gave me a quick run down on the controls then gave me my head. To get up the ramp with a vehicle of that type required a lot of throttle pedal. So we roared up the ramp and I somehow managed to negotiate the two left hand turns into the workshop area. Instruction must have been given to remove my right foot from the throttle pedal and I was told to park up into a space angling towards the rail that ran alongside the steps back down into the Truck workshop. The instruction to brake quite quickly became a command but I could not find the brake pedal. Fortunately I did not find the accelerator either so I quite gently rolled into the stair rail rather than through it.

I was horror-stricken and we both jumped out to survey the damage. The car was in very nice condition but I had managed to add a blemish. There was a kink in the left side front wing.  My ‘instructor’ took on the responsibility of doing the repair and as it was Saturday afternoon and everyone had gone home, there were no witnesses. I had a scare but was unhurt and still in a job.

There are numerous incidents to relay and one of the funniest had occurred just before I started work. One of the first vehicles I saw when I entered the workshop on my first day was a Reliant Van (think only fools and horses). It was grey in colour. I was to find that it had just been fitted with a new body shell.

The story goes like this and again the layout of the building played a crucial part. The truck workshop had big doors at the entrance for access by the trucks. To the right of these doors was another bay where most of the lubrication was done. This bay had a pit that ran the length of the bay to allow access underneath vehicles by the lubrication worker Bryn Jones. On the day in question, there was no vehicle in the lube bay and the Truck foreman decided to take the Reliant from the Truck workshop onto the pit for Bryn to work on. Out of the big doors, a right U-turn into the lube bay. The hapless foreman forgot that the Reliant was a three-wheeler car, one at the front, two at the back. The front wheel dropped into the pit. The Reliant had a fibre glass body and fibre glass is very brittle. A huge crack appeared right across the middle of the roof. Not repairable so new body shell required!

My second driving experience was an altogether much more spectacular event!

This time it was a different ‘instructor’ but once again from the younger end of the employee spectrum and also as qualified as was necessary. I had been a passenger with Paul and he took no prisoners. I had never seen anyone drive as fast. He was enthusiastic in everything he did and to be fair to him, he would be a major factor in how my career shaped up in the long run. At this time, he wanted me to become a driver. It was only a couple of weeks after the first episode but no one knew about that!

He sat me behind the wheel of a two-tone blue, three-year old Hillman Minx and gave me the cursory instructions. The route he chose was exactly the same as my previous attempt so I could not get lost. I started off well enough and powered up the ramp. The Minx was significantly superior in power to the Ford Pop so as I approached the top of the ramp, Paul instructed me to slow down in preparation for the right angle left turn. I was concentrating on where I was going and how I was to steer round the bend. The slow down instructions became much more animated very quickly and slow became STOP! I still had no real idea how to carry out the instructions with the result that I was unable to get round the corner. There was a sickening crunch and the car climbed up the wall before becoming stalled. Just a few yards up the passageway the foremans’ office was full of mechanics signing off their work at the end of the day. They spilled out to survey the damage which was a quite severe mangling of the driver’s side front wing and bumper bar. Here I have to say that there was yet another example of chivalry. As soon as the car stopped moving, Paul instructed me to change seats with him. He wanted to take full responsibility  for the incident to keep me out of trouble. Of course there was no time anyway as witnesses appeared immediately.

The works manager told me to report to him first thing next morning so that I had to spend the night stewing in guilt and fear for an early end to my career.

Next morning I duly went to see the boss and was given a mild rollicking. Paul was given a bigger one for encouraging me into action and the net result was a six month ban from driving. This was, for me an absolute blessing and release. A greater punishment would have been to make me drive another vehicle up the ramp. Looking forward, however, six months seemed an awful long time.

I satisfied myself by accepting the punishment, which could be considered lenient anyway, and turning down any offers of ‘lessons’ however well-intentioned. I did however spend some time whenever possible to acquaint myself with the controls. After a while and having gained a little knowledge, I did get a little bolder and would sit in cars that I was expected to be working on and practice pressing the clutch and the brake, finding neutral with the gear lever even, eventually starting the car and practicing the ‘bite point’ on the clutch without moving the car. this gradual self indoctrination worked wonders for my confidence. Finally, the works manager inadvertently asked me to move a car for him. I duly reminded him of my ‘ban’. He restored my driving permission and I never looked back; except when reversing of course. I had served about three months of the ban and I am pleased to say I never damaged another vehicle in my working career.

On the day of my seventeenth birthday, I was out on the road having claimed my ‘provisional driving licence. The company had a very benevolent attitude to learner drivers. There was a company vehicle, at the time a Commer pickup which would be the equivalent of a modern-day Ford Transit. It was probably not the best vehicle to learn in and there were no dual control assurance available in modern driving school vehicles but it was nearly new so everything worked well.

Who was to be the ‘instructor ‘ would depend upon who wanted to be out for some reason of their own and was not fussy about driving ability. So, if someone wanted to move some furniture, collect parts for a ‘guvvie’ job or simply wanted a change of scenery, you would have an ‘instructor’. The ‘lesson’ always took place at lunchtime and if the vehicle was not out on works business, it was available. There was no need to ask permission, it was implicit. The vehicle had three seats across the front and often another apprentice would come along for a ride but the qualified driver always sat alongside the learner driver so that he was able to reach the controls for any adjustments that might be necessary. Adjustments might require a bash on the hand if I was driving with my hand on the gear lever or a hard kick on the ankle if my left foot was resting on the clutch pedal when not changing gear! This was possible because the layout of the vehicle had all the controls and most of the seating accommodation forward of the front axle so there was no transmission tunnel. The qualified observer/ instructor/ passenger could not however reach the handbrake to use in emergency as it was positioned well down to the drivers right side.

I was pushed to apply for my driving test as soon as possible and, of course, I did as I was told. I took the test after about three months of driving and was comparatively confident of success. However when I sat in the vehicle, the company pickup, with the examiner alongside me my legs began to shake uncontrollably. This is not just a figure of speech, ‘shaking like a leaf’ does no justice to the situation.

Once on the road, I was feeling a little bit more confident and the actual driving felt good. It started to go wrong when I was given the signal to perform an emergency stop. I had not practiced this and was only told one thing, ‘all anchors on including the handbrake’. Anyone who has attempted a handbrake turn will have a rough idea of what happened. Fortunately we were travelling straight on a straight, wide road and although the pickup rear axle swerved, skidding to the right, there was no major problem. Of course to operate the handbrake I had to take my right hand from the steering wheel. Not recommended particularly when performing an emergency stop. The tester questioned me about the tactic and I confessed to be simply doing what I had been told to do. No more comment at that time.

Later on the test I was asked to do a right reverse into a junction that was pointed out to me. I moved safely to the right side of the road and as I came level with the target road, pointed out to the tester that there was a post box that affected my vision at the junction. He asked me to move to the next road on the right and again, as I came level with the road, I noticed a group of young children playing where I was to reverse. I explained again to the tester who instructed me to move onto the next entrance. This time there was no problem and I executed the procedure without problem. The tester congratulated me on taking the right decisions but unfortunately, at the end of the test, he informed me that I had not achieved the required standard citing the technical error at the emergency stop as the chief reason.

It was no fun going back to work with a failure. Most of my workmates passed first time and one individual had passed his test before lunch on his seventeenth birthday!

I applied to resit as soon as possible and passed next time with no problem other than the change of test vehicle on the morning of the test. The pickup was required for work purposes and with suitable apologies, the works manager passed me his company car keys and that was that. It was a much more comfortable vehicle and being a Hillman Minx was very familiar to me. I had had my licence for only six months so I was happy!

So I passed and the next day, I was the ‘instructor’ accompanying one of my more junior workmates who had recently acquired his provisional licence.

Among the highlights of driving opportunities, particularly for those not entitled to be on the road was driving around the workshop area. The company was a distributor of Renault vehicles for the Yorkshire region. This required receiving and storing a large number of cars which would be delivered regularly from the factory before being collected by other Renault dealers. So there could be about forty vehicles to be driven into the workshop, for security reasons, at the end of the day. One day, I had completed my quota and was chatting to workmates whilst some of the younger apprentices continued to finish the task. We heard a vehicle coming up the ramp to the first floor workshop, then the engine stopped, there was a short lull before a crunching scraping noise pervaded the silence. Another ,quiet period then a louder crashing noise. We ran to the top of the ramp to see Golden Wonder Boy standing about three-quarters of the way up the ramp with a car door in his hands. The rest of the car was at the bottom of the ramp, twisted around a brand new Renault chassis that was stored alongside the entrance to the ramp for want of a better spot!

The smashed car was a brand new, five miles on the clock, straight from the factory Renault 4. It was a special edition; bright yellow with pretend basket work around the lower half of the body. Golden Wonder had been driving up the ramp when it ran out of petrol, there was never large quantities in these cars from the factory. He had pulled on the handbrake to get out of the car but the handbrake was like an umbrella handle that emerged from the dashboard and simply required a little twist to release. Golden Wonder had already started to get out of the car when he accidentally caught the lever. The car started to roll down the steep ramp. the open drivers door caught on the wall alongside the ramp ripping the door off its flimsy hinges. The car continued assisted by the force of gravity until it expired against the bottom of the ramp. Golden Wonder Boy was left holding the door!

Health?

‘This blog is posted on the birthday of a beautiful young woman who was the inspiration for me to begin the journey. She inspired to the extent that I had no choice but to embark.

Thank you!’

I was born shortly before the end of World War 2 so the National Health Service was to make its’ appearance when I was approaching four years old; in July 1948.  ‘It appeared at a time when Britain saw health care as crucial to one of the “five giants” that Beveridge declared should be slain during post-war reconstruction. (want, disease, squalor, ignorance, idleness) The cataclysm of war provided an opportunity that might not have been taken in quieter times.’ http://www.nhshistory.net.  I know that I had at least a couple of hospital stays while I was living in Hunslet.  I had tonsils removed and I was hospitalised with scarlet fever. I was in hospital for about two weeks for each of these illnesses.  Nowadays, children have tonsils removed and are home usually on the same day.  Scarlet fever is something of an olden days disease being well controlled by antibiotics but I suppose these drugs were still to some extent in their infancy and being from the deprived area of Hunslet and being comparatively young, no chances were taken. Obviously, I do not know if I was in hospital as an NHS patient but I was cared for and my parents did not have the money to pay for expensive medical treatment so there must have been some financial assistance from somewhere.

Some details are missing from my memory but I know my father had a third of his stomach removed when I was a young child so he will have also been comparatively young at the time, certainly less than forty. He used to talk of having had a duodenal ulcer so if that was the reason for what was a big operation, judging by the scar he had, he certainly had a bad time. There was no ‘keyhole’ surgery at that time. I have wondered since whether there might have been some connection with war-time medications, vaccinations and the like that made his stomach vulnerable.

Looking back, I remember many cases of the failure of the pre NHS systems and I only have experience of the people who could not afford to pay for treatment.  I have no idea how people were treated before but there were many situations where elderly, war wounded or mentally ill were solely dependent upon the good will and devotion of neighbours and family members. It must be remembered that in 1948, the Second World War had only been finished three years before but the First World War left many hundreds of thousands terribly injured and they would be in their early fifties at the inception of the NHS. My grandfather was injured on the first day of the Battle of the Somme having been gassed and missing at a prior engagement and diagnosed with iron deficiency in the early stages of the conflict. In 1948 he was fifty-two years old. We would see numerous men of all ages who would be walking the streets shouting at the tops of their voices at nothing in particular and generally behaving in a desperately agitated manner. The term ‘shell shock’ was used to describe the torture those poor souls were still enduring.  Many ex soldiers struggled along with crutches and invalid carriages of all shapes and sizes.  The latter would be propelled by some form of hand or foot controlled pedals, some would be covered to give some protection from the elements.  Along with these, there were numerous, from memory, mainly men, who had legs so bowed with the result of rickets that walking was a real difficulty.

The theatre of war was not the only source of death, injury, illness and misery. Industry was not regulated or monitored even remotely as well as it is today. Engineers and other workers with missing fingers were very common. Miners suffered injuries from falling rocks, moving machinery and perhaps most insidious, coal dust. Breathing difficulties affected a huge proportion of the population of the city of Leeds and its’ industrial Goliath of a suburb, Hunslet. Many would not survive to a reasonable old age due to the inhalation of the many chemicals floating in the atmosphere and the dust pervading the grimy streets. The collieries supplied the coal, for the furnaces that produced steel, glass and the myriad of other items of engineered products issuing from the factory doors.

I think I was in my late teens before I heard the word cancer. The father of a close friend died of the disease but whether through ignorance or simply lack of exposure, at that time there did not seem to be the dread. There were plenty of other things to die of anyway.

We would see many children with problems that we rarely see these days.  Shaven heads as a lice prevention measure, leg irons to keep legs straight, often after polio attacks but mainly with vitamin deficiencies. Badly squinting eyes without the aid of correctional glasses, often, the method of correction would be to cover one eye with a sticking plaster.  I do not know whether it was successful or not. A face covered with stains of Gentian Violet was a stark indicator of the presence of impetigo or even worse, ringworm!

I know we did get some fruit as part of our diet, but there would not be the quality, range or quantity that we see today. The school milk act of 1946 ensured the supply of one-third of a pint free to all school pupils under the age of 18. I remember enjoying the milk even though in warm weather the lack of refrigeration meant the milk was not as refreshing as it might have been when it left the dairy to be deposited in the school playground.

Children would often be infected with very painful boils, particularly on the nape of the neck or other areas of friction. Possible causes were the friction caused by a shirt collar and or poor hygiene.

Many children or adults rarely visited dentists until the NHS allowed for free treatment. it was almost expected that men and women would opt to have all their teeth removed while still comparatively young.  My parents would have been little more than forty years old when they went through the ordeal.  The reason was economics. Even subsidised dental care was expensive if you had no money and time off work was not to be taken lightly in hard times. No thanks, a full set of false teeth would last a very long time and no further dental treatment required until they wore out!

Children would be given tooth braces only to correct the very worst examples of protruding teeth. Certainly no concession to cosmetic improvement. Teeth would be removed to allow for expansion or because they were badly decaying. The anaesthetic used was gas and from memory, it was awful. The patient would be expected to be nauseous and usually sick on the bus home from the clinic.

School inspections were a regular feature when a medical team might descend en masse to investigate the eyesight , oral health or simply general health.  They would also invade to administer vaccinations for the dreaded diseases of the time. I do particularly remember that polio began to feature very prominently in the news. I had a cousin and an uncle who were stricken with it. Fortunately, both escaped without the devastating consequences others suffered, although my uncle who contracted it well before the second world war was unable to join the conflict due to the effects the disease had on him. Being a deep thinker who worried within and took in everything without opening up to my parents, I believed it was only a matter of time before I would be struck down. I am sure that I was not the only one but it was a great relief when the vaccination finally became available. I also worried about the likelihood of contracting lock-jaw. Anti tetanus is now one of those immunities we take more or less for granted.

I was nine years old when my elder sister died. She contracted rheumatic fever and weakened quickly. They tried a new drug on her. This drug is still used today and rheumatic fever is rarely fatal now in the developed world. Antibiotics is generally the simple cure. She was twelve years old when she died and her death had a profound effect on me.  As I have said, I kept things buried within myself and did not talk about things.  I at nine years thought that my elder sister must always be my elder sister. Consequently, I could never get older than she was. For many years after her death I would not have been surprised had she come walking down the street and into the house.

 

Perspective

I need to put things into perspective here. The Austin/Morris Mini was introduced to the amazed British public in August 1959.  In general terms it was considered a technological marvel.  It was described as being a two box design, having a steel box for the mechanical bits and another steel box  for the passengers. It was remarkably roomy and supposedly brought motoring within the reach of everyone.

The basic mini had an engine capacity of 850cc (less than a litre) and its’ power output was about 30PS (in todays’ numbers). The car boasted a suspension system that essentially consisted of rubber blocks being sat between the body and the wheels.

The car had sliding windows with plastic locks for security. Door handles on the outside were rudimentary and there were no handles on the inside; the door was opened by pulling on a wire that was screwed onto the door at one end and attached to the sliding lock at the other. The trim on the inside of the door simply slotted against the single skin of the door but one advantage of the car was the bucket sized storage compartment at the bottom of each door and underneath the rear windows.

Looking at the dashboard, there was a single circular instrument housing that was home to the speedometer: the car was capable of about 70 miles an hour with assistance from helpful wind and road inclination. Also within this housing was the fuel gauge and two warning lights, one to tell you the battery was being charged, the other to show there was enough oil pressure to avoid catastrophic engine failure. At this stage there was no engine temperature gauge.

The headlights were activated with a simple rocker switch with a simple ignition switch placed between it and the windscreen wiper switch. There was no choice of wiper speed and there was no steering lock! If you wished to dip the headlights, which were about as powerful as a candle in the wind, the dip switch was a foot operated device attached to the floor. The direction indicator switch was on the steering column and looked very much like a fairy wand with a green plastic cap on the end that flashed when it was activated.

The floor covering was a thin rubber mat sitting directly on the steel floor, seats were very basic without any additional support or head restraints and of course no seat belts. There were no windscreen washers and there was no heater and no reversing lights!

The ultimate reward for the lucky new owner was the likelihood of the car breaking down the first time it was driven in the rain. Although rain is a popular subject for discussion amongst the British population, it obviously did not feature for the design team since the car was not prepared for it.  Rather quickly, a modification that involved attaching a board to the inside of the front grille to deflect the rain followed by the factory fitting of a rubber glove to fit over the ignition system.

So for all this, the price at the time was around £480.00! And with petrol about 22p per gallon, motoring sounds cheap! Yes? NO!

At the time an average worker would be earning around £500.00 per year. So it would take him/her about a year to earn enough to buy a car. Around 40 gallons of petrol could be bought with the weeks wage.  Today the average wage would buy around 90 gallons and the modern car would travel about 50% further than the older equivalent!

The average annual salary today of around £25 000 would buy a Mini John Cooper Works Coupe. This car would take you that further 50% per gallon of fuel, and having about six times as much power would be capable of twice the top speed.  It is filled with all the modern safety devices such as air bags, anti skid devices along with braking and steering systems that do not compare with the 1959 version.  The standard of comfort is also incomparable with proper thick carpets, leather seats that are shaped to the human frame and glass designed to reduce glare. Windows are electrically operated but you do not need to open them to cool down since a sophisticated climate control system is installed. The Hi Fi system is about as good as you can get. I could go on ad infinitum but it is obvious there is a world of difference.  Of course, you could buy a Ford Fiesta with many of the listed features and put about £10 000 in the bank!

Back to work! For some time, I was drafted by the foreman, Roddy, to assist him personally.  He would busy himself in between organising the other mechanics with work requirements and answering the telephone by addressing what he would call snag jobs. The average age of the mechanics in the car department was probably around twenty.  Most of them were still apprentices since apprenticeships lasted five years from the age of 16, so you were ‘out of your time’ on your 21st birthday. The result of this was that there was a lack of in-depth experience so while most tasks were carried out without problem, some developed into ‘snags’. Roddy was a very experience individual who was not afraid to get stuck in.

This helped me to gain experience dealing with complexities under the expert guidance of Roddy.  One such job we were working on was an influential customer who was also an acquaintance of Mr Dapper Geniality which entailed both general manager and customer breathing down our necks while the job was in progress.  The troublesome component was the carburettor and I was mainly involved in passing the required tools (I was beginning to recognise the terminology) to Roddy but I was asking questions about the job as I was doing it. Although he did not say anything at all to me at the time, Mr Dapper Geniality obviously noticed my interest as he made reference to it later to Roddy.  His suggestion was that I should be nurtured in the mysterious workings of the carburettor as a future specialism.  It turned out that Mr Dapper Geniality had himself been a carburettor specialist in the long, distant past.

Another thing that started happening was working on ‘Guvvie’ jobs. I found myself being involved in all sorts of different kinds of jobs for which there were no job cards.  Now job cards were the pieces of paper that were a record of time spent on the job along with parts and consumables the customer was expected to pay for.

I think the definition of a ‘guvvie’ job is one which is ‘tax free’. In other words jobs that the government has no knowledge of! Roddy had numerous friends and acquaintances who had cars that gave trouble at times. Roddy and I, or me under directions from Roddy would repair or service these cars and I would not be given a job card.  If consumables were needed, either Roddy would produce them like magic or I would be given a card belonging to a different vehicle. I think this must have been a lucrative element to the foremans’ job. No-one would question his integrity, especially not me, but he would make his own arrangements for charging the ‘customer’.  I never got a share of the proceeds, of course, and that would furnish him with another layer of secrecy as I could never be accused of being involved in anything.

I was given the instructions at times that if anyone asks whose vehicle it was, I was to refer them to Roddy. He was always prepared!

I was obviously to find later there was something of a culture of ‘Guvvies’ not only here but everywhere in the industry. Many mechanics use the ‘Guvvie’ system as the basic foundation to build a legitimate business.  Many have been very successful!

Sometimes, the work being done was very questionable. Cars suffered very severe rust problems. Yes they did have a ‘proper’ chassis made of comparatively thick steel but they did not have effective rust prevention either on the chassis or the rest of the body.  Water finds its’ way easily into cavities. What with engineering tolerances and sealing materials being relatively primitive compared with modern vehicles, rust was definitely a major issue.  Vehicle testing by the government did not enter the equation until 1960 and then it was for ten-year old cars.  This was reduced to seven-year old cars in 1962 and later reduced to five before finishing at the current level of three years.

There was quite a bit of leeway in the standard required and as long as the vehicle was not falling apart, it passed the test.

Roddy was involved in getting his ‘customers’ through the test. I remember being involved in a repair where there was a hole the size of a football at the junction of the rear wheel arch and the sill. As we tried to find metal suitable for welding, the hole had become bigger and bigger! Finally, having given up the search, Roddy decided to fill the hole with newspaper, cover the paper with a layer of cardboard and paint it with underseal (a bituminous material used for protecting metal from the elements).

Underseal was applied in minimal quantities in some key areas of the vehicle body. Customers who wanted to give their car some protection that might keep rust at bay for more than a couple of years could pay for it to be undersealed at the point of sale, once it had been on the road it was largely a waste of time.  As explained above, the underseal was a bitumen based rubberised material that could be applied by brush. The youngest apprentices were chosen for the task as they were less likely to turn down the ten shilling (50p) ‘reward’ that was paid for each car completed. Ten shillings was just about a days’ pay so I for one could not afford to turn it down. Two days pay for one days work seemed fair enough to me! There was a big but though! It was a very dirty job. laid on your back trying to get a brush full of slippery rubber paint into all the nooks and crevices on those cars was difficult to say the least and impossible in many places. Fortunately, the work was unlikely to be inspected, especially by the new owner. So, much was missed!

Getting cleaned up afterwards was a nightmare. Rubber, silicon or neoprene gloves were a thing of the future. It would be up your sleeves, in your hair all over your face and some of it would set quite hard before you had a chance of removing it.  To remove it you had the choice of washing in paraffin or petrol before the final scrub with the sandy soap skin remover. Without referring to the fire risk, smoking was allowed anywhere in the workshop, Imagine the response from the Health and Safety Executive nowadays.

The ten shillings extra pay was referred to as ‘muck money’. It could just as easily be called danger money! Ironically, it was just about a waste of time. It was applied in such a haphazard manner that water crept under it and it peeled off in big lumps eventually leaving rotten metal further exposed to the elements!

Old Habits

I often wonder about life in the rows of terrace houses that housed the workers of Hunslets’ factories. At the time, many if not most would be employed as highly skilled engineers in the myriad of factories. Even if not among the ranks of skilled machine operators, they were likely to be involved in the uncomfortable and arduous if not down right dangerous support industries such as forges, glass producers, collieries or railways and the like.

Hunslet is at one end of the worlds oldest commercial railway: Middleton Railway. Coal was brought from Middleton colliery to be offloaded at the Hunslet Coal Staiths and distributed from there. There was a link to the massive goods yards at Balm Road and Stourton where my father worked for a time.  Stourton now houses a massive container base.  The railway is operated now by a dedicated group of volunteers and gives a fascinating if not awe-inspiring view into the past industrial glories of the nations past.

There were row upon row of back to back, or in the case of our house, backless, homes. The majority of these by far would open their front doors directly onto a stone flagged footpath outside and a cobbled road. Our street must have been pre-Roman since we had not been furnished with the cobbles! They would face directly onto their neighbours on the opposite side of the street and on washing day, tradition says Monday, the street would be crisscrossed with washing lines strung from side to side. The line would be supported by wooden props in the middle of the road. The occasions, extremely rare, that a vehicle came along the street would be a precursor to many groans and steely looks from the vexed housewives who would venture into the street to hold the washing up, sometimes with the help of the prop so the offending vehicle could pass through. I am sure the rent collectors or whoever else could afford road vehicles would have wished they had parked further away and walked.

I was too young at the time to recognise some of the anomalies of life in the streets. Most residents would keep them and their families as clean and tidy as was possible given the constrictions of poor utilities.  However, one thing has, for want of a better description ‘gnawed’ at me for many years. To put this in context of the times, remember this was the nineteen forties and fifties men came home expecting food to be available and after food was time to rest until the pubs would welcome them.  It was the habit of the ‘housewife’ in very many cases to throw food that was left on the plates, or excess food (not that there would be much of either) onto the cobbled street.  For many years, I thought it was a love of the wildlife that prompted this behaviour. Now I think back and remember the general squalor of the place.  There would be flocks of feral pigeons strutting all over the place taking as much food as was possible to eat without causing flight difficulties.  They of course left behind their ‘calling cards’.  But, and I rush to say, I never to my knowledge saw one, there must have been a population of rats that was fed better and were more healthy than many of their human landlords.  The opportunities for rats and other rodents to choose a well supplied existence must have been just about endless.  Beginning with the dark cellars which allowed access from house to house through all sorts of nooks and crannies, roof spaces which were elevated versions of the cellars and less likely to be disturbed by human visitors and ending with outside toilets with open access to the sewer system.

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Baths involved either the indignity of sitting in a galvanised tub in front of the fire. In the romanticised view shown on many current day television shows, the water would be brimming to overflow and topped off with another six inches of bubbles.  All the hot water available had to be heated in a kettle and,or pan on the range or the two ring gas burner so if you wanted a bath ‘today’, reality was three or four inches of tepid water and I have yet to know anyone who managed to get any kind of lather with carbolic soap.  Carbolic soap was the generic, utilitarian red block that would shatter toes if dropped.  It was used for everything from washing the floor, the people who walked on the floor and the clothes the people wore. Wash houses and baths were available for public use but not at the end of every street.

Washing in my house involved the use of a barrel-shaped, galvanised tub and a washing board, both of these items would later find imaginative use as musical instruments in the days of skiffle groups.  The clothes would be dropped into the tub and agitated with a poss, a kind of upturned sieve attached to the end of a stick which would be plunged up and down in the tub.  The washing would be lifted from the boiling water with a stick that was called a dolly and dropped into the sink for rinsing.  White clothes would be rinsed with a chemical additive that would add a blue hue, the originator of ‘the blue whitener’. The washing would be rung out, no spin drier available of course, and hung on the washing line in the street. Of course, teamwork was sometimes required for larger items such as blankets and sheets, so neighbours would be called upon to hold and twist the other end to wring the item as dry as possible! Finally, crossed fingers for no rain and the forlorn hope of no smoky fires.

Of course there were some items that needed ironing.  No electric, the iron was a lump of iron or steel that was shaped roughly the same as a modern high-tech electric one but there the similarity ends.  They did a good job, as long as it was not too hot when it was gingerly lifted off the source of external heat which could be the side of the range or the top of the gas ring.  The user had to lift the iron with a handle that was welded to the base and had no insulation to protect the hands so ironing involved using a thick cloth to wrap around the handle.  If steam was required, splashing the material with water was the only option no plastic water sprays in those days!  We still have two or three of these irons around the house, they make good door stops!

At this point I think it is time to mention the chemical works at the bottom of our street.  My most vivid recollection was to walk from the front door of my home and immediately start coughing.  There was no way to mitigate the cough, the aggravation at the back of my throat was all-powerful. Hunslet was a smoky place at the best of times, but I came to recognise that if the wispy, dark brown-yellow coloured smoke was issuing from the chemical plant, I would cough.  I would later understand that this was a by-product of the plants’ production of sulphuric acid.    Although Sulphuric acid has numerous industrial uses and was the basis for many batteries, it is a very hazardous material.  It is extremely corrosive and must be handled with care.  The HASAWA (Health and Safety ay Work Act) had not yet come into being and obviously manufacturers and employers did what they needed to do to make a profit.  That was about it! The acrid output from the many flues and chimneys was acceptable as long as people did not drop dead.  The acid was carried about on public roads in glass carbouys seated in a straw bed inside a metal cage.  If the vehicle was involved in an accident, there was a good chance of leakage. There was talk of one accident where the driver of one of these vehicles was soaked in concentrated sulphuric acid and suffered an agonising death.

At some time during the nineteen sixties, a large car dealer took over part of the Laporte site and began to park vehicles on it. Most of the vehicles were new cars awaiting sale or delivery.  After a time, it became apparent that fallout from the adjoining factory was causing major problems to the paintwork.  New cars needing paint jobs! Later, after production ceased at the plant, cars were still experiencing issues as tyres were being badly damaged by the acid content of the ground they were parked on. We were breathing in this fallout! Incidentally, it appears that the nearest the Nazi bombers came to hitting a target near my home, before I was born but while my family were resident, was a hit at the edge of the Laporte plant. I am unaware of any casualties but Hitler might have,  with better technology, inadvertently saved many Hunslet residents from lung problems!

 

 

No idea!

After my failure at everything else, it was perhaps a good thing that my options had included filling out an application for an apprenticeship in the motor industry.

I had two uncles with interest in the industry. One was a well qualified and talented baker who raced motorbikes and had extensive technical knowledge. Later, with his family, he would become part owner of a successful garage. He was a great influence on me since he lived close by and had lots of patience when answering lots of very basic questions from me. The other uncle had spent some time in Canada before being forced to return home after losing everything in catastrophic floods. He had seen enough of the burgeoning motor industry in Canada and the USA so he took a job in a garage in Leeds. He told me how he thought there was a big future for the motor industry here.

To return to the application, I took an assessment test with the Motor Agents Association who were administering the local apprenticeships. Eventually, I was called for interview where I met a very dapper genial man who was to play a bigger part in my future than I knew at the time.

I attended along with my father and was given the impression that the panel of interviewers would be allocating suitable candidates to appropriate employers. ‘Mr Dapper Geniality’ gave me one of the easiest questions imaginable to me, although the answer was not so easy to enunciate given the circumstances. He explained that I had achieved the highest mark of all the candidates and asked why I was not staying on at school to take ‘A’levels and move on to University. I now know that CVs and interviews are media for telling lies which appear to be the truth. This was my first opportunity!

Imagine! Me having dreamed all my way through grammar school having absorbed enough material to achieve a victory. However, it gave me the problem of answering a well pointed question without showing my shock while still being able to give an acceptable response.

Whether I was able to hoodwink ‘Mr Dapper Geniality’, I think not, but I told him that I wanted to take the work route and felt there was enough career prospect for me in the motor industry. I did not say, that although my results had not yet arrived, I was sure there was no possibility of the ‘A’Level route being an option for me!

So, ‘Mr Dapper Geniality’ gave me the details of the company where I was to appear for a second interview. Not one of the big dealerships that I was expecting but a medium sized garage that, at least, was on a bus route for me from home.

I realised later that this second interview was, in fact as much for me to approve the garage as for the garage to approve me. The works manager who met me was a very kind agreeable sort of man who made me feel very comfortable. I was to have a very good long term relationship with him. The only questions I asked were. What tools do I need? Answer: A pair of pliers and a screwdriver would be useful. When do I come to work? Answer: Next Monday at 8.30am. Problem: I am going on holiday next Monday for two weeks. Answer: Come on the Monday after. That was how easy it was to get a job, particularly in the motor industry.

So, mid August, one week before my sixteenth birthday, I boarded the bus with much trepidation. I was eventually to be supplied with overalls but at the moment was swathed in a pair that would have adequately covered me fifty years later but at the time contained about 40% more material than was necessary. Screwdriver and pliers along with sandwiches accompanied me in an ex War Department shoulder bag.

I duly reported to the works manager who put me in the care of a mechanic who at the time seemed a little put out at having to worry about my well being and introduction to the industry.

So my first day started with me looking at the bottom half of a pair of overalls along with some boots that stuck out from underneath a Standard 8.

Standard 8

Standard 8

Now to put things in context. In a modern garage, each mechanic has a lift, in many cases two, that lift vehicles to whatever height is comfortable to work on. There is lots of room under the car and people can work as a team without crawling on a floor that often collects drips and spills of oil, water and anything else that falls from a vehicle at various times. Lifts have built in lighting systems so visibility is excellent.

I was not in a modern garage! The car ‘we’ were working on was supported on what are known as axle stands. These raised the car about 30 centimetres from the ground and the mechanic was laid on the floor. There was no comfort trolley or board available at his time: if the floor was wet, oily or dirty, so were you!

My job was to pass tools to the hand that occasionally appeared alongside the lower half of this person who appeared to be trapped under the car. “Pass the quarter wit” would be met with consternation and “What is that?” “Pass the seven-sixteenths wit socket, ratchet and universal” left me wondering where I was going to dredge up the language that I had obviously dreamed through at school! Nowadays, tools are all simply metric and marked in millimetres indicating the distance between the flat faces of spanners or sockets. Then, we were heading towards metrication but it would not be adopted for another ten years. So we had fractions of inches: half-inch, seven sixteenths etc. that were used on american generic cars (Fords, Vauxhall- General Motors) and Whitworth that were used on older British built car (Standard, Triumph, Austin, Morris).

After about half an hour of being totally bewildered and confused, two other apprentices approached me and said I needed to go with them. Dougie and Glen it appears were old hands and knew all the ropes. They had started two weeks before; when I should have started but for my holiday. I had missed out further on my education!

Now I was to be introduced to the most important part of my new job. Making tea and collecting orders for sandwiches. These had to be present when the rest of the workshop staff arrived in the ‘canteen’ for their tea break. We started by wandering around the workshop floors. There were two levels, ground floor for commercial vehicles and first floor for cars. About twenty five people were employed in the workshops and the works offices and most would order something for their break. Bacon, sausage, eggs or any combination of same were the popular choices. The tea was made in a big electric urn, no alternative was available, no coffee (too posh), no Earl Gray (was he a general in the first world war? Definitely too posh).

At least the tour of the workshop prepared me for the uncouth nature of the business that was to shape my future. Of course the language as such was not new to me but the fluency of it certainly was. Before, foul language was something that was used to indicate foul moods or temper, now, it had a life of its’ own and generally engendered no offence whatsoever. I also found that I had a cousin working there on the commercial vehicles. Everyone called him Ginner.

At the shops, we joined the queues where all the local industry errand runners were lining up for the same menus. Running back to work was necessary so we were in place when the bell rang for pandemonium to begin. Everyone squeezed in, dived into the box of assorted sandwiches, poured themselves a cup of tea and after complaining bitterly about everything began taking the mickey out of everybody who could conceivably be a target. Especially the younger apprentices.

After break, change had to be distributed to those who did not have the correct money to begin with. There was always some criticism of the prices paid as if it was the fault of the apprentice. I can say this now, I would not have dared then. Don’t shoot the messenger! Whilst this was going on, either Dougie or Glen would be tidying the canteen and preparing for dinner. But as soon as the change had been sorted, it was time to think about the lunchtime order. Many brought sandwiches so it was not quite as hectic as morning break but still time consuming. Of course, fish and chip days were Wednesday and Friday. Then it was a different story. Various combinations of Fish, Chips, Fishcakes and Bread cakes to a total of about twenty five portions was a big order for any business and we were treated well by the shop. However it was still Monday. There was afternoon tea break although nothing like as onerous and if anyone was working overtime, they would have another break before the rest of the staff went home.

In amongst all this, I did manage to spend another hour or so becoming more and more bored looking at the legs from which strange utterances filtered.

At 5.25pm, everyone who was going home arrived at a single sink and cold water tap. The soap used was basically a form of soap paste mixed with what seemed like coarse sand. The idea was to grab a handful, rub it into your hands and the top few layers of skin came away with the dirt. The fingernails were left with a black halo.

On my way out someone asked me if I had enjoyed my first day. At home, I was asked the same question. I had no idea!

For the rest of the week, the process was the same. I don’t think ‘my mechanic spoke more than half a dozen civil words to me. To be fair, I will have been as much to blame as him. He was busy I was not.

The Standard 8 was the focus of my mechanical attention for the first week. It had been in an accident, rolled over and the body was wrecked. I became involved when the new body shell had arrived and the aim was to transfer all the mechanical and detachable body parts. It was a big and very complicated job for its’ time although nothing like as complex as a modern car. The body shell was in grey primer which did not add to the visual splendour of the surroundings. The Standard 8 was, even when compared with other bottom range cars of its’ time, very, very basic. There was no joy for me as there would have been working on a Jaguar or Aston Martin. A common phrase associated with the Standard 8 was ‘not enough power to pull the skin off a rice pudding’. Later in my career, my friends and I would have wagers when in slow moving traffic whether we were trundling behind a Standard 8 or a Ford Pop!

Anyway, I had got my hands dirty, knew how to make tea, recognised a hungry mechanic and at the end of the week collected £2 16s 6d (approximately £2.80p) for the pleasure. I was lucky, I got a rise next week to £3 1s 6d £3.05p since I passed my sixteenth birthday. Unfortunately, Glen and Dougie were products of the secondary modern system, left at fifteen and despite their superior experience and knowledge gleaned over the two weeks I had missed were stuck on the lower scale for some time to come.

At some time in this first week, ‘Mr Dapper Geniality’ ran up the stairs past me, gave a cursory glance and entered the workshop office.  He was a director and general manager of the company! Very interesting!

Genesis

I was born in Hunslet. My family, I was the second child born during the second world war, would eventually stretch to six in total. The house in Hunslet was a two roomed terrace. It had a room upstairs, the bedroom, and a room on the ground floor which was for everything else. There was, of course, a coal cellar which was used for nothing else. Mother, Dad and three of us lived here. Our youngest brother arrived after we had moved to the dizzying fresh air of Belle Isle, further south in Leeds. More of Belle Isle later, Hunslet has to make a bigger mark on this story.

The house was situated in a square of similar or worse properties. Constructed in the Victorian years it shared nothing in common with the modern concept of ‘Victorian terrace’. There certainly was nothing grand about it at all.  I recently asked an aunt of mine about it and her first words were “It was a midden!”  For the uninitiated, a midden was (or is) a crude earth filled toilet.  In this case, it was just a term to describe the general state of decay in and around the property.  Oddly, the one thing it did not have was a midden. There was a flushing toilet at the end of the street for use by everyone in the street and I suppose anyone passing through.  There are many chamber pots (gozunders) which are relics of the era and will have saved innumerable frost bitten extremities from exposure during inclement weather. Good prices can be had in antique fairs for some of these life saving, essential accessories. Fortunately, television was a thing for the future, newspapers had a very wide circulation and would invariably be recycled after being cut into manageable sizes and hung on a nail strategically placed on the back of the toilet door. Toilet tissue was also a thing of the future in Hunslet……….

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My transport circa 1948.

Back to the, relatively speaking, warmth of the house. There was one window upstairs at the front of the house and a window alongside the door at the front.

There was a stone flag floor and its’ only cover was a clip rug about six feet by four feet placed next to the hearth. A clip rug was a home-made item which consisted of a piece of hessian, or sacking, through which were pushed small pieces of material clipped from old items of clothing. The clips were knotted at one end to stop them pulling through the hessian. They could be quite attractively produced with colour patterns and were definitely better than sitting on the cold flags.

The coal fire was the only heating and there was no electricity.  Lighting was by gas with very fragile mantles to provide a minimum of diffusion. The mantles seemed to be a magnet for the Trilby hat worn by my uncle who did not see the need to remove the offending apparel before entering the house.  My dad was not amused!

There was only one water tap in the property and that was for cold water.  Any hot water had to be heated, very slowly, on the ‘cooker’. The cooker was a very simple two ring burner, no oven or grill, just two burners. Campers nowadays would regard it as a very primitive piece of apparatus! However, it did produce some good quality, nutritious home cooked meals with the assistance of the oven built at the side of the coal fire. There was no washing machine of course.  Standard issue of the time was a peggy tub and a scrubbing board.  All washing was dependent on the weather but since there was as much dirt in the air as on the floor, changing clothes was not an essential daily event.

Stepping from the front door, you were onto well worn stone flags and then the centre of the square was simply well trodden earth.  Ashes deposited from under the coal fires out of the front doors onto the earth gave it some degree of binding.  Not very suitable for road vehicles, but since milk was delivered by horse drawn carts and decanted, for want of a better word from churns into whatever vessel the customer brought, Ice cream was carried in a cool box on the front of a bicycle and most other commercial activity involved horse drawn carts.  So unusual was it to see a car that one occasion shines out to me as a beacon.  The car was driven into and parked on the square and the driver alighted and went into one of the houses.  The car was then surrounded by a small crowd of urchins gaping into the window.  Some, including me climbed onto the running board for a better look.  The result was the running board gave a creak and fell to the ground.  The urchins disappeared and I remember peaking through dirty net curtains as the driver returned. He had a very puzzled expression as he looked around the square for clues.

All my memories seem to be in varying shades of grey! Yes, my memories are often based upon the many photographs we as a family have of those times and all of them are black and white but Hunslet in those times was a morose place with very little colour piercing the smoggy gloom that resulted from the coal-fired industry that was the beating heart of the place.

That industry though was huge and magnificent and essential to the war effort and the rebuilding afterwards. The names of these manufacturing dynamos roll off the tongue.  John Fowler, Mclarens, Hunslet Engine Company, Henry Berry, Hathorn, Davey and Sulzer, Braimes, Yorkshire Copper Works and Cameron Iron Works is not a comprehensive list.  These of course were backed up in other fields of employment such as John Waddington and Alf Cooke printers along with Joshua Tetley Brewery.

The industry was not always good news, as after the second world war, other countries were in a better position to upgrade or even start again with more modern techniques and a lower paid workforce.  Most of Hunslet’s industrial past is indeed the past with very little remaining.  An early casualty of modern technology and materials was my father who was employed as a skilled man in a brush making factory.  After the war, nylon, plastics and mass production techniques rendered him and the factory where he practiced his skill redundant. One of many soldiers returning from war service to find the world was changing rapidly.