December 2005

DAMN SILLY THINGS

shapeimage_1-11This time of the year causes me – and I am sure many others – to look back, not just over the past year which in my case I am glad to see the back of, but somehow one is reminded of embarrassing moments, of damn silly things, by reading newspapers or listening to the radio that have happened in the course of my life so far. Maybe my recording of them belongs to the April Fool edition; indeed, by then I may well have remembered other DSTs and will let you know.

This edition’s back page recalls Merseyside in 1945 and I, too, have a recollection from that time, mine brought on by listening to a recent radio talk about the Mersey Tunnel. In the September of that year, having just left school I was making my way alone from Ireland to Croydon to start an apprenticeship. I arrived by boat in Liverpool and, having a couple of hours spare, I parked my luggage in Lime Street station, mounted my bike (a CC41 wartime Hercules, £3 1 0s.) and set out to explore. Seeing a sign to the tunnel, I headed that way, paid Id. toll and cycled in. Was there a cycle path? I didn’t see it, but the traffic was very thin (petrol rationing) and nobody shouted at me, so on I went. I then spotted just how long this tunnel was and realised that I would never make it to the other end and back in time for my train, so, right under a sign saying “No U-Turns”, I U-Turned and headed back. Out of nowhere, I heard a police car bell behind me. I was pulled over and the police officer (I decided to call him) pointed out my error and that 1 had put myself in line for a fine at the very least. Fast talking by me with a serious dose of Blarney and I was free to go. Phew!

Another DST: My name was on the front page of the local paper a couple of weeks ago, allegedly reporting ‘facts’ I had given to their newsroom when they phoned me about the history of the Red Lion in Coulsdon, which is now a heap of rubble. Despite their story, I did not tell them it had been a coaching inn for 150 years (more like 40 years while there was a turnpike road until the railways saw off that business); it was not bought by Mr. Broadway in 1928 – he already owned it and only rebuilt it then; the upstairs suite of rooms was indeed designed to be suitable for masonic meetings, but they also rapidly became the preferred site for wedding receptions, annual dinners and a weekly Saturday night hop for everyone, a real community centre for Coulsdon the like of which we no longer have. (Now, there’s a story that needs to be followed up.)

I hope I have cleared my name with The Bourne Society and the Coulsdon New Millennium Projects Group, both named in the paper, typically one of them incorrectly.

Why can’t newspapers get things right? Even Fleet Street’s Finest report a story in a way which, if you know anything about it, introduces distortions by stressing unimportant parts and ignoring the vital ones. Just suspect anything you read in them.

That’s two DSTs; there are more, for later.

The Christmas Luncheon

Well, one can hardly report on a ‘Speaker’ since we didn’t have one; instead we had the pleasure of an excellent entertainment by Jonathan Fryer who, with a long career on the stage behind him, shared his memories of time spent consorting with many well-known actors and sometimes in unlikely theatres. His introductory memory was of The Grand theatre in Croydon, which brought back fond recollection from many members; it was where he had served part of his repertory time in the early fifties, learning a part for next week’s show while performing the current one.

Today:

Liz Copeland talks of Mistletoe Magic, covering this and other yuletide plants and how to use them for our seasonal illnesses.

February 3rd:

Arundel to Amberley – an illustrated riverside walk by Peter Fernee of the Surrey Wildlife Trust. We’ve been to both the start and finish of this walk in the past, so it should be personal to us. A collection will be donated to the Surrey Wildlife Fund.

March 3rd:

Annual General Meeting. Brian is threatening to quit as Speaker Secretary. We must resolve to stop such nonsense talk.

Club News

Well that’s all over for another year. The presents have been given and received, the Christmas cards all arrived, more than I originally sent of course which meant dashing up to the pillar box with yet another two or three. That rarely happened before, so I can only put my disorganisation down to being on my own with no wife to remind me. There were those, inevitably, signed ‘Janet and John’ with no clue to who the heck they are; they have had to do without my greetings in return.

We have done a bit towards slowing the reduction of numbers in our membership, but more needs to be done if we are to remain viable. The second oldest Probus in the world going out of business? Impossible to imagine. It’s not as though we have a small cachment area and while Coulsdon is not considered to be a retirement zone like the south coast, we are not short of retired men to fill the gaps. So, chat to your neighbours and encourage them to come, if only on a trial basis. Perhaps the committee should include a ‘Membership Secretary’ to stir it up.

Leo Hermes is still running his Hospital at Home, looking after Barbara with the aid of professional lookers-after. I offered to give him a lift to this meeting but as I write he is not sure if he could make it, much as he wants to. He sends his best regards to us all.

Bryan Chilton too, sends his best wishes to us all for 2005 but, despite reporting himself as being ‘fair’, is still housebound by the wintry weather.

Tom Chapple tells me that he is keeping better than before, though he could do with some action from the NHS for his hearing aid, which broke before Christmas, was repaired and returned but needs adjustment before he can hear anything. He sends his bests to all his friends in the Club.

Alan Horwell is hoping to be able to come in February, depending on his wife’s progress in the meanwhile. She came out of hospital before Christmas and they were able to go away for a weekend, which both thoroughly enjoyed. However a recent lapse has set her back and disrupted Alan’s hopes of attending our luncheons for the time being.

This column is not intended to be a list of the halt and the lame, though it does perform that function to the best of my knowledge; it would be a better listing if you all would let me know of members who are suffering the pangs of whatever. Or, more positively, if you have good news to share with us all. This retirement lark is good for us older chaps and nice things still happen, so let me know.

Writing the above paragraph started a train of thought: what is our average age? The answer is 78.4 years and nearly all of us are in a fit state to get out and about. The biblical three-score-years-and-ten must be out of date; else, we are lucky.

As a matter of information, our total years of experience is 4,704 which, if added end to end takes us back to a time before Solomon built his temple, the bronze age was just replacing the Neolithic and, I think, we could have walked across to France for the week end, had the spirit moved us.

A happy, healthy and prosperous 2005.

Cammell Laird in the 1940s – Part 3: The Apprentice
Abstracted from the memoirs of Tony Simpson

“The apprentice may be suspended or discharged without notice for misconduct, insubordination, inattention to duties, irregularity in attendance or persistent carelessness at work.” Such were the Indenture conditions agreed between the Company and my parents before I started. I earned 14/3d per week for the first year, rising by increments to 32/9d in the fifth and final year. Holidays were 14 days off during the summer. It was impossible to live on these amounts, so I was completely dependent upon my parents. Although the regime was harsh, there was a feeling of security which does not exist now, for in those days the Unions ran the day-to-day existence of all the workers, protecting the ‘rights’ of the multiplicity of trades to a sometimes absurd degree. One deadlock that crippled the work was a dispute over who should chalk a line on steelwork. The Union, though, got me a 6d. per week rise in my first year: a whole 2p for no extra effort!

As an apprentice draughtsman, my days were mostly spent in the drawing office, if I had not been told to deliver drawings to chargehands responsible for actually building ships, a dangerous trip for me down amongst ‘them’ and away from ‘us’. For a shy, sensitive and studious boy straight out of Grammar School, this could be a shattering experience.

Even in the drawing office I was kept in my place. The first job I was given was to make a cloth tracing of a Standard Watertight Door. I lavished great care on this and after much labour I presented it to my Section Leader, who glanced at it and said he could have done a much better job using his prick dipped in ink. I had to do it twice more before getting a grudging “that will do – just.” But I adapted and learned the rules quickly. Although the journeymen made sport of apprentices, as time went on one realised that many of them were keeping a fatherly eye on one. It was possible to learn much from them and even elicit support and sympathy with the right attitude and approach, which meant not being a ‘Smart Alec’; rather, a humble attitude produced best results.

Every shell plate in a ship was different, so each had to be listed, labelled and numbered, a typical ‘apprentice’ job. I suggested once to my Section Leader that a machine could be made that would do this laborious task, which received the brief reply “You are the **** machine — get on with it.” Now, fifty years later, computers do this and more, reducing (but not completely removing) the need for an Engineer to have a good visual imagination by displaying assemblies three-dimensionally, rotating them to show any view needed.

What once required a work force of 20,000 is now reduced to 2,000. Ships are assembled under cover in giant dry dock building halls. They are ‘floated out’, not launched; much kinder to the ship’s structure and doing away with the need to carry out a launching calculation that would take weeks of work in the ‘Holy of Holies’ design office. One day, the doors to the design office were suddenly kicked open and a huge, booted, overalled deck squad charge hand threw a large roll of manilla prints into the ChiefDraughtsman’s office, with the comment “Here, build this **** lot yourself1” He marched out to a stunned silence. The Chief, a devout Christian who never swore, visibly winced, called in the draughtsman responsible; he received a severe ticking off and was made to do the drawings all over again. Guess who had to take the re-issue to the deck squad’s shack in the Yard? That’s right: first year Apprentice Simpson.

Produced and edited monthly by Ian Scales (01737 553704)
for The Coulsdon Probus Club.
Edition No 97.

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