The following is a modified extract from my forthcoming hitherto unpublished autobiographical novel “Making Connections”
Over the next few weeks, I was to work closely with Ben, learning how to fit everything from direct line phones, small private exchanges, and office extensions.
However, in line with the requirements of apprentice training, I was to move to a new duty within a few days, and would be working with another section of installing engineers.
It was a bright, sunny morning in early January, as I cycled into the yard, whistling cheerily. I had enjoyed a very drunken and debauched Christmas, culminating in me ingloriously puking my guts up in the toilet at one o’clock on Christmas morning. Needless to say, my parents were somewhat unimpressed with the conduct of their sixteen year old son.
I had risen very late on that day in order to make a very feeble and half-hearted attempt to eat some Christmas lunch. Unlike my parents, my younger brother found my delicate state very amusing, but I rose above it in a very dignified manner, and retired to my chambers as soon as I could excuse myself from the table.
I think Mum and Dad forgave my transgressions by New Year’s Day, and I subsequently launched myself enthusiastically into 1976.
The morning of the first of January dawned, and I woke to find myself in a strange room, laying on a strange sofa. Next to me was a strange woman, and by our nakedness, and the way she was draped across me, I can only assume that we had shared the New Year’s celebrations in a very favourable fashion.
I gently disengaged myself from her sleepy clutches, and pulled my jeans and sweatshirt on. After a good deal of silent searching, I finally found my beaten up old trainers in the oven. This was somewhat bemusing, as I could have sworn I left them in the fridge.
I spotted my mate, in whose parent’s home we had been partying. He was still unconscious, clutching a bucket and was semi-naked.
The lounge looked like a scene from a B-Grade zombie movie, and in the gloom, I could make out several bodies, laying in the debris of our partying. I had never seen so many empty beer cans and wine bottles. The ashtrays were overflowing, and the place would take forever to clear up.
I eased the front door open, and recoiled from the bright, crisp, sunlight of the day. Squinting, I unsteadily tottered up the garden path, trying to remember how I got here.
More importantly, where was here?
I was in a strange part of the town that I was unfamiliar with. I finally remembered that I had ridden here on my bike, and that I had dumped it in the garden shed.
I pulled the shed door open, and disentangled my bike from the couple asleep on the floor. It looked like they had both passed out whilst on the job, and I grinned, regretting to hell that I didn’t have a camera.
I did have a paintbrush though, as it was laying on the shelf, so I quietly opened a tin of paint at random, and proceeded to decorate the chap’s buttocks. He didn’t even stir. I wondered how long it would take to remove.
With a chuckle, I swung my leg over the bike, and pedaled precariously up the road, hoping to find a familiar landmark from which I could navigate back home.
Getting to a junction, I spotted a house that I recognised from my paper round many years ago. Having gained a mental fix of my position, it took me a further twenty minutes to pedal my way groggily home.
All in all, my start to 1976 had been great fun. I had enjoyed a great party, had a very good time with a not unattractive woman, and managed to cycle home without either falling off, spewing up, or being killed.
Still thinking these thoughts, I strolled into the yard office, to see Ben talking with Nick Nixon. Nick was to be my new mentor, as Ben was attending a training course at Bletchley Park. Nick was plump, tousle-haired and very loud. In my opinion, he was also a certifiable lunatic.
“What Ho!” He said, noticing me, “Grab a tea, and meet me by my van….it’s the Bedford HA parked by the bike shed”
I made a quick cup of tea, and stood by the window, idly watching the traffic meandering up and down. I smiled. I could see my old school across the road, and I smugly imagined the glum faces on the kids as they filed into their classrooms for registration. A few short months ago, that was me.
I swilled my cup out, dumping it on the draining board, and strode out to the car park, collecting my toolkit from my locker en-route.
When I got to the van, Nick was leaning against it, rolling a cigarette. “Help yourself lad” he said, throwing me a battered tobacco tin, and some green Rizla papers.
I caught them adroitly, and opened the tin, relishing the rich smell of the moist tobacco. I pulled a paper from the case, and rolled a fairly inexpert tube, and ran it across my tongue.
I was a recent newcomer to smoking, and had smoked a few Players No 6 with friends at school, but was always short of money, so was not a smoker in the true sense of the word.
Now I was earning money. £18.35 per week to be precise. After tax, this was about £14.00 a week. I gave my Mum £7.00 a week for keep, leaving me £7.00. From this, I was able to buy my lunches, and clothes, and still have enough to buy a book, or a music cassette. Beer was only 32p a pint, so I could afford to go out on a Friday night with my friends and have a very good evening.
I was also able to afford to smoke. I started off buying tailor-made cigarettes, mainly Guards or Embassy as they were cheap. However, most of the blokes at work rolled their own.
I soon came to see the logic of this. Ready-made cigarettes are treated with chemicals, and once lit, they continue to burn all the way to the filter.
As engineers, we are frequently using both hands – wiring up equipment, and building up systems. Tailor-mades tend to be wasted. Roll ups on the other hand, go out if they are not being actively smoked. So, you can Stoke up, have a couple of drags, put it in the ashtray, and continue working. Ten minutes later, you would have finished a task, and could relight the Rollie
So, now I had my own ‘baccy tin, and could roll a cigarette. Not a pretty one, but I had finally learnt the correct amount of tobacco to roll, and how tightly to roll it. Too much tobacco, and it won’t draw. Too little and it burns like a forest fire, and is done in 2 minutes. Just enough, and it’s ideal.
However, I had yet to perfect the neat cylindrical tubes that my workmates could roll, some using just one hand to do it. – whilst driving I might add!
Having rolled a ciggy each, we jumped in the van, and Nick fired up the engine, and hurtled in reverse out of the parking space. Flinging the wheel on full opposite lock, he gunned the engine, and we screamed out of the yard, accompanied by the sound of skidding wheels. I could hear equipment being thrown around in the back.
I was soon to discover that this was Nick’s normal driving style. Everything was full acceleration, and full braking.
The Bedford HA was truly gutless, and he had to really work at it to get it to 50. Ben’s Ford Escort van could run rings round it.
At this point in time, I was about to start learning to drive. I would be 17 in May, so I was observing all I could about how a car was operated. So, as Nick was driving, I was trying to anticipate his gear changes, mimicking his use of the accelerator and clutch pedals, moving my feet around in the footwell.
I had been doing this for a few days, and thought I was being discrete, until Nick yelled “Not yet, lad, I’m still accelerating”. He laughed as I squirmed with embarrassment. “When do you start learning?” “May” I responded. “Ok…….when we get on farm tracks, dirt roads and lanes and such like, you can have a go” He glanced across at me, still smiling.
We chatted amiably as he drove us to Copthorne. We were due to fit a House Exchange System 4 into some of the buildings at the Copthorne School. The job was big enough for us to be there two days in a row.
We pulled up outside the main school building, and the caretaker wandered out from the gloom to meet us.
The self contained exchange equipment was to be fitted in the cellar, with the main switchboard phone to be located in the school secretary’s office. Further extensions were to be fitted in the staff room, the kitchen, the maintenance workshop, and the caretaker’s office.
As I hadn’t attended the course for wiring up the exchange yet, Nick suggested that I run the cables to the various rooms, so I spent the next few hours running cream cabling around the building. It was undemanding work, and I had two of the runs neatly pinned to the walls by lunchtime.
Once we had wolfed down lunch, kindly provided by the school, Nick and I settled down to a post prandial cigarette. Eventually, we could avoid it no longer, so we went back to work.
I had the time-consuming job of bringing a cable to the caretakers house. This was a long run, and I needed to suspend a span of cable across the playground. I’m afraid that this took the rest of the afternoon.
Well, until half past two anyway.
We had to be back at the yard for 1500, as we both needed to do a bit of shopping. So we threw the tools into the back of the van, and went back to East Grinstead. We were coming back tomorrow anyway.
The next day, we completed the job, and were back in the yard by ten o clock. After a cup of tea, and a cigarette, Nick phoned control for our next job.
In the mid nineteen seventies, Post Office Telecommunications operated a simple work allocation system. Faults and job control was located in HQ in Tunbridge Wells, and every morning, the engineers would call in and would be given a job number and details of the nature of the work, and the tests that had been carried out. Each job was allocated a number of units.
Each unit was one man hour. So, a simple job, say, fitting a single exchange line into a suburban terraced house would probably carry 1.5 units.
Naturally, larger jobs would carry more units, so a big installation at an office could carry maybe 16 units. One man for two days, or two men for one day.
It was a simple and effective system.
On this occasion, Nick came off the phone looking glum. “It’s a biggie lad” he said, “Empty offices in Church Road. Recover a private exchange system and 18 extensions. It’s 8 units. That’s all day. You don’t count” he said.
That was true. As an unqualified apprentice, although I could assist, my labour wasn’t included in the calculations.
“Let’s go and check the job out then” he said. He dug around in his pocket, looking for his lighter. I proffered mine, a shiny new Zippo – we all used them, as they were better in outside windy conditions.
Stoking up, he wandered to the van, with me following on. We drove up through the High Street, and cruised slowly past the war memorial.
I have always loved the “top of the town” as it has a feeling of permanence, and is steeped in history, with many of the buildings going back to the Middle Ages. The old jail goes back to the early 1400s. We turned left into Church Road, and screeched to a stop outside the empty office.
We were on double yellows lines, and I mentioned it to Nick. He laughed, and said that “Happy Jack” would be ok with it, but to be on the safe side, he asked me to switch on the bar.
I looked at him blankly. “Bar?” I repeated…….
“Yes. – Bee Ay Ar. Beacon, Amber, Rotating”. Ahhh. Now I understood.
I reached back into the cab, and switched on the beacon, and could hear it’s motor grinding away on the roof.
We opened the dull red door to the old four storey building, and wandered around, looking at the wiring we would have to recover. The exchange system was downstairs in a grimy cold and damp cellar, and the last two extension phones were located in tiny offices up in the eaves.
Nick sucked his teeth, and sat down on an old box, fishing his cigarette kit out of his jacket pocket. Swiftly rolling a cigarette, he tossed it at me, and rolled another. We lit up, and after snorting twin plumes of smoke, he said
“We’ll go back to the yard, have lunch, and then come back and make a start…..if we work quickly we can get most of it completed by close of play, and just finish off tomorrow.”
So saying, we ambled back to the van, and drove back to the yard, quite slowly, as Nick was obviously preoccupied with his thoughts.
When we arrived at the yard, it was empty. We were obviously first back.
The phone was ringing as we wandered into the office. “Bet that’s control” said Nick, picking up the phone.
I lit another cigarette, and put the kettle on, knowing that a brew is by far the most important activity that a good apprentice should master.
“Well I’ll be fu*$ed!” Exclaimed Nick, putting the phone down.
“What” I asked.
He shot me a look, and waved the pink flimsy that he had jotted the next job upon under my nose.
I read it out “Supply fit and install private exchange with 18 extensions, Church Road, East Grinstead………..isn’t that where we’ve just been…..” Nick clamped his hand over my mouth “SHHHHHSH!”
He leaned towards me, quietly explaining that we had both flimsies. That means we had the decommissioning and the re installing. A total of 16 units. Two days.
Two days when we can account for our time. Yet need do nothing.
The penny dropped. I grinned. “so, what will we do tomorrow?”
“Pick you up from the end of your road at 0830. I reckon a day or two in Brighton would do us the world of good”
Let me know what you think… Is it worth me bashing out more chapters? Let me know by leaving a comment.
Those of you who are of a “certain age” may well remember the song Car 6-7, the lyrics of which tell the sad story of a taxi driver who has split up from his girlfriend, and is turning down a pick-up from control, as it’s the ex-girlfriend.
That was back in November 1978, and the old-fashioned two-way VHF radios used in taxi cabs have been largely been updated, and to a certain extent have been superseded by smart phones and booking software.
We have all become used to very sophisticated communications systems; Bluetooth earpieces and microphones, Wi-Fi internet connections, cordless phones and smart speakers such as Alexa.
Modern cars are no exceptions. My car has a Bluetooth system that will support two mobile phones; My 2013 motorcycle has the same.
Well, it was in 2017 when it rolled off the production line in Kvasiny in the Czech Republic.
But things are changing fast, and we are now moving into the world of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS).
ITS is a futuristic totally integrated transport system that uses an infrastructure of sensors, communications links, artificial intelligence and algorithms to monitor and manage traffic flow, safety and incidents. Data collected may also be used to help design safer and more efficient transport systems, which may be optimised for different conditions.
We are already using a very basic kind of ITS; We have CCTV cameras that remotely monitor our motorways and road networks. Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras that are able to identify and trackthe driving behaviour of a specific vehicle, and monitor entry and exit times of vehicles using private car parking facilities.
We have under-road systems that monitor the volume and speed of traffic – (You may have wondered about those geometric grids in each lane of the motorway placed at regular intervals?), speed-monitoring enforcement cameras mounted on overhead gantries, and Variable Message Signs (VMSs)
All of these systems will look like they came out of the stone age when compared with what’s coming very soon.
Intelligent Transport Systems combine data that comes from a variety of sources.
One of the sources of dynamic data are vehicles that are actually using the road network.
Cars have recently become a lot smarter. My ancient vehicle (4 years old) is just about capable of talking to my smart phone.
New vehicles will be able to communicate on many different levels.
Imagine, if you will, a car that is able to independently communicate with other, similarly equipped vehicles.This is the most basic system, referred to as V2V
Cars are already fitted with Autonomous Driver Assistance Systems which include obstacle detection, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning systems, and adaptive cruise control. See my previous article entitled Autonomous Vehicle Safety Devices – Do you turn YOURS off? for details.
Maybe the car ahead detects an obstacle, and applies the emergency brakes. This information in instantaneously broadcast to all following vehicles, and this in turn allows them to begin braking – before a human driver is even aware that an emergency exists.
Vehicles may also be designed to interact with the infrastructure (traffic signals, traffic density and speed monitors, road condition sensors etc). This is known as V2I.
A V2V/V2I equipped vehicle starts to lose traction on a wet road, and begins aquaplaning. A message is sent from the vehicle to other vehicles, and also to the fixed highway infrastructure. The infrastructure may then automatically activate warning signs and reduce speed limits accordingly.
This is not science fiction. This is Science Fact.
Infrastructure sensors that continually monitor the depth of water on the road surface and the road surface temperature already exist, and are integrated into the ITS.
The UK’s Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) have been operating a sophisticated network of subsurface sensors that are capable of accurately detecting overloaded Heavy Goods Vehicles. This system is known as WIMS, short for Weight In Motion Sensors. This uses induction loops and special sensors to detect the weight being carried by each axle of the truck in question. When combined with ANPR cameras, the system will identify the vehicle, and also be able to calculate whether it is overloaded, and whether it is complying with the speed limit.
Other car communications systems enable the vehicle to exchange data with the wider internet of things, and may also inter-exchange with other transport modes. This is known as Vehicle to Cloud (V2C). This would enable a vehicle to be able to communicate with trains, aircraft ships and exchange other relevant data.
Lastly, cars will also be able to communicate with pedestrians. (V2P). This would allow vehicles to update pedestrians on their status, and speed of approach. Such information could be received by the pedestrian by using a smart phone.
Cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, farm vehicles and even bicycles will all become part of a communicating interactive network, and ultimately connected to the global internet of things.
Combine the automated on-board driver assistance systems with the benefits of a smart, thinking and proactive transport network, and road safety may show some dramatic improvements.
Currently in the UK, about 40% all vehicle accidents were as a direct result on a driver “failing to see” the other vehicle.
In our brave new world, your car probably won’t let you pull out of that junction as its already identified an approaching car, assessed the risk, and calculated that there would be a collision! That’s assuming that both cars are V2V/V2I equipped.
Old duffers like me driving a 2017 model will still have to rely on the Mark I eyeball, and the basic training received nearly 45 years ago.
The old saying that the best safety device in a car was a well-trained driver may no longer be true.
Live Long and Prosper…
 MIDAS – Motorway Incident Detection and Auto-Signalling. An Induction loops system that senses a vehicles presence using magnetism.
A few days ago, I decided to have a clear up of my home office. Not an especially huge task, as the office isn’t especially huge. Being a writer and pilot, my office has been filled over the years with books. Lots of books. There are many technical ones related to the science of aviation; books on meteorology, aerodynamics, instructional techniques, instrument flight, and aircraft systems. I also have books on human factors, crew resource management, psychology, and airline economics.
The shelves are further filled with books on aviation warfare, history, and fiction covering a wide variety of subjects from science fiction to comedy.
The tops of the overcrowded bookcases are laden with aviation related objects that have sentimental attachment for me, such as the very large model of an American Airlines 767, presented to me when I was Special Services Manager for the Company at Stansted airport.
There is the large-scale model of Concorde, which I bought when the Queen of the Skies was retired in October 2003. The vintage Sailplane barograph, the steam-punk top hat.
Steampunk top hat?
Yes, you did read that correctly. I’ve been involved in amateur dramatics for virtually all of my adult life, taking many roles from an Ugly Sister in the pantomime Cinderella, to Billy Liar, and more recently the Duke in Wyrd Sisters, Terry Pratchett’s adaption of Macbeth. The play was further adapted by our Producer, and all costumes were steam punk, hence, the steam punk top hat.
Amongst the variegated items of aviation clutter, I came across a small figurine, a dumpy little effigy of a schoolmaster, complete with a mortar board and cane.
I smiled, as I was instantly catapulted back about 25 years, back to the time in which I was lecturing in Aviation Studies at East Surrey College, in Redhill, UK.
The little figurine had been shyly presented to me by a member of my class, on the final lecture prior to the end of course exams – in this case the City and Guilds technical examinations in Flight Operations and Despatch, which included modules on fuel planning, flight planning, aircraft performance and load and balance.
The students in my class that year were an eclectic bunch. Two cabin attendants, Jo and Abby, three check in agents, one aircraft engineer, a ticketing agent, a flight operations agent from a ground handling agent, all in their early thirties.
Then there was Bill.
Bill must have been in his late fifties, and collected baggage trolleys at Gatwick airport, a job that he had done for years.
Due to the relatively intense and practical nature of the course, student numbers were limited to ten, so prior to the course, I would go through the student application forms and weed out those that didn’t have the academic qualifications or vocational experience to do the course. I made a point of having a private chat with every student, to discover their motivations, aspirations, and prior experience. Almost every one of them were doing it for promotional or career advancement.
Bill quietly explained to me that he woke up one morning, and realised that he had done nothing with his life, was in a dead-end job, and at his age had no hope of doing anything better. He loved aeroplanes, and when he saw the course advertised, he applied.
He looked me in the eye, and said “I know I’m probably not good enough to get through the course, Mister Charlwood, but I would like to give it a go, if you would be willing to accept me onto the course.”
When I reviewed the applications earlier, I had read his submission, and his simple request to “give it a go”.
I had already decided that I would enrol him into my class, and would review his progress at the end of the first term.
“OK Bill,” I smiled, “Let’s see how you get on. You’re in!”
He gave me a weak smile, and thanked me profusely.
So, there we were, a few weeks later, on the first session of the 32-week course. and the room was filled with the happy buzz of expectant chatter. I looked round the class. Nine. I only had nine students. Everyone was present except Bill.
I was filled with disappointment. He had seemed so keen, but had obviously got cold feet, and decided not to attend.
I was just commencing the introduction to the course, when the door opened, and Bill appeared.
“I am so sorry I’m Late Mr. Charlwood, I got held up leaving work”
“Not a problem, Bill, take a seat, you’ve missed nothing so far. And it’s Mark, not Mr. Charlwood”
He quietly made his way to the back seats, sitting as far away as possible from the other members of the class, and pulled a notebook from a battered rucksack.
I continued with my introduction, and it wasn’t long before we were exploring the fundamentals of Flight Operations, and the basics of the multitude of things that must be done correctly and efficiently in order for just one aeroplane to take flight.
Over the weeks, I came to know and respect my class, and to enjoy their company. They came to enjoy my bad jokes and my irreverent approach to academia.
Judy, the flight operations agent was a real live wire, and having a lot of practical knowledge had already started the course with an advantage. Curious, and with a blunt approach and a sharp sense of humour, she was already showing a good understanding, but sometimes had trouble combining academic requirements with the practical exercises.
Airline flight planning and despatch was conducted predominantly with computers and there was little requirement for manually planning a flight, and I think she found learning the secrets of what the computer did in the background a bit challenging.
On the other hand, she would often ask deep questions related to why her company’s flight planning and despatch system did not precisely follow the ICAO rules or CAA requirements. This sometimes led to me doing significant amounts of digging and the calling in of numerous favours from friends and contacts across the airline.
My course required that students could completely plan a flight without the use of a computer, so I was teaching the manual way of doing everything, and this did cause a few problems for all of the class from time to time.
The weeks flew past, and everyone was making good progress, and seemed to be enjoying themselves (as I was) and nobody had dropped out. I hadn’t had to flunk anyone either, so a win-win all round. I considered this a good sign.
On the final lecture of the first term, I had set a mock exam, which was very similar to the final exam. Everyone trooped in, and there was a glum atmosphere. None of the usual light-hearted banter.
I placed a paper on each student’s desk, and gave them their instructions. I had given them an hour to complete the paper, and then they could go a grab a coffee from the cafeteria, and I would quickly mark the papers, and give them their marks and a feedback session in the second hour. I would also give them some reading to do over the half term break, and brief them on the subjects to be covered in the next term.
The room fell totally silent, and I reclined my chair, and propped my feet up on the up-turned waste bin, observing the bent heads, listening to the scratching of pencils on paper.
Jo was chewing the end of her pencil as a dog would gnaw on a bone, and Abby was writing rapidly, silently dictating her words as she wrote. Everyone was concentrating and I wondered how they would get on. One of the guys from check-in was gazing at the ceiling with rapt attention, and the other was staring out of the window. Bill was head down, writing. The aircraft engineer had phoned in sick, and the reservations agent was on a late shift. These guys could do the paper at home, and send it back to me for marking.
It was no surprise to me that Judy finished first, with fifteen minutes to go. She dropped her paper on my desk, blew me a kiss, and made her way silently from the room.
“Fifteen minutes left” I announced, and picked up her paper to review it.
I swiftly marked it. 85%. Not a bad mark, but silly mistakes. Failing to read the question is a common problem. Also, maybe a bit of rushing involved? Inaccuracies in interpreting a meteorological forecast may seem minor at college, but in real-world operations, lack of attention to detail in such things could lead to a flight encountering dangerous conditions.
At my five-minute call, the rest of the class quietly placed their completed papers on my desk, and left the room.
All except Bill, who was still head down, writing.
“Times Up” I called softly, and Bill handed me his paper, and he too silently left the room.
Opening my thermos, I poured myself a large coffee, and steadily marked the papers. I was pleased, as everyone had hit at least 80%.
Bill had scored 100% in his first test.
Fifteen minutes later, the class filed back in, this time chatting animatedly, flushed with post-test relief.
I leaned back in my chair, and informed them that they could all congratulate themselves, as everyone had achieved far more than the required 75%, and read them their marks.
I think that Judy was a little shocked that she had been beaten into second place – but not as shocked as Bill was, when he realised that he was the top of the class.
At the end of the class, I wished them all well, and told them to go away and enjoy the half term – a fortnight of not having to listen to me drone on about the black arts of meteorology or the selection of cruising flight levels. I warned them that the next term would be equally challenging, as we would be happily delving into the joys of fuel planning.
I was touched that each one of them came by my desk, and thanked me.
He was still slowly packing his books into his rucksack. I strolled over to his desk.
I grinned, and said “So, Bill, it looks like you have done very well this term. I trust that I will see you in a fortnight?”
“Mr. Charlwood” He began.
“You will always be Mr. Charlwood to me” he said quietly. “I can’t believe that I am still here. I never dreamt that I could do this. It’s been so fascinating. I will be back”
He diffidently proffered his hand, which I shook warmly.
Over the following terms, every individual confronted their own impenetrable problems. Abby had a blind spot about load and balance, Jo finally understood the difference between track and heading, and Judy had really struggled with calculating some aspects of aircraft performance.
Over the years, I have always tried to create an environment where students feel encouraged to challenge, question and share their own experiences. Within the first two classes, the ice had been broken and the students had become a group of friends, who would happily ask questions, and get involved.
Bill had developed slowly over the course. Initially, he rarely put his hand up, either to ask a question, or to answer one. By the middle of the third term he was a regular contributor to the course, and showed that he had good understanding of the topics.
In the last four weeks before the exam, I had conducted revision sessions, with some mock exams, and I was happy to see that all of the class had a reasonably good chance of passing the exam, and most would get at least 80% and be awarded a pass with credit.
Bill’s marks were excellent. He had made virtually a clean sweep in my mock exams with an average mark of 96% – enough for a Distinction.
So, provided that none of them had a serious problem, I calculated that my class would get 2 Distinctions, 6 Credits and 2 Passes. Not a bad score.
I gave the class their marks, together with some individual feedback on how they could improve, and told them that the next time I would see them would be on the day of the exam.
We then mutually decided that a trip to the Flying Scud would be in order, and the end of term celebration was a happy occasion.
Exam day finally arrived, a bright, sunny June morning, so wishing them good luck, I watched them troop into the exam room, and then wandered out to sit on the bench outside to catch up on my book, and enjoy a coffee.
One by one they came out, each one looking relieved. I asked every one of them how they felt they did, and did they feel that they were adequately prepared. I felt very relieved when they all said yes to my last question!
8 weeks later, I dropped by the college in order to open the securely sealed envelope containing their marks. I would have the pleasure of calling each one of them before sending the slips out.
It seemed that my prediction was wrong. 8 Credits and 2 Distinctions!
After making the phone calls, I smiled to myself.
I had got my students through a pretty tough course; sometimes gritting my teeth in frustration as they stumbled through the science of meteorology, or the witchcraft known as scheduled performance. The look on a confused face when understanding was finally achieved.
I was proud of all of my class. They had all done very well, and would make good progress in their chosen careers.
Except for Bill.
I regarded Bill as my true success story. He was the hero of my class, as he came onto the course with virtually no hope, and had already consigned himself to the scrap heap. I still have the hand-written letter that he sent me, thanking me for getting him through the course, and telling me that I had inspired him!
If only he knew.
It was Bill that presented me with that little figurine of a portly, moustachioed teacher – nothing like me I assure you. I heard from Bill a few years later, and he had got himself a job in Flight Operations and had reinvented himself completely.
Oh, and in the two years that I worked with him, I never did manage to break him of the habit of calling me Mister Charlwood.
So, now, I had better get back to the original task of tidying the office, which I interrupted to write this.
People of my generation grew up in 1960s Britain. They will remember many things that were unique to their age group. I well remember the Saturday morning pictures at the local cinema, free milk at school during playtime, playing football in the street and the weekly ceremony known as “Bathnight.”
In many homes, this ritual was carried out on a Saturday evening, and lots of you will remember being ushered into the bathroom by Mothers or Fathers, where the white enamel bath would be a third full of steaming water. No bubble bath, no liquid soap.
I still remember the pungent smell of Wrights Coal Tar soap, and Vosene Anti Dandruff shampoo – with which my scalp was scrubbed, despite me not having the condition,
Sinking down into the hot water would be a relief from peeling off in the cold bathroom, and most of us would splash about, soap up, wash, dip their heads in the tub, and quickly shampoo and rinse. It was a process that would probably take less than 15 minutes.
A shivering, wet kid would then climb out of the bath, to be wrapped up in a towel that was as stiff and unyielding as a plank due to it being air-dried on the washing line.
A vigorous rub dry, followed by a dusting down with Yardley’s talcum powder and that was cleaning over and done with for a week, except of course for the normal wahing of hands after using the lavatory, or before eating.
Most of the older houses on the street where I grew up only had baths. Showers were seen by many as continental indulgences. Most of the kid’s growing up in the early 1960s experience of showers was limited to those that they used in the school changing rooms for use after sports, games and gymnastics.
I seem to recall that the water from these feeble showers was only ever tepid, even in the deepest winters.
Coming back into the school after 90 minutes of playing rugby in the snow a hot shower would have been welcome.
The world changes a lot in a few decades.
In 2014 a study conducted by the University of Manchester in the UK it was revealed that only 10% of Britons took a daily bath, 50% never used a bath, choosing only to shower, and 20% only showered or bathed every four days.
Using a bath as a means for achieving cleanliness has been replaced by using a shower.
Showers have been promoted as being far more economic and eco frindly, with claims that they use much less water and energy than that required for a bath and were quicker to use.
Many people regard bathing in a tub as a relaxing activity, enabling them to unwind, maybe read a book, maybe meditate with candles, or a peaceful respite to enjoy a glass of wine, and listen to music – all activites that can’t really be undertaken in a shower – unless you like watered down vino!
Now, lets look at the realities of this.
A recent study by Unilver which manufactures Radox and Dove personal hygeine products shows a different story.
Using dedicated high-tech shower-monitoring systems backed up by user surveys, the company analysed the bathing habits of 100 families over a ten day period. The sensors recorded when the showers were activated and for how long.
For a start, the average shower is about eight minutes long!
I am in and out of the shower in about three and a half minutes. I favour the military style shower. Shower with hot water to get wet. Turn shower off and apply shampoo/body wash or soap (according to taste). Wash vigorously. Turn shower on and rinse off. Clean shower off, and dry myself with a towel. Dress, and ready to rock.
I have many fiends and family that stay with me who seem to prove the eight minute rule and in some cases double that, so this is no surprise to me.
The study reveals that an eight minute standard gravity-fed shower uses nearly as much energy and water as a bath. (62 litres or 13.64 gallons of water, compared with 80 litres – 17.6 gallons for a bath. This costs an average UK family of four about £416.00 per year (520 US $).
Using an electric power-shower for eight minutes uses up to 136 litres (30 gallons) of hot water almost the equivalent to TWO baths! This works out at £918.00 ($1147 US) per year for that happy UK average family of four.
So – this effectively demolishes the myth that showering is better for the environment than taking a bath.
The study also disproves the common argument that women and girls are unique in occupying the bathroom for long periods of time.
It appears that young males are the worst offenders for taking very long showers – with boys under the age of 12 taking around ten minutes on average to clean themselves up.
I wonder if this is a result of carrying frogs, toads, insects and other unspeakable items in their pockets?
If you assumed that it was teenage girls that hogged the bathroom, then you would be right.
Before they hit their teens, girls seem to be efficient shower-users, taking around six and a half minutes to wash.
The bad news is that by the time they metamorphose into teenagers, they will be taking nine and a half minutes in the shower – costing their parents £123.00 ($153.75 US) per year.
The ladies in our lives would appear to be the most efficient all rounders in the bathroom.
Whereas your typical bloke – me included, just showers for a sole purpose – washing, our ladies excel at multi-tasking (as usual), with many of them combining washing their hair, shaving and even cleaning their teeth!
Maybe its time to start taking shorter showers if we want to save energy?
New Year’s Day 2019 was crisp and cold; the weak sun shone out of an impossibly bright blue sky – making it an ideal morning to investigate the Phoenix Green Annual Classic Vehicle meet.
At any other time of the year, Phoenix Green in Hampshire is more of a transit village than a destination. Lying astride the main A30 trunk road, two and a half miles north east of the town of Hook, its normally just another “A” road connecting Staines-upon-Thames with Basingstoke.
All of that changes on the first of January every year.
The main focal point of the village is the Phoenix Inn, a magnificent old building, dating back to the 1700s.
It is also the ancestral home of the Vintage Sports Car Club, which was founded at the Phoenix Green Garage, and is now a veritable mecca for classic and sports car enthusiasts and the vintage motorcycle fraternity.
This is the opening event of the year for the south-east England classic vehicle community, and attracts all sorts of historic vehicles, from military trucks to vintage and veteran cars. There are normally contingents from owners’ clubs, intermingling with private owners and collectors.
The event is in no way formally organised, and exhibitors and participants just arrive in the village and find somewhere to park. There is absolutely no Police presence, and vehicles of all descriptions are parked on the hard shoulder, the central reservation and the verges, and it all appears to run safely and happily.
We arrived mid-morning, and already the pretty old village was packed with vehicles, and there was a relaxed party atmosphere, as villagers and visitors wandered up and down, admiring the beautifully restored cars and motorcycles.
The Phoenix Pub is heavily involved in supporting the event, giving over their car park for restored cars and concours motorcycles to be displayed. They were also busy refuelling the spectators and drivers alike, providing mulled wine and hot food outside, in addition to serving meals and drinks inside the pub restaurant.
Having walked up and down both sides of the road through the village, I was a little surprised to have counted five McLaren supercars, each with a price tag of at least £160,000, an absolutely pristine Aston Martin DB6 with a provenance that valued it in excess of £500,000, £60,000 worth of Series 1 Land Rover, a drool-inducing Chevrolet Corvette in searing red which would purge at least £40,000 from the bank balance, and a wonderfully restored Scammell military truck with a street value of about £25,000.
Add in about thirty classic vintage motorcycles, and variegated other marques and models spanning both the last seventy years and the Atlantic Ocean, and the investment parked up haphazardly along the main road was in excess of £1,950,000.
This event is well worth a visit – unless you happen to be a motor insurance underwriter, in which case it would be best to stay at home.
Just in case.
So, better make a note in your diary for next year!
Flying is a serious addiction. It needs feeding, and a sufferer will need to get a regular fix if he or she is to remain happy. Denying any aviator their flying fix will result in massive mood swings, irritability, loss of sense of humour, and a restlessness that is impossible to shift.
Having passed my written examinations for my ATPL in the UK, I needed to build my flying experience, and amass a considerable number of hours in a relatively short time.
Working in Flight Operations for a major British Airline, meant that I had access to heavily discounted airfares, and in some cases free tickets and as flying light aircraft in the USA was half the price of flying in the UK, it made sense to go to America.
Readers of my previous posts will know that I learned to fly in Fort Worth near Dallas, however, I wanted to do my hours building in an area where I could partake of other leisure activities when not flying.
This left me with two choices; Florida or California. I did a lot of research on the two states, and their flying schools, and decided to go to Southern California, initially to Fullerton Municipal (KFUL) and then to Long Beach (KLGB).
As I had friends in Southern California, I frequently combined flying with chilling out in either Rancho Santa Margarita or Dana Point. This naturally involved drinking beer, shooting the breeze, and in some cases, shooting firearms on a friends ranch.
Which brings me to the point of this article. There is always one person that you will meet in aviation who is a true professional and leaves a lasting and indelible impression upon you, stamping their ethos onto your soul.
I met that man in February 2002, at Long Beach Airport.
I had landed at LAX the previous afternoon and planned my stay in such a way as to maximise my flying time. I booked a hotel near Long Beach Airport and drove there from LAX so that I could be at the flying club first thing the next day.
Walking into the flying club, I chatted with the ops desk clerk and told him that I wanted to book an aeroplane and an instructor. I had decided that I would use the hours building opportunity to do the differences training onto a new aeroplane type, and I was offered a Cessna 172 Skyhawk. I was told that Harry was available and that they would ring him for me to discuss times with him.
When the call connected, I explained to Harry what I wanted to do, that I wanted to convert onto a new type and to undertake my biennial flight review.
“Sure,” he said, “The airplane is booked at 1500, for a two-hour slot. So, meet me at the club at 1430, we’ll go through the paperwork, and briefing. Then we will go and sit in the airplane for an hour, going through the drills and talking about the performance. You gotta pay for my time whatever, but you only pay for the airplane once the engine is running, so better to do the classroom stuff on the ground, then we can concentrate on having fun and flying”
Putting down the ‘phone, I smiled. Harry sounded a nice bloke. He’d saved me a good few dollars, so I decided to invest in a new checklist, a chart, and other bits and bobs in the pilot shop.
When I say bits and bobs, I mean a new Noise Cancelling Headset and a RAM mount for my GPS navigation unit.
I read the club rules, signed the books, and reviewed the departure procedures and any long term NOTAMs that would affect me the next day. I decided that I would leave the route plan up to Harry, and just see what happened.
The next morning was gloomy and foggy, typical LA Basin weather, but if it was true to form it would have burnt off by about 1400, so happy days.
I grabbed a quick hotel breakfast, and glugged back a mug of coffee, and then drove to the airport.
Parking up, I walked up the stairs to the club, grabbed another coffee, and went and sat on the balcony overlooking the ramp. On the far side of the airport, the Sheriff Department’s helicopter sat forlornly on the parking, and I could see a C-17 being towed into the McDonnell-Douglas (now Boeing) hangar.
I killed the time reading the Pilots Operating Handbook for the Cessna C172 SP Skyhawk and chatting with the other students and club pilots. After a relaxed lunch of a grilled sandwich washed down with Sprite, I went back into the ops room to meet Harry.
Harry wandered in at 1430, carrying his clipboard, headset, chart and a small case. About my height, but with at least ten years seniority on me. He had a luxuriant moustache, which emphasised his happy smile.
We shook hands, and after a few pleasantries, went down to the aircraft, where he patiently went through the controls with me, paying special attention to the fact that this was an injected engine – different to the normally aspirated models that I had flown previously.
He conducted a brief questions and answers session with me, then briefed for the departure out of Long Beach. It was as I remembered, straight out, a left turn at the Los Angeles River, and down to the Queen Mary, where we would turn south.
The route was down to San Diego via Mount Palomar. Cool. I swiftly drew lines on the chart, and calculated times and headings, corrected with a quick call to 1-800-WX-BRIEF for an en-route weather briefing.
Then it was back to the aircraft.
Harry leaned back in the right-hand seat, looked across at me, and said, “OK, It’s your airplane, I’m just here for the ride.”
So saying, he looked out of the window, as I called Long Beach ground for taxi clearance, and requested a squawk for SOCAL approach Southbound to San Diego.
I frantically scribbled the clearance down, together with the Squawk; I was surely not used to the machine-gun-fast radio in the US.
We taxied out, number two to a Douglas DC-3, and stopped at the holding point to do the vital actions and pre-flight checks.
Once the DC-3 had departed, I lined up and asked Harry if he was happy and good to go.
“I’m good” was his laconic response, and I eased the throttle to the stop, and we accelerated down the tarmac, lifting off cleanly, and climbing away into the bright sunlight.
I smiled to myself. My prediction was correct – the maritime layer had burnt off nicely, and the sky was bright blue.
I changed frequencies to SOCAL approach, and they immediately had me identified on radar and cleared me to the south as filed. Crossing the LA River – which flows through a concreted canal, I rolled into a left turn and then left again to parallel the coast, gently climbing to my planned cruise altitude.
Interestingly, the Los Angeles River has been used in several movies, with probably the most famous ones being Grease, Terminator 2 and The Dark Knight Rises.
I could see Emmy and Eva the two oil platforms out ahead near the shoreline and some large cargo ships entering the Port of Los Angeles at Long Beach.
Harry seemed quite happy with my performance so far and once I had the aircraft trimmed out for straight and level flight, Harry came to life, as if energised by a switch in the cockpit.
He asked me to demonstrate several manoeuvres and spotted a number of areas where he thought I could improve my flying. Climbing a little higher, he had me stalling in every configuration, steep turns, timed turns, slow flight and practice engine failures.
At the end of each feedback session, he would get me to repeat the manoeuvre, and if I did it to his satisfaction, he would murmur “There ya go” If not, it was more practice required.
Having performed all of this he asked me to plan a diversion to Los Alamitos Army Air Base.
This made me work hard. The grilled cheese and ham sandwich and can of Sprite I scoffed earlier was conspiring against me, aided and abetted by the turbulence. I had to be head down in order to plan the divert (No Sky Demon moving maps then!), and I was grateful that the planning didn’t take too long, as I really didn’t want to toss my cookies in the aeroplane.
I rolled the aircraft onto my calculated heading and guessed at a wind correction, and we flew inland towards Los Al, descending at a pedestrian 500 feet per minute.
Harry leaned over and stared hard at my chart and the planned diversion, and then peered at the Direction Indicator. “That oughta work,” he said softly. After a few flights with Harry, I came to recognise this as high praise.
He leaned back into his seat, idly tapping his fingers on the glareshield.
“Hey, Y’know what would be good here… You done a talkdown before?”
I had never undertaken any Precision Approach Radar approaches, even during my instrument training, so this was going to be good.
Harry then said that he would take the radios and that I should concentrate on flying the aircraft.
I continued to descend, and Harry took control briefly and told me to put the hood on.
Once I was wearing the hood, he relinquished the controls. “She’s all yours” he grinned.
For the non-flying types that may be reading this, the “hood” is a smoked plastic visor designed to prevent a pilot from looking out of the windows, thus forcing them to fly using the flight instruments as their sole source of reference to navigate and control the aircraft safely.
I was now working at the extreme boundary of my performance envelope if I am honest. I was jet-lagged, and mentally tired, bearing in mind that this was my first flight for about a month.
Listening intently to the stream of instructions from the Radar Approach controller, I was constantly adjusting the power, rate of descent and heading. We were also getting lower and lower until finally the controller called “Radar Service Terminated”
Harry flipped my visor up, and there ahead of me was the main runway of Los Alamitos right under the nose.
“Will ya look at that! That came together nicely. Now, Go Around, and take me back to Long Beach, and we will have a coffee and a chat about what we should do tomorrow.”
The rest of the flight was almost routine, and I made a standard approach to Rwy 30 and an uneventful landing.
Switching to Long Beach Ground, we were cleared back to the flying club parking and as we taxied sedately back, Harry was giving me more feedback.
Pulling onto a vacant pan, I slowed the aircraft to a halt and performed the shutdown checks.
As the propellor jerked to a stop, the cabin became almost silent. I say almost, because the whine of the gyros spooling down and the ticking of the engine cooling reminded me that I still needed to secure the aeroplane.
We both got out, unplugging our headsets, and chatting amiably in the early evening sunshine.
Popping the control locks in, and removing the key, I made a final check that the master switch was off, before slamming the door and locking it.
I swiftly snapped the tie-down chains onto the lugs under the wings and walked around the aircraft tail to help Harry.
As I approached him, he held out something to me in his hand.
I took the item; it was a C90 cassette. I must have looked at him blankly, because he clapped me on the back, saying “Its an audio cassette, feller”
He reached back into the rear seat area and pulled out a small tape recorder. He had plugged it into the intercom jack in the rear cabin, so I had a complete record of the entire flight; his training, my responses, and the Air Traffic conversations.
He did this for every student that he took on an instructional flight. He made no charge for this. Not only was he an excellent instructor, from whom I learnt so much, but he was generous of spirit, and we flew many subsequent flights, where I was to enjoy his skilled instructing and excellent sense of humour.
His comedic muscle was well-developed. I remember that a few months later, I emailed him from England before my next arrival saying I wanted to do some interesting, longer navigation exercises, and he sent me a reply by email with a number of airfields to visit, together with web-links.
The suggestions were:
Las Vegas Muni, Santa Barbara, and the Chicken Ranch in Nevada…
I duly checked the links, to discover the Chicken Ranch was a brothel with its own airstrip.
I called him from the UK to explain that I didn’t think that SWMBO would be too enamoured of me visiting the Chicken Ranch.
He was roaring with laughter, as he said that he was thankful that I didn’t want to go there because his wife would be equally unhappy.
So, we went to Santa Barbara, but that’s another story.
Sadly, my mentor, instructor and friend died when his parachute failed to open at Perris Field in Southern California in October 2008.
After all these years, I still have four of Harry’s C90 cassettes, which I need to get digitised. I am sure there is still information that I can learn from.
Blue Skies Harry.
See you at the bar in the Big Flying Club in the Sky.
In September 2005 I decided that I needed a new flying challenge. I was stale. I completed my Instrument Rating a few years prior, together with my Multi Engine Rating, and Night Rating. I needed to rejuvenate my flying mojo. To do that I required a new challenge.
I was fortunate that I had been able to put some of the more interesting types of aeroplane into my logbook since getting my licence in 1989.
Through both training schools and friends, I had been privileged to sample the delights of many different aeroplanes. Reviewing my logbooks, I see many different types, from 1930s biplanes to Modern Hot ships.
Whilst I had flown a good number of tailwheel aircraft, and had handled them, I hadn’t completed formalised differences training which is required in the United Kingdom to fly one.
The necessary training was a short course consisting of a minimum of 5 hours flying time. Naturally, this was open-ended, and the number of hours required to complete the training is dependent upon flying ability and aptitude.
I flogged round the circuit at Redhill Airfield in G-BMKB, a Piper PA-18 Super Cub under the guidance of my instructor, Jim. Jim was a highly experienced tailwheel pilot, despite him being in his early twenties.
My general handling abilites seemed to be fine. Take offs were, shall we say, interesting in the early days, but with practice I could get the tail up and correct the swing nicely.
Landings however, were a different matter. My early attempt saw the little aeroplane leap back into the air like a startled Kangaroo, or slalom left and right as I wrestled with the rudder pedals to stop it chasing its own tail.
Jim normally sorted things out, and it wasn’t long before I could land the aircraft nicely in a three point attitude. I didn’t like wheeler landings – and still don’t, but I regarded them as a necessary evil.
I see that I completed my training in the minimum hours required, and have a nice sticker in my logbook proclaiming that I was comptent to fly more interesting types.
Towards the end of August in 2007, I decided that I would invest in a group-owned aircraft. A colleague at British Airways said that he wanted to get rid of his share in a Super Cub based at Redhill, and the price was right.
On a Sunny Saturday, I arranged to meet him and he would let me fly it prior to the sale.
I arrived at Redhill to find the aircraft sitting on the ramp outside the hangar.
I was walking towards the aircraft when I received a text message telling me that the seller was delayed by half an hour and that I should “Have a poke about and see what you think”
I did just that.
I opened the window and door, and had a good nose round the cockpit, which looked well kept, clean and tidy. It also had a radio and a VOR. Luxury!
I unclipped the cowling, and took a dekko at the engine, and whilst I was peering intently into the void I heard a voice say “Good Morning, are you interested in buying a share in Betty Boo?”
He looking meaningfully at the registration – G-BTBU
“She’s known by everyone on the field as Betty Boo”
I guess he was in his early sixties, with a mop of grey hair, and oil on his hands.
After a bit of general chit chat, he finally cut to the chase, and asked me about my flying background.
“Are you a shareholder in the group?” I asked. I wasn’t about to give my background without good reason.
“Yes” he replied, “I am. Been in the group for years”
“Well, if you must know, I learned to fly as an Air Cadet about six miles from here at RAF Kenley, back in the seventies”
He fixed me with a steady look, saying “I used to instruct at Kenley in the seventies.”
“What’s your name?” I asked
“I’m Stewart Rhodes.”
“Bloody Hell!” I exclaimed. “Dusty Rhodes! You sent me solo in 1976”
I shook his hand, but I could see that he was not convinced.
Anyway, I ended up buying a share in Betty Boo, and enjoyed flying her, after I had been checked out by Dusty Rhodes.
How weird. Small world?
Yes. The same man taught me in 1976 in a Kirby Cadet MkIII glider, and then sent me off again 31 years later in my own aeroplane.
On a sunny and bright January Sunday I escorted my elderly Mother to her local church.
A confirmed Christian, my dear old Mum has been attending the same church since I was a child.
I attended this very church until I started work; I was confirmed there when I was about thirteen.
My Parents continued as paid-up practising Christians, but I lapsed over the years, perhaps because I came to realise that, in my own very humble opinion, most religions (with the exception of Buddhism) are possibly the root cause of most types of conflict – best summarised as “My God is better than your God, so I will persuade or force you to believe in My God”.
I reckon that over the centuries, this has probably caused more wars than everything else combined. So, I got heartily fed up with it and decided that whilst I do believe in a force of good and evil, I stopped subscribing to any belief system that punishes people for being human.
That’s not to say that I don’t believe in a supreme infinite being.
I don’t think for one moment, that the perfectly integrated natural world in which we live happened by some cosmic accident. That would be akin to me taking a 5000-piece jigsaw, and throwing the pieces into the air, and then have them all land in the form of a flawlessly completed puzzle.
Folks, that just ain’t gonna happen is it?
Somehow, I feel more connection these days to ancient paganism. My Great-Grandfather was a Senior Druid. The limited amount of research I have conducted into both my Great Grandfather and Druidism shows them to be cognisant and respectful of the seasons – the natural flows and rhythms of the planet. Living in harmony with nature, and looking for ways to co-exist with our fellow inhabitants of this lonely rock we call home.
I don’t go to church that much these days, mainly family “duty” missions – hatchings, matchings and despatchings.
Having said that, whenever I visit my dear old Mum on a Sunday, I willingly take her to morning service, as I know it gives her great pleasure, and that in turn makes me happy too.
I normally combine this with a pleasant and relaxed drive through the beautiful Sussex countryside, through forests and heathland, traversing the undulating folds of this green and pleasant land, passing through villages that were already old when the Doomsday Book was still in draft form.
The trip normally routes via a small farm where we stop, and collect a dozen fresh eggs from the tiny stall at the gate, leaving a couple of pounds in the honesty box.
The last port of call before home is normally into a pleasant country golf club that serves the best coffee for miles around according to Mater.
But back to the story…
Having attended Sunday school since I was old enough to walk, I have a relatively good understanding of the Christian faith and see that it gives a lot of comfort and support to a lot of people.
I, therefore, believe that I am not a total charlatan or hypocrite when I take my mother to her local church on a Sunday morning. In some respects, I find it quite cathartic.
So – coming back to 0830 on that January Sunday.
It was a beautiful, crisp, clear morning, with azure blue skies; sporadic fluffy white clouds, and a cool wind, stirring the bushes as I walked the route to the church, over paths and roads that were etched into my memory over fifty years ago.
However, the speed at which I walked them was considerably slower than way back then. Echos of my childish laughter bounce back from the weathered brick walls and moss-clad fences.
I now meander, rather than stride. Mum is now much slower since her falls and as it’s a beautiful morning, I am content to wander next to her, as she regales me with an endless stream of chatter, telling me all that has happened in her busy week.
I greatly admire my Mother. My Father was her rock, and when he passed away 8 years ago, I thought that the strain and grief would kill her as well. However, the old girl is made of much sterner stuff, and it wasn’t long before she bounced back.
However, I know the amount of grit and strength this demanded of her.
She now enjoys an active social life, working part-time in the church cafe, attending various church groups – and up until recently, driving every week to meet up with her “old ladies” (all, of whom were younger than she was!) in one of the local towns, a short drive away.
She is now a regular bus rider and travels all over the counties of Sussex and Kent to visit different towns and shopping centres. Far from becoming a hermit, I now almost have to make an appointment to see my own mother!
So, it was on this lovely day that we sat down in the small Methodist chapel, resplendent in its gleaming white paint.
I recognised many of the folk in the congregation. Some I knew from years ago; the parents of some of my contemporaries, now aged, stooped, wrinkled and infirm. Some were my age, in their late fifties or early sixties and at least one nodded to me and smiled a greeting.
I joined in the hymns – somewhat unenthusiastically I admit. I have never been a great fan of Charles Wesley, and this service merely reinforced my views that he should have been taken away and summarily pecked to death by ducks for writing such appalling dirges.
I have more affinity with the happy, loud hymns created at Gospel churches. They seem to know how to really enjoy their worship.
The service was officiated by the incumbent vicar. His sermon gave me the inspiration to write this article.
His lesson was actually quite interesting and contained one very important quote. He was referring to the offertory, and he made the statement “you are only giving back a tiny fraction of what the Lord gave you”
This fragment of his sermon stuck with me, and my thoughts kept returning to it, unbidden throughout the following weeks.
Yes, for the comparatively paltry amount of a fiver, which is what I furtively chucked into the collection plate, I have always been on the upside of the equation. I am fortunate in so many areas of my life.
I am relatively fit and whilst I am no Einstein, I do have a reasonable level of intelligence and education. I hold down a good job, and as a result, I live in a nice house in a beautiful part of Southern England, surrounded by nature and enjoy a good standard of living.
I have been so privileged, that through my accident of birth, I was born into an age of good medicine and healthcare and into a temperate and civilised country.
In addition, the country in which I live, has a decent democratic society, with a generally compassionate and caring nature.
I could have so easily been born into poverty and disease, or a totalitarian society with brutal law enforcement, where there is no such thing as individual freedom or a free media and press.
What value could be placed on these fundamental privileges?
So, yes, the old padre was correct in his sermon.
My fiver, will hopefully go to aid those so desperately in need of it; medical relief in sub-Saharan Africa? a school in the slums of Brazil? clean water in the hinterlands of Tanzania?
It matters not where it goes. I do know that it will be sent where it is needed most – and hopefully will make a difference to someone’s life.
The following is a modified extract from my forthcoming hitherto unpublished autobiographical novel “Making Connections”
It was my fourth week at work, and my first day working with the phone installation team.
It was early October in 1975, and I was enjoying my new life as a Trainee Telecommunications Apprentice with Post Office Telecommunications, now metamorphosed into BT.
Based out of my home town of East Grinstead in West Sussex, I had an easy commute and was enjoying the mid-October weather, which was mainly dry and warm.
As I was only sixteen, I was still living at home and enjoying all of the comforts that Mum and Dad provided.
Getting up on this particular sunny morning, I showered and pulled on my Levis, a check shirt, and my jacket, and rushed downstairs to greet the world.
My dear old Mum, bless her, had prepared me a bowl of cereals, and gulping this down, I gave her a perfunctory peck on the cheek, grabbing my packed lunch as I rushed for the door.
Dragging my bike up the drive, I pushed and jumped astride it, nearly knocking down the neighbour’s nineteen-year-old daughter.
“Sorry!” I yelled over my shoulder, still accelerating down the cul-de-sac. Nice looking woman. Not interested in a kid of sixteen though, which was a shame as she was really hot.
The Telephone Engineering Centre was only just down the hill, right opposite my old school, and I zoomed down, eyes watering in the slipstream, arriving there within a few short minutes.
Swooping in through the open gates of the yard, I narrowly missed becoming a bonnet ornament for a bright yellow panel van which was just pulling out. Swerving, I dodged the truck, blasting through its sooty exhaust with inches to spare.
I carelessly rammed the front wheel of the bike into the rack, and snapped the chain around the wheel, locking it to the metal.
I noticed a door was ajar at the far end of the single-storey building, so, with a little trepidation, I walked down, and cautiously pushed the door open, and walked into the dimly lit interior.
“Ah…..you must be my new Youth in Training!”
I looked over to the corner, where the owner of the voice was seated – a slender man, in his mid-forties, whose mop of black unruly hair had been mercilessly bullied into a 1950s Tony Curtis style. On his lap, he was clutching a piece of equipment, whilst tightening something within it with a large, yellow handled screwdriver.
His rumpled tweed sports jacket was distorted by objects that had been rammed carelessly into the pockets, and his grey flannel trousers hadn’t seen a proper crease since 1953.
“Hello” I ventured, “I need to report to Mr Hudson”
“You’ve come to the right place then lad, as I’m Ben Hudson”
I shook his proffered hand, “nice to meet you Mister Hudson”
“It’s Ben” he chuckled, “no formality around here…..now, would you like some tea and toast?”
“Ben” I echoed. Bloody hell, a few short weeks ago, men of his age – my teachers at school, would have gone into meltdown had I addressed them in this way.
“Come on lad”, he said, placing the grey cased equipment onto the work bench, “Let’s go and grab some breakfast, and then we’ll head out.”
The restroom was full of sound – laughter, conversations, and odours of toast, coffee and cigarette smoke.
I followed Ben as he pushed his way to the kitchen counter, whereupon he dropped two slices of bread into the toaster.
Two minutes later, he passed me a plate with 2 slices of toast. “Butter is in the dish. We operate a tea swindle here which is 25p a week to cover tea, milk, bread and butter. Anything else you want, you buy yourself. You want to join, go and see Mitch, and he’ll put you on the list. Now, eat up because we have to get going.” So saying, he sluiced his plate under the tap and wandered out with his hands jammed into his pockets.
I hurriedly wolfed down the toast, and drunk the tea, (which I had to do really quickly to prevent the tannin from stripping the enamel from my teeth), then scurried after Ben, who was by now loading the back of his bright yellow Morris Ital van with plastic-wrapped phones, and cardboard boxes containing mysterious bits of equipment.
We got in, slamming the doors shut, and Ben drove us sedately out of the yard.
We meandered serenely through the sun-dappled lanes of West Sussex, the sleepy villages etching their historic lanes into my mind; Sharpthorne, West Hoathly, Danehill, Horsted Keynes, finally arriving in the small village of Scaynes Hill.
We parked up outside an elegant 17th century Manor House, with timber beams, and a patina of age on the whitewashed walls.
Grabbing a shrunk-wrapped telephone, a reel of cream cable and his leather tool bag from the back of the van, I followed Ben as we crunched our way up the gravel drive, with me clutching my small, virginal zip-up tool bag.
Knocking on the door, we stood in the porch, admiring the Elizabethan garden, resplendent in its autumnal colours. I idly wondered if they had a gardener.
At that moment the door was opened, revealing an elegant and stunningly attractive woman in her early thirties.
My eyes were immediately drawn to her magnificent breasts, snugly contained in a tight angora wool jumper.
My interest in her vaporised instantly as she spoke, haughtily, and with the arrogance that only the nouveau riche seems to have.
“I suppose you’re here to fit the phone….”
Ben glanced at me and agreed. “Maybe you can show us where you want it fitted? He asked.
She about turned, and strode off down the wood-panelled hall, nonchalantly indicating an open door on the left. “In there, on the window cill” she called without even giving us a further glance. I furtively watched her neat backside, as she sashayed off down the corridor.
We walked into the indicated room, which was bright, empty and airy, with a wood parquet floor. Ben smiled at me, and dumped his battered Gladstone bag on the floor, and tore open the cellophane packaging from the phone. Reaching into his bag, he tossed me the reel of cable and a small box of cleats.
Selecting a pin hammer from his bag, he explained to me “Secure the cable to the skirting board, using one cleat every pin hammer length. Put one cleat two inches from every corner you need to go around. Don’t nail through the cable. Got that?” I nodded. He continued “I’ll start in the hall. You do the room here. Leave me three foot of cable to hook the connector block to”
I gingerly unrolled a length of the cable, and commenced banging cleats in at the required spacing, managing to belt my thumb at least twice. I could hear the rhythmic thumping as Ben was cleating the cable to the skirting of the hall. He was moving at about three times my speed, so it wasn’t long before he appeared in the room with me.
He knelt down and started cleating as well. “Bit of a dry visit, this one” he murmured. “Snooty cow didn’t even offer us a tea” I grunted my response, and turned to see a small child, emptying the box of cleats over the floor.
Ben called through the open doorway to the boy’s mother, asking her to take him out of the room, as he was in danger of hurting himself.
She strode in, sweeping the child into her arms, and glared at us both as if it were our fault, before strutting out.
We turned back to our work, and I started hammering again. As I reached out to get another cleat, my hand struck something warm and wet. I looked around, and saw a Pekingese dog, snouting around in the cleat box.
I pushed it away, and it immediately nosed forwards and recommenced its snuffling. Ben also pushed it away, with the same result. He pushed it away – more firmly this time, but it was to no avail.
“Excuse me lady” he shouted down the corridor “Could you come and get your dog, it’s in the way”
There was no response from within the bowels of the house, so he called out again. Silence.
Heaving a sigh, he knelt back down, and once again started pushing the dog out of the way.
Each time it happened, he pushed the animal away more forcefully. I could see him beginning to lose his placid sense of humour. I smirked. It seemed that the dog wasn’t interested in me, so I knelt back down, and carried on bashing my thumb with the pin hammer.
I could hear Ben swearing at the dog, as once more it was interfering with his work. “Will you sod off!” I heard him exclaim. The dog didn’t sod off though, and it continued to push its nose just where Ben wanted to hammer.
I watched as this happened once more, and laughed as Ben finally lost control. He pushed the dog back, and as it advanced again, he tapped it smartly on the forehead, between the eyes, “for the last time, WILL YOU SOD OFF!”
The dog stopped in its tracks, froze, and rolled onto its back, quivered once, and then flopped over, immobile.
I looked at the dog. It’s chest wasn’t moving. “Christ Ben!” I exclaimed. “You’ve killed it!”
Ben looked shocked. “Nah. I probably stunned it. It’ll be ok in a minute”. I wasn’t sharing his optimism. The dog was dead. To make sure, I cocked my ear over its snout, and could detect no breathing.
“Ben……it’s definitely dead! Christ. What shall we do?”
My brain was already playing a film clip, featuring me getting the sack from an incandescently enraged manager.
“Don’t worry lad” said Ben, perking up. “I’ve got an idea”
He picked up the dead dog, slung it unceremoniously into his Gladstone bag, secured it closed, and said “follow me, and keep your mouth shut”
He yelled into the kitchen “Sorry love, we have to go back to the yard to get a tool. We will be back shortly”
A garbled response from the kitchen confirmed that she heartily disliked The GPO in general, and the Telecommunications division in particular, and bemoaning the quality of British working practices.
If only she knew.
We chucked Ben’s bag into the van, and we hurtled back to the yard in silence.
As we pulled into the yard. I asked “what tools do we need?”
Ben grinned, and said “A shovel lad”
Opening the back of his van, he passed me a large spade, and indicating the scrubby patch of woodland at the rear of the offices, he said. “Bury it”
“Bury it. Over there. Dig down two feet. Come on, hurry up. We need to get back. Consider it part of your training. Thinking on your feet!”
I miserably picked up the dog, which had already started stiffening up. I pushed my way into the bushes, and dug a hole, into which I placed it’s little corpse. I quickly shoveled the earth over it, and replaced the spade in the van.
Having completed my funereal task. We drove back to the customer’s house, and went back to wiring up the phone.
As we were finishing up, the woman came in, and cast her eye over our handiwork. “Does it work?” She asked, as if already convinced that it would be a major achievement if it did.
“Of course” replied Ben, as he nonchalantly started loading his tools back into his bag.
“Have you seen Lionel?” She asked
“Lionel?” We obviously both looked like drooling morons, as she explained to us slowly, enunciating each word slowly and precisely, as if to a six year old, that Lionel was her dog.
Ben furtively glanced at me, but we both shook our heads, as Ben innocently said “No, Madam, we haven’t seen a dog”
“Oh dear. I expected he got out when you went back to the yard. He’s probably in the woods by now”
“Without a doubt” I said, straight faced, looking at Ben. I could see he was trying very hard not to laugh.
“Yes, he likes to dig…..probably burrowing for rabbits”
“Oh yes…..I imagine He’s up to his neck in the mud” I said.
Ben had gone a strange colour, and was emitting constricted noises. I shuffled my feet, and said “Well…..cheerio then”
“Yes” she said, icily. “Goodbye”
She ushered us to the door, and with one final appreciative look at her wonderful chest, we were striding back down the drive to the van.
As we got into the van, Ben finally collapsed against the steering wheel, great guffaws of laughter filling the van.
“Oh my lord…..that was funny in an awful sort of way. Well done lad”. He wiped a tear from his cheek, and started the van, and we made our way back to the telephone exchange at Nutley for a cuppa and a bun.
And so ended my first day as an apprentice installing telephones in Sussex.