A long time ago, in a work environment far, far away….
The year was 1976. It was autumn, and I was in the second year of my apprenticeship with Post Office Telecommunications – or BT as it has now become.
The beginning of that September saw me transferred from Exchange Maintenance to the Overhead and Underground unit, or Poles and Holes as we called them. Apprentices were rotated through every specialist section of BT telecommunications, so that they are exposed to all aspects of the business.
So far, I had enjoyed working with Subsciber Installations, Planning, Exchange Construction and Exchange Mintenance. I really wasn’t looking forward to working at the industrial end of the business -especially not during the onset of winter!
On my first day of training with them, I strolled into the Telephone Engineering Centre in the sleepy West Sussex town of East Grinsead,
Opening my locker, I pulled my tool kit out, and whistling tunelessly, made my way into the restroom to grab some breakfast, and meet my mentors, before we set off into my next adventure.
I barged into the brightly lit rest room, which was noisy with laughter, and hazy with cigarette smoke. Damn – I just loved the smell of Old Holborn.
I poured myself a cup of tea from the enormous aluminium tea pot, gulping some down as I waited for my two slices of toast to pop. I had to quaff it reasonably quickly as it would have stripped the enamel from my teeth otherwise.
I used the opportunity to discretely assess my new team mates and trainers. In the far corner, sat a small and wizened man, whose leathery skin contrasted starkly with his silver-grey hair, which had been buzz cut to within 2 millimetres of his scalp.
He was chatting loudly with a man of simply enormous proportions, whose bulk leaked like decomposing blancmange into every crevice of the chair he was sitting in.
They were known to all as Laurel and Hardy. The smaller of the two was Jim Smith, and Mr. Blancmange was Bert Handy. I had heard through the grapevine, and from other apprentices, that they were both real characters, but Bert was also “A bit of a Perv.” Whether or not this would prove to be true remained to be seen.
I glanced again at the pair, and was rewarded to see Bert insert one large and grimy finger into his nostril, and enthusiastically start what looked like major excavation work. He didn’t even stop talking to Jim, who seemed oblivious of the fact that Bert was so avidly picking his nose.
So it was that I started this new and somewhat uninspiring part of my training.
My days consisted of driving out to some country lane, somewhere in the wilds of Sussex, looking for faults, or renewing spans of cable.
I had developed a simple routine to avoid the discomfort of wearing my armoured wellies all the time. I left my boots in the box section of the lorry, and simply sat on the bench, placing a foot into each wellie in turn.
The box section of the van contained all that a crew needed to perform its duties, from cables, joints, s calor gas burner, a bench with a vice and a whole spectrum of tools on racks on the inner walls.
The job was frequently a messy one, as the cables were filled with a vaseline type grease to prevent water penetrating the cable. When this was cut, or we were crimping joints together, this messy stuff would get everywhere.
The company had thoughtfully provided hand cleaner, and a couple of large pans for cleaning purposes. They were large and had a long wooden handle – for all the world like a Wok on steroids.
I had been soundly berated a few days after joining the section for preparing hot water for hand washing in the red handled pan. To be fair, I hadn’t been told otherwise.
It seems that the pan with red insulating tape wound round the handle was NOT used for hand washing, but for relieving oneself when working away from public lavatories. such as residential roads, and parts of town centres that had no public conveniences.
Everytime one of the lads needed to go, they would simply discretely climb into the back of the truck, use the red handled pan, and then empty this into the gutter, sluicing it away with water from the jerry cans on board.
So, cutting a long story short…
Once Laurel and Hardy got to know me, they used to fool around and joke.
On this particular morning, they were both very quiet, and I picked up an air of supressed anticipation.
I found out about this, when I sat dowm, popped my size nines into my wellies, stood up, and then face planted myself on the floor.
The rotten sods had screwed my wellies to the floor of the truck!
Oh, how I laughed.
Now, I am not a venegful person by any means, but my nose took a bit of damage in the incident, which caused much mirth and hilarity back at the yard. However, every dog has his day, and I planned my retaliatory mission with care.
The next day, we bumped and groaned our way into the back lanes around Hartfield, eventiually parking up not far from the place where A.A. Milne wrote the Winnie The Pooh stories.
Without delay, we set about locating the fault, and preparing the new piece of cable.
Bert straightened up, and slowly made his way back to the van, whilst Jim and I carried on crimping connectors onto the cable.
I watched as Bert climbed the steps and disappeared into the van, closing the door behind him.
I mentally counted…
“One, two three…” I reckoned it would take about six seconds. “four, five, six, seven….. ARGGGHHHH – You bastards!”
He came rocketing out of the van with the pan in his hand, slopping liquid everywhere. He bent and emptied it into the gutter, and advanced up the road in a very threatening manner.
His overalls had a horizontal wet line running across his upper thighs – in fact he appeared to be soaked in a broad stripe about two inches wide.
It’s amazing what a 1/16th drill can do if applied to a red-handled pan in a circular fashion.
Jim just looked at me. “You nutty bugger!”
Bert was still fuming by lunchtime, but I think he forgave me later, when his overalls had dried out.
There is a further episode to this ongoing battle of wits (or should I say half-wits) but that willl have to wait for another time.
What on earth possesses a man, evidently in his late fifties to wear a tassled baseball cap back to front, and wear a ripped tee shirt bearing the legend “Red Rider – Death Machine” My mind is definitely boggled. He arrived by pick up truck rather than a hog, so I was a little confused as to why a Ford Ranger could be regarded as a Death Machine.
Unless there is something I don’t know…
I was sitting at a beer-stained table at Cooks Corner, a well-known biker’s bar in Orange County, California. Sitting in front of me was a large pitcher of ice cold beer. The hubbub of conversation was frequently overwhelmed with the booming thunder of a large capacity Harley Davidson arriving, or the bellow of one accelerating hard up East Santiago Canyon Road, heading for Silverado or the Limestone Canyon National Park.
Just behind me, a simple stage had been set up under an awning upon which was a drum kit, three guitars and a keyboard. As it was a warm and sunny lunchtime, the place was filling up fast. I have never seen so many tattoos, leather waistcoats and goatee beards….and that was just the women!
The atmosphere, for a busy biker bar was relaxed and friendly, with everybody up for a good time. And the hubbub of happy conversation bubbled around the place.
As the advance guard, I had located a table capable of seating the eight people in our party, which was already occupied by a middle aged couple. Evidently, the man hadn’t been stroked by the happy stick, and neither had his wife, who bore an expression suggesting that she had just been engaged in sucking on a particularly obnoxious substance, such as a skunk dung.
“Are these seats taken?” I asked. The man stared at me vacuously, giving a shrug, so I assumed that his inability to articulate was due to him being profoundly happy for our extrovert and vociferous group to join him.
I plonked myself down, and inspected my fellow diners more closely. Both in their late forties, they had obviously embraced the West Coast Urban Designer Biker culture. He was wearing a gloss black leather peaked cap, which I imagined he borrowed, or maybe stole from one of the more flamboyant members of The Village People, and wore what looked like a Swarovski diamanté encrusted crucifix around his neck. Large? I imagine it probably weighed in the region of about a kilo!
His red leather waistcoat was adorned with patches proclaiming his membership of an absurd number of biker clubs, but the biggest patch of all was for The Laguna Hills Motorcycle club. He also had a patch with a screaming skull embroidered upon it. In other respects, from his sallow complexion to his soft, pudgy hands, he hardly looked like a biker. I expect that in reality he was a suburban architect, or ran a firm of accountants.
But then, I am a biker, and I’m a sixty year old balding flight instructor… Go figure!
His wife fared not much better and was also wearing the obligatory black leather cap, although, her’s was of a style favoured by Donny Osmond in the early 1970s. Her waistcoat was tasselled and covered in biker patches.
In the ten minutes or so that I sat there waiting for the rest of my group, they never said a single word to each other, and totally ignored me.
When my friends finally arrived after parking their bikes, they spotted me snd descended on the table in a happy chattering gaggle, with three or four conversations taking place simultaneously. I could hear Giuseppe’s strident voice loudly discussing something in Italian, with Francesca, his partner.
The rest of the group were talking animatedly about motorcycles, aeroplanes, beer and women.
The beer-stained menu was hastily passed around, and as we were all hungry, we wasted no time in placing our order at the bar. As it was fairly early, the service was relatively quick and our food order arrived quickly.
A sudden silence descended on the table as we dived in on burgers, fries, beers, and burritos. Our inadvertent companions, the odd couple, stonily sat there, still not talking, and looking disapprovingly at our group, who were clearly getting noisier in direct proportion to the food and beer that was consumed.
Seeing that my friend’s glasses were almost emptied, I wandered into the bar, and ordered a further two pitchers of ice cold Budweiser, and two Cadillac Margaritas. The cheerful young woman behind the bar smiled at me, saying how much she loved my accent, and then asked me which part of Australia I was from. I replied, dryly saying that I came from a suburb of Sydney called Earls Court.
Taking my proffered cash, she told me she would bring the beers out to our table.
Must have been my smooth-talking antipodean charm!
We finished eating, and I must say, that for a so-called “Biker Bar” the food was superb, well cooked, and full of flavour. The servings were generous, and fantastic value for money.
What a fantastic place. Everyone I met there was friendly, (although I can’t speak for our table companions, as they didnt say a word) and we were made to feel very welcome, by both the bar staff and our fellow bikers.
Everyone was there for one reason – to share good food, cold beers, great bikes and fun memories.
The linguistically-challenged bar girl came to our table, clearing plates. She was really lovely, and simply exuded happy friendliness, exchanging banter and flirting with the customers as she glided effortlessly between the tables. We left her a very generous tip.
It’s a shame I had no Aussie Dollars though…
We all relaxed now, full of lunch and beer and happy to stay in the shade as the temperature continued to rise whilst the sun crawled up the blue fabric of the sky. More and more bikes arrived, with many of the riders wearing nothing more than shorts, tee-shirts and flip flops. Many of the girls riding pillion wore bikinis and little else.
I shuddered to think of what would happen to them should they have a spill out on the highway.
I glanced at our group.
All in our fifties and sixties, we had all experienced coming off in the past and so were wearing slightly more appropriate wear, and everyone had a leather jacket, gloves, jeans and boots. Not quite what I would wear on the miserable roads of Blighty – back home I would be wearing an armoured leather jacket, armoured leather trousers, armoured boots and armoured leather gloves.
I guess that our climate, and the dreadfully congested roads mean that you have to dress like a mediaeval knight to withstand the risks.
My attention was caught by a group of pasty-faced youths in ripped jeans who were picking up guitars and obviously tuning up with a view to playing, and with unspoken agreement we all decided that now was the time to leave, whilst we still had the benefit of functional hearing.
So, having chilled for about three hours, we decided that a gentle meander through the canyons and passes in the Laguna Hills was in order, so we suited up, and rode back to Coto de Caza via the back roads, enjoying the warm wind on our faces, as we swooped along the almost empty highways that run through the valleys of the Laguna Hills.
Returning to my friend’s house, we all peeled off our leathers, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening talking, drinking and watching the sun dip slowly in the west, drowning in the waters off Laguna Beach.
On December the second last year, I left home to endure my pre dawn commute. Driving down the lane, I noticed a black Mini car parked on the grass verge outside my neighbours’ house. As I passed it, I could see that it wasn’t in bad condition, and assumed that it belonged to a visitor.
Thinking about this later, I realised that if it were one of Jim’s visitors, then they would have parked in his large forecourt, off the road, rather than untidily parked on the grass.
I continued to wonder what the true situation was, and made a mental note to chat with Jim at the weekend.
Happily, and by coincidence, my Brother and Sister in law (of Tread the Globe fame) visited during the week, and Chris wanted to test fly his new drone, in preparation of it being used on their epic Round the World journey. During his test flights, he captured a nice image of the car parked in the lane, and that photo, shown below, was dated 5th December 2019.
On Saturday morning, I spotted Jim, my neighbour, so wandered down to have a chat to him.
I asked him about the Mini car, and he told me that it was abandoned, and that he had checked with DVLA and the vehicle was untaxed, and he therefore assumed that it had been either abandoned or stolen. He had called the local council, and had reported this so that they could organise for it to be collected and disposed of.
To date the vehicle is still sitting there on the grass, and as each week passes it is subjected to further vandalism and damage; both door mirrors smashed off, and the rear wiper ripped away. It now looks very sad, and is slowly decomposing in the wind and rain.
Abandoned vehicles are a much bigger problem than I had imagined.
It appears that UK Councils spent almost a million pounds to remove the 32,000 abandoned vehicles from Britain’s highways and byways in the 2016/2017 fiscal year.
It’s alarming to find that there has been a 577% increase in the dumping of cars and vans in a four year period (2012-201).
A Freedom of Information request lodged with Britain’s 436 local authorities revealed that across the nation, 31,812 vehicles were removed and disposed of.
It is a criminal offence under Section 2 of the Refuse Disposal (Amenities) Act of 1978 to abandon a vehicle, and carries a maximum penalty of £2,500 and/or three months imprisonment.
This doesn’t seem to deter people from dumping, and the revenues raised from fines levied (when the owners may be traced) amount to £115,610 – which comes nowhere near the costs.
The authorities costs may be even higher if the abandoned car needs to be scrapped, and the shortfall in funds have to be recovered from local residents from taxation.
It seems that the highest number of reported and removed vehicles are in the South East, probably because this region is densely populated with both people and cars.
Motor insurance comparison website, Confused.com conducted some research, and this seems to suggest that the high costs associated with recovering and repairing a car have become unaffordable for some, with 23% of respondents claiming that this is the reason for dumping a vehicle. 30% of respondents dumped their car because it had broken down, and they could not afford to have it towed to a garage for repair.
7% said that they could no longer afford to run a vehicle at all.
The statistics also seem to suggest that 16% of drives who abandoned their cars did so for an average of three weeks, which suggests that these drivers are basically honest, and returned to recover the car when they could afford to do so.
Naturally there are a percentage of drivers who dump their cars because they can’t afford to pay the VED, or the insurance, and a small percentage who have stolen a car to get somewhere, and dump it when they have finished using it.
Some abandoned cars may have been used to commit crimes, and these too will be dumped at tax payers expense.
But back to my situation
It is now 28th February. 88 days since Jim reported the Mini outside his house.
I wonder how long it will take the local authority come out and move it?
Answers on a postcard…
UPDATED 02 MARCH 2020
I spotted this sign during a trip to some of the local shops…
A bit of an empty threat really. They havent been able to remove an untaxed, probably uninsured vandalised vehicle from the lane in which I live after more than ninety days, so signs threatening removal after 48 hours seem somewhat ambitious.