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I begin this page with a picture of Glastonbury Tor which is a well known landmark in Somerset. It was not the county of my birth which was Warwickshire but it was where my parents moved to when I was a young lad and where I spent my formative years. Street, a town in the shadow of the Tor, was where I obtained my first proper job after leaving Ellermans
Glastonbury Tor is the highest hill for miles around, rising from the Somerset Levels with the remaining tower of a medieval church on the top.
The Tor has a series of terraces carved around it which are thought to date from 5000 years ago when Stonehenge was built but it is also known for its ancient abbey ruins and the 'Glastonbury Thorn'. Legend has it Joseph of Aramathea, who was supposed to be the man who buried Jesus, brought the young Jesus with him to Britain and planted his walking staff in the earth here which grew into a thorn tree.
The monks of Glastonbury Abbey promulgated the legend of Joseph as a missionary, bringing the word of Christ to Britain as it boosted their income from pilgrims. Joseph was also credited with bringing to Britain the Holy Grail which was supposed to be some sort of object that had miraculous holy powers. All abject rubbish of course as the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail clearly demonstrated!
Legend also has it that King Arthur, along with his wife Guinevere were buried in the grounds of the abbey. Most people today probably associate the town with Glastonbury Festival of Pop music.
The poem 'Jerusalem' by William Blake, set to music by Sir Hubert Parry begins 'And did those feet in ancient times, walk upon England's mountains green'. The mountains green to which Blake refers could have been the Tor.
Finding a new Career
I had resigned from Ellermans, the Shipping Line I completed by Marine Engineers Cadetship with after an argument with my superintendent engineer. Back in Somerset jobs for ex Marine Engineers were in short supply.
I applied for a position at Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station a few miles from where we lived. I discovered that even lowly plant operators were being filled by marine engineers with extra chief engineers qualifications so what chance had I!
I noticed an advertisement in the local press for Work Study Engineers with Clarke's Shoe factory in Street. Clarke's had factories all over Somerset and the job included full training.
I did not have the first clue what a work study engineer did but discovered he devised the most efficient way to complete a task, dividing it into elements, estimating how hard someone was working while timing those elements and agreeing with the management, worker and union on a the time paid for the task.
It was incredibly boring after marine engineering and they eventually fired me because I was obviously no good at the job.
I then found a job with the Somerset River Board (SRB) as a plant fitter. I cruised round in a Land Rover maintaining the Ruston Bucyrus grab lines and diesel pumping stations scattered around the county.
On one occasion I met up with Ruston service engineer who was an ex marine engineer and asked him how he acquired his job. He told me he wrote a letter to every UK engine builder and found a position with Ruston Hornsby.
Shortly after the SRB decided they had to reduce staff numbers, last in first out, so I was once again unemployed. My father managed to get me a job at Crypton's where he worked assembling transformers. They manufactured automotive testing equipment and I was given a job operating a large centre lathe machining parts for dynamometers. I wasn't very good at that job either but stuck at it.
Meanwhile I was writing to loads of engine companies as I had decided it was time I got started in a different career and chose to pursue the commercial side of engineering.
There was a TV soap on at the time called The Planemakers about people who travelled around the world selling aircraft and this appealed to me except I know nothing about aircraft but I did know a lot about marine diesel engines.
Motorcycling, Scouting and Caving
While all this job hunting and employment failure was going on I was earning good money just the same and invested in a new motorbike, a 650cc Triumph Tiger 110. I joined the Bridgwater branch of the Triumph Owners Motorcycle Club and eventually became its secretary.
I was taking my father to work one winters morning when we hit black ice and my Dad beat me by a short head into Bridgwater sustaining painful injuries in the process. I decided to fit a Steib sports sidecar to the bike and collected my new gleaming Combination from Jim Alves shop in Street.
Jim asked me to go to his shop in Wells to pick up an insurance cover note but I only got as far as Tin Bridge when I failed to negotiate a left hand bend, hit a Fort Eight van head on, left my boots on the foot rests and double somersaulted over the van to land on the road in my stockinged feet.
A passing motorist asked if he could help and I asked him to drop in and tell Jim Alves to come and pick up the pieces. Jim arrived in his Mini Cooper with a trailer and loaded the combo which was half its original length then ran me home. Jim Alves was a well known Scrambles rider and the experience of the Mini Cooper ride home was more frightening than the crash!
The combo was repaired and I sent my Dad to get it as I did not trust myself to maneuver around left hand bends but was an art I eventually mastered and could eventually ride along with the sidecar wheel in the air.
The above photo shows the problem of left hand bends with a combo. I was trying to negotiate a LH bend with a powerful bike and a very light empty sidecar. You have to get your speed just right as you enter the bend. The technique then is to drive the bike round the sidecar but the faster you go you begin to overturn and when you then brake the sidecar goes round the bike and forces you to the other side of the road. Unfortunately in my case there was van in the way when I lost it.
I was prosecuted for driving without due care and attention. I argued in court that my driving had my full care and attention and tried to explain the reasons for the accident but failed to penetrate the lady magistrates grey matter and the bastards fined me.
I went out to practice with my Dad in the sidecar and the first LH bend we came to I did the same thing again and ended up on the grass verge on the wrong side of the road but this time I didn't demolish a van!
I used to be a keen scout. My old scoutmaster Skipper Green had become district commissioner and had heard I was back in Somerset. He asked me if I would be prepared to take out a warrant to run a new troop he was forming called Quantock Seniors and I agreed.
We used to meet each week and discuss activities we might try like canoeing and rock climbing which we did then one week someone suggested caving and knew of a guy called Martin Mills who was a caving instructor. To cut a long story short I became an instructor as well with the Somerset Scout Caving Group.
The group was formed because every other weekend scouts were being rescued from caves by the Mendip Rescue Organisation (MRO) who were going underground without the correct equipment or experience and getting themselves into difficulties.
When I began the instructors course with several others we were based at the scout hut in Wells (the city where the film Hot Fuzz was shot) and food was provided by the local Girl Guide Rangers. I struck up a friendship with one of them, Elizabeth (Liz) Worley, who lived in Wells, called me 'Mr Dibbles' and we became very close to the extent we both thought we would end up married.
We were never intimate, not that the urge was missing and Liz was certainly a maiden to put it politely but I was somehow loathe to take her virginity. I perhaps had that old fashioned idea that we should wait until we were married. Rudyard Kipling describes the feeling in his poem 'The Ladies':
|Then I come 'ome in a trooper,|
'Long of a kid o' sixteen --
|'Girl from a convent at Meerut,|
The straightest I ever 'ave seen.
|Love at first sight was 'er trouble,|
She didn't know what it were;
|An' I wouldn't do such, 'cause I liked 'er too much,|
But -- I learned about women from 'er!
If you would like to read the whole poem you can find it here.
Liz received an invitation to go and live for a time
with relations in South Africa but she was reluctant to take up the offer as she didn't want to leave me. I told her that I had been all over the world when I was at sea and this was a good opportunity for her to see another country before she settled down. I did say I would be faithful and wait for her return but made her promise that even if she decided to end our love affair she would return first to confront me.
Because I was so certain that Liz was the one I would eventually marry it was due to her that spurred me on to do something to improve my prospects and pursue a new career so I could support a wife, beginning to write those application letters to engine companies with an eventual good result.
I drove Liz and her Mum to Heathrow to see her off and there were many tears and doubts from her that she was doing the right thing. On reflection I should have said "will you marry me and stay here" but I didn't and instead encouraged her to go.
I get a new Job
I was given an interview with the Managing Director of Lister Blacksone Marine, Maurice Robinson, in the market town of Dursley in the adjacent county of Gloucester to the North of Somerset.
He asked me what my ambition was and I told him I would like to get involved in selling engines. Mr Robinson told me that there would be such opportunities in the future but I first had a few years of training to undergo in Lister Blackstone marine engines, installations and applications.
I would first attend the Dursley service school where I would strip every engine they manufactured down to the last nut and bolt, rebuild and run them on test. Next I would go into the different factories and work in the assembly and test departments. This would be followed by some time out of Dursley as a service engineer before finally coming into the estimating and contracts office.
And so I accepted the position staying in lodgings in Dursley during the week and travelling down to Mendip at the weekend staying at my Shepton Mallet Caving Club (SMCC) hut on the Mendip Hills where I had become a member.
Working down in the factory was certainly a new experience. R.A. Lister and Company was run by three brothers. Sir Percy Lister was the managing director and the sales director, Frank was the works manager and Robert was the money man. There was also an Ashton Cecil Lister who had responsibility for marine engines.
R.A Lister bought Blackstone and Co back in 1937 located in Stamford, Lincolnshire and formed Lister Blackstone but when you went there they still insisted it was a Blackstone engine and nothing to do with Listers. Indeed only the marine engines had Lister Blackstone on the side.
Hawker Siddely bought the company in 1965 and merged Listers with Petter and Blackstone's with Mirrless so goodness knows what they thought of that.
Frank Lister ruled the Dursley factory with a rod of iron and for some reason he would not allow smoking on works premises. A public road ran through the factory site and Frank once caught a man in a blue boiler suit smoking. He fired him on the spot and took him in to the office saying "give this man his cards and pay him what we owe him" They could find no record of the man and he eventually confessed he worked for British Rail!
Frank turned a blind eye to employees smoking in the toilets. If you went in there to do something that toilets were meant for you would find every stall full of about 5 men puffing away and nowhere to sit down.
We used to marinise an engine called the TS3 which was a three cylinder horizontal opposed piston two stroke. It was an automotive engine fitted in Commer trucks which sounded like F1 cars. I think we could get it to develop over 200bhp on the test bed and Sir Tommy Sopwith won the Cowes to Torquay powerboat diesel class race when he had three of them fitted in his boat. We derated the engine for marine use but he persuaded us to open the fuel rack to maximum at his risk which won him the race.
The TS3 engine did have a tendency to 'run away' or overspeed on the test bed sometimes when we would all run away until it expelled pistons in all directions and destroyed itself.
My favourite jobs while on service was going down to those little Devon fishing villages and servicing their engines. We would go out to sea to test the engine and catch a few mackerel afterwards. As I usually stayed overnight with the fisherman, his wife would cook the fish for breakfast. Loverly!
I fell out with the marine service manager when I was sent to a ship in Avonmouth which had a Blackstone generator with a crankpin that had worn oval. He told me to scrape a new bearing in and I told him he was talking rubbish and the pin had to be reground. I was moved into the estimating office soon after.
Stan Munn was the estimating manager and Andy Wilkie and myself were two of the estimating engineers. Our job was to make quotations for engines to agents all over the world and we also estimated the cost of auxiliary sets consisting of engines driving generators, compressors and pumps etc on one bedplate. Years later I met Andy again when he became superintendent engineer of Seaforth Maritime in Aberdeen and used to give me lots of orders!
Soon after I began working for Listers I received a 'dear John' letter from Liz in South Africa which said she had met someone else and would like to break off our relationship. I wrote reminding her of her promise to return but to no avail and was heartbroken at the news.
Then I met a Bridgwater girl on the rebound called Judith Nicholls who was always known as Nicky and still is. We began a long affair.
The SMCC had been doing a lot of exploration in Yugoslavia and I suggest she and I have a holiday there. The only problem was getting there as my old Ford banger was not suitable or reliable enough. I found a Land Rover for sale but could not afford it so Nicky asked her Dad if he could help out which he agreed to do if he and her Mum could come with us so that is what happened.
Caving in Yugoslavia
Through SMCC contacts made with Yugoslav cavers we were able to arrange a meeting with some of them who spoke good English as my Serbo-Croat was not exceptional!
They informed us they had discovered a new cave just recently and offered to show us their discovery. We were dressed for caving and they were dressed for hiking as we crawled through a small entrance but quickly emerged into a very large passage.
As we walked along the passage I was crawling up into small side passages to see if they went anywhere as this was a newly discovered cave. I learnt that crawling was frowned upon in this club and if you couldn't stand up in a cave it was not worth bothering about.
We eventually came to a stream, well it was more of a river and they unpacked their rucksacks and pumped up inflatable dinghy's for us to paddle our way out of the cave system.
After that 'exhausting' underground adventure we all settled down in a picturesque location, food and wine were produced followed by bottles of Slivovitz which is the local plum brandy and we all proceeded to get totally rat arsed!
The rest of our caving activities were spent visiting the superb show caves in the area and these are described on another page when I visited them with my second wife Sue many years later.
I get promoted
After several months in the estimating office Stan Munn asked me to go with him to see Mr Robinson. As we walked down the corridor he must have seen the look of apprehension on my face and he told me not to worry.
Mr Robinson then informed me that John Porteus, the Scottish and Northern England sales engineer, had resigned and offered me the position with a salary of £1000 per annum (average UK salary then was £891). I was 25 years old and on a four figure salary which was considered very good indeed in 1966.
I had been to Scottish ports when I was at sea many times but knew very little of the country and just thought of it as part of the UK whose inhabitants spoke a bit different and liked to beat us at rugby and soccer.
I soon discovered how wrong I was when England won the Soccer World Cup that year and many Scots supported Germany!
Nicky and I were still an item by this time and she decided she would eventually move up to Scotland once I had settled accommodation. I knew many Scottish cavers in Edinburgh and Alan Jeffreys (known as Goon) eventually arranged for me to stay in George Alden's flat in Gilmour Place.
A date was fixed for me to take over as the Lister Blackstone representative. I would spend several weeks with John Porteus travelling round the very large area and given a company car which in those days was a Hillman Minx.
I arrived early one morning at Edinburgh Wavery Station and had breakfast at the North British Hotel where John collected me later. It was just getting light and I blotted my copy book when I asked him if the outline I could see of Arthur's Seat was a slag heap!
My adventures in Scotland lasted for four years and are recounted on this page