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Although I have a fairly clear memory of people and events in our life so many years ago it is increasingly difficult to pin down the year in which events happened so you must forgive me if you spot something of which you are aware happened in a different year.
You should note also that I am giving myself more of a chance by spreading the record over two years.
Ulstein UK Ltd grows
By 1976 it became self evident that this new company was to be a success particularly for service engineering activity. We could not continue carrying the growing spares stock we needed in a service engineers van or in Dave Borthwicks garage! The question was should we seek to acquire a building with office and spares storage space or look to expand into manufacturing.
With the increase in turnover we also needed to invest in more people to handle the accounts and administration side of the business. Mini computers were beginning to become affordable to companies our size but we had no room for one in our present city office which were a requirement if we were to minimise staff overheads. We decided to investigate building a small manufacturing plant. Our financial director Andor Moldskred came over from Norway and we set to work costing such a project and its viability.
We found a sizeable plot of land at Hillend Industrial Estate near Dunfermline in the Kingdom of Fife on the Northern side of the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh and employed an architect to draw up plans for an office and factory that would take up about 20% of the land available allowing for future expansion. The architect calculated materials and construction costs while we estimated the cost of future employees, machine tools, overhead cranes etc. At that time we could obtain considerable financial help from the UK government it being in a designated development area where we qualified for a substantial development grant. We concluded the project should go ahead and obtained board approval.
Ulstein Propeller A/S in Norway had much higher manufacturing costs than the UK and were lacking manufacturing capacity. They had designed a new propulsion system consisting of a reduction gearbox capable of transmitting up to 5000kw and being used in the most powerful offshore supply vessels then in the North Sea. It was decided they would be built in the new UK factory.
There were two basic method of propelling ships of this type but increasingly controllable pitch propellers were taking over from a gearbox transmission that reversed propeller direction to bring the ship astern. Another of our products, transverse thrusters, were being used in greater numbers in the bow and stern and were getting larger and larger, increasingly using controllable pitch propellers (CPP).
These propellers operated the same as an aircrafts airscrew as the method of controlling propulsive thrust or direction by reversing the propeller blade angle or pitch to bring the ship astern using an hydraulic servo piston and cylinder inside the output pinion of the gearbox. An actuating rod connected to the piston rod which fed through the hollow tailshaft to the propeller hub housing a crank which turned the propeller blades. The gearbox also incorporated a bearing to absorb the propeller thrust as well as an hydraulic isolating clutch. To give you some idea of scale the gearbox weighed about 16 tonnes when assembled, the tailshaft and any intermediate shafting could weigh half as much again and the propeller up to 5 tonnes so this was certainly heavier engineering from what we had been doing so far.
Having completed the financial spadework Andor returned home and Ole Lars Ulstein, the general manger of Ulstein Propeller A/S next came over to source what we could buy in the UK. We found a small foundry at Auchtermuchty called Fife Ironworks who were capable of supplying our rough castings and Fife Forge was a reliable supplier of forgings at Kirkcaldy, also in Fife who could provide all our rough machined shafting. We would finish machine everything including deep hole boring the propeller shafts. Rough machined manganese bronze propeller hubs were ordered from specialist non-ferrous foundries in England while propeller blades were to be finish machined by a specialist manufacturer in Norway to our design. Helical gear pinions came from Germany who monopolised that business.
UK machine tool manufacture had dwindled to practically nothing by this time but we did order a vertical boring and milling machine from Giddings and Lewis Fraser in Kirkcaldy otherwise most came from overseas including our deep hole borer for the shafts. This was basically a big lathe with an ejector drilling attachment which was sourced in Italy.
A contract was placed with a builder for factory completion the following year financed by an increase in paid up capital and long term loans from a London merchant bank.
I meet my Kiwi rellies!
Sue decided that as we were no longer living in sin that it was safe to take me over to New Zealand to meet all her friends and family.
Sue's dad, Errol 'Buzz' Monk had died in 1965 in his forties from blood cancer and her mother, Joan, had married Charles Asmus so Sue gained stepbrother, John, and a stepsister Martha. Sue was the eldest of their six children, then came Phil, Maryanne, Diane, Frankie and Anthony.
The photo below was taken in Palmerston North but is missing Maryanne who was living in Auckland with husband Fred. The last member of the family was grandmother Blanche who was I think aged then about 98 years.
I managed to convince Ulstein in Norway that I might be able to do a bit of business on the trip so they agreed to pay for our flights which our new travel agent neighbour Bonner arranged for us. I wanted to have a look at India on the way out so Bonner arranged for the hire of a car and driver for a week. It sounds expensive but it was actually the cheapest way to see everything we wanted in the time available.
We flew Thai International to Delhi and booked into a hotel. After breakfast we were collected by our driver who took us around the Delhi sights. I had been to India when at sea 10 years previously and things did not seem to have changed much. The cars were mostly Indian built versions of the Morris Oxford, the roads were full of potholes, the beggars were continually pestering you for 'buckshee's sahib' until you turned your pockets inside out to show them you had no money and you worshipped the water bottle wary of succumbing to the 'Bombay quickstep'.
Of course we had to go to Agra and the Taj Mahal and to pose on that bench like Princess Di did!
It really is a wonderful building but what really amazed us was when you came up close the whole place was inlaid with semi precious stones. Our driver took us to a workshop that used the same techniques as those stone masons who built the Taj and we purchased a stone platter which they posted home for us. There is a photo of it in the slide show below and that is what the Taj Mahal looks like close up.
Everywhere we went Bonner seemed to have booked us into palaces and the Sariska Tiger Reserve was no exception. Sariska Palace Hotel was more impressive as we shivered in an open Jeep for hours looking for tigers. We saw plenty of tiger poo but no tigers!
But the best palace of the lot was the beautiful Rajasthan Samode Palace. We were virtually the only guests and wandered around admiring the frescos, tiling and mosaics.
Samode is an old walled city and the palace was built in the 18th century by Maharaja Jai Singh. It was once the residence of Rawai Sheo Singhii who was a prime minister in the Jaipur Court, the capital city of Rajasthan.
Sheo Singhii belonged to the Samode family whose lineage can be traced back to the illustrious Prithviraj Singhii of Amber (1503-28), seventeenth prince of the house of Kacchwaha Rajputs...and even further - to Lord Rama.
The Samode fort and palace featured in the film Far Pavilions and it is only 42km away from Jaipur so you can base yourselves here and live in the lap of luxury for a fraction of the price of a Jaipur hotel. We didn't of course and stayed at an expensive hotel close to the city palace.
Jaipur is known as the pink city after Maharaja Ram Singh who carried out much needed repairs to the palace and painted much of it pink. He was on good terms with the British government and once visited England. We were shown a huge brass cauldron in which they said was sacred water from the Ganges which he took with him to London. It was said the water in it always stayed fresh and pure.
We posed at the entrance gate with the palace guards as posers do and admired the fresco's but preferred Samode.
Sue had a downie cover made to order which was delivered to us later at the Amber Fort where we were shown round by an ancient but very erudite guide. He told us he regretted the departure of the British and was a real anglophile, quoting Shakespeare to us and expecting us to reply with the next line! He would have been disappointed.
His pride and joy was a book he had written on the history of the Indian post office. Here was this intellectual old bloke showing tourists round the Amber Fort for a pittance.
Our driver kept asking us if we could get him into England where he said he had relations living. On one occasion a little child ran out into the road and he swerved to miss him by inches. We had to stop for a while to let our driver recover. We marvelled at the thousands of people hanging off a railway carriage and were concerned for their safety but our driver said there were plenty more where they came from.
Indians believe in fate especially the lorry drivers who overtake on blind corners. If they then crash head on and kill themselves and several others then that is fate and nothing to do with their driving!
On our final day our driver asked us if we minded stopping for a cup of tea and we agreed. He stopped at a roadside tent and the tea was served in old bean cans which we did not like refuse for fear of offending. So far we had avoided the 'Delhi Belly' and Sue and I exchanged knowing looks. Sure enough we were kept busy in the toilets of the airport terminal waiting for our flight to Bangkok.
We arrived in Bangkok and took a taxi to our hotel. The road was dualled with a smooth surface, the taxi was air conditioned. We had just come from one third world country to another yet there was no comparison.
We set about renewing our acquaintance with the city. We visited temples, golden buddhas, hired a tailboat for a tour around the canals and floating markets and indulged in the wonderful street food right outside our hotel.
We hopped on a plane for the short flight down to Phuket and took another fast tailboat ride out to idyllic Phi Phi island with its stunning beaches and spectacular limestone cliffs rising sheer out of the coral blue sea. Scenery we had never seen before.
We visited a huge cave full of bamboo scaffolding where Swifts nest in the roof. The birds make their nests from regurgitating fishy solidified saliva from their stomachs which are harvested to make birds nest soup in Chinese cuisine. They lose a few people now and again who fall from the bamboo poles but there are plenty more where they came from!
In the short space of time since we had discovered Phuket on our way from Australia a couple of years earlier it had grown and was already becoming spoilt by tourism. It even had a Tesco!
High rise hotels had started to be constructed and charter flights were flying in direct from Europe. We were to use this route to explore more of Thailand in the future.
But time was short and we had to get back to Bangkok for our flight to Auckland. This flight was one of the longest direct flights in the world at that time and when we touched down in Auckland for a perfect landing everyone clapped. It also rammed home how remote this place was from the rest of the world. It was 1500 miles from the nearest big country which was Australia.
Sue's younger sister Maryanne and husband Fred met us at the airport and we stayed with them for a few days prior to hiring a car and driving down to Palmerston North where most of the family lived.
On the way we stopped for lunch at a little cafe and I asked for a pie and chips. The girl behind the counter said "we don't have any chups, only widges"? I asked Sue for a translation and she couldn't understand her either but finally the penny dropped. She was talking about potato wedges. Kiwis pronounce sex as six which I imagine could also get confusing!
I did not get off on the right foot either when I sat down to lunch with the family to a salad. I put salad cream on my meal and then complained it tasted of condensed milk. The reason was that Kiwi's made their own salad cream using sweetened condensed milk, vinegar and mustard and it tastes dreadful to a Pom!
Maryanne exclaimed "is he always this rude?" but eventually they became used to me calling a spade a spade and my peculiar habits were accepted.
We all went to nearby Wanganui where I met with Grandma Blanche and we all went for a picnic by the ocean. Blanche was also a Pom. She met her husband, Sue's maternal Grandad, towards the end of the first world war after he had been wounded in that conflict. He returned to NZ and began farming sheep before sending for Blanche to marry her.
It could not have been easy for her, a girl from Wigan, travelling all that way to live on a sheep farm in the middle of the Kiwi bush.
Blanche gave Sue a dressing down. "Take that plum out of your mouth and speak good old New Zealand" she said. "You're the Pom around here" said Sue but I had begun the process of pommification on Sue and she now had a British passport courtesy of Blanche.
My mothers cousin lived in Masterton just South East of Palmy and Sue and I visited them on our way South. After a brief look around Wellington we caught the ferry across the Cook Straight to Picton and toured the South Island via Christchurch then over to the West coast and driving South as far as the Fox Glacier before returning to Wellington and our flight home. This was to be the first of many future visits to New Zealand.
Back in Edinburgh they were just starting to sober up from Hogmanay. We settled in to a busy social life.
A few doors down from us lived Lt-Col. Leslie Dow and his wife. Leslie became the organiser of the Edinburg Military Taboo in 1975 and travelled the world to find new and interesting acts.
Leslie's wife Joan was your archetypical officers wife. Everything in their garden had to be perfectly regimental and woe betide any of our cats who dared to use their manicured flower beds as their toilet.
Joan once showed her displeasure at a visitor to one of the solicitors in Herriot Row opposite who parked across her garden gates preventing her getting her car out. He returned to find his car windscreen spray painted green!
An invitation for pre prandial drinks at 12 noon meant 12 noon and not five past. I remember once being invited round just after Leslie had been released from hospital after a heart bypass operation. He told us the doctor had told him to lay off the pink gins for a while. "If he had told me that before I would never have agreed to the operation" said Leslie.
Leslie was the voice the world heard at the tattoo as the commentator. Who could forget his silken tones during the warm up; "Is anyone here from Glars..gow". He was born there but you would never have believed it. He was the commanding officer of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and served in Malaya, Germany, Kenya, and Aden.
On Saturdays a crowd of us would meet in Bennets Bar next to the Kings Theatre but Sunday was reserved for darts in a Cowgate pub. This was a really rough pub in a really rough area full of really rough people but they all had hearts of gold and the pub served a good pint.
This conversation gives an example of the typical dialogue:
"Remember young Willie Mctavish?"
"Nah, canna say I do"
"Aye, used to live up around Scotts Close, you remember him"
"Nah, canna mind him at all"
"Aye ye do, used to fuck his mither"
"Och aye, him"
I think the first one we had was Sue's friend Gilly from Australia followed later by Kate Muir when the pair of them set off on their grand tour of Europe and if I remember correctly even went and worked on a Kibbutz in Israel.
Gilly arrived at Easter just as we were setting off for a long weekend in Devon where I had rented a little house on the edge of Bodmin Moor. So we told her to pack her swim suit as it might be warm enough to swim and packed her into the car to drive the 400 odd miles to Somerset after her non stop journey from Oz. What on earth was I thinking because it snowed while we were there!
We picked up my kids in Bridgwater and continued down to Devon but daughter Rebecca was not very good in cars and was sick all over Gilly who had to go off into the forest to get changed. The photo above depicts Gilly's displeasure of my treatment of her and is perfectly justified.
Travelling back from a trip North though the Scottish Highlands Gilly was once heard to mutter something about "all this land". Her only knowledge of the British landscape was from watching Coronation Street and she thought most of Britain was terraced houses. She could not get over "all this land" without a house in sight.
Sue and I were regulars at the weekly concerts of the Royal Scottish National Symphony Orchestra (RSNO) at the Usher Hall. We always used to have a meal beforehand at a little Italian restaurant a few door up Lothian Road called Bar Italia. Sir Alexander Gibson the orchestra's principle conductor was also a regular there.
The Edinburgh Festival takes place every August and we were always enthusiastic supporters but sometimes the organisation left something to be desired, particularly obtaining tickets.
Sue was working for an American business consultant called Kerry Napuk when he was trying to get tickets by phoning the Festival Box Office. In desperation he walked round to the office and was heard to say "Now I know why Alexander Graham Bell went to America. Nobody ever answered his bloody telephones!"
While I remember, another little piece of humour from Sue's workplace was when she was working for a city solicitor and a new girl had just started on the switchboard. A call came in from a man who asked to speak to one of the partners. The operator asked him who was calling and was told "Hereward the Wake". "Oh yes and I'm Mary Queen of Scots" she replied before the phone was snatched away from her because it really was Hereward the Wake!
Alongside the official festival was the Festival Fringe. This grew like Topsy while we were residents and every place it was possible to stage a play or any event was put to use.
I knew a playwright called Willy Russell who we naturally used to see quite a bit of at festival time. Here you can see a bunch of us including Willy at a medieval banquet we sometimes patronised and on another occasion Gilly from Melbourne was staying with us and she and me were the lord and lady for the evening.
We kidded on Gilly that she would have to make a speech at the end and she did not enjoy her meal as she was so nervous.
Willie Russell used to call me at odd times and ask us to provide board and lodgings to actors who were appearing in his plays or who were friends of his. I once had Julie Walters and Pete Postlethwaite in my office drinking me out of whisky who were appearing in Willie's play 'Blood Brothers'. Willie told me that he always used people he knew as models for his characters and told me I was in that one but I never identified myself.
He did send us a couple of tickets to the London production of that play in the Whitehall Theatre and we ended up in the pub opposite after the performance with many of the cast
One memorable actor Willie sent us who we boarded for some weeks was a bloke called Ted Clayton. Ted was appearing in a play called Trafford Tanzi which was set in a wrestling ring and Ted used to come home black and blue from his exertions.
Ted was one of the actors in a popular TV soap called Crossroads in fact Julie Walters Acorn Antiques was a parody of Crossroads. Ted played a character called Stan Harvey who was not very nice and when Stan had done something bad Ted could not walk down his village street before someone would come up to him and say "you bastard Stan"!
He has appeared in many roles in which people will remember him such as Coronation Street and Prime Suspect.
Ted was once so well known that he had to go to Albania for his holidays to get some privacy where nobody who knew him (or anybody else) ever went. His father-in-law was given some Albanian honour for collecting their folk music which is why they were allowed to visit that country which was generally closed then to the outside world. Ted said the experience was terrible and they used to look enviously the few miles over the sea to Corfu where people on holiday were enjoying themselves.
We were given tickets to see Trafford Tanzi on the front row next to the wrestling ring which was where the play was staged and where Ted came over to where we sat, shaking the ropes aggressively and threatening he was going to inflict severe physical damage to me after the wrestling match!
We went to the festival club with him once and the lady behind the bar recognised him and asked who he was. He told her he did the God slot on the telly but in the end the penny dropped and she said "no, you're Stan Harvey from Crossroads you bastard".
On a visit once to Willy Russell's home in Liverpool he insisted on taking me to a football match. Those of you who know me will be aware of my dislike of the round ball game but he said I had to savour the experience standing in the famous Spion Kop stand during a game. What impressed me most though was at half time when everyone stood at the very top of the stand and peed, creating a pissfall down the outer steps.
Another tradition I had to experience on the way back was Prawn Curry and Chips, a Liverpool delicacy.
Ulstein's new Factory
The construction of the new factory was completed during 1977. A production engineer was appointed works manager who recruited skilled machine tool operators, turners and fitters. We also employed a foreman, storeman and labourer.
My secretary Jeanette did not want to travel over to Fife so I found Wilma who lived locally to do her job plus she handled the accounts with the aid of a Wang mini computer. Another girl looked after the telex, telephones and reception while a third did the typing.
The Winchester disc drive was about 18 inches in diameter with a capacity of 10Mb and I exchanged it every night to keep one off the premises for a back-up.
The daisy wheel printer was so noisy it had to be kept in a noiseproof cabinet. We used to marvel at it printing at the speed of 40 characters per second whereas a dot matrix printer today is considered slow at 20 pages per minute.
We placed our first orders with Fife Forge who I discovered had a couple of reserved seats at Murrayfield, the Scottish international rugby union ground, at which I was occasionally offered complimentary seating. We quickly became one of their best customers as we did for Fife Ironworks.
The Norwegian Consul General for Scotland was a guy whose surname was Ulstein although he was unrelated to our Ulstein family so we asked him to unveil the brass plaque to open the factory. The whole board of directors of the parent company came over and we held a dinner dance at an Edinburgh hotel in the evening.
We invited all our employees to the celebration and laid on a bus to take them all there. It was then I began to learn about Fifers.
Dave Borthwick's son was employed by us as a turner and he then worked for an Edinburgh engineers. His foreman asked him why he was leaving and he explained he was joining a new company in Fife with the latest machine tools, showers, mess room, working clothes etc. His foreman said that the management must not be familiar with Fifers or they would not have provided such good working conditions!
When I sent everyone an invitation to the dinner I was asked by the shop stupid if the company would be prepared to pay for baby sitters!!
I had always believed that most of Britain's industrial relations problems were because of bad management. We had strong unions and we needed to manage them properly so I decided we would run a closed shop. In other words a condition of employment was that you were a member of the union and I met with local union representatives and drew up an agreement.
No decisions were then taken affecting the workforce without following the agreed procedure and consulting with the shop stupid (slang for shop steward).
The opening ceremony went well and all our guests were given a guided tour of a working factory.
During the dinner our CEO Idar Ulstein seemed a bit worried and I discovered the reason was the shipyard were launching a ship that day. Idar was a Naval Architect, a very inexact science as so many things could go wrong as the ship enters the water for the first time.
Idar eventually received a phone call to say the launch went OK but there was a moment when they thought it would capsize.
Relief was evident and the live band played Chicago style music which Sue and I loved but was less popular with our Fifers.
Norwegian Consulate Functions
We had a continued close relationship with the Edinburgh Norwegian Consulate and were regularly invited to their various functions.
On one occasion we were invited to a private viewing in Edinburgh of the Norwegian Edvard Munch's painting 'The Scream'.
But the invitation we most enjoyed was on Norway's National Day called Syttende Mai.
Edinburgh University always had a large contingent of Norwegian students who made up an amateur orchestra. On the day they used to climb Arthur's Seat before dawn and begin drinking. At Dawn the orchestra would strike up the national anthem and march down the hill to Prestonfield House where all their guests assemble for breakfast.
The meal is usually composed of freshly baked bread, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. Every few minutes the orchestra strikes up 'Vi skåler for våre venner og de som vi kjenner og de som vi ikke kjenner de driter vi i. Hei, skål!' which means 'We toast to our friends and those we know and those we do not know the shit we're in. Hi, cheers!' And each time your glass is refilled.
By this time the orchestra is not playing many notes in the correct order and musicians are falling off the stage. We are all drinking shots of aquavit, a strong spirit flavoured with carraway seed, washed down with beer chasers and breakfast is concluded by all of us staggering off down Princes Street behind the orchestra!
Replica Viking Ship
Our parent Norwegian company sponsored the building of a replica Viking ship which they sailed across the Atlantic.
After the voyage they toured around the UK and we set up a little hospitality tent at each port. I went to some of them but in Aberdeen we were actually taking clients out for a sail. The skipper invited me to join them but I declined as I did not like the motions of small boats off Aberdeen. I was told I could place my gin and tonic on the gunwhale of the ship in what was a choppy sea and it would not spill so I went out and it was true.
You will find the next chapter in our lives here.