The Teenage Years

 

Maybe I'm different to others insomuch that I don't really remember my teenage years as anything special. It was just like any other phase of my life. Looking for rebellion and cause trouble. And, as you'll see later I can cause trouble when I get the urge.

I turned 13 in 1959 and was duly Barmitzvah'd (remember, that Jewish right of passage). Other tribes and cultures will send the youth out to kill a lion or someone from another tribe, or get drunk and laid, we, the Jews, get our children to read a section of the Torah, the holy Jewish scripts which are handwritten on an enormous scroll of parchment. Aren't we sophisticated and cultured!

I had to go to Hebrew classes to learn my bit. Now, I've said I'm no good at formal lessons but this stuff has to be learnt by memory as Hebrew does not have Latin letters, no vowels, but symbols and reads from right to left. Like this (no idea what it says, but it gives you an idea)

 

 

This example seems to have no vowel symbols, which, if I remember  correctly are little squiggles and symbols above and below the letters.

Eventually the big day arrives and this awkward kid goes to the Synagogue, almost for the last time, to sing his bit. Oh, did I tell you that apart from having to learn some unintelligible writing I had to sing it as well. I'm tone deaf, I cannot sing. Well sounds come out, which to me are Sinatra at his best but to everyone else sound like a man crying in agony.  

This would have been a Saturday and the Synagogue was Northwold Road, at the Stoke Newington end. Probably a Mosque now but as long as it gives comfort to those who use it we shouldn't complain.

On the following day we had the party. It was in a council estate hall somewhere and I seem to remember the family had a good time. At that age I probably didn't notice the usual civil war taking place as this one thought they should be seated over there and Auntie Ethel didn't want to sit with Uncle Jack as they had argued over something last Thursday, Our greatest Briton, Winston Churchill once said that war was mans natural state. He must have studied my family.

I am now a man. Funny I feel exactly the same as I did when I was a boy, just 24 hours ago. Maybe it was at this point that I began to have doubts about religion. 

We weren't thought of as poor, everyone was so there was no point in singling out those with less money than others. However we didn't have much to spend, other than the basic needs and enough to save up for two weeks in a B&B on the Isle of Wight. As we entered the 1960s pop music became the religion of the day. Record players were essential equipment for the teenagers of the day, bit like gaming consoles and smart phones are today. Only problem is that you needed to buy records to play on your new Dansette multiple stacking record player.

The Dansette multiple stacking record player - a piece of high tech stuff from my youth.

I've just Googled the price of a vinyl single in 1960. Mr. Google says it was 6/8. That's six shillings and eight pence or 34p in our metric money. OK, you'll be saying that's cheap but remember that in 1960 a working man would be taking home about 15 a week. Rent, those two boxes in the house that ate money and provided gas and electricity needed feeding and after food there wasn't much left over. 

 

At this time I had a paper round at a newspaper shop on the corner of Cricketfield Road, near Clapton Pond. I started at 6 am and did two rounds and then one round in the evening. I had a few shilling to spend, wow. So, being the tight fisted git that I've perfected over many years so it's now an art form, I saved up and bought a reel-to-reel tape deck. It was a good one, German, I think it was a Magnetophon, but maybe not. I then wired it in to a valve radio, well to be exact, Alan Sugar would have done that, he was brilliant with radio equipment as his history shows. I recorded every pop song played on the Light Service. (predecessor to Radio 1).

Just remembered that the newsagents daughter, about 12 when I was 14 was the first fumble I had with a girl. Seem to remember how nice it felt to be rubbing these two little bumps she had at that tender age.

I went to Upton House Secondary Modern School in Homerton High Street. I wasn't that good, usually about middle ranked in exams. However, I had this burning passion for cars so I started making an single cylinder engine in the metalwork lesson. This took me over and I started bunking off other lessons to work on it. I've never figured out why the metalwork teacher allowed me to do this as the other teachers weren't best pleased and I ws caned on a weekly basis. I cannot remember the metalwork teachers name but he wasn't tall and was "bandy", his feet pointed towards each other. This, of course, gave rise to a lot of name calling from the lads, but taht wasn't and isn't now my way. 

We had, as all school kids did in those days, a school uniform. My Mum was always complaining that I'd torn a pocket, ripped a sleeve or wore a hole in the knee of the trousers. She was a clothing machinist and had an industrial Singer sewing machine so the poor clothes were always repaired. But, the best bit, which I remember well was shoes. We would have one afternoon a week at the playing fields called Eton Manor behind Walthamstow dog track. We had to have football boots for the winter game. However, the kids in the flats would play football in the playground of the flats and, of course, our shoes took a hammering. My mother spent a fair bit of this period screaming at me (she did a lot of that) to wear the football boots and not ruin my school shoes. School shoes, they were my only shoes, we didn't run to multiple shoes then. I was rubbish at sports, always last or didn't finish the summer cross country runs and couldn't play football very well, always ended up in goal in the second team. As for rugby, I hated it so much that I was always injured in the first 10 minutes and then sat on the byline watching these idiots fight for a ball and then run away with it.  At least in football you kicked it from one end to the other, much easier. We also had a period at Hackney Swimming Baths. I wasn't good at that either. I can do a sort of breast stroke but don't as people jump in to save me from drowning. I was so desperate that I started forging notes from my mother excusing me from swimming because I had a cold (obviously didn't but I don't think I'd thought that one through), It didn't work and another caning ensued. There was one time that I asked to be excuse and that was after we had had a BCG (was that what it was called) multiple injection for some terrible diseases. Well, shouldn't mock, Polio was common then and we all knew a kid in leg irons, and some sort of measles or other could leave you blind. My injection formed a scab which would weep with this horrible yellow puss. (sorry but I do need to explain), I asked the swimming teacher if I could be excused and showed him my scab. He refused my request, well he would do seeing as every week I had another reason not to get in the water. A few minutes later a kid ran past and knocked me into the pool, was an accident, not a an attempt to drown me. The scab came off and the pool started to fill with this red liquid. Everyone out and that was the end of the swimming lesson for that week. The pool had to be drained and cleaned. The teacher shouted at me taht I had done it purposely and would hate me for the rest of my school days. As if I would do such a thing, in this case I hadn't but only because I hadn't thought of it.

As I was not attending those lessons where I could get away with it, even though I may get caned, I missed a lot of English and Math's lessons. I guess you can tell that by the grammar used in this tome. My maths are not good, even now, but I can add up and count money. I have attempted to teach myself proper English, as we used to say, by reading lots of serious books. 

On that subject I need to step back a bit. For some reason which I can't now remember I joined Clapton Library when at junior school and took a book about Sir John Franklins attempt to navigate the North West Passage over the top of Canada and into the Pacific Ocean. They all perished but it was a real boys own rip roaring yarn. It got me on reading non-fiction and I now go through biographies and histories at a fair old rate. Mainly political and Second World War stuff but the political side, not the military side. I've read all the books written by Churchill, and his history of the Second World War get read every couple of years. I also reread his biography started by his son, Randolph and finished by martin Gilbert after Randolph's death every couple of years. As both books have several volumes this is not a week long exercise. The only fiction I read is Lord of the Rings, Tolkein amazing swoop of imagination. I'm currently reading, wait for it, "British Intelligence in the Second World War - It's Influence on Strategy and Operations" It's by, wait for it.... F. H. Hinsley, E. E. Thomas, C. F. G. Ransom and R. C. Knight. Normally expressed as F.H. Hinsley and Others. When I first saw this I had images of blokes in a crowded room all sitting writing a book. It's very dry and serious but fascinating stuff, to me anyway. Five volumes in 6 books I may finish it for Christmas, this year.

My mother thought she'd do me a favour and got me an apprenticeship at a local printers. No way. I was going to be a car mechanic, I lived for the oily bits and was not going to be put off. She did eventually get me an interview at the South East main MG distributor, University Motors where I was given a job as an apprentice starting January 1st 1961. No New Year Holiday then. I couldn't wait and turned up at about 7am having ridden my push bike from Clapton to Piccadilly. More on this in a later chapter.

 

When the headmaster was informed I was summoned. expecting the usual swish with the cane I was surprised when he actually smiled and talked nicely to me. I shouldn't leave at 15, I should stay on and take my GCSE (or whatever they were called then), education was so important for my future. Seeing as the vast majority of kids then would become factory fodder I didn't rally believe this. He asked where I was going to work and when told him I had an apprenticeship at University Motors he became agitated and told me how badly they had serviced his MG Magnette. I should have replied taht it would be OK now as I would look after his car. I think I just repeated myself and have already told that tale, but never mind it makes the book thicker. Actually, myself and my two best friends have not done that badly. 

My two best friends, although they weren't friends with each other, just each with me, were Alan Sugar who lived in the same estate as I and our mothers went to Ridley Road Market together for years and a chap called Ray Cooper who you may have heard of as he's a famous percussionist, playing in Elton's band, with Eric Clapton and was George Harrison's good friend. More later on Ray, but not much later.

OK, we'll do Ray now. I first met him at Upton house where he was in the year below me. We became firm friends. Ray and his widowed mother lived in the flats in Brooke Road, at the Upper Clapton Road end, near Lea Bridge Road. He never knew his father who had died when he was a toddler. His dad had fought in the war from the beginning, France, Dunkirk, then North Africa, Italy and then the D Day landings and into Germany. The full 9 yards! After the German defeat he was sent to one of the concentration camps to help the survivors and start cleaning up. He contracted TB, was sent home to a sanitarium and died a few years later. The only thing I know about him was he was a good bike rider and did speedway. Rose, Rays mum was one of the worlds gems. She was partially crippled from polio as a child. Her front door was always open and neighbour's, the milkman, the butcher, the insurance man (man from the Pru) would pop in for a cuppa and one, or more, of Rose's fairy cakes. I can taste them now. She must have had a war widows pension but worked from home making those pelmet tassly thingies that went on the edges of sofas and armchairs. She would sit at her table all day, working away on a length of the dangly stuff stretched between two wooden posts clamped to the table. If I close my eyes I can see her sitting there with her wonderful smile. Ray adored and worshiped her, as he had every right to. She had raised him to be a really nice and respectful lad who went on to greatness. Not easy for, what we now call a single mum.

Ray left school a year or so after me and got a job at a toolmakers in Upper Clapton Road opposite Brooke Road, Lucky bugger could walk to work in about 2 minutes. Whereas I had to pedal the nine miles to Piccadilly. 

Whew ray was at junior school, not the one I was at, he was playing piano at assembly at the age of five. A natural talent which went to fame and fortune. At 16 he could play a grand piano to concert standards, the Clarinet to the best jazz standard and all sorts of percussion instruments to what turned out to be one of the top 3 percussionist in the world. (Why can I hear Clarkson say that phrase). If you know about percussionists it is supposed to be folk law that the American drummer Buddy Rich was the only man to be able to play a tune on a set of drums. I've heard Ray do it, may times and it's quite amazing to hear. Ray started part time teaching after a year or so, being a traveling supply music teacher for schools. 

 

Then his big break and he joined Blue Mink. This lasted a few years and when they broke up they left him short of his rightful payments. Probably wouldn't be the first time he was knocked financially. Shortly after this he appeared on Elton John's Honkey Chateau. He was the recruited into the band as a full time member. You may remember him at the back playing his bongos or tambourine in a white suit, tall and very blonde. This culminated in the band first world tour. Now, you may think that these pop stars on world tours have a whale of a time with booze, drugs and women. No such thing. The band fly to the next venue, set up the stage during the day and perform at night. The obligatory party follows and then to bed for an hour or so before going to the airport for the plane to the next city and doing it all over again. The only "rest" they had was when they did two nights in the big cities.  I seem to remember this went on for nine months, would have been easy having a baby! Ray lost two stone by the time he got back. They were all exhausted and Elton vowed never to do it again.

A few weeks later Elton rings Ray and asks him to get to the mansion in Watford as they're having a welcom home party. Ray gets into his Renault Four and drive from home to Watford, He sees a 1950s Bentley Mulliner Flying Spur parked in the drive outside the house. It has a huge yellow ribbon around it. He enters and is grabbed by Elton who takes him back outside with allthe other guests and presents Ray with this magnificent and rare car. Ray told me he was speechless. I think it was valued at 5,000 then, now it would be worth about half a million, maybe more. Elton is renowned for his generosity, it's genuine, he gave away a fortune to people he liked over the years, probably still does. Final note is that when the accountants settled the payment for the tour 5,000 was deducted for the car. Elton never knew.

 

The band broke up and all was relatively quiet for a while. Then, having said he would never do another world tour, Elton arranges a world tour with just him and Ray. It was a great success and people stared to notice this tal, thin blonde chap. Q magazine ran a major article headlined "Who's that with Ray Cooper". 

Ray then met George Harrison and got involved with Handmade Films. He ended up being Georges Man Friday for the company and had a part in "Peter Pan" with Robbie Williams staring. Ray had copies of 8 mm film taken by the Beatles when they did the first US gig at Shay Stadium. The screaming teenagers where so loud the lads just stood on the stage in the middle of the field and pretended to play and sing. They wouldn't have been heard had they really played and sung! Unfortunately the films were stolen when his flat was burgled. He is currently playing with Eric Clapton. He doesn't do it for the money, which I suspect is more than a few pennies, but for his love of music. After the first Elton world tour no one rang him for work on the basis that he's made it and wouldn't want session work anymore. This upset Ray as all he wanted to do was play, the money wasn't important.

 

Ray had a flat in a converted warehouse in dockland before it became the poncey place it is today. His neighbour was the then Labour Foreign Secretary David Owen. The flat was amazing. It was in an old tea warehouse. The inside walls were all demountable so you could move them around if you wanted to make one room bigger or smaller, or even add or subtract walls. It was right over the River and from the balcony you could look straight down into the Thames. The thieves got in by climbing up to the balcony from the river.

 

When I had wheels (new Mini in 1964) I chauffeured Ray around. When I met a girl in Southend this slowed down a bit but Rose would always lend me five bob to get some petrol so I could visit on the day before payday. I still feel a bit guilty about this.

Ray's first band was with Blue MInk. Then, after session work with Elton John's band he joined as a full member. I won't go into the full history as you can look up the Wiki entry for him. However, I've just glanced at it and noticed two mistakes. Birth date is one, he's a year younger than me so was born in 1947, not 1942 as Wiki says.

 

I have a cousin, Andrew (mothers brothers lad). He is a bit younger than me and I knocked about with him when we were teenagers. I met my first serious girlfriend when he dragged me to a party in Southend. She was a hairdresser daughte. Must be a joke there, like "she was only the garagemans daughter but she knew the smell of Benzole". Never mind, it's 5 am in the morning and I'm revved up. I guess we went out for about 9 months. No, there wasn't a happy surprise at the end, I made a big mistake. I was reading the James Bond books at the time, they were new then. I would repeat all the wonderful love phrases in her sweet little ear and she melted. Mistake? I gave her a book to read and she then realised they weren't my words. I was dumped. Women, eh.

 

Then I went with Andrew to a Party in Harold Wood, Romford. I can remember the moment as if it was yesterday. I was standing in the middle of the room, can of obligatory lager in hand when 2 girls walked in. It was love at first sight. No, not for my future wife but her friend Angela! Tall, leggy, sexy, what more could a testosterone 17 year old want? She didn't show much interest. Later, in the middle of the night Lynne was cuddled up with Andrew on the floor and moved over to me. She whispered could she stay with me as Andrew was like an octopus and she just couldn't fight him off any more. We talked the rest of the night and in the morning I took her and Angela home. Later she told me that her Mum had only let her go to the party, she was a tender 15 then, on the understanding that she was home before the milk. As I had a car she knew I would assist in her promise to Mum. When we got home, as she got out of the car I asked if I could take her out. She agreed and next day Andres, Angela, Lynne and I went to the West End to see a film. Andrew chose the film in one of those small back street cinemas that showed art movies. The film was a brilliant intro to my courting my future wife - an Italian art movie of topless women sitting on toilets. I kid you not. Lynne and I just laughed our little heads off. Angela, being the pure romantic thought it was really good and Andrews eyes were like organ stops.

I will be forever grateful to Andrew for taking me to that party. We have been together for 50 years, married for 46 and, whilst it hasn't been bliss every minute, I, and I hope, Lynne wouldn't want to change anything.

Just a word about marriage. Bit like the TV interviewer "Now Mrs. Arbuthnot, what do you put down as the reasons for your 70 year marriage to Donald" ("ah, well, no other bugger would have me"). We both worked hard on our relationship. Unlike today we never walked away when we argued and really care about each other. I see so many relationships where there is little care about the other party. Amongst people our age as well as the younger generation. No wonder divorce rates are so high.

Jimmy White was an experienced mechanic, not a fitter, but a mechanic. If the stores didn't have a part for a pre-war MG then he would go into the machine shop and make it. So did many of the others I was privileged to work with at UM. 

During the war he was in the Tank Corps. He was the driver who sat inside operating the two brake levers which steered the tank by slowing one track or the other, operating the throttle and peering through a periscope to see forward. Like many who fought in the last world conflict he didn't speak much about his experiences. However I did get two gems. 

After D Day, Jimmy was on patrol with his company. They were south of Caen, before the breakout at Avranches. They had a new, young Captain in charge who was ensconced in Jimmy's tank. The came to a "T" junction. The young captain ordered a right turn. Jimmy asked for clarification over the intercom as he knew the Germans were to the right and they should go left, away from them. The Captain enforced his order. The young upstart was reading his map upside down!

So the company drove on turning right. They were in a forest and the road curved to the left. As the rounded the bend a line of German Panzer tanks approached. 

Jimmy and his mates needed to get away, The Panzer's had an electric turret, Jimmy's tanks were hand wound. The Panzer would get on target quickest. At this point the Captain panics and starts shouting down the intercom for them to do something.

So, Jimmy, in the lead, takes to the forest and gives it all the beans he can. He is now speeding through a forest of large trees pulling his brake levers like a demented barman would pull a beer pump trying to avoid the trees. His mates behind have had that few seconds to wind there turrets as the lead German tank hesitates while he decides to fire on Jimmy or the others. Our second tank gets a shot off and hits the lead German tank but only gives those inside a headache, the German tanks had excellent armor plating and only a direct hit at fairly close range from a British tank would penetrate the armor. However, the Germans by this time were no longer the fierce young warriors they were in 1939, they turned and retreated.

Jimmy meanwhile, not knowing this was still charging through the forest. The inevitable happened and, of course, he went slap bang into a large tree, bringing his tank to a rapid halt.

And that's why Jimmy had a scar around his right eye as the periscope eyepiece cut into him as he was forced into it. 

His other tale was when his section was sent to the Russian port of Archangel to fight with the Russians. As normal then, and all through the Communist period of Russia, the Russian administration was so poor, or they were just bloody minded, that the men were stuck just outside the port for weeks. Russian winters are cold. However I don't think I could imagine temperatures of -60c ! It was so cold that if you made a hot cuppa and threw the contents into the air it would hit the ground as ice. If you went for a pee, you had to wrap your penis in a cloth to stop your urine freezing to you as it flowed. But the most fascinating fact for me was that the chains that always accompany tanks would get so cold if left on the ground overnight that if picked up and dropped on the hard frozen ground would shatter like glass. Fortunately, after a few weeks they were loaded on a convoy ship and taken back to Blighty. 

Peter Steiner was much younger, about early thirties (hope he forgives me if I've got that wrong, but to a 15 year old 25 is old). His Father was German, hence the name but had died. I never asked and was never told the circumstances. He was living with his widowed mother. He was a bit aggressive and always threatening to hit me. He was a big lad, not fat but tall and muscular. I was polite. However we got on and, when I had left (see below) and the chaps tried to get me to come back he was very keen for me to so do. He was living, and married, a very nice Indian girl. She was so pretty and so sweet that she was perfect for this young man who may have been a bit defensive due to his German father. 15 years after the war and many still hated the Germans, he probably had learned to defend himself at school where he would have been "picked" on.

I just remembered having a "conversation" on the MG experience forum a few years ago. An American chap had started a US business called University Motors following his time working there in the UK. This was after the Mayfair workshop had closed and I had left. This was his response.

Norman, 

I worked in Hanwell in 72/73. Jimmy White was service manager, later replaced by Eddie Bohn. The older fellows in the shop were Bill Sweetman, who smoked a pipe; Ray and Mick, pals who spent Friday and/or Saturday evenings at the Three Fishes in Kingston; Johnny Johnson, a little guy; Alf Fitzhugh and Mick O'Brien, who I've correspondd with; Barbara Brown, a Scottish gal; David Rice; Syd Borrit; Denzel Webber.... In the last ten years I've connected with David Worpole who apprenticed there in the fifties. I'd love to hear from you! 
JohnTwist@UniversityMotorsLtd.Com
 

I only looked it up as I couldn't remember someone's name. This has reminded me of more of the lads but not the name I was looking for.

Lets go through those named above.

I recall Eddie Bohn but didn't really work with him

I will never forget Bill Sweetman and I'm surprised he was still working in 1972. He seemed to me to be ancient in 1961! It's that youth thing again. He was a very round man (ie fat) and did everything slowly and with precision. He smokes a pipe which was always in his mouth as he made gentle sucking noises. He told me that in the 20's (see he must have been old!), he worked at the Aston Martin works and raced the Flying Scotsman from London to Edinburgh. He drove up the A1, which would have been a narrow road with lots of junctions in those days. I believe this to be true, the fine detail may be wrong but Bill was a gentleman in every sense of the word and wouldn't tell tall stories like that. He worked in the bay next to me and did a bit of fathering. People like Bill are rare now, he was one of the best blokes I've had the honour to meet. 

 

Ray and Mick were indeed pals. But that's all I can remember.

Johnny Johnson was indeed a little chap, with a big temper. I'm not suer he served in the was as he talked about overhauling army Hillmans during the war. I observed him attempting to remove a sized king pin from an MGA. It had been soaked in Plus Gas (a fluid to unseize rusty bits). He was hitting the pin with all his strength and really going at it. They were prone to this type of seizure if not greased regularly. After a few minutes extreme effort he leans back, screams and throws his club hammer - right through the windscreen. Now that's Temper!#

Alf Fitzhugh, known as "Fitz" again I rember the name but that's about it.

Mick O'Brien had a Morris Minor with a skimmed and polished head, twin carbs and was a real "jack the lad", nice chap. 

Don't recall Barbara Brown, think she may have after my time.

Sid Borrit, the man who knew everything about carburetors, He was a legend. He taught me all I know about carburetors, mainly SU but Webbers as well. Really nice chap and had all the time in the world for us lads. I now consider myself a bit of an expert on carbs, even though I don't get much practice in now. Do spend ages getting the twin Weber DCO45's balanced correct mixtures on my Caterham but that's probably it. The Midget has a pair of SU's but I don't use the car much so it doesn't need tuning every 100 miles like the Caterham does. An interesting anorak fact. SU stands for Skinners Union. The early carbs had leather bellow (instead of the ali pot) so were made by skinners, leather workers. When I was working at the Maple Street garage (see below) Sid came in looking for directions to a car electric store (which was down the road). We had a good long chat befoer he left. Small world.

I recall David Rice but only as a name. I seem to think I may be losing memory as his name is so familiar.

Denzel Webber means nothing so I'm guessing he joined after I left.

If I've got the right person David Worpole was one of the five service receptionist. He's the chap who handed the brown envelope to the MGA owner. Again, if I recall correctly he became friends with a scruffy bunch of musicians who travelled and lived in a blue Austin A35 van. Band was known as the Dudley Moore Trio, well before Dudley's rise to fame. I seem to remember that David was close to one of the band with a Mexican name. It will come to me and I will come back and add it later. I think the chap committed suicide. It wasn't Gonzales but something like that. Probably turn out to be Smith! David was a nice chap, gentle and laid back but business like.

There was a receptionist called Kimber. The "founder" of MG, the service manager at Morris Garages in the 1920s, was a Kimber but they weren't related. He was tall and gaunt, bit like Sir Alex Douglas-Home (pronounced Hume-why do they do that?) Only old wrinklies like me will remember him.

One last chap, the name escapes me for the moment. I think it was Dick. He was a middle aged round chap with an infectious smile. He lived in a South London suburb. He had one of the first Honda motor bikes imported to the UK. However he also was mates with John Cooper and had an MG TC special built by John Cooper. I never saw it. If the Honda wsn't on the road he had a scooter, not a Vespa type scooter but one of those with pedals and a tiny engine. One Saturday morning I pulled up beside him in Park Lane on the way in. We sat there at the lights, me in my Mini, he on his scooter thing. I leaned across and slid the passenger side window back and said good morning. He looked across and gave a little wave. He took his hand of the throttle and the engine slowed down a bit but he caught it before it cut out. Lights change, I move off and Dick goes backwards into the car behind! Why, well 2 stroke engines will run clockwise and anti clockwise, when his engine nearly died and he caught it, it must have started running the opposite way. We laughed at that for weeks.

FOUND HIS NAME Forget the Dick, I remembered that the car came up for sale so asked Mr. Google what he knew:

This unique motor car is the work of Mr Victor Percy Drew of Coulsdon, Surrey, who was an employee of MG agency, University Motors

So, it was Vick, I remember that now. Just shows how Alzheimer's starts. The full article is HERE.

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The manager when I joined was, I think, a Mr. Johnson. For some reason I was chosen to pop over to the bakers every day to get his bread. 1/0 (that's one shilling, 5p in today's money) was given to me for this purchase. It cost 1/0, so no tips involved.  He ran an MG Magnette ZA (or ZB) . The lads in those days had to do 1 week in about 5 (depended how many lads) on the Lube bay. Lucky worked there, changing engine oil and greasing nipples. Need I say that Lucky was a bubble (Greek). When the new wonder grease arrive, something like molybendium. Mr. Johnsons car was put on the ramp and raised. We, Lucky and I, pumped away with the grease gun. We had been asked to pump plenty in so to flush out the old stuff. It was running all over the place.  AS we were finishing, the boss wanders over to see how we're doing. He looked pleased at the pools of old grease all over the floor (when I became a workshop manager I would have gone ballistic if one of my mechanics had made a mess like this!). Dear old (only to me, age thing again. But he was probably in his 50s) Mr. Johnson then put his hand in his pocket and extracts a Shiiling. Lucky leans forward to accept this tip. I've never seen a large, elderly man move so quickly. The hand offering the Shilling almost whished as it was rapidly withdrawn. The Shilling was for me to get the daily bread. Poor old Lucky, in both senses.

I'm not sure if he retired but he was superceded by one of the receptionists, name to be recalled. For some reason he didn't seem to like me. You will see how much he didn't as we get to the end of this chapter.

Being in the heart of Mayfair our customers would today be a star celebrity line up. I've already mentioned Sterling Moss. There were many film and stage actors and actresses. One of the specially chosen customers for the Mini Cooper S was Alex Douglas-Home's brother, William. I was servicing the green and white roofed car and fond a condom in the drivers door pocket. We were having a laugh at this and it was getting a bit of rough service. Now, I can't be clear on this, it was after all over 52 years ago, but I think a pin was inserted through the silver pack. I've always wondered if that boisterous larking around had any unwanted effects, like an unwanted baby.

Whilst we're talking about French Letters (condoms) did you know the French call them Capot Anglais (English hat). 

At the top of the stairs to the workshop was an alcove. In this alcove was a tea/coffee machine and a chocolate vending machine. Now, I can't remember if the condom we had in this incident was one of the future Prime Ministers brother's or was acquired from someone else, but one appeared in the Cadbury's Milk Bar "window" of the chocolate vending machine. OK, a bit of a laugh for the lads. Except the first person to go to the machine was Mr. Johnsons Wife. I've no idea why I got blamed. With my angelic face how could I be accused of such mischief. Well I was accused and had a real bollocking from Mr. Johnson, which, of course, terminated with being given a Shilling to get his bread.

Another week had to be served by the lads in the Electricians shop. There were two electricians, who would sort out bulbs not working or dynamos not charging. They had this huge light grey  machine called "Octopus". It was for testing dynamos and starters. To be honest it slightly frightened me, well maybe "fright" is a bit of an overstatement but it did make me uneasy. Whilst I didn't mind a week doing electrical work, unlike the Lube Bay, which I hated, there wasn't much excitement there. Until, that is the older of the two electricians had a bit of an accident. The MG1100 had a wooden dash which was held in by the ashtray lamp at one end and the ignition switch at the other. Clever idea as removed the need for any visible screws. To get to the ashtray clamp there was a inspection plate in the glove box, which when removed allowed access to the butterfly night holding the ashtray and the dash. The other end entailed putting your hand up behind the dash to undo the ignition switch nut. So, our elderly electrician takes the ashtray out and then slides his hand up the dash to undo the ignition switch. He told us later that the switch was really tight and he was struggling to undo it. His inside wrist was pressed hard against the bottom edge of the dash and his hand had gone numb. So, when the signet ring on his middle finger shorted on the heavy brown ignition wire he didn't feel the ring heat up and start glowing red. He smelt it though, followed by the pain of a finger being burnt to the bone. A finger burnt to the bone like this is not a pretty sight. The ambulance arrived fairly quickly and he was taken to hospital. That night I sat at home with anail file filing my tight signet ring off. And have never worn one since.

We also had a trimmer who repaired body trim and hoods. Lots of hoods in the workshop. I was fascinated how he would fit windscreens into fixed window frames. You fit the windscreen rubber seal to the body. Then put some soap in the inner groove of the seal and run a this, but strong string around the groove. Place windscreen in the groove, pull the string and the screen will be fitted to the rubber seal. Well not quite, you finish it off by whacking the outer edge of the screen with a large rubber mallet to seat it. That's the fascinating bit, watching a car windscreen being whacked to death with a large hammer.

I'm not sure if you remember Sir Hartley Shawcross, an eminent judge who had been the British prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trial. He had an MG 1100 and wanted, what we call today, a bit of bling. So Peter, the trimmer added another 6 chrome strips to the sides of the car! It, to my eyes, it looked horrible but I guess our judge thought it a proven case.

Chris Mumford was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. The son (I assume the oldest) of a family that owned a chain of BMC dealerships in Cornwall and Devon. He started work the same day I did. He was being put through every department of UM with a view of returning 5 years later to take up a directorship in his family business and, eventually, take over as MD from his father. Landed gentry and East End waifs and strays are not normally close friends but we just hit it off. He was about 4 years older than I and at that age that's more than you just 4 years, there's a big difference between a 15 year old teenager, one is just emerging into adulthood, could well still be and act like a child and the other is an adult, Well most of the time.

I've said the Shepherds Market workshop, actually in Carrington Street, if you look at Google maps (HERE) you can clearly see the roof with two cars parked on it. It's big! About 20 mechanics. The basement was used to park the cars waiting to be worked on. At the very end, in a dusty corner was a 1932 MG Midget M Type and a K Magna. The K is probably worth appraoching 200,000 today, the Midget probably about 30,000. Chris and I asked if we could overhaul one of them. We were not allowed to touch the K but we could do the M. It had been to the coachworks and the body had been rebuilt. New ash frame and very shiny red paint made it look very nice. Probably not original and today I would be critical if I thought it had been over restored. The only bit missing on the body was the steady bar between the two headlight. We got the car up to the workshop and was allocated a space at the very end. Engine and box out in a hour or so. We stripped the engine and over the next 12 months rebuilt it with new white metal crank bearing, new pistons and a top end overhaul. For anyone reading this, anyone? excuse me whilst I get technical.

 

The Engine was from the Morris Minor (1930s, not 1960s). My understanding was that it was built under licence from the French manufacturer Hotchkiss. Wiki says it was a Wolsely designed engine. However the threads were all metric with Imperial spanner sizes, Whitworth I think. Actually this state of affairs went on right through to the last of the XPAG engines in the 1950's The BMC A and B series engines were the first to have UNF threads. We were always getting technical enquiries about "this new bolt wont fit". 

This engine had a two bearing crank which looked like a little worm it was so thin HERE is the triple M web site with some pictures of the engine.

It had a single overhead camshaft which was driven by the dynamo mounted at right angles on a worm gear on the nose of the crank and the same at the head. There was a universal joint at the crank end. This joint was a circular leather circle with four holes and two metal straps were fitted top and bottom. The two yokes were bolted into the four holes. The leather didn't seem to rot with engine oil, a simple design that worked. The only problem was oil leaking from the head down into the dynamo meant regular dynamo removal and clean. In the 1920s we didn't have modern oil seals, paper and cork seals were about it.

The cams used banana tappets. Above, and to one side, of the camshaft was a rail with banana shaped wedges fitted with concentric holes onto the rail. Loosen the lock nut and turn the wedge and it went in and out allowing the correct gap to be set. Simple and much easier than shims. I was amused when Ford launched the New Sierra, the jelly mould model, and claimed the engine had banana tappets. Only 60 years after the MG. 

The carburetor was a single, tiny SU, made of aluminum (early ones had leather bellows). Fuel was fed by gravity from the tank fitted  under the bonnet against the bulk head. No gauge, just open the bonnet, take the filler cap off and peer in.

There was no water pump, the coolant was circulated by thermals. This was probably OK in the light traffic of the 1920s but could be a problem in the 1960s traffic. Must be a real problem now and I suspect most will have a pump fitted, maybe an electric one. It did have a rad fan which was driven by a large linked fan belt. The rad was, by today's standards enormous. A huge copper unit which was very heavy.  

I can't remember the claimed horse power, probably about 30, this tiny (for those days) engine was 750 cc. Even the big MGs, like the 6 cylinder Magna, K and L were only 1200 cc. Before the war MG held dozens of land speed records with this engines, usually supercharged.

 

Chris and I worked on it from 7 to 8 am, lunch time and sometimes an hour after clocking off. The management did give us each a letter saying we owned half share in the car, whilst we were employed, a bit of a useless arrangement then.

Came the day we were ready to start her up. It wouldn't. We were flattening the battery trying so we were push starting it along the workshop run. Mac the foreman, watched us with a wry smile on his long and creased face, He was leaning against the wall by the side of his office. I can close my eyes and see him now.

As lunch was about to finish Mac says that we must have stale petrol in the tank. He rckons the fuel has been there for at least 10 years. Now, I had never given this a though but the spirit in petrol will evaporate leaving the thin oily stuff. He gave us the keys to the petrol store and we brought up a Jerry can of fresh petrol. A gallon in the tank, a quick blow of the carb float chamber  and she started first time. I can still hear the little rasping noise it made. We drove the car back to its bay - heaven. Over the next few years Chris and I took this lovely little car to many MG Car Club meets. It's top speed was about 50 mph, acceleration fro 0 to 60 took about a week. But it was such great fun to drive it. I didn't have a driving licence then but did get a few miles in on country road. 

A few years ago I tracked the car down. It's registration number was MG 23 and it had been sold to an American Museum and then bought back to the UK. I contacted the present owner and told him about the car and said he could stay in our gites for free if he fancied a nice holiday in France with the car. Never came, pity.

Note the V shaped windscreen and the bar between the headlights which was missing on "our" car. Not sure about the colour scheme.

 

4 litre through lift

e type into wall

thames vans

 

chapel coat hooks