Now to start growing up (I guess)
Updated: Sep 10
At this point in my story I am just twenty years and three months of age and already somewhat surprised at many of the things I’ve seen and done and the places my short life has taken me. I've also been brought up a bit short by the news my mother has cancer.
However this is a new start and the following pages recount the next thirty years of my life. These also saw a lot of fun plus some real joy and happiness, but predictably I guess, much more adult drama.
Such events have included bereavement (two), marriage (two), children (two), and divorce (one). Also, significant career change, a demanding but interesting working life, inheritance, house building and house selling and not altogether surprisingly a major breakdown. Dear reader please note that this memoir describes aspects of life as it was between 1964 and 1994 so please excuse language or expressions that today we might regard as politically incorrect or inappropriate. It has been included because the words or something like that was said at the time.
Also, please note that while the content is all true as a memoir should be, some names have been changed to preserve privacy or to avoid anyone coming after me with a bit stick!
OK. Here we go
A NEW BEGINNING i It’s still dark and raining steadily and a rusting drainpipe on the wall we’re parked by gushes water across the pavement. The street outside is an alien landscape compared to my village in rural Surrey and the windows are misted with our anxious breath and the fug of cigarette smoke. It’s winter 1974 and information has been received about a number of locations where some terrorists may be hiding. At half-four in the morning I’m sitting in a police mini-bus in a Brixton back street with a Smith and Wesson .38 Special revolver strapped to my waist and wondering what the hell I’ve got myself into. The butterflies in my stomach are doing aerobatics and I’m stiff with inactivity having sat around for several hours since being called from home about half ten the previous evening. Over the last three years I have blasted to shreds any number of cardboard man-sized targets but this is my first live call-out. I know the same is true of almost all the other police marksmen sitting in vans at four or five other locations around London and the Home Counties. Kevlar body armour has yet to be invented. My uniform feels very thin, my body vulnerable. I’m nervous. No I’m not. I think of my wife and kids. Actually I’m very frightened. According to the intel; of all the addresses to be raided, this is the one where the terrorist ringleaders are thought to be. “That’d be right. Just my bloody luck.” especially as they had apparently vowed never to be taken without blowing themselves and all around them to kingdom come.
I’m sharing the van with a Surrey Detective Superintendent, a D/I from the Met’s anti-terrorist branch; and a major from the Army Bomb Squad who is apparently able to spot trip wires, booby traps and so on. ( I hope he can) There are also two or three other detectives, me and one other marksman. The checks his watch and says “OK. Let’s get this done.” We pile out and walk quickly around the corner and into a stair well of a tenement block and up to the first floor landing. Ron makes questioning eye contact all round and we nod. In true Jack Reagan style the D/I takes a pace or two back and aims a hefty kick at the door which unlike those in the films, remains obstinately closed. The D/I bounces back arms flailing and smacks the Super in the mouth splitting his lip so we have blood drawn even before we’re inside. A second kick. The door goes in and now it’s our turn. The bomb squad guy takes the lead with his powerful torch and with me and the other shooter either side, guns drawn and eyes straining down the tunnel of light. We are in a long narrow hallway. Suddenly the click of a turning door handle on our right and we drop into the crouch, guns held out in the double handed combat grip. “Stand Still. Armed Police” we shout in unison as our eyes strain into the darkness. Fortunately he doesn’t stand still or we could be here all night. The door continues to open to reveal three points of light in the darkness that gradually resolve into the whites of two widely staring eyes and the white teeth of a large naked black man who drops to his knees with the word “Jeesus!” Seeing that we have apparently not breached a terrorist hideout the D/I steps forward. “Don’t worry mate. It’s only the police. Looks like we got the wrong place. No worries OK? Oh, and sorry about the door. Just send the bill to the Commissioner. He’ll sort it,” and with that we march out of his life with the split door frame being the only proof we were ever there. But all this is jumping forward ten years from where this part of my story actually begins. What follows is the account of how I got there and came out at the end of it all. ii In order to provide some context and continuity to the following pages, it is probably worth explaining briefly what has brought me to this point in my life. After a few unsettled teenage years that saw among other things a five month voyage around the world working as a steward for P&O; I eventually joined the Metropolitan Police at the beginning of 1964. My first, and as it turned out, only posting was to Kennington Road Police Station in Lambeth where I was shown the ropes by a very experienced Irish bobby – well ‘his’ ropes to be more precise. This unofficial information included such gems as where we could find a hot drink and sandwich or hot-dog on the streets around Waterloo at any time day or night and probably for free. There were also places where it was possible to comfortably sleep away two or three hours of a winter night duty without falling foul of the sergeant or inspector and of course the local pubs where a pint would find its way out to a thirsty policeman at the back door Both of these jobs, whilst hugely interesting, and fairly steep learning curves, were if I’m honest, a bit of a culture shock to a young Catholic lad from a somewhat sheltered background in leafy Surrey. I enjoyed the police job but at nineteen, I was probably a bit young and immature for the rough and tumble of life on the seamier side of Lambeth. This, coupled with the distance from my Surrey mates, lack of my own transport (I’d written off the little Austin I bought on my return from sea), and then Mum’s cancer, led me to casting around for an alternative career closer to home. During the previous few years, and especially since learning to drive, I had become a bit of a car and motor sport enthusiast and although unable to afford another one myself, I made every effort to get as involved as I could with cars in general. This meant developing friendships with people who had a car – the more sporty (as in fast) the better. Together with these friends and all the other ‘wannabee’ boy-racers of the time we would read the Motor Sport magazine avidly, talk ‘confidently’ about things we didn’t understand and take every opportunity to get to race meetings at Goodwood or Brands Hatch. Here we could drool wistfully over exotic machinery whilst revelling in our (mostly) unfulfillable daydreams. I say ‘mostly’ because a couple of my friends actually did get really quick cars and at quite a young age too. Funny isn’t it how we use understatement for emphasis, as in, we say quick when we actually mean bloody fast. The two guys in question were my friends Reg James and Charles Page. Reg’s father was a self-made engineer who had worked hard to build up a business from which he was able to live on Givons Grove, a very nice private estate in Leatherhead and indulge his son by giving him a Ford Lotus Cortina. We were all green with envy, as this was the car raced so successfully by the late Jim Clark and other well- regarded drivers of the day and was pictured almost constantly in our Motor Sport magazines.
A Lotus Cortina on the limit The other enviable car was the one used by Charles Page whose father owned Page Motors in Epsom. They were Jaguar dealers so unsurprisingly Charlie managed to secure not just any old Jag but an E-type which was pretty much the most enviable set of wheels within our knowledge apart from the Italian exotica which in those days were rarely seen in our neck of the woods. Unlike nowadays when the Ferrari, Porsche, Mercedes, and other seriously fast and expensive marques seem to be almost ten a penny. Friends with less exotic cars included my long-standing friend Ken Thorn who had his own Triumph Herald plus access to his mum’s posh (leather and walnut) Wolseley. Then there was Bob Cloutte whose car while not particularly fast or comfortable was both interesting and beautiful. It was a bright red Triumph Roadster, circa 1949, with the huge dinner-plate headlights and dickie seat that popped up out of the boot. They are worth a mint now having been made the more desirable after appearing in the hands of actor John Nettles in the popular 1980’s TV series Bergerac. Bob was actually still on L plates when he first got the car and I remember being his accompanying ‘qualified’ driver on occasions. Talk about ‘blind leading the blind’!
So what all this background is getting round to is explaining a little why, when it came to seeking to leave the Met, I focused on the motor trade and, quite amazingly really, managed to get myself a job as a junior salesman at a garage on the Ewell by-pass near Epsom.
A Triumph Roadster like Bob's
It was a bit surreal coming back home to the same little room after my various adventures and travels in London and at sea – almost as though the clock there had stopped. The same candlewick bed cover that was the subject of such drama the day I managed to put a big black stain on it whilst trying to make Post Office ink with my home chemistry set. The same carpet, curtains and wallpaper and little desk built by Dad that had seen so much of me over the years. This was where I had pored over homework, stamp collections, Meccano, chemistry sets, furtive cigarettes with the windows wide open and even the occasional ‘naughty’ magazine in the later years. However the odd feelings rapidly evaporated as I settled back into domestic normality ‘Bramley Way style’, and dropped into the familiar routines that are just ordinary life although my relationship with Mum and Dad had certainly changed. A bit like when I came back from my time with P&O, they seemed to acknowledge my maturity up to a point but this time there seemed a real acceptance that I was very much grown-up and my own person. Possibly because I now had seen and experienced a great deal more than they ever had or would. Mum said “It’s lovely to have you home again and together like a normal family.” Whatever Mum’s thoughts were, domestic normality was certainly not what I wanted from life. For me, the new, and to my mind somewhat glamourous job in the car showroom was the first move towards what I imagined would be the step-up the life-ladder that Mum had always hoped I would achieve.
EWELL DOWNS MOTOR SERVICES
Ewell Downs Motor Services was a Rootes main dealership. For any readers who don’t know, of which I imagine by now there are quite a few; Rootes produced the Humber, Hillman, Singer and Sunbeam ranges of cars which you may not know either. God, this is making me feel old!
I guess not a lot changes really because the above mentioned had at one time all been independent British car makers that were brought together under the Rootes umbrella. And you only have to look around today to see how many supposedly different marques are Volkswagen, BMW or Ford under the skin or at least by ownership. I mean who could possibly have imagined a few years back that the iconic British marques of Rolls Royce and Jaguar would now be owned by BMW and Tata, the Indian steel company.
Dating from about 1935, the garage where I went to work was a single storey white walled building with large sliding showroom windows and the curved corner room typical of the ‘modernist’ period. This was the office occupied by Geoffrey Welton the managing director. By the time I arrived he was certainly past normal retiring age although showing no signs of giving up the reins.
To the right of the main office and showroom building was a petrol forecourt selling, if I remember correctly, National Benzole fuel in two grades – Regular and Super. I think National eventually became BP. At the time I was there, and incredibly compared to today’s prices, you could buy four gallons (about 4.5 litres to the gallon) for just under a pound. That was roughly eighteen litres for one pound. How amazing is that!
A small separate forecourt dispensed diesel fuel which back then was only used by a neighbouring taxi firm and passing commercial vehicles. Diesel family cars were still many years off. There was also a paraffin pump, because at the time this was still used in many homes for auxiliary room heating and even cooking in some. Central heating was not then for the majority. We always had some paraffin around at home but in our case it was mostly used in Dad’s greenhouse to keep the frost at bay and on occasions to encourage a recalcitrant Ideal boiler or garden bonfire that refused to get going. Remember the TV advert – “Boom Boom Boom – Esso Blue” ?
This view of the new workshop was taken at the grand
opening exhibition in the late fifties.
Between the main building and the forecourt a ramp led down to the workshop which was a vast double height structure with a corrugated sheet roof and no insulation.
The only heating when I arrived was via several tall coke stoves although hot air heating and fairly inadequate roof insulation came along a bit later. In all honesty, environmental considerations and worker comfort were not major considerations at the time. People were just expected to put on another layer and get on with it which amazingly through today’s eyes we generally did. I can certainly recall fitters working in woolly gloves.
Two lubrication ramps and several fitter’s bays occupied one side of the space while the remainder was taken up with the parts store and offices; a reception office; staff canteen; a car-wash bay at the foot of the entry ramp, and parking space for the vehicles in for service.
Ewell Downs was something of an anachronism with three of the four directors stuck fairly firmly it seemed back in the early 50’s and doggedly determined to ensure the company remained the same.
Geoff Welton the MD was quite a kindly and somewhat bumbling old gent who, as I said, was pretty certainly beyond normal retiring age. He did however have the running of the place pretty much at his fingertips despite it being a few years behind the times.
The Company Secretary, Ethel Murfitt was a spinster and probably also in her late sixties. She too had her hand securely on the financial pulse of the firm but was equally determined that things should stay the way they’d been since Adam was a boy, or at least that was how she came over. Persuading her to spend a few pounds on something a bit new, modern or different was very much a ‘blood and stone’ situation.
Frank Lee was the oldest director and it has to be said was starting to lose it a bit. In his white working coat and pipe billowing some sort of rough cut tobacco smoke, he was responsible for the Stores side of the business and always professed to know what was in stock and what should or shouldn’t be ordered in. I had so many circular conversations with Frank about whether this or that part had been ordered and why parts couldn’t be fixed rather than replaced and the relative benefits of not allowing fitters to spend hours trying to mend a part instead of bolting on a new one. You’d have thought it was his own money being spent and in the end I’d walk out wondering if it wasn’t me that had ‘lost it’. I suppose it was not that surprising really. They were all born when Victoria was on the throne, survived two wars, years of no welfare state and somehow or other between them built and maintained a working, if not exactly booming business. I guess in the circumstances change was not a natural option to them whereas for my over-confident twenty years and ‘vast’ experience change was everything. “Sweep it all away and get this show on the road.” Oh the simplicity of youth.
The fourth member of the boardroom quartet was a good bit younger – fifties I would guess. Works Director Bill Burton was an experienced motor engineer and was the perfect man for the job and more often than not able to diagnose a fault purely based on a verbal description and without setting eye or ear on the car. He was however a pretty rough diamond whose vocabulary was rich to say the least and was sexist in the extreme (certainly by today’s standards) when it came to expressing his views on the relative merits of any female who chanced within his field of view. I am tempted just by way of illustration to quote a few of Bill’s choicest and funniest expressions but even with the defence of ‘reported speech’ I would surely cause offence to some.
Yet another character of note was the workshop manager Doug Turnbull of who my main recollection is the permanent headless chicken. Doug was the principal customer interface (note the nice modern term) and his prime responsibility was accepting telephone requests for service, allocating slots and checking vehicles in on arrival. He also had to deal tactfully and respectfully (the difficult bit) with owners who invariably thought that the company existed solely for their benefit and wanted their cars back the day before yesterday if not sooner.
Whilst these were all working directors and were around the place all the time, my main contact was with Jack Maxwell the sales manager. Jack and I seemed to hit it off from the beginning and I felt sure it was his influence after he was called into my interview with the MD that had clinched it for me and got me the job.
It was Jack too who offered me a lift back home after the interview as it was on his way and it was during the course of the journey that I realised why his name seemed familiar. I'd been out with his daughter a couple of times. We never did go out together again although I saw her at their home on many occasions. Bit close to home for both of us I guess.
So my new working life involved comfortable nine to five hours including Saturdays and a day off mid-week to compensate. I had also been told that I would be able to use a company car; in fact it was the main incentive for my interest in the motor trade. What was not specified however was precisely what car that would be so I was less than excited when I was told my own runabout was a somewhat weary 1958 Hillman Minx. It had been taken in part-exchange and having done a lot of miles it was relegated to use as a company hack.
My self-image took a bit of a knock but at least I was mobile and once more in the running in the girlfriend stakes. Also, I did feel somewhat less aggrieved on discovering that apart from the MD who had the Sunbeam Rapier demonstrator, all the other bosses were managing with similarly mundane modes of transport.
Showroom in the 1950’s about ten years before I arrived
The showroom at the garage was wide across the frontage but only one and a half car lengths from front to back. So while there was plenty of space from side to side it was really only possible to display five or six cars with enough space to move around them. Just as an indication of how times have changed it is interesting to recall that the cheapest new car we sold was the Hillman Imp basic version at £489 while for £503 you could have the De Luxe model. What you actually got for the extra £14 I can’t remember. Floor mats perhaps - Doors even!!
At the other end of the range stocked on site was the Humber Sceptre, a luxury and sporty family saloon at the princely sum of £998. Doesn’t seem much now but given that £1000 a year was a good salary at the time it was only the fairly well-off who could consider it.
So the usual showroom stock would have been an Imp or the Singer version of the same which just had a superior level of trim. A Hillman Minx and the larger Super Minx or again the slightly better finished Singer versions. (Called the Gazelle and Vogue for anyone who like me is enough of a nostalgic car freak to even care) The last of the four marques sold was the Sunbeam Rapier, also in convertible form that was quite a nice sporty and fairly quick (for the time) set of wheels.
There were other cars in the range that we did not sell enough of to justify holding in stock. These included the large Humbers that were almost limousines and the Sunbeam Alpine sports tourer which is now regarded as something of a classic of its time.
We had several demonstration cars available but from time to time we had enquiries to try other models so I had to go to Rootes in west London and collect one of theirs. This was great because after completing the demo I usually arranged to pick up the latest girlfriend and impress her with a ride to London in a seriously posh car but then to be driven home in my rather sad old Hillman Minx. However it did have a bench seat if you get my inference.
It was around this time that Minis were enjoying a lot of success in motor sport both on the track and the rally scene so Rootes decided to compete and created a works sponsored team to drive Hillman Imps in rallies. I think no one was more surprised that Rootes when one of the imps won the Tulip Rally in 1965 driven by Rosemary Smith who was not only a brilliant driver but added a touch of glamour to the scene too.
There was a huge panic at Rootes HQ to put on a press reception to publicise the result and staff from all main dealers were invited as rent-a-crowd to which I was very pleased to go. Got to drink free champagne and then drive home. Terrible I know but that’s the way it was in those pre-breathalyser days.
It may have occurred to you to wonder what qualifications I had to justify my appointment as a car salesman. The answer is absolutely none. Apart perhaps from the fact I turned up on time for the interview, looking smart and confident and was able to give a sufficiently satisfactory explanation for my short time in The Met. Perhaps the very fact of having been in the police may have counted for something – who knows?
Cast somewhat in the Arthur Daly stereotype, car salesmen in general were not well-regarded and coming from the police some of my more cynical friends saw me as a bit “gamekeeper turned poacher”. However, as I was to discover, compared to some of the more “back street” car dealers of the time, Ewell Downs was a genuine, honest and well-regarded operation.
Sales in those days was nothing like the competitive and quite sophisticated profession it apparently is today. Mostly we just waited for customers to come to us at the showroom. Jack had his own established clients and our dealer network to worry about, so anyone else who phoned or walked through the door was down to me. There was certainly no theory, psychology, or particular technique to be followed or certainly none I was told about.
To be honest, back then, if a person came into the showroom to look at a car the job was usually at least half done. One only had to supply all the information, be suitably charming and knowledgeable and as soon as possible get the person behind the wheel of a demo car which usually clinched the sale. There was often the part-exchange issue but one way or another we usually managed to allow as little as we could get away with as well as selling a whole bunch of profit earning extras. It may be hard to believe but in those days, equipment like radios, spot lamps, wing mirrors, rear window de-misters, and in some cases, even screen washers were offered as chargeable extras.
In one back corner of the showroom there was a small enclosed office with a couple of desks that Jack and I occupied for the fairly limited amount of paperwork involved and which we filled with a dense fog of cigarette smoke and whisky fumes when not dealing with clients. But it soon became apparent that when, as sometimes happened, we both needed space to deal with customers at the same time there was a problem. A desk out in the showroom was out of the question because it was like an icebox in winter and although there were some radiators, there were times when the showroom windows were totally iced up.
Until then Jack and my predecessor had just muddled by but at my instigation we somehow managed to get the board to cough up for the creation of a second small office that gave Jack his own Manager’s office and space for me to deal with my own clients.
I am not going to kid myself that I was the best salesman in the world but one way or another Jack and I established a good working relationship. Perhaps in some way my very youthful enthusiasm helped to rekindle his own. Anyway we did some good deals, earned a few pounds and in a short time had become quite close.
I never actually got to know much of his personal history apart from the fact that he had been in the RAF, but I think Jack by name had at times been quite a ‘Jack the Lad’ by nature according to a few of the stories he did tell. Prior to coming to Ewell Downs he had been an independent motor trader buying a vehicle here and selling there and eventually he took on an open air site somewhere in Epsom. I think that like me he just had a passion for cars and bought ones that interested him rather than those that would necessarily be good earners. He revelled in the memories of exotic vehicles he’d bought and sold especially a classic D-type racing Jaguar that was apparently set up for road use and which he used to drive around the district, sometimes with his mother on board and scaring people witless with its ear-splitting exhausts. I guess that inside most men there’s a little boy who refuses to grow up, and why not indeed?
I hadn’t been working alongside Jack for very long before I realised that he liked a drink, which is actually a bit of an understatement. Initially, during perhaps the first few months or so that I was there it wasn’t too bad. He usually went off at lunch time a mile or so away to the Glyn Arms at Ewell where he had got in with a group of people several of who were motor trade cronies.
Whilst not necessarily an everyday occurrence it was often obvious on his return that he’d had a few, both from his breath, eyes and over-affable and garrulous demeanour but at the time it didn’t seem to affect his grip on the work situation. Perhaps the underlying knowledge that he was the entire sales department had prevented him from letting go completely, a situation that changed quite quickly during the first few weeks after my arrival.
Now I can’t deny that at the time I was quite keen on a drink or two myself, so when Jack started to ask me along to The Glyn I was quite happy to do so. And that was really the start of a rather slippery slope for me. I’d thought that some of my erstwhile colleagues on the ship could drink a bit but they were left pretty well standing by the Glyn Arms lunchtime club. I certainly couldn’t match their alcohol capacity nor keep up money-wise but they were all well off and more than willing to take me along for the ride so to speak and I’m embarrassed to say I let it happen.
In my case, I always seemed to remember that this was only lunchtime and that there was still a job to be done so one way or the other I managed to extricate myself while I still could and return to the garage (driving again I’m ashamed to admit). Not so Jack. And as time went on his lunchtime sessions often stretched from around midday to three in the afternoon when he would arrive back on the forecourt, stumble into his office and more or less pass out.
I’m not sure whether Geoff Welton knew quite what a state his sales manager was in on occasions but it was quite a challenge keeping the two apart. I also had to take calls from our sub-dealers on his behalf and somehow manage to put them off until Jack became sufficiently coherent to talk to them. Another problem was that if I was talking to a customer in the showroom I was on tenterhooks wondering whether Jack would give a mighty snore or worse still emerge from the office all red-eyed with a big inebriated grin and attempt to get involved. Fortunately that never happened.
There was also a slightly funny side to all of this. After Jack had dozed for a while he would come round looking like death and needing the loo. However, in order to do so he had to make his way down from the showroom to the workshop level. Now, regardless of what the MD did or didn’t know, Jack’s lunchtime excesses were common knowledge to everyone else and the fitters in the workshop had become so used to watching his attempts to negotiate his route to the toilets that it became a diversion they looked forward to.
It went something like this. Jack emerges dishevelled from office, stands for a moment to get his balance, treats me to a sort of twisted grin and says “Desperate for a pee Brian.”
He then totters through the door at the back of the showroom that opens immediately to a flight of seven or eight wooden steps down into the workshop. I wait for the crash. Fortunately that never happened either although there were a couple of close calls.
Hanging on with white knuckles to the handrails he gingerly and slowly descends, breathes a very obvious sigh of relief and treats anyone nearby to the same whisky grin and then stops.
Stage one complete, he now has to cross the workshop to the toilets. He sort of braces up as he takes a bearing on the toilet door and then attempts to stride confidently in the right direction. This doesn’t happen. Instead he wanders, mostly sideways, diagonally across the workshop to finally disappear from view. Once he even had a round of applause from the workshop staff.
One evening as we were leaving the showroom together Jack said “Do you fancy a quick half at The Locomotive?” This was a pub halfway along East Street on the way into Epsom. I knew I probably shouldn’t as Mum usually had a meal planned for around six o’clock. The truth was though that I did fancy one so I said “OK. So long as it is just a quickie.”
When we went in it was immediately obvious from the manner of the greeting, not just from the landlord but also the group already there that this visit was clearly not a one-off quick half on the way home. At one level I felt I’d been had over but bizarrely I also felt somewhat flattered that he wanted to introduce me to more of his friends, associates, brother alcoholics or whatever you want to call them. I only remember four of them and only one by name. This was a guy called Roy, who together with his father had a scrap metal business somewhere in south London. I guess I was quite easy to impress at the time but Roy sticks in my memory for two reasons. One was a stunning white 3.8 Mk2 Jaguar parked outside. It was a Coombes conversion with a seriously modified engine, sporty louvered bonnet and sparkling chrome wire wheels. A dream car as far as I was concerned. The other thing was the enormous gold Omega watch that he so casually wore to work in his scrap metal yard. A self-made man and no mistake. As Dad had often said, ”There’s money in muck.”
Another guy was the son of the landlord who I thought was a bit of a prat but was interested in because was he was talking about buying a Sunbeam Tiger and could we set up a demo for him.
Being the car freak that I was I had wanted for some time to get my hands on a Tiger. This was a high performance version of the Sunbeam Alpine sports into which Rootes had shoe-horned a monster Ford V8 engine and according to the figures it went like a proverbial rocket. Sadly it was discontinued a couple of years later after Chrysler took over the Rootes Group. They discovered that unfortunately their V8 engine couldn’t be squeezed into the Tiger and obviously there was no way they would use the Ford engine.
Having set the scene of my first few months at the garage here is probably the point to cut a long story short.
Sufficient to say that I did only have a quick half on that occasion because I really didn’t want to upset Mum. But thereafter, this stop at the Locomotive became a regular, indeed an almost unconscious action which led to Mum laying down the ultimatum.
“Brian we can’t afford to waste good food you just don’t turn up for. If you’d rather stop in the pub that’s your choice but you can sort out your own dinner if and when you do decide to show up.”
They weren’t happy but I guess for them it was just another step in the process of letting go. But the question we should all have asked was “Letting go to what?”
Well health-wise to start with, it was not a good scenario. I’d been smoking at some level since my early teens. Not, I think, because I especially enjoyed it but it was what you did; due I imagine to the fact that in those days pretty well everyone around did and of course the younger generation always follows on. So, without realising, I’d got the habit although now we’d probably say addiction. I suppose if I inherited a single negative thing from Dad it was smoking.
It had become far worse when I was at sea with cigarettes being so cheap too. We were paying eleven pence (pre-decimal) for twenty so it was not an expensive habit to feed. In the police there was no special incentive to stop and the health risks, even if sufficiently known were not at all publicised, so around the time I’m describing I was getting through thirty or more a day.
Alcohol too was also taking a hold; a taste I’d also developed in my teens and in the same way as the smoking. Unchecked or even thought about, it was now well established so that the lunch time and evening sessions with Jack were simply added on to the skinful I usually managed at the weekends with my mates. So overall not a good situation but let me change tack slightly and talk a bit about what was going on for me away from Ewell Downs Motor Services.
Prior to joining the Met Police; my social activity, in addition it must be acknowledged, to a fair amount of drinking; largely revolved around heading off to the various dance halls around the district. This was with the primary object of meeting some pretty girl for a few dances and who knew what else. As I no longer had a car I was usually with Ken but not having independent transport didn’t help at all with the ‘what else’ possibilities.
Favourite stamping grounds for us Surrey lads were The Orchid Ballroom at Purley, Wimbledon Palais, Streatham Locarno and if feeling adventurous and could afford the fuel – even at four gallons a pound – The Hammersmith Palais or one of the venues at Brighton.
You’ll note that all these locations involved a good bit of driving and as I said before this was all pre-breathalyser time so we didn’t give the matter much thought. To be honest I turn to jelly now when I think how stupid and irresponsible we were and how easily we or worse still, some other innocent person could have been killed or maimed. Actually I suppose I was more blameworthy than most; having been in the police I did know the law on the subject and even before breath-testing appeared, ‘driving under the influence’ was a serious offence.
It was at The Orchid that I’d met Theresa a year or two previously. She was a stunningly attractive and petite girl with real ‘film star’ features not unlike Audrey Hepburn. We became regular dancing partners and after a while evolved into what might have been considered ‘an item’ in today’s parlance although to us it was ‘going steady’ and to my Dad thirty years before, ‘courting’ or ‘walking out’ would have been the expression. It’s funny how these expressions develop over time although I guess they reflect the reality. In the 30’s and 40’s young people’s lives were pretty much controlled and buttoned up so that ’walking out’ was about the strength of it until marriage or at least engagement came along to allow a bit of unbuttoning to happen. I’m probably being naïve though as love and certainly lust can usually find a way around most barriers.
How different to today when a one-night-stand seems quite acceptable, particularly with the younger generation but was certainly a bit strong even in the supposedly permissive 60’s or at least what I saw of them. I guess that then and now it depends where you look for your fun but all I can say is that where I was looking didn’t seem very permissive. As I remember, Ken’s girls did and mine didn’t. Short straw again!
When I first joined the police I saw a good deal less of Terri as the training was pretty full-on and I still had no car. However a short time after my posting to Lambeth she decided to move to London and got a flat in Bayswater. Well, I say flat: it was actually a room in the first floor apartment of a Georgian terraced house that she sub-let from two gay guys.
They all had to share the kitchen and bathroom and the other two who were probably in their 30’s seemed to have taken Terri rather under their wing like a couple of big brothers. It was rather touching really the way they seemed to care for her. So, with her actually living in town we were able to get together more often and the ballrooms and bars of the West End became our regular haunts. It was great and I was completely in love.
Terri did some kind of secretarial or administrative work at the International Wool Secretariat (IWS) which if I remember correctly was somewhere around the Holborn area. Strange, because although I knew who she worked for I didn’t have a clue what the organisation was about and it has only been in the process of recalling those times that I took the trouble to find out via the ever-amazing Google and Wikipedia. Apparently the organisation came into being in London in the 1930’s in order to unify wool producers (many of whom were in the Commonwealth countries) and present a more united front to compete with the newly emerging man-made fibres from Germany and elsewhere. These included rayon which later, when produced in the UK, made the fortunes of the Courtauld family. One legacy of their wealth is the beautiful and imaginative modernist restoration of medieval Eltham Palace in south London which is well worth a visit.
The IWS was mainly about marketing and promoting wool against other fabrics and among other promotional activities; prizes were offered to fashion designers who used wool in their creations. In 1954 awards were made to the young Karl Lagerfeld and Yves St Laurent who went on to become major players in the fashion world.
If ignorant of the IWS itself most people will be very familiar with their Woolmark. This was the swirly black and white logo introduced in 1964 along with the phrase ‘Pure New Wool’ and after which IWS became the Woolmark Company.
Theresa and I were still very much together when I left the police and started at the garage and although our meetings were a little less frequent we saw each other as often as possible and if I had to return a demo car to Rootes in London, Terri’s flat was just round the corner. – Result!
As all the silly stuff around drinking with Jack continued, our sessions at The Locomotive got later and later and there were often occasions when I’d phone home to say I wouldn’t be in. Then at eight or nine o’clock and with a skinful of alcohol , I’d get in the car and drive up to Bayswater. I always phoned first though as even in that state I was in gear enough to make sure she would be there.
Just recalling all this makes me realise how much we take our ever-present mobile phones for granted these days. Back then I either had to use a public phone in the bar against all the background clatter and general hubbub or go out in the street to use the box a hundred yards away.
I must have sounded dreadful over the phone but to give credit where its due Terri never turned me away and always made a real fuss of me when I arrived. Although in retrospect it would have been safer if she’d told me to go home and sober up.
So, by the mercy of God and my guardian angel, time and again I’d arrive in one peace, slump on her bed, drink the proffered coffee and go to sleep. Great company! – heaven knows why she put up with it.
I’d usually rouse about half six when she got up and drive back home for a wash, shave and a clean shirt and then quite miraculously turn in for work at nine o’clock. Jack did too and to the rest of the world we were fine, although we weren’t at all really.
Meanwhile, real sexual experience was still proving elusive. Notwithstanding the availability of time, place and privacy, and despite both being enthusiastic to move things on, Terri never seemed able to take that step and consequently we never got to make love properly and my virginity remained stubbornly present. It seemed such a big thing to me at the time that despite our protestations of love and surging libido there was this block and I became convinced that I was doing something wrong or that she didn’t feel the same as I did about her.
Then one day it all came tumbling out.
Tears welled in her eyes as she started to explain. “Brian, you are lovely and none of this is about you. It’s me and only me and somehow I have to work a way through it.”
What followed left me open-mouthed. Without going into chapter and verse of what she told me it's sufficient to say that she had been the subject to parental sexual abuse in her teens and had had difficulty relating sexually to men ever since.
She explained how she felt that by sharing her story with me she might be able to come to terms with her experience to some extent and hoped that together we could put it behind her and have a physical relationship she could enjoy.
Somehow Terri had managed to keep control of her tears through all of this but when I said “Oh my God. You poor thing. Come here.” She just collapsed into my arms and sobbed until I thought she’d never stop. Eventually she did and said that despite being so upset, she really did feel better now she was no longer carrying the secret alone.
To say I was shaken by her revelations would be a huge understatement. At one level I was very flattered that she clearly felt enough for me and trusted me enough to share her secret but on another level if I’m truthful, I was a bit overwhelmed by it all.
Although I spoke to her almost daily for the next week I didn’t go up to town again until the following week and when I did I made a point of not arriving in a drunken state. I’d got to town reasonably early so we went out for a drink and meal in the West End and then made our way back to her place,
She’d seemed a bit distracted all evening which was hardly surprising given what had passed. In spite of that she was warm and affectionate enough but when we went to bed she just wanted to be hugged which is how we went to sleep. Terri kissed me awake in the early hours and very gently and slowly she loved me and it was the most beautiful, intense and loving experience of my young life.
I smiled as I lay there afterwards and the thought flitted through my mind that at last my manhood was complete although to be honest it somehow seemed much less important now. A rather trifling, pathetic detail compared to what Terri had endured.
Sadly, it was all rather downhill from there. Not in any dramatic or unpleasant way but rather a very gradual and gentle drifting apart. We made love several more times but for all the beauty and intensity of that first experience she never again seemed able to commit as fully and something of the barrier she had described still remained and it was never quite the same.
My visits to Bayswater gradually became less frequent until imperceptibly they stopped and I guess that we both just moved on. I only hope that sharing her secret with me helped in the long term although I suspect that there was still a fair bit of baggage to unpack. I did try a few months later to make contact again to see how she was doing but she had changed both job and home and in pre-mobile phone days there was no longer a number I could call.
Thanks for staying with me during this slightly lengthy first excerpt. For anyone who would like to get ahead of the game the book is called Until the Lights Went Out and is on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle format.
In my next post we will go back to a few of the experiences of being a 1960s car dealer and how I moved from that work back into the police in Surrey