Our new house in Brionne Way was beginning to take shape. From the plot we had originally chosen, a new house began to emerge. We were managing to save the deposit required and the excitement of the big day when we would move in was beginning to mount.
We knew things would be hard financially, but it meant everything to me to get into my own house. We wouldn't be able to afford new furniture but what we had would do for now. The only thing we would have liked was a new carpet, but that would have to wait.
One thing we did need was a washing machine, so we decided to take the plunge and go for an Indesit automatic at £80 in the sale at Comet. We could store it for a while until it was time to move in. I was starting to get domesticated. Things really were changing, I might have become housetrained but I would always be an individual with a wildness that would sometimes come to the surface.
When the big day came, I borrowed a lorry from British Beef Co and with a little help from some friends, managed to move all of our belongings in one load. Our new house had three bedrooms, two of which would remain empty for the time being. Everything was bigger and more spacious than we were used to. I felt like I had when as a boy I had moved from Clapham to Matson. Only this time the feeling was even more intense. The house was brand new and so light and it was ours. One of the greatest feelings I can think of. For the first time in my life I had a house with a garage and wonder of wonders, central heating.
We thought we were going to be able to live without any floor covering, but it was awful and we went out and bought the cheapest carpet we could find to lay in the lounge. It lasted us until we could afford a better one.
All along Brionne Way, people were moving in at around the same time. That summer we met with our new neighbours while we were all laying our new lawns and getting our gardens sorted out. A few years ago, no one would ever have believed it. We got to know more of our neighbours here than I had ever known anywhere else.
I did a good job on the garden, mainly due to the peat and manure I put on it. If the health inspectors had seen some of the things I carried in that meat lorry, I would have been locked up. I took bins of manure home from the piles that were kept in the fields behind the abattoir. When I was on the Taunton run, I started calling in to the peat farms around Sedgemoor. At first I only brought a few bags to spread on the garden, but when I realised how cheap it was, compared to the prices at the garden centres, I started bringing back tons at a time and selling it.
During the next couple of years, Cath and I prospered, not due to the peat sales, which only lasted a short time. Cath was working and earning good money. I was still driving lorries but left British Beef co and went to work for Goodrem and Nicholson, Export Agents.
While working for Goodrem and Nicholson, I regularly went to France and had some good experiences there. I often went to "Airospaciale Francais" a company on the outskirts of Paris. One weekend I was able to take Cath with me, allowing us to have a weekend in Paris. They seemed to treat me with much more respect than I was used to in England. They always made sure that while the lorry was being unloaded, I had a really good meal at their expense. When I arrived on Friday with Cath, I asked if I could leave the lorry in their compound while we went into Paris. They said, of course I could. The manager sent a secretary to take Cath and me for a meal, telling us to come back to see him before we were ready to travel the twenty miles into Paris. After the meal, we went to see the manager who told us that he had arranged a car to take us to Paris. We looked outside and there was a big black chauffeur driven car, the chauffeur wearing a grey suit and hat, it looked very grand. Then he gave me an envelope, which he said contained a small map and enough money to pay for a taxi from Paris, back to the plant. The chauffeur took us to Paris and drove around the city, showing us the sights, before dropping us on the Champs Elysees. The only problem we had was trying to get a taxi driver to take us the twenty miles back to the plant. They didn't seem to want to go outside the city, but eventually we found one who agreed to take us. On the journey we had a little conversation with the driver, as much as his little bit of English allowed. When we got near to the plant, the driver stopped to ask a soldier if he was on the right road. While talking to the soldier, the taxi driver said that he was carrying two wealthy English people. I only speak schoolboy French, but I picked up what he had said. He was astonished when suddenly, I told him that we weren't rich, I was just a lorry driver. I told him the story of how we happened to be taking a taxi all this way, he was flabbergasted. We had a real good weekend away.
On one of these trips to France, I went to an agency at Orly Airport to pick up a small consignment of springs for Dowty Rotol. When I collected these few boxes, I had no idea what would be in store when I got Southampton. When I went out, I was carrying missile guidance systems. The documents I carried, allowed me to go through Customs on both sides of the Channel, without inspection or delay. When I arrived at Southampton, off the overnight ferry from Le Havre, I had to get in the queue along with everyone else. When it came to my turn to be inspected, the Customs Officer took one look at the paperwork, gave a sharp intake of breath and said, 'I can't let this in, it's military equipment.'
I said, 'military equipment? It's a few boxes of springs.'
He said, 'No, it says military equipment here, we're not allowed to inspect it, you'll have to wait until we can get further instructions.'
He put a seal on the lorry and told me to make sure I didn't allow that seal to be broken. Six hours later, after lots of phone calls and arguing, I was told that I would have to go to Bath.
I thought, Oh well, at least that's in the right direction, maybe I'll get home tonight after all. When I got to Bath, they told me I was in the wrong place. The only Customs office that could handle military equipment was in Portishead, so off I went again. I arrived at Portishead at quarter to five, after landing in Southampton at seven thirty in the morning. I reported at the office, only to be told that they would be closing in fifteen minutes and there would not be time for an inspection today, the lorry would have to be impounded for the night.
I said, 'come on mate, I'm only half an hour from home. Can't I come back in the morning?'
He said, it would be all right as long as I was back, bright and early at nine-o-clock, with the seal unbroken.
So I was on the road again, this time for home, but still not clear of Customs. After spending the night at home, I arrived back in Portishead at the specified time. About half an hour later, an Officer arrived and said, 'okay let's have a look at what you've got here.'
He broke the seal, pulled the doors open and looked inside. He said, it's only springs.
I said, 'I've been trying to tell everybody that since yesterday morning.' He just closed the doors back up, stamped my papers and said, you can go now. It took about thirty seconds for him to clear the load, but about twenty-six hours to find anyone with the authority to do it. What a situation? It turned out that these springs that everybody had been so concerned about, were valve springs for an engine that would end up in a military vehicle. Very frightening.
My friends often said that they thought a job driving abroad must be really good, but it wasn't so glamorous. They never thought of the rough crossings where everybody was sick all night. The boat banging and crashing through the waves making so much noise and vibrating so badly that I couldn't get a wink of sleep. The cold nights spent on the dockside waiting for the ferries to load, having to wait for hours on end due to cancellations due to bad weather or strikes. Like anything it had its good side and it's bad side.
I also regularly went into a number of extrusion die factories, collecting dies for export. After a while I realised how high the wages were compared to mine. My old friend Chris Rogers, worked at one of them and I asked him what were the chances of getting a job. He said he would find out for me. The next time I went there, the boss came over and said that Chris had told him I would like a job. I replied that I would. He said okay, you can start as soon as you like. So a week later I started in the extrusion die industry and have since spent most of my working life in it.
We spent most of our time and money on things for the house and improving our lifestyle. I managed to finish the last reincarnation of my BSA Lightning. I completely transformed it into a chopper with long forks and beautiful custom paint job. I also bought my first Jaguar for the princely sum of £500, it was a 1967 240 saloon in Old English White. I liked it so much that as time went on, I hinted to Cath that we should look for an E Type. After a lot of searching, we bought a 1967 4.2 litre 2+2 fixed head coupe in blue, costing £2750. It was absolutely magnificent, like driving a guided missile. We hurtled about at speeds up to 150 miles an hour.
We drove to Llangrove to see my old friends Phil and Ruth Large. Phil was working for Rockfield Recording studio so we decided to take the
E type for a quick run down to Monmouth to see "Rush" the Canadian heavy rock band, who were recording a new album. One of the band fell in love with the car and offered to buy it, but it wasn't for sale at that time.
After about three years at Brionne Way, we decided to look for something bigger. We decided to look for an older house, finally deciding to move to Tuffley Crescent, where we chose one with four bedrooms and a large attic room. This house would give us plenty of room to move around in. It was a long way from the small council houses I had been brought up in. A long way in terms of satisfaction and a long way in terms of size but not so far in distance. I was still a Gloucester boy and didn't want to go far from my roots. The best thing about owning our own house was the very fact that we could live where we wanted, in the kind of house we wanted, rather than be told by the council where to live and what to live in.
In order to raise some extra money to enable us to afford to buy our new house, we decided to sell the E Type and buy something small and cheap. So the E Type was sold, realising £3000. To get me to work, I bought an old 850cc Mini for fifty quid, it was quite a come down but I've never been much of a car person. As long as a car doesn't give too much trouble, I'm happy. It's when they go wrong I get annoyed with them. This old Mini didn't have much going for it though. It was a rough old banger, full of rust. I drove it to work one morning, as I opened the car door to get out, it fell off with a resounding clatter. The hinges on those Mini's were bolted to a thin steel "A" shaped panel which had rotted through causing the door to just drop off when it was ready. I bought a new panel quite cheaply and the problem of welding it on was solved by an offer by Steve Craven, one of my workmates. After work, we got the car into the factory and started the job. We had to cut off the old panel, position the new on and weld it on. We only had oxy acetylene gas welding equipment available to us, not the best option, but better than nothing. Steve did a good job on it and in no time the door was back in position. My friend Hughie MacPherson was here on holiday from Australia and I had asked the boss, 'Brian Boon', if I could borrow the firm's Land Rover so that Hughie could use my Mini. After the repair, Hughie was to drive the Mini home and I was to follow him in the Land Rover. As I followed him, I kept wondering what he was playing at. The lights kept flashing and every time he used the indicators he turned the wrong way, though sometimes all four of them flashed at the same time. The brake lights kept going on and off for no reason, there were lights flashing on and off all over the place, it was like a mobile Christmas tree complete with twinkling lights. By the time we got home, Hughie and I were laughing our heads off, we had both realised that something had gone seriously wrong with the wiring. I took off the panel behind where we had been welding and found that all the wires ran down the windscreen pillar and down behind the door where they had melted from the heat of the welding, fusing the plastic of the wiring into a solid block so they could short out at random. By heaving on the mass of wires until my eyeballs bulged, I managed to drag enough of the wiring loom down so that I could cut out the melted bit and join then together with those little white electrical connector blocks. There were so many of them that by the time I had finished, the repair was so large that I couldn't get the panel back on properly. But what the hell, It worked.
Shortly after this, we made the move to Tuffley Crescent. Again I managed to borrow a lorry. My old friend 'Andy Richards' was still working for Goodrem and Nicholson and he borrowed the lorry for me, so with a little help from some friends we managed to do the move with very little expense.
We were also very lucky in Tuffley Crescent that we had P.J. and Nora Wade as our neighbours. Good neighbours make a big difference to a happy existence. We have never been in each other's pockets but have been good friends.
Very soon after moving into Tuffley Crescent, the Mini failed the MOT and wasn't worth spending the money to repair it. The rear sub-frame had rotted and would have been expensive to renew, but the whole car was a rust bucket. I had also got fed up of having to wear wellingtons to keep my feet dry every time it rained. I had drilled holes in the floor to let the water out but even these kept getting blocked. It was just too bad. It had to go.
Our next car, a BMW 2002, we bought from a garage in Longsmith Street. It was my first experience with a dodgy car dealer masquerading under a guise of respectability. From the beginning there were problems that had to be addressed. I had spotted the problems before I took the car but was foolish enough to believe the dealer when he said he would put them right at my convenience. Once he had my money I could never get hold of him even when I visited the garage. After trying for weeks to get satisfaction, I had to resort to what I knew best. I went to the garage only to be told once again that the owner was unavailable. I went into the workshop where I knew the mechanic working there, we had been at school together. I asked him to pass a message to Peter, the owner. The message was that I would not contact him again. He was to come to my house, take the car away and get everything done to my satisfaction within a week or I would find him and beat the crap out of him. I told Lennie to be sure that he made Peter understand who I was and that the threat would be carried out. He obviously got the message because he soon turned up on my doorstep with a completely different attitude. Once sorted out, that car lasted me for years.
Not long after this, Cath passed her driving test, so we went looking for a second car. We looked at lots of old Mini's and Austin/Morris 1100's. We saw some terrible sights until finally we saw an ad in the Citizen for a choice of two Volkswagen Beetles at a part time dealer in Churchdown. One was £400 and the other was £500. When we arrived I looked at the two Beetles, parked side by side. The one for £400 was in a terrible state, it had the rust in and where it had been welded, part of the interior had been damaged by fire. The one for £500 was a beauty, there was no comparison. The dealer came over and asked if we were interested. I said we had come with £400, hoping to buy a Beetle but we weren't interested in the one for that price. We liked the more expensive one and would buy it for £400. He laughed and said, be sensible, make me a near offer and it's yours. I told him that we only had £400 and had no way of raising any more, in fact if I paid him the full amount, we would struggle to eat for the rest of the week. He said no, he wouldn't sell at that price. I said it was a pity as it was just what we were looking for, then thanked him for his time, turned and started to walk away. We were almost back to the car, when he came running up to us and said, just give me the £400 and a few quid for the tax and you can take it. I replied that I was really sorry, when I said I couldn't raise another penny, I meant it. It's £400 or nothing. He started bleating that he wouldn't make a penny on it but we could have it. I said I would take the car if he put a new MOT on it. I thought he was going to burst into tears, but he agreed. We got up the road and started laughing, we knew we had got a bargain. The next day we collected what was undoubtedly the best buy we ever made. That car gave us great service for fifteen years before we sold it for a more modern Volkswagen that couldn't hold a candle to that old Beetle.
One evening I got a phone call from Suresh Karadia who was by now a successful photographer, living in a fashionable part of London. He told me he had two invitations to the British Film Awards to be held in a Drury Lane theatre. He couldn't go himself due to another engagement so he thought of Cath and me. We arranged to meet at a MacDonalds burger bar in Marble Arch, it was the first fast food outlet we had ever seen. There were two in London but none that I knew of anywhere else. Suresh said to me that it was a new thing in this country and if I had any money I should buy a MacDonalds franchise and set up in the Gloucester area because it was a thing of the future, sadly I didn't have the kind of money required. We thanked him for thinking of us with the tickets and the trouble he was going to to meet us and show us where to go. In his usual modest way he said it was no problem, he was glad to do it for us. He is truly a gentleman. From MacDonalds, Suresh led us through London to the Theatre, showed us where to park, wished us a good evening and left us to it. He had told us to go in through the side entrance to avoid the crowds, but when we got inside we found ourselves crossing a glass corridor. There was a crowd outside and it was obvious they were trying to see who it was crossing the corridor, then all of a sudden we were in the auditorium. It was then that I realised that we were not in the public gallery, which was upstairs, separate from the area we found ourselves in. I saw film and television stars all around us and thought we must have taken a wrong turn. I walked up to a security man and showed him our invitations, I asked him if we were in the right place not thinking for one minute that we were.
The guard answered, 'yes sir your seats are there', pointing towards a seat next to Joanna Lumley. We were surrounded by people we had seen on our screens for years. John Ford, the film producer was also seated near us, as was Toyah, Judy Geeson, Barbara Windsor and her husband Ronnie Knight, George Cole and Dennis Waterman. There were so many stars there I can only remember a small number of them. Michael Aspel was the host for the evening. Denholm Elliot picked up an award for his part in Zulu Dawn. Seated at the front was Princess Grace of Monaco, as well as two of our greatest comedians, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. After the ceremony, everyone went into a private bar for a drink but we knew that we had nothing in common with any of them, so we just looked around, then left. It was a great evening out though, one we could never forget. It was televised live, but it was in the days before we had a video recorder so we never got to see it.
What a change from a few years earlier when I couldn't afford to eat without stealing vegetables from my neighbours garden. Driving to London in my BMW for a flashy event then coming home to the comfort of my own house. Very soon we had that video recorder and goodness knows what else that my parents couldn't even have dreamt of.
In 1980 Aunty Ethel died, bringing to an end the link with my childhood in Clapham. The loss of my Great Aunt was probably a greater emotional wrench than the loss of my parents. I can't explain the reason for that except that somehow I expected her to go on forever. At the age of 94 she had outlived two generations of her family, then suddenly she slipped away.
Although the loss was great, this time I didn't feel that I was being left alone. This time I had Cath to share my feelings with and to help me through it.
Tracy's Night Club Situated in Bruton Way, Hosted many Celebrity nights during the 1970's.
Tracys - 1974 Edwin Starr invites some local lads onto the stage.
Tracys - Dave Lee Travis. 1975.
Tracys - Gordon leaning against the rail in the background.
A Gloucester rugby fan.
Gloucester fans at Twickenham.
Gloucester fans at Twickenham.
Us in the crowd at Twickenham.
Ron Taylor's Boxing Booth
Copyright © 1999 Cliff Ballinger. All rights reserved.