My Unfinished Father – A Life Lived to the Full
A Life Lived to the Full
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Part 14 – Pages 126 – 134
And for the next six months, more or less, we lived in North Wales. While we had been in Australia, my little brother had grown up into a bigger chap than I was He had gone to University in Belfast where he had met and had fallen in love with his to be wife. They had married and he had become involved in her mother’s business, which was based around a woollen mill and a couple of shops. He had the job of running s shop.
He was quite successful at this, at least to judge by the cars he was able to drive, including a Porsche and a Jaguar. His mother in law, a widow, owned a number of properties and rented one of these to me at what seemed a remarkably cheap rental of £10 a week. The house was in Trefiw, a small village a couple of miles outside the town of Llanrwst. The house was called ‘Canol y Pentre’ in Welsh, meaning ‘the centre of the town.
The next thing to do was to get a job. I started this process by writing a four page CV setting out my career to date. It was pretty impressive but four pages were probably over the top. I went to the local library and determined the 100 top companies in the UK. After all 100 first class stamps was a small sum to pay. It might work, and as it turned out, it did.
While all this administration was going on, my Dad who was in North Wales, suggested that I sign on the dole. I didn’t believe I was entitled to anything, but it was worth a try. Indeed I was entitled and in due course the DHSS came through and paid me a decent sum. They would also pay for my travel, even if the interview had not been arranged by them
I was pretty lucky in my employment officer, who was, if I remember correctly, called Mrs McHilliams. She was helpful in the extreme.
Being on the dole, the DHSS required one to sign on every week. On one of my signing on days it was absolutely throwing it down. My brother, who only lived a couple of doors away from Canol, was approached to see if I could take his Ford Sierra to get into Llanrwst. Without the rain I would have walked. He said he needed the Ford and chucked me a set of keys. I was to use the Porsche. As I reached the bottom of the hill to turn right I saw one very disconsolate Welshman obviously desperate for a lift. I stopped the Porsche and told him to get in.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“Llanrwst’” I answered.
“Oh me too,” he said.
“Yes, I’m stopping at the Unemployment Centre.”
“Yes, me too, do you work there?”
“No, I am going to sign on.”
“What, in a Porsche?”
“It’s not my car, but my brother’s. I have just borrowed it.”
I am not sure if he believed me but I was given a very strange look when I parked the Porsche outside the dole.
So, everything was bubbling along nicely.
We got the kids into schools, Rory in Llanrwst technical school and Jenny in the local village school. These were not ideal solutions but we consoled ourselves with the thought it would only be for a few months. My parents who had come to Wales to greet us, stayed for a few days.
My brother, with several cars at his disposal always seemed to be in a position to let me borrow one. Accordingly we saw a great deal of the country, viewing the magnificent castles built by Edward I in his efforts to subdue the Welsh. In a way it was like a continuation of our holiday. In the event I couldn’t get a job, we determined to buy a sub post office and we did a bit of travelling to view potential target sites.
In the meantime I was still pursuing a job. We had practically given up on the Post Office idea. That seemed too hard a way to earn a living. I took the Daily Telegraph each day and studied the ‘situations vacant’ section very closely applying for a number of positions. I had a few replies but no offers. My applications in respect of the four pages CV bore better fruit.
The first was a reply from Shell Oil inviting me to Shell House in London for an interview. I went along to meet my old friend George. He told me I didn’t have a cat’s chance in hell of getting a job in respect of the way I went about things. Thanks George.
I had better luck with Mobil Oil Company being invited back for a second interview, after an initial meeting in April. I was interviewed by the Security Manager Gerry. Gerry was an ex British Army Military Policeman, of the rank of major. I also met with and had a couple of discussions with the Security and Safety team. There was Ron who looked after security. Ray a funny man from Merseyside who carried out the safety function and Kay, the department secretary.
It was all very informal and family like. I had a good feeling about Mobil. I also felt that Gerry was biased because he came from Dublin and I was from Belfast.
My second interview was on 4th May and afterwards I wound my way back to Cymru. Here we busied ourselves with visiting all the tourist sites like Conwy Castle and the town of Conwy with could boast of the smallest house in Britain. We also spent time with Mum and Dad. I am sure my mother was absolutely overjoyed to have her two missing grandchildren so close at hand.
In May I started to play cricket for Llanrwst, relatively successfully. The first match seemed to be played on the side of a hill and was played on Rory’s 14th birthday and was totally wrecked by rain. I scored nought not out in our innings of eleven for no wickets. I played a total of ten games between May and July for six times out and with an average of 11.00. My final innings was one of 44, my highest score ever.
In the wider cricket world, England won the Ashes 3-1, with a young chap called Ian Botham making his mark. England’s victory delighted the club cricketers around the country.
I had made good friends with an English chap, Davey and was a bit unhappy at losing some good friends. I even missed the chaps asking for their guards in Welsh. Canol was frequently asked for ‘centre’.
I started work early in June for Mobil. My first action was to send a note to George letting him know, and adding the info that Mobil was paying me £1000 more than Shell would have done. I moved in with my sister for a few weeks, Faversham being closer to London than Conwy.
Mobil Oil was one of the famed ‘Seven Sisters’, one of the biggest oil companies in the world. My job was to protect their properties and people in the retail part of the business in the UK. Mobil had a refinery in Essex, a lubricants plant on Merseyside and numerous fuel terminals throughout the country. It was a big patch and involved about 25,000 miles of travel in a year.
I had a bit of travelling to do in my first few weeks and, I suppose I had to rely on the boys giving me lifts while I awaited the delivery of my new car.
At the same time we had agreed to buy a house in Woking and had rented a house nearby for four weeks until we could move in.
We registered the kids at schools in Woking and had some interesting interviews with their old schools in North Wales. For example Rory’s headmaster told me that my son had failed three exams at the end of the year.
“What did he fail?” I asked.
“Welsh, music and religion” was his answer in a tone which suggested no one should fail such important subjects.
I said, “My son is an Englishman. He is going to live in England so Welsh is absolutely not relevant to him. He is not in the least musical and I find religion is a very personal thing, and he feels nothing for it. So, I am sorry, but I am not concerned about any of this.”
I was accused of being unhelpful, which I suppose I was.
Rory was registered with the Sir Winston Churchill High School in Woking. Jenny was found a place at the local State School in St John’s. There is an interesting story about how the Sir Winston Churchill got its name. While the school was being planned, the local education authority conducted a survey amongst the anticipated influx of students asking for their ideas on a name.
One young lady wrote in suggesting the new school should be named after our great wartime leader, as he had saved the country and helped defeat Hitler. She added “Oh I have written to Lady Churchill asking her for her agreement and she has said yes. She has also agreed to open the school.”
True or not, it is a good tale and widely believed at the school. Meanwhile, prior to our move down south, we carried on exploring, taking in Beaumaris, Carnarvon, Harlech and Cricceth castles and their seaside towns. All were fascinating. It was spring and summer so the weather was good and we all enjoyed ourselves.
While staying in Kent, we were able to pick up my new car, owned by Mobil, but driven by me. It was registered as TKK 180 R and was a 1.6 Ford Capri. Unfortunately Margaret began to have doubts and began to act in what I considered to be a very strange way. She demanded to return to Australia, claiming she had never wanted to come back to Britain and that she wanted to return to Australia at once. It was, of course, my fault as I had talked her into it.
There was no way we could do that as I felt any reasonable person would understand. On one occasion, she straddled the first floor bedroom window and threatened to throw herself out. This type of behaviour was very difficult to deal with. It was not the type of conduct I could share with the children.
We continued exploring and went to Bodnant Gardens and Llechfeld Slate Quarries, where mining continues to this day. Interesting it certainly was.
On 12th August we finally were able to move into the first house we have ever owned in Britain. It was good to have our feet in our own place. And as 1977 slowly wended its way towards 1978, l felt we could look back with satisfaction at what we had achieved, a new job and a new home,, the children settled in school and everyone, or nearly everyone, happy.
Between June and Christmas, despite my working for Mobil and being in London during the week, we managed to visit lots of tourist spots. These included Kew, from Westminster on the River, Hyde Park, and Coventry Cathedral.
I went on training courses at Coventry and with the British Safety Council at St Katherine’s Dock. In all honesty, I did not feet hugely connected to safety training as I felt most of it was common sense.
In mine or our, gambolling around the country, we included the Imperial War Museum, Hampton Court Palace, HMS Belfast and the British Museum.
A special occasion was on 5th June in Trefiw, before we left Wales when we saw the Queen paying a Silver Jubilee visit to Wales. She was probably accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, but most certainly by Prince Charles.
We had another Royal occasion with my sister, her husband and children when we visited Windsor Castle and enjoyed ourselves very much. As to their habit of smoking, which they did at the time, we simply shut up about that.
Mum and Dad were off in Australia around this time, visiting family. It was one of two visits they made to Australia. Dad got a little job acting as Father Christmas and his photo, in full garb, appeared in a local newspaper.
In November we made our first visit to France on the Hovercraft. Like millions of other Brits we spent the day in Calais and undoubtedly we bought some wine. I wrote in the photograph album that I thought that Calais was a dirty and scruffy place. I suppose that it was.
And we took off for our Christmas holidays, a week in Germany with friends. We had a truly spectacular time. Their two children were a little bit younger than ours. However all four got along together very well despite the language difficulties.
We visited all the usual tourist spots, including Munich, the Olympic Stadium and King Ludwig’s fantastic Castles. The most spectacular was Neuschwannstein.
And 1978 rolled in and the Matiers were getting their home prepared. Fortunately, having done pretty well financially in Australia, we were not too short of money and managed to buy new furniture. We were also able to go out quite a lot and paid visits to various parks and shopping centres in London.
We also went to Beaulieu and the National Motor Museum, but did not meet up with Lord Montagu. We went along, via Oxford to Blenheim Palace and Churchill’s grave in Blenheim churchyard. Sir Winston had, in the last few years, become one of my heroes. In due course he became my overall hero of all time. I recalled being present at his funeral, and I am sure that I bored many people by telling them about it.
In April 1978 the Salvationists at Clapton Congress Hall organised a get together and we went along. Margaret met up with a number of her old pals especially Margaret, who had been a bridesmaid at our wedding and who had been with her the day we met. I remember it as a good evening.
I did a lot of travelling in the spring of 1978, to Leeds and Yorkshire, Manchester and Broadway in the Cotswolds from which I developed a great liking. In May, while visiting Sunderland Terminal, I stayed overnight in Durham. I was deeply impressed by Durham and its magnificent Cathedral. I did realise that I was very lucky seeing something of such places while working and having my accommodation paid for by Mobil.
In May I attended a Management Course at Crick, just off the MI at Junction 18. It lasted a week. During the course of the course I me with and became friends with a Ron Dawson who was the father of Matt Dawson, England’s fly half in the 2003 World Cup final with Australia .
Later he would become slightly more famous as joint host of ‘A question of Sport’ with Phil Tufnell and Sue Barker.
Later, at the end of May I went off with Gerry for five days in Denmark to provide cover for Rawleigh Warner and his family and Alex Massad and his wife on a business visit to Denmark. It was all very well organised by Gerry who hired two off duty police officers, both consentingly called Tom, to help us. I am still not sure who we were protecting our principals against as Gerry did not routinely share this information.
The big event was a trip to Tivoli Gardens, one of Copenhagen’s brightest tourist attractions. I was to follow, but not get in the way of the Massads. I did this until they turned into a large marquee. I waited just inside the entrance way and lost them. There were three in the party, Alex and Mrs Massad and Mrs Samds, Mr Warner’s divorced sister.
Too late I realised that the marquee had a rear exit and the party had left through this. i exited quickly and just caught a sight of them. I caught up to my determined safe distance of about 20 yards. Mrs Sands, a lady in her fifties walked back to me.
“Are you following us,” she demanded.
I admitted that I was.
“Don’t you think that would be easier if you walked with us?”
“Yes,” I said. “But I do not want to intrude.”
“Rubbish”, she said, “I am on my own.”
So it was agreed and for the next hour we walked together. We had an enjoyable next hour and returned to the Hotel D’Angleterre. The Massads went off to bed while I repaired to the bar. After about twenty minutes I was joined by Mrs Sands, dressed very casually.
“Do you know this town?” she asked me.
“Yes, I know it pretty well.
“Do you know the Little Mermaid?”
“Yes, I do. Down in the Harbour.”
“Will you take me to see her?”
“OK, I will.”
She asked for a few minutes to go to her room and after five minutes reappeared.
“Brian, I’m sorry, but I will give the Little Mermaid a miss. I don’t think Rawleigh would like it.”
I had the same feeling myself and nodded politely.
Some couple of weeks after the party returned safely to the united Sates, I received a note from Mrs Sands. It said, ‘at the end of your life it will not be the things you have done that you regret, but the things you haven’t done. i will always regret not going out to see the Little Mermaid.
I think I shared the sentiment in her note but nevertheless I was glad not to have gone.
The rest of the trip passed without incident and we got around to seeing the Royal Palace and all the other sights of wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen.
On 22nd July Rory and all his friends in the scouts took part in the ‘Woking Wheel’ acting out their roles as Space Scouts. The film actress, Judy Geeson, was there as Miss Woking.
Also in July the family and I spent a really interesting day at Greenwich, visiting the Cutty Sark and the Royal Naval College.
I got in some cricket in during 1978 mostly for my village St John’s for whom i played 15 times. We won seven and drew three times. I scored 131 runs at an average of 14.56, so it was a fairly successful; season. My highest score of the season was 34.
We began our routine of visiting what was worth seeing in the south of England including the Natural History Museum and the Roman villa at Littlehampton. The latter, in particular was near perfect. The end of August we went to Cornwall for a week, staying in a caravan. The weather was fine and we visited Tintagel and St Michael’s Mount, amongst many others. We also visited Poldark on the first round of that being a television favourite. At that time Poldark tin mine and Wheal Martyn Clay mine were both open to the public. I suppose that Poldark was well known in then1970s before its rebirth in the present day. The mine itself was fascinating.
Cornwall on my holiday there in 2016 struck me as how England must have been in the fifties and sixties. What it actually looked like in the fifties and sixties I cannot remember
Our caravan was comfortable enough, although a little cramped. On reflection this was the first time, I think we had used a caravan site.
In October I had to pay a visit to our fuel terminal at Bathgate a town between Glasgow and Edinburgh. I arranged the trip for a Friday and took the family. They had no interest in Bathgate but thoroughly enjoyed Edinburgh. We found the castle and the Royal Mile very awe inspiring. And Edinburgh itself provided much to wonder at. It is a city worthy to be Scotland’s capital.
On the way home we dropped by Hadrian’s Wall and the various Roman remains in Northumberland.
And so 1978 became 1979. I had turned 40 and was blessed with a decent job and a good home, which I was buying. If only Margaret would turn her full attention to the present day.
Part 14 – Pages 126 – 134