Al Burton


Theur can tek t’ lad art o’ t’ mill tarn bur theur cannot tek t’ mill tarn art o’ t’ lad. (for southeners: You can take the boy out of the mill town but you cannot take the mill town out of the boy – the relevance will be demonstrated later)

I started life in leafy suburbia, Lewisham London, to be transported at the tender age of 6 to a Heavy Woollen District mill town of  Birstall in West Yorkshire (carpet mills, mungo & shoddy)  where the dialect was thick as the towns were soot stained.  The years rolled by until 1958 when I found myself in the headmaster’s office to answer the phone while he conducted assembly.  I noticed a pile of forces recruitment brochures and, reading them, found that there was a life beyond the mill chimneys.  First I fancied the Royal Marines then decided on Royal Naval artificer.  Dad advised that aircraft was the coming thing so I applied for Halton, the rest was a shared history with you all – except perhaps for  a rank beyond AA,  good grades and a claim of having one of the highest number of days jankers in the entry  (56).

My first taste of real service life was the week on the SWO’s army, sweeping the roads around the officers’ married quarters.  Then, walking into the hanger of 74 (Lightning F1) Squadron to find all the aircraft on jacks while the CWP replaced  the chaffed hydraulic pipes and P clips.  Junkets followed  to Sweden (trade fair),  Norway  (Tiger meet) Belgium, Farnborough Week (aerobatic  display), Gaydon (Battle Britain air displays- hardly a junket!)  and Valley for missile firing trials – no drinking on a Sunday, except at the hotel dance we found ).  We took over from 23 Sqd (night fighters) when 74 qualified to fly in the dark on QRA.  I was on QRA the night when the news broke about the assassination of President Kennedy.

Belgium was memorable for a nightmare scene of finding Belgiums crammed into the aisles and cockpit of our Hastings trying to look around, thinking it was part of the static display.  The aircrew had failed to secure the aircraft. We soon scooted the public out but had an uncomfortable flight  home  wondering if any harm had been done.

The week long mandatory Fire Picket was a distraction and I was one day posted to guard a US aircraft that had crashed  nearby until the Americans took over.  We delivered newsletters to the married quarters but found a substantial number of addresses were in the hedgerows and we chased rabbits in the landrover headlights when patrolling the bomb dump .

My only 252 resulted from an incident after a flying display when volunteers to put the aircraft to bed were promised exemption from the AOC’s parade next day -.  I was the first volunteer.   However, after we had finished and preparing to get ready for the station dance were told  ‘sorry boys, you’ll have to parade’.   Next morning, and with a hangover, nothing was going to get me out of bed.    So I was charged but pleaded exceptional circumstances and was only  admonished by a sympathetic CO.

We had a Royal visit from Princess Margaret and the squadron performed, as usual.  But on this occasion I was on the flight line and while the aircraft were doing their stuff we adjourned to the line hut to play cards.  We heard the door being locked  by an overzealous NCO who didn’t want any untidy erks littering the  apron while HRH was in the tower.  That evening the Station Commander visited the airmans’ mess to thank us for our efforts – after losing the previous weekend for the Squadron to practice aerobatics and being locked in the line hut you can guess my thoughts.  The funniest part of the tale was, and we had it on good authority, that the rehearsal for the visit included a ‘plop’  test in the officer’s mess.   Apparently the method was for a stone to be dropped into a toilet (by appointment) and the tester walked to a point where the ‘plop’ could be no longer heard, then a silken cord was draped across the  passageway to mark the point of no entry  for mere mortals should the royal personage desire to spend tuppence.

After passing the Cpl/tech promotion exam  I was ready to move on and applied for an overseas posting in 1963. My saddest day after leaving Halton was when the whole squadron decamped for  their new base at Leuchars straight after the missile firing trials and I was left at Coltishall for a couple of weeks kicking my heels until my posting to RAF Khormaksar, March 1964.

Part 2 Aden, 1964 – 1965

After an eleven hour flight in a chartered Britannia from Stanstead we arrived at the civilian terminal, Aden, to be greeted in the building and allocated our accommodation.

My posting was not to one of the fighter squadrons but to the Visiting Aircraft Servicing Flight, VASF, an outpost of Transport Command. What did I know about great lumbering beasts with things whirling about in front of them?

I soon bedded down into the four shift routine of the flight, living in the single storey, air conditioned, prefab type building with a carefully tended exotic flower garden in front and within sight of the swimming pool and cinema. A perk of working shifts, I thought until we were shifted into a 3 storey barracks much later.

We heard that prior to our arrival the government had decreed that married ranks either served one year unaccompanied or two years in married quarters or hiring’s. The single men went berserk, threw furniture off the balconies and set fire to it. The fire trucks were racing from one fire to another. To add insult to injury the one year men got a ‘lonely hearts’ allowance– to pay for stamps?.

Guard duty came round every few weeks, 2 on 4 off, 24 hours. 60 unenthusiastic bods assembled outside the armoury at 5 pm  to be issued with that most modern of firearm, LE 303, 5 rounds in a clip to be stored in our pocket and told of the horrendous penalties for letting off a round, and even worse if you actually hit someone. This went on for some time until about the time some politician arrived for independence talks. On leaving there was a security panic on the pan as his aircraft was searched for bombs. The guard duties came round more frequently, every 10 days and we were allowed to put the rounds in the rifle. In 1965 I was deputy guard commander twice. A more incompetent person would have been hard to find, coupled with the fact that the SNCO guard commander was usually more clueless than us since the duty came round rarely for them – Khormaksar was safe in our hands (the sergeants mess had a membership of 700)! Thankfully the army was nearby. Duty Dog was interesting when it came to putting out the lights in the Camel club.

One particularly hot and humid night on guard, whilst supposedly sleeping in the guard hut, I sneaked off for a decent kip in my own bed. Horror of horrors, I had slept over. Rushing back, expecting arrest and a court martial I confessed to the SNCO who, to my huge relief and after a bollocking, only gave me an extra guard stint.

There were 5 riggers on each shift and when something like a Brit. came in one would man the water bowser, one the bog trolley and the others for inspections and supervising the cleaners. The bog trolley had a fuel-type connection and it had been known for the coupling to come adrift and shower the poor sod with the contents of the cess pit. My most unusual job was to do a metal repair on the tail plane of an Indian Air Force Constellation – apart from changing a wheel on a Beverly, huge great round things on the end of 50ft legs. Usually 84 Squadron would repair any visiting Bevs but I suppose it was on a weekend and they were stood down.

When arriving on shift we first checked the arrivals board, on odd occasions there were no aircraft movements but at the height of the activities we had 6 Brits bringing troops to turn round.  My tally included, Brits,  Comet 4, Hastings, Argosy, Valetta, Beverly, Canberra PR 7 & 9, B(I)8, Shackleton, twin Pioneer, Constellation and Dakota,  (Belfast & VC 10 were out on hot weather trials and had not entered service)

After the Aden Airways Dakota was blown up at the civilian terminal all visiting aircraft movements were shifted up to the military pan. What joy to watch all the air hostesses on the civilian charters descending the aircraft steps, but better still was raiding the galleys for unused meals, moist white bread and same day newspapers.

Apart from reported incidents (Aden was under martial law) life seemed quite peaceful, the locals friendly and we were able to go about our business – until late 1965 and then the mood seemed to change. I had to go down to an airline office in Crater to pick up tickets and the town seemed to be on lock down by the army, I was glad to get back to Khormaksar.

Swimming at Elephant bay and the Lido was the main recreation but when the scuba divers brought any fish back it was me that got out the pan – anything was better than mess food.  Four of us decided to hire a boat to go fishing in the bay – one was sea sick, one sun burnt and one caught a fish the size of a fully grown herring.

Christmas 1964 was tragic when a grenade was thrown into the married quarters of the principal medical officer, Air Commodore Sidney, and killed his 16 year old daughter, who had only just arrived 2 days earlier, also injuring four teenagers.  This incident led to a midnight curfew.

When I reached the magic 3 years of service as stipulated in QR’s I could apply for discharge by purchase. Not many who made the application in Aden were successful and so tried to ‘work their ticket’ to civvy street.   To save £200 I went sick and claimed that I was too mentally unstable to cope with the responsibility of aircraft maintenance. A trip to the psychiatrist at Steamer Point led me to the classic Catch 22 scenario.  I was officially declared sane, thereby failing the audition to start an acting career.  (I regretted not rehearsing the thrashing about on the ground while foaming at the mouth bit).

After submitting a formal application I complaining to my OC, Flt Lt ‘Zwicky Nozzle’ (41st) about the undue delay for a response, I was given an appointment with the STO. At the interview I took the opportunity of suggesting a reformulation of guard duties in hot climate (2 on 4 off was OK for a temperate climate) but nothing came of it – or so I thought. My flight Commander took me off the shift and appointed me rigger to the AOC, Middle East Command   – one AVM Johnnie Johnson, of WW11 fame.  He had a Dakota to visit around the command and take his shooting parties up country. For his arrivals and departures we wore white overalls but the presence of his personal rigger and fitter never caught the great man’s attention, let alone offering a jolly to East Africa.  I felt compensated by the supposition that there must have been a secret plan to get rid of the AOC by appointing a self-confessed lunatic as his personal mechanic!  Luckily we both survived and were tired’ from the RAF soon after my appointment.

I flew home to England on the 6th October 1965 – denied the joy of knowing that I would never return to the barren rocks of Aden.

Life in Civvy Street – 1965 to 1969

Tugging my forelock to officers, living 8+ in a room, toting guns instead of spanners and all the bullshine contributed to my inability to live the military life.    My intention on leaving the RAF was to apply for a job at Heathrow and take my licence exams.  I joined SLAET as a student member while at Aden.

Fate took a hand when my father had an operation for lung cancer in August.  By the end of September, with 6 months to run on my tour, I decided to buy a ticket to go home.  The night before I was due to fly out a signal arrived from UK requesting compassionate leave due to my father’s serious illness.  I boarded the BOAC VC 10 next morning, 6th October, with two tickets in my hand, one from the RAF and the one that I had paid that for, and subsequently refunded. Staging through Khartoum and Tripoli I arrived at Heathrow to be met by the RAF, who swiftly moved me onto a domestic flight to Leeds/Bradford airport.

Waiting at the airport was a sergeant and another guy. This guy started interviewing me and I asked him who he was – a journalist from the Yorkshire Post.  “Was I grateful for the RAF paying for my fare”, “Yes” I said through gritted teeth. The sergeant drove me home for which I was very grateful.    An article later featured in the Post – “Cpl. Burton was grateful for the RAF paying for his flight home”.   PR job well executed. Three weeks later I applied for a leave extension through the local SSAFA rep. and was able to attend my father’s funeral in November before reporting back to Innsworth. At this time my discharge had been approved but documentation was awaited from Aden. My final service activity in the RAF was chopping firewood.

I paid £200 for my freedom on 22nd November and I just had to wait for my goods and chattels to come by sea, packed up by some light-fingered admin bods. When the crate arrived I was able to retrieve a mildewed uniform and greatcoat (Yes, we did wear it in Aden) and dispatched them to Innsworth thereby severing all links with the RAF.

Thus ended my first career.

All thoughts of my future career in civil aviation disappeared after I’d promised dad I’d help look after his ‘corner’ grocery shop. However, it soon became obvious that my mother was quite capable of the running the business and I drifted for a while.

I had thought in Aden of competing for the Kramer aviation prize awarded to the first person to complete a man-powered flight in a figure of eight round two posts set ½ mile apart. I based my design on a Benson auto gyro. In my spare time I bought the rotor blades in kit form and my joiner brother-in-law helped construct them. I used aluminium tube for the frame and bicycle parts for the drive mechanism. Gears from a rear axle differential provided the 90o change of drive in the head box.  I had an aluminium casting made and machined to give the correct chord angle when the blades were attached. I finally assembled all the parts and carried out a test to balance the blades. Pedalling like a lunatic everything worked – then reality took hold, I was scared to death that the contraption would lift off even though I’d weighed it down. I pushed it back into the garage and quietly dismantled it.  I notice that the American Helicopter Society is currently offering a Prize for the first person hover using only man-power and Sikorsky Corp. is putting up the $250,000 prize money.

Go to 91st.

My cousin, a Cranwell cadet, was stationed in Singapore and he had a ‘brilliant’ idea of importing ‘furniture from the Orient’ to the UK. Demonstrating that his side of the family had the brains he did the buying and I had to do the selling. We decided to import 100 high quality teak coffee tables.  The first disaster was when the lorry turned up from Liverpool docks without having a fork truck to off load two very heavy crates.  Handballing the crates off the back of the lorry was the only option.   I made up one of the tables (they were flat packed) and made an appointment with Manny Cussins who owned a chain of furniture stores based in Leeds. He was impressed and took four tables for the Leeds store, betting me a hundred pounds that there were not from the Far East – but he never paid up.  Manny became the chairman of Leeds United football club. We got rid of all the tables eventually but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. I added salesman to a growing list of failed careers.

My next venture was with Bill, a rep with an industrial chemical products company. He was the brother of my friend Tom on 74 Sqd, who introduced us on a night out when he came home on leave. His company also sold equipment and the item that interested him was an air-operated pump used for wash down operations at high pressure. We set up a company to provide a cleaning service to the poultry industry, pressure washing broiler chicken houses and battery houses. 10,000 day old chickens were put into a standard sized heated broiler house, six weeks later they were ready for the table. When the chickens were taken away the farmer removed all the litter and we pressure washed and disinfected the interior of the house and all the feeding equipment. The battery houses were filled with point of lay chickens and kept for 12 months before they were removed and then we undertook the very difficult job of trying to clean all the cages.

Postscript: The birds depended on vaccinations to keep diseases at bay and the battery houses were an unbelievably cruel method of animal husbandry. I have been a vegetarian for a very long time.

The money was very good, making £20/day in 1966-69 but I was ready to move on again, sold my share of the partnership and rented a 2 acre industrial site to clean the chassis of trucks that was a requirement for the newly instituted MOT tests.  I constructed a suitable ramp ready for business and negotiated a contract with John Smith’s brewery in Tadcaster.

But they took so long to make a decision and, noticing an ad for airframe fitters in June, 1969 for the Lightning contract in Saudi; I applied, got the job and headed out to Riyad, via Beirut, in August.  John Smith’s were too late; I’d flown the nest by the time they finally made their decision to go ahead.

Part 4:   Saudi Arabia 1969 – 1971

A small party flew to Beirut in August for an overnight stop over. As we taxied to the terminal we could see burnt-out MEA Comets left over from the 1967 Israeli strike – welcome to the Middle East. (We had to get a Christian certificate of religion for the Saudi entry visa). One of the party, a pilot, obviously knew his way around and after first calling in to see a buddy who ran a bar, took us on to a cabaret type club where the Spanish dancing troop doubled up as hostesses. Beirut at that time was one of the flesh pots of the Mediterranean Arriving at Riyadh next day it transpired that I had been sent to the wrong airfield, I should have gone to Dhahran. I had a stopover in the city which seemed to comprise one long road flanked by very expensive villas and hotels. Next day I flew to Dhahran and was taken straight to the chief engineer’s office on the pan. After a briefing I was directed to the accommodation which was about ¼ mile away. It was so hot and humid I honestly thought I wouldn’t make it to the block – a recently constructed, two storey building of single rooms and with very efficient air conditioning.

The only buildings we had on the technical site was the electronics servicing facility, a metal canopy, housing perhaps two aircraft, and no hanger until the ex-US hanger was handed over. We had 40 Mk 53s and 2 T 55s. The aircraft could not have undergone hot weather trials since sitting out in 150o temperature the seals started to fail in the avpin starter valves located in the spine on the fuselage.

My first job was to replace all the seals on the low & high pressures valves. I had a box with a reservoir and hand pump to pressure test the valves after I had replaced the seals – under the open canopy, with dust swirling about.

I was delegated the task of setting up the hydraulic bay when we took over the hanger. I installed all the test equipment and racked out the stores. When I came to check the spares inventory I found that someone had omitted to provide full sets of seals etc. to service the components. There was a £1m return to UK service contract so everything had to be return on this contract. Luckily we did have spare wheels and brakes. I wrote a report for the BAC chief engineer and then wandered off to help out in the guided weapons section. After installing the mechanical equipment I spent the rest of my time under the canopy on second line servicing.

The section leader in the GW shop took a taxi into town one day and was badly injured when his taxi collided with another vehicle. Luckily he ended up in hospital as he would have joined his driver in jail, since according to Saudi law all those involved were responsible and liable for punishment or to pay compensation.

We hadn’t been out there long when all flights stopped; we found out later that there had been an attempted coup against King Feisal. Some of the Air Force Officers were never seen again with their heads attached.

We were receiving £2,000/year tax free but when we found out the sort of pay levels other expats were receiving we had a meeting and decided to go on strike. Within 24 hours we were offered a 50% increase. I don’t think the Saudis were too pleased to have their airforce grounded. (A Saudi Major later said that Airwork was receiving £6,000/head under the contract). The guy in charge of the guided weapons section found that the Americans had left an open air swimming pool but it needed renovating. A gang of us set to with a small donation from the company and got the pool running. The only problem was that there was no filtration unit and so the pool had to be emptied and refilled frequently – with precious water.

Sometime during 1969 the border with Yemen became active and a detachment of aircraft and Airwork staff from Dhahran was dispatched. All hands to the pumps and I was told to assist the armourers to load the aircraft. I refused on the grounds that I was employed in a training role not as a mercenary – not that we saw any Saudis for on-the-job training.  There were plenty of willing volunteers so I was excused. One of the pilots based at Khamis Mushayt with Lightning Mk 2s (maintained by Pakistani ground staff), was Vaughan Ratford, a former 74 Sqd pilot. He remained in Saudi as a senior military advisor until he died recently. In his eulogy he was referred to as a latter day Lawrence.

Most companies negotiated a liquor license as part of the contract but ours didn’t; we finally rented a villa that served as a club house, with swimming pool and a bar. In the early days some enterprising lads brought beer kits in their luggage, they were able to get the tins of malt though customs. The beer was brewed in the accommodation blocks and bottled in empty coke bottles – the penalties were severe if caught. One time I was invited to an officer’s house and was surprised to be offered an alcoholic drink – out of a well-stocked cocktail cabinet. Prior to our arrival the US had supplied military aircraft and trained airforce personnel in the US, understandably they picked up western social habits.

Sometime before my first leave the company accounts office was broken into and the wages stolen. The Saudis carried out an investigation and locked up the accounts manager. As far as I knew he was still locked up two years later when I left. One of the Saudis’ detection methods was to employ a tracker. For months after the theft, anyone going on leave had to walk in the sand for the tracker to eliminate that person.

We borrowed a Chevvy truck one time to explore the hinterland and came across a big town called Al Huhof; it was like going back into biblical times but with a coke stall on the outskirts, where the seller refused to sell coke to the infidels.

One night a drunken Airworks reveller was making a nuisance of himself by the airfield security gate, the guard called for assistance and the jeep rushing to the scene rolled over and killed one of the occupants. I wasn’t aware of any repercussions.

I think Dhahran was one of the few airfields that permitted sonic booms during an air display. I was called one time to repair the canopy on the flight simulator and was rewarded with a ‘flight’. What an experience – but coming into land all the bells and lights lit up, I had landed 10 ft above the runway. The equipment room was full of rack upon rack of printed circuit boards – not a chip in sight.  Protocols were not strictly observed and one deputy chief engineer was pulled for taxying a Lightning, and I enjoyed running one in reheat on the test pan (under supervision).

I planned to get married at the end of 1971 and bring my wife out to Saudi but the religious police were being very active towards western women, in part for wearing ‘revealing’ clothes (the age of the miniskirts), so I decided to call it a day. By chance my next door neighbour in 1988 was working in Saudi and when his wife went out on holiday she had to cover up completely when outside and wasn’t allowed to drive. He showed me photos of Saudi and I found it unrecognisable. The one horse town of Al Khoba had turned into a city of 500,000, as had the village of Dhahran; MacDonald’s et al littered the highways.

The only time it rained was when I walked across to the airport terminal and when I got back my clothes were spattered with sooty blotches.

I left Saudi Arabia in October 1971, shaking off the dust from another desert and vowing never again to leave the green, green, grass of home.

End of career number 3

Part 5: MAD, BAC, Warton, shipyard 1971 – 1974.

I applied to BAC, Military Aircraft Division, Warton on my return from Saudi Arabia but the recruitment process was so long drawn out that I applied to Field Aircraft Services and began at – Coltishall, back where I started.

I received a job offer from BAC just before my wedding day on 18th December, but they advised me to ring them straight after Christmas to find out where they were sending me – Coltishall. So the first week back at work I hunted round Norwich for somewhere to set up home. 3 months later the runway was closed at Coltishall and we all moved up to Binbrook. This time I looked round for a house to buy– house prices were soaring away in 1972. Soon we were able to move into a house in Cleethorpes. Not for long, for in September I was selected to join the MRCA (Tornado) project at Warton. By this time my wife was 4 months pregnant so we decided to rent a flat in Lytham St Annes until the birth. After Easter we returned to Cleethorpes and I travelled up to Warton every week for the night shift, which ended on Friday morning for the start of a long weekend. During this time I was involved in a second strike but as a member of the ASTMS union I opted not to cross the AUEW picket line and enjoyed an extra day at home.

We started at Warton by making some detail parts, then the big day when the front fuselage arrived at Warton and we started to fit access panels to the airframe. It was a change in culture, one – because being a European joint project all measurements were in metric, and two – because all items required were issued against the drawing – no spare nuts and bolts. I surreptitiously constructed a 6 drawer tool box out of scrap aluminium sheet and when I had finished it the works superintendent came over to admire it by way of telling me that he knew what went on in his factory. After Easter I was warned to get my bags packed to travel to MMB works near Munich as part of a team to marry up the wings and fuselage sections. Sorry – says I – not convenient with having a two month old baby and a house in Cleethorpes under renovation. Sorry – says them – you’re off the project and re- located to Leuchars. Off I go to Bonnie Scotland, back to Lightning maintenance, spending two weeks trying to find family accommodation; it was too far to travel every weekend, but without success so I tendered my resignation.

End of career number 4.

I felt the same as a sailor without a ship – stranded in Cleethorpes! I signed on in Grimsby (with half the northern fishing fleet – Cod Wars) and got a short term contract on a shut-down at a Petro-chemical plant – it was money for old rope but it didn’t last long. Some of the gang went from one contract to another; it was like a travelling circus. I was sent to another job but before I put a foot across the threshold a union official inspected my union card and said the ‘closed shop’ didn’t recognise ASTMS. Sod Clive Jenkins – says I, changing unions, as I had a family to feed.

I answered an advert from the Humber Graving Dock and Engineering Co. and was offered a job in the maintenance dept. at Immingham docks. It was my introduction to real mechanical engineering – and flogging spanners, needed to shift the nuts on sea corroded 1” dia. M.S. flange bolts. The old shipyard didn’t appear to have invested any money since the First World War but the ancient equipment was interesting -like the steam operated hammer. I found out what heavy oil looked like as we had a tank farm supplied by pumping out the ships bunkers. This oil was used to feed our boiler house but had to be pre-heated before it could be used – it set like tar when it was cold. Watching the shipyard workers positioning huge timber beams to support the ships as the dock was pumped out and then going down into the dry dock to look round the hull was fascinating There were only 5 fitters in the dept, two being brothers from a Sunderland shipyard, all under an inspiring Chief Engineer. One of the brothers did all the turning work and his brother thought nothing of shinning up the jib of a dockside crane to lift the wire rope back onto the sheave – both were highly talented engineers.

Maintaining dockside cranes and the huge turbines (needed to pump water out of the dry docks), making electric lighting generating sets with the diesels engines off old railway yard three wheelers, and repairing air-operated tools were only a few of our tasks. We even made a dockside crane from bits and pieces that the Chief Engineer had scrounged.

One day a Russian freighter limped into the dock with hull damage. All the old boys were in their element as they lit their brazier’s to heat the rivets for the attachment of new plating (usually the boilermaker’s welded plates on the hulls of more modern ships). The boilermakers defended their trade demarcation to the extent that we were not allowed to use the oxy-acetylene gear for cutting or bearing-fitting, nor do any welding.

The shipyard was renovating the first of three old Humber ferry paddle boats, the Tattershall Castle, taken out of service in 1972, now moored off Westminster on the Thames as a floating restaurant. One day, after repairing the prop shaft bearings on a 20’ work boat, we took it out for a leak test. I had a drive but I couldn’t get the hang of steering the damn thing.

The company had a contract for the maintenance of the Conoco – Phillips oil refinery and employed a few hundred fitters together with the shipyard fitters. In 1974 a strike was called, probably for more money, but at this time I was merely a bemused bystander. Luckily, the shipyard was exempt from Mr Heath’s three day week during the miners‘work-to-rule and we never lost any wages, whilst other non-exempt workers were on a three day working week.

I enjoyed the job but after a year we decided to up sticks to live near relatives in ‘t mill tarn, as the flat landscape of Lincolnshire couldn’t compare to the rugged Pennine hills.

Part 6: 1974 – 1976 Yorkshire

Jobs were so plentiful in 1974 and I didn’t go job hunting until after we had moved into our new home. I applied for and was offered a job in the maintenance dept. of a company making chemical dyes. The job wasn’t very demanding but with acids being pumped round the factory in 3” dia. pipes it wasn’t a very good career move. I soon applied for another job in Leeds, at Doncaster’s Monk Bridge, one of the most militant in the city, with 2,500 employees making forged turbine blades. The maintenance dept. carried 4 shifts of 20 working continental hours round the clock. The money was very good but the conditions were appalling. My first job was to scrape in the 6”dia. white metal bearing liners of a press shaft. One job required carrying a full sized nitrogen cylinder down (and up) 3 flights of steps into a chamber at the base of a hydraulically operated 6,000 ton press to recharge the accumulators. Why not run a fixed pipeline down the stairwell I said – a suggestion soon taken up.

When Harold Wilson called the Referendum on membership of the European community I was one of dissenters, a stand that came to fruition in 2001.

This was 1975 with the aftermath of the three day week. As a consequence of the wage manipulations our wages consisted of at least 5 different components, some fixed rates of which were ignored for calculating overtime or holiday pay. If I remember correctly the wage restraints continued until about 1978. In 1975 I stood for election as a shop steward (AUEW) for my shift. The company paid the wages for a full-time Works Convener and his assistant – there were at least 50 other shop stewards when I took my place on the joint shop stewards committee. My special interest was health and safety. One time, with three others using 6 ft steel lever bars, I had to change a leather friction tyre on a 4 ft dia horizontal wheel, 9 ft from the floor, with no secure foot hold or safety rail, in fact the circular platform sloped towards the centre and was covered with hydraulic oil, I made an official complaint. No response was forthcoming after a month so I followed up with a proposal to take action if there was no response. After another month I informed my boss that staff would be instructed not to carry out the task until the necessary safety measures were installed – in union parlance the machine was “blacked”.. Within a week the drawing office produced a working drawing to fabricate a platform with hand rails – and I got the job of installing it. Men working in the grinding shop, grinding off the flashing from the forged blades, were afflicted by “white finger” caused by the constant vibrations of the 18” grinding wheels which we were required to dress from time to time. Most of the manual processes were paid at piece rate.

The company forged turbine blades for Rolls Royce but the orders fluctuated with demand for engines. There was a down turn in 1976 and the company implemented cost saving measures. One of the half-brained ideas was to reduce the contractors’ cleaning times for the shower block. Anybody working in the press shop had to shower off at the end of the shift because their exposed skin was covered in black – from the spraying of graphite in alcohol onto the hot dies used to release the blade after it had been forged (the slugs, round bar, were pre-heated in an oven before being inserted between the dies). I was in the shower block one night and I scraped accumulated dirt from the shower tray and took the sample to the shift foreman. Whatever was said thereafter resulted in the cleaners coming more often. I dread to think what the lungs of the workers looked like after decades in the press shop. Inevitably we went on strike and I can testify that three weeks was the limit before financial hardship struck hard.

The Company was taken over by International Nickel (Inco), a Canadian company. Within twelve months the company decided to implement compulsory redundancies for about 800 staff, myself included. We fought the good fight during the 3 months consultation period to no avail and so it was back to signing on, but this time with a good redundancy package. I heard later that one of my former colleagues had his arm taken off at the shoulder while levering off the leather friction tyre on a press wheel when an operator started his machine – no electrical isolation.

Once off the treadmill of continental shifts I was able to offer my services to my former Scout leader, now the District Commissioner, who had appealed for volunteers in the local paper. He asked if I would re-form our old troop that had disbanded years before. Luckily there was a good feeder Cub pack to recruit from. We moved into the meeting hall once used by a disbanded Catholic troop – we were C of E. It was a steep learning curve as the 1966 Report of the Scouting Association had made major changes. No longer were we known as “Boy” scouts and we were able to wear long trousers. With my aircraft experience I assisted the County Air Activity adviser and ran courses for the Airman’s badge at our district camp site. One aspect of belonging to a Parish-sponsored group was attending the monthly Church Parade, but I felt at home in that church being a former choir boy (and member of the cricket team). On my first summer leave from Halton I joined my troop for their annual weeks’ camp at Wray Castle, Windermere. We senior scouts decided to hire a rowing boat from Bowness but we were refunded the cost as we ferried scouts across the lake on a daily basis. One day we met up with some girls on holiday in Bowness and it transpired that they were in a caravan. We arranged to meet them one evening and were just getting cosy when there was a knock on the caravan door about 10pm. It was Skip – how he found us is still a mystery. We crammed into his little Morris Minor without protest and were taken back to camp like lost sheep.

What came after the redundancy was rather a shock since I was usually successful at being offered a job after an interview. Although I felt that I had amassed a number of positive interviews at various engineering firms, no offers were forthcoming. 1976 was in the era of the Blacklists and I guess, as a former shop steward, I was listed. Any company that subscribed to the Engineering Employers’ Federation was able to access additional information of former employees – as I found out much later from reading a special report in the Sunday Observer. Once I recognised the problem I replied to an advert from a small local paint company. I had passed the premises of Silver Paint and Lacquer Ltd many times and I thought the name reflected the product, but the owner was called Leslie Silver. He was a very charismatic chap, brought up in the east end of London, joined the RAF during WWII and qualified as an aircraft engineer on Halifaxes. He had used his gratuity to set up his paint manufacturing company in Leeds in 1947. Legend has it that he and his wife rolled barrels of paint ingredients round the works to mix them. By the time he had transferred his business to Batley in the 1960s he could afford electric mixers but only mild steel mixing vessels for the water and oil based paints. The company was established in a former textile mill, not quite the most efficient buildings but it worked and had just produced a record £1m of paint sales in a month.

Part 7: Silver Paint and Lacquer Co. Ltd, 1977 – 1986

The job advert specified experience in pneumatics. I was interviewed by an old boy who seemed more interested in my hobbies than my skills but I was offered the job. The main factory was on three floors, powders being lifted up on an external hoist to the top floor to be loaded into mixing vessels set into the floor. Once mixed, the basic product was run off into the vessel set in the floor below where it was finished off to various qualities and colours. The paint was then filled into the various sized tins. Periodically the mild steel holding tanks and vessels had to be manually scraped by the operators to remove rust encrusted deposits. Failure to do this could result in bacteria building up and contaminating the paint.

There were nine others in the maintenance dept. together with Tony, the Chief Engineer and Mike, the Assistant Engineer. My principal job was to look after all the pneumatically operated paint filling machines. Our company supplied paint to supermarkets, whilst the established paint manufacturers – Dulux, Johnsons, Berger etc. – did not, as in those days people mostly bought their paint from high street shops. There was great rejoicing when the company was awarded the contract to supply ‘own label’ brand to B & Q, accounting for 20% of our total production in 1978.

David Ward, hooker for Leeds Rugby League team worked in the dept. (no full time professionals in the 70s) and he nicknamed me Cardboard Al as I had permission to collect cardboard for our scout fund raising. We had a monthly paper collection around the parish and with the 200 club lottery raised around £1,000 a year. I met Dave thirty years later for the first time since 1978 and I could see the grin forming with the words – Cardboard Al– I had forgotten all about the name. I organised a game of rugby, to be refereed by Dave, between the boys and girls at work to raise money, where we were handicapped by wearing female attire but the girls still won.

We had a satellite factory that produced low cost/high volume paint – till it burned down. The company had bought Leeds Paints Co in 1977, an old established company with a large site, four miles from Batley. With the insurance money from the fire a new factory was built behind the Leeds Paints factory with state of the art technology and stainless steel vessels.

In 1979 the Chief Engineer and his Assistant were spending most of their time at the new factory and so I was promoted to Supervisor to manage the daily maintenance activities at Batley.

Leeds Paints had a final salary pension scheme which was expanded to offer all SPL employees the opportunity to join. I hadn’t expected to stay long so I didn’t join until it was a condition on becoming a member of Staff as a Supervisor.

We didn’t hold many spares, so when a part was needed one of us would borrow the van and go out to the supplier. One day I was at Fenners in Leeds buying a v-belt when the counter clerk said the company account was on stop – we hadn’t been paying our bills again, so I put my hand in my pocket and paid for the item myself. It wasn’t a problem getting reimbursed but the situation continued until we got a new Finance Director.

Most of the employees were recruited locally, usually by word of mouth, and quite a few were related and former textile workers. They were a wonderful crowd, friendly, generally happy and motivated. The works tannoy blasted out popular music from radio 1 – shades of Music While You Work There wasn’t a year in the next twenty that went by without an increase in production and employment. The pay rates were one of the best in the district and the week finished at lunch time on Fridays – except for the maintenance dept..

One night around 7pm I had a telephone call from work –could I come in as there’s a bit of a problem. An outlet valve on a 2,000 litre gloss paint tank had been left open on the 1st floor of the factory and paint was running down onto the floor below. It’s a testimony to the staff that more than twenty lads turned out till 11 pm that night to clean up ready for the next day – we did get a fish & chip supper from the production director who also got stuck in – in more sense than one since he slipped and fell over into the paint.

In 1982 the company bought a wall paper manufacturer 35 miles away just off the M62 at Whitefield near Bury. The manager didn’t have any engineering staff so initially we sent a team over to carry out maintenance work. I was driving over one day with the squad when the bottom end of the Land Rover engine parted company and spread out over the motorway – luckily Birch services was nearby for the tea break. I realised that Stuart, the manager, needed help on the shop floor . I volunteered to become Production Manager/Engineer and was accepted and provided with a company car, a Ford Escort, to travel over every day. This new role effectively ended my scouting activities.

The machines, two Anaglypta wallpaper lines, were originally supplied to ICI Oldham from Germany in the 60s, the operators receiving apprentice-type training. ICI sold them to a firm in Rochdale before they ended up in Whitefield – together with their original operators. The machines fed two sheets of paper into a pasting device before entering the embossing rollers where the embossed pattern was impressed into the wetted papers, out of the rollers through trimming cutters and into a 35 ft gas-fired oven to dry the paper before being rolled up to length into the final product . The line incorporated 8 variable speed DC motors with which the operators maintained the correct paper speed to prevent tension pulling the pattern out or bunching up and jamming. The sight of the operator “sitting down reading newspapers all day” used to drive the production director crazy. But if you studied the operator every now and again he would get up and tweak the speed on one of the drives or set up to change the rolls of paper. Initially we used one line, then as more orders came we commissioned the second line, taking production from 20,000 to 80,000 rolls/week. All our production was collected by returning paint delivery trucks to be stored at Batley. If the trucks missed we had to stack boxes of rolls in every nook and cranny of the building, One morning I was travelling over to Whitefield with the wages – it was misty and traffic was light until I saw stationary traffic in front near the Huddersfield turn-off. I was just coming to a stop when a car behind rammed me. I ended up three cars down between them and the crash barrier. Miraculously only my car and the one behind was damaged. Mine was drivable so after the police had finished I drove back to our garage where it was classified as a write-off. I borrowed another car and set off back to Whitefield via a different route – everyone was waiting anxiously for their wages.

In 1984 the company bought a 60 acre industrial site, a former carpet mill and right opposite “dad’s Corner Shop”. The original 5 storey mill block had been demolished but there were other more modern buildings on site that had been rented out to sundry businesses when the mill closed. The site also contained an eighteenth century house reputed to be“Fieldhead” in one of the Bronte sisters’ books. It was divided into two dwelling with one still occupied by a lady. Years later, having built all around the house, it was finally gutted, renovated and converted into a conference room with a Directors board room upstairs.

Plans were afoot to build the most modern paint factory in Europe. Since the site was so big it was decided to bring the wallpaper factory over. Stuart organised the production and I organised the move. From the time we stopped production to starting back up it took about five weeks – and everything worked thanks to the contractors, as we had very few installation drawings.

We ended up with four lines but only ever used three. We set on an electrician at Whitefield and he elected to come over to Birstall when we relocated. He used to travel over in his large motor caravan and I used to think it must cost a fortune in fuel – until after he had left when one of the lads said he used to come over early and refuel his motor from the heating oil tank.

Another lad was accused of pilfering and the Security Manager came to check his car but he said he’d lost the boot key. While keys were sent for, the Security Manager decided to check other cars. One car he checked was full of wallpaper. The guy had worked in a wallpaper factory in Leeds and apparently he was renowned for supplying paper to order. The keys turned up and paper was found in the other car, both characters were dismissed.

Unfortunately we were a late entry into the Anaglypta paper market as Blown Vinyl had become popular since it was easier to hang and also printed vinyl paper was becoming fashionable. We carried out a feasibility study to introduce a Blown Vinyl line but the investment was prohibitive – it was more cost effective to buy in.

In 1985 the Chief Engineer had a heart attack and was pensioned off on health grounds, thereafter moving to Illfracombe, Devon to run a boarding house with his wife – so Mike, his Assistant Engineer, moved up to fill the vacancy.

This is when I came in from the cold.

Part 8: Further up the ladder, Kalon Plc 1986 – 2000

Mike, the new Engineering Manager, started life as an apprentice electrician in the Yorkshire coal mining industry. After an accident down the pit, where he was crushed by a truck, he married his nurse and ended up working in the paint factory. With all the metal pins holding him together it wasn’t long before he became known as Metal Micky.

After a fairly quiet period it was decided in 1986 to relocate Hatfield’s Industrial Coatings factory, that SPL owned in Mitcham, South London, to Birstall . Mike would be highly involved with the relocation and it was agreed necessary to appoint an assistant engineer and I was invited to fill the position. Mike and I forged a good team, he was an exceptional project engineer and I carried out his wishes. We both benefited from a long association with the SPL culture.

By this time we had 30 staff in the engineering dept., foreman, fitters, electricians, plumber, joiners, builder, gardener, office manager and clerk, and we serviced a 60 acre site carrying out a substantial portion of new engineering work and also designed and constructed semi-automatic paint filling machines. We never had an annual budget of less than £1m but we were very frugal and suppliers were encouraged to make their best bids early. Very few left the department, so by 2000 it was getting embarrassing to be called the Geriatric dept. One time when the gardener was on holiday, we employed a seasonal worker to cut the lawns around the main office block. I came on site one morning and found stripes of dying grass on the lawns. The temp. had decided to spread fertilizer on the lawn but used weed killer instead – he was swiftly diverted to a job painting the 50,000 gallon sprinkler water storage tanks and well out of sight .

A new factory, to accommodate the industrial coatings production, was built together with a tank farm that stored 20,000/40,000 litres of exotic solvents, Acetone, Toluene, MEK, IBA, Zylene, etc with wonderful descriptions like aromatic hydrocarbons. In the powder room, toxic chromates, metal powders that exploded on contact with water, and nitrocellulose powder (Gun cotton) that was relatively stable in it’s own isolated storage room. All these materials were quite challenging after using water and white spirit in the decorative paint side of the business. The factory was a zone 1 area – highly flammable, and special precautions and tools were required. Eventually the factory was ready and all the production was restarted at Birstall under the original management, but all the factory staff was recruited locally, mainly young lads..

We were then ready for the next project and along came Leyland Paints. A year after purchasing the company it was decided to make all their products at Birstall but it required a huge increase in our existing capacity. We decommissioned the factory in Lancashire, transferring what little plant we could make use of – I salvaged an old leather company fireman’s helmet as a souvenir. Leyland Paints was a publically quoted company on the stock marked whereas SPL was a private company. To resolve the issue the resultant joint companies became Kalon PLC and exposed the company to the vagaries of the shareholders. The Managing Director of Leyland became the new MD of Kalon with Leslie Silver as Chairman. Not long after, with the company going into decline, the Group MD was dismissed and replaced with the MD of the Decorative Division. He soon reversed the decline and eventually turned the company into one of the three top UK paint manufactures, with ICI Dulux and AxoNobel (McPhersons and Berger group) and with acquisitions in France. At one time we were the highest volume producer in UK at two million litres a week at our two sites. Most of the companies acquired were getting past their sell by dates, suffering from lack of investment and rather tired but, being of such long standing, had many experienced and loyal staff and it was with great personal regret that these people were deprived of their livelihoods, albeit temporarily for most.

The Industrial Coatings factory had suffered a loss of sales after its relocation and the sales team was unable to generate enough sales. The policy of recruiting all young lads backfired without a levelling of mature workers and half of them were made Supervisors as a device to increase their pay. The factory manager, a chemist, seemed to spend more time with the ladies in the office than on the factory floor. Mis-made paint was apparently tipped over the banking where the new warehouse would be built. In 1990 the MD’s patience ran out and he undertook a major restructuring. Out went all the management and sales team and in came the new. During the proceedings I was called into the Production Director’s office and invited to become the new Factory Manager. What did I know about industrial chemicals? “You’ll be alright”Paul said, “all you have to do is manage the production”. I received an organogram of the new management structure and I noticed that the former Factory Manager, aged about 62 and who came up from Mitcham, was down as the Warehouse Supervisor. I wrote a letter to all the new directors of the company, including the group MD, saying that It was disgraceful to publically humiliate the man by demoting him in such a way and if my views made me unsuitable to be the Factory Manager then so be it. A new organogram was produced and the appointment was “Warehouse and Special Projects Manager”, including the reworking of all the paint surplus to requirements. Poetic justice.

 Part 9: Factory Manager, 1990 – 1994

Seven days after taking up my appointment the factory caught fire. An electrical fault had generated a spark that set solvent fumes on fire, right underneath two 5,000 litre blending vessels full of cellulose thinners. As we evacuated the factory one of the operators activated the manual drenching system and put the fire out – he was rewarded with a bottle of Southern Comfort , his choice. (There was an alternative automatic activating system).

I learned about some of aspects of producing road marking paint, electrical varnishes, pencil lacquers (using the gun cotton) metal finishes and the means of preparing the materials, horizontal and vertical (powder) milling machines, centrifugal milling, blending and mixing. I spent a lot of time writing up staff operating manuals for the various machine operations and processes where previously everything was by word of mouth, not good when the Factory Inspector calls. We developed , what was called multicolour paint, a paint sprayed onto a surface that gave the appearance of speckled paint on a coloured background. It was actually droplets of oil- based paint suspended in various colours and sized globules in the water-based background paint. It was a monster to produce and we received an order for 50 batches of 1,000 litres for export. After a month the last batch was finished at 8 pm one night and we all went home chuffed that the job was done. Until the morning when we found that someone had dumped the contents of a rubbish bin into the last 1.000 litre vessel waiting to be filled into 5 litre tins. I was confident who was responsible and I suspended him. Unfortunately the Personnel Director would not support his dismissal. A year later one of the staff reported suspicious activity by the person. I advised the personnel officer that I suspected the person was going to remove a 5 litre can of metal finish without paying. The miscreant was stopped at the gate and his vehicle searched. Finding the can of paint he was eventually dismissed and subsequently got a job with Group 4 Security company.

From the very beginning we realised that one of the major problems was supplying products quickly to customers. The factory was geared to batch production – 100 to 1,000 litres. The previous factory manager made a batch even if he only had an order for 20 litres – this led to a warehouse full of dead stock. Some of the products took 24 hours to test and if they failed the test, once corrected, it would take another 24 hours to retest. One of the most frustrating tests was finding the paint was metameric, by which the paint looked different shades in different light.

Together with the technical manager we looked into various methods of producing small repeatable batches. The obvious solution was the type of machine found in B & Q stores for making 5 litres of paint to a formula but of a much higher spec. We costed various solutions but I think the MD had decided the effort wasn’t worth the resources that could be used more productively. In ten years production the Birstall site had been expanded to its maximum capacity. The Industrial paint division was sold to Croda Industrial products in 1994 and the space used for more storage and decorative paint production with the purchase of Johnsons Paint of Droylsden, Manchester.

I must have had a guardian angel looking after me as my replacement in the engineering dept. decided to go back to Plymouth, both he and his wife were ex-matelots, and so I made a seamless move back to my old job.

When I became Factory Manager in 1990 I was invited to become a director of Kalon Pension Trustee Company. Both the previous staff incumbents had decided to resign as the management became more complex. I took up my appointment with Leslie Silver as Chairman. At the next quarterly meeting he had been replaced by an Old Harrovian and Non Exec Director on the main board – while at Harrow school he took part in gliding activities at Halton airfield. Leslie Silver had decided to retire and spend time as the Chairman of Leeds United. The next Cairman of the board was the former Leader of the House of Commons, Lord Wakeman, accountant by profession, and later notorious for being the non-exec director of Enron, getting off scot-free whilst supposedly overseeing the company accounting . The pension fund had 3,000 members and a fund of £80m. After the 1995 Pension Act the staff members were to be elected so I was nominated and elected after the requirement took effect.

At my first meeting I was supplied with the costing figures for allowing staff to retire at 60 without loss: retiring early resulted in losing 4% of the pension for every year before the age of sixty five. The cost was calculated at £350,000.

The Finance Director, on behalf of the company, vetoed the proposal. After a couple of meetings he“resigned” from Kalon as the financial requirements of a multi-national became ever more demanding, and part of his package were pension benefits worth £350,000 paid out of the pension fund surplus, not by the company. At this time the pension fund was in surplus and the company had had a ten year contributions holiday. At every opportunity I challenged the decision not to let staff retire at 60 without loss but the dot com bubble finally put the nail into the coffin of fund surpluses.

The board met every quarter and was usually attended by the 7 Trustees (three staff), fund consultants, actuary and investment advisors. The meetings lasted never less than 4 hours and after the 1995 Pension Act ( post floating Bob Maxwell) the agenda was very full. We received the discussion papers at least a week before the meeting and were able to prepare for questions arising. Because of my bad memory I requested that the minutes of the meeting be produced within 10 days of the meeting to check them. The company secretary who took the minutes could always produce the account according to his own recollection and not always with the benefit of accuracy – three months was a long time to wait to see the minutes. The company Trustees held private meetings with the consultants to discuss matters that affected the company and they relied heavily on them during the Trustee meetings. I took every opportunity to educate myself on Trusteeship and attended day long lectures in London given twice yearly by the Pensions Management Institute, leading to the passing of their examination for the Certificate in Trusteeship. With this level of knowledge I was able to play a very full part in any discussions.

Over my ten year tenure as a Trustee I scrutinised the redrafting of the Pension Fund Rules, and became a member of subcommittees holding“beauty parades” to select new consultants and investment advisors, including finally the one negotiating the amalgamation of our fund with that of the other UK Total companies, a fund that became valued at over £1b.

The end of my 10 year Trusteeship coincided with the undoubted demise of the UK final salary (defined benefit) schemes for the private sector – the schemes were too beneficial for the great unwashed.

Part 10: Extra mural activities

There was one young bright spark in Production – Paul, who was a member of the Bradford Caving Club held in the club (doss) house in a small farm building in Horton in Ribblesdale. He invited me and the safety manager to explore various caves in the Dales. In one cave there was a passage known as the Cheese Press, a very low passage, try as I might I couldn’t squeeze through to follow the other two and it was very difficult to back out. Then Paul appeared round the side and said that I’d better try the other way –bastard.. One day he suggested trying paragliding so we booked a taster day. Unfortunately it wasn’t flyable on the day but I persevered and had my first flight near Sedberg. Eventually I qualified as a club pilot but I can’t count the number of days that I drove up to the Dales only to sit on the hillside waiting for the right conditions – even though we telephoned before we set off.

One day I was at Stags Fell, overlooking Hawes, where three of the Dales Club members had taken off and were high enough to turn downwind for a cross country flight. I took off and started to lift off the hill to such a height that I felt out of my depth, I wasn’t ready for cross country. I pulled the tips of the canopy down for the biggest “big ears” seen in the Dales to reduce lift and I was soon back on terra firma, not having an altimeter didn’t help as I couldn’t gauge my rate of ascent or height. When I was packing up my gear at the end of the day I gave my itching eyes a real good rub. On the drive home I could feel my face and my tongue swelling. Panic, should I call in at the Airdale hospital or try to get home. The swelling stopped but when I saw my face in the mirror l couldn’t believe it was me – my head was swollen round like a football. Next day a few anti-histamine pills brought me back to normal. The first year the weather was terrible and those who could, flew out to Spain for better conditions. In 1998 I decided to try hang gliding and under a good instructor I seemed to do well. Then he employed a trainer and on the first day he sent a uni. student off the hill – shortly we heard cries for help. The poor sod had broken both his arms – training terminated for a hospital run. The next training day I was instructed to land in the prone position after a short flight. After a couple of times, taking it in turn with others, I landed in the prone position and on the run out the wheels on the A frame caught in a rut on the hill – glider stopped, but I carried on and injured my left arm. I decided to go home while thinking I still had the use of my gear changing arm. I found that I could push and pull but couldn’t shift the gearstick sidewards – I had to changed gear with my right hand. I went to hospital very early next day but didn’t get much sympathy when I explained how I came by the injury. Anyway, that and Dorothy put paid to my flying career.

I still remember the summer camp hikes at Halton so in retrospect I find it strange that walking should have become my favourite leisure activity. I had taken part in many long distance walks, 25 – 61 miles in the Dales, Peak district and Lake district. After my experience in taking part in organised challenge hikes I organised hikes at work every couple of years for about 70 participants. I’d spend the early part of the year route finding, then running the actual hike in mid May, avoiding the weekends of Cup Final and Challenge Cup. The last one before I retired, The Malham Madness, I set out as usual in January but reports were coming through about the foot & mouth epidemic and I knew the hike was doomed. I went back in 2003 and completed the hike with a few friends.

When the company decided to match any donations from staff towards the Conductive Education charity in 1992 I decided not to volunteer for the National Three Peaks proposed by six young bucks but offered to act as driver for the attempt. They made good time, 23 hours, and I managed to accompany them up the last peak, Snowden.

The challenge appealed to me so with my other scouting friend in the dept. we set off in mid summer and completed the Three Peaks in 20 hrs and 20 hours 20 mins respectively – my knees failed coming down Ben Nevis. It was such a success I decided to organise a 50 seater coach from work. The logistics were a bit difficult since it would be hard to get the coach up the single track to Wast Water. We took the dept. van and shuttled three groups of walkers about 6 miles to Wast Water. It was so late when we got there that it was dark the whole time we were on Scafell, but we didn’t lose anybody. Halfway down Scafell it was surreal to see the lights blazing from Sellafield nuclear power station. We parked the van at Gretna and travelled on in the coach. Getting to Ben Nevis about 6am the day was perfect and everyone made good progress – except one lady on the way down. I counted three missing and as time went on I became concerned and started back up. After I’d walked about a mile I could see the stragglers, one in difficulties. Her legs had gone to jelly and she couldn’t walk unassisted. Impatient as always, we got hold of her and carried her the remaining distance.

In 1997 I had a foreboding about Blair in the general election and voted for the purple party. As time went on I took to writing Letters to the Editor in the local paper, in one comparing Blair’s cabinet to the Pigs in Animal Farm. With the EU and Monetary Union high on the agenda I was motivated to stand as a UKIP candidate in the 2001 general election. My theme was a Dad’s Army fighting a rear guard action against the perfidy of the British government and the advancing Euro. Some UKIP candidates were quite serious but I considered UKIP to be the appropriate vehicle to lobby for British sovereignty. Our main sponsor was Paul Sykes, a business man based in Leeds. He invited all the Yorkshire candidates to his company offices for a pep talk and photo shoot. Dorothy and I turned up in army battle dress and greatcoat with Dad’s Army flashes sewn on the shoulders. It was a steep learning curve to ensure all the paperwork was completed on time as none of us had election agents to do the job for us.

For me 2003 was the high water mark in Blair’s administration and my neighbour and I travelled by coach to London to take part in the March 15th demonstration against the Iraq war . It took from 12pm to 3pm to walk from Westminster to Hyde Park, missing most of the principle speakers. When we left at 5 pm there were still marchers arriving at Hyde Park.

Within a year of retiring Dorothy found me a project, an old derelict farm building/smithy. The roof was falling in, it had a sloping earth floor complete with running stream, walls bowing out with trees and brambles growing from them. Only the gable end walls were stable, the rest needed rebuilding from the ground up inside and out. I went on a course to Devon to learn about lime mortar and rendering, I was on my way. It took me five years to convert the building into a single bedroomed cottage but the result was satisfying.

I sold the Smithy last year and bought a five acre wood in need of sympathetic management. I attended the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, that runs a fantastic “ Sustainable Woodland Management course”. With my bill hook, machete and rake I’ve managed to clear 3 acres of brambles since February ready to tackle the trees in the next dormant season – including a mature beech tree that has just fallen across the river towards my side.

In 2007 I Joined SSAFA as a volunteer case worker. The Dyfed Branch, although it covers three Welsh counties, is quite small, and there are just 5 case workers covering the whole of Ceredigion (Cardiganshire) – it was interesting to see that our own Dick Bogg is the Chairman of the French Branch.

Part 11:  Retirement, 1994 – 2002

The MD made a hostile bid for Manders Paints, Wolverhampton in 1994, but failed. So it came as quite a surprise when we were taken over by the chemical division of Total Oil in 1999. Two things came out of this: Total bought Manders and transferred production to Birstall, and Total decided to amalgamate all the pension funds of their companies based in the UK in 2001 . When Bain Investments (Mitt Romney’s outfit) bought Sigma-Kalon in 2004, Kalon had to withdraw from the Total scheme and set up their own pension fund again. All those drawing their pension remained with the Total Pension Fund.

With all the paint production coming into Birstall and with three shifts working in manufacturing, it was decided to move the wallpaper factory to the Morley site – and if we completed the move within 4 weeks the MD promised us a night out in Leeds. We enjoyed a very nice Chinese meal at company expense. The wallpaper company was sold a couple of years later and the original operators went too, for the fifth time.

I was on call 24/7 and one morning I was called in as a tree had fallen across the roadway leading from the distribution centre (we had 70x 40ft articulated delivery vehicles) to the site exit. The early maintenance shift workers were doing their best with hacksaws without much progress but managed to shift enough timber to let the wagons get past before the tree surgeons began. One Saturday afternoon there was a small fire started by contractors welding on a vessel. I decided to stay with them till the job was completed – when I arrived home I found my back door had been kicked in and the house burgled.

After 25 years working for the company, including drafting the first Safety Manual and Permit to Work system, I was spending more and more time in the office writing risk assessments, method statements, permits to work and attending meetings that were designed to record activity but accomplished nothing of substance – it was time to go. I gave 6 months notice giving sufficient time to recruit a suitable candidate whom we anticipated would eventually replace Mike.

In the week I retired from the company in 2002 I read an article in the local paper in which an MP made some fatuous remarks about New Labour’s much vaunted pension policies, including their immoral Ponzi scheme to encourage low paid workers to make small contributions to a private pension. I responded in print and pointed out that private sector workers who were either losing or not eligible for Final Salary Pensions, were already faced with having to contribute to the pensions of public employees through council taxes. He wasn’t best pleased and posted another letter alleging that I wasn’t a Trustee. I felt that I had to respond and so I included information about our own Fund, without naming names, concerning the enhancement of Directors’ pensions worth over half a million pounds without any corresponding benefits to staff members – which had our Finance Director hopping mad and threatening to sue me for breach of confidence. But I was no longer a Trustee at the time of the publication of my ‘letter to the Editor’. The company was planning to close the Final Salary scheme to new employees and end all discretionary benefits – including applications for early retirement – so in future members would have to wait until their normal retirement age of 65 to draw their pension if they wished to retire early. Apparently my article went up on all the notice boards causing people to actually question what was going on – and the company offered a 12 month moratorium on action affecting applications for early retirement – a small victory against the bean counters.

The day I retired, 5th April, 2002 I draped the Welsh flag from the top of the 60ft high powder silos and sent an email message to all recommending my habit of falling asleep in meetings – before driving down to our new home in South West Wales.

End of my working career.


The French government instructed Total-Fina to sell off its non-core business in 2003 and the Chemical Division, Sigma-Kalon, was sold to Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital Investment company and renamed Sigma-Kalon Group. There became ever increasing movements of management staff between the various companies of the group and quite a few of our bright sparks moved on to higher challenges. The Sigma side of the group was mainly industrial coatings, a major player in Europe, and they decided to build a new factory in Shanghai. With Mike’s vast project engineering experience he was teamed up with two others from Sigma to head up the project in Shanghai and spent time over there on site, whilst Paul (the caver) became its first plant manager.

In 2007 Sigma-Kalon was bought by a huge American paint company called Pennsylvania Plate and Glass ( PPG inc.) and Mike retired. Unfortunately the very well qualified guy who replaced me and would have stepped into Mike’s job left under mysterious circumstances. The best laid plans………


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The reunion at the Bailbrook House Hotel went extremely well. Sadly only 18 of our number were able to attend and I suspect COVID had a lot to do with that. However, 31 guests sat down to a splendid 3 course meal on the second night. The hotel lived up to its recommendation and I have to thank all the staff for looking after us so well. Those of us who went to the Aerospace at Filton enjoyed the experience – the ribald comments by our riggers on the state of riveting being used on a Blenheim adding to the fun. None of their work would have passed the eagle-eyed instructors on basic workshops. Thankfully, this aircraft is for static display!

The Bell Hotel at Winslow that I chose as our base for the Reunion at Halton turned out to be very good as well. Bob French turned up in his wheelchair on the Friday night, having forgotten that he had only booked for one night. However, even though the place was full, the hotel managed to fix him up with a temporary room. On parade at Halton were 10 from the entry and also on parade was our refurbished banner – still the orginal but now strengthened and with the paint uplifted.

We still have no news on 63 of our members that seem to have vanished without trace. It would be good to try and track them down but I suspect it will not now happen.

5th Oct 2022