Sunday, 25 March 2012

Getting established at Rhyl

Volume 2 –chapter 4 –part 4 –post 52

This period of courtship was a happy time, we had no commitments and no need for much money, all we had to do was enjoy each other’s company. Life together would be more of the same I imagined, it never crossed my mind that I would have to provide should we get married. So here I am in this picture blithely enjoying life and expecting more of the same.


clip_image004If Len and his car were not available for outings we had to resort to public transport which was more often than not the train. Jackie and I took such a trip one weekend when we made our first visit to the Potteries for her first meeting with my parents. They liked Jacqueline the moment they met her and she took to them, especially my mother who was a far more motherly person than Ethel Grant.

Living by Hanley Park we spent some time in the park getting away from the family as young couples usually want do, and though Jackie did not look like the typical outdoor girl, she had an adventurous spirit and took to outside activities with no hesitation at all. In fact she once told me that at school a teacher asked her class to put up their hand those would like to be a pioneer or an adventurer, and she put her hand up. The teacher on seeing this said: “Put your hand down Jacqueline you are not the type at all to make an adventurer.” The teacher was wrong, she had a definite sense of adventure and I believe she went on to prove it. It just shows you cannot go by appearances.

Once we were engaged I just had to go and live near to my finance at Rhyl, weekends were no longer enough. I would go and live with my Aunt and Uncle, which was only ten minutes walk away from Ronald’s Way; they still had the old man Slater living with them and he did not get on well with my Aunt, but I would not be home much of the time so that did not worry me. It never crossed my mind at the time, but such an arrangement would suit my parents as well, now that they lived in a two bed roomed house. The first thing I had to do was get a job and work was hard to find in Rhyl and in North Wales in general. It might not be easy but at least I now had a work history, and if I said nothing about my medical discharge from the army I might just get away with it. There was some heavy industry down the coast towards Chester, one place being an enormous steel works at a place called Mostyn, and then there was the big chemical plant that produced artificial fibre. It was called Courtaulds which was owned by ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) and this was where my Uncle worked as a maintenance engineer. Telling me he could probably get me a job at the works, he invited me to go and see the place, so I accepted and went to look it over.

Courtaulds was an enormous place but the first thing that struck me was the absence of workers, the whole place seemed to run itself and during my visit I never saw another living soul. With all the machinery running on automatic there was little need for windows or good lighting, the huge workshops were gloomy and depressing. The next thing you became aware of was the noise, and close behind that was the smell, which came from the rows of chemical baths into which a substance was fed through nozzles. The acids and other chemicals changed this resin or plastic into various types of fibre, such as nylon and other polyester fibres, which then wound its way up onto large spools. The place was a veritable hell on earth and with no skills or qualifications I was under no illusion that the work I would be given to do there would be of the dirtiest and foulest type. I would have to be desperate to go and work in such a place, anyway I very much doubted that my lungs could take the chemicals and acids I would be breathing if I worked in such a place.

My search would have to continue so I cast my net ever wider, even asking Len Grant if I could get a job in the Post Office; his reaction was a negative one. Without some qualifications I had no chance he told me, I even suggested he might help me to get a job as a postman or even as a humble mail sorter, but he told me that there were no vacancies for anything like that. He had little confidence in me it seems, and eventually I came to suspect that he did not like the idea of having me in the Post Office in such a low ranking job, and I suppose it would not have done his reputation any good to be associated with someone like me. The problem was that he knew too much about me, the Post Office had a medical examination for prospective employers, and he knew that I was likely to fail that.

One outcome of asking Len to help me was, I suppose, that he discussed it with his family, which resulted in Jackie thinking about my problem. Maybe that was the reason she made some enquiries, which is exactly what she did, the result being that I discovered that the aircraft factory at Broughton on the edge of Chester wanted people.

The De Havilland Aircraft factory was massive with a work force of about 5,000 and the largest single span building in the country. Their head office was at Stevenage in the South of England but at Broughton they were building all sorts of aircraft, they had production lines for both military types and civilian planes. They had production tracks laid out for the four engine Heron and the two engine Dove, both of which were selling well. Then, to add to the pressure the accidents with their famous jet airliner the Comet began to occur; they began to explode at high altitudes. When it was discovered that this was due to the rectangular windows cracking at the corners and blowing in due to the extreme difference in pressure inside and outside the plane, it became a matter of some urgency that they be replaced with round porthole type windows. This resulted in aircraft from just about every airline in the world coming in to have this work done, hence the fact that the company was looking for more staff. With their need being great they could not afford to pick and choose, so when I presented myself for an interview, they did not take long in accepting me for a job in their ordering control office.

I was to work on the production of the Dove and the Heron, the office being a long narrow structure which was fixed to the underside of the hanger roof. It was sound proofed and had windows that looked down on the factory floor; it was the largest office I ever saw in my life. I never measured it but it must have been somewhere between a quarter to half a mile long, divided into sections it contained the controlling office where I worked, plus other offices that ordered raw materials, and other parts of the supply process such as part assemblies that were made by sub-contractors. It all looked well organised but turned out to be a nightmare, mainly because no one was honest. Over a long period mistakes had been made, which had resulted in a gradual build up of shortages, this had led to a process of robbing Peter to pay Paul, the situation becoming so extreme that you could never rely on the records of what was actually in stock. There was a staff of progress chasers who were busy stealing their needs from each other, which resulted in those of us who worked in the office spending most of our time running around this huge complex checking on the physical contents of stores and supply rooms which were near to or in the proximity of the production tracks. It was an appalling job trying to ensure that everything that was needed to keep production moving was available and in the right place at the right time.

For me it was a case of beggars could not be choosers so I was happy with this job, you could say that any job I could get was an improvement. It was a long day with my place of work being almost 30 miles from where I lived, but I was not the only one who had to travel. A luxury bus would tour around picking a load of us up starting from about 6.30am and delivering us to the factory in time to commence work at 8.00am. At the end of the day we would be delivered home arriving about 6.00pm to 6.30pm in the evening. Travelling long distances to work was not seen as unusual for people who wanted the pleasure of living in a beautiful location like North Wales. Jackie and her father travelled to Chester every day on the train, and she told me that she met business men who lived along the Welsh coast who travelled to Manchester every day. They would share the same compartment every morning and do the crossword in the Manchester Guardian or the London Times newspapers; apparently Jackie was in great demand for this task as she was good at these difficult puzzles.

Len Grant was constantly on the move driving all over the area he controlled, and until I commenced work I would go with him as his driver; it was good practice for me with no other opportunity to drive apart from this kindness that Len showed me. It was interesting as well, when I was asked to help him with his various tasks. Sometimes he would do tests to find out the electric resistance of the earth at certain locations, on other occasions we would use location equipment to find telephone cables. Another job I found interesting was the use of pressure meters to test the pressure inside the lead sheath that protected the cables that carried all the telephone communications. Len had developed this means of protecting the cables and he had a gold medal awarded to him by the Post Office for his work. The idea was that if a hole developed in the lead sheath gas pressure within the line would drop and by locating the leak repairs could be done before serious damage occurred to the complex and expensive telephone cables. Occasionally he had to attend engineering conferences and I would drive him so that he could relax before and after the meetings. Some of these meetings were in South Wales and I once drove him to Cardiff and back home again in one day, this saved on accommodation costs but entailed driving well into the night, arriving back at Rhyl in the early hours of the morning.

With an above average job and an income to match it always seemed strange to me that the Grants lived in a rented house. Maybe this was a deliberate plan on their part because they were not short of money and lived well up to their income. They were members of most of the clubs frequented by the local business people and well to do, such as the golf club and the country club. They also took regular holidays to Europe, and would go on camping trips to all the famous resorts and holiday locations; I always envied the life they lived, and would have given much for a job like the one Len had. At least I now had a regular job and what is more it was an office job that posed no physical problems for me. My salary was not enough to allow for much saving, however I now concluded that I had enough to get married, so we set the date for early in December 1956.

Once the decision had been made I believe that Ethel realised that any further disapproval would be counterproductive, so she decided to make the best of it. She would arrange a suitable wedding for her only child, though letting go of her was something she could not manage. Jacqueline was her constant companion and she intruded into every aspect of her life, she spent whatever it took to make her a smart lady about town, she took her everywhere and developed in her a sense of importance. I can recall one morning when Jackie and I were leaving for the morning train after one of our weekends, and we were walking to the railway station. We were a little late and at risk of missing the train, when I local man who knew her stopped his car and offered us a lift; how very obliging it was I thought. I was amazed after a short distance had been travelled when Jackie ordered her acquaintance to stop, and leaving us sitting with the engine running, she entered a newsagents shop to get her usual morning paper. I could not believe that she expected us and the whole world to dance attendance on her slightest whim; though I must say I admired her sangfroid.

The more I discovered about Jackie the more the attraction grew, she had all the qualities that make a person of high standard. She had self confidence but this was born from her innate ability and natural innocence not from arrogance or a feeling of superiority. Also it was easy to like someone who obviously liked you in return. The physical aspects of our relationship moved slowly forward with a little encouragement from her, and the desire and temptation to make love to her grew in intensity day by day. I could not wait for the day we could marry so that I could throw of the restraints that held me back. The wedding arrangements were attended to by Ethel Grant but I was more than willing to fit in with anything that was expected of me. I went to the Anglican Church to hear the bans read and even attended with Jacqueline of course to be instructed and counselled by the Vicar. I had not been involved in religion since I attended Sunday school when I was very young, and I doubt that my views on the subject would have been welcomed had I revealed them, but I wanted to get married.

It would be winter when we married and we could not afford to travel overseas for a honeymoon, so after much debate we decided a week in London would have to suffice. We discovered a good quality hotel in South Kensington called the ‘King Charles’ so we booked a room. It was only a small place which snuggled down between several other larger and more opulent hotels, but it proved to be a fine little hotel, and what is more it was much cheaper than the its rivals, and for us that was very important. I had little money to spare especially after I spent my all on a wedding present for my bride, it was a fur coat which proved very useful during our winter honeymoon; it was Jackie’s pride and joy for many years afterwards. So the stage was set and all we had to do was to wait for the happy day.

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