Volume 2 – A new life begins – chapter 6 – Working for Chance – Pilkington Ltd – part 2 – getting to know a mixed bag - post 59
There were those who could do their job and do it well, and there were those who were poor value and did not deserve the job they had. One I found to be of the latter ilk was my own boss Brian Love, who never did anything of value as far as I could see. He was well placed in the hierarchy and destined for higher things, after a year or two he was promoted and moved on, but I remember him as worthless and best described as a stuffed shirt. He was not a bad looking man with a good head of hair and a military looking moustache; he was always well dressed in sports jacket or a blazer and flannels, or sometimes in country tweeds. He had an upper class accent and a self assured demeanour, and that is about all you could say in his favour. On the other side of the balance sheet it should be recorded that he was arrogant, often unreasonable, and usually made a mess of things mostly because he had no interest in what he was doing. For a personnel manager he was singularly lacking in empathy for or understanding of the work force, treating most with an offhand attitude that destroyed any possible liking one could feel for him. To sum him up in one word he was a shocker.
I could describe in some detail how I came to hold this man in such low esteem, but one small incident will suffice. On duty one afternoon I was in the security lodge at the main gate when in walked a tall dark handsome man who informed me that he had an appointment with the personnel manager Mr Love. I asked him to take a seat while I phoned his office and this he did; I spoke to Brian Love who gave a terse reply and rang off. The visitor looked vaguely familiar to me and after talking to him for a short time I discovered that he was none other than the famous Frank Swift the best goal keeper the English football team had ever had. He had played for Manchester United for quite a few years and had only retired a year or two before. He was a very agreeable fellow and I enjoyed talking to him for quite some time; I can recall looking at his hands because I had once read in the paper that he was one of the few men in football that could pick up a ball with one hand. It must have been about half an hour with no sign of Brian Love, when his visitor commented on the delay and asked how long he might be. I apologized for the delay and offered to phone again, for which he thanked me and offered his appreciation for my consideration. It was a great embarrassment when I could not get a reply from Love’s phone and had to tell the visitor that he was out of his office or unable to answer. A further 15 minutes or so went by and now Mr Swift, looking and sounding very annoyed, informed me that could not spare any more of his valuable time to meet a man who did not have the courtesy to keep his appointments, and he walked out of the office. It would have been about 10 minutes later that Mr Love strolled into the office with his hands in his pockets looking for his visitor. When I told him that he had left he pulled his face and walked out again with not even a word of explanation. I shall never know why Frank Swift came to see my boss that day, but in my book the behaviour of the man who was representing the company I worked for, was totally unacceptable and shameful.
It takes all sorts to make a world, and we had a very wide selection of them at my place of work I can tell you. In my job as a security man I was well placed to observe them all and it was a never ending source of fascination to me to see some of the hidden aspects of people’s personalities. At the very top of our pyramid of importance was the General Manager Mr Pickering a small man with ginger hair and a pointed nose. He was a genial sort of man but he was seen so rarely that he was sometimes compared with the Do-Do bird and thought to be extinct. Next in line came Mr Buckley the Assistant General Manager a large slow moving man who was seen a little more frequently though he had little to do with those beneath him. He was an amiable sort of man who was considered to be harmless and a homely family man; though there were rumours that he had an eye for young ladies. For my part I know it was true, because one evening after work had finished for the day, I saw him take one of the company cars and drive his young secretary up the Glas-coed Road into the darkness of the late evening. The next day I used the same car and found stuffed under the back seat a pair of girl’s panties, which I discreetly disposed of to save embarrassment.
Other characters I could describe but I shall do so only as part of my general narrative, in the meantime it is the march of time and the order of events that I shall concentrate on in my attempt to bring back to the forefront of my recollections what transpired. My life is one of small events so my recollections are the same, small and of little importance, but never the less they remain in my memory and are an important part of my story. No one would be interested in what happened to me when I cycled back and forth to work for the best part of two years or more, but I remember it all too clearly. I can never forget that it was at least seven miles a third of which was on the motorway between St Asaph and Rhuddlan. Down the middle of the Clwyd Valley it was open and exposed, so in the morning I would face a strong wind if heading home after being on night shift. In the afternoon it would be against me if I was going to work, at night it would be have changed again and be in my face when I was going home. In fact I always seemed to be battling against a strong wind, and in the winter there was the cold freezing weather to add to the misery. There were many times when I battled winter snow storms, and one night in particular I arrived home about midnight with a solid sheet of frozen snow stuck to my chest. There were enjoyable rides especially in the summer, but it is the hard ones that you remember most of all. Like the night I was going on for the night shift, and when I was going up a hill on a road that skirted St Asaph and saved the trip into the town, a thunder storm began and I can still see the lightening striking the field about40 yards from the road, and seeing a shower of sparks shooting up from the ground. There were several strikes all around me which made my ride very exciting, I had to struggle against the gale and the hill, but I arrived at work with a feeling of exhilaration which kept me wide alert well into the night.
The hill I have just mentioned began in the valley on the edge of St Asaph where the road branched off towards Bodelwyddan, today the A55 motorway has replaced it but back in 1950s it was just a country road. The entrance to the Chance-Pilkington factory was on a junction between the Glas-coed road and Cwittr Lane, the lane was the way I would go on my way home. When the lane joined the A55 I would turn down the hill to get onto the dual carriage way running from St Asaph to Rhuddlan and Rhyl. One night just before midnight I was hurtling down this hill on a pitch black night, part way down there was a loud noise like a rushing wind and something heavy struck me on my head? I managed to keep my balance and pulled over and stopped, then a large white shape loomed out of the darkness and came diving towards me, it was a big owl that had decided to attack me though why it did I don’t know. I cannot imagine that it could have mistaken me for a mouse or a rabbit, but attack it did in a very determined fashion.
You would think that riding a bicycle to work would be the most innocent of pastimes, and the safest way to travel, but I had some excitement from time to time. After several months I began to look for a way of avoiding the strong winds along the valley on the dual carriage way which was flat and exposed. Studying the map I discovered that if I turned left on the A55 a few yards further up the hill was a small lane that weaved it’s down the valley between high banks and hedges. A short distance from Rhuddlan it debouched onto another road that crossed the valley and turning right I re-joined the carriage way a short distance from its end which was by the Rhuddlan Castle. Crossing two bridges one over the railway line and the other over the river Clwyd I would pedal my way up through the village and head off for the last two or three miles into Rhyl. If I might digress at this point the reader might like to know that work was being done on the castle which had huge holes in it, made I am told by Cromwell’s roundheads to prevent the Cavaliers from using it as a fort. The castle stood maybe 200 yards above the river on the site of an old Roman fort, and when excavations were carried out during the clean up, the stone work of a Roman quay were found which confirmed that the river had once been much bigger reaching the very edge of the castle. History had recorded that the Romans used to bring supplies up the river and land them at their fort, which presented a modern day mystery because the river was so narrow and the fort so far from its banks.
Returning to my bike riding adventures, it looked as though I had found an answer to my battle with the wind, by using the sheltered lane, and so it proved to be. Except for one occasion when fate decided to show me I was not as smart as I thought, Mother Nature could still get at me if she chose, and on this particular day she did choose. I had been on the morning shift and about midday there was a heavy storm with the rain coming down in torrents. It was about April so as it usually did at this time of the year, the storm passed and the warm spring sunshine took its place. At 3pm it looked like a lovely summer’s day so off I went riding merrily along happy to be on my way home. Using my new sheltered route I launched myself down the winding lane at a break neck speed, it was downhill all the way and no traffic ever used this little lane that went nowhere. I would have covered a mile or more when I rounded a bend and found myself riding in water, maybe several inches deep and rushing along at a brisk pace. At the same time I spotted a large gap in the high bank and realised that the stream which ran alongside the lane had swollen with the heavy rain from the storm and had breached the bank. There was no going back of course so I ploughed on through the water deriving some amusement from the situation, but it was not so amusing after another couple of hundred yards. Gradually the downward slope of the lane began to level out, and with the high banks and hedges continuing the water was trapped and so accumulated getting deeper and deeper. Soon it was half way up my wheels and I had to pedal really hard to keep the bike moving, my feet plunging in and out of the water like the paddles on an old steamer. It was not long before I could not keep the bike moving and I had to jump off; there was still no alternative to continuing so I found myself pushing my cycle through knee deep water which stretched ahead of me for an unknown distance. On I went for a further couple of hundred yards where I found a gradual reduction in the level, and finally I came to the end of it and was able to ride on. The lane remained unusable for quite some time, but I had no choice I had to keep on riding like it or not.
After a couple of winters I decided I had to find another way of getting to work, I found one of the maintenance engineers drove to work in an old Daimler car so I arranged to get a lift with him. This was better than riding a bicycle but even this was not entirely trouble free; there was one occasion when the car engine began to boil before we had got out of town. We stopped and tried to figure out what the problem was, the engineer had drained the radiator the night before and put hot water in that morning, so why was it over heating? When it had cooled down we did half a mile and off it went again, this went on for most of the journey, but finally it settled down and we were running without further trouble. A day or two later the car owner who was quite a good mechanic solved the mystery, and told me that the problem was that when he had drained the radiator, water had been left in the pump which was at the lowest point of the system, and this had frozen solid. The ice in it had blocked the flow of water so the engine had overheated, and with a small aperture the hot water could not get into the pump to thaw it out. We did get to work eventually with a fellow worker in the back of the car, another casualty of the icy weather. He had been riding a motor scooter to work and with a road like a sheet of glass he had slid off a number of times, the last time in front of us on the road to Rhuddlan. He was covered in bruises so when we stopped to help him, he threw the scooter in the ditch and climbed in the car. This was all in a day’s work as they say; we accepted these things as a normal part of everyday working life.
Later on I changed transport to another car used by another of the engineers who drove an old Vauxhall car, but he was no more immune to the vagaries of fate than anyone else. One day we were just approaching our place of work between the deep winding banks of Cwittr Lane when we met on of the men going off shift from the factory. He was on a motorcycle and going quite fast eager to get home I suppose, the lane was only wide enough for one vehicle and before we could stop he hit the off side mudguard of our car, and went sailing over the top of us in a most graceful arc. Hitting the road he was knocked out cold and without a helmet he sustained a nasty gash on the top of his head. We put him in the car and drove him back to the factory where he was treated by the nurse who was on duty during normal working hours. Travelling out into the country to work had its hazards; one night one a young chap off our shift never arrived, and the next day we discovered he had been travelling too fast, being late for work, and had lost control of his flying bedstead (a pre-war German Opal) on a sharp bend and rolled through the hedge. You will realise by now that few had the money for a new car and used very old ones for their transport. I can remember one you chap, a local named Jones naturally, who came to work in an ancient Austin Ruby which was a tiny little thing like a matchbox on wheels. It was so decrepit that when he came chugging into the car park the only way he could stop it was by throwing the front wheels right over sideways and skidding the thing to a halt. It had no brakes but he had perfected this method and had it off to perfection.