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Personal Aspects About Me And My Family
I was born in Langholm in a downstairs flat in back Mary Street, now known
as Buccleuch Place at 4.00am on Sunday 4th July 1948, the firstborn son of Mary
Shaw, originally of Perth, then Bowhill, Selkirk, followed by Milton,
Chapelknowe. My mother was married previously to Lawrence Davidson who was
employed by Buccleuch Estates and based at Bowhill, Selkirk. She had two
daughters to him, my eldest sister Margaret, and second oldest, Kathleen,
who to the best of my knowledge lives in Carlisle.
According to my birth certificate, my father is Frank Wolny who was a
soldier in the Polish Army and who with many soldiers in his battalion was
allocated to 'Langholm Camp'. He is now living in Edinburgh where I have
visited him approximately ten times in the last six years, the last being
the 28th December 1997, it was an enjoyable day, the highlight having lunch
on 'The Cruiser' restaurant which is an old boat moored at Leith Docks. In
the past I managed to walk from the car with the assistance of elbow
crutches, formerly using my 'nibbie' to the inside of the guest house where
he lives, but for the first time I was confined to my wheelchair during my visit.
My wife whose name is Eva was born in 1948, the second daughter of Mr and
Mrs Pludowski. She was born in Bangour hospital, she lived in North Berwick with her parents up until the time her father died in 1964. She was married for the first time in New York to an Italian. She resided and worked in the
USA until she went to Italy and gave birth to her son, Michael. Eva had made good her
career life rising to Assistant to the Editor with Bowker's of New York who
were a company that catalogued the names of book titles. Her husband was a
maitre 'd' on a liner owned by P & O Lines which did not cultivate the ideal
situation for their marriage. She decided to come to live in Scotland and
moved to Langholm after her mother had remarried to a Langholm Pole,
Jan Wende was his name. It was during this period that we met.
Michael Vincent Zemla is the name of my son who is 27-years-old in May of
this year, 1999. He is happily married to Margaret who has a son Michael,
and a daughter Sylvia who has a daughter named Amy. Michael, my son is
employed with Pinney's of Annan as Team Leader/Supervisor, and Margaret is employed with Breed's Safety Belts formerly Kangols
Laura Ann Zemla
Laura Ann is the name of my daughter who is 20-years-old. As yet she is happy to remain single. Laura is employed in an administrative capacity with Reid & Taylor, the tweed mill in Langholm. Laura as yet prefers to live with her mother and yours truly.
My young brother Joe, as he prefers to be called married a Langholm girl,
Elspeth Harkness and they have made a life for themselves in New Zealand.
They both love the outdoor pursuits the country has to offer and take
advantage of the opportunity on a regular basis. Joe is employed as a
mechanic while Elspeth is employed in a local new establishment in the hotel business.
They have only recently had their house-built and are going to move in any day now, today is the 4th December 1999
My eldest sister Margaret is married to Ken Latimer who was a seaman with
the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy. They have two sons, namely Keith and
Derek. Keith is employed by a Financial Brokers firm and Derek is employed
as a laboratory technician at Pinney's of Annan.
I haven't set eyes on Kathleen for a good number of years. The last time I
cast eyes on her was at my nephew Nigel's wedding in Newcastleton. I believe
that she lives somewhere in Carlisle with an ex-policeman called Jim from
Christine is making a new life for herself after she and her husband James split up and subsequently divorced. She is always busy with something in her ground floor flat, invariably decorating and improving it. She looks in on me daily to see if there is anything that I need and makes me a cup of coffee.
My stepfather Joe Zemla, as he was known locally was a proud, hard-working
man who was a first class provider to our household. He made many good
friends during the years that he spent in Langholm due mainly through his
contact with the men of the town who required a short-back and sides, he was the last of the town's traditional barbers, razor strop, Brylcreem and all.
He made it to the rank of corporal in the Polish 8th Army in the 8th
Battalion. From the scant information that has been given to me, he was
wounded by flying shrapnel at the Battle of Monte Casino in Italy which
caused him stomach problems for many years after the event. By all accounts
it was a fiercely fought battle to regain the mountain that had been "taken" from the Italians by the German army.
I was adopted in 1953 by Josef Zymla (the correct pronunciation is Zimwa) as the Polish 'l' usually has an angled line through the top third of its
length, and is sounded as a 'w'. Joe, whom I thought for a large part of my life was my biological father was a man of principle, tradition and had a simplistic view of the ways of the world.
My father and stepfather were both in the same heavy artillery unit and were to the best of my knowledge the best of friends, that is, until they fell out, the reason to this day still remains a mystery even after some thorough investigation.
My stepfather never knew that I had found my biological father, although I told my mother approximately two years before she died of cancer. My stepfather died, also of cancer, the previous year. My father-in-law died of a heart attack(myocardial enfarction) and his wife, Ginia, whose proper name translated from the Polish, Genowefa to the English Genevieve, just three weeks later died of cancer. Those two years were very busy with funerals as you can imagine.
Milestones and Memorable Events
Through the years during my childhood and adolescence we had several
visitors from Poland, I vaguely remember my Uncle Ludwig and aunt Helen when I was around fourteen years old then Yusik's niece Barbara, her husband Yurek, along with two of their three daughters which would have been around 1991. They stayed with my parents over the Common Riding period and returned home retaining the events, sights and experiences of horses, bands, the townspeople's enthusiasm, and most importantly how they had been received in Langholm by the locals, I remember Barbara remarking how unbelieveably friendly everyone was.
It was a pleasant Saturday in March when I almost lost my sight. A crowd of
ten young lads or more were playing at cowboys and Indians down the wood
directly in front of my house at number sixty Holmwood Drive. We had
organised ourselves into two main groups, I was a cowboy and was feeling
pretty good about it. The indians appeared, all brandishing spears and knives made from branches, they continued charging at us cowboys and simultaneously somebody who I later found out was Mac Devlin threw a handful of plant stem spears into the air and heading for us. Suddenly I felt a sharp stab in my left eye and fell over onto the ground. My mother on seeing the offending missile sticking from my eye and my face being covered in blood which was dripping off the end of chin, was naturally very concerned and had me sit down in the back kitchen.
At that time we had a lodger called Donald staying with us and he owned a BMW motorbike. My mother shouted for him up the stairwell as he was sleeping because he worked nightshift at one of the mills. He shouted back inquiring what all the commotion was about. When he heard about the incident and seen the state of my face, he told me to come outside with him where he broke the stick carefully down to four inches or so, then he flicked the stand up under the motorbike and swung his leg over it. He told me to sit on the seat immediately behind him and to hang on round his waist.
We drove off at high speed along Holmwood Drive, right turn down the Galaside and along Charles Street(New) now Thomas Telford Road to the junction of the High Street and the Langholm Bridge. We then turned right and headed down the High Street and turned right towards Balfour's shop, a quick juke to the left, then down the Lairds Entry to the Doctors' surgery. Luckily Doctor Watt, or Doctor George, as he was affectionately known by the locals was working at his surgery and saw me straight away owing to the urgency of the situation. He managed to remove the broken stick that had actually entered the eye socket under the eyeball. I was advised to go straight to Carlisle Infirmary Casualty Department and
moments later Donald was whisking me there on the back of his motorbike.
When I was examined by a doctor, he told me that I had been extremely fortunate that the eyeball hadn't been pierced, although it had been scraped by the stick and he didn't think that it was damaged too much. An appointment was made for the next day with the doctor who informed me that a few of the small blood vessels on the eyeball had been damaged and they would probably heal in a month at which time I was to return and be examined by him again. I remember clearly the National Health frames that were made from brown plastic and had wire ends that were prescribed for me. Specs caused a variety of situations throughout my lifetime.
At school I broke three pairs of spectacles in a matter of weeks playing rugby and was
eventually excused from wearing them during play which caused me many
problems owing to be unable to see the ball or indeed who was carrying it.
One hot summer's day I was swimming in either the 'Catty' or the 'Doggy'
pool under the Langholm Brig and when it come time to dry myself off I was
pleased to see that someone had lit a fire on the side of the river bank. I
went across in that direction and picked up my clothes to find that my specs
were missing. A few of the other lads helped me look for them, but to no
avail. The next day the metal skeleton still holding the lenses was found
under the ashes of the fire and I never did find out who had put them there.
I suppose you could call these exciting and innovative times, and they were
witnessing such innovations as the television. In the sixties the priveleged
few had parents who could afford a television, monochrome of course, and if
we kept in with certain individuals you could watch their telly with them. I
remember vividly and avidly watching the adventures that masked man and his
faithful indian companion, The Lone Ranger, and Tonto, also Whirlybirds,
adventures with the two man crew of a police helicopter. The TVs in those
days had a 12" screen with loudspeakers from the bottom of the screen to the
foot of the cabinet which had full length doors that closed so nobody would
ever know or indeed even guess that a television was hidden behind them. this
was very state-of-the-art equipment for those times.
There were many activities that became routine many are not seen around these days probably because of the absence of buttons, electronic devices and cables. There was no preconceived plans made, they were just the norm. The foremost of the games we used to play would have to be 'marbles'. I used to play marbles quite often but owing to inaccuracy on my part and invariably missing marbles when I should have hit them, I was forever buying a bag of 25 at Mary's the peaper shop. When I was between ten and twelve-years-old we had the whole of the Scholars' field to use as that was the main grass sports field and we used to take advantage of it. In the morning, say between 8.45 and 9.00am the first 'pots' were created. By thrusting your heel down and backwards in three or four directions but always ending up in the centre of the small circle you had created, then by placing the sole of your shoe in the centre and spinning round very quickly in a clockwise direction three or four times you smoothed the hole out to make a shallow bowl shape. There were four main categories of marbles, namely: Glassies, Steenies, Steelies and Puggies.
Various types of marbles
These were bought in lots of 25 in plastic bags, they were made from clear glass that had a hard plastic twist inside them coming in the colours of red, blue, yellow and combinations. They also had a big brother size that could be bought in bags of six, these were approximately 1¼" I can't remember the price of either now.
These were marbles that appeared to be made from marble and came in a variety of colour combinations such as light blue with dark blue veining or cream with dark red veining. I don't know where you could buy this type, but they just appeared out of nowhere from time to time.
These were to my limited knowledge simply large ball-bearings that were utilised as marbles, where they were obtained from was known only to those individuals who used them.
Lastly, there were the 'puggies' that were made from fired clay or ceramic, they were always a lot smaller than the other types of marbles, where they came from, I don't know but they were not unlike the small stone balls that were found in bottles that regulated the flow of fluid.
Marble Games We Played
The 'Pot' Game
I recall that the 'pot' game was by far the most popular and was usually played with 2 players. It began by each player trying to throw their marble into a mud or earth pot shaped out of the ground, the ones that got their marble into the pot took first turn. They had to try to get their marble far away from the pot by placing a second marble that was held between the middle of the side of the forefinger and the thumb, or alternatively flick it by placing it close to the opponent's which would put some distance between marble and pot.
This being completed, the first player then put the sole of his left shoe into the pot, then knelt with his right leg on the ground and aimed and threw the marble in a manner that involved holding it between the tip of the forefinger and the thumb, not unlike throwing a dart. If your marble hits your opponent's, his marble then became yours. Should you be unlucky and miss, your opponent then took a turn at trying to hit your marble using the same technique and by positioning himself beside his marble. Each took turns alternatively, until one of the players struck his opponent's marble. You could always tell who were the marble players by the state of their shoes and their dirty trousers.
The game which several players could play together started off by each player placing two marbles into the circle, this was usually scraped out on the turf by a stick or a fairly strong twig from a tree. The participants then stood in a row and took a couple of goes to try and knock out as many marbles as they could. Any marbles that were knocked outside of the circle became the property of the person who had knocked them out. The downside of the game was, not successfully knocking out any marbles and your marble remaining inside the ring, had to be left there among the other marbles.
The local pea-shooter enthusiasts were very fortunate in my schooldays because there was a full compliment of mills in operation namely, Reid & Taylor's (The Factory), The Woolly Mill (The Ford), Bell's Mill, Waverley Mills and Neill's Mill. They were a great source for the supply of pea-shooters, which were bobbins that carried the thread in the shuttle of a loom for cloth weaving. As the name implies, the best kind of ammunition for pea-shooters, was peas, the dried variety that were hard as stones, this caused the peas to shoot out a fair distance and supplied the required 'sting' on impact.
Should there be a shortage of dried peas at home, for whatever reason, a good natural alternative was the 'haw' berries that you could pull from a hawthorn bush or hedge.
Langholm has a wealth of horse chestnut trees around it, my favourite places for collecting good-sized conkers was either the Castleholm fields or at the bottom of Whita at the rear of the Ashley Bank Hotel, now closed.
Making a whistle
The whistles were made from the hazel tree, normally a fairly young one was chosen that had branches that had offshoots about ¼” thick. A good straight section was cut from the offshoot about 4” long, it then had one of the ends squared off, the other end was cut through at an angle of 45º and the bark was cut down to the wood making a ring around the stick, this would be done about halfway down . Now came the tedious part, you put the section into your mouth as far as it would go and ensure that there was plenty saliva to transfer between your lips to the stick's bark.
The stick was then held down by one hand on the top of the knee, then with the use of your pocket knife that was held by the blade, you tapped the flat side of the handle repeatedly on the piece of stick and simultaneously turned it so as the full circumference received an equal amount of tapping, alternating between 'sooken' the stick and tapping it.
Every three minutes or so you inspected the stick to see if the thin bark was coming away from the wood by twisting it. Eventually, after five or six minutes the bark comes away from the stick. You replaced the bark in it's original place and cut a shallow 'V' through the bark. You then removed the bark and cut the stick long ways from the end upto the point where the bark had been cut, the depth of sliver of wood removed would be approximately a sixth of the stick's total thickness. Lastly, you replace the bark and try out your whistle.
A catty was usually a 'Y' joint cut from a fairly young hazel tree. Two notches were cut out of the two forks so that the two long, thick elastic bands would not slip off. Two holes were punched into a 4”x1” piece of thin leather or pvc, one either side,the elastic band was fed through these holes and knotted behind.
Cowboys and Indians
When we were pretending to be cowboys we teamed up in twos, one was the cowboy and the other was his horse. The 'horse' had reins to control him, these were lengths of string about six feet long that were first hung round a drooping head from the back, then after standing erect the string was fed under the armpits, some 'cowboys' preferred the reins to have two ends to hold on to while the other's preference was to have the two ends tied. The length of string was altered to suit the cowboy's stature.
The most popular weapon was undoubtably the cap pistol. A sort of replica of a Colt 45 around half the size of an original. I recall when I got a cowboy outfit for Christmas, it consisted of a pair of trousers with a fringe down the outside seam of the legs, a waistcoat, also fringed at the bottom, a black cowboy hat with the 'Lone Star' silver paper badge stuck on the front, a metallic sheriff's badge that I pinned on my waistcoat, and finally the Lone Star cap pistol and holster with no belt.
Caps are never seen nowadays, I think a strip was approximately two feet in length. Every eighth of an inch there was an eighth-of-an-inch spot of grey explosive material that gave off a loud crack when hit between two hard surfaces. The roll of caps was inserted into the shaped casting on a pin, then the strip was fed between the pistol hammer and the casting. They could also use them in toy winchester rifles that used the same set-up. As boys we also used tear off three caps from a strip and insert it into a 'rocket' that was thrown as high as possible into the air and when it returned to earth it landed nose-first and set off the caps with a huge bang. The other weapons were made by ourselves such as makeshift spears, bows and arrows, whittled out hunting knives and tomahawks, mostly for the 'indians'.
At the age of 8-10 years old when we were out of school, our thoughts invariably went to being a cowboy. I would attempt to sneak out of the house with the fireside rug rolled up under my arm with the intention of using it as a saddle draped over the hedge, hoping that my mother wouldn't see me, never giving it a thought that as soon as she entered the livingroom, she would notice that the rug was missing. By that time I would have the rug thrown across the hedge that was straight over the road from my home at 60 Holmwood Drive. I would take a run and dive belly-first onto the rug, then get myself into a riding position with legs astride the hedge. I suppose one of the factors that we were influenced by was the weekend matinee films at the local cinema that frequently were of a western type where the cowboys always won, and the indians lost.
I had several go-carts over the space of five years. We used to go to the Buccleuch sawmill and cadge a couple of slabs of wood cut down the length of a tree, then cut into five feet lengths, three of these were taken to my house and nailed together with a couple of two foot long planks as braces. Next job was to find some wheels, preferable with their axles, so we'd head for the pool dump and have a good ratch around for them. Failing that, we went up to the Highmill dump and invariably we would find a old knackered pram, and if our luck was really in, an old pushchair with small wheels.
Back at my house I'd look around in my father's shed for a couple of bits of wood about 3 feet long and three inches wide, I wasn't concerned how thick it was but preferably it should be under two inches if possible. A couple of large staples were hammered into these about 2” - 3” from the ends, then somehow tap one of our small wheels off its axle and feed the axle through the staples, fit the wheel back on and hope that you have allowed sufficient room to allow the wheels to turn. The same procedure was then repeated for the larger rear wheels. A reasonable length of string was used next, first tying it round the axle between the go-cart and wheel.
Skiting stanes across the river Esk
I can remember when I used to skite stones across the river. This activity was usually done between the time that school hours were over and 5 o'clock. A few of us got together on the north side of the Langholm Bridge where there was an abundance of stones between the river and the banking, a lot of them had at least one flat side, these were ideal for the job. We took a turn at trying to (a), make the stones reach the other side using a number of small jumps, (b), select a target area, this could be a rock jutting out on the other side of the river, then try to hit it (c), try to make the stone jump from the shallow water at the edge and land on the other side in one jump, this was my favourite action, it involved throwing the stone as hard as possible at a steep angle then with a flick of the wrist, the stone jumped from about three feet in front and land on the far side of the river, sometimes hitting the pipe that was fixed to the wall along the east side of the river.
The year was 1960 and I was twelve years old, I lived in 'Extonall', next to Pelosi's cafe. One of the group activities that I joined in was roller-skating. The skates in those days were adjustable in length, all you did was pull the front half out to your required length. Your shoe toe slid into a leather loop that made up from two short pieces that were fixed underneath the skate's platform, then tied together, not unlike a shoe lace. The heel of the skate had an inch high lip that fitted up against your shoe heel to prevent the foot from sliding off the back. Finally, the most important part, the retaining strap that was buckled at the front of the ankle, this had to be extremely tight. Most of the time there would be three or four of us in a group and we would go back and forth along the high street by way of the pavements. We had a couple of good hills namely, Kirk Wynd and Rosevale Street that were used by the skaters frequently. Rosevale was the quieter of these two, so was used more often. The difference in technique with hill skating was the need to do less work, you could just push yourself off and remain fully erect or alternatively you could crouch with your knees nearly supporting your chin and your hands resting on your feet. There was always a lot of activity on the pavement outside my house, the pavement seemed a lot bigger in those days.
Canoeing and Rafting
I would have been about twelve years old when I had my first experience at canoeing. At that time I used to knock about with Jim McVittie who lived in Mary Street which runs parallel with the river Esk. He had made a canoe frame and had just finished making it's skin with a tarpaulin and was extremely pleased with the results. He asked me if I would like a 'go' down the river to which I accepted enthusiastically. We carried the canoe from its storage place up the back of Mary Street houses down to the river and put it into the water. Owing to the canoe being so buoyant we found it difficult to manoeuvre into, but finally we both got ourselves seated. We pushed off from the riverbank and headed for the confluence of the river Esk and Ewes which was only some 75 yards ahead.
Other times we would get a hold of 4 five-gallon plastic containers and tie them to 4 planks making the shape of a square, nail six planks down between two of the side boards, all facing the same way, turn the whole lot over and carry it to the river where one of us who had drawn the short straw, took first turn at getting on board it and floating down the river. I can't remember if it was Jim or myself that went the first and only time and got into difficulties in the shallower water on the south side of the river when two of the plastic containers were wrenched off the raft and the passenger was left 'low and wet'. It probably was Jim because I recall going down to about the same point in the river in a 45 gallon barrel with 6” or so of biggish stones for ballast that actually did the job they were supposed to do in the deeper water but begun scraping along the river bed in the shallow water, finally coming to a stop. Jim waded out to where I was stuck and helped me out of the barrel.
The town used to have an annual raft race with the proceeds going to a local charity. Normally, the town's business firms each entered a raft with a 'crew'. The rafts come in all shapes and sizes, some being ingenious in design considering the components that were used.
An Annual Raft Race in Progress
I left school at fifteen-years-old with no qualifications because I was not
selected for a certificate class after the eleven plus exam. I was placed
into Technical/Homecraft, the former was the category for boys, and the
latter for girls. This system of selection placed a pupil in a particular
category and such was the rigidity of the system, once a pupil was placed in
that category he/she would progress through the three secondary years and
finally leave school in the same category. It was impossible to gravitate
between any of them.
During these years when I was eleven to twelve years old one of my regular
habits like a few others, namely Barry Armstrong and Dave Laidlaw was to
wait for Foster Jackson and his horse which drew a log cart behind it. There
was a long tree fixed to the cart which protruded from the rear about ten
feet. (approximately three metres) and we waited patiently for Foster at the
school gates. If it didn't appear by a certain time we knew that Foster and
the other tree fellers were working south of the town, so in order ensure we
didn't miss him we would run flat out down Charles Street (New, over the
Langholm Bridge and along the High Street where the horse and cart would
normally be making their way northwards. The cart was pulled along very
slowly which enabled those so inclined to run at it and jump aboard the
protruding tree which we straddled proudly imagining we were actually riding
a horse with the full sound effects included. The end of the trail finished
up in the Buccleuch Estates stables which were to be found across the Ewes
bridge at the north end of the Kilngreen, then taking a right turn about
seventy-five yards on, turn to the left once in the yard and the stable
building could easily be seen from that point, continuing until the next
right then sharp left to enter the stables. One section housed the cart and
next door was a large stable for the Clydesdale.
It would have been around 1962 when I was in the early part of my third year,
but part way through my first year in the new academy when I was caught up
in tragic circumstances. As I recall I was holding an in-depth conversation
with Alex Morrison and was busy hand-drilling a hole through a piece of
timber without looking what I was doing, and the bit passed through the wood
and was boring its way into the two-month-old bench. Quite unseen by me, Mr
Carruthers ( E & L's Wanderer ) had crept up behind me and bellowed out,
"Zemla, what the hell do you think you are doing, boy?," and of course being
so startled I attempted to garble out some sort of explanation. Before I had
finished what I was saying, I heard more threatening words of in simple
terms meant that Mr Carruthers never wanted to see my face in any of his
classes again. I was marched immediately up to Mr Purves' class of 4th year
science students and sat with them for the remainder of the year totally
oblivious to their advanced knowledge theories. I should mention that I did
attempt to re-enter a metalwork lesson and a technical drawing class the
following week, both of which I was refused entry.
In July of 1963 I left school and proceeded to hunt for a job and to this end
found temporary work until I found full-time employment. I worked a six
months' stint as message boy under the employ of Campbell and Anne
Glendinning in Balfour's grocers until I found that full-time job. I gained
some knowledge about how a grocery shop works, although understandably I did
not show any real enthusiasm at this time. I can remember that first day
when I was given the grand tour around the premises in an adult's full
length white cotton working coat. It trailed the ground because it was too
long, but I didn't care. I remember the time also when I was allowed to serve
a customer on my own, how excited I was to be able to go and fetch the
different items, accept payment, and finally give the correct change.
I learned to cut, bone and roll bacon sides, shoulders and hams, and very soon became official bacon hand. That is, all aspects with the exception of slicing bacon on the Berkel bacon slicer that had a ca' handle to rotate the blade, this was Campbell's domain and he insisted in slicing all bacon required by the counter staff. In fact on a busy Friday I have seen him operate the slicer for hours on end. There was no ultra healthy storage for the bacon and cooked meats in those days, not even a domestic fridge. The meats were simply wrapped up in greaseproof paper and lain on their side on the top of the tiled counter where they were displayed. The bacon normally had the muslin replaced around the joint in question and stored on the display rack which consisted of what could be mistaken for a book rack with two shelves, all covered in 'Fablon' contact vinyl. This made it relatively simple to sponge down. Strangely enough there were never any cases of E-Coli, salmonella, or food poisoning and I reckon that through our present day hygiene being so strictly applied, our bodies have not been able to build up their natural immunity to bacteria.
Located at the front of the main shop was a freezer which had four
compartments that reached from the machine to the bottom and all frozen
pre-packed foodstuffs were crammed into the four compartments. From time to
time, let us say every four months the freezer had to be defrosted as per
manufacturer's instructions, and normally because of the amount of foodstuffs
that were always present and not having the time to fully defrost, we would
set about the freezer with knives and hammers and chisels, which we applied
in a 'canny' sort of way. First we would empty one of the compartments, then
attempt to remove as much ice as possible, then simply melt the ice down to
dispose of it. That was what I had been led to believe, however the other
employees had omitted to instruct me never to handle the ice because it was
'dry'. The inevitable happened and I learned very quickly about the
properties of frozen Carbon Dioxide or 'dry ice', as it is sometimes called it actually burned my skin
then stuck to it.
I had removed quite a substantial part of the contents of the freezer this
particular day and chucked all the ice into the sink and poured water over
it out of the tap, to my astonishment the room filled with a fog like vapour
and on seeing this decided to use it to my advantage and play a trick the
next day. We had all arrived for work and I immediately headed for the
freezer to finish off the removal of ice. I worked away until I had more or
less a full bucket of it and headed for the back shop. I knew that Cecil had
not arrived as yet but was due in about ten minutes, so I timed it until I
saw him arrive in the shop and followed him through to the back shop where he
proceeded to make up bags of potatoes. I started to chat and told him a
fantastic story about the drucken night I had had the night previous and
that I had not been feeling well as a result. I slipped over to the corner
in the rear of the front shop where I had put the last half bucket of ice and
took a small piece out wrapping it very carefully in my hankie, then as I
crossed over the back shop in the direction of the toilet I made a few
complaining noises concerning my stomach making sure Cecil heard me and
slipped into the toilet. Whilst I was in the toilet I first removed the dry
ice from my hankie and carefully placed it into the water in the toilet pan
then began to make moaning and grunting noises. I eventually emerged from
the toilet after having flushed and was enveloped with a cloud of mist as I
came out. Cecil on seeing this retorted, "Ye'd be fer better stickin' tae yer
mam's chips than that Indian muck, an' it's an awfa price yoan tae end up
When I look back now, I remember vividly the layout of the downstairs cellar
which was below the level of the shop floor but in line with the road that
runs down Lairds Entry. The interior of the cellar was archaic, like walking
into a time warp of a hundred years ago. The furthest cellars from the shop
premises were littered with old clay flagons, which were used to hold whisky
and were actually sold with a full gallon in them in the nineteenth century
for, wait for it 2/6d, the modern equivalent being 12½p. There were also
many, many types of glass bottles, some with marbles in their necks which
acted like a type of valve that regulated the fluid in the bottle's flow.
There were some really ancient soda syphons that had metal syphon mechanisms
that were badly corroded and useless for their function they were meant for.
At that time I hadn't an inkling that I would return in a few years to work
as a time-served fully-fledged grocer.
There was also an upstairs above the
main cellar which was accessed via extremely old very well worn wooden
stairs, which were to say the least, unsafe. The upper floor's wooden surface
had been constructed by using wooden planks a long, long time in the past,
in fact a good proportion of the floor was 'patched' up with wood from apple
and orange cases. The patches covered over the holes that had been made by
some unfortunate individuals in the past. Many people will have passed the
cellar door on their way to the dentist's which is located in Lairds Entry.
The main cellar door was, and is located directly opposite the Eskdale Hotel
kitchen window. They would never think about the large number of employees
over the years that had carried grocery cases and alcoholic beverages into
the depths of the cellars beyond the door. Next time you have the occasion to
walk down the Lairds Entry, stop and look at the stone step of the cellar
door and observe how it has been worn down by wear and tear of people's feet who worked there over the years, including yours truly.
I applied for an existing vacancy which was posted on a board in the Labour
Exchange in Carlisle which was seeking a school-leaver to train as a grocer. I applied and had an interview on the same day with the store manager, Harry Scott who later become a very good friend and excellent snooker adversary.
His wife Elsie, or Tip as Harry called her worked in the shop also and
supervised all the staff. She was a Geordie like Harry and could understand
the local customers just a little bit better than I could. I can remember
clearly, in my first days of working in there how everyone, including the
staff, saw me as a curiosity item because of my Scots' dialect. I only lived
twenty miles north, and yet it was like being in a part of the country many
miles away. When a lady customer asked me for "Aff a poon eh becking, and aff ah doozen hegs", I had a rough idea of what they were asking for through the association of the items, but it was difficult at the time.
Regular as clockwork for the next few Saturday mornings a handful of my friends and schoolmates would pay me a visit at the shop at which times everyone of them insisted that I served them. The order for each was ¼lb of freshly grated cheddar cheese, which took a wee while to complete. Each wanted their portion put into a sealed polythene bag and sealed with a piece of sticky tape, not dissimilar to the type that fastened ready sliced bread loaves. I knew that they were just trying to be awkward at the time, but what could I do? The portions were each paid for separately and one at a time. If you calculated the time taken to serve six of them with a ¼lb, about 125 grams of grated cheese, it would take approximately three minutes before you cut the cheese into roughly the weight that you required, then cut that piece into 3 or 4 smaller pieces so that they would fit into the hand-held barrel cheese grater, once it was grated and bagged, check that it was the required weight on the Avery scales, tape up the bag using the tape dispenser, and finally, take money for payment. Sometimes the first two to be served came for second portions after the rest had been served, because they had eaten their grated cheese whilst waiting for the others.
You will have probably surmised that this situation could not be allowed to continue unchecked, and sure enough Mr Scott took me to the side when we had a few minutes to spare and told me that I would have to tell the boys to phone in their order for their bags of grated cheese on a Friday and we would make them up ready for them to collect. Needless to say, they never did you see, there wasn't any fun in placing their order by phone.
I learned many skills such as slicing bacon on a 'Berkel' gear-operated
electric slicer, boning bacon from the full rib cage to hams and shoulders,
also rolling all the portions of the pig, to make them ready to slice into
various cuts of bacon. I would take a full day, usually a Wednesday to
remove the waxed cheesecloth from two 56 pound cheeses, then cut them into
various sized portions from ¼lb, that's four ounces = 125 grams, up to a
pound, that's 16 ounces = 500 grams. Weights are so complicated when
converting. I was also put in charge of all cooked meats, that is storing,
window displays, ensuring they looked fresh at all times which was not easy
by any means. I also learned the art of window-dressing with general
groceries which were on limited price reduction for the week, which I
I made several good friends of lads that had been
employed as apprentices, the foremost being a lad named Keith Davies who
lived with his parents in the caretaker's flat, his father was the caretaker
of the Miles McInnes Hall, now demolished and replaced by private apartments
that are sited to the left just before the traffic lights on Stanwix Bank
heading for the city of Carlisle. Keith was absolutely incorrigible, was well
spoken and had received a public school education. His pet hobby was to go
out to old people's homes and clubs such as the Toch H and entertain them
with gags, humorous stories and as a finale would do a few magic tricks, he
was well liked by his audiences. Keith and his family moved to Scotland Road
and that is where the following episode happened.
I have talked about matters of the supernatural on many occasions with
friends, but I was witness to a weird transference between, what I believed
at the time to be one dimension to another. Two weeks before this
manifestation occurred, Keith had told me at work one day that he thought
that his house was haunted because of what had happened during the night
previous. Keith had a sister named Pat and she was employed by a Radio Taxis
company in Carlisle She had wakened around three in the morning and was
experiencing cold shivers although her body was warm to her own touch, she
was also aware of somebody else in the bedroom and slowly slid her head over
her top cover and saw the silhouette of a figure with a large hat which had
a massive feather sticking up and along one side of it. She spoke, thinking
it was Keith playing a practical joke on her.
She called his name a few more
times without any response from the figure. By now she was extremely
frightened and screamed at the top of her voice which brought her mum rushing
to her bedroom. Immediately on entry her mother had exclaimed, "My God Pat,
what's happened in here?", and she had felt this penetrating cold about her
as she stood at the bottom of Pat's bed. Pat, I suppose in the hope that it
wasn't anything of a supernatural nature, asked her mum to check Keith's
room, which she duly carried out only to found Keith snoring away, fast
asleep. There was no reoccurrence of that incident but a strange thing was
happening to Pat and it happened on a night that I had been invited for tea.
Mr and Mrs Davies, Pat and myself sat down to our meal which was thoroughly
enjoyed by all, then we went through to the front sitting room and waited
for Mrs Davies to make the coffee. I tried to make conversation with Pat but
she appeared to be strangely distant and obviously could hear what I was
saying. I hadn't taken much notice but apparently Keith had noticed that she
had got out a writing pad and had been writing since she had come through
some ten minutes prior.
She sat in the same posture and wrote on teens of
pages before pronouncing she was finished. She laid the pad down and
complained that her coffee was cold. Her mum tried to tell her that she had
been sat writing for over an hour and a half without a word to anyone. She
apologised and tried to make sense out of this, she couldn't remember
anything about what she had written after she had sat down with us all. Mr
and Mrs Davies asked to see the writing pad which she had been writing on
and were very surprised to see verses and verses of poetry, but in beautiful
scrolled copperplate handwriting. At the end of the poem was a monogram
signature which nobody in the room could make out. After some investigations
with local historians it was discovered that in the late seventeen hundreds
a local poet had occupied the house and as a consequence of a broken heart
over a woman, had hung himself. Mr Davies visited the minister the following
day and enquired if he would perform the rite of exorcism in his house, to
which the vicar agreed. The exorcism was carried out, presumably the soul of
the poet was put to rest because there was never anything remotely such as
that occurrence happened again to my knowledge. Two years later the family
moved down south and I haven't heard from them since.
My method of commuting to Carlisle in those days was firstly by the Langholm
train service as far as Riddings Junction where we changed onto the
Edinburgh train which had travelled the Waverley line heading southwards.
Sometimes the Edinburgh train was late, and it always happened on a cold
winter's morning, and a few of us would be invited into the signal box by
Tommy Whittaker, the signalman from Rowanburn who would treat us to a share
of his second tea flask's contents, which as you can imagine was most
welcome. There was definitely something about railway staff and the
travellers in those days. Everyone helped each other, or enjoyed a laugh,
and you could trust people.
In the three years I travelled on the train, there was only one incident that
was scary, to this day I thank my lucky stars I'm still here to tell the
We were travelling somewhere between Carlisle and Longtown on the 5.30pm
return train when a sudden loud crack was heard in the compartment, in those
days there were no corridors in the train, and to my horror I saw that a
small hole about 1cm in diameter had appeared in the window some twelve
inches (work out the metric conversion) in front of me. It looked like a
bullet hole, and the bullet had crossed inside the carriage and through the
window on the other side.
I believe there had been a small enquiry about the
incident, but I never heard if anybody had been charged for the dangerous
I was usually the only one travelling alone, that is until Riddings Junction
where Colin Davidson and Dave Whittaker from Penton way, and May Beattie,
from Copshaw were usually sitting in their compartment waiting for me. This
mode of transport suited me well, the time of departure was 7.10 in the
morning, and return journey began at 5.30 in the evening. This arrangement
stood until Doctor Beeching in his wisdom decided to close the Waverley line
from Edinburgh, and the Langholm spur line along with many others. Tom Brown
was the stationmaster at the time, there was George Webb, the station clerk
and person responsible for ticket sales, also Dan Lithgow and Jimmy Burgess,
and of course the recently deceased John Cameron who drove the Scammel
three-wheeler articulated goods delivery vehicle. If I was lucky enough to
see John delivering on a Saturday, he would ask me to sit beside him and
assist him delivering parcels, the bulk of them going to shops and places of
The passenger train service was terminated on 13th June 1964, the
goods train carried on for another three years. Of course the train service
was a terrible miss by everyone, and as for myself I started to travel by
Western SMT double-decker bus which presented me with a totally different
situation. After a while I accepted things and made a few good friends
during my journeys including the driver, Bill Irving, dad of Neil (Doof) and
Audrey Maxwell, and of course George Murray the conductor, who were both
known and respected by all. There was Colonel Jimmy Ewart, (father of Billy
the artist from Rosevale Street). I found Jimmy to be a great man for his
war tales and experiences, after all he was a Major in the tank corps. Sid
Cooper appeared now and then, along with Tom Davidson, both 14MU workers, or
was it Mossband. Some years later I sometimes met Jimmy who would be in the
company of Bowman Little down at the County Hotel, in the Station Square,
which was where my girlfriend was employed as receptionist. We had some
great times and started to meet on a fairly regular basis, although I was
much younger than them, we had plenty to blether about.
I recall the wintry mornings, trudging through snow over 10 inches deep in
shoes 3 inches high across the Merkat Place around twenty past six,
absolutely 'foonered', not expecting conditions to get any worse, but they
The bus would be almost totally covered in snow with only a small portion of
red showing through. Once inside things didn't improve as you could
ascertain from the expressions on the faces of the few die-hards dying to
get to work and looking forward to arriving at their respective workplaces
where at the very least it would be warm and snow-free.
I would always upstairs for the front left seat and if unoccupied would
proceed to put my feet up on the front panel below the windows and pray that
today the heaters were operating. They took around half an hour to heat.
I remained at my work in Botchergate on and off over the period of three
years I was employed with Fine Fare, who had bought all London & Newcastle
Tea Company shops. The 8th August 1965 was the date that I passed my driving
test, and sometime in September when I bought my first car, a used one,
which was a light blue Austin 900cc. Saloon, registration LHH 517 this model
was commonly referred to as the Baby Austin, and it cost £180, the car was
bought at Dias & Co Ltd., Lowther Street in Carlisle. After I had been
working in the Botchergate store of the L & N Tea Co. for about eighteen
months I was transferred to Denton Holme branch and finished in Lowther
Street branch. During this time in Lowther Street shop I was asked to help
out at Penrith branch which I duly carried out for four months, firstly
helping out in the shop as assistant to Roland the manager, then
subsequently on their mobile shop which was based at Little Dockray branch
in Penrith. Travelled to and from Penrith every day during this time, I
remember how long the working days were then, lengthened by the forty miles
each way, to and from work, but I was paid generous subsistence money,
enough to indulge in a restaurant meal each day during my stay there, which,
was usually the Chinese Restaurant.
The regular driver had had an accident and damaged his back, so I worked on
the mobile shop as relief driver. I got to know the area fairly well, going
to places like Langwathby, Clifton village and Long Sowerby, in short, all
the outlying villages in a twenty mile radius of Penrith.
One particular instance stands out during this period of my life, and it is
proof of no matter where you go in this country and indeed in this world,
you will meet up with a Langholmite, and the one I refer to was Bob Laidlaw,
son of Paddy and Jane of the 'Crudens', oldest brother of Violet and Ronald.
On this particular day, I was doing my round at the location of Carlton
Police Headquarters and had finished selling from the mobile shop in the
first of the two open quadrangles that stood adjacent to each other and were
divided by a six foot wall. I had parked just inside the first quadrangle,
and had decided that instead of driving in a large circle today, I would take
the shorter route which involved reversing the vehicle for about fifteen
feet, then turn to the left, still reversing, and into the second
quadrangle. I should add at this point that a very pleasant, but young, that
is fifteen-years-old girl assistant was on board and I had asked her to keep
an eye out of the rear window and, if in her opinion I should stop for any
reason, to shout loudly to do so. She appeared to understand at the time,
but a couple of minutes later, it was obvious that she hadn't. Whilst I was
carrying out the reversing procedure, I had not noticed in my mirror that a
stone was protruding from the wall about a foot from ground level and that I
had caught this stone with the corner of the bumper, which caused the stone
to dislodge, consequently seventy-five yards of wall collapsed into the
Meanwhile, the young girl is standing at the rear of the
van rooted to the spot, her hands cupped over her mouth, and sobbing. Before
I had a chance to ask her what had happened, I was acutely aware of dozens
of light blue-shirted men racing towards the mobile-shop. I am sure it is
not too difficult to imagine my feelings at that moment. Here I am,
eighteen-years-old, operating a mobile-shop in the Penrith Police
Headquarters, have succeeded in demolishing a considerable length of wall
which was their property, and thinking all sorts of notions such as, Will I
be fined or jailed?. Will I have to pay for the wall to be rebuilt, and most
importantly, Will I lose my licence. My brain had hardly had time to form
some sort of answers, when I heard a raised voice in that weel kent Langholm
dialect shout, "Frank Zemla, ah might ah kent." At that moment I did not
know whether to be happy that it was someone who knew me, albeit a polisman,
or upset because I had been positively identified. However, after a couple of
minutes blethering with Bob, I felt much more at ease after he told me that I
had probably done the polis a big favour by knocking the wall down. Apparently
it was a very old wall that had been in a dangerous condition for many
years, and had just been patiently waiting for somebody as myself tae gie it
a helpin' han'. I left there with great relief in the knowledge that no
charges would be made against me, and was pleased that I had provided some
entertainment for the police cadets who were studying there at that time, boy was I lucky!
The shop premises in Little Dockray, Penrith where I worked for a few months
prior to driving the mobile shop was not suitable for its purpose, indeed I
remember thinking at the time that they should have been condemned. 99% of
the grocery items were delivered by a Fine Fare articulated wagon, normally
on a Tuesday afternoon, which coincidentally happened to be the manager's
half day off. Before I go any further I would like to describe the layout of
the shop including its storage facilities. The entrance was accessed through
a normal single half-paned door and the counter was located dead ahead about
8-10ft away. The counter made an 'L' shape to the right and left
approximately 3ft between the end of it and the back of the window. The
storage area was up two flights of eight stairs and was accessed via a door
which was located at the halfway point of the side of the counter which
headed in the direction of the window. As I explained before, the boss was
never to be seen at this time, there was only myself and a girl
school-leaver 'holding the fort'. Let us assume the delivery wagon has
arrived, the driver has finally reversed and successfully negotiated the
narrow mews on which the shop was located.
He jumps out of his cab and
proceeds to open his wagon's back doors, he climbs into the wagon and han'
ba's the many cases of tinned, packeted, and bottled goods piling, them into
a wall of boxes, he then throws down three or four cases to me, one at a
time, I stack them on the sack barrow, get round the back of it and tilt it
back towards me, a quick tug up the kerb and onto the pavement, if the young
assistant was busy, invariably she was, hold the barrow by one handle only
and feel for the door handle to open the door. Once inside the shop, turn
right and reverse between the window back and the end of the counter. This
was often a crucial part of the journey because the window display of cans,
packets or bottles were precariously balanced on tripod stands with oval
glass panes on top, they could be three tiers high, but I digress. One
inadvertent nudge by an extruding elbow would have spelt disaster, but you
know during my time there, it never happened once to me. I could have taken
a route behind the length of the counter, but I reckoned that it was an
unnecessary long trip, and apart from that there were often boxes of
groceries sitting behind the counter ready for the delivery boy.
On we go
walking backwards towards the access door to upstairs, oh! I forgot to
mention that there was a step up to the small passage before the stairs,
unload the cases, I usually tackled three, left one to the side, I'll explain
later. The three cases that had been on the barrow, I now had stacked on the
fourth step of the stairs, I then cupped my hands below the bottom case at
the closest corner to me on the right, the left hand then took up position
more or less a mirror image of the right hand. The progress from now on was
decidedly slow and 'canny' because the stairs were so steep, I had to
negotiate the stairs bow-legged so as to be able to see over the cases and
maintain stability. This as you can imagine was a tense time, coupled with
the extra problem of time flying. Finally, I reached the sixteenth step, and
turned left into the large storeroom and lowered my load of cases gently to
the floor. Back down the stairs in full flight, feeling relieved that was
one load less to carry, but simultaneously was not relishing the next twenty
or thirty trips.
I explained that I always left one case of a barrowload of
four, the reason being that every fourth trip I had accumulated a load of
three for upstairs with less effort used. The driver would help me carry
boxes upstairs sometimes, more for his benefit I thought, so he could get a
part of the pile stacked at the back of the wagon cleared away, still, I
thought, any help is better than none at all. You can imagine my delight on
the day I was asked if I could take over the mobile shop temporarily. After
my stint at Penrith I went back to work in the Botchergate shop for only a
month as it was due to be closed and was replaced by a finished Fine Fare
supermarket up the street, next to the Co-op department store. I, at
that point was transferred to Lowther Street self-service on the corner of
Devonshire Street to complete my apprenticeship training. I was solely
responsible for provisions purchases, displaying and selling butters,
fats, cooked meats, all bacons, chilled poultry and cheeses.
I completed my apprenticeship at Lowther Street and stayed there for a
further year, leaving through a personality clash with the manager. I was
reasonably content with my decision to leave and decided to head in the
direction of Langholm where I visited Campbell Glendinning and asked him if
there was a vacancy for a time-served grocer. I returned next day as he had
requested and went through an interview with him, which was successful on my
part. I began working there on the following Monday and was amazed at the
difference between there and Fine Fare.
I stayed there for three years working with Cecil Carmichael, Dick Irving,
Jim Reid, Anne Armstrong, Viv Armstrong, younger daughter of Bill and Molly,
Helen Nixon, and of course Campbell and his wife Anne. In the office was Pa
Brown, as he was affectionately known, Tom the aforementioned stationmaster
and father of Walter of Town Band fame.
This situation suited me very well
as my home was only some hundred yards away across the Market Place. It was
always a busy shop that had many regular 'worthies' patronising it. I was
appointed bacon-boner/roller, loose sugar packer. The sugar in those days
was delivered in one hundredweight (50 kilos) strong paper bags, the contents
of which was scooped into 2lb (1000 grams) stiff blue paper bags. The
weighing-up had to be accurate otherwise there would be a shortage in the
last bag, and that would never do. After the bags had been weighed out, they
had to be folded tightly and securely so that a grain of sugar could not
escape. Nowadays we all expect vegetables to be pre-packed or loose, in
those days there was the best of both for customers who would by a pound of
carrots wrapped in similar fashion to a present day fish supper. The shop
premises were authentic by default both in ambience and appearance.
part of the opportunities not only to sell goods by recommendation but to
serve customers on a one-to-one basis. This allowed time to integrate a
little light-hearted conversation on a social basis, which was discouraged
by the bosses. It is difficult to describe the front shop accurately but I
will try my best. Firstly on entry through the front glass-paned door the
customer would be aware of a broad solid wood counter top which sat on top
of a long base unit which in actual fact had three lots of four large
drawers to the rear of it, this was where a stock of various types of
whiskies in ½ bottles were kept. The full drawers were extremely heavy and were very
difficult to pull out in order to extract a particular whisky. Facing the
customer at six foot high were rows of small drawers approximately 12" x 8"
each which contained everything from cloves, dried herbs, and packets of ten
Above the block of drawers there was a shelf displaying all
manner of alcoholic spirits, ports, sherries and liqueurs, along with
various single malt whiskies. Along and down two feet were rows of tinned
peas, carrots, and one or two uncommon vegetables such as asparagus tips,
artichoke hearts and kidney beans. 90° to the left was a selection of
small tins of Maid Marian brand fruits. Turning to the left up to the end of
the shelf unit on the floor was a solid steel safe which stood about two
feet in height and was roughly 1½ft in width and length.
On the safe stood two plastic 2 gallon containers filled with Sweet Spanish
Amontillado sherry and Medium Dry sherry which were both sold loose. A
customer could bring in an empty sherry or port bottle and it would be
replenished from one of the containers. Whisky was sold in small amounts
such as an eighth bottle, to particular customers who were regulars.
180° was a shelf used for making up customers' orders that required
to be delivered. Directly above at around chest level was a selection of
packet desserts, then to the right at the same height was the wine shelf
where the good table wines were stored. All the wines and spirits that have
been mentioned were only a fraction of the total stock, the bulk being
stored in a secure cage in the first cellar. Anyone wishing to enter the
cage had to be accompanied by another senior staff member. The front shop to
the left consisted of many rows of shelving, all hand painted in darkish
green. Each row of shelves was supported by large tins of fruit at each end
of a section. There was a delicatessen section around eye-level to
waist-high level in the centre of the shelved wall containing all manner of
exotic foodstuffs such as frogs legs, escargot in garlic sauce, all strengths
of curry powder, wine and cider vinegars etc. Looking to the right there was
six baskets supported by a metal rack, these held samples of fruit and
vegetables, and above and behind the top baskets' level stood the hand
turned bacon slicing machine.
Beyond that against the wall was a small rack
of wooden shelves covered in patterned plastic covering, and sitting on the
shelves were rolls of bacon for slicing and a variety of cooked meat rolls
also. The cheeses were situated to the right of this rack, they consisted of
Scottish Cheddar, Dutch Edam, and a few segments of Danish blue wedges.
There was a fairly large stack of ready cut and wrapped pieces of the cheddar
piled up at the back. Jim Reid and I would take turn about to cut and wrap
cheese ready for the weekend. He was a hell of a character who was married
to Frances, they lived in number 2 Henry Street in the upstairs
accommodation. Jim and I got on well together, sometimes the pair of us
sneaking down to the cellars for a fly puff and the opportunity of having a
good old moan at each other. He would be over fifty at that time and I was
under nineteen, but he thought like a person my age. Back to the shop layout
if you are interested, if you turned to the left from the cheese and meat
area and went through the dark green door, you would enter 'the office'.
administration area manned by Tom Brown consisted of a writing bureau which
he sat in front of day-in, day-out bringing all the account books up to date
and balancing the accounts' payments register, it was a full time task for
him. Behind him was a locked cupboard about four foot in height which
contained many 200 cigarette packs and various boxes of cigars. The rest of
the wall was shelved and stretched to the ceiling. These shelves were filled
with bottles of beer, light ale, stouts and lagers. Most of them were in
half pints but screwtops came in pints.
The opposite wall housed an old black cast iron fireplace which had been
evidently out of use for many a year and stacked in front of it, usually
three cases high were wooden boxes containing bananas. In those days all
bananas were delivered in the same cases that they were shipped in, not like
nowadays when the wholesalers sort out and categorise them before delivering.
One or two of the staff had had a 'gliff' in the past when various colours
of spiders had crawled out between hands of bananas, but nobody was ever
harmed physically, only their dignity, when they reacted to it. I left
Balfour's, having worked there for three years after a disagreement with
Campbell and headed south once more in the direction of Carlisle.
Since I was ten or eleven years old I had accompanied my mother at the cinema when she was employed there as a cleaner. I met Victor Biddall once and knew the regular staff fairly well, starting with Mrs Norman who sold the cinema tickets at the kiosk window, she also sold sweets and crisps from there. Her daughter Ruby sometimes helped her or stood in for her when she was absent, then Billy Kirkpatrick who was the manager. Mrs Hogg was an important member of staff because she checked every ticket as the customer entered the body of the cinema, then ushered patrons to their seats, and if that wasn't enough she sold popcorn, nuts, chocolates and ices in the interval. Billy's wife relieved Mrs Hogg from time to time. Then there was Albie Tedham the film projectionist, whose job was taken over by Neil (Boogie wheels) Jackson later on.
I had always been fascinated by cinema projecting and this particular night I asked Billy Kirkpatrick, the manager if I had could have a look round the projecting room and he gave his permission to do so. The room was at the top of a winding stairway that was hidden from the public and was accessed via a narrow door off to the left of the cinema balcony stairs. I climbed up the steep stairs and entered the room where Albie Tedham was busy rewinding a reel of film after it had been removed from one of the twin projectors that worked alternatively in tandem. He naturally asked me what I wanted in his Langholm drawl, and of course with an inch of Woodbine cigarette stuck but hanging from his bottom lip. I told him that I only wanted to look around the room and see how the projectors operated. He gave me a rapid talk on the principles of their operation, how timing was crucial at changeover times, how to adjust the contrast and increase or decrease the sound track volume. He explained how the type of projectors that were used required arc rods to be inserted fairly frequently mainly because of the age of the machines and through that how faults had developed, particularly on the slide which moved along as the rods burnt down.
He also showed me how to feed the film through the various gates and wrap it round the capstans after ensuring the tension was correct. He then surprised me by offering to let me operate the projectors, which I accepted and agreed to do so after the interval. He told me at present there were two jobs to be done, the first was to collect up all the film reels and their cases and make sure they were stacked in descending order so that number one reel was on top which I did, then he told me that the second job was for me to nip up to the chip shop and get a couple of fish suppers for us both which he wouldn't accept my money for. Anyway off I went and found that the chip shop was empty, likely because everyone would be at the picters. I got the suppers and returned to the projecting room where Albie was just in the process of switching the powerful projecting light off. We tucked into the fish suppers and demolished them pretty rapidly, then wiped our greasy hands on the newspaper before finishing that job with our hankies.
Albie then went through a mental checklist of preparations, reels all present and sorted into order, first and second reel each fed through their particular projector, four new arc rods fitted and another four placed in a convenient place for later use. The interval seemed to drag on but finally it was time to fire-up and that we did, first by touching the points of two arcs together we had a reaction not unlike a welding rod contacting a piece of metal, we allowed a few seconds to make sure the arc was burning strongly then the projector was switched on and approximately four feet of film was fed through, then the metal shield between the arcs and film was removed and so allowed the light to pass through the film. When Albie had explained the principles it had sounded so simple and uncomplicated, but when I watched this seasoned operator at work I was highly impressed with his precision and accuracy and yet he was so laid back about it.
He then told me that there was something that he had forgotten to tell me, firstly the film projecting was a block of advertising films and consisted of only two reels, the other six reels were the feature film, so when the first reel had been projected to clip it into the film winder then lift the first reel of the feature film and put it into the projector that the first advert's reel had come out. After that start to rewind the reel on the winder. He showed me the technique that he used. First he picked up an empty reel from the middle of a pile in the corner, then clipped it on the second arm on the winder, then pulling the film from the first reel he wrapped it round the hub of the reel and tucked the end into a slit. He then began ca'ing the handle anti-clockwise and at the same time held his hand on the edge of the empty reel to keep it steady. After thirty seconds the reels were only blurs because of the speed of their revolution increasing by virtue of geared cogs attached to the sprocket on the end of the winding handle's arm.
Before it was all rewound he told me to take over as it was about time for the changeover. He changed over smoothly, then opened the side panels of the projector to check that the arc rods were burning evenly and gradually, which they were. He then took out the feature film's second reel and clipped it into the second projector and fed the film through. At this point I asked Albie how did he know when to change a reel and he explained about the large blue circle in the top right of the screen that appears at a set distance from the end of a reel, at that point you switch the object projector on keeping the light shield in place, then wait for the second circle which will be in the same position, when the second circle is there momentarily, simultaneously remove the light shield and switch the source projector off. Then the entire process was repeated all over again, it kept you on your toes I can tell you.
But of course as in many types of job, there were gremlins that attempted to unbalance things just as you thought all was going well, this particular gremlin raised its ugly head from time to time and it was the one that caused the projector rods to contact each other and cause sparks to be be emitted and land on the film strip which caused it to burn through the film which always caused an uproar from the audience. Everyone knew it was about to happen, first a small hole appeared on the screen which grew bigger and bigger for about five seconds. The feet stamping then followed by loud shouts of protest and criticisms about the cinema management. Those were the days!
I applied for a furniture salesman's position with Vasey's Furniture store,
Scotch Street, now known as Vasey's Galerie which is next to B&Q on Currock
Road and was successful. At times there were more salesmen than customers,
the salesmen's pecking order was Malcolm Vasey, George Vasey, Jack, Jeff,
Steven, and finally myself. Totally separated from us were two carpet
salesmen who done nothing else but sell carpets, and the furniture
salesmen's team were not allowed to encroach on their territory. I remained
with the job for three months under a provisional basis, and was informed
that due to lack of sales by me that I was to be released. I tried to argue
on the basis that I always allowed the senior salesmen to serve customers
before I ever dreamt of approaching one, and consequently there had been
very few opportunities for me to sell when all the other salesmen were
occupied, but to no avail.
I applied for a job as a wine waiter in the Crown & Mitre's newly furbished
Coffee House which was located to the right-hand side of the main entrance
to the hotel in English Street, Carlisle. It was a totally refurbished shop
premises that belonged to the hotel. I was only there for three months
before I was asked to take the position of Wine waiter in the hotel
restaurant upstairs. I was trained in the methods used by top waiters and
enjoyed the position very much. It also afforded me the opportunity to meet
television celebrities like William Roach, Coronation Street's Ken Barlow,
Lady Isobel Barnett of 'What's My Line' fame. I was also privileged to meet
Ken Dodd, the Ambassador to South Africa, along with the entire Mufulira
Rugby team. I had only worked in my capacity as wine waiter in the
restaurant for a further three months when I was informed by management that
the two new downstairs bars, renamed the 'Peace & Plenty' on the left, and
the 'Station' on the right of the foyer were to be opened shortly and they
were curious to see if I wished to work in either of them. I accepted their
offer and took the position of head barman.
I'm sure patrons of the bar
from Langholm will remember the decor which was representative of a portion
of a fairground carousel, hobby horses and all. The Peace and Plenty was
anything but peaceful, it may exist to this day but I don't know. The bar
was always busy and sold the most expensive draught keg beer in town which
strangely enough was extremely popular. The main problem with the bar that
was patently obvious to me was the obvious absence of windows which made all
the staff a little claustrophobic after a couple of hours so you can probably
understand how I felt working from 8.30am to 2.30pm then 5.30 pm to 11pm, I
being the only full-time barman in the downstairs bars, the rest
part-timers. Most nights I poured myself a couple of pints and set them on a
tray then took them upstairs to my room in the staff quarters where I would
enjoy drinking them.
During the previous six months I had met a girl, was going steady with her,
Marian Quinn was her name and she lived with her widowed mother in town. We
got engaged after four months of courting. During this time she was rushed
into hospital with an appendicitis and during the time of her operation and
recuperation I agreed to sleep at her house in order to keep an eye on her
mother who was very nervous. I stayed with her for a week until Marian
returned home, then I returned to my quarters in the hotel. The first
evening going back to my room and my two pints I saw a figure crouching on
the window ledge outside and after opening the window I naturally enquired
why he was perched in such a precarious position to which he replied that he
had thought that the window was the one that belonged to his friend's room
and apologised for the mistake. Apparently his parents had thrown him out of
his home after an argument, according to him, and he had thought about his
friend who worked as a waiter would share his room with him. We got talking
and through our conversation it became evident that the man had not had
anything to eat since lunch and the time was 11.30pm, so I give him half a
crown to go and buy himself some fish and chips, which he did and returned
within ten minutes. I felt sorry for him and so offered to let him sleep in
my bed and I would return to Marian's house which I did.
All was well until
the next morning when I reported for work, an hour later than normal as it
happened when the under manager confronted me in the foyer and asked me to
follow him into the manager's office. I followed him through, my heart in my
mouth and guts churning like a washing machine, and was guided to the chair
in front of a massive highly polished mahogany table. The manager bid me sit
down and proceeded to outline the rules for staff verbally which included
the clause, a member of staff must not sublet his or her room under any
circumstances, and if caught doing so the person will be instantly
dismissed, which he carried out. He did ask me the reason for sub-letting my
room as a matter of interest and I explained the scenario of the previous
evening and he did not believe me, only laughed in my face, would you have
believed my story?. During the course of the next half-hour's conversation,
the manager informed me that on this occasion I was damned lucky as the chap
perched on my window sill had checked out to indeed have been a one-time
friend of Mike the waiter on the next floor above me, but what he hadn't
told me was he was only released from Durham Prison on the morning of the
I thought at that moment that I was to be given another chance but
I was wrongly mistaken. The manager went on, he had been busy this morning
gleaning as much information about the man in question. Apparently the man
who had been formerly employed by the hotel had been sent down two years ago
for breaking and entering and robbing Binns' safe. He had been chased by the
police over Binns' roof and finally apprehended by them after a lengthy
chase. I was instructed to ensure I was off the premises within an hour, was
told that any wages owing would be left at the reception desk where I must
collect them within the hour. and I left that office with leaden feet,
trying to keep a brave face on the situation when I met staff on the way to
my room. I made a quick phonecall to Marian and tried to explain my rapidly
changed circumstances. then organised a cab to pick me up at the hotel. When
I returned to the foyer and picked up my wages from reception and laden with
three suitcases, I placed myself outside the main doors and awaited my taxi
with thoughts racing through my mind. What had I done?.
When I had returned to Mrs Quinn's the night before I had taken the
opportunity to get to know her a little better and really tried to get along
with her but somehow she wouldn't take to me, I suppose it was a dread of
being left on her own, having had only her daughter and herself to look
after for the previous fifteen years. Her husband had been killed in a wagon
which was attempting to turn onto the A7 at the next junction on the left
after the Dandy Dinmont caravan site turn-off, heading south. Marian changed
her job to receptionist in the County Hotel, now the Cumbria Hotel, a month
or two later which put her in a position that she was obliged to work much
longer hours as she had done previously. Mrs Quinn, Marian and myself talked
about our wedding plans and to my surprise Marian's mother appeared so
enthusiastic about the prospect of her daughter being married and even
offered to make the wedding dress, she was well capable of doing this
because she had worked as a seamstress in previous years. Sadly, this was not
to last, the few times we could arrange time together for social reasons,
there was always an enormous row before we managed to go out. Marian and I,
in order to keep the peace, bought her a bottle of sherry each time this
happened, and by the time we were ready to leave for our night out, the
mother was well away with the sherry, and so we slipped out to happy and
contented mother who waved goodbye and wished us a good time and blowing
kisses with her other hand. After a romantic and thoroughly enjoyable night,
I naturally drove Marian home, and I would have a cup of coffee.
instance this occurred, the mother was waiting to ambush us and to bombard us
with silly, but trivial incessant questioning. We persevered until June that
year, and after some intense and lengthy discussions decided it would not
work because of her mother's dependency on her. I broke off the engagement,
reluctantly, but knew in my heart that it wasn't to be. I heard some months
later that she had moved to the Hilltop Hotel, and was engaged to be married.
I did not search for her, just put it down to experience and how uncertain
and unpredictable life can be. From that day to this I have never saw her
again, she probably moved years ago.
Applied for job as trainee manager at Halford's in English Street and was
successful in landing the position. I enjoyed the fresh challenges that the
job confronted me with and I was made up to relief manager in the space of
two two months. It was my responsibility to run the shop on the manager's
days off or holidays which I carried out successfully. Mr Turner was the
manager and he was every bit as enthusiastic about his shop as I was, so
much so the two of us had worked through the entire night re-positioning
stock in such a way that sales were guaranteed to increase. Unknown to us
the area manager had been taking note of our activities and paid us a
surprise visit one day to inform us that a new branch store would be opening
in Liverpool in a month's time and wished to know if either wished to take
it on. I of course was flabbergasted by these casual words, and before I had
time to answer, Mr T had stated that he was quite settled in Carlisle now and
did not wish to move further south. He wasn't too far away from his home
town of Greenock making it feasible to return on a Sunday if he wished. He
continued by recommending yours truly for the position of manager to which
my reply was to the effect that I couldn't possibly take on that kind of
responsibility with my lack of experience, but they wouldn't listen to my
protestations under any circumstances, so inevitably I accepted the position
gratefully, but fate was to throw a spanner in the works of my aspirations
in the not too distant future, I still find it so very difficult to believe.
It all began on a Wednesday morning, that evening I was to play an away
darts match in the Douglas 'B' team against the Mosspaul Hotel. There was an
8.30am artic load due and I was to supervise the unloading. We got it
unloaded in just over an hour, and after checking the total number of boxes
proceed to check the itemised invoice against the delivered goods. I elected
to choose a young lad who had only been employed by Halford's for two weeks.
The time was around 10.30am and I went upstairs to the office where the boss
was enjoying a cigarette and a cup of tea. I asked one of the assistants to
make me a cup of coffee which she did, then brought it to the office. I
could see by his troubled expression that something was bothering him and I
didn't have long to wait before he started to explain that one of the women
assistants, actually a till girl had reported a fiver missing from her purse
after she had absent mindedly left it in the ladies' toilet.
Mr T did not
know what the best course of action should be and was wanting to know what I
would have done if in the same position. I immediately replied with no
hesitation that I would inform the police and ask them to investigate.
Before I left the office I asked if it would be in order to get a 'sub'
against my wages, to which he replied, no problem. He handed me a fiver which
I signed for, then I returned to my checking on the ramp which leads to the
cellar. I beckoned young Peter to come with me and we continued to check-off
the goods. Before we realised it, a voice shouted c'mon it's lunch time to
which we responded. When I arrived on the shop level, the boss beckoned me
through the glass surround of the office and I went in. He asked me to take
the night safe wallet with the previous day's takings to the bank during my
lunch hour which I agreed to do. Off I went heading for the bank in
Devonshire Street and after completing the deposit of the takings, carried
on to a baker's shop where I bought a pie, a roll and a cake. I then
continued to the tobacconist's and bought twenty cigarettes, then returned to Halford's again.
I arrived back at the shop at around 1.45pm and I headed off to hopefully
finish the price checking downstairs. I had been working for barely an hour
when the boss appeared at the top of the ramp, and he explained that two
detectives were upstairs taking statements from each member of staff in
turn. I waited in the body of the shop until my turn came which wasn't too
long. I was escorted into the office and asked innumerable questions about
by movements in the morning and other weird questions. The detectives asked
me to turn out all the contents of my pockets and to lay them on top of the
desk which I carried out, and after this was done I was asked how much cash I
should have in my pocket without looking. I mentally totalled up the price
of the goods that I had purchased at lunchtime and gave them an amount.
Comparing my answer to the amount of money on the table, it appeared that I
had £1.50 more in my pockets than I had thought.
That moment was one of the
worst in my life, and I'm sure I looked terrible guilty to the police. They
naturally wished to know how this had come about and I could not for the
life of me give an answer. Without anymore ado they told me that they were
taking me down to the police station for further questioning, and I was
taken outside flanked by these detectives looking like an arrested criminal
and helped into the unmarked police car outside the shop, then taken to the
police station. In the interrogation room I was told to strip down to my
underpants and every item of clothing was turned inside out literally. I was
finally released and allowed to return to the shop where I was met with
staff members who refused to answer me when I spoke to them, even turning
their heads the other way and ignoring me. I headed for the office and saw
the boss crossing the rear of the shop in a hurried way, entering the
office, locked the door, then sat with his back to me pretending to be
reading. I remember thinking to myself at that moment, "My God, so much for
trusting your work colleagues, and after me advising him to get the police,
and he does this to me".
The situation did not improve the next day, I
was well and truly sent to Coventry, for a crime I didn't commit. The
following day being Friday, I decided to give Mr Surtees the area manager a
visit in Middlesbrough which I did, only to find that there was nobody at
home when I arrived in the middle of the afternoon, so I waited patienty in
my red mini awaiting his return. He arrived around 5.15pm on his own and I
walked towards him and he recognised me and greeted me by name. His first
question, quite naturally was, "What are you doing here?", and I answered
that I would have preferred not to be if it wasn't concerning an urgent matter. He
bade me to follow him into his bungalow and we both sat down in his living
room where I proceeded to tell him my side of the story. He more or less
told me that this sort of problem would be resolved by the police eventually
and he was not prepared to interfere with the workings of the law under any
circumstances. He went on to explain that he would receive a written report
from Mr Turner in due course, and finally the entire episode would be placed
into the hands of the regional controller for him to deliberate over at his
leisure. I left there feeling thoroughly miserable with the feeling that I
would receive no support from the company. I went into work on Saturday the
day after and experienced the same treatment as before realising that there
wasn't any future with Halford's any more.
That weekend I went over the
entire four days previous and failed to find a solution, however I did
discover where the extra one pound ten shillings (£1.50) had come from. On
the Monday night I had been discussing the possibility of obtaining two
bicycle tyres on approval for Neil Jackson and had agreed to do so. I
brought the tyres back home with me on the Tuesday and Neil had paid me for
them. By the time I was in situ at Halford's and thoroughly engrossed in
unpacking and checking the delivery, then the subsequent visit by the law, I
had completely forgotten about the transaction with Neil, and when asked
about the extra money in my pocket, my mind had went totally blank. I thought
back to that Wednesday afternoon when the police had searched me and
realised that I had thrown away a career for no reason at all, apart from
being so stupid in stating that I did not know where the extra cash had come
from. At that moment I decided to write a letter of resignation to Halford's
Head Office. They never acknowledged my resignation nor did the police
follow it up. I seriously thought about suing Halford's for defamation of
character some years later when I had applied for jobs and the companies
concerned made it quite clear that they were dissatisfied with the Halford
incident and through it not being resolved, wouldn't take the risk of employing me.
After some years I
found that omitting the mention of Halford's was by far the easiest option
when being interviewed by prospective employers.
IF ANYONE CONNECTED WITH HALFORD'S OF CARLISLE AT THAT TIME IS READING THIS, BELIEVE ME, I WAS INNOCENT!!!
In these two years I travelled by Western bus and on an odd occasion would
cadge a lift with James Armstrong, son of Doris, who worked as receptionist
in the Health Centre or as it was known in those days, the Doctors' surgery.
He told me one day shortly after leaving my previous job, that Danish Bacon
were looking for a bacon boner and asked if I was interested to which I
replied, "Definitely". I travelled down to Kingstown the next day with James
and managed to have a word with the manager and was instructed to start that
same day, overalls and aprons would be supplied. We were indeed employed as
bacon-boners which we done with a big lad called Jim, and wee Tommy from
Blackwell, Tommy previously worked for Cavaghan and Gray's and told
horrendous stories about how the men pole-axed the pigs, sometimes half drunk
from the night before, that is, the men were half puggled, not the pigs. I
worked there just less than a year, but before I left I was privy to witness
a large and extensive surveillance operation which included films and
photographs being taken of particular goods being delivered to non customers,
The operation was carefully orchestrated and I was told afterwards that
several men had been arrested and charged with the thefts. Apparently four
wagon drivers and eight loaders and packers were in collusion to seek out
customers and sell goods below market prices. The goods that were stolen
were the best quality foods such as red salmon, Parma ham, best butter,
catering tins of corned beef, ox tongue and roast beef and roast pork cooked
joints. They reckoned over a period of two years over £50,000 had been
stolen methodically. I think if they had not managed to halt the operation
the place would have been well and truly bankrupt in a few months. The
culprits were jailed for three years apiece I read in the paper later. I
stayed with the Danish Bacon Company only for a short time after the
My brother-in-law Harry Mitchell, known as Harry the Gun because he had been
a gamekeeper from Kingussie to Kirkpatrick, and myself had discussed the
possibility of obtaining a job on the new Gretna by-pass which was to be
started shortly by a company by name of Brims. Harry had decided that his
present job with Buccleuch Estates was paying peanuts and my job at Danish
Bacon wasn't paying terrific wages and he wanted to know if I'd be willing to
give him a lift if we managed to get a job, to which I agreed, only one
problem with this arrangement as far as I could see, I told him,"I havn't
got a car" to which we agreed was an absolute necessity. I told him that I
had been thinking about buying a car recently, however and still did so. That
weekend I paid a friend of mine a visit in Annan where he had been trying to
sell his Morris 1000 Saloon for a couple of months. When I went to see him
he told me that he was really hard up after signing on the dole only the
week before and also that the car was requiring road tax which he couldn't
afford and because of this he had knocked the car's price down by a £100 and
was now selling it at £375 which I agreed to pay him. I brought a friend of
mine along on the day that I had arranged to buy the car, to give it a
checkover, strangely enough that same man became an AA Patrolman.
I reckon I worked for the Dyehouse for about three months, that would be as long as I
could have tolerated it. The nature of the work sent people literally to
sleep. If you can imagine rows of stainless steel pots half filled with
boiling water, also a few huge containers approximately twelve foot by six
also half full of boiling water, all steaming away. The dyer, meanwhile has
to check what shade of colour he has to dye his next batch of yarn
'cheeses'. He is given instructions as to the quantities of the colouring
ingredients which must be strictly observed. The ingredients in your pot, you
wait for half an hour for the the ,brew' to infuse, then hoist your batch of
natural coloured cheeses above the pot by a pulley and chain arrangement,
once they are square on above the pot, they are lowered down very gingerly. Once the cheeses were totally immersed, they remained there for an hour's
time in the boiling coloured water, once the hour had elapsed and your alarm
clock had indicated this, if you were nearby you simply raised the cheeses
rack to above the level of the pot rim, then sat it diagonally across one of
the corners of your pot, and after checking that the rack was sitting
securely you cut off a three inch piece of the newly dyed yarn and proceeded
towards the drying area which consisted of a huge wall of aluminium about
fifteen feet by twelve which had a single small drawer dead in the centre.
The drawer was constructed with a mesh bottom to allow the hot air to pass
through. After the drawer was pushed into place, you had to wait for three
minutes or so for the yarn sample to be totally dry. Next move, over to see
either Tony McGill or Frankie Steele who checked the shade of the yarn
sample and OK'd it or more often as not he instructed you to make some
additional changes to the dyeing mix. Off to the pot once more with your
additional ingredients in your small receptacle, drop it into the water,
boil it up for half an hour, lower the cheeses rack into the boiling water,
wait around for the new dye mix to take, hoist the rack out, set on the edge
of the pot, cut off sample, take sample to drier, take sample to be analysed, see Tony McGill or Frankie Steele. My employment came to an abrupt end when I thought that my cheeses rack was
stable on top of the pot, it wasn't, it toppled into the pot producing a
small splash, but in the opinion of the management it had been a negligent
act and it was pure chance that nobody had been badly scalded.
Pelosi's Ice cream
Pelosi's, Paddy Hebington employed me on a self-employed casual basis, I built up my
customer base in Hawick, Copshaw, Kielder and around Langholm, and also went
to the Langholm Cattle Show and Copshaw Show. Alfie Pelosi was one of the
town's characters, Italian born, but lived like a Scotsman liking all the
usual pleasures our fair country can offer, a very hard worker and a good
businessman when he ran the café and ice cream production and sales. Alfie
was the father of Vera who married Paddy Hebington who later become her
partner in the business. Vera is very much enjoying her hard-earned
retirement and is often seen around town with her close circle of friends,
i.e. Steve and Betty Cairns, Wattie Borthwick who was a widower having lost
his wife Chris who was a very good friend of Vera, Jimmy and Nancy
I was an ice cream salesman with Pelosi`s van doing my regular rounds of the
mills, the month was June. I had pulled into the Ford Mill where Adam Pludowski worked, and finally got the chance to talk with him after the queue had died
down. We had been discussing the same subject for weeks, which was about
moving from Langholm to seek employment elsewhere, and this particular day
we decided to make the move and to hand in our respective notices to our
employers, which would give us two weeks to work before we could make the
move. Getting the jobs We headed off in a southerly direction to Leicester
and arrived at a time when there was nobody in at the home of Mr and Mrs
Jaswinska known to us as Paula and Kaszik. We were both fairly tired with the
excitement and the long drive, which we had taken turn about with. We decided
to get our heads down in the car and have a little shut-eye and woke up
three hours later when it was getting dark.
There was still no sign of life
in the house however, so we went for a walk around the streets of the area
which was evidently heavily populated with Asian families. Unbeknown to us at
that very moment, Paula and Kaszik were sitting at her son's house on the
outskirts of the city enjoying a cup of coffee after their evening meal.
Yes! I know now we should have arranged a time and date to call when Adam
had asked her if we could stay with her for a short time, this was well and
truly our own fault and we would have to make the best of the situation.
Easy to say but much more difficult to do considering that we didn't know
anyone in the entire Midlands area apart from Paula, Kaszik, her son Zenik
and his wife Rieszia, but we didn't know their address. So, given the
circumstances we each tried to get comfortable in Adam's Hillman Minx which
turned out to be impossible but I think we would have managed to grab two or
three hours of broken sleep. We were still parked up outside the house in
question at approximately ten o'clock when a car drew up in front of us and
parked, it was Zenik returning his mum and dad after they had stayed at his
house overnight. We baled out of the car to be met by expressions of
astonishment from the pair who immediately enquired why we were visiting.
replied by simply saying "We thought that we'd pay you a surprise visit over
the weekend" We all went into the house and Paula offered to make us coffee
and a sandwich which we were very grateful for. Inevitably she asked why we
were parked in front of her house on a Saturday morning just after nine
thirty. We told her the whole story and admitted that we should have checked
with them first. "No matter,".she said "You are here now and you must stay
with us as previously arranged when you telephoned some weeks earlier".
We went to the Employment Office for four days on the trot and found nothing
suitable. We were about to leave when the employment officer called us back
to explain that a job vacancy had only this minute arrived and proceeded to
tell us about the requirements the firm were looking for, so we agreed that
I would go for the vacancy of a German type of JCB digger driver and Adam
would apply for the job of cable layer, and the guy seemed pretty pleased
that we were so enthusiastic, and then he told us that the job was in
Wolfenbüttel, West Germany and that we would need to decide if we were going
very quickly as we had to catch the ferry on Monday afternoon, this was the
Thursday morning prior. We deliberated a while weighing up all the pros and
cons and finally decided to give it a go. We both had passports so that was
no problem. We hurried back to the Jaswinskis' house and told them all about
our interviews and as many details about the jobs as we knew of. Neither
were really enthusiastic about the prospect of us two young men with Polish
blood in their veins working in Germany. We explained that we understood how
they felt, but we were a different generation from them, and hoped that they
would wish us well on our change of life.
They understood our feelings and
said that they would not dissuade us from going to Germany and wished us good
health and fortune. We caught the train that would connect with the Carlisle
bound service early that evening and eventually arrived home in the evening
via the Edinburgh bus service from Carlisle. We both excitedly gave out our news to our
respective parents, which appeared to be accepted , and each of us made
preparations for the Monday to come. As you can imagine, we were so excited
at the prospect of working abroad and couldn't wait for Monday to arrive. I
remember that weekend, the panic ongoing through not being able to lay my
hands on my passport which up to then had not been used at all. If my memory
serves me right, Adam and I took a speedy shopping trip around Leicester
before we left. I can recall at the time that flaired trousers were very
much the fashion, and through lack of funds but still wishing to be in
fashion, I opted to purchase a pair of 16" white loons which had a black two
inch wide bottom seam.
Back at Langholm I had attempted to colour them red
with a cold dye which unfortunately was not sufficient in strength to do so,
it only coloured the jeans a mid-pink shade. Monday morning had arrived, I
had risen at 5.30am to ensure that I had sufficient time to complete my
personal ablutions before we caught the 6.30am bus. After checking that all
items of clothing and personal effects, including train ticket to Germany
via London, then ferry ticket to Hook of Holland from Harwich, next Hook of
Holland train ticket through Holland, across the German border and onward to
Wolfenbüttel, these had thankfully arrived on the Saturday morning, next,
check that my passport was present and correct.