Today I have a short reflective and moralistic thought for you. Have you ever noticed that just as you stare disaster in the face and start to prepare yourself for all the many results of calamity, something nearly always happens to either avert the problem or remove it altogether. This force is not specific and it happens in both your private and public lives. Having run a business in England for a long number of years I was always surprised when realizing the apocalypse was just around the corner, something usually turned up. These were serious and mind-bending times, when if something out of the blue did not happen, the company and worse, people’s employment and their own personal lives could be greatly interrupted and more often than not, out of this blue something surely came. Just sitting here musing this morning, I thought of five or six occasions in seconds when the hand of God came and settled troubled waters and the elephant banging around in the kitchen just disappeared down a mousehole on receipt of an unexpected letter or a telephone call. I might discuss these occasions at length in the future but I am mindful of one particular episode in my younger days which provided the boost necessary to my reasonably successful and youthful endeavours.
It was either late 1968 or early 1969 and I was working for Richard Costain on the M5 Motorway at Tewksbury in Gloucestershire. I was back home in Manchester for a few days, so it could well have been the Christmas of 1968. I was friendly with two lads who had just opened a garage/repair shop in Bredbury, near Stockport. In fact Bredbury was the birthplace of a few generations of my paternal ancestors. That thought has just occurred and it could well have been the bones of my lineage that stirred that Saturday afternoon and warded off the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that often came my way and brought about this u-turn in my lifely path which I am about to relate.
The two garage men, Christopher Donelon, whose father owned a tunnelling company close by and Michael Leydon, whose uncle owned the first Datsun (Nissan to you youngsters) dealership in Manchester, were decent men and when they told me of a vehicle they were selling, I became immediately interested, both because of the quality of the source and my need for transport, working as I was 150 miles away from home.
The vehicle in question was a 1961 Standard 10 van, an unassuming kind of motor car but an absolute luxury when you consider that I was coming from nowhere. The asking price had been £50 and the two boys were patient as I gathered together all my financial resources and I eventually succeeded in raising this figure, but only just, and I jumped on the Bredbury bus with my brother Kevin, riding shotgun. We met the two men and had a trial run for 100 yards or so up a dirt track on which their establishment was founded and I slowly counted out the hard earned few bob. Just £50 and left with a couple of pennies jingling in my pocket, Kevin did not have a bean, not even the bus fare back home if the limo broke down. To my amazement and gratitude Chris Donelon handed me back a ten shilling note as luck’s money and mentioned the fact that there was not much petrol in the tank.
Empowered by my good fortune and emboldened by my riches, my first thought was beer not petrol, so I invited Kevin into an adjacent hostelry, waved my ten shilling note in the air and ordered up two pints of bitter, still leaving us enough for nearly a gallon of petrol if necessary. (petrol was about 6/-d per gallon and beer was about 2/6d per pint.) The two pints were put on the bar top and I handed over my money and I took a sip of mine and handed Kevin his pint. Lo and famously behold the barmaid came back clutching a handful of money, a fortune, in fact change of a £5 note. I shovelled the money into my pocket, looked at the bar maid who was by then serving someone else, to see if she had wings and a halo and immediately started a religious, civil and practical mental dichotomy or should I say trichotomy if there is such a word. The practical argument won hands down, the pints were drunk in about three seconds, and we were half way back to Mersey Square before the bar maid had served her next customer.
The Standard 10 van served me mightily for six or nine months and put me on the road to fame and riches and eventually my present penury. The problem has always troubled me as to why I did not hand the money back and therefore struggle for the next while, but the argument about God’s egalitarian philosophy always won out.