Category Archives: Unemployment

Scrap Book Project – Nuclear Test Sites and the Bikini

In 1954 the United States began serious nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean on the island of Bikini Atoll and they carried out the detonation of a massive bomb codenamed Castle Bravo.  This was the first test of a practical hydrogen bomb and the largest nuclear explosion ever set off by the United States.  In fact, a bit like a ten year old with a box of fireworks and some matches, they really had little idea what they were doing and when it was detonated it proved much more powerful than the boffins had predicted, and created unexpected widespread radioactive contamination which has prevented people from ever returning to the island.

Castle Bravo was the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the United States, with a yield of fifteen Megatons. That yield, far exceeding the expected yield of four to six megatons which, combined with other factors, led to the most significant accidental radiological contamination ever caused by the United States. In terms of TNT tonnage equivalence, Castle Bravo was about one thousand, two hundred times more powerful than each of the atomic bombs which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

This event was important for two reasons, firstly it signified the state of tension in the world called the cold war that was around for the next thirty years or so but secondly and subsequently much more importantly it inspired the introduction of the bikini swimsuit.  According to the official version a French engineer called Louis Réard and the fashion designer Jacques Heim invented the swimsuit that was a little more than a provocative brassiere front with a tiny g-string back.  It was allegedly named after Bikini Atoll, the site of nuclear weapon tests on the reasoning that the burst of excitement it would cause on the beach or at the lido would be like a nuclear explosion – plenty of fallout and very hot!

Nuclear testing was a big thing in the 1950s as Washington and Moscow prepared enthusiastically for wiping each other of the face of the earth on the day of Armageddon.  The fact that a major explosion even on the side of the world might have serious consequences for both sides and everyone else in between just didn’t seem to occur to them.

Years later I visited the United States and although I didn’t know this at the time travelled along a road in Nevada that was only a hundred kilometres or so southwest of the Nevada Test Site that is a United States Department of Energy reservation which was established in January 1951 for the testing of nuclear weapons.  The location is infamous for receiving the highest amount of concentrated nuclear detonated weapons in the whole of North America.

The Nevada Test Site was the primary testing location of American nuclear devices during the Cold War and began here with a one kiloton bomb on January 27th 1951.  From then until 1992, there were nine hundred and twenty eight announced nuclear tests at the site, which is far more than at any other test site in the World, and seismic data has indicated there may have been many unannounced secret underground tests as well.

During the 1950s the familiar deadly mushroom cloud from these tests could be seen for almost a hundred miles in all directions, including the city of Las Vegas, where the tests instantly became tourist attractions as Americans headed for the City to witness the spectacle that could be seen from the downtown hotels.  Even more recklessly many others would thoughtlessly drive the family to the boundary of the test site for a day out and a picnic to view the free entertainment.  In doing so they unsuspectingly acquired an instant suntan and their own personal lethal dose of radioactive iodine 131, which the American National Cancer Institute, in a report released in 1997, estimated was responsible for thousands of cases of thyroid cancer in subsequent years.

Scrap Book Project – Job Referencies and Employment Records

When I took possession of the Scrap Book I was intrigued to find details of a life that I had never known or appreciated. This really shouldn’t have come as a great surprise because there are many dimensions to a life but the only one that I was fully familiar with was in his role as my father. In what many would describe as an ordinary life this was a task that he excelled at I have to say!

But beyond the responsibility of being a parent I wonder what else he was like. I have been looking at his old employment records and these have revealed some interesting and important clues.

He was educated at Wellingborough Grammar School in Northamptonshire (Sir David Frost is a famous old boy) during the years of the Second World War and I can only imagine that this must have been a huge distraction for the country with a corresponding lack of attention paid to educational standards. This must have been good fun if you were a pupil then but it didn’t lead to a fistful of GCSEs to help you set out in life.

The school in line with the custom of the time, was selective, which meant that an entrance examination had to be passed to get a place. Until 1945 the school charged fees for attendance but following R. A. Butler’s great Education Act of 1944, all places became free of charge. The eleven plus exam and secondary education obligations were also introduced in the Education Act.

According to school records, in summer 1947 Dad was in the fifth form remove (the school tried at this time to push the brightest boys for School Certificate in four years, Dad was clearly not in the bright boys form and took the usual five years). This extra time didn’t help a great deal because in summer 1948 he was in 5B (unexamined fifth form class) and sadly he didn’t manage to get the School Certificate. The School Certificate was not like GCSE but was a group certificate and you had to do well in five subjects, miss on one and tough, you got nothing, this is what must have happened to Dad because no school certificate is mentioned when he left in the Autumn of that year. The following term, he left to join his father’s business, a grocery store at 110 Higham Road, Rushden.

After Wellingborough Grammar School his own CV tells us that he did more studying at the South East London College of Commerce and the Leicester College of Art and Technology. None of these educational establishments exist any longer and although there is an interesting old boys web site for the Wellingborough Grammar School I can find nothing about the other two.

His first real job was as a Film Librarian working at Jessops in Leicester and then in June 1950 when he was eighteen years old he started his National Service in the Royal Air Force at the Air Ministry in London.

This sounds awfully exciting but I suspect that it probably wasn’t. From 1949, every healthy man between the ages of 18 and 26 was expected to serve in the armed forces for a minimum period of eighteen months. Men were exempt from National Service if they worked in three ‘essential services’, which were coal mining, farming and the merchant navy, so not film librarians then! I’d like to tell you that he was a fighter pilot or a commando or something thrilling but the plain fact is that he worked at the Air Ministry in London in the office as a clerk/typist whose job was ‘the compilation and maintenance of officers’ and airmens’ records and documents’. I can only imagine that this was exceedingly dull but it prepared him for life in the public service as a local government officer.

He must have enjoyed it however because he completed over two years and his discharge paper of 13th July 1952 says that his conduct was exceptional and his ability was very good, he was described as ‘smart’ on a scale of ‘very smart’, ‘smart’ or ‘untidy’ and he was summed up as ‘a very reliable and efficient clerk who has done good work and helped in the tuition of others’. I can understand that because he was always the most helpful person with lots of patience when dealing with other people – sadly I didn’t inherit that characteristic.

The records now reveal that he was doing a bit of moonlighting because if he was discharged on 13th July 1952 it is interesting that he started work with Lewisham Borough Council in South London two weeks earlier on 1st July 1952 as a general clerk. I think Mum’s Aunty Glad got him the job because she worked in the staff canteen and was good terms with some of the senior staff (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and she put a good word in for him! He stayed there for six months and when he left the Town Clerk, Alan Milner Smith, wrote of him “I found him to be an intelligent boy…and a thoroughly satisfactory officer”, I wonder how well he knew Aunty Glad.

He left Lewisham and a week before his twenty first birthday and took up a new appointment at Leicestershire County Council as a general clerk in the Common Services Section of the Education Department where he stayed until May 1957.

In that time he got married, I was born, and he bought his first two houses. I think he must have been a sociable chap because he was enthusiastic in running the County Offices football and cricket teams and he kept meticulous records of games and performances from 1953 until 1956. From my own experience I know that he was a well liked man and the Supplies Officer F E Collis wrote in a reference in March 1957 “ he is very popular with the staff and an enthusiastic member of the office football team” he also said, in an old fashioned sort of way, “I have found Mr Petcher’s work perfectly satisfactory and he brings to it an enthusiasm which is all too often lacking in junior officers today”. I imagine F E Collis was about a hundred years old and remembered what administration was like in the days of Baden-Powell and the Raj!

In May 1957 he left Leicestershire County Council and took a job at Hinckley Urban District Council as a Land Charges and General Clerk. He bought his third house, Lindsay, my sister, was born in October and he cycled to work and back every day, a distance of about ten miles, later he got a moped but I seem to recall that it wasn’t especially reliable and sometimes he had to push it all the way home so he went back to the push bike.

This wasn’t sustainable of course so in 1959 they sold up and we sensibly moved to Hinckley to be close to his work. That didn’t last long either and he left Hinckley on 31st December 1960 and moved to Rugby Rural District Council and that’s how we came to move to Hillmorton.

I especially like his reference from F J Warren the Deputy Clerk of the Council who described my dad as “a useful, promising and reliable member of staff… I cannot speak too highly of his integrity and desire to give satisfaction” and he added in a quaint sort of way that you would never find today “he is of pleasing appearance and courteous to all with whom he comes in contact”.

That’s how I remember him too!

Fat Balls

With so many birds stopping by the garden now on account of the Arctic weather buying food from the garden centre or the supermarket can start to get a bit expensive so I have been looking for alternatives so here are some tips to prepare your own bird gourmet meal.

I have been experimenting with making my own fat balls and so far I am really quite pleased with the results.

Bottom left in the picture is a beef fat preparation that I made by rendering down the fat from some sirloin steak and then adding to it some seed, fruit and oats.  Unfortunately this wasn’t a completely brilliant success and it started to melt down a bit in the warm October sunshine so it perhaps best to save this for a cold winter morning.  This wasn’t a huge problem however because the birds finished it off before it could completely drip away.  It was a success mainly with the Starlings who squabbled over it until it was gone.

Bottom right is a similar preparation but this time using pork fat and this seems to be much more successful.  It has an altogether thicker consistency and it seems to bind together so much better.  This time I added the seeds and the fruit but also some broken up bread crusts that seemed to soak up and hold the fat together well.  It looks good enough to eat yourself don’t you think?  A bit like a luxury Belgian Florentine! Again this was a big favourite with the Starlings and the Great Tit showed a great deal of interest as well.

One other little tip is that you might want to keep the kitchen window open while you are preparing the fat mixture!

Top left there is some pork fat that was left over after preparing the fat ball and this is always a big favourite with the birds and top right is the ever popular bacon fat.  Don’t throw it away, just grill it slowly for a while and the blackbirds will love it.

Don’t throw gone over fruit away either, because the birds will really enjoy chopped up grapes and oranges and as for an old pear, they will go crazy!

There are a number of places to go on the web to find out more about making your own bird food and I recommend this helpful site and page:  Be careful however when you search on ‘fat balls’ because you might not always find exactly what you were expecting!


Other posts about birds:


Collared Doves


Mozart’s Starling




Starlings in the USA



Baby Boomers

Harold MacMillan (d. 29th December 1986) became Prime Minister of Britain when Anthony Eden resigned over the Suez crisis debacle and this ushered in the baby boomer years of the late 1950’s and 1960’s when life generally improved for everyone.

He led the Conservatives to victory in the 1959 general election using the campaign slogan “Life’s Better Under the Conservatives” and MacMillan himself is remembered most for his famous personal assessment of these years when he said, “indeed let us be frank about it – most of our people have never had it so good.”

So was he right?  In an honest personal assessment I have to say yes.  I was born in 1954  in the years of post war reconstruction and investment and at a time when there was genuine optimism about the future.  For me and my contemporaries there was no World War to live through, a free National Health Service, an education system that led to guaranteed employment and an expectation of a long and rewarding life.

My childhood was comfortable if not extravagant, dad had a career in Local Government and mum stayed at home and kept house.  There were annual holidays to the seaside, a sack full of presents at Christmas  and long glorious summers without a care in the World.

I liked to go to school, even though I wasn’t terribly successful but eventually I was able to progress to University  which in 1972 was an achievement rather than an expectation.

After three years of state funded education I started work immediately and followed my dad into a local government career with a guaranteed ‘gold plated’ (according to the anti public sector press these days) index linked pension.

I bought my first car soon after starting work and a first house soon after that, getting loans and mortgages was easy and I soon started to climb the property ladder.


I had my first continental holiday in 1976 and having got a taste for travel have been travelling as much as possible ever since and have been lucky to fly several times a year to Europe and beyond.

I have two children and two granddaughters. I have never been unemployed, sick or poor and now I am retired from work at fifty-eight years old and hope to look forward to a long and happy life.

So, was Harold MacMillan right in his assessment of life for the Baby Boomers?  In my case I have to say a categorical yes!

School Reports

From 1960 to 1965 I went to the Hillmorton County Junior and Infant School in the village where I lived and three times a year at the end of each term I had the traumatic experience of taking home to my parents a sealed brown envelope which contained the ‘school report’.

This was never a happy experience for me because generally speaking my academic progress from one term to the next could only be described as disappointing as I plodded my way through junior school towards an inevitable failure in the eleven plus exam.

At Hillmorton County Junior School the Headmaster was Mr (George Edward) Hicks who was a decent sort of chap but he never seemed to take to me and in days when favouritism was acceptable I found him to be quite unsupportive and he wrote me off at an early stage as being a bit of a no-hoper and advised my parents to buy me a pair of clogs and prepare me for a long dull working life in a factory, as he was certain that I was destined to be one of life’s academic failures.

For slow learners there was no such thing as special educational needs or additional support mechanisms and the class was set out in a strict hierarchy with the fast learning favourites at the front getting all of the attention and the dimwits at the back making table mats out of raffia.  I suppose I would have found myself about two thirds back from the blackboard.

The reports were handed out by the form teacher and there were strict instructions to take them home without opening them.  I must admit that I was tempted now and again but never had the courage to tear open the envelope that was marked ‘private and confidential’. My friend David Newman used to open his and on one occasion it was so bad that he posted it down a drain at the side of the road.  This wasn’t something he could hope to get away with of course because at the bottom of the report was a perforated line and a tear off slip that parents had to sign and had to be returned to school just so teachers knew that the report had been delivered as instructed.

I would dutifully take mine home and hand it over to mum who would put it somewhere safe ready for dad to open when he got home from work.  There then followed a nervous hour or so waiting for him to come through the door, get changed, sit down and open the envelope.

I knew it was going to be bad, it always was, and a sort of tide of disappointment spread over his face as he read down the single page of comments that confirmed that no progress had been made again this term.  He never lost his temper or got cross but when he had digested the full horror of this term’s sorry effort I’d be subjected to a lecture on how I needed to work harder (blah, blah, blah), how I had to make more effort (blah, blah, blah), how I needed to think about the eleven plus exam (blah, blah, blah) and how this all was if I didn’t want to work in a factory all my life (blah, blah, blah).

On Friday 20th December 1963 I took home possibly my worst school report ever and I had sunk to my lowest possible academic level.  In the overall assessment I scored a dismal 10 out of a possible 100 which put me firmly amongst the dunces.  Dad wasn’t too pleased that day I can tell you as he read down a succession of comments that was nothing to be proud of:

English – ‘Andrew is not working hard enough – I expect a more serious effort in January’

Arithmetic – ‘Weak – Vey disappointing’

Religious Instruction – ‘Not good enough’

Science – ‘Average’

Geography – ‘Not good enough’

Practical Work – ‘Quite good when he gets down to it’

Music – ‘Little interest shown’

The form teacher’s general report said – The above remarks tell their own story, Andrew has got to work harder’

I had some explaining to do that night and I expect going out to play was out of the question that weekend but although it was an awful report there was surely some room for optimism that dad had either missed or overlooked:

Handwriting – ‘Excellent’, so, it wasn’t all bad because although I was a confirmed dunce in all subjects at least I could write quite nicely and this presumably helped the teachers understand just how hopeless I was! I probably wasn’t doing myself any favours there.

The Routemaster Bus and Robertson’s Jam

Both my nan and granddad used to go work which was quite unusual in the 1960s.  He was a bus conductor on the old London double-decker Routemaster buses operating from the Catford depot on Bromley Road in South London.  I can remember him in his dark blue London Transport uniform with his red conductors badge and his leather satchel slung over one shoulder and his shiny metal Gibson ticket machine over the other walking home from work in a jaunty sort of way all along Barmerston Road.  In the summer months he had a lightweight grey jacket and a white cap which I always thought made him look more like an ice cream man than a bus conductor!

For those interested in the technical details, the Gibson ticket machine was introduced in 1953 and named after George Gibson a former superintendent of the London Tranport ticket machine works. Different denomination tickets could be printed onto a plain paper roll by adjusting the wheels on the side of the machine and then winding the handle on the left-hand side to issue it.  A meter recorded the number and type of tickets issued.

Photograph courtesy of John King

The Catford Garage was opened in 1914 and was one of the largest South London garages.  It was always associated with the Routemaster and in fact was the last garage in South East London to operate them.  The Routemaster was a double-decker bus that was built by Associated Equipment Company from 1954 and introduced by London Transport in 1956 and saw continuous service until 2005 when it was officially withdrawn on 9th December.


Nan worked at the Robertson’s jam factory which was on Barmerston Road itself.  They used to make Golden Shred marmalade and a range of jams and had what came to be regarded as an inappropriate golly as the company symbol.  We used to have golly badges and they are collector’s items now but I haven’t got them anymore and that’s real shame.  In 2006 Robinson’s sold out to Premier Foods and in 2008 the new company announced that it would discontinue the Robertson brand in 2009 in order to focus on its more successful Hartley’s.  By a strange, even spooky, coincidence the brand was discontinued on 9thDecember!

Robinson’s factory has gone now but the bus garage is still there.

Photograph  © Copyright David Wright and licensed for reuse under thisCreative Commons Licence

Travel Inspiration

“The three most exciting sounds in the world: anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.”                                                                                                                        George Bailey – It’s a Wonderful Life

When it comes to foreign travel three men have changed my life: Bill Bryson, Tim Berners-Lee and Michael O’Leary.  Let me explain:

When I was a boy in the 1950s and 1960s family holidays came once a year and were rotated tri-annually between a caravan in Norfolk, a caravan in Cornwall and a caravan in Wales.  I’m not being ungrateful because these holidays were great fun and in those days it was all that my parents could afford.  To be perfectly honest the very idea of going to Europe was faintly absurd, I might as well have made plans to go to the moon!

Despite these severe limitations on travel opportunities I developed a desire to see interesting places after visiting them through the stories that my father used to tell me.  He was a well read and an educated man who passed on to me his love of history and geography.  The family house was never short of books and encyclopaedias and he always had an abundance of time to enjoy them and share their stories with me.  Through his inspiration I learnt about Paris, Rome, Athens and Madrid and travellers like Marco Polo and Captain Cook and I vowed that one day I would see these places for myself.

Mundesley 1959

As I grew older I became even more aware of the wider world and in my teenage years started to think ambitiously about overseas travel, a bit like George Bailey in ‘A Wonderful Life’, and I promised myself that one-day I would travel.  Really travel.  Since then I have been here and there but I hadn’t really travelled until those three men changed my life.

Bill Bryson was born on 8th December 1951 and is one of my favourite authors (not counting people like Shakespeare of course, and I am sure that Bill wouldn’t mind that), because his books make me laugh and he has put fun into travel and reawakened for me the teenage dreams that I used to have of endless globetrotting to far off interesting places.  His books made me want to be an independent traveller, to make my own arrangements and to discover the places that I had always wanted to see but was never quite sure how to go about it.

And then I discovered the Internet and the World Wide Web and this opened up vast new horizons for me and I thank Tim Berners-Lee for that.  It is quite likely that I will be technically challenged on this point so just to be clear the Internet and the World Wide Web are not the same thing: the Internet is a collection of interconnected computer networks and the Web is a collection of interconnected documents and other resources, linked by hyperlinks and URLs. Anyway the technical details do not really matter, what it means to me is access to information and unlimited travel opportunities.

In the 1970s and the 1980s for most people it was only really possible to travel if you used the services of a High Street Travel Agent because only they had the necessary network of connections to the big holiday companies and overseas hotels.  And then the Web came along and opened up vast new horizons.  Suddenly it was possible to delve into previously unknown dimensions and start to think about the unthinkable.  Arranging your own overseas holidays directly and bypassing the travel agents and their 10% commission (possibly more, I don’t know).

That was all well and good but how was one to get to these new locations and the opportunities that were opening up?  The answer came thanks to Michael O’Leary and Ryanair.  Low cost air travel!  That was what I was waiting for and thanks to St Michael that is what now makes European travel available to us all.  I like the cheap flights and have set out to take advantage of them for as long as they are available and see as much of Europe as I possibly can.


A Change of Career and Waste

Thatcher's Privatised Bin Men

For ten years between 3rd December 1990 and 2000 I worked in the private sector in the waste management industry and I have some rather good memories of that time.

When I say waste management to be more accurate I suppose I should say waste mismanagement because the two companies that I worked for were completely hopeless.

The first was Cory Environmental and today their website claims “We operate across the country, providing expert services in the collection, recycling and disposal of waste as well as municipal cleansing… Cory’s services have been recognised with a number of awards for sustainable transport, the management of facilities and city cleanliness”.  Well, if that is the case then things must have changed dramatically because in my time they were completely incompetent.

I found myself unexpectedly in the employment of Cory Environmental because in the 1980s and 90s local authorities were obliged to market test their services through direct competition with the private sector and this included waste management.  I worked for a Council in Nottinghamshire and we lost our work through the tendering process.  This wasn’t because we were too expensive or couldn’t put a decent business case together but rather because the people running Cory Environmental didn’t have much of a clue and submitted an under priced bid that they couldn’t possibly hope to financially or operationally achieve but was absolutely certain to win the contract.

The company had been hastily set up in the late 1980s to take advantage of this privatisation opportunity and the two men in charge were Blunders, who was the Managing Director, a man without any previous knowledge of waste management, and the Operations Director, Bodger who had once been a bus driver with Southend Borough Council and on this rather flimsy basis the companies ‘expert’ on all things transport.

They had set about winning as many contracts as possible and had been stunningly successful but this had mostly been achieved by massively under pricing the tenders and the estimator, a man called Tony Palmer, had sharpened his pencil so hard that he had to wear protective gloves so he didn’t cut his fingers.  When he won the Gedling Borough Council work in late 1989 this was added to the growing list of unprofitable contracts that was draining the Group Company bank accounts dry.

I met them for the first time when they paid a visit to Nottingham to a) gloat about their success and b) wonder just how on earth they were going to manage it.  In a conversation with a union shop steward I had condescendingly said that working for them might not be too bad and his response was to challenge me to give up my council job and guaranteed pension and do the same and I decided there an then that that was exactly what I would do!  They were in an office that had ben provided for them and I knocked on the door and waited to be invited in.

Here were two men who suffered from severe delusions of adequacy.  Blunders was a tall softly spoken man in a dull grey outfit and Bodger was a spiv in a 1930s double breasted blue pin stripe suit and Diedrie Barlow glasses that magnified the size of his pupils which was good for him because without them he had narrow squinty not to be trusted eyes.  He was a tall man and he had a physical hand shake trick to assert an authority that compensated for lack of mental ability and as I stretched out my hand he grabbed it and jerked it down almost dislocating my shoulder in the process which was almost certainly intended as a statement that said ‘I may only be a bus driver, I may be thick, I may be stupid, but I am the Operations Director!’

I said that I was interested in the job of Contract Manager, they asked me a couple of dumb questions, had a whispered conversation between themselves and offered me the job right there and then – it was as simple as that!

The poor financial performance worried Blunders and Bodger and they had two assistants who were a couple of company odd job men and general bully boys whose job it was to go around the contracts and beat up on the poor contract managers who were completely unable to meet the ridiculous financial targets that were set in their contract budgets by Peter Crane the Financial Director.

What didn’t help matters was that because it was an almost impossible job to do no one really wanted to be a contract manager (even with the Peugeot 405 company car as an incentive)  there was a lot of staff turn-over and Cory Environmental ended up with a lot of people who, quite frankly,  really just weren’t up to the job.  The only advantage of this to Head Office was that it made Blunders and Bodger look reasonably clever and kept them in a job but it didn’t help one bit with financial performance.

What also didn’t help was that, generally speaking,  local authorities (especially Labour run Councils)  didn’t really want to contract out their work, only did so reluctantly, and then made life as difficult as they possibly could.  This frequently included the unreasonable request that the company actually carry out correctly the work that they had promised to do and the council taxpayers were paying for.

This was difficult to achieve because most of the contract managers hadn’t really got any idea about waste management, man management or financial management.  Every month there were thousands of pounds of defaults for work not carried out according to the specification and then more cash penalties to follow up in retribution and this made the Company’s financial performance even worse.

Like all companies, Cory Environmental had a business plan and it has to be said that for this pair of bone heads this one made quite a lot of sense.  They planned to win work along the A1 corridor and just like the Romans, two thousand years before, use the Great North Road as the backbone of the Empire.  At first things went to plan and there were successes in Sedgefield and Wear Valley in County Durham and Wansbeck and Castle Morpeth in Northumberland, so four contracts fairly close together which made a lot of sense – not far for the enforcers to travel between contracts and knock people’s heads together when they needed it!  Like Gedling, East Northants was reasonably close to the A1 and the plan seemed to be working.  Unfortunately, faced with fierce competition,  the Company then suddenly stopped winning work in its target area and was now losing so much money that it desperately needed new contracts.

Cory Environmental had two really successful contracts at Bethnal Green (Tower Hamlets) and Bromley in London which were managed by the two best contract managers Mike Jarvis and Gary O’Hagan (contract manager of the year for three years running) but with more and more loss making contracts to cover up for the Company was hemorrhaging money and Blunders and Bodger were beginning to get nervous.  They abandoned their sensible business plan and went looking for work anywhere in the country.  Their first two successes were in Carrick and Kerrier in Cornwall, which, for those who remember their school geography lessons,  are about as far from the A1 as you can possibly get and that was their master plan in ruins.

And things were about to change!

I enjoyed my first six months with Cory Environmental, it was different, I had my first real set of working overalls and a pair of steel capped boots and used to go out on Saturdays with Martin Edwards, Vic Stanfield and Debbie Doohan and do some manual work (and drink lots of beer afterwards) just because it was good fun but soon I would be off to work elsewhere…


Cory Environmental, Blunders and Bodger

The Tendering process

First Weekend as a Refuse Collection Contract Manager

Disorganising the Work

Cory Environmental at Southend on Sea

Onyx UK

An Inappropriate Visit to The Moulin Rouge

Onyx UK and the Dog Poo Solution

The Royal Ascot Clear Up Fiasco

An Unexpected Travel Opportunity

School Speech Day and Prize Giving

When I was a boy I rather liked going to school even though for many years my academic achievements were quite poor.

At Hillmorton County Junior School the Headmaster was Mr (George Edward) Hicks was a decent sort of chap but he never seemed to take to me and in days when favouritism was acceptable I found him to be quite unsupportive and he wrote me off at an early stage as being a bit of a no-hoper and advised my parents to buy me a pair of clogs and prepare me for a long dull working life in a factory, as he was certain that I was destined to be one of life’s academic failures.  For slow learners there was no such thing as special educational needs or additional support mechanisms and the class was set out in a strict hierarchy with the fast learning favourites at the front getting all of the attention and the dimwits at the back making table mats out of raffia.  I suppose I would have found myself about two thirds back from the blackboard.  I was a late developer!

Sure enough in 1965, as predicted I failed my eleven-plus in Spring and was sent to secondary school in September in the bottom grade at Dunsmore School for Boys (now Ashlawn School).  For me, life at secondary school didn’t get off to a brilliant start and in my first year I was in form D.  To put that into perspective that is form D out of A to D; A and B were grammar streams, C were the hopefuls or maybes and D were the hopeless and the write-offs.  A and B studied Latin and Grammar and joined the chess club and D did metal work and wood work and smoked Players No. 6 behind the bike sheds.

Just as at junior school I was hopelessly misunderstood by the teachers so these were not happy days.  I fell in with the back of the class trouble makers and consequently made zero progress in my first full year and was doing best in report book entries and detentions.  I’m afraid I just didn’t find school very stimulating and I was about to set out on frittering away what might otherwise have been five productive years.  I wouldn’t say that I didn’t enjoy school, just that I found it a bit of an inconvenience.  Not as bad as my sister Lindsay however who when she was fourteen went down with the longest recorded case of tonsillitis in medical history and stayed off school for eighteen months until they told her not to bother going back.

I managed to make my way through nearly five years without making much improvement and then sometime in 1970 the penny dropped and I suddenly started to do a bit of work.  In June I sat nine ‘o’ level exams and passed six (failing all of the science papers) which was a bit of a shock for just about everyone.  Not particularly wanting to go to work at this stage, much to the irritation of the headmaster, Frank Hodgson, I exercised an option to stay at school and go into the sixth form to study ‘A’ Levels.

It was a complete turnaround in approach to school and learning and soon I became determined to go to University which meant I had to pass all three ‘A’ levels with good results.  I took the exams in June 1972 and on 15th August received the results, I had passed them all, B,B,C which meant that later that year I would be off to Cardiff University and work was postponed for another three years.

For me the best bit of the story is left right to the end.  The headmaster, Hodgson, really disliked me and had predicted hopeless failure but on 1stDecember 1972 at the school Annual Speech Day and Prize Distribution he had to shake my hand and award me a school prize for having achieved the best result in the school that year in the ‘A’ level exam.  My prize – a book on great military battles, which seemed appropriate seeing that school had been one long campaign!

I enjoyed that. Mum and dad burnt the clogs!

Phoenix Arizona and The Rustler’s Rooste

On a business trip to Phoenix, Arizona in 1997 we went one night to a cowboy steakhouse restaurant called the Rustler’s Rooste.  According to legend the original site of the restaurant was on top of a butte in the foothills of South Mountain and it was a hideout for cattle rustlers and outlaws.   The South Mountain recreational area is claimed to be the largest municipal park in the world and it has a commanding position overlooking the city.  Mike parked the people carrier and we stood and admired the views over the city that was stretched in front and below us like a scene from that Robert DeNiro film Heat.

From the outside Rustler’s Rooste looked disappointingly functional and not especially exciting but inside things were really buzzing.  Through the doors we walked over an indoor waterfall and then to get to the dining room there were two options, the stairs were the traditional method of getting down, but there was also a slide that curved around a central stage area and which was both quicker and more exhilarating.  We took this option of course and one by one were deposited swiftly into the dining area that had two large plate glass windows that provided a magnificent view of the city lights.

Rustler’s Rooste served cowboy food and a sign on the door said ‘Better come hungry’; so it was a good job that we had Dave and his reliable appetite with us!  There was a fabulous menu with an extensive choice of food including rattlesnake as a starter.  None of us had ever had that before so we just had to have some but although it sounded dangerous and exotic I seem to remember that it tasted rather disappointingly like chicken.  After that we had the full cowboy meal that consisted of crispy shrimp, barbecued chicken, cowboy beans, seafood kebabs, fries, barbecued pork ribs, corn on the cob, and a big juicy beef steak.  It was all cooked perfectly and I suspect rather better than a simple cowpoke’s meal out on the open range and the cowboys wouldn’t have had the nine layer chocolate cake to finish either, I’m fairly certain!

The best thing about the Rustler’s Rooste was the entertainment because there was live music playing all night as two bands took it in turn to play good old country music which had people line dancing and playing cowboy in between the courses.  My favourite part of the evening was when a man brought a live snake into the room and then, in a carefully rehearsed way, dropped it and it slithered about the floor scattering diners in all directions.  We were assured later that it was not a venomous variety and perfectly harmless of course but it did scare the pants off an awful lot of people at the time.  It turned out that Mike lived out of town on the open range and he knew an awful lot about rattle snakes and he amused us with serpent stories all the way back to the motel.