It all brings on half past four!

Stories from an Accrington working  life…

It was around Easter in 1976 when I packed in school and started my first job as a Car body Repairer in Accrington.

Work was quite easy to come in the 70’s and before school one morning our Milkman said… “these guys in here are looking to start an apprentice”.   So he popped into the garage and – well… got me the job!

I can remember the interview that very afternoon ( “can you imagine getting a job and then having an interview?”)  As I sat in the office with the three Co owners of the garage , they said ” have you any questions?”
I replied ” Do you swear?” Of course we F*****g do!

I thought – “We will have some of that” and with the ice  broken – I started my working life!

Ellerbeck Garage Accrington, working life started here.
Ellerbeck Garage Accrington, working life started here.

Things went well at first and I took to repairing vehicle bodies with my usual eagerness.  The co owners meanwhile thought it was great fun and took turns in initiating me into the workplace.

I was sent for the “long stand and for the tin of Stripey paint”.    One of them even put Caustic soda on my wrists as I held up the door to the spray shop.  I daren’t let go of the door as they had parked a newly painted Jaguar underneath !

It was the hot summer of 1976 and was only into my first few months of employment when I met with an untimely accident.

It happened one evening whilst poaching trout in the old Mill pond up by Hardcastle craggs, near Hebden Bridge.  A friend of mine offered to put the landing net under a good fish which I was playing.  As he scooped it up, he knocked me into the mill pond just where a piece of concrete suck up waiting for my back bone to hit it!  Boy that was bad.  It was after 10pm and my tent was way down stream in the forest.  Somehow I had to clamber back down the river in darkness to base.  I nearly passed out several times on the way.   The next day I was taken to hospital.

Oh yes the long summer of 76 was spent at home in bed.

On a funny note, one of the things I had learnt over the years was the ability to spot impending rain, and it was early Sept 76 when I said to my Dad,  “its going to rain in 5 minutes”  He said ” I don’t believe you, It hasn’t rained in six weeks.”  5 minutes later he was running out side to get the washing off the line!

The job at the garage was all well and good but apprentices were poorly paid.  I was on –  £15 per week, much to the amusement of my pals who were generally on much better money.  They worked in the factories and mills, some of them earning – £70 +.

I moved jobs within the industry a few times to gain small pay increases, but the dusty and paint filled working conditions meant that this wasn’t going to be a long term occupation, so I moved trades.

Painter & decorator

First was with a local painter and decorator, he promised me a car and more money, but it turned out he only wanted someone with inside knowledge on how to use a spray gun so he could paint the ceiling in a big factory in Chorley (Rectella I think it was called).  One morning I fell off a ladder.

It was a bad idea putting cardboard on a floor covered in oil!
It was a bad idea putting cardboard on a floor covered in oil!

It happened like this.. In one corner of the building there was a big puddle of machine oil on the floor.

I asked my new boss what I should do as it looked too slippy to put a set of ladders on.  He said – “it will be alright, go and get a piece of cardboard and put that on the floor to stop the ladders from slipping”.  Ok I said, but I had doubts about this remedy.   My fears were soon realised as the piece of cardboard acted like a surf board on the oily surface and I plummeted headfirst onto the concrete below.  It was a heck of a bump, I was covered in oil and paint.  It was time for a move!

A few weeks later my Dad got me a job as a Press operator in his factory: (Mastabar in Church Accrington)

Mastabar Church Accrington
Mastabar Church Accrington

Working in a factory was totally different to the other jobs.  This was a place full of characters; It was like a small community.  Workers were very protective about their jobs and Unions were strong.  Gossip was rife and you had to “Play the Game!” as I was to find out.

My first lesson was not to do anybody else’s job.  I can remember one day reaching for a spanner in order to make an adjustment my machine. Before I knew it the Press setter was off to the foreman complaining about my actions.  I was duly reprimanded for my behaviour even though I explained that I had served an apprenticeship and knew my way around a tool box and machinery.  They would have none of it and said they didn’t recognize a 3 yr motor trade qualification in engineering and anyway you were doing someone else’s job!  OK lesson learnt.

Eddie Westwell was a brilliant Press setter
Eddie Westwell was a brilliant Press setter

(This sort of “Can Do” behaviour paid off big time in the years to come.  But for the moment I kept my head down and played the game!)

Anyway I cheered up no end when I found £98 in my first wage packet, It was unbelievable.  “I would do the job standing on my head for that money” I can remember saying!

The main gates to Mastabar
The main gates to Mastabar

I did say I worked with some characters; well this place had them in spades!

I was once sent to help out and work over in the Deburring department ( a place where you took the sharp edges off bits of metal)   Now there was this chap called Ivan who was said to be a bit of a hot head.  Anyway I was just chatting away to him whilst filling a bit of work when i said – “Do you know what’s is the best conductor of electricity is Ivan?”  he said “its Copper”.  I said ” your wrong its silver”.  He then got hold of a big 12 inch round file, shoved it in my mouth and said “its Copper”.   “OK I muffled,  its Copper!”

The empty "Back Hall" once filled with noisy machines and wonderful characters!
The empty “Back Hall” once filled with noisy machines and wonderful characters!
Picture taken from where the Cadmium Plating plant was situated.

There was another guy called Allen, you couldn’t understand a word he said as he was a Geordie.  And there was Jim Bowden who worked in the Stores; he used to start work at 6am when his official start time was 7.30.  He would do a days work before lunch, then go to the Pub and drink 5 pint bottles of Newcastle Brown in 50 minutes! He didn’t do much in the afternoon!

On the Press section I had a really nice chap called Clifford Latham as my setter.  He had a mouthful of false teeth.  I thought he was being sick the first time I saw him take his dentures out!  One day Clifford accidently left a big chunk of steel under a 75 ton power press.  It was common practice to put things like this under as they act as a safety feature.  Anyway he forgot to take it out when he had finished doing a repair to the press tool.  He started up the machine and pulled the lever. BANG!! The lump of metal flew across the shop floor straight into the spot where the press operators read the newspaper!  Fortunately no one was sat there at the time.  It would have been fatal.

The stairs up to the old Canteen at Mastabar Church. Used to filled with a long queue waiting for Tea, Coffee and Toast made by Bell and Mona.
The stairs up to the old Canteen at Mastabar Church. Used to have queue lined up waiting for Tea, Coffee and Toast made by Bell and Mona.

Then there was this guy who used to walk through the machine shop floor every morning.
This went on for a year or so until one someone stopped and asked him where he worked.  He said “I don’t work here, I am just taking a short cut through the factory to the Canal bank”!!!

Graffiti at the top of the Canteen Stairs. Donald Landon was a Foreman, who was a great character, admired by me and many others for his wit, and intelligence. He liked his food!
Graffiti at the top of the Canteen Stairs. Donald Landon was a Foreman, who was a great character, admired by me and many others for his wit, and intelligence.
He liked his food as you can see!

Many of the unskilled jobs were very boring indeed, I can remember sitting at this particular machine cutting 4″ bits of cable.  You had to do thousands of them one by one!  As I sat there wrestling with the semi automatic cutting machine, I would look forward to the moment when the Labourer opened the scrap metal  chute door and I would get a brief glimpse of the outside world.  Another very stark and life changing moment was when a party of local children from the “backward school” (learning difficulties) gathered round to watch me at my work.  I was keen to put on a skillful display and put in a flawless performance….  After a few moments I looked up at the youngsters waiting to see their gasps of amazement only for one of them to say…”Is that it?”  I paused for a second…. Time stood still, then my whole life hit me like a Brick.  They were the best words that anyone could have said.  I would like to thank that brilliant “backward Child!” for changing me for the better. Thank You!

When the holidays came round you could almost guarantee that at least one of the workforce would die.  It’s true!  Even the foreman (Porky) that reprimanded me, died one July holiday fortnight!

There was a another couple of fine characters that are worthy of mention, the first was my mate Mick Judge who rated how good a person was by how much they could drink.  He would be heard to to say…” Do you know, old Fred Bloggs is a complete waste of time”  and you would respond, “why whats wrong with him?” he said “He Can’t Sup!!”

And there was another hardened drinker called Pete Nuttall…  I walked over to his machine one monday morning and enquired how his weekend went.  He said,  “I had a few on Friday,  A few more on Saturday… and steady away on Sunday”.  That was it!  He rated his entire weekend on how many pints he had!  Priceless!

(people WILL exploit your weaknesses!) 

There was a chap called Ronnie who was a bit of a Softie.

One morning he went mad when someone left an empty plastic cup from the Brew machine on his bench.  Now several workers picked up on this and so started deliberately leaving empty cups on his bench!  This was so funny to watch.  Ronnie would only need to be away from his bench for a few seconds and mysteriously a cup would appear.   You could barely contain yourself when he returned   His head spinning around looking for the culprit.  Many complaints were made to the foreman and things came to a head one day when one Wagg emptied the entire contents of a rubbish bin full of used plastic cups on his workbench.  Unfortunately Ronnie also owned a Lada motor car which was the brunt for many a bad joke and this sealed his fate.  He died of a heart attack in the Summer holidays.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow!

There was a guy who worked in Cellar who cut people’s Hair for a bit of a sideline!

One day the Foreman had got wind of Hair cut being performed, so without any warning a Fire alarm test was carried out.

The alarms rang out and the Factory was evacuated, we all lined up in the works yard.  I didn’t know anything about it at this stage, but word was quickly getting around what this was really all about and you could hear a buzz in the crowd.  You could spot who was involved as the moments unfolded.  The Pillock still had the Towel round his neck! The Foreman easily spotted “the half hair do” and the culprits were duel y dealt with.  It was a case of, hair today gone tomorrow!

Pepi

There was a Labourer nicknamed Pepi.  He stood about 4ft 6″ and weighed no more than 5 stone wet through!

You would think a man of such stature would keep his head down.  Oh No! once Pepi got a drink inside him he would take on the world.  He would fight anyone, including me!

He once smacked me straight in the face at one of our works Christmas do’s.  I shrugged off the blow and he walked away in frustration to find someone else to have a go at!  Unfortunately he picked on big John Wright, a 6ft 4″ Press setter.  In a split second Pepi was flying straight across a long trestle table, scattering the workers drinks along the way.  That sealed it. He was promptly carried out side and thrown in the ornamental Gold fish pond in the restaurant grounds!
I miss Pepi!

There were also bouts of theft in and around the premises   One chap got sacked for nicking brass, another for selling our own manufactured conveyor belt fasteners to the Coal Board.  There’s no way you could have got away with that one.  Anyway he didn’t.

We had another short term light fingered employee who was an Heroin addict.  He just nicked everything he could get his hands on!

I was to work at Mastabar twice over my life, but for the time being will leave these characters alone for a while and move on.

Wheeler dealings

I had saved up quite a few quid whilst working in a factory so I suppose it came as no surprise that my friend Mal, a budding an entrepreneur, who by the way was the one that knocked me into the Mill lodge a few years earlier!  Now Mal would sell his own Grandmother if given the chance, offered me a partnership in his “Car wheeler dealing enterprises” So without further a due gave him my savings!  I was new to this line of work but it entailed dealing with the criminal underworld of The Rossendale Valley.  My god this was an eye opener.  It was just like the old TV series “The Minder”!

I have tales to tell that would see the Police at my door so I will mention a couple of weird ones and leave the underground alone.

Most deals were and probably are still done in scrap yards, back street workshops, Pubs and garages. There was one particular deal that was struck with my partner in the Rose & crown in Haslingden. He had apparently dealt for a Walled Eyed Pony up in a field on the hillside nearby.  So it was my job to round it up and take to be “Meated”.  Well I had never done anything remotely Horsey in my life and was trying to coax a Pony into the trailer when an angry Farmer appeared with a shotgun!  I explained the course of events, but it turned out the guy in the pub had been telling lies, and made the whole thing up!  “Poor Pony, its a good job the Farmer came out”.  It would have been Horse Burgers if he hadn’t shown up!

Another guy wanted a to try the art of Taxidermy and was looking for a Ferret to stuff!  So we went to a chap who kept Ferrets and said “You haven’t got any dead ones knocking around have you”?  he said just a minute.  He then proceeded to grab a Ferret and shove it head first into a bucket of water until all signs of life had gone.  “It’ll not work now”- he said – “That will be a fiver!”

I only lasted 9 months with my partner till we parted; I had learnt an awful lot more about life and what really goes on.

Builders merchants

My next line of work came by chance while covering holidays for my lifelong friend Ste at a local Builders merchant.  That was a brilliant job; I not only covered his holidays but was kept on and spent a few happy years there.  There were no toilets, water or cooking facilities in the yard but each one of the four of us had our own place to go when the call of nature arrived!
I used to enjoy serving the customers, cutting up timber and driving the Crane.  One day the Crane sank into a big disused Victorian manhole.  It was about six feet across and ten feet deep. The whole lot subsided until only the top of the cab was visible.  it was quite a task getting it out, we used the cranes own jib and lots of counter weights to get the front end up before placing planks of hardwood underneath   ( You never would consider calling for any help, you would just sort it out for-yourself )

My time at the builders merchant came to an abrupt end one afternoon when the boss accused me of stealing a tenner.  I wouldn’t have been so bad if I had nicked it, but I hadn’t and that hurt.  I took it upon myself to lock both myself and the boss in his office until he believed me.  ( Customers were queuing up out side but I was having none of it.)  I walked out of the door that afternoon with my integrity restored but jobless!

Today I nearly died!  But wait, an Angel caught me.

In between permanent employment I had spent some time on the (Black stuff) Tarmac and did some Felt roofing.

One day in Blackburn while doing a felt roof I was climbing a ladder with a Propane bottle on my shoulder, as I stepped onto the roof I lost my point of balance and started to slowly fall backwards.  My whole life was laid out before me.  In a few seconds I would be dead.

From out of nowhere a hand stretched out and pulled me back to safety!
From out of nowhere a hand stretched out and pulled me back to safety!

But wait from nowhere an arm reached out grabbing me by the scruff of the neck and was pulled to safety!  A voice said ” Yeh just put that Propane bottle over there and get me a roll of felt”!  I just carried on with the work, like you do!

I get Goose bumps every time I think of that moment!

The next job I got was a Furniture factory as a Wood machinist.  I managed to get the job because one of the guys (Neil who was only 17)  died from catching Pneumonia.  His job, now mine entailed sawing great big chunks of beech trees into pieces for chairs and settees.  The wood was damp and the Dust extraction unit didn’t work, so at 17 yrs old Poor Neil  didn’t stand a chance.  The first thing I did was to fix the dust extractor and wear a mask.

It was still an awful place to work with holes in the roof.  In the winter a pile of snow settled around where I worked.  I made a Snowball and put it on top of my machine.  It lasted a week before it melted!

I was approached one Fri morning by the Manager, he asked me “how much over time can you do”? I replied I can work this afternoon, next Mon, Tue, Wed, Thurs, Fri.  He said, “what about tomorrow morning, Saturday!? I just looked at him and said nothing.  He said “Your going fishing arnt you”? Again I just looked at him.  He said “If fishing is more important, then you are sacked”!

Jobless,  I called the Manager’s  Father that afternoon, he said “come in on Monday as usual, I will have a word with him”.

I couldn’t wait to get out of that god forsaken place.

A few weeks later my brother walked through the green factory door with some good news.  I had landed another job back at the Mastabar factory in Accrington.   I looked across the workshop floor towards the Manager as my brother told me the good news…I watched the blood drain from the  Managers face. ” I was leaving at last”!

Back in the Mastabar bosom

A few days later I was back in the Mastabar bosom!  This time I had gotten a job of a Pin Welder in the “Back Hall”.  Most workers in the Back Hall department of the factory tended to be paid less as the jobs were less skilled.   But still the conditions and pay were miles better than elsewhere in the area.   This was another awful job and entailed welding up the ends of multi strand steel cable, some up to 6 feet long.   I couldn’t make the bonus no matter how hard I tried.  You needed a special kind of knack to get a good quick weld.  If you didn’t then your hands got too hot and your arm muscles gave way as you couldn’t hold the length of wire cable!

Pin welding
Another awful job, your arms would ache and hands would get very hot if you didn’t get a quick weld in. You had to weld a bundle of 50 wire cables in 17 mins to make a do. That’s over three hundred welds every hour of the day!

Thankfully my new Geordie work buddy Alan Marrs was brilliant at it and he made my bonus up for me.  I owe Alan a large debt of gratitude as he bought me some precious time.  “I needed to  move on to the next opening within the company quickly”.   As luck would have it a few weeks later the Boss sent a message down to the shop floor.  He had heard that I had driven a crane in the past and enquired if I could drive the Fork Lift Truck as the usual operative was off sick.  “Too bloody right I could!” ( I couldn’t really, I just asked one of the guys what lever did what and took it from there!!) And that’s how I progressed for the next 17 yrs.   From then on took every opportunity moving through jobs in the factory until I landed the best paid job of the lot.  I was to spend 17 fruitful yrs at Mastabar until the final redundancy axe fell in 2003.  But not before I had studied hard at college to become a qualified Web designer.  My parting gift to the company before I clocked out for the last time was a bespoke website.  Which to this day is still there for all to see 12yrs on .  http://www.matoindustries.co.uk.

Working in a School!

My next job came about by accident.  After studying as web designer I also spent some time learning about computer maintenance.  So it was with those qualifications I turned up at a local high school with my new CV.

I asked the receptionist “How many people have you had for the IT technicians job?”  She said “quite a lot but not many for the Science tech job”.  “mmm Science Technician eh, I could do that!”   I had 7 laboratories and 9 teachers to keep happy with equipment for practical lessons.  It was a very demanding job!  Again it bought me some time while a new form of income was sought to supplement the poor pay!  Gradually I built up a customer base of web site clients.

The evenings weekends and holidays were increasingly spent creating websites for local businesses.  This supplemented my income to a point where we could manage.  After 5 years of running around I had had enough and started working for myself.

Self Employed & working at another School!

Working for oneself is a an ongoing challenge,  you have to earn money every day.  Theres customers to find, websites to create.  Customer services,  businesses to visit, products to photograph, the list goes on.

It started well at first and was earning enough to pay the bills, but after two years of working from home my friends and relatives  had also found someone to do their errands.  I was now spending too much time not earning!  This was getting frustrating,  I needed to work away from home most of the working day.

It was around Christmas time 2010 when I saw an advert for a Science Technicians job at Wellfield b & e College in Leyland.  This time it was for 4 labs and 5 teachers.  Much more manageable!   I could now scale back my self employed operations to a limited number of customers.  It also meant I got the school hols and was able to keep fit by commuting the 16 mile to Leyland. Sorted!

What lays ahead?

Well five years on and I’m still enjoying the commute to work and the job.  The Government say that I can retire at 66,  I don’t know if I can make it that far, but can’t help but wonder what the next 10 yrs have in store!!!

“Do you have any stories from a working life?”

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Growing up in Accrington 1959 – onwards..