Going Solo

Whoever it was that said that men couldn’t multi-task had obviously not known me in my youth.

graphic1-1I was at the tender age of sixteen, taking my O’levels at school (who remembers those?) and working around twenty hours a week at my father’s 15 table, snooker hall for pocket money (the slave driver). For all intents and purposes, school for me was more or less over now. I was working already and felt no real need for further traditional education. All I had to do now was to pass my final exams and I would be free.

Anyway, I’d done my time and learned my lessons and all I had left to do, was prove it. And all was going quite well to date. I had already taken all but one of my exams without breaking into too much of a sweat and was riding my bicycle to school for the last of them that particular day.

“Wow, what a guy”, you may be thinking by now.

But if truth be told, what a jerk might have been much nearer the mark. You see I was young and still very cabbage looking (green) as far as the ways of the world went. And on my way to school I had to navigate a very steep hill.

Well I huffed and I puffed and soldiered on uphill until I reached the top and when I finally got there I made the mistake of employing all of my previously learned cycling skills.

Look mum, no hands….

look-ma-no-handsYes you read it here first. I was on a major road, speeding downhill with no hands on my handlebars. The newly fitted speedometer on the bike read just below forty miles an hour and I was pushing hard for fifty.

Now half way down this hill (Chester Road, Stretford), there is a parade of shops with off road parking in front and it was just as I was drawing near to those shops that mother Earth collapsed before my very eyes. To me, I was in complete control of my steed, successfully dodging the traffic and all was well. Well for now anyway.

What I didn’t take account of, was the oncoming traffic. And within the batting of an eyelid, I was seen hurtling down the road, with no hands to control the bike, straight into the path of a car that had just turned out of the oncoming traffic, into the parking facilities for those shops. I really didn’t stand a chance.

Next thing I knew I was bouncing head first over the bonnet of said vehicle. The bike stopped dead as the front wheel buckled to match the front wing of the car and I just carried on. Crash – Bang – Wallop I went over the bonnet. All the traffic came to an abrupt halt around me and all eyes were now on my airborne body.

The driver of the car immediately stopped and raced to my rescue. I was lifted from the ground on the opposite side of the car to where my bike lay and he carried me to the comfort of a nearby shop where I was quizzed as to whether I was still breathing, alive, or indeed human.

But fear not dear reader.

Apart from a few bruises, a fat lip and a severe denting of my egotistical pride, I was still in one piece and a lot more worried about getting to school for the last of my exams, than I was about all of the fuss I had just been a part of. The bike was retrieved and looked after by a kindly shopkeeper, my parents were informed and on their way over to take care of the legalities (which I heard no more of) and my ‘assailant’ offered me a lift to my school once he was sufficiently convinced I was still alive and kicking enough to once again be a part of polite society.

That was ten o’clock in the morning. We arrived at the school at about half past. The teachers were informed of my prior misdeeds and yet still allowed me to take the test while preparing to make allowances for any failure. Fortunately for me it was physics, one of my favourite subjects and despite the lack of any earlier revision, I sailed right through it, unlike I did that car bonnet.

Schools out…

440078355_640Having endured the last two hours of that test, my school career was now over. All I needed to do now was to make my way (on foot) back to the shop where my bicycle was, and due to the new far, from round shape of the front wheel, carry it home with me. It took me six weeks to straighten that wheel out by hand, during which time, my results had come through.

I had earned myself the princely total of eight full passes. Five grade A’s, two grade B’s and one grade C. I now had eight shiny O’levels to prove my intelligence (provided that driver kept his mouth shut that is). My schooling had obviously worked.

And so to work I went…

Probably fortunately for me, my tender age of just sixteen years prevented me from being a fully fledged ‘bar steward’ (read that as you will). I wasn’t yet the legally required age of eighteen to work full time with my dad due to the joys of the alcohol that was being served on his premises so I now had to find me a full time job. However that didn’t mean I’d be giving this place (Chorlton Snooker Centre) up. After all, I had already spent half of my life there. I had met thousands of people and made quite a lot of good friends among them.

Having started there at the tender age of eight, making sandwiches for resale, washing down the bench seating around the snooker tables, cleaning the beer lines and processing memberships etc, there was plenty for a young chap to do on the Sunday’s that my father took me into work with him. That of course was in the good old early days, but as time went on and the bum-fluff started sprouting from out of my chin, other duties were to later include a dabbling in book keeping, wage processing, stock taking, ordering supplies and building and contents maintenance, and in the fullness of time I even got to man the beer pumps.

All credit really must go to my father for this. He was very good at delegating while at the same time still keeping a watchful eye over me without being too intrusive. I learnt a lot from him about running a business and to a certain extent, even more about successful man management skills. He was a brilliant role model and even to this day, I still walk in awe of him.

Cue the snooker star…

ronnie-osullivan-snooker-008

Don’t panic, it wasn’t me. After spending so much time at the snooker hall, I quickly got bored with the game, even if I was quite proficient at it. I had grown up in full view of many of the big names in snooker at the time, not to mention many more of the clientele. And with this is mind it was no surprise that even at the tender age of sixteen and three quarters, I was head hunted of a fashion.

It sounds really grand on paper but in reality it was nothing like. He was just an ordinary Joe I had grown up in front of. He came in twice a week for a simple snooker session lasting five hours with his friends. He watched me grow up and had a position available for me if I wanted it. He was a plumber by trade, a simple one man band outfit with an opening for a government sponsored apprenticeship up for grabs… if I wanted it.

Now granddad, a retired postal worker was really good with his hands and many a time I had spent alongside him in his makeshift workshop (a second bedroom). It was really through him that I developed my creative bent. I loved to watch his mastery with woods of all kinds, turning old planks of second hand timber into beautiful pieces of furniture. So it was little wonder then that I jumped at the opportunity of going ‘on the tools’.

So right on ‘cue’, I had ‘snookered’ myself into a new career path that I could ‘chalk up’ for myself, taking on board all of the ‘tips’ of this new found trade. (And here I promise, all the puns shall end).

Hey diddle-de dee, it’s a plumber’s life for me….

plumberNow without going too far into the ins and outs of the plumbing game, all I will say is I spent a productive four years as an apprentice plumbing and heating engineer. My boss Allen was also a formidable bloke in his own right who was more than happy to share the wealth of his knowledge with me. And being a hands on kind of guy, we would be sure to get or hands dirty first doing the practicalities of the job while I listened to his dulcet tones relating the whys and wherefores of the theory behind it all.

He was a great believer in one learning by your mistakes and needless to say, there were plenty of those in my first couple of years, some of which involved us getting thoroughly drenched too.

Fearing the thought of ever boring you to death now, I won’t go into this much further but I would like to add this little anecdote…

It was the mid to late seventies when I took up this plumbing lark and at that time, Britain was still to a large extent, having its water supplies plumbed through lead piping. And when plumbing lead piping, it is essential to have no water in the pipes to come into contact with the molten solders we would be working with to joint the two pipes together else major explosive burning of one’s face could ensue.

Sometimes though, it wasn’t always possible to fully drain said pipes but we plumbers had our trade secrets to counter this and one of those tricks was to plug up the pipes with compressed bread (which acts as a sponge like barrier and soaks up all the water), make the joint, and then when you turned the pressurised water back on, it would simply blow the bready plug out through the nearest open tap.

sandwich
Nom nom nom

Anyway one particular day, we were working in an empty house and yes we needed to plug the pipe. Needless to say, there was no bread available to us so I was sent next door to borrow a slice or two.

“Certainly,” said the lady of the adjoining house and she disappeared up her hallway towards her kitchen, leaving me stood at her front door for 15 minutes, looking like a lemon. And imagine my surprise when she returned with a tray.

“Here we go dear, I’ve done you a nice plate full of sandwiches and a pot of tea. We can’t have you going hungry while you’re working now.” She said. If only she had known.

And so, a full four years later…

There I was, still a plumber. During which time I had done all sorts of drains, guttering, bathrooms, kitchens, central heating systems, tiling, plastering and even serviced the odd boiler or two (no names please). I’d also taken further exams and gained my full city and guilds trade membership. I was a fully indentured plumbing & heating engineer now and was doing more and more work alone.

It wasn’t all good news though.

My boss Allen had developed a serious heart condition and was forced into early retirement. This meant I was now on my own and for the first time in my life I was looking for work. I still had the snooker hall though as I had always worked there on a part time basis (the things you do for family eh?). And unbeknown to me, there lay my secret weapon.

With over three thousand members and almost five hundred regulars every week, many of whom had watched me grow up in front of them, it wasn’t very long before a few small jobs were coming through for me and from those tiny acorns, mighty oaks were about to grow.

I was reliable, affordable and gave good advice and value for money and within only a few months, I found I was soon inundated with work. So much so I had no choice but to now declare myself self-employed.

Of course it hasn’t always been that easy. There were times when even master plumbers like me have had to diversify. I’ve worked on domestic and commercial projects, often had to go industrial, and in the harder more financially depressed times, I’ve even taken on part time work to supplement my wage. There have been good times and bad and quite often it has been quite trying.

But the good times, in my own experience have far outweighed any others so I reckon I’m now stuck with it. Well I hope that’s the case, because all in all, I’ve been at it for over thirty years now. I’ve had a wide and varied career and I’ve had apprentices of my own since then.

And for anyone that thinks there’s no truth in being at the right place at the right time, maybe I might just be the exception to the rule.

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