Whoever it was that said that men couldn’t multi-task had obviously not known me in my youth.
At just the tender age of sixteen, I was 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 I felt no real need for any further education. All I had to do, was pass my final exams and I would be free from traditional education forever.
Anyway, I’d done my time and learned my lessons and all I had left to do, was prove it. And it 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 this day, I was riding my bicycle to school for the very last time.
You may be thinking, “Wow, what a guy,” by now.
Truth be told, what a jerk might have been much nearer the mark. You see I was still very young and cabbage looking (green) as far as the ways of the world went. And on my way to school that day, I had to navigate a very steep hill.
Well I huffed and I puffed and soldiered on uphill until I reached the very top. Finally getting there, I relaxed and made the mistake of employing all of my previously learned bad cycling skills.
Look mum, no hands….
Yes you read it here first.
I was on a major road. Speeding downhill with no hands on my handlebars. The bike’s newly fitted speedometer 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 nearing those shops that mother Earth collapsed before my very eyes.
To me, I was in complete control of my steed. Successfully dodging the traffic, all was well with the world. Well for now it was…
What I didn’t take account of, was the oncoming traffic.
Within just 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 just turning 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 instantly buckled to match the front wing of the car. And where the bike stopped, 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 air borne 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 now lay. And he carried me to the comfort of a nearby shop.
I was quizzed as to whether I was still breathing, alive, or indeed a human. Was eleven years old, really the best my body could do?
But fear not dear reader.
Apart from a few bruises, a fat lip and a severe denting of my pride. I was still in one piece. 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 looked after by a kindly shopkeeper. My parents were on their way over to take care of the legalities (of which I heard no more of). And sufficiently convinced I was still alive and kicking enough to be a part of polite society again, my ‘assailant’ offered me a lift to my school .
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 still allowed me to take the test. All while preparing to make allowances for any failure.
Fortunately for me the test was for 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.
Having 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…
Fortunately for me, my tender age of 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 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 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 still plenty for a young chap to do on the Sunday’s 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 would 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…
Don’t panic, it was never going to be 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 club’s clientele.
And with this is mind, it was no surprise that even at my tender age, I was head hunted of a fashion.
It sounds really grand on paper but in reality it was nothing like.
My head hunter was just an ordinary Joe I had grown up in front of. Visiting the club twice a week for a simple snooker session lasting five or so hours with his friends.
The guy had watched me grow up and decided he 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… But only if I wanted it.
My grandad, a retired postal worker was really good with his hands and I had spent many a time 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 snooker puns shall end).
Hey diddle-de dee, it’s a plumber’s life for me….
Now 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. He 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. Already I was involved in 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 early 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 with lead piping, it is essential to have no water in the pipes. This is to prevent water coming into contact with the molten solders we would be working with when jointing the two pipes together. Else a major explosive burning of one’s face could ensue.
Sometimes though, it’s not always possible to fully drain said pipes. But we plumbers had our trade secrets to counter such times. And one of those tricks is to plug up the pipes with compressed bread (which acts as a sponge like barrier and soaks up all the water). We can then go ahead and make the joint. And when the work is complete, and you turned the pressurised water back on, it would simply blow the bready plug out through the nearest open tap.
Anyway one particular day, we were working in an empty house and yes we needed to plug a lead pipe 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 looking like a lemon for a good 15 minutes. 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, a fully fledged and recognised plumber. During which time I had completed all sorts of jobs including drains, guttering, bathrooms, kitchens, central heating systems. I had also learned how to tackle tiling, plastering, brick laying and I had 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, City & Guilds advanced crafts, plumbing & heating engineer now. And I 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 actively 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 too 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 fully 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 all kinds of domestic and commercial projects. I’ve even had to go industrial too. 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 in my own experience, the good times 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 fourty years now. I’ve had a wide and varied career and I’ve even had apprentices of my own.
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.