From Gulag Heathrow to Barnes: “Making the Going Easy” (Object 88)

Retirement story

“A Short Story for James R., on his Retirement, 28 April 1978”. Michael C. Deeks.

I have written recently about Dad’s early life and apprenticeship in Glasgow. This post concerns the end of his working life, or at least, that of his salaried work; he never spent an idle day between this one and his death 14 years later. The above document was presented to him by his colleagues in the British Airways Avionic Workshop at Heathrow on the day he retired after 21 years’ service, and it demonstrates the great esteem and affection in which he was held. It also brings the characters of Dad’s workmates to life for me, never having met most of them. (Dad didn’t socialise with his work colleagues, and although they had a car pool we were all still asleep when they would call to collect him for his early shift at 5am. I met one of those listed here, Les Fuller,  when he and his family were holidaying at the same Bulgarian resort as us; they lived not far from us in Chiswick and I briefly kept in touch with the daughter, who was the same age as me). So it only seems fair to share whole text of Michael C. Deeks’ story here:

“FROM GULAG HEATHROW TO BARNES
‘Making the Going Easy’

I am speaking to you (in a hushed and secretive voice), from behind a Barbed Wire compound next to the teapoint, and today we have the unique opportunity to record the work of the Avionic Workshop escape committee.

The names have naturally been changed to aid identification, and so to give you an idea of the planning and secrecy of this operation, it is necessary to give you the names of some of the insurmountable hazards that are faced by the escape committee and the escapee.

One hazard is the commissar, Jack Trevor who stands by the door of each cell and says: “sotto voce” “f**k me!” And who can refuse such an order?

Two other hazards (members of the Komosol Youth Orchestra) are Jack Goodenough “the colours red” and Joe Windsor “s**t”.

Of the two, komosol leader J. Goodenough is the hardest to fool as he has done it all, seen it all, had it all, in triplicate.

Now let me introduce you to members of the escape committee. It is led by a mad Abyssinian monk, Alan Holland-Avery who in his spare time takes lewd photographs.

When Alan speaks everybody holds themselves as his ideas usually make them wet themselves.-

A.H.A. “Now the plan is, Jim must escape.”
E.C. (All) “Yeh! Yeh!”
A.H.A. “Any ideas?”
E.C. (All) DEAD SILENCE
A.H.A. “Come on, think.”
Pat Colledge, A retired Putty miner speaks (thoughtfully). “There’s an escape tunnel in Block 9B”
A.H.A. “Fool, that’s a Lamson tube.”
P.C. “Oh!”

There are many ideas bandied about, most ideas are bandy, cockeyed  or naturally squint.

But the only logical and typically simple idea came from Bill Hewitt, deep sea diver for Mothers Pride who said “Let’s lie about his age and let him retire” the motion was carried to a position downwind and made unanimous.

So James R________, from

MIKE DEEKS  – Twerzel extraordinaire
ALAN ROWELL – Right wing extremist (so be it!)
BRIAN SPENCER – Beer taster and curry maker. (I’m not impressed).
PETE DARRELL  – Silent at all times.
ROG TOMKINSON -The Kid.
MIKE EDWARDS, NORMAN SHARPE – Little and Large
DEN MILLARD – The Boffin (A rare bird).
BILL HEWITT – DIY Electrocutionist.
GREG WATERER – “Good wiv his hands”, the girls say so!
BRIAN ANDREWS –  Twitcher.
LES FULLER – In absentia.
PAUL KIRTLEY – Small but beautifully marked.
PAT COLLEDGE – Putty miner.
ALAN HOLLAND-AVERY – Mad Abyssinian monk and Lewd Picture taker.
RAY GOODMAN – That’s all I’m doing.
KEVIN MCCARTHY – I don’t know do I?
JIM BRIGHT – Somewhere around.
JACK GOODENOUGH – I’ll get it done.
JOE WINDSOR –  See Jack will you!
ARCHIE ALDRIDGE – In sickness and in Health
JACK TREVOR  – A sharp intake of breath.
JIM LEVENS – A short intake of breath.

And a host of many others (Two at least). Enjoy your Retirement you’ve earned it, and now you can start work.

This motion was passed after a great strain at a Shop Meeting.

The above mentioned appear on your Tape, destroy before listening, ears have walls.

A VOTRE SANTE”

I love the gentle (and only slightly lewd – perhaps it was toned down for him)  1970s humour of this story, with its references to Dad’s politics and trade union activities (his 21 years’ service as a shop steward was recognised with a rare Award of Merit from his union, the AUEW – this is now proudly displayed in the  home of Brother 2).

He was clearly much loved and respected by his workmates, who presented him with this beautifully made and engraved balance meter (now in Brother 1’s house):

Balance measure

“To Jim, From the Lads of 9B Inst Shop, British Airways, 28-4-78”

Dad's retirement with balanceThey weren’t going to let him get away that lightly, however. One of Dad’s little eccentricities was that he preferred to wear his shoes without socks: he claimed he was more comfortable that way. (I went one better on the eccentricity scale: from the age of 15 until I was about 40, I wore nothing at all on my feet all summer). So his workmates also presented him with a pair of socks – in bright socialist red, of course!

Dad's retirement socksDad retirement socks onIt’s great to have this glimpse into Dad’s other world, the one into which he had already disappeared by the time I woke up on weekdays, but about which I was rarely curious. This story, and these photos, give me some idea of what his working life was like for all those years.

Dad at work

Dad at his workbench at Heathrow Avionic Workshop

Dad in work clothes

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About Hoarder of Babylon

A chartered librarian and curator of my family archives.
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