This was going to simply be a small blog post about my dad, but it sort of got away from me, and has turned in to more of a story of my childhood, with a strong focus on my dad, and how he influenced my life. My brothers have helped with some details, thanks.
I was born in Worcester. I have a vague memory of Barnes Way, and Timberdine Avenue, in Worcester. I vaguely recall a nursery in Worcester where I first encountered stickle bricks, and a primary school where I started to learn maths and loved it. But I was pretty young when we moved away from Worcester.
When we drove to Worcester Royal Hospital just last week, to visit my dad - I commented on how I had been there before, but possibly only the once, some 58 years ago. In seems, however, that the hospital back then was nearer town, Ronkswood, so not quite the joke I had hoped.
As I understand it, back then, my father had a normal full time job, I think in sales.
To be honest I am not sure how old I was when we went to Drake's Broughton, but I know I spent some years in the primary school there.
I do vaguely recall us visiting before we moved, and we saw the shop. It was simply a large cuboid of concrete - the front was open but with wood boards, and the back had a large wooden double door, and the only feature was brickwork enclosing a small toilet and sink in the corner at the back.
Yes, my parents had decided to leave a house and a job in Worcester for a shop in a small village 15 miles away. This had to be early ‘70s. I did try and find out, but sadly the land registry seems not to have details that far back on the property. Talking it over with my brother, I think I was about 8.
Of course, at the time, I had no idea how crazy this was, but looking back I realise how it was a huge step for any family to take. Giving up the security of a normal job to start out running your own business. Not just that, starting that business from scratch, even fitting out a shop from scratch, getting stock and equipment, and well, that was brave.
Drake's Broughton was clearly a village that was originally quite small - some houses on the main road, the A44 (now the B4084) that went from Worcester to Pershore, and some houses on Stonebow Road and Walcot Lane. If you walked far enough along that lane you got to some farms, and eventually after a couple of miles to the outskirts of Pershore, and Pinvin.
There was a garage with car showroom on the main road, and a small shop with the post office, and a real police station / police house with a real policeman, and even a phone box. Further in to the village on Stonebow Road was a pub, The Old Oak.
I am sure that the village was probably just those few houses for a long time, but clearly someone had done some housing development and there were housing estates, and in the middle of the village was a new row of shops - four of them. They were all the same, except the fourth had an extension off the end that made it maybe twice the floor area. The shops all had associated flats over them, all the same.
It was a weird mix of shops in a way. The first was a newsagent and general shop of that type selling sweets, and greeting cards, and all sorts of miscellaneous stuff like that. The other end was a small supermarket with typical supermarket food. In the middle was a hairdressers, and well, our shop. Later on the supermarket got the post office, and the shop on the main road closed. I remember when the shop on the main road got “rock pops” (or whatever they were called at the time) for the first time - exploding in your mouth. I remember when super glue came out, and the shop keeper glued a coin to the counter to mess with kids.
Drake's Broughton was not a big place. It had 400 houses back them - I know this because the free advertising paper was delivered, every Saturday morning, for many years, by me. I even did deliveries to nearby Peopleton, another 200 houses. But somehow this small village managed to sustain a hairdressers, to my amazement, and looking now at street view I see it is still there! I could understand a food store, and even a newsagent, but I am amazed hairdressing was profitable for such a small place.
But that all pales in to sanity when you realise the nature of the shop my parents started, a haberdashery store. Yes, a haberdashery store in a village of 400 houses. That is clearly way more crazy that even a hairdresser. And if you look now it is a chip shop, which makes a lot more sense, though apparently that managed to get burned out in a fire at least once - sadly even the newsagent has gone now.
But actually it was not quite as daft as it sounded. Obviously my parents had a proper shop front done, basically two large windows, a door in the middle, and a sign at the top “FANDY’S”, but pretty much everything else in the shop was done by my dad - the wiring, the walls, even a huge cutting out table. The unit was pretty much split in two with the shop at the front, with counter and till, and the Gütermann cotton thread stand, and crochet and knitting needles, and wool, and so on. At the back was a work room, featuring the big cutting out table and desk space. Mum and dad did two other businesses - dress making, and printing!
This is more about my mother. Dress making was still a business that did not make a lot of sense in a small village, but the business actually moved in to repairs and alterations quite quickly. This meant collecting garments from dry cleaners in the area, out to Birmingham even, and doing repairs, and alterations, and sending them back. The business even had employees. In later years, after the shop, my mother started curtain making and my father did fitting. In fact for a while my wife was involved, and so my mother’s maiden name (Arnold) and my wife’s maiden name (Andrews) ended up being used as a business name in itself.
What my father was doing was itself an interesting business to start in the middle of nowhere (or perhaps the outskirts of nowhere, called Drake’s Broughton). It only worked because of orders from further afield, obviously. How he got the business, I don’t know, and I wish I had asked him - no Internet back then.
He had a small, manual, treadle printing press. This meant lead monotype composed in to a frame and loaded in to the press. My dad taught me how to do this all, which was fascinating. I learned about fonts and typefaces, and ligatures, and all sorts. At one point you could order lines of lead type which were cast in a complicated machine, but it meant that you could print blocks of text without having to place each letter.
Of course, these days, it is scary to imagine any child near such a machine. It had a huge fly-wheel and there was no stopping it - if your fingers were in the wrong place, they would not be fingers for long. Working the machine meant repeatedly placing paper in on the plate, the machine cycle moving the roller over the ink to the lead type, and pressing it on to the paper, and then you removed the paper and placed the next piece of paper before the cycle progressed. Getting the whole sequence right was tricky - with the fly-wheel this worked at the speed you wanted but kept going, and you had to move perfectly with its sequence and timing and you had to be very careful to remove fingers, or it would do that for you. Even without that risk, the machine itself had big moving parts and exposed gears and yes, I imagine these days it would be a health and safety nightmare.
But it was fun. And he did all sorts or printing - invitations, menus, whatever people wanted. The business worked, amazingly.
Ironically it was something simple that proved to be profitable, and that was name tapes. My dad set up clips and things that allowed a cotton ribbon to be loaded on the printing plate, so you print and pull forward the tape and print and so on. Making a complete tape of ribbon printed with a name over and over again. People could cut these and sew them in to kids clothes. This was somewhat safer to operate, but you had to be careful not to touch the printed part of the ribbon when moving it. I remember printing ink on my fingers :-)
It is at times like this that I wish I had started writing this a few days ago when I could still ask questions. Clearly printing was actually working reasonably well, as my dad got a new printing press. A big Mercedes Letterpress printing press that worked on three phase power. It could do a lot more printing a lot faster. Of course this meant telling kids at school my dad has a Mercedes :-) I have no idea how it even got through the back doors, but my brother remembers a crane and steel rollers involved. I have no clue what it cost.
This was, again, a crazy machine from a safety point of view. But it allowed a lot more printing jobs. It did the paper in and out by itself, that was magic. The old manual treadle machine was pretty much only used for name labels after that.
One of the things I do remember from my childhood was Saturday morning cinema. Every Saturday we would be dropped off in Worcester, and then later collected.
This was actually my first experience of any sort of hacking - and it was my dad that worked it out. We needed to let our parents know we were ready to be picked up, but that would mean spending money on a payphone.
Of course one simple trick was call, and hang up. But this pre-dates any CLI, and it helped to actually talk to mum or dad. We could call and wait for answer and then hang up, with just the pips to make it clear it was a payphone.
In case people don’t know - a payphone worked by calling, and on answer the payphone blocked the audio and played beeps until you inserted money - it repeated this at intervals when more money was needed. So the called party knows from the pips that it was a payphone, and hence to wait while someone force a coin in the mechanical slot.
At the house we had quite high tech telephones (LOL) - it was two phones, one in the shop, and one in the flat as an extension. The one in the shop had these buttons to answer, or to put through to the flat, etc. My dad learned that if you push two buttons in quick sequence it would apply enough current loop to answer the call, but then less, so the line was somehow idle, and if you did this on a call from a payphone the payphone did not actually realise you had answered - audio then worked both ways, and you could talk for free. (my belated apologies to GPO for this).
Above the shop was a flat, which is where we lived. There was a single set of stairs at one end of the four shops, and a sort of patio at the back of each flat where people walk past to the other flats, but there were this dividing partitions with wooden slates which sort of separated the thoroughfare from the patio for each flat.
The flat itself, over the footprint of the shop (obviously) was long and thin. A small entrance hallway lead in to the one main room - it was long and could work as a dining room at the back and living room at the front. Along the right hand side were the two bedrooms with a small toilet/bathroom between them - no shower in those days. And at the back was a small kitchen. I only burned the kitchen down once, but that did allow my parents to get a whole new kitchen on insurance. Heating was a storage heater - a metal box in the middle of the main room, essentially full of bricks heated on cheaper night time electricity - I remember always being told off for sitting on it.
This meant that three brothers lived in a single bedroom. I had the top bunk, obviously, being the eldest, but still, close quarters. This was not always amicable.
The windows were the classic old white painted metal frame and single pain of glass. Amusingly - google street views shows they were still there in 2009, which is quite amazing - they got condensation and ice on the inside in the winter.
My dad, just a few days ago now, recounted how, in the days of power cuts in the 70’s, he had set up a car battery and headlights to give us light. Even so, I remember candles from that time.
Oddly I remember as a kid playing around with how much we could climb or jump down. The shop was higher than a normal ground floor, and I remember daft things like hanging from the wall at the back of the flat and dropping to the ground. I remember jumping down the steps at the end of the shops in just two goes. I am amazed my legs are in one piece. I even remember being able to get through the metal bars for the external stairs - and the day that my head was maybe now too big to do that. We did a lot of stupid shit.
I also remember on occasions where there was some running along the back wall. With the height of the shop and the wall, this was around two stories high, and my youngest brother managed to fall flat on his back - he had been trying to get a ball off the supermarket roof. The ambulance took ages as the Queen was visiting Worcester that day. The ambulance crew thought he had broken his neck, even! It must have been very stressful for my parents.
We had a green across from the shops, with the expected “NO BALL GAMES” sign. But this was a village in the country, and we could go play in fields. Though, in practice, we played a lot on what was sort of a building site - the housing developments had clearly stalled for some years and there was open areas, and I think even things like a cement mixer, and the like. Crazy times.
My brother reminded me of one occasion we played with water rockets on the green. Well, I mean, it wasn't ball games was it :-) This meant fairy liquid bottles with fins, and a bicycle pump. We managed to shoot rockets clear over the shops, which was impressive, and possibly a bit dangerous.
I do remember we also had fun, at least one year, with “penny for the guy”. We raised money, a bunch of kids going door to door, and we got fireworks and wood and did a bonfire. I seem to recall it was a great success. It was crazy - health and safety be damned.
I am grateful to my farther for instilling an entrepreneurial spirit. It is crazy that they went and started a shop in the middle of nowhere. But it instilled in me a feeling that one could do work and make money. Later in life I left the comfort of a “proper job” and started out with my own business, and have not looked back.
But even so, it is clear they did not make a lot of money - I was one of the poor kids with free school meals, and I got a grant to go to university later. They managed, but that was about it. Even so, I am impressed with what they did.
When UK CB radio happened, well, I got one. But I had friends in the village that had illegal US style CB as well. I was properly licensed. I remember chats with friends from school (and I had very few of them) over CB radio late in to the night.
Indeed, I put my typical CB radio on the handlebars of my bicycle, and a car battery on the rack on the back, and a whip mag mount antenna on the top of the battery. I nearly had a truck crash after talking to me, and then seeing me on my paper round having assumed I was lying about this all. CB whilst doing a paper round on my bike - crazy times.
And obviously my dad helped me with all this.
I initially went to the local primary school, but then went to Pershore High School. It was around 2 miles away, and I cycled to school - along Walcot Lane and through a ford.
School was a challenge as I was bullied, but it got a lot better when we got to Computer Science - the first year of which was more theory than practice sending coding sheets in CESIL to be punched and run - or fail more often than note as the punch operators got things wrong. They then got an RML 380Z and an ASR-33 teletype. That changed my world, and I was one of the few that stayed late every school day to use the computer. In sixth form RML actually paid me for some of my code - entrepreneurial spirit at its best.
I remember my form tutor or whatever it was called, the teacher that handled us as a “form” when we arrived before assembly in the morning. She was evil in most of our minds, but in practice just rather strict, I am sure. She even caused issues as she felt my staying late for computer studies was somehow wrong. I do recall breaking her slightly when I got a flat tyre and ran to school and then collapsed from palpitations (which, much later, I learned is a congenital condition I have). She changed from evil to “fuck, one of my students is dying”, which was quite funny really at the time. Sorry.
The bullying did eventually ease up - not only did I fight back once, but once someone hit me hard enough that they got kicked out.
One time I fell (no, not a bully this time) and hit my head. My memory of that whole day starts with a teacher driving me home. That must have been stressful for my parents too.
My parents were keen to support my ambitions too - when I wanted a computer, they got a loan. I recall a figure of £700, which was a lot. I paid it back diligently from my paper round for many years.
That TRS-80 was amazing for me and I learned a lot. Obviously my dad did all the business accounts himself, and I made computer programmes to help with that. This was long before one could get any accounting software.
But dad clearly liked to tinker, and not just with telephones. I learned to take things apart, and, usually, I would put them back together. I vaguely recall making a crystal radio set. I got a reputation for fixing things in the village. I even had a soldering iron.
Once I finished school, I left for university, and this is where the story of my dad falls apart a bit.
They moved whilst I was at university - finally giving up on the shop in 1984. They moved to be caretakers at a naturist club. My dad still had the small printing press and still did name tapes, as I recall.
I do recall inviting a friend to visit, and forgetting to mention where he was visiting, and had to explain, at the gate, before I let him in. That was amusing.
Even so, I had my entrepreneurial spirit - when working for STC, I was buying up phones that they had available to staff for some complicated reason at a huge discount (these days I have better ideas how this can happen), and selling them to anyone I could. I was told I could “sell sand to arabs”, apparently, even if that is perhaps not politically correct now. I have always been happy to buy and sell anything I can - proper Fools & Horses style, except I have always been honest about exactly what I am selling.
But eventually, with a wife and family and career, I was in touch with dad less and less. But even as I moved on in life, my dad helped out. Helped with things when I moved to a new house. By then they had moved on to making curtains and fitting them, all from the naturist club. Then they moved again.
More recently I would have regular video calls with dad, but to be honest, at this point, the story really needs to be picked up by my youngest brother, who lived with my mum and dad when they moved to Malvern.
So what do I really think I learned from my dad? It is hard to make a list, but there are few things…
- Being an entrepreneur.
- Taking stuff apart and tinkering.
- The basics of business, and tax and VAT.
- Taking an interest in the rules and law, and working out how they worked.
- Obviously a sense of right and wrong (well, apart from the GPO somehow).
You will be missed, dad.