So I picked up Dave from his house and we set off down the M1 to Birmingham. I was nervous and especially as this was my first time on a motorway. Now I must add that the road was not as busy as it is today, but it was still very challenging. We took our time and with some good map reading from my friend Dave, we arrived at the Meriden Triumph factory, near Birmingham, to collect a brand new Bonneville motorbike. I had the paperwork and they expected me and so they directed me to the right section and the workers used a forklift to place the brand new bike on the tray of the van. They supervised the tying down of the bike and placed cloths where the ropes might rub and it all went smoothly, as did the return trip to Leeds. I dropped Dave off at his home before I returned to Wraggs. They were pleased to see the bike had arrived safely and a little surprised to see me so early. It was still only mid-afternoon. They unloaded the Bonneville and I was given a more thorough tour of the workshops and provided with work overalls. I worked for quite a long time and got quite used to driving around the North of England. The company was owned by partners at the time and one lived in a beautiful old house near Driffield. I would love the drive across the Vale of York and arrive at his large rural property, where there would be a collection of used motorbikes that he had purchased and they had to be taken to the Leeds workshop for preparation for sale. I would load up the van with a lot of motorbikes and occasional scooters and the machines would be hanging off the edges and the ropes criss-crossed to ensure they didn’t move. I am pretty sure that it would not be legal nowadays, but it was never an issue then. I would leave the idyllic house and countryside and drive back to Leeds. The Yorkshire Wolds is one of my favourite places and the countryside is truly beautiful.
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Friday 1st February to Sunday 3rd February 2019.
The drive down Garrowby Hill was always interesting and the brakes used to get very hot before I safely reached the bottom. The hill is a steep, winding climb down and many either fail to make the summit of the highest hill in the Wolds on the long climb up, or come to grief on the very steep descent. The view from the top is truly magnificent on a clear day as you look down on the vale that was a large glacial lake at the end of the last ice age. I always was relieved when I was safely at the bottom and the rest of the journey was straightforward. One of the mechanics, who used to do this trip before I started, was most displeased when I returned in the afternoon. He had apparently taken the full day for the same trip and I was making him look bad. He insisted I didn’t do it again. Another lesson that I never took any notice of! The work became quite routine, but bit by bit various staff asked me to do things for them. Now I have never really worked in businesses much in my life, apart from as a student, but there did seem to be a lot of underhand dealings going on. I was asked to deliver bikes to workers’ houses, one manager would have me do deliveries for them that were not actually work related, but private. I would be instructed to fill up jerry cans with petrol when I was filling the van and they would then take the cans and fill up their private cars with petrol that was meant for the van. There were a multitude of small fiddles going on that together must have cost the business a lot. None were major and no one actually explained that they weren’t work business, but a number of employees seemed on the fiddle in one way or another.
Wraggs had two shops in Leeds and one in Chesterfield at the time. I had to do a lot of work between the shops and often on a small moped. I would shoot around taking parts and documents from one shop to another. Sometimes I had to go to stores for parts. This was one of the most amazing experiences. You would arrive at the service desk and a man would saunter over to you. They never hurried. “Yes?” he would say and I would show him the written part I was to collect. He would look at the note and stroll out back into the warehouse. I would wait, and wait. Five minutes later he would return, look at the note again and saunter off into the back. Another five minutes and he would return. He would pull out a parts catalogue, flick through the pages, appear to find what he wanted and then he would turn around and disappear again. He never once spoke to me during this time, but he would occasionally mumble something to himself. Eventually he would return like a successful bounty hunter with his prize, pass it over, get me to sign for it and then I was allowed to leave. This experience has stayed with me as it seemed to reflect the general attitude of many workers in the UK at the time. Don’t hurry, don’t put yourself out! Unfortunately it was the attitude that saw Britain lose its manufacturing industry to countries where people would do the work quicker, cheaper and in a fraction of the time.
I worked there for the whole of the summer and had to drive quite long distances and it really developed my driving skills and knowledge of Yorkshire roads. I experienced a number of strange things and one that has stayed with me all my life involves a cat. I was returning to the workshop in the van and it was about four in the afternoon. I was following a double-decker bus and I was just about to stop to turn right into the workshop. One of the mechanics was standing in the entrance and was trying to start a very large old motorbike. He kick-started the bike and there was a very loud backfire. A stray cat was standing next to the bike and it was suddenly startled and ran straight across the road. It missed the oncoming traffic, but unfortunately for it, it didn’t miss the bus. I watched in horror as the bus’s front right tyre ran directly over its head. I was totally shocked and sat stationary, indicating right. To my amazement, the cat got back on its feet and, I can only think through some reflex memory, ran back across the road to the very spot it had started from. The poor creature then keeled over, twitched a few times and finally lay still. I managed to get the van back, but I was in a state of shock. I think this was the first time I had seen anything killed. The mechanic seem oblivious to what had happened and I don’t even think he saw the cat. The poor creature had used all its nine lives at this point.
One other memory, less horrific this time, but still shocking, was when a young lad came to collect a scooter. Now this was still the days of One other memory, less horrific this time, but still shocking, was when a young lad came to collect a scooter. Now this was still the days of Mods and Rockers and Lambrettas were still popular and had chrome fairings. He had bought a second-hand scooter and he had never had one before. They had serviced the scooter in preparation for his collection and the excited lad had paid for the machine days earlier and it was his time to collect it. There was a bit of waste ground at the back of the shop and the mechanic brought the machine up. He spoke with the lad and explained how the clutch and throttle worked and I stood watching with interest, which was more than could be said for this youth. He had a look of, ‘Why are you telling me this?’, written all over his face. (Just to demonstrate a point, a friend of mine had a sign in his printing factory at the time that said, ‘Employ a teenager, whilst they still know everything!’) Anyway, at the end of the pre-delivery run down, the mechanic asked if he was OK to drive the scooter up to the showroom office to sort out the insurance papers. The lad said he was fine and had driven one before. Clearly he was lying! He sat on the machine with an air of confidence and joy. He kick-started the scooter and throttled hard. The engine raced alarmingly, as did my heart. He let out the clutch and the scooter almost took to the air. It flew across the side road and he panicked, and fell to the side as it struck the corner of a brick building. He lay in the dirt, his hand still clutching the throttle open and the rear wheel spinning alarmingly. The mechanic ran across and took his hand off the throttle and helped pick the lad and the bike up. He had a definite smirk on his face. As far as he was concerned the lad had learnt a hard lesson. I don’t think there was a lot of damage to the lad or the scooter. The boy had a bruised ego and the scooter had damaged fairings and had lost some paint. Probably more devastating for the lad was the fact that the damage would not have been covered by insurance as the papers had not been signed. On reflection, it was probably a good lesson for him and maybe had taught him how dangerous driving scooters, bikes or any motor vehicles can be, for that matter.
My time passed at Wraggs and I enjoyed the work as much as one can at seventeen. I got quite good at getting the heavy bikes onto the back of the van. You had to run hard up one plank whilst pushing the bike up the other. I learnt to park facing downhill so the gradient wasn’t too steep. Occasionally a bike would slip off, but I always managed to control them and get them up without any damage. One day I was delivering bikes and scooters to people that had bought them. The van was fully loaded and I set off on my rounds. It was to be a long day and so I was to take the van home with me when I finished. The bikes were all second-hand, apart from one that was a brand new Honda 250cc machine. It was good looking bike, but quite heavy. The day went on and I was down to my last two deliveries. I dropped off the last second hand bike and went back onto the back of the van to tie in the Honda and then set off. I noticed that it was not quite in position so I shuffled it across tight to the side of the tray. For some reason it tipped a bit and somehow the hook that held the side of the tray in place was not locked in. The rest all seemed to happen in slow motion. The bike toppled, the side fell open and the Honda seemed to stop, poised and then it fell. The drop was onto its top from a height of at least three feet. There was a crunch. My heart stopped and I realised I was doomed. The handlebars were bent, the speedo broken, but the rest seemed ok. I felt like dying. Why hadn’t I left it alone? What was I to do? Someone was waiting for it. I got the bike back on the van. I then drove to a public phone-box and spoke to the manager. He was a young, mid-thirties, cocky man. He was not impressed. He told me to take it and show the man who had ordered it. I did this and the man was as good about it as could be expected. He was waiting for a new bike, but clearly he wasn’t getting one that day. He knew he would have to contact the shop the next day. I had to take the damaged bike and van home overnight.
The next day was my first and only time I have been sacked. It didn’t take long and I suppose I can understand it, but I felt hard done by. My mother still worked at Wraggs and she let the manager know exactly what she thought about it. I can only imagine what she would have said and how he suffered, as I had been at the receiving end of her tongue-lashing on many occasions. I guess I got off lightly compared to him, but I was sorry to lose the job and income. As it was, it was almost Christmas holidays and I then applied for Christmas Post work at the Harehills delivery office.