Back from Thailand, I have no job and a couple of debts I want to get rid of. This again means delaying a career job, saving and working hard for a couple of months with maximum overtime. Simon who left the overland trip in India in order to hitchhike back to Blighty for a forestry course, tells me there are labouring jobs going up in Scotland. Taking the bus up to Yorkshire brings me to his house and after a few days I am at one of his friend’s houses beside a loch in Scotland when the Ibrox Disaster happens – 66 dead. Sadly, no jobs in the Forestry Commission where he works, but another friend says I can work in a mine! (sic)
Fall of Foyers
We travel in his car, a 1961 Hillman Minx and I get a job on the Fall of Foyers Pumped Storage Scheme as a drilling labourer. In a gang of about 5, we drill holes with a vertical pneumatic drill, put the gelignite at the bottom of the hole and every day or so, blast. Strange thing about this blasting that the report is very short, much shorter than you see in film explosions. But not all the explosions work and the first job of Sandy the gang leader is to very carefully check that all the detonators have gone off. Gelignite itself is quite safe (as long as it not sweating) but the cigarette-sized detonators which contain fulminate mercury, are not. Months previously, a new drilling in the 1 3/4 mile tunnel connecting Loch Ness with Loch Mhor, the other end of the pumped-storage scheme, had hit an unexploded detonator resulting in three guys losing four eyes between them. In another incident, the powder monkey (explosives custodian) had thrown a detonator at the explosives hut door to see what sort of bang it would make – it took his arm off.
Time for a Change
While the work was reasonably well paid, I saw no point in being injured or dead so I took the opportunity to switch to that of a banksman – someone who coordinates the lifting/moving of stuff between the crane or derrick driver and the crew down in the shaft. With dust from the drilling and loads of noise (no ear-protectors in those days) confusion reigns and the banksman is the “piggy in the middle” getting abuse from both sides. Previous guy lasted one week as did most new employees sent every Monday morning in a single-decker green bus from the Labour Exchange in Inverness – stepping off the bus you would have thought they were being sent to the gulag.
Easter is approaching and we will get some holiday, but the journey to Oxford and back on public transport would have given me only a few hours at home, so I decide to leave. The owner of the Hillman Minx asks me if I would like to buy it for £20? Having a proper look at it shows it has had better days with rust showing through the bodywork and it needs a new battery – £10. But it’s a car, and in spite of one worker saying that £20 is more than it’s worth, I get my wages and drive round to the insurance broker. Grinning from ear to ear I ask, How much is Third Party insurance please? £11 sir. Feeling my wages in my pocket I ask, How much is Third Party Fire & Theft? The elderly insurance broker gets up from his desk and looks at my Pride and Joy parked outside. Nobody’s gonna nick that old thing he says, so instead of £13 for 3PFT I pay £11.
Collecting my wages, I set off giving one Irish guy a lift to Inverness. Long after dark, I am in Birmingham where Spaghetti Junction is being built. The diversion signs are hopeless and having come off a 12 hour night shift before setting off, I pull over between two piles of sand to get some sleep. An angry policeman wakes me up but the short sleep is enough to allow me to drive home and wake my father up at 1.45 am.
Not wanting a job in Oxford, I drive to London and have been there ever since. My car ends up parked outside a friend’s flat in Clapham for ages and one day when I ask about using it, I am told that he has borrowed the alternator! Not wishing to spend any more on the vehicle, I call a firm from Exchange & Mart magazine who tow it away the next day. Like your first girlfriend, you never forget your first car and no doubt the recycled CJM 397 same colour as the above photo from Knebworth, is now part of someone else’s pride and joy. Long may she last.