The public analyst
My first job, when I had just left school at 15, I worked for a public analyst's laboratory. What the job entailed: I was on a three year apprenticeship and the main jobs I used to do … obviously it was chemistry work, but it was all what they called test-tube chemistry, where it is not done with all the equipment they have now. Most of our jobs were with the Trading Standards people. [The contributor clarified that "Trading Standards" refers to Public Health Inspectors as well, throughout. Ed.] The inspectors used to come in when, people, say, had found a mouse … this is the classic one, a mouse was found in a bottle of milk. We actually had to check that it was a mouse – obviously they were brought for prosecution. Because the public analyst himself, Doctor S.G.his name, was an expert witness and he used to have to go to court cases when this came up. But they were very rare. The main run-of-the-mill work, I suppose, was Trading Standards used to go to dairies, get varying samples of milk from all the bottling departments, get them properly labelled, send them to the public analyst and we had to check to see that it was milk and that it had the required amount of fat. Because all milk has to have a particular fat … if it is full milk, I can't think exactly, but it think it has to be five percent, and if it was wrong then obviously the dairies were selling the wrong type of milk. So that was one thing we had on a regular basis.
Another one was drinking water. Not only in Cambridge, but because public analysts were few and far between (I think they still are) what we used to do was: various different councils used to send in samples of water which we had to check to see if it was fit for drinking. So it was all to do with council operators, Trading Standards – it was the early days of Trading Standards – that was the run-of-the-mill stuff of a public analyst's laboratory. But the bit which … it took a long while to get used to this, because you will remember I was only 15 when I started. A university city like Cambridge had a very big population of undergrads, about 12 to 16 thousand and unfortunately one of the popular ways, and it used to be very common, was suicides. Bearing in mind I was quite young. And what used to happen, we didn't get the bodies, because that was post-mortem work. If they were suspected … the reason they went to the public analyst was because they suspected poisoning. The coroner's officer, who was appointed by the coroner, was always a sergeant in the police force; that was the coroner's officer. He came with all his samples in jars all correctly labelled and sterilised and that, they came from the post mortem and in jars: there was liver, kidney, stomach contents (very important because if they took the poisons, tablets whatever, it would be in the stomach contents) and the brain. What we had to do then was – we had a special area. And in those days, I am going back to 1960-61, we could smoke. Because … there was no reason why we couldn't. We did wear masks, because it wasn't very pleasant work.
I'll just finish this about the post mortem work we did. You've got to bear in mind that it wasn't done with chromatography, which is done very scientifically these days, it was done with the old fashioned way. We used to have scalpels; you had to slice up all the kidneys, liver, separate ones. And then we had to do a process, called the Stas-Otto process, which involved lots of dishes, big porcelain dishes, you had to add various chemicals and then boil them up – so the smells weren't particularly pleasant, hence we could smoke. Not that I did, because I was only 15! But we could tell, because I did it for some years, I could tell if somebody, despite the state of their liver, even their stomach (because we got their stomach walls as well as the contents) if that person was a smoker, or drank a lot. Because when we tried to cut the liver it was very tough.
Anyway that was just part of the job. I got to enjoy that part of it, because it was very interesting, you never knew with what poison the person, male or female, had committed suicide. It was mainly barbiturate poisoning, sleeping tablets, but we had one very rare occurrence and it could have been quite serious. We suspected that it was cyanide poisoning. Because cyanide – potassium cyanide – is a very quick-acting poison and it's got a smell of almonds. The coroner's office warned that they suspected potassium cyanide, so we had to be careful. Anyway we were told this by the doctor to be very careful how we treated it. It ended up: one of the acids you had to add to dissolve the stomach contents is hydrochloric acid. Well, we were out in the open, quite a ventilated place, we had a special cupboard which went outside, which was out in the open. One of the youngsters – younger than me, because a couple of years had gone by – he started working with hydrochloric acid. You had to add just a small amount of hydrochloric acid and we then had to really run away, because when you add hydrochloric acid to potassium cyanide you get a gas called hydrocyanide gas. And that is the gas they used in gas-chambers. So that's just what we did. Then after we'd got all the details and we knew what poison it was, it wasn't up to me but the doctor then, because he was the expert witness, he had to go to the inquest and say he died, or she died, of this poison. So that was always a very interesting part and unfortunately it was quite a big part of the job.
The other job which I wasn't involved in, although I did help out … I don't know if you know the drug situation? A lot of the drugs were made up by chemists. There again all the different councils got samples from the pharmacists and we had to check to see that it was the correct amount that they were actually putting what it said on the prescriptions. But I wasn't in on that section.
So that's my first job, which I did for eight years.
Fascinating how somebody of 15 starts in such a demanding sort of job.
When I left school at 15 in 1960, you have to bear in mind there was no formal qualifications at the school I was at. They didn't come in, the old GCEs until about '62 at our school. So all I was armed with was my last school report. I don't know if they get that now, but we got what they call a testimonial, and this testimonial gave you a whole four years of the sort of things I did. And one very important part, to help you get a job, not necessarily the formal qualifications … Because if you showed an interest … and I was always very good at science, I used to get top in the exams. I did like science. The most important part as regards your future employer was what sort of attendance (you had). I also had on the testimonial what sort of attendance I had had over the years and I was always excellent. That was all I was armed with. I went for my interview and I was lucky enough and got the job. So that's how I got into that first job, basically because I enjoyed scientific work. At my time I was there, eight years, I didn't need formal qualifications because the employers were more interested in … not formal qualifications ( obviously you could do basic maths and English) but that you showed a real interest in a job and you were prepared to learn on the job. So you got the practical experience and as you were doing the practical experience – it worked for me – the theory clicked into place. I think in this day and age, they want to do that, get the practice, don't worry about the theory and it will come.
It is like nursing and that sort of thing. You don't really get your practical experience these days. I bet everybody asks this. Did you have to actually deal with cadavers, or were all the parts already taken by the time you got to them?
All you saw were in jars.
So you could sort of separate off. You were eight years at the public analyst's?
Yes, eight years in the job. I won't give you the details, but family circumstances changed and I then had to get another job. The public analyst's team were moving to London and I didn't want to go, I think that was what it was. So I then looked around for something else. What sprang up when I was looking in the paper was, they wanted a laboratory technician in the local paper mill. I thought, laboratory work, eight years in a white coat; I could do a few more years in another white coat! I applied and I got the job as a paper technologist in the local paper mill at Sawston, which is a few miles from Cambridge. You've probably heard of Spicer's products, Spicer's plus-fabric and Spicer's paper. We were at Edward Towgood and Son's paper mill. It was what they call a two-paper mill. You had two paper mill machines. One machine supplied the paper for the other factory down the way which turned the paper into notepads, envelopes. That was Spicer's and it is still there to this day. But Edward Towgood's is gone, that was taken over by Reeds International. What I did there, it was completely different to my eight years in the public analyst's laboratory, because it was shift work. As you know, the paper industry is a very – not a long drawn process – but it has to be a twenty-four-hour process because it takes such a lot of power to start all the machines up, so they run it twenty four hours.
So I got into paper technology. And the reason you have a laboratory and a paper technology team, because each roll of paper they were making, they took a sample in the beginning of the roll, and I had to check with a number of set tasks that they were making the correct paper. You had the correct bursting strength; that it was strong enough when it was going to be used. Also you weren't making blotting paper! So it was a series of tests I used to do on each paper. They didn't like the laboratory section, because years ago the old boys that made paper, they could tell by feel and touch. But the customers who gave us the orders for the paper required to have specifications, so we had to meet those specifications and if they weren't making paper right we had to go out and tell them to stop production, which they didn't like! You know I told you earlier about blotting paper … to make paper so you can write on it it has to go through what we call size, a size bath and that puts a coating on the paper and it goes onto big roller drums to dry it all off. Then it becomes proper writing paper. So it was a very important test, often they missed the size bath, or it was the wrong strength and I would say, sorry you have to stop. So I liked that aspect of the job, I was then … '68, I started at 15, so I was 23, and I had the power to shut the mill down!
Very interesting. It was a paper mill – quite rare, what they call a fine paper mill. We used to make 100 percent rag paper. Obviously what it says, it is made with old rags. Any old rags that come in are bleached, and all cut up and they go into huge great beaters and the man's job – his name is a beater man – and he is the one that got all the pulp together. It was very expensive paper because it was paper that went to fine documents, solicitors, degree papers; it had to last a long long time. You see, newsprint, which we didn't make, you have to have a huge machine to do the amount of paper they want. This 100 percent rag probably took eight hours to make one roll, because you had to go so slow. But this paper doesn't go yellow and it lasts hundreds and hundreds of years, because it is 100 percent rag. So we did that and that was very important that everything was right on that, because it was going, as I say, to the University of Cambridge, where I lived, to print all their degrees on, on this proper vellum.
So that was a very important part of the job. But the other part, which is a very important part in a laboratory, the other machine, the smaller machine … You've heard of Formica, everybody had Formica, didn't they, Formica worktops. The base is paper. Now companies like Formica … and there's another big company called Sanderson's. They used to do wallpaper, but they also did what I called "Formica" … "Formica" covered the whole range of impregnated paper. What it was, it was like a blotting paper, ‘cos it didn't have to be a writing paper, but it was whatever colour they wanted and what we had to do in the laboratory, when they'd got the colour right, coming through, for each roll we had to make up what they call a laminate and that was this sheet of the colour … we had a standard colour, the master sheet, and that was the colour they were making. There again, if they were making it wrong, I said, "Hold up production, because you're making the wrong colour." And they had to adjust the colour to get it right. How Formica's formed, you get the paper, it's then impregnated in a resin, then you've got, one, two, three, four different very fine card -type of things also impregnated with resin, and you'd got a transparent film which went over the top. And it was all done, obviously on a small scale, for the sample, by heat and pressure. We used to heat the thing up (obviously in the manufacturing process it wasn't done like we did it) and then at a certain time they all get pressed together, and the transparent on the top gave it a lovely shiny finish. That was what the other machine made all the time. They made the decorative paper for the laminating for the Formica industry and the other machine was for the fine paper.
That's it, what I used to do there. There was a shift system.
Was it a large factory?
It was quite a small factory, a two-machine factory, not more than 200 people. One aspect that I forgot to tell you, we were responsible for the effluent, obviously all the water that is used to make the paper, it had all the chemicals in it. We had to do a test that it was right before it went into the local rivers or the sewers. Sometimes they got it wrong. What I should have said to start with, all paper mills have got to have access to water. We had our own borehole, but of course years ago it was used by a waterwheel. So we had water all the way round the mill. Because it takes something like – now was it six tons of water to make a ton of paper. Something like that. They had a huge effluent plant. But once or twice in the local papers they used to say, "Edward Towgood and Sons turn the river … whatever colour." They used to get a big fine, because if something had happened to the effluent it wasn't working properly. That's another aspect we did, the effluent. Of course years ago they didn't worry. But that was a very important part of the job. So the chemical side and the technological side, the laboratory was very very important because without us doing our job properly we would have no manufacturing. And of course it is still like that today.
That was five years I was there and the only reason I left because, as I mentioned earlier, Reeds International – which is still a big concern, well they have probably been taken over by somebody else – in their wisdom decided we weren't productive enough for them. So they shut the mill down and I was made redundant. That was 1973. So the only reason I left there was because the job no longer existed. The Spicer's side is still going to this day.
But I didn't get worried. I wasn't married at the time. Jobs even then …
Delivering pharmaceuticals in the Fens
I'd done 13 years laboratory work and there were jobs about. It was getting to the stage where I'd got experience but I hadn't got formal qualifications. They started wanting more formal qualifications. I said no. I went to this firm called McCarthy's Pharmaceuticals which used to operate out of Romford, but they had a warehouse and a distribution centre in Cambridge. What they did, McCarthy's pharmaceuticals made tablets, ingredients and all sorts of chemicals … although it was a different set-up where I was in the distribution warehouse. Because of my experience with chemicals and everything I was still doing chemicals. I was in the warehouse section. Started there as a driver. Yes a complete change. What we used to do, when I started driving, we used to go to a few chemists but the rounds I was dealing with was hospitals and doctors' pharmacies. Because they were so isolated, I was in the Fens, very isolated communities – those that had got a pharmacy attached to them. So I used to have to take the chemicals … all the big hospitals also had to have all the drugs and various chemicals that they needed to operate. So quite a job where we always had … that was what I liked about the job, because it was always brand new equipment. None of the vehicles we drove, or that I drove anyway, was more than a year old. Because what we were carrying were dangerous drugs, lots of them were, and we had to have the best equipment we could get.
Whatever the weather we had to try and get through. Because even now hospitals don't keep a big supply of the opium, heroin based type of medicines. If you like, we were their shelves. So we had to go out – and it was very important. I had a locked cabinet. Instant dismissal if you were picked up … if somebody wanted a lift, it was a no-no because of what you were carrying. And you didn't know who that person was. One chap was caught out because he picked up an inspector. All over the routes an inspector used to be out trying to catch people out. Because it was dangerous. If people knew what we were carrying, you could get kidnapped, I suppose … It was also a very important job. The chap used to say, we've got some very important drugs here, for one or two of the chemists and doctors' surgeries, and they only ordered enough. They were what we called "Joseph and Mary cocktails"; now Joseph and Mary cocktails, as you expect, are the last drugs you give somebody in terminal illness, normally cancer. This is '73 to '78. It was sad, then, because the manager would say "You haven't got to take these drugs out today, because sadly the person's died." That was very important and they had to be locked away carefully and signed for and we weren't allowed to… It was very high security even in those days, because of what we were carrying.
I did that job five years. I was driving to start with, but because I was a go-ahead sort of chap, if there was a job come up, I did a lot of internal interviewing. I had some internal interviews and I used to try and get myself up. So I ended up being assistant manager of the warehouse. There wasn't that many people. But I was kept inside then, it was good, I enjoyed that. I did that for five years, so we're up to '78.
The reason I packed up that job in '78, I'd got married three years previously and in '78 our first child came along; it was a daughter. Bearing in mind I had gone back on the road because we were so short-staffed. I was back on the road and I didn't like it. Anyway, I used to start very early in the morning, a long day, you were out on your own, which I liked. Our daughter was not very old and she was playing up, which lots of children do, and I was having very bad nights. There again it happened all these years ago, I used to get in from work at half past five and at six o'clock, my wife used to rub her hands and say "Right, she's yours!" (Laughs) She used to do the twilight shift at Sainsbury's. That was the only way we could manage. She didn't get in till midnight, I had the baby to put to bed. I couldn't settle until she got in, I was up at six to get to work. And once or twice because I'd had some bad nights with our daughter, being kept up, I used to fall asleep. One of the serious things, I'd actually got the big lorry, because I could drive up to HGV, and I'd got the big lorry out and I was going down this country lane… I suddenly woke up and I was going down the lane like that (zigzagging)… oh God. And it frightened me so much, I said to the wife next day, "I've got to get off the road. Unless they can get me inside …" They couldn't guarantee I could have an inside job again. Shame isn't it, short-staffed. Couldn't get the staff. Not like now. So that was why I packed up then in '78.
Cambridge University Press
As it turned out, I've had a complete different tack. In Christmas 1978 I started at the CUP, which is short for Cambridge University Press. The reason I got the job in there quite easily – there again it was a distribution set-up which I'd just done, with the pharmaceutical place. Cambridge University Press at that time had several operations. The main one was in Cambridge, the printing and the publishing, but the distribution side of it was in Euston, London. They were in the process of getting everything under one roof, so what they applied for, they wanted about 30 staff, obviously in the Cambridge area. Some moved from London. So I went for the job, and got it. So I started something completely different – books. You know, I can remember coming back after a day and I said to my wife, "Well, I shan't stay there for long, I don't like it". then for the next 20 years, I was there. The jolly tale was to start with, you start on the ground floor. It was like a giant library. There were thousands of books on the shelves and our job was to get the orders and to pick them out, check them and then pass them on to packers, who packed them and then they were sent through the distribution side of it and sent off all over the world. You've got to bear in mind you're talking about millions of books here. An anomaly – it's very unusual but there's two printing houses in this country, one is CUP and the other was OUP. Now they're the only two printing and publishing companies in this country that are charities. It is very unusual. They are charities. They say, we don't pay tax. We have to make money to pay the staff, but they were actually charities, because the government said Oxford and Cambridge are set-ups which are educating the whole of the world – that was the only type of books we did – so they are classed as charities. So any money we made after paying the staff was ploughed back into the business and it is still like that to this day. When you tell people this, this is a charity, they say "I don't believe that!"
I hadn't realised that.
Just going off tack slightly, Cambridge University Press is the oldest printing and publishing company in the world. Even older than Oxford. Don't know the exact date, but in 1984 a memo came around and said, "We are now going to give you a pound for every year we have had the patent." I said, "Well, how long's that ago, then?" And it turns out it is 1584.
1584 … which was one of the Henrys. We had something to do with the printing side 50 years before that. So if you take off 50 years from 1584, you've got Henry VII, Henry VIII? The early 1500s anyway. It is the oldest publishing/printing house in the world. So that's just aside, telling you a bit about the history of it. We've still got one of the oldest bookshops in the whole world and that was started up at Trinity. It was 1 Trinity Street, University Bookshop, and it is still operating today.
But my job to start with was looking the books out. And I did that for a couple of years. I said, "I'm enjoying it now." It was a very good job with a very good pension.
Yeah, it was a very good job to do. And when I got a couple of years down there, as I said earlier, if there was another job coming up and I fancied doing it I used to apply for it and I usually got it. I know it sounds funny but sometimes I'd go for internal interviews with people I know and I'm actually doing the job I am going for because they're short staffed in that section and they can see I am pretty used to what I've done. I always kept my nose clean and I was always on time! I was always told to never be late, my Dad said, "Never be late." And I used to go for internal interviews, do the job I'd gone for, and they used to sit there, three of them, and laugh. "Well, Martin, what could you offer the job? Do you think you could do the job?" I said, "Well, I've been doing it for the last six months, what do you think? I can't think of anything else to say." They said, "Well, we have to go through these interviews unfortunately." And that was the end of the interview. I think we had a cup of tea! Because they actually took me away from the job I was doing to see if I could do the job.
So I ended up in that particular job. I went into what was called the "returns" section. Now, in most places having a returns section means you buy a book, on anything, and you have the right to send it back. But because we were a charity, doesn't matter if there is nothing wrong with that book or anything, anybody – schools, ‘cos schools used to send loads back – they got all the money back. I was there as a returns clerk – I ended up the supervisor – but what I used to do, we used to have to try and what they call refurbish the books. So what used to happen – a lot of them used to come with torn dust-jackets; that was easy. There were rack after rack of replacement jackets and we would put on a new jacket. But sometimes paperbacks … you couldn't always save a paperback so it was dropped out. They used to go to second hand bookshops, of which there were loads in Cambridge, for a nominal fee. But hardback books were a different matter. If they'd got slightly – a corner just a little bit over, or something, we had a whole series of rubber hammers, different strengths of rubber, some soft and some harder, and we then had to … you could bang with the different rubbers and you would get it looking perfect. You would put the new dust jacket on and it would go back on the shelves to be sold again. So that was a nice job which I did for two years.
And then the deputy supervisor of the despatch department came up. I actually wasn't doing that job at the time. I went for another interview; it was more money each time. Anyway, I got into the despatch side; that was very interesting, I did enjoy that. Basically the trouble with despatch was, not the smaller stuff, not what I call the home orders, but the export orders where some went by air, the ones that were really important and the customers wanted them quickly. It was very expensive, but you sent books by air. They were very heavy. Most of them went by ship. And part of the job was, you had to liaise with the shipping department do get the right type of lorries in to how many books you'd got. It sounds easy, but it wasn't; because, say you'd ordered a lorry for 20 tons of books, ‘cos that was the biggest lorry that used to come in. And they used to say, you've got to have this, it's urgent. And it would turn out it was 22 tons. And so you had to phone up and get another lorry in. It was a flipping nightmare job, which I did for about five years before I retired.
That was quite an important job, because towards the end before I retired all the Customs people came down. Because, I don't know if you know, but the Customs when they are going abroad, they've got the right to stop the big containers – they used to go from Felixstowe to our big place in America, Dorchester, which was near New York. But until all the Customs had come and checked us all out to see that we were 100% secure … any container full of books, the Customs could come and say, "We'll have that one." And then they can open it all out and it is held up for months. So we decided to become a 100 percent secure operation. Her Majesty's Customs and Excise coming down, checking us all out. I was then the supervisor, so my signature was cleared by the Customs and I had to fill a form in. When the container lorries came in, before they could be loaded, Customs sent one of their men to check that that was books going in and nothing else. Then it was handed over to me and I had to seal the lorry up and that seal, because I'd signed for it, that seal they could see it was all done and secure, it would go straight through Customs like that. So that was an important part of the job. And that was how I ended up being the supervisor of the shipping department. And then what happened out of the blue (coming to the end of my employment now), out of the blue a memo came round (we are talking about 1999) like a lot of places things were … Publishing is still done at the Press, and it still is done today. The printing side, because it was cheaper to print books in Japan, China, India; ship them back to us to go back to those countries – they wanted to get rid of a lot of people because a lot of the printing was going to be done in different places, as I've just said. They wanted to get people made redundant and – they were very nice about it – I happened to be 55 at the time, I thought, "What shall I do, shall I go?" My wife said, "Yeah, go for it." So there were 20 of us put out, because we were 55 at the time and I left work at 55 with a very good pension. There again, I feel so sorry for people now.
I got a full company pension and they even paid me extra because I was 55. Ten years off my state pension. They have a special fund, whatever the single state pension was for a man, I got weekly, paid monthly. I got my state pension paid into a special fund until I was 65, plus my company pension. But … there's always a "but". I hadn't been retired … I was just in the process of looking, "Can I get volunteer jobs?" Phone rings, it's the Press on the line. "What do they want?" "Oh", he said, (this was one of the directors), "We've cocked up." "We shouldn't have got rid of all your expertise. Is it possible, can you come back?" I said, "Well, how long are we talking about?" "Well, two to three days a week." So I had a word with my wife. "Well, you haven't got yourself another little part-time job!" Which I was looking at, because I was only 55. So I said, "Let's give it a whirl." So I went back to the Press and was there for another three years. The work did dry up a bit then because most of the printing side had gone and the machines had gone abroad, to India mainly. So I actually retired in 1999, went back for three days a week for another three years, so I was actually 58 when I finally retired.
What I liked about my jobs, I worked from 15 until I was 55, they were all varied jobs. And I know I am harping on it too much, but when you tell the youngsters today – whether they've got degrees, or good qualifications, or something, they can't get jobs, and I feel so sorry. When I tell them I left one job on a Friday and started on a Monday with no problems whatsoever, without any qualifications, they just say, "you are lucky!" You can't do it now.
That's my working life.
Social work, volunteer driving and the Poppy Line
This is after my full time work. I did unpaid social work in Cambridge. It wasn't official, but what I used to do, I used to work with ladies whose husbands had sadly passed on. I was the treasurer of the sports and social club and the pensioners' club. One of the ladies said, "You've only just retired, you can't give us a hand with the garden or the shopping, can you?" So I got into social work without being qualified, if you like. But I'm a pretty affable chap, I can talk to people, as you probably can see, and I made some really good friends of the wives. Even the wife used to come round with me and I used to take them shopping, garden centres, but my main job, which I am good at, I used to talk to them about old times and that. They were older than me but I used to go to one old lady, twice a week I used to go about 2 o'clock and I was there until about 5. Just talking to her about various things; and I still see her if I go to Cambridge. She is 92 now, she's a lovely lady. She said, "I do miss you, I do miss our talks."
I did that from, I suppose when I was 58, from 2002 when I packed up work, until I moved up to North Walsham from Cambridge in 2007.
These were people that you just happened to know? Did it have anything to do with the CUP, did you have a pensioner's association and things like that?
Yes, I was treasurer of the sports and social club and also treasurer of the pension club. Pension club, what we used to do, we used to meet once a month and being the treasurer I was in charge of the money. Which obviously I'm not now, the wife's got mine (laughs). I used to organise trips. To be a proper club we had to have a secretary and a chairlady – it was usually a chairlady because they were mainly women. I ended up doing all three! Because they were quite old. That was how I knew the ladies, I did work with their husbands. It was nothing like "cold calling", I knew the ladies, the ones that had problems. So that was what I did.
Then I moved up to North Walsham. We had bought a caravan. The reason we moved to North Walsham, when I retired I had always wanted to go to the caravan site. So I bought a caravan at North Walsham caravan park. We were there from 2003 to 2007. My daughter had got her place, so she wasn't living with us, but my son was living with us in Cambridge. He was struggling to rent a property or to buy a property. He said, "You are going to move to North Walsham near the coast, aren't you?" I said "Yes, but we weren't going to go until (your mother) was 60." "Oh, alright," he said. I said, "Wait a minute, I'll have a word with your mum", and after a short time we said, "Yes", and put it on the market. And sold it. We sold the house easily in 2007 before the markets went stupid, and bought a bungalow. My daughter was ill and had to come and stay with us; my son's now got a property. And we love it down here. When we came in May 2007, the first thing both of us said, because we'd always had a job and had always had a social life and I used to help out. I said, the first thing we are going to do after we are sorted out is start joining things. So the first thing we joined was, and this is about three years old now, was the Voyager Club run every Monday and Wednesday. In 2008, we'd been there a year, it got a lottery fund of a quarter of a million, which we are still going through. So the wife and I work every Wednesday on that.
Before I actually got into Voyager, I actually went into the Voyager, just as a customer if you like, and this man was sitting up the corner and he said, "Cor, you look as if you can drive." I said, "I've driven most things. Big and small." He said, "You wouldn't like to be a driver would you, on the ‘Dial a ride'? Or be trained as a volunteer." So I said, "I'll give it a whirl." So I did and got on fine. This chap said. "Coo, you can handle this alright." "Yeah", I said, "I've not driven one of these sort of things before." And after I got back, he said, "You've driven things like this before." I said, "Yes, I have driven these things, I've driven up to 12 tons." So he said, "Ok, you've got the job. But you'll have to go out with the Norfolk County Council to see if you can handle a bus alright. So I did all that. But what my main job was not "Dial a Ride", but the local multiple sclerosis club, which is called LAMBS – it did operate at Sheringham at the time, but it operates at Southrepps now. This was 2007. So for two years I ferried ladies – apart from one man from North Walsham they were mainly ladies – picked them up from home in the bus. We had got a lift. But I had to go away to be trained to do the wheelchairs because they all have to be strapped in. So I ended up for two years transferring ladies from various places – we used to have three buses to go different areas. And they used to have to take them to Southrepps and then take them home. Quite a stressful job because some of the ladies can't come out of wheelchairs. And I had to have an escort, probably the wrong word, but my wife came on board as an escort because I couldn't do it. So I did that for two years. I don't know if you know about volunteer jobs!
I enjoy volunteering but after two years I said to H. one morning, it used to be every Monday. It was only one day a week. I said to H., I'm not enjoying this. It's quite stressful." And the main reason I wasn't enjoying it, they were short of volunteers at the time, they were short of drivers. They said it would be only every other week. It got to every week. And the phone used to go Sunday night and they used to say, "Can you pick up an extra wheelchair? " And it was always my run, with these wheelchairs. Well, we've only got two sets of straps so you are talking about … I picked up two from Cromer, two from here… and I can only do two at a time. Ferrying them backwards and forwards. I was leaving at half past seven, picking up the minibus. Didn't pick up the first lady until about nine, but by the time I had taken the seats out of the minibus and done everything I wouldn't get home till seven. So I thought, no, I'm very sorry, but I'll have to give that up. I had a very nice letter from the LAMBS club saying, thank you for all your help and that.
But I didn't give up driving, so what I do now, I'm the only man who is attached to the Voyager club as a volunteer, setting the tables and chairs up. But I also said to L., who runs it, the coordinator, if you want anybody to drive the minibus I don't mind doing it. So it turns out, whenever they want a minibus driver … and it's not too bad, it's once a month, starting actually March up until October. And we go to places, there's usually only about 15 want to go, that's the minibus full, and we tend to go to places they can't get to by bus. So we've been to Gressenhall … and they want to go to Lowestoft. I can take them to Lowestoft direct. If you want to get to Lowestoft it is two buses or a train and a bus and the older ladies don't want to do that. So that's what I do on a Wednesday, that's one of our volunteer jobs.
But my favourite volunteer job is, I work on the Poppy Line. I do any sort of jobs. Mainly I'm a steward at the William Marriott museum. I can talk non-stop about railways. If anyone comes into my museum, if they show any interest, don't expect to get out! ‘Cos they won't. And I've proved it. Lady said last year, "We've just missed the train, we've got another hour." I said, "You come in here with me …" an hour later, "We've got to go now, because there's a train just coming, and we'd like to get a cup of coffee before we get on." "Are you sure …?" I followed them down to the end of the path and they said, "Thank you very much, you've been very interesting." But my tales are not all about trains. I can talk about all sorts of things.
So that is basically my volunteer jobs. That takes up Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. I think that's it now. But I have been offered if I want to, "If ever you get fed up with the railway we'd like you to be in the shop at Sheringham" … because I'm a member of the Lifeboat institution as well …