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Erk in Trouble

The Cartwright Saga series #2


Robert Rycroft

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2004 Robert Rycroft

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Douglas Barraclough Esq.


Ronald Cartwright, maligned ex-RAF erk, lands himself in a fateful new TV service job, which rapidly turns sour. Friends and family do all in their power to dissuade him, to no avail. The owner of Calderdale TV & Electrical Ltd, a one time Italian fascist, runs a very dodgy business. His service manager seems bent on ruining the company. Brassard, a jailed RAF policeman languishing in Colchester military prison, puts out the word to have ex-RAF Corporal Ron Cartwright bumped off. Little knowing that Brassard has been spying for the Russians, Ron finds himself entrapped in an MI6 scheme to avert a national defence emergency.

Ron narrowly escapes death, either at the hands of two malicious Calderdale employees, or the atrocious state of the company vehicle. Either way he ends up in hiding, taking on a false identity at the behest of MI6.

Sydney Barraclough, horse racing bookie extraordinare, shelters Ron, who becomes entangled in some of his extremely risky business ventures. Unbelievably most are spectacularly profitable.

Ron still pines for Avril Bradshaw, teenage daughter of Major Herbert Bradshaw of Riddley Hall near Bradford. The incorrigible Syd, worms his way into her affections, so it seems, with the gift of a Tiger Moth. Ron is fuming. His romantic illusions could be his undoing, if he won’t listen to common sense. The Bradshaws hope to steer him in the right direction, if he will listen. The Cartwright Saga resumes from where The Yorkshire Erk left off.


Carr Manor, Riddley Hall and Smeaton’s Farm exist entirely in the author’s imagination. They bear no resemblance to past or present properties.


Elizabeth Cartwright never intended to aggressively strike the security guard with her walking stick, but she did, screamed for help, stumbled, and then sprawled full length still clutching a worn leather brief case. Very few, if any, airline passengers made such a spectacular entry through the security screen of Brisbane’s International airport. So taken by surprise, the newly trained nervous female guard on the X-ray scanner panicked, slammed her foot on the terrorist alarm footpad by mistake, bringing the entire system onto red alert. The well rehearsed action was swiftly executed. The previous year, 2013, had seen a couple of nuisance false telephone bomb alerts, but nothing apparently like a suicide bomb attack.

Sobbing, still yelling for assistance, Elizabeth seemed oblivious to the ring of police in grotesque body armour rapidly closing in, automatic machine pistols aimed deliberately at her head, who were screaming for her to divest herself of the shabby open brief case. Fortunately for her, at that very moment she passed out, slumped forward, spilling the contents of her precious charge a metre or so from her outstretched hands. A well thumbed grubby A4 manuscript spilled out.

The leading sergeant undoubtedly saved her life. Yelling to the squad to lower their weapons, he put his twenty-seven-year career totally on the line, broke every rule in the anti-terror manual, crawled forward and leafed through the manuscript. Nothing! No bomb, no wires, no detonator! Unbelievable! He turned the worse for wear document over. Erk in Trouble he mused as he shouted for a paramedic. The old lady stirred, groaned and sat up. The sergeant handed her the novel, which she clutched frantically to her bosom. He then to the amazement of all, kissed her lightly on her cheek, whispered something in her ear, and gently assisted her to regain her feet. He would never divulge, even on oath to a court of enquiry, what he said that day, but she calmed down instantly. He held her round the waist, mother-and-son like, her stick in his other hand with his pistol, and guided her to a nearby office, signalling to his men to disperse.

Sirens wailed outside. The loudspeakers reverberated to a cacophony of garbled instructions. The enunciator screens, if anyone was left in the airport to view them, showed exactly 19.05. All flights were delayed indefinitely. The Federal Australian Police Commissioner was horrified. The sergeant not only lost his job but his pension, having to endure months of stupid unnecessary investigation before being unmercifully kicked out of the force. Strangely he had no regrets. In his eyes he had saved one precious life. An old lady not unlike his own mother! Little did he know her purpose or that she would pass away just weeks later - mission accomplished.


The Airbus A380D finally roared off the runway at 00.12 hours, over four hours behind schedule. A very senior female flight attendant had been carefully briefed, to look after the pale old lady in the prime suite A1. The inaugural Qantas direct Brisbane non-stop to Robin Hood International, West Yorkshire, was full of irate VIPs. The attendant knew she had a delicate task to perform. The A380D was the first of specially modified non-stop dual-purpose aircraft designed to carry high fare paying one-class passengers and freight. The route had been specifically negotiated to overfly North Africa. A special airport and cheap refuelling facility utilised the vast sub-Saharan oil production. Under a Pan-African-E.U. agreement, oil-for-arms deal, the North African country enjoyed a tariff-free international trade zone.

None of this would have impacted on the lady in A1 sipping a medicinal brandy. The attendant had been warned to ensure that her visual/aural equipment could not pick up critical news broadcasts. Had she been so able, she just might have discovered the horrifying truth. The airline did not want a death on its hands. One frail passenger was enough let alone a load of grumpy demanding jumped up civil servants.


Meanwhile, at precisely 10.05 on a glorious 21st June morning, Sir Sydney Barraclough sipped his second mug of coffee, and nervously squinted at the satellite communication readout, on his phone screen. For the umpteenth time he calculated his time of departure for Robin Hood International via the old Doncaster road. An hour should be ample, although Samantha, his spinster, housekeeper daughter, claimed she could do it in half the time via the motorways. She usually got her way, just like his late wife. He stroked the Persian cat on his lap, glanced up at the TV screen to note that the equinox evening forecast was warm and fine, but just missed a news flash; Suicide bomber wreaks panic at Australian airports. He switched off the TV and carried Bertie, the cat, down to the hangar.

The fully restored Tiger Moth was Syd’s place of solace. Few were still alive who knew of its existence. The M1 motorway had been built in the 1960s. Coal mining subsidence necessitated ongoing repairs to the runway. Only three miles north of the then small city of Wakeford, south of Leeds, it had once boasted the only private airstrip worthy of the name. The little hamlet of Carr Gate was now unrecognisable, except for the secluded estate that Sir Syd had purchased for a song in 1960.

Syd diligently opened the rusty front and rear hangar doors, then hauled his protesting legs over the rear cockpit combing, deftly depositing Bertie into the front cockpit and prepared to run up the engine, as he had done almost every two months for the last forty odd years. Bertie stretched, yawned and settled down for his imaginary joy flight. A truly remarkable animal! All the others had fled as soon as Syd yelled contact. Of course it had taken some ingenuity to swing the prop. The 78-year-old knight’s arthritic hands could no longer perform such antics. A friend of his school pal Ron Cartwright, had given him the idea to make an electric version of the 1920s Hucks Starter.

The engine coughed, spluttered, coughed again then roared into life. He anxiously watched the sparse gauges. The reek of castor oil permeated the building. The slightest whiff of engine overheating and he would be ready to flick off the magneto switches. The little biplane strained at the chocks. The slipstream whipped the tears from his eyes. Ten minutes, fifteen at the very most, was all he dare run before cutting the aged Gypsy Major engine. Bertie leapt over onto his lap. Sydney enjoyed the comforting warmth of the cat. His daughter would call him over the intercom loudhailer when lunch was ready. Time enough to reiterate to Bertie why Elizabeth had made contact suddenly after all these years! Why had her husband, the late Ron Cartwright, his one time best school chum, been so bitter? The cat looked disinterested. Even a cat had a right to get bored. He yawned and licked some imaginary engine oil off his paws.

Had Ron still harboured anger over Avril? Surely he could forgive him after she had died. The Cartwrights had disappeared without warning decades ago. What a saga! Of course he had tried to trace them. It obviously had something to do with Brassard, the long time dead RAF service policeman, who tried and nearly succeeded in killing Ron. Why now? Why was the maid he had known so very long ago coming to haunt him? It did not make sense. Why the urgency? Why hadn’t they airmailed years ago?

The old man suddenly felt unwell. He slipped an angina pill under his tongue. He wasn’t looking forward to meeting QF1-D from Brisbane at 22.00 hours, so he thought. Bertie padded his way down the fuselage, sprang off the tailplane and headed for the mansion. Syd turned off the petrol and clambered down none too steadily when Sammy announced lunch.


The airline attendant just could not weigh up the old lady. By her clothes, curious Yorkshire and slight Queensland drawl, she surely couldn’t be rich? Yet there she was in the premier cabin costing all of A$38,000 return, clutching a shabby brief case as though her life depended on it and still hadn’t eaten a thing since take off. Most passengers had already eaten, downed a couple of night-caps, showered and were tucked into bed for the long-haul sixteen hour flight. All that is, apart from a handful of stroppy politicians and a belligerent QC. Why was it lawyers could get so paralytic?

Though she dare not breathe a word to Mrs Cartwright, it seemed unbelievable that this dozing serene old lady, had caused one of Australia’s greatest catastrophes. No, that was not fair! It was the ridiculous security system! The special in-flight screen only available to aircrew and some senior attendants, was still churning out graphic details of the after effects of an integrated national alert system. Understood by a minute few, the whole system had obviously gone berserk under automatic supercomputer control. All flights in and out of Brisbane cancelled, two long-range jets wrongly diverted! One to Sydney, one to Melbourne! The latter had to force land, out of fuel, at an RAAF base.

Those in the know had long predicted such an event, the result of an outdated refuelling policy. Mercifully, the pilot on his very last flight before compulsory retirement at 60, had accomplished the impossible. A wheels down, flaps down, out of fuel, glide crash landing from 18,000 feet. Unheard of! Only two passengers were killed, when they panicked and removed their seat belts, plus a score of injured. The cost of scrambling two flights of aged F18 Hornets would not go well with the RAAF top brass, who bemoaned the ludicrously small fuel operating budgets.

Just forty minutes before landing, the captain of QF1-D received a priority communication marked very urgent and confidential. In short, under no circumstances was the occupant of Suite A1 to disembark in the normal way. She was to be escorted to the tarmac, where plain clothes airport police officers in an unmarked police car, would drive her to special room sixteen in the administration building. Her small case would be offloaded ahead of all other passengers.


Sammy glided to a halt. Never at her best at 02.15 hours, she did not appreciate being flagged down by uniformed police, on the airport approach road at Robin Hood. It couldn’t be her driving which was always impeccable. The Rolls was only two years old. Sure, she had given the limousine a couple of discreet bursts of 105 mph on the almost deserted A1 (M), but so what. At least she had won a £50 for getting there in forty minutes. Her father rarely lost a bet. The ex-chairman of the Horse Racing & Betting Board made his fortune by an uncanny knack of winning. He seemed unusually apprehensive.

Sir Sydney objected testily to being ordered to follow their police car. Summat was up as they say in Yorkshire! Sammy turned the hazard lights on in protest but duly obeyed.

The enunciator screen in room sixteen, already flagged QF1-D as landed, when the Barracloughs were shepherded in. A few minutes later, two plain-clothes men, one carrying a battered old case, the other steadying an old lady clutching a battered briefcase, made their entrance. Sydney rose unsteadily, wobbled forward and cried out a Christian name, which was blotted out by the public address system. The announcement in very apologetic tones for delays concerned the inaugural flight presentations, preceded by the famous Black Dyke Mills Band, playing a number especially written for the occasion. Would visitors now proceed to the concourse for an address by Her Worship, the Lord Mayor of Sheffield? Refreshments would be served…it droned on and on. At 02.35 hours who cared?

The police inspector consulted a computer print out. When Elizabeth had stopped sobbing he got them seated and proceeded to explain why the unusual arrival. He had been ordered to make sure the trio were not contacted by, or contact the media. The Australian Federal Government had rapidly gone into cover-up mode. As far as they were concerned, a Mrs Elizabeth D Cartwright had never travelled on QF1-D. Her UK destination had to be a secret kept at all costs. There was no way the Prime Minister of Australia, now campaigning for a second term in office, would admit that one old stick-wielding lady had just cost the taxpayer some A$210 million, let alone one written off a Qantas 747, plus sundry F18s damaged in a hangar. No, the coalition parties would dream up something. They had no option. For once the media would be muzzled.

Elizabeth had already been primed on the plane to merely mention a delay at Brisbane.

She had already forgotten the incident. The manuscript in her briefcase was much, much, more important. Sir Sydney protested. It was just too melodramatic. Leave his Rolls Royce under cover at the airport? A week for heavens sake! They were to be spirited away home in a plain white delivery van. Sammy thought it a super adventure. Just the sort of caper her mother would have enjoyed. The police would shadow their every move for the next week then Elizabeth would travel home business class under an assumed name, on a scheduled flight, with the full A$38,000 refunded. She couldn’t understand the fuss. Surely the little incident at Brisbane was nothing. The police sergeant had been so kind. She remembered clearly what he had whispered; “Don’t worry Mum, I’ll look after you.” Surely having a few guns pointed at one was not worth a small fortune. The guns probably were not loaded. On that score she was so terribly wrong, as the sergeant knew only too well. Without his intervention, the precious first draft copy of Erk in Trouble, would have been lost forever.


The account of Elizabeth’s week in the West Riding of Yorkshire is sketchy. The media never did get hold of her. She scribbled a few pages that survived, through her daughter Janet in Melbourne. The granddaughter Fiona in Toowoomba, Queensland, inherited them in 2033.

It would appear that Sydney accepted Ron’s heartbreaking apologies, annotated in red pen in the draft manuscript. He insisted on driving Elizabeth in his battered antique Landrover to see what remained of Riddley Hall near Bingley, now in the Bradford Metropolitan area. Nearly all the Bradshaws were buried in Nab Wood Cemetry along with Avril. The graves were allegedly only a stone’s throw from Yorkshire’s most famous Christian healer/evangelist, Smith Wigglesworth. Dickie survived in his parent’s old house, but was very frail. The Council had compulsorily purchased his property for yet more road widening. He refused to budge. As a retired barrister he knew all the delaying tactics. Over my dead body he had asserted. Syd and Elizabeth had unearthed one of the old Riddley Hall gate stones inscribed ‘Jasper.’ The final resting place of schoolgirl Avril’s horse. There were two other mysterious little known Bradshaw brothers. Twins some said.

Less than a fortnight after Elizabeth’s return to her ramshackle wooden cottage at Goodna, Brisbane, Sammy got the not unexpected phone call early on the glorious August morning. Her Dad’s friend had passed away peacefully. She decided not to tell her father immediately. By nine o’ clock she had a picnic ready packed in the Rolls Royce. Syd readily agreed to her suggestion of a mystery tour. He loved the Yorkshire Dales. They motored via Harrogate then picnicked at Bolton Abbey; Ilkley next, over Rombalds Moor to their favourite pub, Dick Hudson’s for a couple of pints. She then drove to a secluded spot overlooking the Aire valley. It was her mother’s favourite secret place. On a clear day one could see Bingley, Nab Wood, the river, the canal and of course where her mother had been born; the scant remains of Riddley Hall. Mercifully the motorway was obscured from their vantagepoint.

Sammy got them settled in two comfortable folding chairs and poured two glasses of fine champagne. The glass trembled in his shaky hand. Their eyes met. The tears were pouring down his cheeks. She held his other hand tenderly. He knew! Nothing had been said, but he knew. When he had composed himself, they drank to the memory of two very special women. Elizabeth D. Cartwright and Avril Barraclough! They called on Dickie Bradshaw. He guessed the purpose of their unexpected visit. Ron and Elisabeth, she was not called that years ago, had been very close. So very close! He declined another visit to Nab Wood Cemetry. Sammy gave her uncle an extra big hug, cut some flowers from his lovely garden for the graves and departed.


The weather remained glorious. Syd had always been an early riser. Two days after the picnic, Sammy arose at her usual nine o’ clock, breakfasted, and made some tea for her father. He was not in his vegetable garden, usually hand-plucking caterpillars off his prize lettuces. Bertie, who usually teased the frogs in the pond, had also gone awol in military jargon. She froze. The hangar doors were open. Dropping the mug in panic she ran the 150 yards down the slope.

At first glance Syd appeared to be thoughtfully contemplating the hangar roof, but he did not move in the rear cockpit when she shrieked his name. Only a mew responded from the front cockpit. Sammy reverently closed her beloved father’s eyelids. She noted the angina pills scattered on the cockpit floor. The fuel cock and the magneto switches were set to on. Mercifully Syd had died before he could press the starter button. She reversed them, then retrieved the manuscript, open at Chapter 1, from her Dad’s knees. Bertie refused to budge. He wouldn’t come back to the mansion until much later, when the doctor, then the undertaker, had removed his master.

Sammy walked ever so slowly back up the overgrown track, phoned the family doctor and collapsed sobbing uncontrollably on her Dad’s bed. All gone! Only Dickie left! How was he going to take another death so soon? What was she to do? The doctor had been so kind. He pulled some strings allowing Syd’s body to be taken directly to the undertaker’s chapel of rest. There were no difficulties with the death certificate.

Later that evening Bertie rubbed against Sammy’s legs. He was back! She put out his food, made herself a sandwich, poured a stiff brandy and opened Erk in Trouble Chapter 1. Like Janet Simpson, nee Cartwright, before her, she wondered if Ron’s amateurish novel was fiction or fact. She desperately hoped it was the latter. Unlike Janet, she sobbed uncontrollably.

Hailstones rattled the windowpanes of the Runswick Inn, startling the inert figure of Ronald Cartwright out of a glorious dream.


Sydney Barraclough was buried in the same grave as Avril at Nab Wood. Only Samantha and Dickie were present. A few old codgers, who still remembered Syd as a bookmaker in the old days, attended the memorial service. Syd had cleaned up corruption at the Racing Board. Few appreciated his efforts other than Her Majesty the Queen. The Bradshaw brothers who ran Bradshaw & Bradshaw Solicitors, had known Syd very well in the early days, but for some reason declined the invitation to the funeral. Perhaps it had something to do with the late Ronald Cartwright?

When Sammy returned to Carr Mansion, she could not find Bertie. On a hunch, she strolled down to the hangar. Sure enough, he was curled up in the front cockpit. He had flown his last imaginary joyflight. She buried him at the side of the hangar. The headstone simply read; Bertie. The Tiger Moth cat. 2014

Chapter 1

Hailstones rattled the windowpanes of the Runswick Inn, startling the inert figure of Ronald Cartwright out of a glorious dream. For some seconds the illusion persisted. Wasn’t he still taxiing the Tiger Moth into its Yeadon Aerodrome hanger? Where was Avril, the girl of his dreams? Hadn’t he, a latter day Biggles, just given her an hours flying lesson, then escorted her to his shiny new MG sports? He attached ‘L’ plates as she swung her shapely legs into the driver’s seat; the cockpit as they both jokingly called it.

She roared away down the perimeter track, almost sliding onto the grass, before Ron could bellow “slow down you impetuous clot”, absolutely to no avail. Avril always would be unmanageable, wild most folks said, but that was what Ron loved about her. He was desperately in love with her. They flashed through the main airfield gate. Riddley Hall was only ten minutes away. Most mortals would take at least double, but then she was no ordinary mortal. They just made it with the hood down before the hail started.

“Come on, what’s wrong with you?” she retorted, as he pleaded with her to wait in the stables until the storm abated. He had been plucking up enough courage to kiss her. Surely this was the ideal moment? Not so! She gathered up her skirt in one hand and bolted. “I’m hungry; don’t know about you,” she flung back at him, reaching the Hall back door at rocket speed. He never made it intact. One foot slipped on the cobblestones. Then next minute he was flat on his back, the hailstones battering his face. “What a prang!” she giggled unsympathetically. “Come on Ron, get up.”


“Come on Ron, get up!”

“What? Is that you Avril? Where am I?”

“Who do you think it is?” cried Beryl Cartwright, who had just returned from buying the grub, for the evening pub regulars. “Can’t you see the time? It’s after half past two! You will lose your job at this rate.”

I was about to say that wild horses wouldn’t drag me back to that dump of a company Calderdale TV & Electrical Ltd. All my hopes of a new career in TV servicing had been brutally dashed, in one single fateful morning. The pleading look in my mother’s eyes was more than I could bear. Dad had said give it a week when I moaned to him at lunchtime. “I suppose you are right,” I replied, easing myself off the sofa in front of the coal fire.

“You ’ad better stop dreaming about yon girl too. Them Bradshaws are a lovely family but you know yourself, she’s a cut above the likes of us. Just because you have spent the last seven years in the RAF doesn’t mean you can keep hob nobbing with the gentry,” she cried with uncharacteristic bluntness.

I bet she has been talking with Dad. “That’s unfair mother! You know that the Bradshaws have…”

“There isn’t time to talk about that now. Now frame yourself! It’s nearly time to close the pub. Be off with you this minute. I don’t know what you are thinking about. You’re not worried about Brassard are you? You were always so confident! What’s happened to you Ron?” She wiped a tear with her pinafore.

“Ok, Ok, I’m going.” I grabbed my toolbox, threw it into the back of my recently repaired Ford 10 cwt van and took off. The hail now turning to sleet is intense. Mercifully the single wiper now worked thanks to my father’s ex-RAF pal, Albert Savage, in Lincolnshire. Without his uncommonly kind free repairs, the van would have killed me by now. Literally three minutes later, I parked at the bottom of the ancient back lane, sloshed up to the shop and dragged myself up to the TV workshop. Workshop! Ha, what a joke! A graveyard of new, second-hand, and decaying TVs! I chucked my toolbox onto what little of the bench is not obscured with discarded parts, fag ends, wires and empty filthy mugs. The one dangling 60-watt globe barely illuminated the dismal surroundings.

Footsteps! “Well I never! Didn’t think you would return. Are you mad?” Without waiting for an answer, he inquired, “kettle’s on, want a pot of char? Oh, Hamish left you some jobs.”

“Thanks Milo. I’ll be along in a minute.” I replied gloomily. He left me to my miseries. It is only my first day at Calderdale TV & Electrical Ltd as a TV engineer. A lifetime! Hamish Whitton, the service director, had only given me one simple mains/battery radio to fix. Not only had I botched the job twice before getting it right, but had blown the workshops upper floor main fuses twice. In the process I had tripped in the coal cellar mending the fuse and nearly ruined my one decent brown double-breasted suit.

Why was I back here anyway? Two hours previously I had fled, determined never to set foot in this wretched place again. Rotten floorboards! Televisions literally stacked floor to ceiling. Cobwebs everywhere. Lethal electrical wiring! No, if I can survive until knock-off time, that’s all I can take. Milo the electrical machinist had the somewhat better workshop down the unlit corridor, past the smelly horrid toilet, that the cleaning lady absolutely refused to clean. In fact Hilda wasn’t allowed upstairs at all after a column of TVs collapsed on her. I trudged down the corridor.

“Ah, there you are lad. Char’s in’t pot.” He indicated an ancient large brown teapot minus part of the spout. “Better swill out a mug.”

“Thanks Milo.” I could not stop shivering.

“You ’ad better come over by the fire. Are you poorly? Well, I never thought for a minute you would be daft enough to come back. As I said this morning, you’re the third TV engineer in a week. One left in three minutes flat. The other went out to get his snap - sandwich for morning break in Yorkshire speak - and never returned. Are you sure you’re alright?” He looked worried.

“I’ll be OK presently thanks.” I tried to get some warmth from the inadequate coal fire. “I’ve been in hospital recently. Stomach not too good I’m afraid.” I dare not tell him it was in a military hospital not long after my fiancé had jilted me.

“Oh I see.” He cut some plug into his pipe, lit it from a taper poked into the fire and puffed away before exclaiming, “What on earth made an RAF guided missile fitter come to a dump like this? Doesn’t make sense! I would have given my right arm for a peacetime technical career. Nay lad, you must be barmy.”

“It’s not as simple as that Milo.” I floundered for some way to tell him, I had been unceremoniously kicked out of the RAF as a suspected communist spy. “There was no prospect of promotion. I couldn’t get back on a bomber squadron so I decided to come out.” A half-truth at best! “Anyway, television is the latest thing isn’t it. There should be good prospects for a new career, especially as more channels are in the offing.”

“Maybe in a good company but not this lot, I’m sorry to say. As I’ve said already, if I didn’t have severe asthma, I’d be off like a shot.” He coughed and spat into the fire. “Mind you, Mr Granelli has been good to me. You haven’t met the boss yet have you?” I shook my head. “Nasty bit of work. Watch your step!”

We heard Hamish’s Zephyr come screeching down the side lane. Within seconds a blast of cold air heralded his arrival at the side door. “Come here Ron, quick, there’s some sets to unload,” he bellowed. I glanced at Milo. He just shrugged and got on with his machining of TV aerials. I tore down the worn wooden back stairs just as Hamish bulldozed his way up, bear-hugging an enormous console, with mains lead flailing like a demented cobra. “Blooody snow! There’s two more sets in the back of the car. Bring them up sharpish then park my car before that silly blooody landlord next door starts moaning again.”

With that he ground his way upstairs ricocheting off the walls. At some point the 15-amp plug snagged in the banister tearing off the mains lead, which nearly bounced off my head. “Fetch that lead up with you. I’ll need the plug,” he laughed.

He had disappeared after I struggled up with two monster sets, both built with solid oak fit for Nelson’s fleet. I couldn’t find one inch of spare space so parked them in the passage.

Returning to the car, I was confronted by the irate landlord of the Elephant & Castle. “Shift that…” His language was unrepeatable, on a par with the lowest navvy. “How many times do I have to tell thee electricians? We have a brewery delivery on a Monday afternoon? Get on with thee or you’ll get a taste of these.” He held up a pair of ham sized fists to prove the point. There was a clop clopping of hooves as a pair of dray horses, pulling a brewery wagon, hove round the corner. “There, what did I tell thee? Be off!” With the massive drays slithering and sliding on the sleet covered cobbles towards me, I needed no second telling and leapt into the Zephyr. Just as well I had driven many cars. I barely got the hang of the three-speed column change in time as the horses’ noses steamed the rear windscreen.

Wet from the sleet and lathered in sweat, I got the expensive new saloon parked, but remained a few minutes in the lovely warm air. Not many cars have heaters. For all his rudeness, it seemed odd that Hamish would entrust his new car to someone he barely knew. After all, he hadn’t even asked if I possessed a licence. Then panic set in. Would he notice I hadn’t done any work since dinnertime? Milo had mentioned some jobs. Getting the sack on my first day would be worse than fleeing, which I couldn’t, as I had left all my tools inside. That included my new Avo Minor and Avo Mk VII ex-RAF surplus meter. I locked the car and trudged back just as heavy snow began.


“Ah there you are Ron. You’ll be pleased to know, that smelly bitch has already been in for her Pye portable.” I looked puzzled. “You know, the one you repaired this morning?”

“Oh that one,” I replied, as though I had repaired dozens before dinner.

“Aye, I saw it on the bench. All repaired smaller items, radios, and portable gramophones, that kind o’ thing goes down stairs on a shelf behind the counter. Tell the lassie, Joan by the way, its repaired and she’ll put a postcard in the postbox on her way home. Not many folk have telephones yet. Not the smelly woman type anyway. Smelly woman,” he reiterated.

“I assume you took it down to Joan but if the…” I nearly said smelly…“lady wasn’t on the phone, how did she know it was repaired?”

“Simple laddy! She been coming in blathering about it for the last three months.” My heart sank. “Dinna worry aboot it. At least she paid!” He glanced at his flashy wristwatch. “Three fifteen already! I’ll have to go out again. Did ye get my jobs?” he enquired.

“Jobs?” I tried to look innocent.

“Here they are!” He produced some scrawl on the back of a fag packet, which protruded under my toolbox. “No? Never mind! Ye’ll have to get used to ma ways laddie. There’s never any paper to write on. Just ye look for ma Capstan Full Strength packet.” With that he deftly flicked the last Capstan from a packet of twenty, lit it from a rolled gold lighter, and then extracted two shillings from his waistcoat pocket. Without a by your leave, he plonked the coin into my right hand. “Be a good chap. Fetch me some fags from the newsagent. Oh, and make two pots of char, fast as you can, then I’ll show you a very urgent job.”

Again I was being treated as the junior apprentice. It was hard to contain my anger. Only Milo’s entreaty to give Hamish a chance, stopped me from retaliation. All I could splutter was, “I’ve left those two TVs in the passage. There’s no room in here.”

“Isn’t there?” he chuckled. “Here, I’ll show you where they go.” He kicked open a third door. “Watch yourself the light bulb’s gone.” With that he hoisted first one, then another TV, up above his head height, throwing them on top of a pile with a sickening crunch. “Be careful in there. They might all come down on top of you. Now be quick with those mugs.” He took off to the workshop. More banging and crashing. What on earth was my next job?

“Sounds like he is back,” Milo observed with a wry grin as I stomped into his workshop. I had got soaked fetching the Capstans. “I’ve put the kettle on.” He pre-empted my unsaid, how did you know? “You’ll just have to get used to his,” he pointed towards the corridor, “routine,” he whispered.

“I’m not a lackey Milo! Only three months ago I had men under me at RAF Southcliffe. The latest…” I was going to say guided missile station, but remembered just in time. I could be arrested for breaking the official secrets act. “It had all the latest gear.”

“Keep your voice down. As I said yesterday, give him chance. You work in with him and you’ll come through if you really want to. He’s rough I’ll admit but he’ll teach you a few tricks that no RAF course could. Now here’s your tea.”

I could only stutter, “thanks, thanks Milo.” I dashed back.

Hamish took a swig. “You’re learning fast. Three sugars! Just right, ta.” By rights Milo should have been credited, but he slammed his pot down. “Right my lad, your next job is a bit tricky. Ready?”

“I hope so!” The tea nearly scalded my throat.

“This set usually sorts out the men from the boys,” he proclaimed thumping a massive Murphy 21inch console cabinet. “You see this?” He indicated a chassis with a monster cathode ray tube - the picture tube in customers’ lingo. I nodded. That must have been the banging and crashing as he lifted it onto the bench. “I’ve just rechecked it. I fitted a new tube. Well a reconditioned one anyway; same difference.” He peered at the screen image via a large chipped mirror propped against the wall and rattled the tuner backwards and forwards, between BBC and ITV stations. He nodded in satisfaction. “Now, these are a sod to reassemble without getting specs of dirt on the inside of the glass.” He drew my attention to the inside of the cabinet.

“It looks pretty clean to me,” I exclaimed.

He ignored my comment. “You’ve seen nowt yet,” he growled, in an imitation of broad Yorkshire. “Wait until you have seen them from miners’ houses. All the blooody coal fires!” He shook his head. “Anyroads, this comes from a decent posh home, so I want you to make a special job. When you have finished, remember the set will get jolted in the van. Any lurking dirt in cracks or corners is sure to end up on the tube face. You know about static electricity too, don’t you?”

“I know cathode ray tubes attract dust, but the RAF equipment is well…” He wasn’t listening.

“Look there’s no time to waste. There’s a vacuum cleaner somewhere under the bench.” He booted an ancient cylinder model into view. “The bag may be full,” he declared wistfully. With that, he quick fired a load of does and don’ts, gulped down the last dregs of his tea, lit a Capstan and made for the door. “See you in the morning. I’ve a couple of customers to sign up.”

My head is spinning. If I remembered half his instructions I would do well. I thought I had grasped the essentials. No finger marks on the inside of the glass, rubber seal properly round the tube body up to the plastic bezel, something about an earthing strap on the aguadag and don’t scratch the cabinet. The cathedral clock chimed faintly in the distance. I pulled out my pocket watch. Oh no! Three forty five already! Hamish was emphatic that Gordon, whoever that is, would deliver the set on his way home around five thirty.

The workshop darkened. I peered out of the single filthy window. A freezing gale blew through the gaps in the frame and sash. Snow swirled menacingly, obscuring the street below. I switched on the pathetic one bar fire, warmed my frozen hands, and then used a discarded copy of the Reynolds News to plug some of the draughts. Now for the vacuum cleaner! The frayed mains cord is taped up in many places and the five-amp plug rattled. With no time to investigate I plugged in. A shrill grinding noise emitted from one end, dust poured out the other, followed by an almighty flash from the plug. The room was plunged into darkness followed immediately by a loud bellow from Milo. It took only a split second to realise I had blow the main fuse, again!

I tore out the offending charred plug and dragged the wretched machine down to Milo’s. He had already lit two candles. “See if you can do anything with this, please,” I pleaded, then groped my way down to the cellar fuming and cursing. In a rage I fitted at least four strands of 15-amp fuse wire. If another short occurred, the wiring would probably catch fire first. I am so incensed I don’t care if the whole top floor goes up in smoke.

Milo looked up from fitting a plug to the machine as I staggered in. “ ’ave you seen yourself? You’re covered in cobwebs again.” He blew out the candle. “I’ll just try this little beast but my guess is it saw better days ten years ago.”

“You’re not going to blow the fuse again?” I shrieked.

“Calm down! Are you alright? Sit down and comb the cobwebs out of your hair. You look proper gruesome. Just a minute I’ll get you something.” He fished in his overcoat pocket.

“You mustn’t plug in…I’ve…”

“Hold your horses. All my workshop sockets are individually fused and this special panel is a tripper. Built it myself,” he exclaimed, proudly pointing to a row of different size sockets, next to a heavy-duty rotary switch. “See, I can select what current loading I think fit from 1 amp up to 25 amp.” I nodded in appreciation of his inventiveness. “Anyroads, take a swig of this.” He handed over a silver hip flask.

I downed two or three swigs of neat whisky. “Phew that’s better! Sorry I blew my top Milo. I’ve a TV to get ready for Gordon before knock off. Without a decent vacuum it is hopeless,” I wailed.

“Calm down. Firstly the dust bag has burst. It has been full for months by the look of it.” He held up the offending article and deposited it in the bin. After cleaning out the muck from the cylinder he set a normal current of 5 amps on his panel and switched on. Immediately the motor flashed, a relay tripped and he reset for 10 amps. I covered my eyes. This time the motor howled emitting a firework display of arcing, but didn’t trip. He switched off.

“Armature u/s?” I ventured.


“What now?”

He picked up the machine like a dead rodent, depositing it with contempt into the dustbin. “I’m not sure. They…” he gesticulated presumebly meaning the owner, “provide nothing new for your section.” He shrugged, retrieved his flask and had a long swig. He laughed. “It’s nearly Christmas. Have another swig.”

I shouldn’t have, but I did. “Thanks!” The whisky plus the warming coal fire is making me drowsy. “I’ll see Mr Granelli. How do I get downstairs? Do you have a key?”

“I have but new employees aren’t given one without the Führer’s approval. Anyway, he is not in on Mondays. It’s our quite day. Washing day; get it?”

“Well who is in?”

“Jane Mansfield! Hilda, the cleaner, goes home at two o’ clock.”

“You are pulling my leg.” He just chortled.

“Her name’s Joan but we all call her Jane. Not to her face but she knows. You’ll see why! Be careful when her husband is around.”


“He’s a miner. His biceps would make your legs look like matchsticks. He can’t stand fellas chatting up his wife. Nearly thumped Hamish one day for having a joke with her. As I said, be careful what you say. She’s a real tell-tale.” With that he guided me to a door on the landing. “Best of British. You’ll need it!”


With that ominous remark, I step into another world. The contrast is shattering. I feel like Cinderella arriving at the ball. The whole carpeted upper floor is awash with new TVs, radiograms, radios, record players and numerous accessories. I stare at the large clean beautifully curtained windows. The stark contrast to the rotten hellhole of the service department is unbelievable. No wonder the door is always locked.

“Is that you Hamish?”

I make for the steps that I had briefly viewed at nine ’o clock. I realise to my horror that my dirty feet are leaving a trail of footprints on the carpet. Hilda would be pleased, I don’t think! Like a clot I called out, “It’s only me. Ron!” In my haste on the plush thick carpet, my feet shot from under me. I cascaded down on my bottom like a little kid on a slide, narrowly missing the angel at the foot of the stairs.

“My, you gave me a ffwight,” she lisped. “Do you do that often?”

“Well I…!”

“Hadn’t you better stand up first? Where have you been? You have cobwebs all over you? Good job Mr Granelli isn’t here. You’re a fine sight I must say.”

Milo’s description was one hundred percent accurate. She talked like a Yorkshire Marilyn Monroe and looked exactly like Miss Mansfield. I heaved myself up level with the sauciest blue eyes I had ever seen. I blushed furiously.

“Sorry, it’s J…” I nearly said Jane. “It’s Joan isn’t it,” I stammered.

“Mrs Smeaton to you if you don’t mind. I suppose you are the new service engineer? Good job there are no customers about. Just think of our reputation.”

I pondered that for a moment. If only those same customers knew what lurked in the upstairs prison. I came to my senses. The whisky is making me light headed. “It is precisely our reputation,” I emphasised, “that I’m thinking about. I’ve a TV to get out this afternoon and our vacuum cleaner is u/s.”


“Sorry, I’m still using RAF slang. Unserviceable! In fact a total write off!”

Miss Mansfield’s eyes widened. “RAF eh? A pilot were you?” She came close and started picking bits of cobweb off my shoulder. Her perfume nearly knocked me over.

“Well, not exactly! I did fly quite often but…”

“You had better come into the cloakroom. I’ll try to smarten you up a bit.” She produced a clothes brush and proceeded to dust me down. Then she spotted cobwebs at the back of my head. Out came a brush and comb. Meanwhile I had visions of Mr Muscles Smeaton catching us in this little act. I shuddered. “I think you have been having a drop to drink if I’m not mistaken. A bit of the early Christmas spirit eh?” she said rather saucily. “Must say I like a drop myself.” She giggled. “RAF! Well I never!”

Extricating myself from the confines of the cloakroom, I decided to assert myself. “Look here Joan, I’ll not have a job much longer if Hamish gets back and finds the TV not ready for delivery.” At the mention of my boss’s name, I may be wrong, but I’m sure she tensed. The sparkle disappeared. “I desperately need a good powerful cylinder vac, right now! Where is there one?”

“You can’t have Hilda’s. That’s an upright anyway. There’s only new ones upstairs but Mr Granelli won’t…”

I cut in. “Fine, that will do nicely.”

“Don’t tell Mr Granelli I said you could have one,” she whimpered. All the, it’s Mrs Smeaton to you bravado suddenly disappeared. “You’ve not met him have you?”

I remembered Milo’s words. The owner sounded like a real Hitler. “Don’t worry Joan,” I assured her, lightly resting my hand on her arm. “Say nothing at all. I’ll carry the can. Thanks awfully for cleaning my suit.” It was her turn to blush. Something told me I had made a friend. The shop doorbell rang as an elderly couple rushed in. She wiggled off to serve them.

Now to find said vacuum cleaner. It did not take long to find a Goblin model complete with accessories on a show stand. Although it is late I remember to vacuum off my dirty footmarks in case the eagle-eyed Hilda gives me away. Milo has left the door open. Good!

“You’ll be for the high jump when the Führer finds out,” exclaimed Milo as he waddled off to lock the showroom door.

“Couldn’t care less what he does,” I yelled in reply. “I’ll get this telly done if it kills me.


Milo went home at 17.00 hours. Most of us engineers have to work until 18.00 hours but he had some special arrangement. I must get out of this services way of saying the time. Few understand it! At five o’ clock he had poked his head round the corner. My exasperated look must have said all. He advised me to leave it until morning if not finished by five thirty and go home. Had I seen outside? Gordon would never come back in this snow. So intent had I been on the job I had not been aware of the raging blizzard. He warned me to ensure all lights were out when I left and slam the door Yale lock on the way out. I barely acknowledged his kindly concern, not even when he suggested there is milk left for another hot drink. I must remember to be more considerate.

Despite the new vacuum cleaner, I struggled to remove the entire dirt. Every time I heaved the chassis into the cabinet, a job more fitted to a gorilla, more specs of dust appeared. After the third attempt it dawned on me to remove the surrounding mask to clean it by hand and give the cabinet top a few good thumps with my fist to dislodge any remaining stubborn soot. Thinking I had done an excellent clean on the front glass with some proprietary pink cleaning stuff, I failed to see some streaks. By this time I am weary with heaving the chassis in and out. Maybe the old chap was right but I wouldn’t be beaten.

It took until well after six to win the battle. My bruised knuckles and cuts tell the tale. Domestic TV metalwork has many sharp corners, as I found to my cost. Joan must have locked up spot on time at six. I wonder how she gets home? Weariness set in. What a day! I slump on the stool.

Dare I go home to tell the family I am definitely chucking in the job? Yes, I will! I realise that my old self-confidence is returning. Well, I think it is. It is now only weeks since I was unceremoniously discharged from the Royal Air Force. A silly boyish prank had backfired. I had been branded a communist spy. If that wasn’t bad enough a Service Policeman had nearly got me murdered. My fiancé had jilted me. After a spell in hospital with a suspected nervous breakdown, no wonder I am shattered. No, that’s behind me, so I’m not going to be treated as a lackey by Messrs Calderdale TV & Electrical Ltd. No sir!

I found a fag packet opened it out and wrote; Changed my mind Hamish. Won’t be back. Ron. I carefully placed it on the top of the TV cabinet, groped my way down the stairs, slammed the door lock and walked out into freedom. My van started on the handle. I hummed a tune as I negotiated the rapidly drifting snow. Wait a minute! I slammed on the brakes skidding wildly, bouncing off a kerb. I searched the van in vain. In the euphoria of leaving the wretched workshop, I had forgotten my precious tools and test meters. I sat for ages cursing my stupidity, until a blaring vehicle horn jerked me back to my senses.

Chapter 2

Three pairs of mongoose-like eyes peer out of the living room window, as I slew the van into the back yard. Seconds later, the back door flies open and Goldilocks comes swishing through the snow. Time for me to forget my woes. I open my door to welcome my little sister who jumps like a small wallaby onto my lap.

“I thought you were never coming,” she sobbed. “We have something special for you. You didn’t come,” she reiterated, nearly strangling me with her arms locked round my neck.

“Oh Vera I’m so sorry.” I give her many huge kisses. “I had a big job to finish. It is so good to see you all looking out for me.” With no more ado I carry her through the blizzard to the back scullery door, but before we enter I have to shut my eyes. “Hurry up love, we are like snowmen already.” I shiver.

“Keep them shut. Promise?” Vera trills, as she leads me into the warmth of the dining room.

I hear a strangled chortle. “What are you up to Allan?” That’s my almost twelve-year-old sibling. Quite capable of any amount of mischief! Silence! “James, are you in this?”

“Of course not! Got better things to do than…”

“Stop it,” shrieked Vera.

“Yes James, don’t spoil it whatever it is.” The older fifteen year old just sighs in feigned boredom.

“Sit down Ron!” My sister pulls me down to the sofa. “Open your eyes. Surprise, surprise,” she yelled right in my ear.

I open my eyes slowly. A big crayoned picture is pinned above the fireplace. The scene is of a street, a shop with TVs in the window and a black van, obviously mine, driven by me. She had my basic features correct: Brylcreemed hair, full moustache and a brown suit. The large words at the bottom cause me to gulp. Ron goiing to work.

“Do you like it?” pleaded Vera.

“Oh yes it’s lovely. Did you do it at school?”

“Yes the teacher gave me the huge sheet of paper. She let me finish it in playtime,” she said proudly.

“It’s only got two wheels,” scoffed Allan.

I am about to retort, that side views only show two wheels, when James piped up. “Can’t we get on with the other thing? It’s only a picture after all. You might have spelt going correctly. What sort of teacher do you have who can’t spell?

“Do pipe down James. What is this other thing Vera?”

“Shut your eyes again.”

James groaned. “Oh do hurry up. I’ve my history essay on Cromwell to finish. Don’t suppose you could help me Ron?”

I shut my eyes. “Sorry James! History wasn’t my strong point. I think I slept through most lessons. Now Vera, what am I supposed to do? I’m absolutely famished and need a bath.” Something like a parcel, quite light, about the size of a shoebox is deposited on my lap.

“Don’t open you’re eyes,” Vera squeaked in utter excitement. “You’ve to guess what it is Ron. Oh do please…please.”

“If you don’t hurry up, she’ll wet her knickers,” pronounced Allan with an air of finality.

“I’ll have three quick guesses, then you must go to the toilet,” I demand. “It’s a new cat, two toilet rolls or a dozen Biros. There!” I open my eyes. Vera has her legs crossed hopping from foot to foot.

“Don’t be so silly,” James and Allan cry in unison.

“Vera go to the toilet this minute. I’ll not open this until you get back. Promise!”

“Shall we tell you what it is,” whispered Allan.

“Don’t you dare!” I warn. In far too short a time Vera came tearing back, breathless, with part of her dress caught up in her navy school knickers. The boys give loud resigned sighs.

“You can open it now,” she panted. More groans from the boys.

I pull out my pocket-knife, cut the string, and remove one layer of brown paper, which is labelled in crayon with my name, plus misspelled engeneer. “It isn’t like pass the parcel is it Vera?”

“Keep going Ron!” She hopped around in excitement.

Six layers later, I am just about to remove the lid of the shoebox, when the door into the pub hall bursts open and mother flies in looking flustered. She plants a big kiss on my cheek. “Sorry I’m late Ron. Had to go next door to borrow some flour. Couldn’t get away. You know what she is like for chatting.” She paused to look at the big kitchen table. “Haven’t you had your tea Ron? It’s in the oven.”

“Not yet! Now, I wonder what is in this box?” Vera threw herself on my lap hardly able to contain herself. Mother winked at me. I whip open the lid. There are three neatly wrapped parcels. The boys protested. “Ok, Ok, I’ll just be two seconds now.” Vera squirmed in delight as I unwrapped a Mars Bar, a Wagon Wheel and a bar of Turkish Delight.”

“Oh how lovely! I presume it is from you three?”

“Yes but we had to…” James kicked Allan’s shins.

“Indeed it is from us all,” pronounced James rather hautily. “With much pestering by a certain pesky sister,” he added.

“James don’t be unkind,” Mother interjected. “I think it is a lovely idea. You had better read the card. I’ll have your tea on the table in two shakes.” She took off to the kitchen.

“There’s a card in the box,” Vera reminds me and whispered, “I did it at school too.”

Up to this point I had nearly forgotten the dreadful day just past. I fish out the card. It was made from various old cards cut out rather nicely. Inside in her neatest handwriting are the words that have me almost beside myself with mixed emotion. To Ron. For your snap at work in case you get hungry. All three signed it, two under protest I am sure. “Thank you so much.” I gave Vera a big kiss, deposited her gently on the floor and cried, “Won’t be long mother. Must go to the lavatory before I bust.”

I sat in the freezing little upstairs WC too long contemplating the recent events. The family obviously expected me to continue work as a TV engineer. How could I let them down now? Over the last few weeks, I had been offered various kinds of work, since I had been unceremoniously discharged from my guided missile fitter career in the RAF. A wealthy family near Bradford had taken me under their wing. Indeed, one of the brothers had offered me a job of chauffeur at the unheard of £1000 per annum salary. The family just couldn’t believe I had turned it down. For what? A miserable £7 per week in a hellhole of a TV workshop! If only I hadn’t left my tools I might have escaped.

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