BOATBUILDING AND OTHER MATTERS
Once again I have gone off at a tangent to describe the Dee Mill demolition. If you remember, it is 1997 and I am driving back into Barlick convinced I needed a new job. I’ve been held up by traffic on New Road and on the spur of the moment have turned into the opening that led to Lower Park Marina. As I think you have heard me remark before, there is a providence that looks after drunken men and idiots! It was about to come into operation again. I drove down the lane to the canal and walked into the office and had a word with the manager, John. I came out with a job and a pound more an hour than I’d been getting at REW! Things were looking up!
Lower Park Marina is a fairly recent addition to Barlick. It was started by a bloke called Doug Moore who gained a reputation for building very good boats but from what I can make out, didn’t make a lot of money at it. His number two was Peter Thompson who’s trade was actually painter and sign writer but like me, he had acquired other skills on the way and when Doug finally sold out Peter stayed on with the new owners as boatbuilder and carried on the good work Doug had started.
I suppose the first thing to do is to give you an idea of the sort of boats we were building. The standard canal narrow boat which can fit in almost all the canals and locks in the country is 60 feet long, 7 feet wide and about 2 feet draught. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal which passes through Barlick is a brad canal and can actually take boats over twice this width but most owners wanted to be able to travel the length and breadth of the country and so built to narrow standards. The standard build was 10mm plate for the sole plate (the boats were flat bottomed) 6mm for the sides and 4mm for the superstructure. Some owners specified heavier plate for the sole, up to 15mm. The finished hulls weighed about 15 tons. They were fully welded construction and, in LPM’s case, fabricated entirely from flat sheet. Some firms used profiled sections to cut down on cost but Doug Moore’s design was a traditional steel boat.
The hulls, as finished, were a very strong and rigid construction. Properly looked after they could have a life of well over fifty years even for the lighter constructions. The heaviest boats we made would do a lot more than this.
Building the hull, painting it and launching it was the easiest part of the job in many ways and certainly the cheapest. The installation of the engine and fitting the boat out was as expensive as you wanted to make it. We had boats in for repair which had a total cost of over £200,000!
I’ll briefly describe how you go about building a boat like this. The first essential is a building big enough to build the boat in! The LPM workshop had been designed specifically for this work and was wide enough to work on two full sized boats at once. Next, you need access to the canal. We had enough room to be able to slide the boat out into the yard on skids and then lift it into the water using a crane. The shop was equipped with the usual machines needed for fabricating with steel plate, a guillotine, a bending machine, welders, plasma and gas cutting equipment and of course, a variety of welders, both MIG and stick. Outside, on the canal, we had a floating covered dock which was used for paint jobs and small repairs.
The first thing to say about building the hull is that I lay no claim to being a boat builder. If pressed, I know enough of the basics to build a hull but when it comes to the finer points I would be out of my depth. This is where the skill lies with a bloke like Peter or Doug Moore. They know all the wrinkles that make all the difference between a floating box and a thing of beauty! Having said this, if you want to build one, here’s how you go about it.
Start by laying three steel beams on the floor. One at each edge of the hull and one, slightly longer, down the centre. The sole plates have been ordered about two inches wider than the finished hull and are laid down on the girders and welded together. The weld is a full penetrating weld which leaves a bead on the bottom side. There is no need to do any welding from underneath. At this stage there is no shape in the plates, they are square and will be cut to shape later. The side plates on the straight section of the hull are then set up and tack welded in position with temporary angle iron stays where necessary to ensure they are perfectly placed. All the welds are simply tacks at this stage. The shape of the stern and hull is marked on the sole plate and the bow and stern plates, cut to the correct shape, are tacked to the existing side plates and bent to the correct profile. The bow plates are cut away at the bottom to give shape to the front of the boat and when in place are bent in to shape using a pull lift attached to temporary lugs welded inside until the correct shape of the bow is achieved. The sole plate at the front is then warmed sufficiently to allow it to be pulled up until it is in contact with the shaped bow plates and then tacked in place. At this point the front and rear sole plates can be cut to shape following the hull plates. At this point we have the hull of the boat sat there on the floor with all plates in their correct positions and tack welded together.
A word about welding. The biggest problem in fabricating any construction out of flat plate is that as the sections are welded together they distort due to heating of the plate and welding in place while expanded. As the metal cools down the structure tries to regain its original shape but cannot because of the welds, at this point tremendous stresses are set up in the structure and the only way it can relieve itself is by distorting. If you are building a 5 million gallon oil tank this is no big problem because plates can be dogged and wedged into place and nobody is worried about a bit of distortion. In the case of our hull, any distortion sticks out like a sore thumb as soon as it is given a coat of high gloss paint and this is where the skill lies, in joining the plates but keeping them flat.
The key to this is to tack weld first and then complete the weld in very small sections about two or three inches long. These welds are done about 18 inches apart and when you have completed a seam with spaced tacks on one side of the boat you move to the other side and repeat the operation allowing the first side to cool completely. When it is cold, you start again with two inch welds half way between the existing welds. You carry on like this until all the seams are welded and if you’ve done it properly and allowed ample cooling time, the result is a perfectly flat side to the hull. This regime of small welds equally spaced is used for every part of the boat apart from the heavy sealing weld which is done where the hull plates join the sole plate. However, this is one of the last welds to be done and by that time the hull is so rigid that it can stand any stresses imposed without distortion.
So, we have a sole plate and a hull form. The next stage is to insert the ribs in the hull and attach these to the hull by tack welds again. Gussets are fitted where the bottom ribs meet the ones up the side. These ribs are all placed in the optimum position for fitting partitions, engine beds and other elements of the construction and vary from boat to boat.
The next stage is to finish the bow. All we have at the moment is two plates which give the shape but have about a three inch gap between them at the front. This is filled by a very heavy pre-fabricated construction that forms the stem of the boat. Eventually this will be finished at the top in a graceful curve and is probably one of the most definitive components of the boat in terms of the impression of grace and proportion it gives. The stern needs some attention as the plates which form it are quite complicated. The bottom section bends in on a taper to form a point under water. This is known as the swim and is shaped like this to give a smooth flow of water to the propeller and rudder. At water level this taper becomes the rounded stern so typical of this class of boat. The junction between the two shapes has to be completed with shaped flat plates. At the same time provision has to be made for fitting the stern tube for the propeller shaft and the vertical tube which carries the rudder post.
After all this is completed the coaming is fitted at the top of the straight hall plates and the decks to bow and stern. Once all these are in place the superstructure is raised and the roof fitted. This is thinner plate but even more prone to distortion. In addition all the welds above the waterline are ground back smooth when finished so as not mar the final paint job. When the superstructure is completed things like integral fuel tanks or cooling panels have to be fitted and then the finishing touches like lockers, doors, internal steps, bollards etc. all of which are fabricated out of steel. The last stage is to fit rounded rubbing strakes to the hull. Their number depends on how much protection the boat needs. There are more on the bow and stern than on the sides. The last job when all welds have been completed and ground back is to paint the hull below the water line with bituminous paint and all the upper part of the hull and the superstructure with red oxide paint. It may be a good thing at this point to start installing the woodwork which is the base for the internal panelling and insulation. Usually, at this stage the new owner takes over and either fits the boat out himself or takes it to a specialist. Peter was a good carpenter and was quite capable of doing this job but many owners wanted to do much of the work themselves to cut down on the cost.
Depending on what the owner wants, the next job is to install the engine, propeller shaft and rudder so as to make the boat capable of travelling under its own power. All that remains is to drag the boat outside, lift it into the water, load a crate of ale on board and go for a spin on the canal so you can all congratulate each other on how well it swims!
Right, so now you know how to build the hull of a narrow canal boat. Don’t be fooled by this brief description. I have had to miss out many of the essential stages in the construction, there’s a lot more to the job than what I’ve described and the finer points are only learned after years of experience.
As I remarked previously, the hull is the cheapest part of the boat. I remember something I came across many years ago which was an explanation why ships are always called ‘she’. It said that this was because the rigging cost more than the hull. I apologise for the sexist nature of this remark, I simply report it! In the case of a narrow boat, the fitting out costs more than the hull. There is almost no limit to how far you can go. We never fitted out a complete boat from scratch but had several re-fitting jobs after accidental damage like fires.
I really enjoyed working on this these jobs with Peter because I leaned so much. The basic construction is a framework of wooden battens fixed to the metal of the hull. This is infilled with insulation and then skinned over with high grade veneer faced ply. Most of the furniture and fittings is built in and then the whole of the interior sanded down, sealed and coated with gloss varnish. The resulting finish in varnished wood grain was beautiful and the bigger the budget we were given, the better we could make it.
The final stage with a boat was the painting. Again, Peter was a master at this and the finish was several coats of high gloss paint to give depth to the finish, all to be finished off with a coat of gloss varnish. Before the final coat goes on the decorations have to be applied. Traditionally, canal boats are decorated in a very distinctive style. This varies from multi-coloured geometric designs on the bow and wood grained finish on the rear of the superstructure to butterflies and traditional scenes of castles in improbable landscapes on the rear entrance doors. When completed, these boats were a magnificent sight and the pride and joy of their owners. Having said this, it was surprising the number of people who spent the money getting a really good paint job and then neglected it instead of rubbing the varnish down every few years and re-varnishing. We did some like this an it’s amazing how well they can come up after treatment, just like new in fact.
We did running repairs as well and there were some interesting jobs. Of course, I liked the mechanical best and Peter soon realised that if there was a bit of turning to do I was the man for it. Once again I was able to demonstrate just how useful a lathe can be if you are doing general mechanical repairs.
Apart from the work, the fact I was working only five minutes from home was a wonderful improvement. Mornings became more relaxed as I could stay in the house until ten minutes to eight and still be in plenty of time. It was good for Eigg as well because she could run around to her heart’s content chasing rabbits and rats. Being on the side of the canal with a country view the other side was a delight. You could always take a spell and if the weather was fine, a cup of tea and a smoke on the benches outside the workshop became a picnic.
There was one drawback of course. Any fabrication work on steel involves welding, cutting and grinding so you suffer permanently from what I always describe accurately but not elegantly as ‘black snot syndrome’. If you are ever in a job where, when you blow your nose, you leave black stains on the tissue, you are doing work which is bad for you! The work at LPM was definitely in this category and I was always conscious of this.
Mention of grinding dust reminds me that there is a bit of a mystery that needs to be addressed. I am told frequently that smoking is bad for me. I’d be the first to admit that it isn’t all good but in my experience, nothing in nature is wholly good or bad, there are usually points on either side. However, this isn’t my polemic in favour of smoking, that will come later! The point I want to look at now is the fact that right the way through my working career I have been exposed to various substances which I am certain were bad for me. In farming we were exposed to organophosphates in the dressing used on cattle for warble fly and some very powerful chemicals we used to spray the land. I think all the ones we used then have been banned. The ones that spring to mind were DNOC (Denocate) and 2.4D, then there was the Cymag we used for killing vermin in burrows, this was relatively ‘clean’ as it was Magnesium cyanide and you knew immediately if you’d got any of that down you!
Later, at the dairy there was ODC the tank cleaner which I never trusted, asbestos dust out of brake systems and liberal doses of particulates from smoky diesels. At the mill there was asbestos. One regular job was sweeping the dust off the top of the boiler. Being bone dry it rose in clouds and as the boiler was insulated with asbestos, it was very dangerous. At REW there was more asbestos but even more dangerous to my mind, the dust from insulating mat made of slag or glass fibre. The official line is that this is safe compared with asbestos but I have never been able to accept this. The slightest bit of dust would start you coughing and irritate your skin and as it is almost entirely silica, how can it be less dangerous than the dust miners breathed which resulted in silicosis.
The point I am trying to make is that I have been exposed to all these things and, to the best of my knowledge, haven’t been adversely affected by any of them. Is it just luck or are there other factors like a strong basic constitution. Could the fact that I smoke a pipe and therefore encourage mucus forming in my lungs be a protection against air borne nasties? I’m not saying that this is so, simply saying that it seems to me that it might be true. So, when people tell me I should give up my pipe I accept the fact they might be right but on the basis of my experience so far, I’m not about to alter anything.
The work at LPM was fairly regular while we were building a boat because it was then that the pressure was on but it tended to dry up during normal times. This didn’t cause me any great problems because I was beginning to feel the need to slow down. I didn’t actually do anything about looking for other work but late in 1997 the phone rang………
HIGHER MILL, HEMSHORE
For many years I had a tenuous connection with a man called Ian Gibson who worked for the Lancashire Museums Service. I think we first met when I was running Bancroft and over the years Ian would give me a shout if he wanted any information or advice that he thought I might be able to help him with. When we finally reached the stage of winding down the Lancashire Textile Project, a decision was made to send the condenser spinning archive to Helmshore for safe keeping and many of the pics I shot for that part of the work were used in the exhibition they installed at the museum when they took over the adjoining spinning mill. This was always a source of annoyance to me because the pictures were never credited to me and I got great pleasure over the years pointing this out to anyone who asked me about the mill! There was another, even stronger, connection in that Helmshore was one of the venues that I took Carleton students to over the years. Ian used to act as guide for us and there was never any charge. This was great for the kids as they got the best man in the world to describe the processes to them and I have little doubt that by doing it he was recognising my input over the years.
Helmshore is a wonderful museum. It incorporates two sites, one of which, the later mill, is a fully equipped condenser spinning mill where practical demonstrations are done for visitors, everything from hand-spinning and weaving to mule spinning. The older site, Higher Mill, is an original water-powered fulling mill with all it’s original machinery in working order. This is very rare, I don’t know of another complete example anywhere. In addition, by an accident of history, the upper floors of Higher mill contain examples of Arkwright’s original water spinning machinery from his first mill in Cromford. This is so important that it is not run for visitors but I did see the waterframe running years ago.
Fulling is a very ancient process which was used as a finishing process for woollen cloth. Hand-woven woollen cloth has a very open weave and the daylight actually shines through it. I’m sure you have all washed an expensive woollen garment in water that was too hot and found that it had shrunk and thickened until it almost looked like felt. This is exactly what the process of fulling does. The cloth is squeezed or pounded while soaked in an alkaline solution which mixes with the natural lanolin in the wool and produces a crude soap which encourages the process. In very early times this was achieved by treading on the cloth while it was immersed in the chemical solution. The chemical used was stale urine. The process was mechanised very early, we know that there were 11th century fulling mills run by water power. The wheel was used to drive mechanised hammers which pounded the carefully folded cloth in a shaped trough which encouraged the cloth to rotate as it was being worked. This ensured an even shrinkage through the piece. The modern textile industry still fulls woollen cloth but for the last century the preferred treatment for most cloths has been a milling process where the cloth is squeezed between rollers in a continuous process.
Helmshore has both types of machinery, the ‘Fulling Stocks’ which use large wooden hammers to pound the cloth and ‘Rotary Milling Machines’ which are early examples of the modern process. Right, that’s the description, let’s go back to the phone call………
Ian had rung me to pick my brain. The Friends organisation at Helmshore had got a large grant from the Clothworkers Union to put the machinery in the fulling mill back into working order. The job needed a range of skills; woodworking, cast iron repair, fitting, machining and knowledge of old working methods. His problem was that he hadn’t been able to identify anyone who had the range of skills and could do the job within the budget. I told him that one name sprang immediately to mind, Stanley!
Ian hadn’t thought about me because he thought I was still working full time for REW. As soon as I suggested my taking it on we decided to meet at Helmshore and have a look at the job. I went down and found that virtually all the machinery except the waterwheel was included. We soon came to the conclusion that it was impossible to give a price for repairing each machine because some of them were in such bad condition. We agreed an hourly rate and one or two peripherals like who bought materials or specialised tools and I settled down to a very happy two years at the mill.
I started in May 1997 and at that time, I hadn’t been told the full scale of the grant and thought that I would be finished in November 1997 when I went off to Janet and Harry’s for three months followed by two months in America. It didn’t work out like that and when I got back in July I went back to the mill and worked until the end of March 1999. It was a lovely job, Ian and I decided what wanted doing and I just got on with it. There was never any pressure and I had time to do a good job.
I started by stripping the mangling machine and rebuilding it. This was fairly straightforward and very few repairs were needed. Next I did the flock shaker, again, a fairly simple job. The Dolly Scourer was a different kettle of fish. In effect it was a big wooden washing machine built into a pit in the floor and was in very bad condition. When I stripped it down I found that every timber bar two planks was rotten and needed replacing. The cast iron frames were badly corroded and one had a foot missing. We ordered some timber sawn out of old pine beams and I set to to rebuild it. Part of the wooden mechanism was missing completely and we had no drawings. However, there was enough of the old ironwork left to get some clues as to what was missing and I don’t think I was a long way out when I finished. The body of the machine had to be made like a barrel, waterproof and it was a big job. I took six months over this but made a good job of it. An old carpenter came in as a museum visitor one day and took a great interest in what I was doing. He asked me where I had served my time and I told him I was a fitter, I’d never trained as a chippy. He was very impressed and told me I’d done a good job. He reckoned I was a better chippy than many of the time-served men he had worked with. High praise and it meant a lot to me.
The visitors showed a lot of interest as did the museum staff. I was quite surprised by the fact that everyone was so impressed by what I was doing. It never occurred to me that I was a ‘craftsman’, probably my mother was right, I’ve got an inbuilt inferiority complex. Whatever the reason, it was nice to be appreciated and I soon became a sort of living exhibit in the museum during visitor hours.
When the dolly scourer was finished I removed one teasel raising gig and started to refurbish the remaining one as this was the original one in the mill. This was a big job and I almost finished it before I went off for my trip to Australia and America in November 1997.
AUSTRALIA AND AMERICA 1997/98
I had a good trip planned for 1997/98. I left in November after getting my life together and leaving Eigg and Muck with Margaret and flew off to Perth, Western Australia where Janet and Harry were settled into their new house. I knew when I went that they wanted some jobs doing so before I went I got together a big box full of tools and shipped them out air freight. When I got there Harry and I went out and bought a drop saw and a good cordless drill and I set up a workshop in the garage.
Apart from a few odd jobs, the main things I did were to build a big bookcase in the living room, demolish a chimney stack in the bottom living room and lay a new wood floor. It was hard work and took almost three months but the end result was pretty spectacular. H&J were actually capable of doing a lot of the work themselves but needed somebody with experience. It takes a bit of confidence to start demolishing a big brick chimney stack in the middle of the room but when you’ve been dealing with 200 feet chimneys it’s a doddle! The kids were delighted with the progress. Janet said it had put them 12 months ahead with their schedule of refurbishment. They had a design consultant supervising other aspects of the renovations and I think they took my advice that all they needed was to identify good tradesmen and run the contracts themselves.
I left Perth on May 1st and flew to LA via Sydney. This must be the worst trip in the world. You arrive in LA two hours later (on the same day) than you leave Perth. Only problem is that you have 23 hours on the plane in the meantime! As I said at the time, don’t bother trying to explain it to me, all I know is that it is extremely boring! In LA I had dinner with Susi and Larry Scher and the following day I went to Budget to pick up my hire car as I was going to drive to St Louis up route 66!
I don’t think I could ever claim to be the most adventurous traveller in the world. I have no desire to go to places where diseases are endemic or the natives unfriendly. Having said that, I think I have some of the attributes necessary to be a happy traveller. I have no problem with the unexpected, this is, after all, the main reason for going! Picking my car up at the rental outlet was a perfect example of this.
I got the hotel bus to drop me off at Budget and marched in through the door with all my worldly goods. I had already booked a ‘family’ car (not a compact) and had a booking number. The rate they had quoted me over the Internet was very good and I was keen to see whether the exercise in long-distance booking had paid off. The first surprise was the accent of the lady who dealt with me, it was pure Americanised West Riding! She had been born in Cleckheaton and had lived in LA for twenty years! She immediately recognised my accent and we took 15 hilarious minutes to get through the paperwork.
Now I have to confess I’d been a bit sceptical about how easy it had been to book this car on the net. The rate was superb for a one-way hire and I was half expecting some unforeseen problem when I actually stood there with my card and paid for the thing. All my worst fears came beck to me when the lady from Cleckheaton said, “Oh, by the way, the manager would like to have a word with you about your car!” I groaned inwardly and thought to myself that this was where they nailed me. The manager came out and said that he would like me to take a different car than the one I had ordered. I told him we’d better have a look at it. We went out on to the back lot which was enormous and he pointed to a green car about 300 yards away on the opposite side of the park. I took one look and said OK, that’ll do me. He asked me how I could tell at that distance, I told him that anything that had tyres over a foot wide and two big exhaust pipes had to be suitable for driving across America. He liked this and told me that it was one of their top models but actually belonged in Boston and they wanted it back. He said I could have it for the week for $150 plus the insurance.
It was a Pontiac Grand Prix and would do nought to death in about two seconds. It was a wonderful car and I really enjoyed driving it. However, this was all in the future. I had to get out of LA first and strange to say, this would be the first time I had ever driven in the States! To make things worse, it was raining and this converts LA roads into skid pans but the locals don’t seem to notice this.
I completed the transaction, loaded my kit in the car, lit my pipe and sallied forth into the Saturday morning rush hour traffic. I hadn’t gone more than half a mile before I realised that the lady at Budget had given me wrong directions and to make things worse, I was in the wrong lane, hemmed in by traffic and committed to going on to a freeway just ahead. I took a deep, jet-lagged breath and decided that the best thing to do was relax, pull in at the first coffee shop I could get to and draw up a plan.
I got on to the freeway and sat behind the car in front. I could see where the sun was trying to get through and decided I was heading in roughly the right direction so I calmed down a bit. Then a sign came up which informed me I was on US15 heading for Barstow which was exactly what I wanted because there I could join IS40 which was my road as far as Oklahoma City! Father was proved right again, there’s a providence looks after drunken men and idiots!
Driving to St Louis, where I was to stay with Paulette and Bob Bliss was one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done in America and I’d recommend it to anyone. Wherever possible I followed the old Route 66 and I stayed at Best Western motels along the road but always ate in small towns in mom and pop restaurants. I’d travelled across America in the opposite direction twenty years before on the Greyhound and so I knew how far it was. This time I could really take it in and was absolutely fascinated by the country. I shopped on the reservations because there was no sales tax and actually talked to the people. I remember having a conversation with a very old native American outside a store on the high plateau and we eventually agreed that there were many points in common between the enforced moving of the tribes and the Clearances in Scotland. The thing was he knew more about the clearances than I did!
Wherever possible I took side trips into things like the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest. I took my time and got lost several times in back street America. It took me a week to get to St Louis and when I eventually arrived in the city I realised I had a bit of a problem because I didn’t know where the Budget depot was apart from the fact it was near the airport. I had a brilliant idea and drove into the airport pickup area where I waited until I saw a Budget bus, when he set off I followed him.. It was a good job I did because it was very complicated getting to the depot. As we drew in over the one-way teeth in the entrance the bus stopped and the driver came back and spoke to me. “Have you been doing what I think you’ve been doing?” I said “Yes”. He said “Congratulations, it’s a first, we’re always being asked how to get to the depot and it’s so complicated people are always getting lost. In future I’ll tell them to do what you did!” By the time I had dropped the car and got in to the desk to complete the paperwork the news had spread and two of the clerks congratulated me on my initiative. I tried to look imperturbable but of course I was very pleased!
I got them to call a taxi for me and as he drove me to Paulette and Bob’s house I questioned him about the location. He said it sounded OK to him and when we pulled up outside the house he looked across the lawn at it, turned to me and grinned and said, “I reckon you hit the jackpot!” I told P&B this and they thought it was hilarious that the taxi driver had given the pad the seal of approval.
I had ten days in St Louis and it was a very happy time. Paulette paid me a wonderful compliment when she told me that I was the only person in the world she would have for a visit while the builders were in. Bob showed me his college, we went on trips in the town, browsed the bookshops and went up the Jefferson Memorial Arch. In the evenings Bob and I sat on the deck, drank strong drink and talked about history and it was wonderful. It dawned on me that good though Australia had been, I had actually been lonely because when Janet and Harry got back from work they were tired and not necessarily in the best place to sit and have meaningful conversation. No criticism about this, it was just a fact of life. My ten days in St Louis was great and when they poured me on the plane for MSP I was so sorry to leave. Paulette was away that day picking up her daughter from college and so Bob took me into the airport via the zoological gardens where we looked around and then had a wonderful breakfast. He made me have a dish known as ‘Shit on a Shingle’ which was good. I’ll leave you to do some research and find out what that was!
At MSP I was met by Martha and settled down straight away into my second home. I got stuck into stripping paint off the house during the day and goofing off at night and weekends. Roger helped me when he had time and we made a wonderful job of stripping the old lead paint off and giving it three coats of paint. Three years later I am just about to go out there again and by the end of this stint we will have done about three quarters of the house.
It would be very easy at this point to do about 3,000 words about the Paas family and my opinion of them. I shall restrain myself and confine my remarks to saying that they are the best and most generous friends a bloke could have, I love them dearly and would do anything for them. If you had to go through life and have only one friendship, pray that it would be one like the relationship between me and Martha and Roger. You could count yourself as lucky.
It wasn’t just M&R of course, I have been going to Northfield for so long that it is really a second home. I know the town, many of the people and feel completely at home there. One of these days M&R will retire and move and it will be almost as big a wrench to me as it will be for them.
Time soon passed, I was back in UK and settling down to my second stint at Helmshore. If anything, the work became even more interesting.
I slipped back into the work at Helmshore like putting an old pair of bedroom slippers on. While I had been away the museum staff had done a lot of work on the teasel raising gig and I finished it off before moving into the fulling room and starting on the stocks and the rotary mills.
The fulling stocks were completely new to me and I stripped one set out completely and rebuilt them. We had a bit of luck with this job as one of the staff told me they had received a call from a firm in Bury but they didn’t really understand it. I rang the firm up and found that they had two sets of stocks which were to be demolished and did we want any of the parts? I went down and found that they had both been rebuilt recently and the timbers were in very good condition. They were slightly heavier than ours and so I could cut their timbers down to fit our stocks. This saved us about £2,000. I spent a week at Bury stripping the stocks out and then set to to incorporate their timber into our stocks. I learned a lot while I was doing it and we finished up with two good sets of stocks instead of one as we had originally thought.
After the stocks I did another couple of jobs and then refurbished both the rotary mills. This brought us up to March 1999 and time to go off to Northfield again. I left Eigg my Jack Russell with Philip and Julie Lawson and went off to more M&R, house painting and goofing off. By July I was back at East Hill Street but with a small problem which was to prove quite fundamental.
In June, whilst I was in Northfield, I slipped and fell, breaking my right wrist in one or two places. I refused the X-ray and cast as usual, I reckon that unless you actually need them they are best left alone. Ken, my doctor friend in Northfield who, incidentally, had done exactly the same thing ten days before me, played hell with me but let me have my own way. I carried on working and ignored the pain.
When I got back in Barlick I went to the doc, got signed off as sick and went on to disability benefit. After two months the DSS decided to assess me because they always suspect self-employed people of swinging the lead. The result of the assessment was that they realised how bad my back had been for forty years and put me on disability pay until I was 65 in February 2001! This was entirely unexpected but I accepted it and put in for all the benefits I was entitled to. I won’t go into the convoluted process of getting on full benefit or the fact that I had to come to terms with subjecting myself to means-testing to get paid. Suffice to say that I took the view that after 47 years hard work I was entitled to all I could get.
This enforced retirement gave me time to think and time to sit down and write this memoir. We are now almost up to date so I’ll end this section here and do one final piece about my thoughts in general.
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