Sunday, January 6, 2013

When the War was Over


Looking at my discharge papers I see that it was the 15th January 1946 when I was released into civvy street. I was fitted out with a three piece suit in dark blue with a light grey stripe in it also a trilby hat also blue. I’m not sure whether I went out for a few beers that evening in the suit or whether it went back into the little suit case supplied.

I was due to take the train and go further down the line to Hayle where Mother was living in a wooden chalet type dwelling but this would have to be the next day. Although discharged in Devonport the few beers were had just over the water by ferry at Torpoint and that was where I was to lay my head that night. The house was quite narrow and three stories high. I rolled in after time and quite sober as I found that after 2 to 3 pints I had trouble with feeling dizzy on lying down, this was always the case so I never got in a state.

After a bit of chat with the couple running the B&B I toddled off to the back top room. Whether they told me where the loo was or whether I forgot I could not say but after a time in bed I felt the need. I was reluctant to roam about the house searching and there was no receptacle to be found in the room. Desperate times need desperate measures so it was up with the sash and out with the splash. Relief was swiftly followed by shock as through the blackness came the sound of a cascade of water on glass. How was I to know that there was a glass-house extension two floors below in their backyard? I looked the lady straight in the eye as I paid up the next morning and departed to get to the town of Hayle down the line near Penzance.

Mother’s house was called Duneside and it had been built on some dunes outside the town quite near the sea. The advert she answered in the Exchange and Mart could have described the setting quite romantically: the sea, dunes, near St Ives etc. She did in fact buy it with the proceeds of the sale of Sam’s shop a couple of years after he died and did so without ever going to see it. Within a year she had also bought a caravan sited in a field at the rear of Paignton, Devon again unseen. She must have been bedazzled by the thought of a chalet by the sea and a caravan in Devon; a huge and welcome change from Breezy Blackpool.

There must have been about 70 of these wooden little properties built just after the first would war. Their foundations were not very sound and built on sand were subject slippage also the legal end of things were not very secure as all that Mother had to show she was the owner was a receipt from the seller.

However, Mother was very happy there and it didn’t worry her that the balcony at the rear was gradually rotting away and had to be shored up with a few bricks where a stanchion had lost its foot. The caravan was a total disaster. I hadn’t been settled in long before I was dispatched to see how it was getting on. 100 miles separate Hayle with Paignton and I suppose I did the journey by rail and bus which Mother would have had to do were she to enjoy caravanning. The damp winter air filled the van and although there was bedding I chose to sleep in my clothes and escape as soon as possible the next morning lucky not to get ill.

The stay at Duneside was not a permanent situation for me. I was keen to get to London and join Cyril in what ever venture we could bring about. So 31 Lynton Avenue was the next port of call which lasted about a year till the spring of 1947. This was a very difficult year, we couldn’t get off the ground with anything of a money making scheme. We dabbled in taking photographs of a amateur dramatic society doing a stage production working with extra long length lenses from the town hall balcony which we thought were very good but the returns were most discouraging. I was most reluctant to try and get regular employment as it meant going the labour exchange and at that time the Bevin Boys recruitment was still active and there would have been a good chance that I would have been directed to work in some coal mine which was not at all to my liking. I recall I tried to make children’s toy windmills with dowelling and bent plastic but the plastic would never stay bent. Cyril was managing to stay solvent by making up films from the ex R.A.F. outdated film stock and selling where he could. I suppose he eventually got fed up of me loafing around waiting for him to come up with something and found an advert in the photographic press for a camera man to operate on the beach and prom at Brighton.

The Sunbeam Photographic Company was run by two brothers and they had acquired the operating rights of the beaches and promenades from Ramsgate to Hove and all points in between. After a little practice run with the camera to make sure I could focus on a moving target I was sent out to work a stretch of prom & beach just East of Brighton Pier. I got digs in the town and set to work to get as much as the wage of £5 a week & 5% commission could deliver. It wasn’t difficult to get folks to have their picture taken as regular films were almost unobtainable but nobody was more surprised than me that at the end of the Season I finished up as the highest earner in commission out of 25 operators on the firm. It was great fun and to be earning money made it all the better. I had a nice surprise one sunny morning when I focussed up on a couple walking towards me to find the chap getting sharper in the screen was an old working buddy from diving team in Columbo. I few pleasantries and away they went never to be seen again. I don’t think he bought the picture! 

The firm was keen to keep me on the books so it was arranged that I would spent the coming Winter at Hastings and get things ready for the Spring photo season. The winter of 1947 was the worst for decades. The sea froze all around the south coast. Either the miners were on strike or the railways could not move the coal because of the snow disruption. Taking photos of happy folks on the prom was off the agenda for weeks which left me kicking my heels or just giving some help to get the darkrooms ready to earn my £5 weekly wage. When the spring finally came it was put to me by one of the Worsell brothers who ran the firm that Folkestone was to be opened up as another photo opportunity and would I fancy going there ?. So it was there that destiny awaited me.

I got digs with an Irish family near the station. They had 2 young girls of about 12 and 14 who were jumping up and down with the aspect of this young man being part of the house. Down at the beach the job was to get a pre-fabricated timber hut erected to use as an office to take the orders also to create a little darkroom where the film could be extracted from the camera. For a week or two as I was without anyone to work the office I would both take pictures and take the money at the office but eventually the local advert brought forth a slim young lady who took on the office job.

The summer of 1947 was really glorious but on occasions it did rain and in the shelter of the hut things started to happen between me and the slim young lady. Before long I was introduced to the rest of the Wigens family and my life was changed for ever. Not only had I falled in love with Peg but the whole family were a revelation to me in genuine kindness and consideration. Before long I was calling Peg’s Father “Pop” or “Dad” and he was calling me “Wonderful Wilips” in his funny way of making fun out of words.

The summer was getting towards its end and it was obvious that if my future with Peg was to get any where the job of beach photographer would have to be dumped and something more respectable was expected.

Cyril had by this time had managed to buy 221 Dawes Road in Fulham intending to get further ahead with his free-films idea and intimated I could be of some help. So for the next year I was with Cyril and Phyllis again at 31 Lynton Road. In the spring of ‘48 we registered the trading name of West London Photo Service jointly. It turned out to be not a terribly happy partnership. I was gradually discovering that Cyril was a great one for cutting corners and sailing very close to the wind with any authorities. Although we were using the premises for business Cyril had not informed Fulham council of the fact and so rates were not being applied to the property. It worried me that there would be a knock on the door and trouble would follow. With a staff of three young ladies there was the question of how Cyril and I were to be addressed. Cyril decreed that I should be known as “Mr Philip” and he would be “Mr Cyril”. He must have got this notion out of some Victorian novel.

His wheeze with Purchase Tax was a worry for me. Purchase tax was payable on goods bought tax-free once the goods had been sold to the public. Stocks would be inspected and counted quarterly by tax inspectors and records kept. Our tax-free stocks were cans of Ex RAF film which would get cut up to make amateur film of various sizes. The cans were sealed with taped lids to keep out the light. The dodge was to use the film and replace it with something similar such as off-cut of used film. Cyril figured that the inspector was never going to open cans to see what was inside as the contents would be ruined by the light. I had gone along with all this reluctantly but then one day Cyril came out with a few words which caused a cataclysmic shift in my attitude to what was going on and from then on I knew where I was meant to be. The words he uttered were “It’s a good job your girl is not the school teacher” meaning Betty. It was as good as any that he was up to no good and I was mixed up with it. From that moment on the shutters came down on the partnership and I was looking for a way out.

At that time in the partnership Cyril was marketing the films under the name of Touchstone Films. It was a name given to a slatey kind of stone that had been used for centuries as a means of ascertaining the purity of gold and silver. We thought this was a very clever name but it was eventually realised that it was too clever by half and the general public hadn’t a clue as to what name meant.

Ex RAF film came to an end and the only alternative was to go to highly sensitive paper as the negative which served quite well as long as the camera was not used in poor light. He started a scheme of giving the films away for free and making a charge for processing them. He then dropped Touchstone and called the firm Free Films Ltd. He figured the public would understand the four letter word “Free” without any trouble a thought that fitted in well with his general contempt for the public at large. This would be early 1949 and by then Peg and I were married and living in Queens Gate No 123. Kath made it possible for us to get this basement flat through a connection with a Estate Agent she knew and with the passing over of £25 ‘key money’ we were soon installed in this very nice address all be it that it was in a basement. It had stone flagstones throughout except the large bedroom and living room. The very rear was a covered in glass space at the bottom of this deep well that formed the back of the four story building. This is where we would use as a bedroom when Pegs Mum and Dad came to live with us after selling up in Cheriton. The place took a good bit of keeping warm as the only heating was paraffin stoves and if any of the upper occupant dropped something off the window sills it would clatter down onto the glass roof. We always had a suspicion that the two women who occupied the very top flat were ladies of the night.

I took out a quarterly rental of a basement room in Queens Gate Gardens underneath a four story property occupied by a crazy Polish Dentist and a French Doctor. It occurs to me now that the dentist was on dope as his manner was so odd and erratic. With the help of Cliff we managed one week-end to get a darkroom built in the back room and before long I was in a position to start work on my own.

The next move was to get what working gear I had away from 221 Dawes Road and into the new place. What I had was primitive in the extreme by today’s standards. The film processing consisted of 4 porcelain deep tanks about 3 feet high and about 9 inches square, very heavy and just possible to man-handle. A few dishes for developing the prints and a box printer which looked like an old fashioned sewing machine with a treadle to work the viewing and exposing of the printing paper plus a glazing plate and hot box to put a glaze on the finished prints. I didn’t have any money to spare to hire any transport so I borrowed a hand cart from the builders next door to 221. So one Sunday morning found me trundling this lot of stuff covered with a sheet along the roads between Fulham and South Ken. I had just turned off the Brompton Road and into Harrington Gardens when a Police car came up and stopped just in front of me (to block my escape I suppose). The classic “‘Ello, ‘Ello, what ‘av we got ‘ere?”  did not come out but they wanted to know what I was doing so early in the morning. I remember to this day my reply: ”I’m transferring my place of business“, said in a supercilious tone of voice that I must have caught from Cyril. With that they looked at what was on the wheel-barrow and left me to get on my way.

I had got a credit account with Ilford’s of Essex for photographic paper and one with Johnsons of Hendon for chemicals and so I started to service the 4 customers I brought with me from Dawes Road, Shepherds’ Chemist in Greyhound Road, Fulham. Bob’s Drug store in Shephards Bush Market, Whybrow Drugs in Wandsworth Bridge Road and Hughes Chemist in South Kensington. On an ex policeman’s bike I used to cycle to these outlets everyday to pick up any photographic work that needed developing and printing. In the winter I would do the round perhaps twice a week. So widespread were these shops that it could take an hour and a half to get round so before long I was looking for a quicker solution. The pickings in the winter months were hardly worth the effort. The total take for the first three months of 1949 was 22 pounds 2 shillings and 3½ pennies according to a works’ ledger still extant. The half-penny would feature in the book till 1950 when perhaps it got phased out. In contrast to those figures the August takings were £147-5-9.

The quicker solution was to buy a petrol driven device that you could fix to the rear of the push bike and a revolving drum would help the back wheel go round. In fact we got one each but I can’t remember Peg using hers but this was a big help in getting round the few shops I had without too much effort. With a small satchel over my shoulder I would whiz around and pick up the work. Somehow I managed to lose a packet of work belonging to a valued customer of a large chemist shop at the top of Queens Gate Gardens run by a Jewish guy who was a very difficult guy to deal with. In fact in my time I have 3 Jewish dealers and all were capable of giving us a hard time if things did not suit them. They naturally ran very successful outfits. This packet of missing work was a most distressing time. I even took an add in the Press offering a reward for it’s return so desperate to show that it’s loss was not taken lightly by me. Time healed the incident, they were only missing images after all and not an arm or a leg but you would think otherwise from the yells of anguish issuing forth from the other side.

During the war a miniature motor-bike had been developed I suppose for dispatch riders and these had been modified post-war for road use.   I bought one and cut the round-time down to half. They were quite small and with a little struggle one could get it tucked under your arm. In fact, at the end of the day I used to pick it up and walk down the stone steps to the flat and park it in the coal cellar.

The 4 stone tanks were manoeuvred close to the large butlers sink, 3 on the floor and 1 standing in the sink. The first one was for the developer, the second was a water rinse and the third was full of fixing solution (hypo). The one in the sink was the final wash with running water to get rid of all chemicals. In total darkness, films would be stripped of the backing paper a double sided clip would both hold the customers name and the film and with a bottom clip would get lowered into the developer with several others on a rod to get several minutes development time. Then a water rinse before getting 10 minutes in the fixer. By that time the lights could come on and I could stand on a box to get them in the wash tank standing in the sink.

The fact of dry films going in and wet ones coming out meant that the solution level would drop a little every time. At one stage I had run out of the topping up solution and was waiting for a delivery. I could not allow the level to drop too low otherwise the top negative would not get developed so I would add water and make a little allowance in time to accommodate the weaker mix. There was a limit to this so the next move was to drop a chemical bottle filled with water and on the end of a piece of string. This brought the level up quite a good bit. Still the delivery never came. The final move was to drop another bottle in to the tank.

I could hear the clink of metal clips on the bottles as I agitated the films in the mix but one day I had to develop a 116 film which was a couple of inches longer than normal. The nightmare that followed would haunt me for months.

The bottom clip got jammed in between the two bottles and the  rod of films was impossible to get released from the developer. Their time was up by now and in the dark I managed to get the regular films of the rod and onto another and into the fix. They were safe but the 116 was still stuck. The only answer was to empty the rinse tank and then somehow bale out the developer into the empty rinse. When it was empty enough to lift I managed to tip the contents into the sink with a sickening crash of bottles and clips. Of course by this time the film was not only as black as pots but it was scratched all over and quite irredeemable.

The next difficulty was telling the shop-keeper the bad news that his customer was due for a big disappointment when he came to collect his processed film. These missing images for that’s all they were, could be anything from a daughters wedding (that was the worst) to a round the world never to be forgotten holiday or just a random shot of their backyard. Another poor night’s sleep and then it was ‘unto the breach dear friends’ and get the bad news dealt with as well as I could manage.
          This was a task that had to be done lots of times as films or negatives got lost, mixed up, or damaged whilst in our hands. An incident that remains with me still was the occasion where a customer had sent in a small print of her young son being presented with a trophy of some kind by the Duke of Edinburgh. The print had been bent in the middle and I thought if it was re-washed and re-glazed the blemish would get removed. Foolishly it was put in with a lot more prints to be glazed and was never seen again, Oh Lordy, Lordy here we go again!

Eventually, the work of developing and printing by hand would get highly automated but it would take another 15 years of so before it was reached when the trade could have used Tate & Lyle’s slogan “Untouched by Human Hand”. An early device was to use a light meter to measure the light coming through the negative and so determine how much exposing light to use. This fell down in its inability to know what the point of interest was in the negative as it only gave average reading of the film. Also it could not tell whether the shot was high contrast or low and needed soft or hard paper to get the best result.

After about a year at the basement address Pop Wigens spotted an advert for some premises in Ifield Road. The last 10 years of a head lease was available for £600. It was a four storey building making up shop and basement and a flat above. The only outgoings were £25 ground rent per annum plus rates. With a small loan from Dad I scraped enough to secure the place and so we finished up in Number 61 Ifield Road with the works in the shop and living above. The place had been empty for years after suffering bomb damage and had been made good by some jobbing builder. “Made Good” was a misnomer really as the first night would show. We had gone to bed in the top front room when it started to rain and water started to run down the wall of the bedroom that butted on the Ifield Tavern that was our next door neighbour. The bitumastic shell-back roof missed out on joining the wall at that side, the other side was O.K. Perhaps they just ran out of stuff. Apart from that the bedroom was fine.

Mark was born the following year, our first born. 1953 was a very good year as apart from Mark arriving we were blessed with a legacy from a maiden aunt who I had never known. She had run a sweets and tobacconist together with her sister also a single lady. The amount was about £675 and few months later she died and again left money to nieces and nephews, this time an even larger sum something over £900. 
This benefaction put us in a wonderful position as to a house purchase and St Goar Cottage soon had a new owner. We loved its unique character as an old coach-house and I never failed to be uplifted on coming up Manfred Road and seeing this little haven at the corner.  It was not perfect by any means and Peg’s Dad was very dubious about the buy. It was without a damp course for one thing and in parts the plaster threatened to come off the wall. My solution to that was I suppose typical of my way of dealing with trouble. I put sheets of hardboard up against the offence and then papered over it and hoped it would go away or just forget about it and put it out of my mind. I had other priorities to deal with. It remained like that for the next 33 years. This bodging all stemmed from my pathological brake on parting with money until every possible avenue had been explored.

The central heating was unorthodox too. Instead of the piping returning from the downstairs bathroom via the passage way to the kitchen boiler it went outside and then a right angled turn to get to the boiler. The piping being submerged under 6 inches of soil and topped with a section of crazy paving. Amazingly this crude way of getting over a problem never bothered us until the time it came to sell but the winter before we put it on the market I noticed the ground in that area would give of steam in the cold air. I was always going to do something about it but kept putting it off. However with buyers likely to call I started to dig down and see just what the trouble was. Sure enough the cast iron conduit had corroded and sprung a minute leak, the lagging having almost disappeared. Whilst looking at the situation and pondering as to how to get some replacement piping to fix things to my horror the fresh air got to the damage and before my very eyes the piping stated to crumble and water was starting to spray all over the place. I quickly dashed in the house to get the stop cock switched off and get to damage limitation stage. The job was beyond me so a local plumber fixed that section but I guess the new owners would in time see steam coming out of the ground and wonder. We were very happy at St Goar, Roger was born in 1956 and both boys enjoyed the big garden, especially when I rigged up a pulley on a rope between two trees. When we had the Austin A30 car the boys used to drive right round the house and do three point turns in the big court-yard long before they could drive legally.

A welcome feature of the property was the 7 lock-up garages that formed part of the boundary of the garden. A ‘nice little earner’ but the down side was the daily thud, thud, thud as the local kids played football against the garage doors and then booted the ball into the garden.

About this time the boys made contact with Edward Dixon via the son of the local vicar who had taken Edward under his wing. Ed was almost totally deaf having suffered some early illness and his speach was very difficult to understand but the boys were pals with Edward for years. He was an amusing lad and very brave and venturesome almost reckless. The vision of him riding his bike to go home with a ladder on his shoulders and turning round to say cheerio and the ladder swinging around at right-angles remains with us still. Through Edward we got to know his parents Jo and Hilda and his sister Janet. They were very active in the Labour Party and at election times Hilda would be busy with leaflets and posters in supporters’ windows. Jo was the head of Camberwell Art College and the house in Putney Bridge Road was open house to ex students and Labour fellow travellers. Joe loved wood and painted surface would be scrubbed clean to show either bare floor boards or the grain in treads and banister rails. A great admirer of the Bauhaus style of building and furniture and the bourgeois thing of “roses round the door” was anathema to him. A lunch with them would be well fortified with Jo’s home made wine of which took up a lot of space in the vast cellar. After all the chat and eating both would stretch out on the bare boards in the dining room and with a head rest they would be away but not before inviting everyone to follow suit if space could be found. Jo’s art-work also had an austere and sombre look and seemed to be done in browns and greens. Whilst admiring the man we could not take to his painting. One piece however did appeal and we gladly paid his price of £250. As much as anything was the fact that we could warm to the subject as it was the scene of the main-line rail bridge that crossed Putney Bridge Road not far from Oakhill Road. Some time later we got it over to Holland and to Mark and Marijke’s house.

Hilda was a committed smoker and her early demise at 60 in 1976 was I suspect a direct result of the habit. Jo enjoyed many years living in Italy until 1992 when he passed on. A remarkable couple and we were privileged to have been part of their lives at that time.

Edward’s sister Janet married a bright economist Alan Bell and they look a large house in Earlsfield Road, Wandsworth. Here again Jo’s thing about bare boards would be in evidence. A scrubbed look prevailed and no carpets. Wall-to-wall would have been a no-no. Alan had a good government job working from offices at Millbank on the Embankment whilst Janet had followed her parents into academia and was teaching locally. They had a baby girl Rachel in the year Hilda died 1976. One door closes and another door opens.

The first car we bought was a two door Singer Bantam from Charlie Senter, Kath’s partner who had the nerve to say it had only been used by an old lady to go to church on Sunday. I guess he had pulled that stroke so often in the past he could not resist giving it an airing once more.

We used to go to Welling sometimes to join up with Bet and Cliff who were living there at the time. The route was via Shooters Hill. There was set of traffic lights at the bottom of the hill and as the Singer was so under powered it was always a bit of luck to find the lights a Green so we could crack on a get half way up the other side and keep the revs up till we made the top. A nasty trick it had up it’s sleeve was to get its Bendicks arm jammed in with the starter cog wheel and all you got from the starter pull was a dismal whirring sound. The only way out of trouble was to put the car in gear and rock it back and forth to try and dislodge them back into position.

The joy of the house and garden was that it was so secure and Mark & Roger would have lots of the local kids in to play with. I grew every kind of fruit that it was possible to grow, every berry you could name and all the top fruit plus grapes and figs. We also had a busy time with Peg coping with ailing parents for a period with my Mum in the garden room for a year or more and Pegs Dad in his last days. Mum’s stay finally proved too much for Peg what with the kids and her elderly Dad and we sadly had the job of finding her a furnished room nearby in Atney Road just off Putney Bridge Road. We would be in and out seeing she was O.K. but it was a sad time but we did what we thought was the best for all parties. Peg’s Dad stayed at St Goar till he died in the Autumn of 1961 and then dear old Ethel the following Spring in Putney Hospital: far too young. Atney Road proved to be not to Ma’s liking after a while and she moved again. She moved several times including a spell with Grace and Ted in Vauxhall. Her final resting place was with Louise Pearce in Steyning, East Sussex. Louise was a spinster lady in her late sixties when Ma went there. Her Dad had been a farmer and she was a kind of Hannah Hawkswell, tough but very kind. The house was a nineteen-twenties bungalow. No central heating as I remember and heating in the winter would be the open fire in the big sitting room with generally a large log coming out from the fire four or more feet long with smoke filling the room and Ma in the far corner trying to fan the fumes away but not in any way showing discomfort. She knew Louise was doing her best. Autumn visits would be remembered for the fruit being garnered from the big garden and fruit flies hovering over the abundance of produce waiting to be either bottled or jam preserve. I don’t think the stay was more than 2 years and Ma died without us knowing she was slipping away. After Ma’ death Louise would make the journey to London to see the Art Exhibitions and have Peg join her. By this time Louise was almost bent double with arthritus but regardless she would outpace Peg by a mile existing on a hand full of nuts and raisons from her machintosh pocket. A nights stay at St Goar Cottage and she would be back to Steyning. Peg came to dread these visits as she had such a hard job to match the energy of the art lover.
A disturbing feature of 61 was that the whole the facade was in a slow state of slippage as the large 10x10 timbers that were the support at ground floor and first floor were rotten due to water getting during it’s bombed period. When you looked at the building from the street you could see the dip in the middle and I was never very happy about too many of us gathering in the area by the windows foolishly thinking our weight would make any difference.’

I set up shop as soon as I could by rigging up a partition across the bit by the big shop window and made a counter out of an old low desk. The desk was so low it had to be stood on a quartet of big empty petrol cans.  It gave the effect of a shop counter. I had to be watchful for any customer making a move to lean against it as I would have to quickly lean also to keep things stable and then to step back as he stepped back.

The basement was in very bad shape, the floor was just rough concrete that gave on dust as you walked on it. The best room was the rear back room which could be used as a dark-room. It had a back door that led out into a 10 foot area that was open to the sky 40feet up passed the backs of the 4 floors. An outside toilet occupied one corner, never used. All that was needed to make a darkroom was a blackout arrangement up of the window and a trough and a bit of plumbing. It could then be made light-proof but not fool prove as an event would show much later when I took on staff to help the growing business.

These early days were very exciting and exhilarating. I was totally on my own, getting a small living out of this very competitive trade. At that time there was 70 to 80 developing and printing (D&P) works of various sizes in the city and all trying to keep what customers they had and get some more if the next guy tripped up. Speed of service got to a state where 24 hours turn around was the norm and it was a nerve racking job to keep it up especially in the busy summer months. My day would be from 7am till 7pm. I always was home in the evening going hell for leather all day to maintain that. I knew several firms that had the bosses working right through the night to keep up the service. It didn’t pay to let things slip as there were firms going round the shops canvassing for trade and seeing if the shop was happy with whom was doing the photo work. I loved it, often likening to sailing a small boat in a rough sea, but I was really riding a tiger.

The only rep Ilfords had in my area was a nice old boy quite near to retiring age and although quite deaf had managed to keep in work for the Ilford firm. He was so helpful to me in these early stages. as went round the shop he would find out whether they had a D&P service or whether they wanted to change and he managed to pass over several shops to me in this way.  We got on fine and he even invited us to tea one Sunday. The house was a very fine old vicarage and I got the impression that he had money behind him and the job was to keep him in an interesting daily contact with the trade.

With the extra business I began to take on help. To start with these would be part-time lady helpers with kids at school. The disadvantage with this arrangement was that when the school hols came along they were needed at home with the youngsters so chaps who knew something about the trade would get taken on.

Jerry Caesar was an early helper. Actually christened Gerald Julius Caesar, but in no way at all in the image of his namesake. He was a thin weedy insignificant looking guy but he was married and had 5 kids and living out at Mitcham. He was no stranger to graft and had worked in Birmingham for a while which he hated. Thought Birmingham a terrible place: “Work, Work, Work” were his comment on that city. He had to get to work by public transport which meant several bus changes which naturally resulted in late starts. I must have beefed about this and he said he would learn to drive and get a car and then be able to take his brood out for drives: every ones ambition.

I was able to help him in taking out the van we had at that time and get some experience driving round the streets during the lunch break. He would get himself in such a nervous state before getting in the car that as soon as he got in the car windows would steam up completely and we had to get them clean and dry before getting underway. A lovely man, we got on fine. I can see him now padding round the basement room with his flat feet hanging up the wet films to dry. He had been a waiter. His kids kept rats as pets which I thought most bizarre.

Eventually he got his driving licence and a car, but the start times didn’t seem to improve. I could not see what the difficulty was so I asked him what route he was taking. He said he didn’t know the route ‘cos he followed the trolley bus from Mitcham till he got a bit nearer Fulham. He did eventually cut the umbilical cord between him and the back of the bus and go free.  He must have felt like saying “Look no hands”.

By this time I had got the basement floor bitumised and in good order and mechanisation was well under way. One of the first major innovations was to move from single sheets of paper to a continuous roll of paper in order that it could be processed in a machine. The first were made out of wood. Marine ply I guess in a framework of treated angle iron. It had a thin plastic belt running through the machine that the roll of paper could clip on to and then it would go through the various chemicals and finish up getting glazed on a chromium plated heated drum going round and round and dragging the paper along.  This speeded things up greatly. The routine was to print off a quantity of prints in the roll and then start the roll off on its development cycle. At the end it would finish up in a roll all dried and glazed all ready to be put  into packets with the matching negatives.

One day I realized that this rolling up time could be done away with if instead the printed work went straight into the machine. A bit of slack had to be created to allow for clipping on and then it was a case of printing as fast as you could to keep up with the speed of the machine. At the glazed end someone would cut off the work as it got dried and then into the packets. The reduction of time was fantastic. The dealers could not understand how we could pick up the work in the morning and have it back the same afternoon. It didn’t last. The problem was that quite often a bunch of films would have to be printed that needed extra exposure time and keeping up with the machine was impossible. However it was great fun while it lasted.

This early wonderful machine was to turn into a nasty beast before a year was up. The acid fumy atmosphere coming from the fixer tank section began to eat away the surface of the angle iron and rust dust would sit ominously waiting to drop into the solution helped by the vibration of the machine. This would get carried along on the print and get nicely bedded in as it got glazed the print finishing up with ginger freckled complexion.
The surface of the drum had to be get spotlessly clean and polished otherwise the machine would punish us severely. A slight pitting of the surface could cause the prints to stick and then disaster would occur as the drum would carry on turning and wrapping the wet work around the drum un glazed and also pulling back into the mess the completed stuff.

I suppose marine ply was all that was available to the makers of this quite revolutionary machine but it was prone to leakage and eventually better types were being sold and we moved on.
John Trigger lived at Burnham Beeches which has got to be over 20 miles from Fulham. He used to make the trip in a beat-up old Triumph Herald which were well known for being prone to body rust. John’s had caught the complaint badly with wheel arches in danger of coming away in a strong wind. The state of the car and the traffic often caused late starts. The solution we came to was not to go home at all at the days end but to sleep at the lab.

We rigged up a bed in the enlarging room and he would kip down nightly after I guess a few beers in the Ifield Tavern next door. The room took on a different pong after a while but it was John’s work room anyway. A big raw boned lad, very likeable and we got on fine. One day he approached me with a problem, he said he had got his girl in ‘trouble’ and he was going to marry her and he could not manage on the probable pittance I was paying him. He was going to do the honourable thing and so I thought I should back him up with a respectable rise as I did not want to lose him.

Months went by and I began to wonder about how things were panning out. When I broached the subject with John he sheepishly said that it had all been a faults alarm and that he was gratefully relieved. My feelings were different. I couldn’t go back to where we were before so the present wage structure was maintained.

In the 1960’s the Wholesale Photo Finishers Association was formed to try and bring some agreed pricing to the trade and other benefits. At the first meeting Laurie Fedder of Putney was voted as Chairman of the S.W. London branch with me as his vice chairman. It was not a comfortable position for me. I was more at home writing small contributions to the monthly journal which I did for 12 months. A fun junket was arranged every year at the end of the season and the first was a trip to Munich and Cologne. Fedder was not all that keen to go as he was Jewish and although it was 15 years after the war he felt uneasy about it but thought of the jollifications overcame his doubts.

We were feted royally by our German trade counterparts. A memorable dinner in an old Bavarian Hunting lodge and in Cologne a meal in the revolving tower. Before the winter was over a Dinner Dance was held at some London venue and speeches were in order. I had to reply on behalf of the guests. I sweated blood over this never having done public speaking in my life. However, it went down amazingly well and plaudits came thick and fast as I managed to come up with something quite amusing and relevant. The buzz from that was something I had never experienced before. The next year I was chairman and another speech was required. I worked on this but it turned out to be a dummy and that was the end of my after dinner speaking.

These meeting were interesting in that you found out how other firms were operating. I soon found out that many have huge turnover but actual profit at the end was not much more than I was getting and working almost single handed. A revelation at one dinner was to be sitting next to the managing director of Ilford ltd and he said he was quite ready to quit and but himself a sweets and tobacco shop. That was an eye opener.

At some stage having got fully mechanised and seeing that we had spare capacity I fell for a dumb idea of buying out a small firm out at Boston Manor Road Hanwell which were still doing D&P by hand. I thought mechanisation would get some profit out of the deal. In spite of it being a 15 mile round trip I still was keen. The route from Hammersmith was out on the Great West Road. and Cromwell Road extension. The flyover at Hammersmith was just built and they were about to start on the overhead dual carriageway which seemed to be the most amazing road building feat ever. I marvelled at how it could be done.

We had a bubble car at the time with a maximum speed of 56mph. Terrifying to be batting down the dual road and to have a couple of high sided big things either side of you, you felt quite vulnerable. Les Ditch who used to come with me used to close her eyes. Funny little item, the door was at the front and you just stepped out on to the road, starting was fickle and the small tyres were prone to get punctures. I think a mini van followed the Heinkel. I installed a automatic printer and paid off a couple of the small staff and made it pay a little. Eventually I would close it down completely and take all the work back to Fulham to be done. It was a mad move and after a time I dropped the whole Hanwell connection.

It was a mad time in general, work, work, work and no chance of a holiday. I recall we went 7 years before we took a weeks holiday and then it would be at the beginning of November. We used to get away for a day at the week-end and get down to the Isle of Grain. About a 50 mile run from Putney where we had moved to then and with the old London Taxi trundle with picnic stuff and the two boys. A very peaceful area as it was on the road to nowhere in particular. Just a few villages, the Thames estuary looking out to the Isle of Sheppey on one side  and the Essex coast and Canvey Island on the other, plus the oil refinery at Grain. We knew we were near our week-end haven when we could smell the oil, wonderful. The kids would get muddy and we would try kite flying. Perhaps a pub meal or picnic and then it was time to get back.

With a staff of about 6or7 we did eventually get away for a week leaving with some trepidation and went off on a wing and prayer. Les was detailed to develop the films in the basement back room. When we returned I was met by a disconsolate Les. She had ruined a batch of films. On starting the process she had switched off the light and started to strip the films ready to go in the dev tank, she also at the same time closed her eyes so that it was a shock when she finally opened them to find the window not blacked out. Another butt-clenching incident to be dealt with.

Eventually the job of developing films would get mechanized where set of arms would pick up the rods of films and drop them into their respective tanks all time and temperature controlled. Marine ply again used to build them. After some months of use I noted that the floor was wet with Hypo solution and that the tank had sprung a small leak. The simplest thing was to just top up and get the level right. In the nature of things it got worse with me mopping and topping to keep up with it. To renew the machine was quite out of the question at a thousand pounds or thereabouts. The answer came to me to get a firm of plastics to fabricate a lining for the tank. So having taken exact measurements of the inside the plastic sleeve dropped into the empty space and cured the problem. Very satisfactory: £50 as against £1,000.

At a time when Jerry was with us we had the incident the rat. The only way it could have got in the premises was via the toilet which had not been used for years and I think the water in the U-bend had evaporated and he was free to come up from the drains. It was foolish enough to come out of hiding one afternoon and Jerry and I started to try and catch him. He finished up in a built in big cupboard space under the stairs. It had a door at the big end and a tiny door at the sharp end which had a small hole big enough for a rat to get through. With Jerry rattling a broom at one end I waited with foot poised at the hole. Sure enough he immerged and was crushed instantly by my foot. Quite a nasty feeling to crush something even as objectionable as a rat with ones foot and make sure it was well and truly a gonner.

Another nasty episode was the maggot invasion. I don’t think I told anyone about this as it was such a disgusting thing to have happened and especially as it caused by my Mum who was living in the flat above. She had obviously been careless in disposing of some meat product in the bin in the passage way just above the lab. It was high summer and I came in on the Monday morning to find maggots everywhere. The bin was teeming with them. Once I had got that out into the street I set about trying to clear all this objection up. We had girls operating the printers and under any scrap of paper were maggots. Fortunately I was in a hour before anyone would turn up for work but I felt sure if they had got a glimpse of these horrors they would have been off.

242 Fulham Road was in between the wine shop on the corner of Hollywood Road and Fulham Road, on the other side was a little sweets & tobacco shop that had been part of the Fulham Road scene for decades and so had 242. An old couple and a dog lived and worked there. He was an old time photographer who had only just stopped using plate cameras. He would take passport photos and do a bit of copying and get by somehow. He used to get us to do the making of the copy negatives and then he would make enlargements and get whatever the traffic could bare.  The place smelt awful with the constant cooking up of dog food and bad ventilation.

Not sure of the events that brought me to buy them out but that is what happened in about 1965/6. It seemed a good idea and it turned out well. A young lad name of Norman something was with us and he was dead keen. It was his keen attitude that kept me pepped up to get it set up. We got a modern frontage put in with grilling behind the windows as we intended to stock some good quality cameras and West Brompton Cameras as our shop name.

I was amazed later to have done this as we got cine cameras to sell and I had never even opened the back of one and as for loading up the film I had to rely on Norman as the kid seemed able to figure out just how to handle the things. He had such confidence that I could leave him for a spell while I would pop back to the lab and see that things were going on O.K.

We started to take in films for printing and these would go round to the lab and come back finished in quick time. Before long we were doing quite a trade. Eventually the amount of work that we were getting in was equal to half a dozen of the chemist dealers. The fact that the customer could see that the person behind the counter appeared to know what he was talking about inspired confidence and things went from strength to strength.

Norman eventually moved on, too bright a boy to stop at being a shop person and I then had a number of characters help me run the place. A chap came in one day and said he had owned a photo shop in Istanbul in the main souk and wanted to take a part time job to improve his English. Bazhat Aren was his name and he was hot stuff with the enlarger, making excellent prints from mediocre material. His English was good enough to deal with customers and his attitude was of the best. He came in very late one morning and on raising this he said that he had not slept well as the phrase “wrong way round” would not let him go. When one tries it the mouth and lips get quite a bit of exercise.

We had pigeon-holes for the finished work and I generally knew whose work was waiting to be collected. One day a chap went out of the shop empty-handed and as Bazhat had served him I asked why he hadn’t collected his photos. His explanation was that it was always a good idea to get the customer to come to the shop more than once as it made sure the customer knew where the shop was. This made good sense in the souk in Istanbul but it hardly applied to the Fulham Road. I admired his thinking never-the-less. He was not Turkish but Yugoslavian and had worked in Turkey many Years.

The premises at 242 were very old ,the only alterations we made were to put in a new door and smart shop window complete with shatter-proof glass hanging on chains behind the windows. This was a waste of money as when the thieves came it was through the roof and ceiling. I was aghast one morning to open up the shop and find the display de-nuded of all the expensive cameras. Also, true to my method of working, no insurance. However by that time I realized that camera sales were not going to be our salvation. It would be the quick D&P service. We would leave Dixons a clear field!

An indication of how old the place was would be the outside toilet. It was conical in shape with a large wooden board over with the necessary hole in the middle. No hinge, all fixed. One day I paid it a visit and was confronted by two large grubby foot prints either side of the drop. They could not belong to anyone other that Bazhat. I can’t recall making an issue of it and just put it down to his Eastern habit showing up in the right place when faced with this very down market loo. I used to use the Ifield Road one until a modern loo was installed.

We got along with odd part-time help for a while until trade was good enough to support some qualified permanent help to manage the shop with out me having to keep popping in and out. An advert in the trade press brought forth George Scott all the way down from Carlisle. As soon as he walked in the door with his camel haired coat on I knew he was gay. He had the walk too but not too much.

George was a gem, no doubt about it. He had style in spades. Everything he did had his stamp on it. A friend of his came down from the North not really quite sure where the shop was but as soon as he saw the window display he knew George was inside. He was fully conversant with all aspects of the trade. Peg found him a small flat to stay west of Putney High and then later she found him another towards Wandsworth. He was to be part of our team for 18 years.

He was a great fan of Musicals, Theatre, Cinema and the stage in general. He got himself in to an amateur musical comedy group and we would go to Richmond to see “our” George on stage. A treasure to be sure and he soon got a host of people male and female who would just love to come in the shop and chat with him. The Fulham/Chelsea area was full of his kind of arty show biz type and he was in his element. And they loved him. I recall one day that George off and some woman came in the shop looking round for George and then saying to me “Where the nice man?”. I felt like saying “You’ll just have to put up with me darling”.

One of the names in the clientele was a Royal Portrait Painter Leonard Bowden. He needed us to both take photos of his sitters and make prints as an aid to getting a likeness. I think George went to the Palace twice on this caper and needed to take a calming pill the night before every time. On the last occasion he came back in some distress and said “I lied to the Queen!”   He was only supposed to use Black & White film but he could not resist slipping in a colour film for one last take. The Queen who had been a sitter dozens and dozens of over her long reign knew exactly what was afoot and said “Is that a colour film Mr Scott” to which our George replied “ No Ma’am, it’s just a foreign type”. It worried him for days. Leonard Bowden found that the Queen’s hands and fingers which where quite used to handling the reins of a horse were not very elegant so he would use his wife’s hands as a model.

Prince Philip was another trial for George. Not easy and always complaining that too many photos were being taken and when old Bowden tripped over the cable to the flash equipment said “Not surprised with all these wires all over the place”. An American artist took George along to the Palace to take photos of Prince Charles with a horse. Of the various poses that they tried out was Charles with his hand on his hip standing by the horse. Charles would not sanction that one and the finished painting did not feature the horse either. The artist annoyed the Palace authorities by having his mail from America addressed “c/o Buckingham Palace London” until they made a protest. May be he thought they would be worth something.

The short lease at 242 ran out and the opportunity came about to take on a longer lease at 284. These premises were 5 times as big as 242 and George was really able to go to town with designing the shop lay-out and the windows. The basement was turned into a studio and a dark-room in the back rooms. Prior to our taking over the place it had been a ships chandlers which was a strange shop to have in the Fulham Road at first sight but Chelsea Reach was not far away so perhaps that is where the trade came from. The floor above the shop was let as an office later to be turned into a one bedroom flat and above that was a two story maisonette.

Another interesting job that George enjoyed more was to take photos of Mrs Thatcher as she was then at Downing St. He said she was very easy and co-operative to whatever was suggested.

By the time Leonard Bowden died aged 88 he had painted the Queen 10 times and yet never became a household name. Of all the photographers that came to help him he said that the ones with the most equipment turned out the worst work.

George continued to run the shop with the help of his side-kick Gerald Flood till I retired and then a few more years with Roger as the new owner. When finally and reluctantly Roger had to close it down as it was loosing money mainly due to the mail-order free-film opposition George started to collect customers written words of  well wishing and appreciation of the service they had received from this pair. It ran to a 120 separate testimonies of how well the pair had operated the shop. A few ran as follows:
“From your Ladies, Frances & Priscilla. We will miss you & your chats”
“Life will not be the same. Simon”
“You even closed with style. Love Joan E”
“I saw the sign and wept. Ronny”
“The soul of Fulham Road died when Photo Graphics closed. Dot Lenny”.

Peter Spencer was a regular chum of George. He was something of an amateur impresario of light opera and musical comedy. George featured in one or two musicals and we would go along to see him on stage in Richmond. His chum would arrive in the evening just as we were about to close the shop to take George to rehearsals. He would be on a powerful motorbike dressed in leathers and George would ride pillion and then brummm off into Fulham Road’s sunset.

Among George’s talents was the ability to dust and sweep and he turned this to earn him some money after the shop closed. He ‘did’ for 4 or 5 of his ladies for quite a while until an opening came in the shape of a guide at Buckingham Palace when it opened it’s doors to the public. I think he did two seasons there and was hoping to get a similar job at the National Gallery when he died of a heart attack doing what he loved most: shopping in Putney High Street. He was only 56. An indication of how his friends and acquaintances treasured him was his funeral. They were from Carlisle of course, Show-Biz, shop customers and his gay friends. The church was packed.

Life at the shop could be quite fun with the George having the opportunity to chat and gossip with the various notables that frequented the Chelsea/Fulham area. Laurie Lee used to drop in from time to time. I could never be sure whether his lady companion was his wife or his daughter. Tony Britton the actor lived opposite in Netherton Gardens and he often in for a chat with George. The Earl of Pembroke was someone that George was happy to fawn over. He signed his cheques “Pembroke”. The painter/sculptor Alan Jones had a studio round the corner in Hollywood Road and his erotically featured nudes would first see the light of day in the shape of photos at the shop. We would have the chance to see them before Alan did. His most famous piece of sculpting was the table made out of a nude woman on all fours with the table top resting on her back. The celebrated gay of those days in the area was Quentin Crisp who lived nearby before he went to live in New York and it was fun to see him trolling along the Fulham Road. He was connected with photographic but at the other end of the lens as he had earned a living as a model at the Chelsea Art College.

One of the shop helpers was a local lad Mike Wyatt. He was useful but not brilliant. The trouble with brilliant lads was they never stayed very long so we often had to put up with the mediocre. His speech delivery was not wonderful and I had to pull him up one more than one occasion for his habit of asking the customers name; it came out as “sname?”. I said “why don’t you say “What is the name Sir or Madam as the case might be” instead of sname, but it still came out as sname.  Another lad we had with a quirky sense of humour was this lad who I had to reprimand for not having a more respectful attitude to customers.  An example was serving a customer with the name of Hyles. The lad on writing the name in the order pad says “Hiles Sir? As in Piles?”. I had to have him on one side and tell him not to try and take the piss.

We had some wonderful customers but the only ones who were difficult were the bunch of priests from the nearby Catholic Church and the academics from the local school. One lot had little faith and the others lacked trust. They seemed to think we were all out to diddle them somehow. Maud Cecil however was a delight to deal with. She had a studio in Cranley Gardens and although she was only a minor portrait painter the fact that she was connected to THE Cecils made her someone we could gladly faun over. When she died the contents of the studio were sold off and we bought 3 pieces of her work. Two were portraits and the other a reclining nude. The portraits are hanging at Green Pastures and the nude is hidden in the loft.

Mike Wyatt moved on and up popped his younger brother Martin. An exceptionally gifted boy who used to help out in the shop on Saturdays. He was of the same orientation as George and both loved the stage and cinema although Martin was very high-brow and intellectual. His big interest was Wagner, he was crazy about it. Should it come to the naming of parts re the Ring Cycle nothing would be missed out. Amazingly high-brow for a 16-17 year old boy. If he went to a film or a play the whole story would get retailed to me the next day from beginning to the end. Whitty too. The occasion when we had completely re-organized the basement at the lab and we invited him round from the shop to see the improvements his clever response was: “I remember when this was all green fields”.

At this time Mike Joss was working for us at the lab as a printer. The knowledge needed could be acquired in a couple of days with average savvy and one just got better with working the system. Mike was a really bright lad. I knew when I took him on that he would move on before long and eventually he did and emigrated to Canada. He was a really reliable chap and an asset. 

His Dad died in a most unfortunate gliding accident one week-end. The tow-rope parted before his craft reached enough height and the crash was fatal. Mike owned a most unusual car which created much interest, an Austin Champ. Richard Copple who was around at that time recalls its colours as custard yellow and grape purple arranged or deranged in a blotchy psychedelic camouflage pattern. It carried two carbon arc lamps either side of the windscreen which when lit gave a fierce light and a sparky crackle that would burn out a retina if looked at too long. I recall Richard working on the car outside the Ifield Tavern with his head under the bonnet and the rain tippling down but Rich quite oblivious as he was bent on fixing whatever was wrong. Richard was no quitter. He was in at the demise of the Champ having joined Mike to tow it to a braker’s yard in Battersea after stripping it of some of it’s more interesting parts.

Some years after Richard moved to Canada he tried one hot week-end to hitch-hike to see if he could get in touch with Mike but when he found the house Mike was not there. Richard slumped down on the back door step and dropped off to doze. When he woke his hand was still covering his open shirt and all round was sun-burn leaving a splayed hand print on his chest which was to remain there for weeks to remind him of an aborted trek. The farm that Richard had been working paid the casuals off and so the address that was left with Mike lost.

After a while at the lab colour photography came to be the next trend and with that we began to do work for professional photographer which was more of an all year round trade as opposed to the D&P which was seasonal. In the main it was weddings and banquet work. Roger had got busy doing banquet work and brought work in. He teamed up occasionally with a Jewish camera man called Frank Sussman. He was just about the sharpest operator who ever pressed the shutter button. At a function like a University College Ball he would be like shark amongst minnows. After a nights work he could come home in the early hours with up to a thousand pounds stuffed in and around his person with Roger doing quite nicely too. We had several operators doing similar work. Going round the late night restaurants and taking groups at the tables. This was a better paying game and gradually I began to drop the D&P trade and concentrate on this new field.

Sussman was tenacious when he was in action, he was unique in extracting cash from folk and once in his pocket the chances of it being re-funded were very slim indeed. The management of venues saw his methods as harassment and on one occasion he was thrown out three times before he took them seriously. He was welcome at the lab however, without a doubt he was our biggest customer. The trouble with Frank was that he was always reluctant to pay all the bill and would leave say a third un-paid. This led to confusion and if there was a loop hole to exploit he would find it and I was often caught out. He was so clever and manipulative that it was no disgrace to be diddled by him. He was the prototype of the chap who was behind you going through a revolving door but coming out in front and quite impervious to insults too. An example of the man’s chutzpah was the time with Roger in the West-end and wanting a coffee and a burger he pushed ahead of a dozen in a queue and demanded that he be served as the police were threatening to take his car away from the pavement and got away with it.

He was married with two young girls about 12 & 14 at the time when the I.R.A. were putting bombs about in Town. They were near a cinema when it was being evacuated due to a bomb scare but after a half hour they all started to go back in again so Frank and the family went in with them … free. It would not have mattered if they had seen the film before, it was a free do.

Roger tells the story of a very lucrative nights work and driving home with Franks pockets stuffed with money and the cars petrol gauge getting in the red. Looking for an all night fill-up and on finding one in the early hours but no Green Shield Stamps he took off again to seek another.

Doing work for these high rollers was very lucrative but the downside was if films got spoilt or ruined totally with the operator out of pocket on the nights work I felt under an obligation to compensate them for the loss which could a double blow to me.

The free lance photographer was a strange bird and took many forms, one interesting character was Leonard Hamilton who doubled up taking photos with hairdressing and the studio would do duty as a place to get your hair cut unisex or have a portrait done. Leonard liked the hairdressing part but it seemed to me that he was averse to cutting hair so you always felt you came out with more hair than you went in with. Lovely man with a laid back bohemian life style.

    We could not choose who brought work in to the lab and some were quite unsavoury.       A customer called Ken Rose finished up in the News of The World by running a scam in the West End taking photos of young girls with a promise of a job in modelling or show-biz which was completely bogus. Some how we at the lab were named in the affair on what grounds I cannot imagine or remember. He disappeared and we were not sorry to see the back of him, he was a most unpleasant type.

At some stage I had run down the work to such an extent that there was only Roger and myself at the lab. Looking through old records I see that in 1966 we had 24 dealers on the books and by March 1970 we were down to 4 but boosted by the pro’s. At lunch time we would walk to the Earls Court Road and get a meal at The Hot Pot. A quick service eatery run by an Italian family. They had a very successful formula for turning out tasty inexpensive meals, the place was always busy. They had their regulars which we would see daily. One I remember would study the menu for quite a few minutes while the waitress waiting and then with a smile say “I think I’ll have a cheese omelette today” as though it was a new treat. But he had it yesterday and the day before and all last week.

There was an old boy who had a very bad nervous habit of tapping quite sharply his knife against the side of the plate. It would annoy the person at the next table as it was such a sharp crack of a noise. There was no way these nice Italian owners would bar him from coming in so they provided him with a set of plastic tools and plate.

Then there was the man with two enormous Alsatian dogs which used to sit at his feet and make a low growl whilst he ate. Very troubling if you were at the next table.

Peg and I went on holiday to Italy one year and as they had said “drop in if your passing” after we had done Rome we took the train to the other side of Italy and got to Pescara where Pepi and the owner lived. There was no other reason to go to Pescara other than down right curiosity about this family. We had the address but no phone number so the evening before we decided to call on them we set about trying to find their whereabouts. We were walking down this nice avenue and saw this chap in the distance clipping his hedge just about where i thought the house number might be. As we got nearer he turned to see who was approaching and then did a marvellous double take as he recognised me as an old customer from the Earls Court Pot. He was so thrilled that we had sort him out. We had just a little while with him and his wife followed with an invitation to a meal the next day. We were bowled over with the style of the house. Particularly the bathrooms and kitchen with exquisite tiling in abundance. A super lunch followed and then we went to a nearby village where they showed us the house that Pepi and his wife and 3 little girls would live in when they would all come back to Italy for a holiday from their life in London and Pepi’s eventually retirement. We were impressed by the little girls bedroom. 3 beds all in a row, so neat with matching bed linen. It was quite an experience to see how both the families had done well and prospered through hard work in a foreign country.

One day after a Pot lunch Roger and I came back to the lab to find we had locked ourselves out. There was no back entrance easily accessible in fact the back door was at the bottom of the area four floors down from the roof. The only way was to ask the lady at the Ifield if I could go through her back bedroom and get on to our bit of flat roof and open a window on to the half landing. Once inside the flat the only solution was to shin down a drain pipe to get to the bottom and the back door which I knew to be open. What made this desperate measure was the fact that we had chemicals heating up and were timed to be ready by the time we got back from lunch. The drain pipe looked secure enough and I could get a good grip round it. I grabbed hold of the pipe and heaved myself out in the open. It must have been 40 feet down to the bottom and I was working my way down just with the grip round the pipe. What I had not expected was that as my weight took charge my grip had to intensify and my knuckles and the backs of my hand were biting into the rough brickwork at the back of the pipe. There was nothing I could do but grit my teeth and continue down. No damage was done apart from my roughed up hands and we were at last inside and able to carry on working.  It was then “Into the breach dear friends” a phrase I had thought to myself many times in the past. Later   I used to have cold sweats at the thought.

Long before “The Pot” visits was the daily lunch at Bertorelli’s restaurant. I always thought I was doing O.K. by taking time out at lunch time to have a decent meal and a glass of wine. Whilst the gang at the lab were tucking in to sandwiches I was sitting down in what I thought was the luxury of a proper meal. The chef there made the most excellent cannelloni, the toasted cheese topping done to perfection. A single was 1/9 and a double 3/6. Minestrone soup followed by the single plus a glass of red and finish off with wonderful ice cream. What more could I ask. At first the decor was just as they had taken over from Lloyds Dairy who pre-war had shops all over London. The walls were covered in decorative tiles depicting dairy-maids sitting on three-legged stools milking contented cows. The seating arrangements were like stalls. You slid in on fixed long seats and ate off the fixed table with a high back secluding you from next door.  Eventually this was up-dated to accommodate more covers but thankfully the tiles remained.

We favoured another Italian eating place along the Fulham Road just passed St Stephens Hospital. The chef would have preferred to be known as Venetian as he was brought up in Venice and had in his youth been a fine swimmer and partook in the annual swimming gala in the main lagoon. What had us coming back day after day was his Lasagne. The kitchen was below the pavement level and he would come up the wooden steps with a tray of eats and bellow WEE-BAA, WEE-BAA. What it meant we never knew except that our meal was almost there. He was over weight and not a fit man and I guess the steps got the better of him and he retired and things were never the same again.

With the D&P trade at a low ebb we were about to take a new source of income. From an early age Roger had earned money from taking photos of shops and selling them as an OPEN & CLOSED sign to display on front doors. Soon Estate Agents were seeing the benefit of giving out publicity material with colour photos attached and Roger was soon building up a connection of dealers who would contact him to take photos of properties. These would be done at the lab. Agents in the area were made aware of the service we offered and before long we had to engage photographers to do the photography. We had about four chaps who supplied their own motor-bike transport and they would whiz around and get the films back quick enough to enable the lab to turn out the finished work for delivery the next day. Speed and a blue sky in the photos was what the agents liked. Over a few years this got to be quite an established and profitable line. It was not without its problems and by this time I was in my sixties and still going full tilt. However an incident occurred that brought about a change.  I can’t remember the young chap’s name, he was no genius and he was in line to be paid off at a suitable time as he really didn’t measure up. One afternoon he was returning to the lab from his mission, got a hundred yards from our door when he failed to see a car come in from the side road and crashed into it. An ambulance came and took the poor lad off to hospital as he had broken a leg. The whole incident shook me up badly even though I hadn’t seen the crash I had heard it and for well over an hour I could not function properly. I was in shock and it decided me to make a move and shake off the business altogether, I felt it was one hit too many. There had been several occasions when I had to stop and rest for just a few minutes while my heart stopped its erratic thumping and get back to normal. This had been going on for a year or so intermittently so the move to shed the load and take a break was due. A nominal sum was thought up and the business was transferred to Roger fairly quickly. Sadly I had the rotten job of giving the poor guy in hospital his P45 as we could not afford to carry him any longer as a passenger. I gave him some extra wages but his Mother spotted that I had not followed the procedure correctly and I had a solicitor’s letter to cope with. After seeking advice I finished up paying him some compensation money which I was quite happy to do to get the thing settled.

The next big event was to start a new life in the country and shake off the cares of London altogether and house hunting was the excitement for some weeks until Peg went in hospital near Christmas time and it was spring before we got looking for properties again. In the Easter week-end of 1986 we found Green Pastures and a brand new adventure started up in the country. St Goar Cottage went for sale but it was September before we could take up life at Holton. And then it was the fun of the vineyard.


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