In 1961 I left school at nearly seventeen. I was an apprenticed plumber with a firm called
G.N.Haden and sons, based in Tailstock Square. Travelling across London from building site to building site, three weeks here, four months there, I was pared with one of the firms Directors son called Tony Frost. You would not believe it but his dad was called Jack Frost. Anyway, Tony and I worked on some very peculiar sites. One that particularly comes to mind was at the Barbican – London Wall, a huge office complex in two stages. The first stage was concrete and several stories high, while we the plumbers were still in the ground laying “Stanton and Staverly” cast iron pipes, for the mains water supplies, in the second stage. A joint canteen served both sites and card gambling games were the norm at dinnertimes. 3 – 7 – and 9 card Brag were popular but solo and poker were also played. As a stupid teenager I had not the sense to know that my wonderful hand of three twos could be beaten and of course bet more money than I had against the Crane Driver, who it turned out, had three jacks. Totally and utterly embarrassed I had to promise my next four weeks wages – that’s if I lived that long, when I was to go home and tell Mum, I wouldn’t have my share of the housekeeping money for her. Well, I’ll forever be in debt to that crane driver as he made a further wager that against all I owed him, I would not have the nerve to climb into the bucket on his crane. Well of course I accepted and with the whole site assembled with more than a bit of bravado I jumped into the iron bucket.
I should explain that on this site the crane could not only lift up and down, it could also spin in 320 degrees, the bucket trolley pulleys could travel the length of the arm, (stopping and starting at his will) as well as the whole crane trundle backward and forward on railway rails. Within the first five seconds I was absolutely terrified. The driver had somehow managed to raise the bucket to the top of the arm at the same time swinging it round, but the added piquancy (from his point of view) was to add the already gut wrenching vibration set in motion by moving not only the bucket to the furthest end of the arm (which seemed to get skinnier by the yard) but also to increase the vibrations a thousand fold by moving the whole edifice along the track. Three lessons were learnt that day. Not to gamble. Not to show off and to always Respect older people. They had more wisdom and ways to teach lessons that would last a lifetime. OK there was no such thing as Health & Safety at work then. But I did learn that lesson well and truly.
My apprenticeship with G.N.Haden & Sons was not a happy experience. Although, it did make me grow up in some peculiar ways. For example, it was not un-usual to be told to go to various builders / plumbers merchants at a moments notice. Some of these places were often miles and miles away, and I soon became quite expert on navigating my way through the tube and over-ground train systems. In the freezing winter of 1964/65 I was working at the (then new) head offices building of Wates Builders in Norbury South London. Told to go to (I think) “Lines builders merchants” in the Caledonian Road near Kings Cross to collect some rain water roof outlets, I set off, with the hump as only an eighteen year old can have, simply because I would have had to basically travel across London four times that day. It was my seething “it’s not fare” mentality that at 6am that day I had walked to the Angel Islington Tube Station, caught the south bound tube and travelled the 15 stops to Balham interchange with the over-head railway. Gone through the next 7 stops to Norbury Station and then walked about a mile and a quarter up the London Road towards (I think) Thornton. This journey was tedious to say the least but vexing when having to be done four times in one day. Anyway on reporting to the counter of “Lines Builders Merchants” for the collection of the said Rain water outlets, the bloke behind the counter (with a raised eyebrow) asked if I had a van? I explained that although I did have a license to drive I could not afford a vehicle. The counter hand then suggested that perhaps I might want to take half the order and come back, later for the other half! I was at this point pissed off and refused point blank to make yet another journey and told the guy to just give me the Rain Water Outlets. ( I might have used the word bloody, or even something worse). Bearing in mind that I had at that stage the raging hump about another two journeys too and from the site in Norbury, Well, I was gob smacked when after disappearing into the bowels of Lines, the counter-hand dragged a huge sack of 12 x 8 inch cast iron rain water outlets. They were massive and heavy.
Isn’t it strange that teenagers can’t say Oops I might have made a mistake. That sack was now my Nemesis, big time, having signed for it. I dragged it out of the shop towards Kings Cross Station , but within yards just knew my strength would be challenged that day. I tried putting it on my shoulders but given the cast iron curvature of the outlets, I was soon forced to drag them along the pavement, which was ankle deep in snow. You can imagine just how far I got dragging this huge sack before the snow pushed up into a small mountain in front of the sack .I’m guessing but I think the outlets weighed about 9 stones. From Lines merchants to Kings Cross tube its about a normal 10 minute walk, It took me over an hour that day. It is some years now since I’ve entered the tube system from the Kings Cross area but in those days I seem to remember a humongous number of stairs and given that those bloody outlets were cast iron, I had to dig them out of the sack two at a time, carry them down the stairs and then go back for the others. Once on the train to Balham I had to look forward to several more flights of stairs and of course the Mile and quarter walk up the London Road to the site. I had set of for the builders merchants about 10am that day and finally dragged those bloody outlets onto the site at 5.15pm. I had only a chocolate bar to eat all day, and wouldn’t you know it when I got there the Foreman gave me a roasting for skiving off all day.