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Author Topic: A Life of Chaos  (Read 70730 times)

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Offline Lyn L

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Re: A Life of Chaos
« Reply #6 on: January 16, 2014, 13:49:35 »
Patiently awaiting the next instalment  :) Great reading S4 .
Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life tryi


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Re: A Life of Chaos
« Reply #5 on: January 16, 2014, 13:41:36 »
Nice one SS4, at this rate you can take your time getting back on your feet foot

Offline helcion

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Re: A Life of Chaos
« Reply #4 on: January 16, 2014, 08:10:47 »
SS4    -

Excellent !   Keep 'em coming   -  wish that I had your recall.

Hope that you're finding that writing your 'memoirs' is keeping boredom at bay.

Bought back memories too,  Highstead was one of my first 'industrial railway' visits [really must scan those slides] & I was a volunteer on the building of the spiral at Dduallt.

Offline grandarog

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  • RAF Halton 1957-1960
Re: A Life of Chaos
« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2014, 07:40:25 »
 Well Done mate! What a magnificent read, very well constructed and written. (An example to the rest of us.)  You have certainly been busy stuck indoors with your leg up. 
 It seems you had a better grounding in steam and boilers before you were 5 years old than most of us had that operated boilers as adults.  :)
 Looking forward to the rest of your autobiography, keep it coming.


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Re: A Life of Chaos
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2014, 05:59:31 »
Blimey, no wonder that you became a lorry driver, with all that moving houses and locations as a child it must of impregnated you with some kind of wander-lust.
Look forward to seeing why you never became a train driver - good stuff, keep it coming. These mini life stories are as good as any plain history facts.

Offline Sentinel S4

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A Life of Chaos
« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2014, 22:47:08 »
As I am laid up at the moment someone suggested I do a bit of writing. Foolishly it has been suggested that my life or parts thereof should be done. Well you asked for it. I cannot be held responsible for the following post, I only lived it. I have tried to keep it in some kind of order time wise but there are bound to be errors so please bear with me.

A Life of Chaos.
Part 1.

I was born on the 7th February 1965, I personally have no recollection of that wondrous day as I was really too young. Dad took me home to 42 Ruins Barn Road in a Daimler Century Conquest, again the memory is not quite there but I am told that the tram lines were still on the surface of the road on Chatham Hill. My first real memories are in the back garden of 42 when I would go to the bottom of the garden through the back gate onto the rear access path and watch the trains at work in the ‘new’ chalk hole at Highstead. I must have been all of two at the time but I well remember the big face shovels at work and the short trains running around and vanishing through the tunnel into the big quarry.  Another of the clear memories is of scrounging biscuits from the elderly couple next door who would always seem to have an endless supply, I still have a passion for biscuits (as I write this I am devouring a family pack of custard crèmes……). Another memory is of being in my push chair and being propelled out head first onto the road when a stone jammed one of the wheels.. I got a large plastic toy tractor for that injury that used to go everywhere with me. We were going to meet Dad from work at Shell research and it was a bright, hot summers day and the Chestnut trees were in full bloom with tall cones of white and pink flowers (I do remember these little details quite well).
In those wonderful, far off days there were not the concerns of today and I have memories of being left outside shops when Mum went shopping. None of the worry of kiddie crimes, yes the Moors Murders were still in the news but we were in Sittingbourne far, far from there. Anyway I never knew my Paternal Grandmother, she left my Grandfather many years before (I have read the letter she left him and the poor woman suffered from a huge psychological breakdown of some sort). One day I am parked outside of the newspaper offices, Mum had worked there before me arriving and still ‘did’ for them on reception to cover staff absence, when this older woman came up to me. She bent down and I remember her saying “So you are young S4 then, John must be proud of you” (John being Granddad). That is so clear in my memory that to this day I believe that she was my Grandmother and if so it is the only time I ever saw her. I believe that she died in 1987, the year that I married.
The next thing I remember was a huge upheaval that left Mum and I living out at Allhallows with her Sister and brood (four daughters all under the age of 8) in a caravan. We kids got the double bed, topping and tailing and generally having a lot of fun, I was about two and a half by then. Dad had got a job in Australia working on the Murray River on paddle steamers and we were supposed to follow him out there some six months later. However the owners of the fleet decided that it was time to close down just before we were meant to leave. The result was that I did not get to Oz and Dad had to come home. In the meantime Mum and I had moved into Faversham with Grandma and Grandpa.
We were living on Bramble Hill Road, I really can’t remember for how long but it was for a few months only. Grandpa had been a Policeman in Faversham for most of his life and was huge, 6’7” whereas Grandma was a little tiny woman of 5’2”. Some residents of a certain age still remember PC Jack Gregory (aka Snaky), and those whom had reason, still shudder.  His Beat was Oare, Bysing Wood and out toward Newnham. To me though, he was a gentle giant. I was very lucky as both my Grandfathers doted on me and my solitary Grandmother was also the same. I could do no wrong and was always kept well stocked with boiled sweets, biscuits and chocolate, my poor Mother must have suffered from these constant gifts for me.
Dad got a job at St Augustine’s Hospital in early 1968 just as I turned three and for a short while we lived in Broadstairs and I discovered TV for the first time. We were in a flat on the seafront and it was cold, winter time in any seaside town is cold. The walk up to the library was awful as it was always into the stinging wind but when you got there you would see the fountain frozen solid, another one of those ineffable details that stick in the memory. By the spring of ’68 we were in 24 The Crescent in the village of Chartham.
Dad started as a Stoker at the Hospital. They had two huge Babcox and Wilcox boilers as well as two Lancashire and two Yorkshire types. The four boilers in use at the time were all coal fired. The Babcox had chain grates (basically a fire proof conveyor belt) that were hopper fed. The hoppers were fed by the stokers with long handled shovels. The Lancs were fed through the fire doors as one would expect. As a three year old I often ‘helped’ Dad fire these massive boilers by hanging on the end of the shovel. I was introduced to steam very young as you can see and the passion has never waned, nor will, it has become part of my being. At that time there was a magnificent brick chimney on the site but it was not in the best of condition and the base was beginning to rot. When it was announced that Chislet Colliery was being closed in 1969, the main receiver of coal from here had been the Southern Region for their steam loco fleet and as that no longer existed there was no reason to keep digging apart from the Hospital supply for Chartham, the decision was taken to burn oil instead. To this end not only was the chance taken to replace the old boilers but the chimney as well.
The late 1960’s were times of great change in not only society but working practice as well. Gone were the great mainline steam locos, going were the great marine fleet and coming forward were the cars, Lorries and diesel trains. So where to get three steam boilers? The feelers were put out and two sources were found. One was at Ashford. The Loco fitting shop had four West Country/Battle of Britain loco boilers brand new and ready for delivery. Being Bullied boilers they would have taken oil firing with almost no modification. Three were inspected but for some reason the deal fell through. I believe they were cut up at the works around 1971/2. Instead three Marshall Anderson oil fired boilers were bought instead. They were supposed to be fitted into a fleet of new Trawlers but the owner decided to go for diesel engines instead. I have often wondered what happened to the steam engines that these boilers were supposed to have fed. At the same time these were being installed the steel chimney was being assembled, there really is no other name for it as it was no built but bolted together. I compared it to a stack of bean cans and within the family the name stuck. During this wonderful Halcyon period we had a TV, a COLOUR TV at that. Bearing in mind that at this time the news was full of the Vietnam War there was one event that stuck in my mind. It was a slightly fuzzy image of a man in a white suit bouncing around on the Moon. I was smitten, star struck and forever in love with flight. These days I can make out Orion and the Plough and that is it for me with stars but if I see an aircraft it is a different matter.
Every week Mum caught the bus (Drew’s Coaches) into Canterbury on a Saturday morning to go shopping. The first stop was always right across the road from the bus station into Vision Hire. How I used to love looking at the new TV’s in the window showing the programmes at the time (all three channels!!!!). This shop was next door to Ricemans, another of those exotic places for a child to explore complete with lifts and escalator. From there it was around to Woodhouse (roughly where MacDonald’s is today) to pay for the furniture. After that the shopping would start, sometimes there would be a visit into Smiths to pick up a Model Engineer magazine for Dad (I would enjoy looking at the pics on the way home), then David Greigs and finally around to the Greengrocer next door to the bus station. The final port of call would be the coffee shop in the bus station (later to become Morrellis) before catching the bus home. That was the routine for most Saturdays, how I still despise shopping on a Saturday and have not been into the city on that day for about 15 years.
Monday was wash day and Mum had this enormous brute of a machine. It was a top loader that had a huge spiral agitator in the middle and a wringer attachment on the right hand side of the top. We also had a separate spin dryer that would leap and gyrate around the kitchen when running. This had a spout on the front that the water came out of into the washing up bowl, no pump or hose on this machine. The washer also doubled as a boiler so Mum could boil the sheets and it would sit there sighing and groaning as it did so and then leap into life when the washing cycle was turned on. However the one change that did worry Mum was when we changed from Town Gas to Natural Gas.
We were independent of the mains gas as the Hospital produced its own supply. As such, when Chislet closed we lost our gas so had to be connected. Canterbury had converted some year or two before as had the rest of Chartham and Shalmsford Street and only the Hospital Complex remained. Our cooker was a top grill monster of iron, steel and enamel with a pilot light and a wand. For those not of a certain age the pilot light was a constant but to light the rings, oven or grill there was the wand. This was a long flexible pipe with a handle and tube fitted at the outer end and was hung on the side of the cooker on a valve that was turned on when you removed the wand. The tip of the wand was the pointed at the pilot light and the gas lit. With this nice, naked flame you then proceeded to light the rings, oven or grill. Great and safe stuff going on here… I remember seeing the yellow tags on the cooker that stated that it had been converted but as this happened before the changeover we had to live on take-away food for a week, I still have fond memories of the Chinese in Wincheap (still there some 40+ years on and still doing some really good food) and the chippy across the road from it (again still there and still good food).
When the changeover came it took Mum some time to get used to the Natural gas, she claimed it burned hotter than Town gas so we had a couple of burnt meals. That said, Mum is still the 2nd best cook I know (the Trailer comes in at 1st place) and what she did with the money (never that much) to be had was amazing. At this time Chartham was quite well off for shops as there was Rattington Street Post Office with a VG just down from the Artichoke, then you had the Butchers on the corner of Parish Road by the Church, along from there opposite the Green was an Ironmonger, then you had the Co-op, paper shop and Post Office on Shalmsford Street (two of the three still exist there) and finally there was the Handy Stores at the end of the Crescent. I could write a chapter on that place alone but the name belied what it really was. In truth it was always struggling to exist. Sometimes they had fruit, sometimes veg, occasionally both but they always had a good supply of tobacco and sweets as well as bread and milk. The village also had six pubs and two social clubs and a Legion. Of the pubs three remain but both social clubs are long gone, one at the Hospital and the other for the Paper Mill which is now the Village Hall, from what I can gather the Legion is also but a memory. The Pubs were, from the Hospital: The Fagge Arms (now named The Local), The Artichoke, The Railway (at the level crossing), The Queens Head (on the Village Green, last Land Lady being Vi Baker), The Cross Keys (Bolts Hill) and finally The George. Only the ‘choke and the George have their original names and are still going, as is the renamed Fagge.
The house was quite large for a tied ‘cottage’. There was a kitchen, living room, front room and toilet down stairs, 2/3rds of the way up the stairs was the bathroom and the three bedrooms were off of the landing. The two larger bedrooms had fire grates as did the two main rooms down stairs. None of this central heating gubbins, no double glazing either, just a four coal fires of which only one was ever used. The garden had two remnants of the orchard that were there before the house and I soon learned to climb and fall. During this summer I managed my first break, my left arm. I was swinging on the front gate waiting for Dad to come home for lunch and I fell. I managed to eat my lunch before it just began to hurt too much and I found that I lost control of it. I was taken to the K & C and had my first plaster cast on a greenstick fracture of my left arm. Like all kids this did not slow me down and no sooner was I home but I was back up on the gate waiting for Dad to come home from work in the afternoon……
About this time Dad got another motor cycle, a Sunbeam S7. He and I covered many hundreds of miles on this machine in those pre-crash helmet days. Dad likes the steel wind pumps and he used to get the latest OS map and we would go on a hunt for these beasts. Often we would just find a tower minus the wind head but I was also shown the abandoned railways of Kent. Hence places like Poison Cross, Ash, Frittenden Road, Horsmonden, Gouldhurst, Minster and Sandwich Road are all familiar names and places for me. He also kindled my love of these machines, I built a 1/8 scale a few years back when I got bored. Dad also built a wind pump to circulate the water in the fish pond; his was ¾ full size and guess who used to do the oiling of the wind head, sans ladder…. will this child never learn? One day I took the quick way down, semi-controlled for a change, but I managed to land on an apple and banged my head on the tree trunk. I must have knocked myself out because I had lost a bit of time and Mum was cross because she had dinner ready and I was late. This was late summer 1968 and in the early autumn Mum got a job as an apple picker. This was fun for a kid as we used to charge around the orchard generally getting in the way. This was old school apple picking that involved ladders being used to get to the tops of the trees, the old fashioned style of ‘A’ frame such as window cleaners used until recent times.
In the spring of ’69 we went to Wales for a holiday. Dad had been evacuated to Gorsinon in South Wales for the first part of the war but had hated it. He came home in a terrible state hygienically and fluent in the language. We went down in a Commer forward control Dormobile. This was an awesome time for me as there was so much to see. The Rhondda was in full cry complete with steam haulage at the pits and that enthralled me. Many years ago I heard a song by Max Boyce called ‘Rhondda Grey’ and I do remember a severe lack of colour way back when the pits were working. It was a grim, fascinating landscape that Dad did not linger in too long. A little while later we past the huge steel works at Port Talbot and again Steam was to the fore in the yard. There was a friend of the family with us on this trip whose name a few might recognise, Arthur Wells the photographer, and he needed to get a picture of everything with a boiler and chimney. We found, high on a mountain side, one of the Merionethshire County Council Aveling and Porter rollers sheeted down for the night. She was in light steam and smelled as only a hot engine can; just right. I believe that she is now preserved and is in the same livery that I saw all those years ago.
Dad managed to drive into Gorsinon and park right outside the house that he lived in for that time in the 1940’s. Bearing in mind he had never driven here before or been back since he came home to Kent as an eight year old. I have always thought that this was not bad going. In those days there were not many camping sites in Wales and more often than not we parked in the Castles that litter the country.  It was wonderful to wake up and be surrounded by turrets and castellation, I could pretend that I was a Knight or better (never a Princess though). We ambled north in search of the legendary Great Little Railways but somehow we missed out on the Vale of Rheidol at Aberystwyth and the first ride was on the Talyllyn at Tywyn up toward Abergynolwn which was as far as the line went then. Further north we found the Ffestiniog and rode to Ddaullt, again as far as we could go. The company were at the time building the spiral to bypass the abandoned Moelwyn tunnel. We were hauled by a Fairly Double loco (I refuse to call them double Enders) and that is about all I remember of that trip apart from being disappointed that the mountains were not the cones that all kids draw. Next was a trip up Snowdon propelled by Wyddfa. The Driver promised that he would get us as far as possible and he did. I remember the loco making magnificent noise as she pushed us up the grade, I remember the smokebox door glowing (I think he had an air leak as they should never glow like that) and I remember the coach being eased to a stand in a drift of late snow about 100 yards above Clogwyn. The guard got out of the coach and got up onto the loco and the crew drew the canvas dodgers around and hunkered down for the wait, in the warm.
I also can still see the great galleries of the slate quarries, Llanberis. They were vast and quiet and almost dead when I saw them. They were also shrouded in rain but if you knew where to look, and Dad did, there were plenty of steam locos to be found and opportunities for a small boy to get dirty, and he did. The rest of the day was spent on the hunt of the long gone Welsh Highland Railway. As we went down the Aberglasyn Pass Dad pulled over and pointed out a ledge high above the road on the other side of the river. He explained that trains once went along there and through the tunnels, I remember asking if trains would come back and was told that they never would, how was Dad to know that nearly forty five years later I would call him from Caernarvon after travelling through those same tunnels. After that it was a succession of castles until we were back in England and the long haul home. I did not get back to Wales until 1999 and the changes were stunning, gone were the pits, gone was the grey cast to everything and gone were the railways that served the Valleys……..
I had a lot of freedom in those far off days, we lived half a mile from an Asylum that was full, 1,500 patients then, yet the kids of the area used the place as a playground. We would be out almost all day building camps, climbing trees, playing hide-and-seek or pom-pom or even on occasion football. However there was one slight problem creeping up on me and it was that I was having trouble seeing things at a distance. Like all kids I thought nothing of it and carried on as normal, even if it did frustrate Mum and Dad when they pointed something out to me and I failed to see it straight away. I soon learned to lie as this saved a lot of hassle but I was struggling. Whether this was down to the thump my head took a year earlier I have no idea but I have a feeling that the two are connected.
The spring of 1970 saw the new boilers commissioned at St Augustine’s. Unlike the old coal fired boilers these were noisy machines that needed very little attention from the stokers by comparison. It became more of a marine installation, very clean and not as much fun as before. Oil was delivered by Wincanton tankers that ground their way up the drive three times a week, coal was on a daily basis, to pump their load into the ‘bund’ (the tanks were in a brick building that was leak proof). It was in one of these magnificent Foden units that I had my first experience of a real lorry. The Driver offered Dad a lift up the drive and as I was with him I got to sit on the engine cover. This was a huge thing that was covered in quilted leather with the chromed gear leaver coming out of the top. The gear knob was a large wooden ball and there was no air parking brake but a lever with a ratchet release, no bunk or sleeper cabs in those days. I fell in love with Lorries then and became known to all of the regular Drivers and was often to be found in a cab. One day there were two deliveries scheduled and the first driver took me down to the Water works at Thanington and handed me over to his mate to bring me back to Chartham, as far as I know my parents have never found out about that trip.
Another highlight of those years was the fire-alarm going off. Generally this would be the steam whistles on the boiler-house being blown, four short then four long blasts, at which point us kids would gather on the green in front of the Crescent to see who would get there first; Chilham or Canterbury. It was always a race between the crews that was generally won by the volunteer crew at Chilham. Sometimes it seemed that they took the Downs Road/Crescent/Drive junction on two wheels only to be followed by Canterbury a couple of mins later. After ten mins they would slink back down the drive and go back to their respective stations. The first time I saw this sight the pump from Chilham still had a bell as well as two tones, the Canterbury pumps were much more modern and only had two tones. It was a wonderful spectacle that can never be repeated as there is now a roundabout at the foot of the drive.
One of Dads duties was to blow the whistles at 0900 every Monday morning. Firstly as a time check and secondly as a general fire practice. There were three whistles and were on two valves so they could be blown as a pair, a single or all three together. Although they were all a little different they sounded good together and the sound could be heard down in the village. One day I was taken to work with Dad and at 0900 I was allowed to pull the long handle that sounded the whistles. As a four/five year old I did not have the weight to be able to overcome the pressure but I did have Dad assisting me. He, I think, enjoyed this duty as being at heart a Marine Engineer who had served on both the Murray and the Yukon River Steamers he could play with them. Some days he would ‘quill’ them so that the pressure would take them up one at a time and then he would blow them hard and long but would always finish with a double ‘pop’. This must be something that I picked up as when I was on the Romney some twenty years later the first time George Barlow heard me blow the whistle of number 9 (Winston Churchill) he thought my Dad was back driving there (Dad worked there in the early 1950’s and I was there in the late 1980’s to the mid1990’s but that is for later on). Another of my favourite haunts was the Engine Room at the Hospital. Here hid three big Bellis and Morecombe compound generator sets. These were magnificent, huge, body thumping machines that could and did provide electricity for the site. They generally were exhausted into the calorifiers, huge condensers that provided hot water and heating for the site. On occasion they would be exhausted to atmosphere and the sound of one let alone two of these working hard would literally make your body shake. At the tender age of five I was shown how to start these wonderful engines. Not simply a case of open the throttle and stand back. They first had to be ‘barred’ until they were at Top Dead Center, this was done with a lever and a holes around the fly wheel (I was too small to do this bit), then open the cylinder drains and ease the throttle open just a touch. You then waited until the drains blew clear of water and opened the throttle wide; being balanced it was very easy. She would gently sigh as the first stroke descended and the huge fly wheel would slowly turn. As the piston rose then water would be blown out of the drains again and you would wait a few more strokes before shutting the cocks. Once shut you would wind the throttle closed a little, about a turn off of full for Number 5, and listen for a gentle ‘tink-tink’ that would indicate that you still had a little water in the cylinders. To stop that you just had to flick the drain cock lever and all would go quiet. By now she would be up to full speed, 573 rpm No 5 again, and the switches could be thrown on the main board. Once that was done she would slow to about 350 rpm and then the governor would cut in and open the throttle wide until 573 rpm was shown again. Wonderful stuff to be part of and I am glad that I was just old enough to be part of it. Somehow Dad pulled some strings and managed to obtain a Bellis Watch Keepers neck tie for me when I was about ten. I cherish this tie and wear it with pride, and fear that one day I will be challenged as to the right to wear it. I believe that I earned that right over the years with these three engines, over the years I helped strip them, rebuild them, run them and do the final disposal run with them (many years into the future for that here).
A day without learning something is a day lost and my brain is hungry. Feed me please.


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