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In the late 60’s I used to go out with a few male friends to a nightclub owned by a man who was just a year older than me. He was called Don, he had five nightclubs at this time and I must give credit where it was due. This Guy Don was a force to be reckoned with, I had nothing but admiration for him, the bastard. (GRIN) I must say, in all the years that I knew him, that would be about 40 years, he went from strength to strength and I never witnessed any trouble at any of his clubs. The layout, the décor, the entertainment value were quite astounding. My wife, my friends and I had many wonderful times at Don’s establishments. The cabaret floorshows were terrific. You could order a table enjoy a meal, relax and watch the show. He had loads of celebrities of the day, Lulu, Jack Jones, Frankie Vaughn, and Dusty Springfield etc etc.

It was sad when Don died at the age of sixty-six, what a loss to the world of entertainment. I first met Don at one of his nightclubs in Manchester. I’d just bought an imported American car; it was a Chevrolet Impala Convertible. It was a right hand drive 18 feet long and 7 foot wide a most spectacular motor and stood out like a sore thumb. It was racing green and looked so sleek and impressive. When one blasted the horn it played the song La Cooker Racher and everybody would turn around to have a look. God knows what they thought, I suppose the more mature people would be appalled by such flamboyance the not so old would find it quite amusing and the with-it type would be saying “Look at that big-headed bastard, I wish I had that car. Ha Ha! I was a big show off in my younger years, I loved to impress people but why not. I used to think, if you have a trumpet, blow it. I went to one of his clubs one night and parked the car outside on the road. I was stood at the bar with the lads I had arranged to meet there. We were drinking beer and weighing up the talent when a message came over the tannoy. “Would the owner of the car registration so and so please come to the reception” That was me, I’m wondering if there has been an accident as I made my way to reception. I saw the doormen who I had got to know during previous visits. They were talking to a man I later discovered was Don, the owner. I had had a tow bar fitted to the car to pull a trailer and Don wanted to know where I got it fitted. I thought that was a load of bullshit. I figured he wanted to know who the owner was of that big flashy American car. He was a good-looking man with a very strong face and his reputation was somewhat renowned for want of a better word. I later learned that he had served time in Borstal and he was not the type of man to cross. He was said to be ruthless and would squash you in the mud and walk over you to get on. He was a lovely guy by all means.

As the years rolled by I discovered that he was all right in small doses. I struck up a friendship with Don from the word go, he seemed to like me judging by the fact that he always singled me out whenever I visited his club. He’d ask me over to the bar, buy me a drink and would carry on a conversation with me. I never felt completely comfortable with him, I thought he was a bit off a skitsomaniac; he had to be in charge. I used to think to myself, he might be in charge of his staff but he sure isn’t in charge of me. His staff were all very wary of him they all toed the line and tret him with great respect. On a number of occasions I’d hear him bollocking them and never an argument ensued, yes sir, no sir was the order of the day, that’s what Don expected and that’s what Don got. You could sense his ruthlessness and it gave me the creeps. I was a tough cookie myself in those days and could give Don a good run for his money, but with all those burly bouncers he had at his command, I reckoned I’d be treading on very unsafe ground. I’d also heard that if he got into a fight with anybody, he wouldn’t stop battering them when he got the upper hand, oh no. He would just keep on kicking them till he broke a few bones. Yes, he was a lovely chappy to have as a friend. As I said, in small doses only. I think Don warmed up to me because he could see I was a man of equal determination to get on in life and he had found out that my childhood was splattered with skirmishes with the law. It was a case of, “It takes one to know one”. I remember one Saturday evening Hilda (my wife) and me went to a club that Don had recently opened. It was our favourite club at that time, late 60s. Bob Monkhouse was the entertainer that night. I was never keen on him and had only seen him on television. I wasn’t enthused by his presence but I must say, my mind was changed after seeing him live. What a talented man, I appreciated everything I saw him in after that night. Great show. Anyway, Don sidled up to me towards the end of the evening and invited us to join him and friends to have supper with him and his wife Jenny after the club closed. I was quite flattered but wondered what the hell he was after. He knew I was a builder. As the club cleared I was stood talking to Don’s male pals who grew up with him. Exchanging platitudes when Don approached me and asked me to go and tell Hilda to go and talk with the woman, as she was talking to the men as well as me. He was obviously in his I’m in charge mode. I looked at him and said “Fuck off Don, you go and tell her” I wasn’t bothered about his clubs as far as I was concerned he could stick them up his arse. He walked away then we had the supper thanked him and went home. This is where the skitso bit came in. After that incident, he banned Hilda from all his clubs! He didn’t ban me from the men’s night out club on Friday nights. This was another club he owned but he didn’t encourage me to join him at the bar for a while after. He wouldn’t even let his wife communicate with us when we bumped into her at a holiday resort we both belonged to in Wales. I used to tell Hilda not to bother with him; I told her it was a waste of time wrestling with a porcupine. I knew he would come around eventually. This he did about a year later.

We used to go to Wales very often in the summer months, we and two other married couples and all our children used to congregate on the beach and enjoy endless fun water skiing, fishing, sunbathing and picnicking. We all had motorboats which afforded us untold pleasure. We had three beautiful daughters our friends Jim & Audrey had two girls and Alan & Mavis were blessed with a boy and a girl. They were all around the same age and the joy of our get togethers was immeasurable. How I wish those magic years were still to come. It was at the end of one of those fun-packed days was coming to an end and we were all leaving the beach. Hilda and I saw the skitso walking towards us; he was wearing a bathing suit and cut quite a dashing figure. He had this grin on his face and I said to Hilda “Uhoo here comes the queer fellow. I had my water skies over my shoulder and was sporting a good tan and felt a good match for Don, minus his bouncers. He greeted us as if nothing had ever happened and I knew Hilda was pleased because I’m sure she had a secret desire for him. We exchanged pleasantries and he invited us to have refreshments in his chalet which commanding a beautiful view of the sea. It was a prestigious site and one that could only be acquired by dropping the site-manager a real good back-hander. My wife Hilda was a great personality and had a lovely soprano voice and I knew Don liked her and regretted barring her from his clubs. That was Don, a genius in many ways but an idiot in other ways. In the later years when he knew that Hilda could sing he would encourage her to get up and give a song at the many parties he threw and that we were invited to. You could see that Jenny (Don’s wife) was dead pleased to see us and that the tomfoolery had reached its finality. We enjoyed Jennie’s hospitality and during the course of the afternoon Don disappeared into another room and remerged with a load of drawings in his hands. He invited me to look at them, as they were the plans of another nightclub he had acquired. The club was in a little town in Lancashire, it was originally a church that had been turned into a nightclub. The club had run its course and had been closed for some time. It was all boarded up and looked a total eyesore. Down we sat stretched the rolled up plans across the table and began inspecting them. Don was asking me various questions of my thoughts of the layout. It was a big undertaking with there being loads of extensions to the existing layout. It was a big club as it was; Don’s plans were to almost double its capacity. There was a seventy-foot long wall, which supported the main church roof to be under-pinned and removed. The roof then had to be supported by a massive fabricated steel girder, which was subsequently lifted into place by two cranes. I began to wonder if Don was going to ask me to give him a quotation to do the work. As I was only a small builder, specialising in home extensions, i.e. kitchen, garage and bedroom extensions, this job was a bit outside my capabilities. I knew I would have to employ more tradesmen as I only worked with a small team. I did most of the work myself and I could whip in and out of a job like a blue-arsed fly. I got a joy from the compliments my customers made at the end of each job I performed. Their appreciation at the fact that their inconvenience was short-lived, as I worked late never came late and left the site clean and tidy. I could build a kitchen extension in a week, completed electrics, plumbing done, plastered, concrete paths around site cleaned and Bob’s your uncle give me the money Barney.

My worst fears were realised when Don asked me if I could do this work and would I care to give him a quote. My dear wife was astounded every time she came to visit my sites. She would call on me if I was working locally after taking the kids to school in the morning and would call again after she had picked them up at the end of the day. She would blast the horn and beckon me to come to the car shaking her hand in an agitated fashion. I’d curse, as I had to put my trowel down and stop working. Wasting time, damn! But it was always joyful to see my three sweet angels looking at me with big smiles on their faces waving and saying hi-ya dad. Hilda would comment on the amount of work I had done since she came in the morning, which made me feel good. She’d ask me what time I was coming home knowing that it would be eight o’clock or so. She also liked to see the customers I was working for, particularly the woman. If they were young and pretty she would accuse me of having an affair with them. Tut Tut! I had no time for distractions there was money involved. Maybe a quick bed-ender at the completion of the job, when the odd customer’s husband wasn’t satisfying his wife. I would, out of the kindness of my heart, step in and try to help out. Looking back now though. I can’t help getting pangs of remorse for being such a shit at deceiving my dear wife and three daughters. In my defense I would stress that it’s not so simple to resist a young housewife throwing themselves at you during the course of your propinquity. If there is a god to answer to when we pass over I will be happy to take my punishment for my infidelities. Back to Don’s question, could I do the job? Hilda answered the question before I had chance to open my mouth, “Of course he can!” she interjected. “You ought to see the speed he works!” Gee whiz, I was going to say no. I reluctantly agreed not wanting Don to think I was a small-time punk. I wasn’t big time that’s for sure. I liked tidy work not a big crew of men to deal with. Not having to stand in judgment of men, not having to deal with prima donna tradesmen who got shirty whenever you told them what to do. Having to sack people who didn’t come up to standard. That was not my cup of tea. I had had some of that when I first started my building firm. I wanted the simple life, knowing that I could give my customers what I promised and not relying on other tradesmen to deliver my promises. Having to put bad workmanship right, which I often had to when I surrounded myself with more men than I needed. No, I’d got it off to a fine art; I could sleep at night knowing everything was going hunky dory. Unfortunately I wasn’t a good delegator. Whenever I met an arsehole who wanted to bullshit me over a bad job, I would find it hard to reason with him. I would want to belt him right on the nose and tell him to fuck off. The smart delegator would reason with the employee and know how to get the best out. Sending him out of the office with a bee in his bonnet but determined to correct his failings.

So here I was leaving Don’s chalet with a load of drawings under my arm laughing and saying goodbye with a heavy heart. I bundled the plans into the back of the car and with a final wave to our hosts off we went back to our house. I turned to Hilda with a strangled voice I asked why the hell had she dropped me in the shit. “You can do it, you can do it!” she admonished. Bloody hell, I told her. The job is twenty miles from my builder’s yard it will take me an hour to get there before I start the work. She told me to tell him that I don’t want to do the job. Obviously that was the easy answer, but I am one of these men that hates to go back on his word. I can’t say no. God help me if I’d been born a woman, every smooth-talking bastard would have been shagging me. So there I was, well and truly incarcerated after a week or two agonising over the contract and trying to figure out how long it would take, followed by phone calls from Don. I finally came up with a price that I hoped Don would reject. Much to my dismay he didn’t, all he wanted to know was how quickly I could start. I gave him a date, which he accepted and I dreaded.

The day came and me and my boys loaded up the wagon with all the necessary equipment and off we went, my van following with the rest of the crew. There were five of us at that time. I knew I would have to employ some local men when I got the job underway. Something I did not relish. We got to the site and began to unload the vehicles. I was despairing, what the hell have I got myself into? I thought. I felt suicidal as I scanned the site. The club was a shambles, having originally being a church it was surrounded by gravestones. Some of the headstones were remarkable it was quite obvious that some very wealthy people had been buried there. My head was swimming and someone inside my head was screaming “Don’t do it, get to hell out of here.” I looked at the lads and shouted, “Stop! Load up again put the gear back on the trucks”. They looked at me in amazement as I told them I wasn’t doing the job. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.” I said and off we went. The architect that had done the drawings worked at a town hall, a slight detour would get me there. I sent my crew back to my yard and told them to do a bit of tidying up till I got back. I walked to the reception upon entering the town hall and asked the lady behind the desk to page the architect. I had met him before, he was a nice guy and easy to get along with. The poor bugger died just a few years later, I think he was only early fifties. It was the general belief that the club was haunted, it makes you wonder. Eeeeeeeeeeek! He turned up after a brief wait; he was smiling at me as he approached and asked me what he owed the honour of my visit to. I soon wiped the grin off his face when I offered him all the plans and told him I didn’t intend to do the job. His jaw hit the floor; he was speechless for a moment. “Jesus Derek” he said. “I’ve known builders being disappointed at having not gained a contract but I have never met a builder that has achieved a contract and reneged on it. Bloody hell this is a first”. I had definitely underpriced the job and this is what I told him. “Hang on” he said, “I will go and phone Don”. I paced around the corridor like a caged animal cursing myself for putting myself in such an embarrassing situation. The guy returned and told me that Don wanted me to call at his house, shit! More agro. Off I drove, although I had never been to his house I knew where it was. It was situated in fourteen acres of land and was visible from the road. It was a big manor house having its own stables and squash courts that Don had had built. Quite overwhelming for a guy like me who hadn’t attained these great heights. I reluctantly rang the bell on this great big oak door and waited with my heart thumping against my rib cage. The door opened and there stood Don with that inevitable grin on his face. “ Hi Don” I exhaled, trying to hide my embarrassment and unprofessionalism. “What’s the score?” he asked. “I’ve dropped a big clanger on the price” I told him I need at least another £6,000,00. That was the truth, I realised this when I stood on the car park at the club and realised the complexity of the job. I was amazed at Don’s calmness. I relaxed as he told me not to worry because he thought the price I gave was a bit low. He had obviously had other quotes much higher than mine therefore it was no surprise to him to see me on his doorstep with this problem. Don was a very crafty person as I learned as I got to deal with him more. You almost got the impression that he could read your mind. He obviously was reading my mind to realise I wasn’t bullshitting. He asked me to get back to the site and get the works underway and not to worry about the cost. So off I went as sick as a sea-going parrot still not wanting to tackle the job.

I phoned my yard from the town hall. (There was no mobile phones in those days) and told the boys to get back to the site. They must have been laughing their heads off on the way back. I didn’t know where to start first; my mind was in a spin. So I got the lads occupied and decided that I would give my attention to putting the big concrete blocks in the ground to support the seventy foot beam that was to support the church roof. I was on my own measuring things up at the back of the club. I was feeling desperate and wondering how I could get to hell off this nightmare of a job. I ended up laying a ladder on the ground laying down beside it and screaming for help. The boys came running round wondering what was happening and I gasped that I had just fell off the ladder and I thought I had broken my back. They called an ambulance from the police station and I was bundled in and transported to a hospital some ten miles away. I was immediately x-rayed and taken to a bed in the ward as I cracking on I was paralyzed. The nurse came to me and told me the x-rays had been scanned and that I hadn’t broke my back but needed to rest a few days before I could be released. I’m thinking to myself. If you only knew I was kidding you would be kicking me out of bed and running me through the hospital entrance post-haste. I got talking to the guys either side of me and they were sympathising with me over my bad luck. We ended up having a good laugh and finally as the night rolled on we went to sleep. The next morning I had my breakfast after which I decided I must get to hell out of there. I jumped out of bed with my bedmates telling me to be careful and asking me if I was alright. I assured them I was and started putting my clothes on. The staff nurse noticed me as she walked into the ward and ordered me back into bed. I apologised to her but told her I was discharging myself at which she looked alarmed. She warned me about the pitfalls of my decision at which I tried to assure her that I felt alright. Hurrying away she returned with a discharge document that I duly signed for her and after putting up with a bit more lecturing I departed. I heard that Don had visited me at the hospital an hour or two later only to be told that I had gone. Ha Ha! I bet he thought he was dealing with a maniac. I decided that there was no way out of this nightmare except to go back and get stuck in, which I did. I summoned the team and back we went to work. I told them all that a physiotherapist had manipulated my spine and that I was still in a bit of pain but the job must go on.

I turned my attention back to doing the groundwork for the seventy-foot beams. I had to knock a section of the walls down at each extremity of the beam in order to excavate the ground where the concrete blocks were being cast. Having done this I hired a big digger and started the dig. As the hole went deeper I was overlooking the progress and at about six feet deep what looked like a manhole cover appeared as the digger driver lifted his bucket up to dispose of the soil contained within. It was only partially lifted. I shouted to the driver to hold fire while I investigated. I scrambled down the hole lifted the lid and to my amazement discovered it to be a coffin. Inside was the skeleton of a child. As I was a hot-headed man in those days and realising that if I reported this to the police the job would be stopped whilst a bunch of ministers visit the site to say prayers and resite the grave. God knows how long that would have taken. I kept the little scull thinking I was being nice in doing so. The rest of the coffin and bones were dug up and ended up down the local tip. I mean, the coffin wasn’t marked above it; it was tight against the church wall, hardly a place you would expect to find a coffin. Of course all the lads on the site came running around to see it so it quickly got to the attention of the police. A couple of officers came around the following day to make enquiries of the find. I told them what had happened and acted daft saying that I didn’t think it was important and had disposed of it as I did. I didn’t tell them I still had the scull. That remained in my garage for a few years and eventually I gave it to a building inspector.

I carried on with the excavating and completed the concreting of pad stones. I had to be very accurate with their construction as it was critical that the spacing and levels were dead right to rest the steelwork on them. This was all completed the day after and the next task was to support the main roof so that when we took the wall out beneath it it wouldn’t collapse. I completed this by hiring special trusses and jacks and again was a very specialised undertaking. I was still a bit apprehensive when I completed the job. It was then time to demolish the wall below, we took enough down so that we could get the main beam in, and as soon as this was done the steel erectors arrived to handle the installation. They brought two cranes on site and the first job was to place the upright girders onto the concrete pad stones and bolt them down. Next was the massive seventy-foot beam to hold the roof. It was fixed to the cranes at either ends then the lift began. I was praying to God that I had the spacing right. Up it went with a steel erector at either end of a scaffold. They eased the ends onto the uprights then started bolting them in position. I was waiting for the cry of “They won’t fit!” Instead it was “Job done!” Was I bloody relieved. I got on nicely with the job after that, I had to go on anti-depressants to keep my head above water. Don visited the site regularly and on one visit he shouted me over to where I had built a wall containing about thirty thousand bricks. That’s a massive wall. He stood looking at the space we had created and decided that it wasn’t enough to accommodate the amount of people he envisaged standing there. It was the standing space around the bar area. He asked if it would be a good idea to pull it down and rebuild to a position he was indicating with his finger. I looked at him in dismay and reminded him that there were thousands of bricks in the wall and that he would have to get the plans amended and that he would obviously have to pay to have it pulled down and rebuilt. Thank the lord I was on the happy pill. He let that go thankfully but I knew he was working on other ideas.

I soon found out what his plans were on his next site visit. After discussions with the architect they had come up with a solution. He had decided to remove the front wall that supported the roof on the opposite side from the fourteen-ton girder we had painstakingly installed. This meant that the whole of the roof had to be demolished and disposed of. The wall below demolished and removed from site. Then he wanted another wall building to extend the club another twenty feet forward. Was I happy about that, I had to sort another price out for that? I brought a demolition firm in to do all the demolition after which I brought the digger in to dig the footings for the new wall. I poured twelve ton of concrete in the footings and the next day I was all set to whip the wall up. There were thirty thousand bricks to lay. I had all the bricks on the site and other materials. I’d organised the scaffolders to come as requested. The first day we build the first lift, which was five feet high using six thousand bricks. I had me and two other bricklayers and six labourers on the job. The scaffolders came that evening and whipped the scaffold up so that we were ready to start laying bricks the next morning. We did the same again the next day followed by the scaffolders. This went on for five days and the wall was completed to roof level. Don and the architect couldn’t believe we built it so fast. They were worrying that by imposing so much weight so quickly on the concrete foundations it was going to sink. Ha Ha! That was about forty years ago and it is still standing.

So the job continued we were well ahead, in time my confidence was returning and I was starting to feel good, I could see light at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t think I would be paying another visit to the hospital, this time for genuine reasons. I had to open wide doorways in various existing walls. This meant under-pinning removing brickwork and installing steelwork supports. The whole doorway had to be cut out and a box section of steel had to be inserted. That meant a spreader beam had to go in position first and that went below finished floor level. This is a very heavy section and has to be manhandled into position. Once in position it has to be lifted with lifting tackle and lowered on the brickwork. When it was lowered and released I found it had landed on some obstacle and wouldn’t seat properly. I clambered down under the wooden floor to gain access to the bottom of the beam. Once there I asked the lads above to lift the beam I then placed a brick under each end so that I could clear the obstruction below without it falling on my hand. I swept my hand along the top of the brickwork making sure that all the loose debris was removed. Having satisfied myself of this I told the lads above to lift the beam so that I could remove the bricks. One brick was successfully removed leaving one end of the beam suspended three inches above the brickwork. I crawled to the other end, I had my thumb gripping onto the brickwork whilst I took the brick out with the other hand. This proved to be a bad idea. Much to my dismay the nasty heavy pieces of steel slipped off the hook that was supporting it and fell the three inches on top of my thumb. I yanked my hand back with such force that I pulled the end of my thumb straight off! I obviously let out a bloody great yell and took a look at it in the gloom of being under the floor. It looked like somebody had clumsily broken the end off a cigar. There was the bone sticking out and my nail gone. The lads above were shouting “Are you alright?” I came crawling back to the exit hole and stuck my thumb up first so that those above could see my thumb before the rest of my body emerged. There was a chorus of ”Arrrrrgh!” I assessed why the beam had slipped and realised it was my own fault for rushing around like a headless chicken and not securing it properly. Off I sped in my van to the hospital again cursing my bloody incompetence and the fact that I was wasting valuable time. I had my apprentice driving and I was spurring him on to the point of exceeding the speed limit. I was holding my thumb and blowing on it to relieve the throbbing. From nowhere I spotted a police car overtaking us, the cop was hanging out of the window gesticulating for us to stop. Fucking hell said my driver. Don’t worry I said let me do the talking. He walked up to us after parking his car, stuck his head through the open window and asked us what time were we taking off. He obviously had a great sense of humour. Having been involved in many altercations with the law I had come to a point where I could usually evaluate their good and bad propensities and act accordingly. I stuck my thumb right under his nose at which he grimaced and enquired how I had done it. I quickly told him at which point he exhorted me to leap into his car and that he would take me. He turned out to be a good guy and I had him laughing as we sped off to hospital. He told me he had to call into the police station, which he would be passing on our way. When he got there minutes later he asked me to come in with him so that he could show the female cops my thumb. This I agreed to as by this time my thumb had settled down and had stopped throbbing. I walked around the office sticking it in front of the girl cops eyes. They invariably asked me if it hurt to which I answered, “Only if I laugh.” Having showed them all, I suggested to the officer that it might be a good idea to press on to the hospital. Off we went straight to reception; I gave the receptionist all my details and I was hurried through to see a doctor. I was prepared and sent to theatre where a surgeon operated and took off the exposed bone, after which he skin-grafted where necessary. When I came out of theatre I phoned my wife, and told her I had cut the end of my….. At which point she screamed thinking I was going to say penis. She calmed down when she heard me say thumb. The doctor told me to keep the amputation clean and come back in a few days. It was evening when my wife arrived so I went home to a hearty meal.

I went to work the following morning wondering how I would manage. The crew had got the girders in position and bricked the pillars around the stanchions. We had another wall to build at this stage so when the labourers got the bricks and mortar loaded up I got my trowel from my toolbox. “You are not going to work?” some of the lads inquired, I told them I was going to see how I go on. I used my fight hand for holding my trowel and this was the hand that was minus the partly missing thumb. It felt good so I spread a couple of trowels of mortar along the length of the wall, no problem to my delight. So off we went with no delay to get the job back on its way. Say! That rhymes

Another visit to the site by the Master (Don). All works nearly completed. Everyone happy Don more than impressed by the speed we have worked and I’ve heard that he is singing my praises all over the place. He calls me over and I follow him outside. He pulls his dick out and starts urinating on one of the gravestones. I laughed to myself and marvelled at his uninhibited demeanour. I mean what sort of multimillionaire would go flashing his tackle in such an audacious manor? He didn’t even cover it up and I was surprised at how small it was. I could have given him a run for his money in that department. I thought it better if I refrained from mentioning that observation to him. Ha Ha! He turned to me upon completing his urination and asked me what it would cost to remove all the gravestones to make way for a car park. There must have been two acres of ground containing graves and was a lot of material to move beside the fact that he would be breaking the law without asking for permission. His answer was what I expected, “Fuck the law lets just get it done and suffer the consequences if and when they arise” I told him if I move them I don’t want to accept responsibility in the event of an inquest. He assured me it would be down to him. I agreed and told him we would have to motor quickly to get them away post-haste before anyone in authority saw us. I told him of a demolition firm I knew well who would shift the lot in two days. I told him that I would get a quote from them and come back to him. I got the quote put the usual ten percent on and told them that I wanted half the money they got for the tombstones. I knew they would only give me a quarter anyway. That was the deal and they accepted it. I passed this on to Don and after a bit of wrangling and me dropping a few hundred pounds off he accepted it and he told me to press on with the job as quickly as possible.

The demolition firm arrived on site with two big wagons and a big machine that had a lifting bucket on it half the size of a terraced house. They came at seven in the morning to get a good start before the prying eyes of the authorities got out of bed. After the first day they had almost shifted half of the graves. The site was looking bare just what Don wanted and there was no outside interference. The second day by twelve o’clock they only had thirty percent to move. The crew had stopped working to have their lunch and were sat inside the building drinking tea and eating their sandwiches. I was outside setting the positions of the concrete pad stones, which were to support the columns that held up the canopy over the main entrance of the club. As I was doing this I saw a woman walking towards me holding a big bunch of flowers in her hands. She stopped some yards away looked from left to right and asked me in a pitched voice where all the gravestones had gone. I told her they had all been cleared away to facilitate the placing of a car park; she hurried away crying and telling me she would look into it. I thought Christ, wait till I tell Don. When the demolition men finished their break they emerged from within and I told the boss what had happened. He told me he would speed up as much as possible in an effort to remove the others before the church authorities came on site. Don came with a guy from the church late afternoon and all work on the removal had to stop. There was only about twenty graves left and he was forbidden to move them until a service was held by the church and they were moved to the side of the car park where they remain to this day. How the hell he got away with it God only knows.

A couple of days later my works were completed to the satisfaction of the architect and Don. I loaded my vehicles and off I departed with joy in my heart and a song on my lips. Off me and my small team drove back to my builders yard with me laughing and joking all the way. Promising myself that I would never take a job like that on ever again. I would stick to house extensions where I could be in and out with great alacrity.

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Derek 1961I gave my notice in to quit my current job whilst I was working in a steel works in Wales. George Watson the production manager asked me why I was quitting as, he pointed out, that I had a great future with the firm.  I knew that because I was a very fast and accomplished tradesman. I could whip them bricks down like a raving maniac. Call me bigheaded if you like but with me being surrounded by maybe 20 other bricklayers quite often I could do 2 or 3 times as much work during a working shift. I was and still am a workaholic. I love the rewards my trade brings to me. Particularly money. My love was for intricate brickwork. Arch work, tube work, work that diagrams would only reveal the complexity of.  I knocked myself out to master the trade and having learned it my confidence was reinforced in the knowledge that nothing would hold me back from achieving a secure future and being able to provide for my wife and future family. So I gave my notice in. I knew George wouldn’t like it because of my progression with the firm during the 5 years I worked with them. I said, ‘George, as you know I am now married and I can’t see a future in living out of a suitcase, travelling all over the country from one contract to another. I want to buy a house and settle down.’ So George asked me to hang on in Wales for one month and then he would send me to Irlam steel works to a six-month contract, building an industrial chimneystack. That was great because it was just 18 miles from home and I was able to travel back and forth each day. It was during this contract that the wheels set in motion with me starting my own business. I bought a semi-detached house that was in urgent need of renovation. I paid £1,800 for it in 1962. It was recently sold for £150.000.00. What a world. This was my first house, my first BABY…. Let me get at it wooooooooooo! During the evenings and weekends I spent the next 5 months ripping the place to pieces. I built a garage and workshop. Extended the kitchen and bathroom above, build semicircular arches here and there. Rebuilt the boundary wall and fences. Altered all the inside. It turned out wonderful, was I pleased with myself. (I did this work without the knowledge of the local authorities and it is still there some 40 something years later). As the neighbours were passing I was getting compliment after compliment. My heart was dancing with joy; this is when I realized I had to form my own business. People who passed were asking me to give them estimates to do this that and the other.

One of my neighbours (who I took an instant dislike to) was a surveyor called Arnold Pickin. Did he think he was a smoothie? He was building a kitchen extension himself. It was halfway up when I moved into my house. It could easily be observed from the back bedroom window. He lived on the other side of the lane that divided the properties. Before I started my own extensions I was amassing the bricks and other materials ready for the works. I was bringing loads of bricks home each day from the chimneystack I was building. There are always a few thousand bricks over after a stack is complete and they usually get bulldozed into the ground. I wanted to make sure that this did not happen on this stack and went about saving good quality bricks from destruction. Since I had a van this was no problem saving the bricks that would assist me in getting started in my own business.

The surveyor chappy Arnold had a habit of coming across and inspecting my materials and making some derogatory remarks about the quality of the same. He wasn’t that bad that I could give him a good bollocking on the spot but he was a marked man. The opportunity did present itself a week or two after. I had built the garage to scaffold height and had erected a scaffold on the lane thereby stopping access to any car that might have wanted to get into their garages. There was another access at the other end of the row of houses that residents used who lived at that end and could be used in an emergency for residents living at my end, However, I had (with the help of a fellow bricklayer Pop Wilson who was working with me on the chimneystack) just erected the scaffold. We were about to load it up with bricks when who should drive up the path in his new car? Yes, Arnold. I asked him if he wanted to get into his garage. ‘Yes’ he shouted, ‘I do!’ It would only have taken me a couple of hours to finish the brickwork and then I would have been out of his way. I would have gladly parked on the road if the shoe had been on the other foot. But oh not Arnold the bigheaded twat. So with the help of Pop we physically lifted up the whole scaffold and carried it down the lane out of the twat’s way. By this time my adrenal is bounding through my veins. I turned around to face him and asked him if he would be wanting to come out of the garage again once I had replaced the scaffold. He replied that he might do. I said to him that once that scaffold was replaced and stacked with bricks I wouldn’t be moving it for him or no one else along the lane. I told him that he was an arrogant bastard and to get to f**ck in that garage and stay there till I had finished. He drove into that garage like a bat out of hell. From that moment on he was very civil to me.

His wife was a nice looking girl. What the hell she saw in that ugly bugger baffled me. I was up on the roof one day repairing the chimneystack and I noticed her looking at me as she was washing the dishes in her kitchen. I was pointing the chimney with cement when a tile slipped under my foot. I should have had a cat-ladder on the roof for safety but I at that time never observed safety measures, I thought I was invincible. Heights never bothered me. Anyway, the tile slipped and unbalanced me. The tools I was holding were thrown in the air as I ran down the sloping roof. As I leapt off I could see Arnold’s wife looking at me with a look of consternation on her face. What she couldn’t see was three ton of building sand piled up close to the roof in the back yard. I merely landed on the top of this from an 18 feet fall. No problem, I picked up my tools very quickly as I knew she was making her way to see if I had crippled myself. By the time she got to me I was half way up the ladder. She looked amazed and asked me if I was all right. I shouted yes and asked her why was she asking. She informed me that she had seen me falling from the roof. I told her I was always jumping off roofs as it was the quickest way down. She walked off shaking her head in amazement. I had a good chuckle about that. I have heard that she left Arnold some years ago and I don’t wonder why. The miserable git.

Derek the headI was twenty-two years old 1958. I never turned a blind eye to the fact that God was kind to me. I was as strong as a bull, in great physical shape and up to that period had only ever had one week off work through laryngitis. This annoyed me immensely because in those days no work meant no pay. I was aware from a very early age that the world was a very cruel place. One had always to be on one’s guard in case of other people trying to dominate you. I used to go body building in my teens for two reasons. Number one to keep strong and fit in order to protect myself and number two to look pleasing to the opposite sex. I loved the girls then and must admit still do now, at seventy-three. No I don’t consider myself a dirty old man but just a lover of the gentle sex and the love and affection that they can bring to your life. I would never harm or force myself upon a lady and would go to the assistance of anyone in distress. 1958. At that time I was courting a girl called Eve, she was a beautiful girl and the type that caught the eye of many male admirer.   I felt great and privileged to be her companion I used to revel in the fact that so many men drooled over her. I used to laugh inwardly as I noticed them eyeballing her with their lascivious thoughts. She’s mine I used to think, ha ha! On top of all this she was a nymphomaniac and it took me a lot of energy to keep up with her. I only wish Viagra had been on the market in those days. I must say with all the delight that Eve afforded me there also came a bit of trouble. I had to fight a few over ambitious males off.

I remember one Saturday evening when six of us went for a meal to a restaurant on the promenade of a sea-side town in Yorkshire. We went in my car, which I parked, on the road outside. They all walked inside, I was the last in behind Eve. I was greeted by a group of youths around my age making lewd remarks obviously aimed at Eve. My heart missed a beat, as I knew trouble was inevitable, my only regret is that I didn’t have a hand grenade handy. I’d have lobbed it right in the middle of their table if I had. Shit, I thought, how the hell do I handle this situation? This not being the first skirmish I had encountered because of EVE. We all sat down around the table, I sat with my back to the unruly Twats. The remarks continued like “I wouldn’t mind giving her one etc “ I reluctantly turned to face the mob and requested that they behaved themselves and concentrate on their own business. That proved a failure as three of them immediately rose to their feet and headed towards our table, fucking brilliant I thought, here we go again outnumbered and no hand grenade, where’s God when you need him. Up they strutted, “Are you looking for trouble?“ The biggest of the lot exploded. “Do you want to go outside Larr?” he said In a Liverpudlian accent. Do I want to go outside I thought to myself, is this fucking idiot joking? What the fuck do I want to go outside for? The restaurant aren’t serving outside, I felt like saying. No, I knew I had to try to be as delicate as possible to try to defuse this predicament. Also, I didn’t fancy my chances with this big bull-necked bully boy.” No Scouse” I interjected. “Like you, we have come here to enjoy a nice meal like your selves, go and sit down and enjoy the remainder of your stay.” I conjured as much friendliness as I could muster in my request but as I knew, it fell on deaf ears. The bastard was determined to get me outside in an endeavour to beat my bleeding brains out. I bet the pervert envisioned shagging the arse off Eve just to finish the evening off. “So you don’t want to go outside eh? Well maybe your girlfriend would.” If she could fight I would have said yes take her because I was shitting myself. This guy was big, I knew I was tough but there is a limit to my capabilities, I never had the illusion that I was totally invincible. I stood up and said to this guy “Ok lets go.”

He preceded me as I was racking my brain for a strategy to stop this before it began. Over the road he walked towards the seaward side where he stopped to face me. “Scouse,” I said,  “What we are going to gain from engaging in a totally unnecessary battle?  I am not going to get any pleasure from attempting to cause you any injury. I’m looking forward to a nice meal, as I am sure you are. We are both grown men; don’t you think this is childish?”  I’m talking as affable as possible in the hope to appeal to his better nature. I might as well be talking to a brick wall. This shitpot was intent on inflicting as much physical harm on my being as he possibly could. He glared at me with a grin on his ugly looking visage; there wasn’t a glimmer of compassion portrayed therein. “You’re scared aren’t you?”  He gleamed as his size twelve came skimming up towards my Jacobs cream crackers (knackers). I leaped back with sudden alacrity and felt his foot skim past the crotch of my trousers.  Fucking hell, that was close I thought here we go I need to defend myself. My adrenalin was coursing through my veins like greyhounds chasing a rabbit. Up came my fists my eyes fixed on him in an attempt to anticipate his next move. Up came the foot again like a rugby player attempting a try, I grabbed it and kicked his other foot from under him. Down he went with me on top of him, I drew my fist back and whacked him on the side of his head, the ring I was wearing ripped a nasty gash about three inches long in his cheek. I was in so much fury as I grabbed hold of his ears and started smashing his head on the concrete. I then drew my left arm back and plunged my fingers into his eyes, I have never resorted to an action like that before but in desperation I suppose it’s a matter of survival. He screamed and asked me to stop before I put him in hospital. I looked down into his face and told him that this was the last thing that I wanted to happen and that I would let him get up. But I warned him that if he started again I would kill him. My shirt was covered in blood and I was amazed at the ease in which I overpowered this awful character.

As we got up about twelve of my pals came walking up to me and asked me if I needed any help. I thanked them for their support and told them that everything was under control, little did I realise what was going to happen next. I must give this stupid scouse some credit for his bravery, if I had been handled in the way this scouse had been handled by me; I would have departed the scene very quickly. Oh no, not this daft twat, he turns to my mates and tells them that I had tried to boot him in the balls and immediately has another go with his feet. I leapt back again and shouted to the crowd to leave him to me. I’m running backwards avoiding his relentless efforts to remove my testicles. I realised that that jab in his eye sockets hadn’t had much effect. I waited for the right moment and then offered him a strait left right on the end of his nose. It was right on target as blood started to run gown his face. I grabbed him by the lapels and very near lifted him off his feet and threw him against a parked car, as he bounced off I whipped my fingers in his eyes again. I could feel the warm oil like substance as my fingers slipped over his pupils. He screamed and staggered into the road shouting “My eyes, my eyes!” There was a cop on the other side of the road watching and he made no effort to intervene, I bet he thought, fuck that I don’t want my eyes gouging out. I wanted to get to hell out of there by this time so I turned on my heels and headed for my car.

As I was walking back the other troublemakers came walking towards me, jeeze I thought, this is it. Anyway they parted ranks and through I went. I saw my pals come outside and head for the car, “Jump in,” I said,  “let’s get away from here fast.” They were very concerned when they saw me covered in blood, they must have thought I had had my throat cut. They wanted to take me to the hospital, which I laughed at. I assured them it was my opponent’s blood. We went to my mate’s house and his girl washed the blood out of my shirt. So that turned out to be a great night out. I often think about the guy’s eyes, I hope I didn’t do any lasting damage to them. I was amazed at the strength I possessed that night, it just shows what kind of a frame of mind fear puts you in.

maroni-me-barry-in-boatI remember many years ago it would be 1944 I was about 8 years old. I was always a feisty little bugger. I used to climb up rainwater pipes (they were cast-iron in those days and well secured to the house walls) and clamber onto the slate roofs. The object being to retrieve all the balls that we’d hit onto the roof with our cricket bats during our games of cricket. There would usually be six or so of us in our little gang playing various games from cricket to football etc. During cricket games, now and again, one of us would belt a ball onto the rooftop and wait for it to bounce off. Sometimes however, the ball would roll down into the gutter. We always had an extra ball or two so the game could go on. Of course when the balls ran out, we were in shit creek. What happened then? Yes, up the drainpipe went the death-defying Derek Lancaster. Go on Deck, was the encouragement from the gang, you can do it. There was always a girl or three hanging around. Being the tender sex and more concerned about your welfare than the boys they would shout, “be careful!” Of course this was further encouragement to me. I then started showing off and cracking on I was going to fall as I waiting for the girls to gasp. If there was a pretty one there I’d be expecting a kiss when I got down for retrieving the balls they knocked up during their tennis games. I would run along the slates with my rubber-soled shoes picking up whatever balls had landed in the gutters and throwing them down to screams of “That’s my ball!” “No it’s not, it’s mine!”

Then of course during the commotion some of the house doors would open and the mother’s would emerge shouting for me to come down before I kill myself. They would then threaten me by promising to tell my mother. I didn’t give two hoots for that sort of blackmail. I loved a bit of razzmatazz. I’d simply finish emptying the gutters and then prepare to reach terra ferma. I’d lay flat on my belly with my legs dangling over the roof a chorus of “steady, steady” coming from below. I would quickly slither down until my hands located the gutter on which I would transfer my fingers around the pipe then down I would come like a little monkey. I’d usually take a little bow as the lads shouted, “ Well done Lanky!” That was another nickname I had, short for Lancaster. The mothers would be warning me that I would kill myself one day if I continued with that sort of behaviour. I am 73 now and still kicking. And looking back now I suppose they were only concerned with my welfare. Nice of them, how sad to think that they will all be dead now.

I got more leathering from my poor old dad than soft Mick. I would sometimes rope my older brother Keith (who was aged nine) into the situation and he would get a pasting too. For instance two London brothers came to live just around the corner from where I lived. They would be a year or so older than me and quite tall. The extra length of their legs enabling them to run faster than me, this was always a disadvantage. I needed a good head start to get away from them. They were also a couple of shit head bullies. We had a few skirmishes with them and had managed to get to the safety of our house before they caught up with us. We would get our mam to tell them to leave us alone. As she was telling them we would be standing behind her pulling funny faces.

I saw a couple of lads at our school making a catapult. On completion they started making pellets out of lead-coated electric wire. Having completed firing a hand full of the same they lined some bottles that they found onto a wall and started firing at them. I was spellbound and applauded them when they broke a couple. I thought to myself what a handy weapon to deal with them London twats. With the help of my brother we searched the trees to find a couple of sturdy branches to make our own weapons. The branch had to form a Y so that we could attach some strong rubber straps. We rooted some straps out from somewhere or other and together with the lead-coated wire we had pinched, we set about making the catapults. We completed the task and were quite satisfied with the finished work. I thought mine was the best but no, my brother thought his was the best. We fired a couple of rounds off, aiming at birds. We would have been mortified if we had hurt them. There was more chance of us climbing Mount Everest with a donkey on our backs than hitting a little sparrow.

A day or so later I was out in the back entrance when I heard the twats playing in their yard. I ran in and got my catapult. I thought to myself, time to give these two bastards a fright. I got behind a telegraph pole, put a pellet in my catapult and shouted, “Come out you two shitpots!” With that their gate flew open and they were confronted standing ten yards away by me and a stretched rubber band holding a nasty little eye-penetrating lead pellet. They stopped dead in their tracks ready to turn and dive for cover. Just at that crucial moment the rubber band holding the slug snapped off in my hand. Fucking hell I thought, what now? I was well outnumbered. They both lunged at me but I was off like a fart in trainers. They had longer legs than me but I propelled myself forward as if my very life depended on it. The bastards were catching me up, shit I was in for a good hammering. There was a block of houses in front of me surrounded with a four-foot wall; I managed to leap over it as one of the arseholes grabbed the sleeve of my jacket. In my panic I ripped it out of his hand only to pull the sleeve right off my coat. I ran up to the back door of the house as the pursuers stopped not want to trespass, and luckily it was open. Thank you lord I thought as I yanked it open and ran into the kitchen. I propelled myself straight through the dining room as the inhabitants were sitting down to tea. As I ran past the table, I could see a ‘who the fuck’s this intruder?’ on all their faces. I didn’t propose to answer questions, I just pelted down the hallway opened the front door and was gone. You talk about Speedy Gonzales he wouldn’t get a look in. I laughed to myself and felt proud of my achievement; maybe I should become a commando when I grow up. Ha Ha! That fucking catapult turned out to be a non-starter.

I had one more fracas with the same lads some days later. I was in the street on my own when who should walk round the corner but those two twats. They were a hundred yards or so away from me giving me a little flexibility, the problem was I was in a cul-de-sac with no means of escape. They came tear-arsing towards me making a quick decision necessary on my behalf. Open doors flashed through my mind but then I noticed a nice handy stone lying on the ground. I stooped to pick it up as they approached and drew my arm back poised to fling it at them. They stopped twenty yards away and as I approached them with the stone in my out-stretched arm they retreated slowly. I noticed a pile of dog shit lying on the ground it looked as though it had recently been deposited (it was still steaming.) I took a look down at it and looked back at the cockneys. They followed my eyes. I could tell they were thinking, what the fuck is this slippery bastard up to now? I bent down lowering myself towards the excreta not taking my eyes off the enemy, then shielding my hand, I pretended I was swirling the stone into it. They started moving backwards as I straightened up drawing my arm back to fling the missile. They swivelled around sharply and ran like fuck with me running behind them. I hurled the stone which missed them but flew right through some poor bastards window. We all ran like exocet missiles in different directions. As I was running I saw my brother Keith well away from the scene of the accident. He asked me why I was running and when I told him he said. “Oh fuck, I know the people who live there, they are dead nice people.’ I said, ‘should we say it was those cockney twats? It wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for them.’ ‘Great idea’ said Keith, ‘I’ll say I saw them.’ We decided then to climb onto the roof of a commercial building that was over the road from where the cockneys lived. We could peer over the top of the roof apex and observe any movement from the front elevation. As we took up our position our dad appeared across the road. We ducked out of sight but not quick enough for Charlie spotted us. Come down from there he bellowed. Sick as Xmas turkeys at having been caught we meekly descended and hesitatingly walked over the road to him. He gave us a quick whack across the ear holes and told us to get home NOW! I caught a glimpse of the cockney twats grinning at us through the window. The bastards.

As we got into the front door, our dad chased us both up the stairs and into the bedroom. He stood menacingly in the doorway and asked who broke the window. We both bellowed “The cockneys!” ‘No it wasn’t’ he retorted ‘I’ve seen Jimmy’ (Jimmy, I found out after from Keith, owned the house) ‘and he told me it was you two!’ ‘Keith had nothing to do with it’ I said. Keith eagerly agreed shaking his head furiously. As he was trying to explain that the cockney twats had started it by chasing me he had no time to finish, Charlie had taken off his belt and proceeded to slap the hell out of us both. The bloody buckle end into the bargain. Fucking hell, we were leaping all over the place to try and avoid those blows. Slap bang wallop. Raining blows down on us like a raving maniac. When all his energy had expired he left the room breathing heavily. We could hear him fiddling about with the door and discovered (after we heard him walking downstairs) that he had fastened the door so we could not get out. We were both crying our eyes out looking at the wealds on each other’s arms which we had received trying to protect ourselves when we both started laughing at each other. We had to bury our heads in the bed so that Dad would not hear us laughing and venture back up to give us another leathering. We could hear him talking to mam. I thought I heard mam saying ‘I hope you didn’t hit them too hard.’ He mumbled something we couldn’t understand. After we had finished laughing I was busting for a good piss. I asked Keith if he had any idea what I was going to do since Dad had tied the door up. ‘Fucked if I know’ he answered as he witnessed me hopping around the room. I flew to the window lifted it up and had no option but to jettison my urine as far as possible in my attempt not to let it run down the wallpaper in the room. As I was enjoying the flow, relieving my bladder, I heard my ma below telling Charlie that it was raining (there was a window directly below behind which my mam and dad were standing.) I heard Charlie say to ma. ‘No it isn’t, it’s those little buggers weeing.’ We heard him come flying up the stairs again and both looked at each other in abject fear. Brace yourselves here comes that belt! Mam ran up behind him shouting that it was his fault for locking the door. ‘Where the hell did you expect them to wee when they were locked up?’ she remonstrated. Go on mam we thought, give him a bollocking. Anyway he saw reason and let us out of our captivity warning us that we would get a good walloping if we gave him any further trouble. He was a great dad really, of course it took us a few years to realise this. In the meantime we were calling him all sorts of bastards and wishing him dead. Yes, Dad was a good man. He certainly was not brought up with a silver spoon in his mouth.

Back to the gang. There was Barry Towers and Ronny Maroni; we stuck together for many years. I had a good laugh with Maroni when we were about eight years old. He always had a good selection of toys. We were dead jealous of him. His mother worked in one of these slot machine arcades on the promenade (we lived in Redcar) and had access to all the gifts that could be won on the machines therein. He didn’t have a dad; we all thought his dad was ‘some soldiers’ because we were all war babies. I believe most of the unmarried girls at that time (and some of the married ones whose husbands were away fighting the war) were bang at it. Thinking that they might as well have plenty of shags whilst they could in case they got killed by the Germans. Whenever we went round to Ronny’s house there was toys everywhere. We loved playing with them. Of course Ronny would snatch them off us sometimes and we couldn’t give him a crack because his mother was there. Bloody good job she was. Anyway, one day I called round to his house to see what he was up to and no one was in. I used to go around to the back door and give it a knock. On this occasion there was no reply but the door was unlocked so I pushed it open and shouted, ‘Is anybody there?’ No answer, so I walked into the house and there were all Ron’s toys scattered about. Hmmm, I though. I’ll have some of them… so I pinched some. A few weeks later we were playing at his house when I pulled one of his toys out of my pocket. ‘Hoy!’ he shouted. ‘That’s mine you thieving bastard!’ He was always swearing in front of his mother, she never chastised him. He tried to grab it out of my hands but I was too quick for him. We ended up in the middle of the road with him wrestling with me. I was a lot stronger than poor old (I mean young) Ron so I simply overpowered him and impaled him to the ground. There was a pile of horseshit within arm’s length so I picked up a handful and to stop him shouting obscenities at me I rammed it in his mouth. What a bloody laugh. I jumped off him then and doubled up in laughter as he was spitting it out and shouting to his mother, “‘that bastard Derek shoved hoarse shit in my mouth!’ He ran into the house like a possessed demon and came back out brandishing an axe. ‘I’ll kill you, you bastard!’ He shouted. I turned on my heels and pelted away from him laughing my head off. There was no way he could keep up with me. I would gain a good distance then stop and wait for him to almost catch up to me and then I would dodge round him and run back the other way. We both ended up leaning against the wall puffing and panting too fucked to laugh. It was a good work out. Ronny became a bricklayer when he left school and became very proficient with the trowel. The last I heard he was admitted to a hospital suffering from chronic depression. It must have been that hoarse shit. Joking aside, he was a great lad; I’ll never forget him.

#5 Wainwright

lurch_smirkWhen I went into my own business at 26 years old I didn’t realise that I would have to deal with people who would come  to my building sites and check my work for correct building procedures. That came as a direct insult to my capabilities. I thought, ‘Check my work?’  Me, the great Derek Lancaster?  I don’t need some arsehole telling me what to do. I who has built houses, blast furnaces, steel furnaces, and three hundred foot chimneystacks, a steeplejack bricklayer? A charge hand foreman at 22 years old, responsible for the job of overseeing 60 tradesmen? Building inspectors? NONSENCE!   I was a wild man ready to take on the world. Grrrr! Let anyone get in my way, I’ll show them, and so my business started. So here I go relating some of my experiences with building inspectors. I will start with Graham Wainwright.

Wainwright was one of the inspectors that I had cause to bollock. I had heard about him from other builders I knew who had had run-ins with him. I heard that he was an absolute nit-picking bastard. He overlooked an area that I did not do a lot of work in. Anyway, the inevitable happened that I did do a job in his area.  On this particular day I had left the job to go to the builders merchants to pick up some building materials. On returning the owner of the house informed me that an inspector had visited the premises to do an inspection. He said his name was Wainwright, I told him he should have told him to F off, as the work I was doing was repair work and nothing structural. What I forgot was that I had removed a wall and supported the upper brickwork with a steel girder, which my client reminded me of. This ofcourse needed planning permission, which I thought was a load of bull.  He told me that the inspector wanted me to cut a section of the plaster out so that he could determine whether I had installed the appropriate beam. I was quite unperturbed by this request as I had installed a beam in excess of what was required. I would still have enjoyed giving Wainwright a back hander for making me cut out the plaster and having to repair it subsequent to his approval. I never saw Lurch (Wainwight) on that job. I gave him that name after I did meet him as he reminded me of Lurch in the Addams family. He was around 6 foot 6 inches tall, skinny and ugly with a bit of a stoop. The most arrogant bastard one would have the misfortune to meet. He had the sort of head you would never get sick of kicking. Or as my father-in-law would have said, ‘he had curly teeth and walked with a bit of a trot’.  Ha Ha! What a guy.

So a few months later I met Lurch.  I happened to get a job building a kitchen extension in his patch. You have to inform inspectors during various stages of the works so they can come and give it their approval. The first inspection being of the foundations. lt is in your own interests to get this inspection (to safeguard you if you get any subsequent settlement with the building). This can happen as I had experienced in earlier years. I had one or two buildings settling through no fault of my own and fortunately I’d had inspector’s approval. lt is not always possible to guarantee foundations even if you go down to solid clay or whatever. Mine operations or subterranean faults are not evident without thorough and costly investigations, so you can only go off what is evident at the time.

Wainwright arrived to check the foundations. The first thing I said when the ugly looking bugger arrived was, ‘now then Graham, would you like a cup of tea?’ I knew he’d say no. I couldn’t have imagined him sharing tea sat on a pile of bricks like the rest of my team. Ha! lt was the way he answered me, ‘no, I wouldn’t,’ with a very belligerent tone in his voice that got me. I revelled in the thought that very soon this big arrogant bastard was going to get a verbal leathering from one Derek Lancaster’s tongue. I thought I will bide my time because the job I was doing for my client was a grant job. This meant that part of the expenses for building this extension was funded by the government. Lurch could cause delays in settlement of my bill on completion of the works. My next remark was. ‘Was that steel girder on that job you visited alright?” He answered, in the same disrespectful tone, ‘Only just.’ I felt like smacking him a solid bunch of fives right on the end of his chin.  But I contained myself for the moment. I knew he couldn’t fault the foundations (which he grudgingly passed).  He turned round to leave the site and noticed a 5 feet high boundary wall that I was cutting through leaving it in a dangerous condition. This would have been remedied when I tied it into the new work, which was to be built as the work progressed. Ofcourse this was a delight to Lurch. Something to have a go about. He went to get hold of the corner of it and I shouted, “Don’t push that. You will have it over!’  Just what he wanted to hear. ‘Right,’ he said ‘I want this pulling down before you go tonight.’ I said, ‘No problem it will be done.’ As he ambled away I was tempted to throw a brick at him.

lt was Friday and I was working over the weekend on the extension. When ‘birdbrain’ had disappeared I informed the crew to leave the wall just as it was and I shot off in my truck to pick up the concrete for the footings. We had the foundations completed by dinnertime. In the afternoon I built the brickwork to what is known as damp proof level. The next day Saturday, I was ready for action. I was well known for being the fastest builder in the area. I could build three extensions to the other local builders one. This was a fact that I was proud of. I was like a fart in trainers. Come Saturday evening I had the brickwork up to scaffold high which meant I only had 7 courses of brickwork to finish before the roof went on. Sunday morning we whipped the scaffold up and by lunch time the brickwork was finished ready for the roof. I had to be home for midday or my dear wife would have been gunning for me. That was fine because it gave the brickwork time to set over night.

Monday morning, first thing. Install two steel girders to hold the upper brickwork of the existing extension subsequent to taking down the walls below to form a larger kitchen. I was busy doing this when I noticed Lurch’s ugly head walking down the back entrance approaching me. Any normal man would have been amazed at the speed in which this extension had shot up, but not Lurch. I didn’t sacrifice quality for speed.  I can only work at a hundred miles an hour, the brickwork was spot on and everything was neat and tidy. Faultless, unfortunately for Lurch. First words out of his mouth were, ‘I thought I told you to pull this wall down before you left.’ My answer was, ‘Not to worry Graham.  I surrounded this wall with scaffolding when you left, rendering it safe.’ He hated this because at this stage he could see it was ready for tying into the new brickwork to restore it back to safety. I felt a bit sorry for him because there was nothing for him to pick at.  But oh no!  He hadn’t finished yet. I had had to put part of the scaffolding up in the next-door neighbour’s house. I was working on this scaffold at the time of his arrival. What does he do? He walks through the yard to the neighbour’s house and knocks on the door. I thought, what the hell is this piece of dog shit up to now? The door opens and the lady of the house, who I knew on a friendly basis, asks him what he wants. I couldn’t believe the change in the shitpots manner. He asks the lady, in such a me maw fashion, if she minded me putting a scaffold up in her yard? I thought, you bastard! You want her to say no so that you can insist I take it down. She looked up at him and said,  ‘No, no, no it’s no problem. I know Mr. Lancaster.  He’s a wonderful builder and I know he will leave my yard spick and span.’ I was chortling inwardly. He then walks back down the yard looks up at me with great disdain and says, ‘You and me will have to get together.’ He’d pulled the trigger. I looked him squarely in the eyes and said. ‘Listen pal, the only way you and me are going to get together is if I leap off this scaffold and rip that f***ing ugly head right off your shoulders. Who the hell do you think you are talking to? |I have forgot more about this trade than you are ever likely to know you big, stupid looking c*”t. I would suggest you go back to your office, sit on your fat arce and learn a bit more before you attempt to tell me how to organise my job!’ His reply was, ‘Well if that’s the way you want to talk, do the job anyway you want!’  He turned and trudged once more down the entrance with my parting salvo. ‘Piss off and don’t f***ing come back!’  We had some laughs in the ensuing days about Wainwright. I likened him to dog shit. If I spotted a heap of dog shit laying on the ground I would tell anyone that might have been with me at the time to be careful not to stand in the Wainwright. Ha Ha !

I phoned the town hall after he left and discussed this with his boss (who I had dealt with in the past). He was an ex tradesman and I got on great with him. He laughed when I told him and agreed that Lurch had a lot to learn about dealing with builders. He finished all further inspections for me himself.

The trouble with Wainwright was he was an ex college boy who did have a lot to learn. I discovered later that what it was with him was that he worried like hell whether the jobs were being done properly. I could understand him on further reflection. There are such a lot of bum builders in existence who need intense supervision.  Inspectors need to be on the ball to safeguard Joe Public from getting inferior work. So in that respect Wainwright was a good man.  He just needed the ability to determine who was good and who was dodgy.  The fact that he was comparatively new to the office put him at a disadvantage.  I got on great with him after that. By coincidence I did a few extensions in his area.  He even had a cup of tea with me on one occasion, sat on a pile of bricks. I never offered him another one after that as I couldn’t get rid of him. He made me laugh at times.  He was calling me Derek by now and if he wanted me to do anything special he’d beg me, ‘Please Derek do this for me?’  Ha Ha!  You have to laugh.  So those were my encounters with the great Wainwright. I always thought it was a shame that some people will only respond to a good ticking off before they show you any respect. Sometimes these suited up inspectors look down upon a man in his working gear, as if they are a cut above them. They invariably make big mistakes when they try those tactics with me.  I learned a few years after retiring that poor old Wainwright had to leave his job because he had a nervous breakdown. I thought back and hoped that I had nothing to do with his misfortune.

dump-t1 When I first started my own business as a builder, the tipping of builders waste i.e. bricks and ground excavation etc, was no trouble. There was a public rubbish dump within three miles of where I lived. What you did when arriving at the tip was to report to the site office (which was a ramshackle old shed) pay a standard fee and continue onto the site to dispose of the contents of your lorry. The fee to tip at that time in 1966 was 10 shillings in our old money. The lads who supervised the tip were a load of rogues who let me tip for half of that amount as long as it was cash. So for 20 years tipping was no problem. However, I began to worry when the depth of the massive crater became less and less massive and the authorities became more selective of who they would allow to use it. The lads in the cabin would tell me what time to come to avoid the big guns. My last tip came one day when I came to tip a load. I charged onto the tip like a hit and run driver. I flashed past the cabin with both feet on the accelerator. Looking through my mirror I saw this arrogant, skinny, pinched-faced inspector (that I’d have liked to have punched right on the nose) come flying out of the office. He was running after me screaming his head off and waving his arms like a racecourse bookkeeper. He was one of these ‘I’m in charge’ arseholes who loved to flaunt his position. I rode on until I was in the sloppy mud caused by the constant running backwards and forwards of the wagons. I grinned to myself and cracked on I hadn’t noticed him thus making him trudge through the mud to get to me. His face was red and a mask of hate when he peered at me through the open cab window. He asked me in a rather nasty way what I thought I was doing. I glared down at him and asked him who the fucking hell did he think he was talking to, I told him if he continued in that vein I’d leap out of the wagon and rub his ugly fucking head in the quagmire he was standing in. He shit himself and told me he would report me to the authorities. I told him I didn’t give two fucks for the authorities and told him I would deny it anyway. I turned to John (my apprentice bricklayer) and my labourer Allan who where sat next to me and asked them if they had heard me threatening this twat. They grinned at him and no further conversation was necessary. He told me I had to leave the tip as it was now closed. I bid him goodbye and told him to stick the tip up his arse. I wished I had known where he lived I would have tipped the load outside his gates. Anyway as I left the dump I travelled about a mile up the road to where I knew of another entrance to the same tip that had been closed some years ago. There was a short lane leading to it. I backed down it tentatively and weighed up whether I could tip there without being observed. It looked pretty safe so I told my buddy to jump out of the cab and open the backboard. I shouted him to keep his eyes scanned and proceeded to tip five tons of hardcore. I drove away laughing to myself and thinking that will teach that weasel a lesson. It was a dodgy operation but I was a wild man in my twenties. Rules were made to break as and I intended to break plenty. I must make clear at this juncture that I would never tip my waste anywhere in residential areas. I had great respect for the environment. What I used to do as I drove around to builder’s merchants etc. I would look for likely places to tip, i.e. building sites, demolition sites and then I would go after dark to get rid of my load. Because of timing I did sometimes have to go to any available site but it was usually miles away; and when you got there the road leading to where you tipped was as rough as a bears arse, you were lucky not to break the springs on your vehicle. On top of that the fucking councils were charging exorbitant tipping fees. What a load of bastards, just another way to rob the public in order to fund their indexed-linked pensions and their sky-high wages. I thought they were a load of swindling twats then and 40 years later I think they are even worse. I bought a row of houses in 1969 that were very run down. I bought them for peanuts paying £9,500 for ten houses. My object was obviously to refurbish them. I bought them for two reasons, number one because they were a steal and secondly because the government were giving out grants to refurbish them. I put in plans and applications and ended up getting £45,000 towards the cost of the refurbishment. I was laughing all the way to the bank. There was a lot of work to do but hard work was what I thrived on. There was also a lot of rubble to move, so I reconnoitered the area for dumping grounds. I found some great sites in out of the way places, which looked ideal for the purpose. Me and my two employees had to gut the houses taking out chimneybreasts and removing chimneystacks from the roofs. There were windows to replace, roofs to strip and reslate, walls to rebuild, floors to concrete, bedroom floors to level. I managed to dispose of all building waste illegally; I sailed close to the wind on one occasion. We knocked off work at 7.30 one night, I had a full load on my truck. I had noticed a likely spot I had to pass on the way back to my builder’s yard. The only stumbling block was a house about three hundred yards away. I had to back my truck over the pavement to a steep drop at the bottom of which a load of hardcore had been tipped at some previous occasion. I had to make a quick judgement. If the occupants saw me could they get to my truck (which was emblazoned with my name, address and phone number) before I could make my exit? I said to the lads that we had to move fast and instructed Allan to get out of the truck, go and stand where I was going to tip so that I didn’t tumble down the embankment and open the backboard fast. I watched him take up his position and I looked up at the house, all was quiet. I revved my engine and backwards I raced, I engaged my tipping gear and up went the back compartment. I hear the bricks cascade down the embankment and as this happened the door of the house flew open and a woman appeared shouting her head off as she ran towards us. I shouted to him to hang over the number plate so the woman could not read the number. I drove off as the tipper was going down with my mate hanging precariously on the back as I roared away at forty miles an hour. At a safe distance I stopped and let him back in the cab. ‘Fuck me Derek!’ he said, ‘I think I’ve shit myself. I thought you were never going to stop.’ I complemented him on his gymnastic display. We laughed all the way back to the builder’s yard. There were always plenty of laughs on that job. I had a great team; John my apprentice bricklayer was a great lad working permanently with me. The plastering, electrical work and the plumbing I let out to subcontractors. They were good craftsmen I had known a long time. I finished the work on the ten houses in six months.

#3 Benny Crowe

cartoon-bricklayer126 years old I decided to go into my own business as a building contractor. I had been married then for two years to my dear wife Hilda. I married her when I was 24 after a whirlwind courtship of six months. At the time I was working for a building firm of refractory contractors who operated in steel works around the country building steel furnaces and blast furnaces and all the structures that work in conjunction with them. Building tall chimney stacks stoves 100 tall to produce hot blast etc. It was hard work and I was able to work long hour’s thereby getting good wages. It suited me fine because I was a total workaholic.
Since I was a bricklayer and served my apprenticeship building houses until I was twenty-one years old, I had a lot to learn about work in the steel works. I was a very confident and determined man and knew I would soon master this change in my new environment. After two years with the firm I became a charge hand foreman. I knew by this time that I could work magic with bricks. Daft as that sounds I was able to compare myself with all the other bricklayers working alongside me. There could be as many as 20 bricky’s and 30 labourers working on a contract. At the end of a day’s work I could dance rings round them. Of course there was always the exceptions, men who could keep up to me but no one could surpass me. My main rival was a man called Benny Crowe. He was a year or more older than me and had that extra experience on the firm. He was a great guy. He was a well-built handsome lad with a great personality. We were very similar in our outlooks on life, we both wanted to do well for ourselves, very ambitious, we both had nice cars and didn’t go pissing our wages up the wall. Benny taught me something that enabled me to become a very valued member of my firm’s workforce. It happened at a steel works in Manchester.
I was promoted to a charge hand foreman working on the erection of a new blast furnace. I was very proud of myself for getting this promotion at the young age of 22 and delighted with the extra money I’d be getting in my wage packet. Benny was to take charge of what is known as The Bustle Main, which is a structure that produces the hot blast that is blasted into the part of the furnace containing the iron ore. This method is a vast improvement on the way it was done in the early days when a form of bellows was used to melt the steel. This structure is a steel tube about 7 feet in diameter, which is fixed to the outside perimeter of the furnace. It is lined with special bricks and at intervals there are other steel tubes which circle round like a swan’s neck leading into the furnace and reducing into a 3-inch diameter hole on entrance. When the valves are opened on completion of the brickwork the hot blast produced by other means is forced into the bustle main under pressure, it is then released into the furnace by means of valves. Then Bob’s your uncle the melting process begins. The bricks that surround the steel are to stop the hot blast from melting it.
A year earlier I was working at a steel works in Scunthorpe. The general foreman was called Tommy Mead. He introduced me to the Bustle Main by asking me to take my tools and make a repair to a damaged section. The blast furnace had been turned off for repairs. Access was gained to the bustle main through a steel cover that had been unbolted. When I poked my head inside I was dumbstruck by the intricate way in which the brickwork was formed. It was an absolute challenge. Shit I thought, I might have to renege on this project. But no, the foreman sent a much older bricklayer to accompany me. Bloody great I thought. If I can learn to master this repair my confidence will abound in the knowledge that I will be a master bricklayer. Yahoo! My high spirits were soon dashed against the wall after my partner proved bloody useless. He didn’t know how to mark the bricks that had to be sent out to be cut on a special stone cutting saw. His bricks were coming back unusable. I was copying him and suffering the same disappointment. I was bloody livid; my hands were shaking in disbelief. That’s it, I thought, I’m out of here. Utter defeat…SHIT! I had a great name on the firm at this time for being a hard worker so I had no compunction when going to tell Tommy the foreman that the job was beyond me and that I was wasting my own time and the firms. “Don’t worry Derek,” he said.” I didn’t realize you hadn’t worked on a main before, I haven’t done one myself for a long time, I think I would be scratching my head”. He then sent me on a more straightforward job. Was I deflated, I was as sick as a sea-going parrot.
It was a year or so before I had the opportunity to encounter another bustle main. That’s when I ended up at the Manchester site again in 1959. As I said I was to be the under foreman in charge of the blast furnace at Irlam Steel works. It has all gone now; bull dozed and turned into a shopping mall. What a bloody shame, all those jobs lost. It was a brand new unit I was to supervise. When I got on site I reported to the general foreman who, much to my surprise was Tommy Mead the foreman I worked under at Scunthorpe” “Hello Tommy. How are things going?” He was a man of about 50 years old. “ I’m well Derek, nice to hear that you have had a promotion.” I thanked him for his concern. I asked him if he remembered me reneging on the bustle main at Scunthorpe? He told me yes. I told him I still haven’t had the opportunity of working in one and asked him what were the chances of me going into this new main and learning from scratch. He reminded me of my foreman’s position and informed me that I would lose the extra money that that position generated. I told him that I didn’t give a shit about the extra money I was determined to master that brickwork no matter what. I knew that once I had mastered that I’d be capable of doing anything with a brick.” OK Derek “ he said. “I know what it means to you. Go and tell Benny you are joining him.” I asked him if he meant Benny Crowe and he told me yes. Was I bloody chuffed; during previous conversations he told me he had done bustle mains and I’d thought to myself, you bastard. I was jealous of him. So this is how Benny Crowe benefited my future.
I went over to the job with joy in my heart. Benny was in the main with two other bricklayers who I later discovered were Scots. So this was the time that Ben enhanced my skills twofold. He was amazed that I had kicked the foreman’s job into touch to do the main. He was quite flattered that I had wanted to join him. He was, I must say, a great teacher. We worked together on the first tube junction. It’s hard to visualise but it is two 7 feet diameter tubes at right angles to each other and they both have to be lined with 3 layers of bricks. The first layer is an insulation brick and the second 2 firebricks. I did one side of the tube and Ben the other. The object was to get the bricks marking right so that when they went out to the saw man they came back spot on. All the work was examined by a Clark-of-the-works so it had to be spot on. I followed Ben to the letter my heart was jubilant as the picture unfolded in front of my eyes. Ben showed me how to mark the bricks correctly and by the time we had finished that section I knew I had it whipped. Ben asked me if I was confident to do the next one on my own. My answer was yes; I was about to show Ben a lesson in speed. What a bastard eh? That is how I operated throughout my life. Everything had to be done yesterday. Ben always came to work tidy and smartly attired. He was quite methodical in his approach to work. Whereas I was always smart but my approach to work was 100 miles an hour. I took over the second junction whilst Ben took the third. The two Scotch bricklayers were going around the other way; the object was to meet in the middle. Each junction took about two days and there were eighteen junctions with the sections in between. Overall the job took about four weeks. I started on the second junction with great gusto. Pleased with the knowledge Benny had imparted on me. I was keeping up with him quite nicely; he kept watching my progress, as I knew he didn’t want me to beat him. We more or less finished about the same time and I knew that he was getting somewhat agitated at my progress. Ha ha, I thought to myself. I’ll cane you on the next junction. Off I went on the next junction Ben on his. By this time I was generating such heat in my body I had to put a pair of shorts on. This was winter time would you know? Grin! Ben had only completed three quarters of his section by the time I had finished mine. He was going bleeding spare; he was all dishevelled with bricks all over the place. I had him, as mean as that may sound. I went on to whip him cruelly. The two Scotch men were miles behind us; they completed about four junctions whilst we finished sixteen. Ha ha. What a tonic to me. But I knew this experience would be vital to me in my future years. My job was very secure because of all the extra skill I’d acquired. For the last year I worked with the firm I spent trouble-shooting for them. When any trouble flared up I would be sent to sort it out. I was in the elite class joined by other men who had the same ability. When I left. the production manager tried to dissuade me from leaving and told me my job would be open for me if I ever needed it again. I also knew that when I started in my own business I would be able to do first class work for my customers and provide for my future family with security and happiness.
About 2 years after I left the firm, I got myself well established and the work was rolling in. I got a phone call from one of the bricklayers I had worked with on the firm I left. He was called Pop Wilson. What a great guy. I build a three hundred foot high chimneystack with him and he was a hundred mile an hour bricky. He was the only guy I ever met that could pip me to the finishing post on straightforward brickwork. As we worked away from each other going in a circle around the stack he would keep his eye on me and if he saw me getting in front he’d start doing daft things to make me laugh. He was so funny I couldn’t lay bricks for laughing. He was a wonderful work partner. I must say I missed him when I left the firm.
Anyway, Pop phoned me to give me some really, really bad news. That being that my great friend Benny Crowe had been killed whist working at a steel plant called Cleveland, which is in the Midlands. He was killed after slipping of the edge of the brickwork whilst building a blast furnace that he was in charge of. The structure was only three feet from the ground far short of its finished height of 100 foot. Ben had been setting out solid copper cooling blocks that were standing up against the steel walls of the furnace. As he slipped he grabbed hold of one of these blocks that weighed about 112 pounds. He dislodged it so that when he fell it tumbled down with him and as he landed it fell on top of him. He was still conscious from the blow realised he had done some serious damage and offered his car keys to one of the workman and asked him to take him to the nearest hospital. Before this got underway an ambulance appeared and Ben was whisked off to a hospital not more than eight miles from the steel works. The sad thing was that he died enroute from a split liver. What a bloody tragedy, here was a 28-year-old talented man having his life whipped away so suddenly? I was heartbroken; I didn’t want to believe it, my great buddy gone. He got married about six years previous to his death. He had a beautiful wife called Anne and an adorable son Called Ben, named after his father. He had previously been working on a ten months contract in Scotland. He and about another six guys formed a syndicate pool and all paid so much money each towards a lottery. They were lucky enough to win and came away with six thousand pounds each. This was a good chunk of money in the late 1960s. It enabled Ben to buy a brand new house and a new car. What a great way to start a marriage. Ben had gypsy ancestors and it was rumoured that he knew he was going to die at an early age. After he won the money on the lottery he invested some into a double indemnity life policy. What a stroke of genius, at least he left Anne and his son money to help with their future. Mind by the way inflation has galloped through the greedy years it makes you wonder if there was enough.
My wife and I went to his funeral. He lived about 130 miles from us in a place called West Hartlepool County Durham. We arrived to a vast crowd of people; I was amazed at the amount of people who attended his funeral. One of them was the current heavy weight-boxing champion of England. A guy called Brian London. It was a wonderful turn out for Ben but a sad, sad occasion. We accompanied his wife Anne who was traumatised. She didn’t cry, she seemed devoid of all feelings. Like a zombie I thought. It was a horrible day, non-stop raining. As Ben’s coffin descended into the grave it landed into two feet of water and almost disappeared. Ben’s mum was wailing asking God why it should be her son that died. A damned sad affair.
Hilda and I took Anne home after the funeral finished. Her mum was there and we all tried to jolly Anne along the best way we could. She was very fond of my wife Hilda so she stayed with her for a week and I went home the same evening. We kept in touch with Anne and went on holiday with her the following year. After that we seemed to drift apart, we saw her less and less. Each of us getting on with our lives and bringing up our babies and me getting on with my business that was very time consuming. It must be nearly 40 years since we’ve seen each other. I’ve tried to find her on the Internet but to no avail. I will keep trying, who knows; one day I might find her and her family. I’d love to, but the years are rolling by, not a lot of time left. And so life goes on.