Meet the Writer: Alancaster149 Alias Alan R Lancaster - Persistence Pays, Eventually
Let's start in the aftermath of WWII. Chaos, displaced persons camps springing up, freed slave workers tramping home across Europe... Typhoid fever threatening
For some of the time I wasn't aware of much, and for much of the time it was all over my head...
Dad was a Sapper in the Royal Engineers, his main duty as a Bren gunner to keep his engineer comrades safe and out of trouble. They'd clear the minefields for the following echelons whilst he and his platoon mates kept their eyes open for snipers and the like. He'd originally joined the Green Howards, full name "The Green Howard, Princess Alexandra's Own Regiment of Yorkshire", and they'd wanted to keep him at Richmond (in Yorkshire, the original Richmond) to train the new boys. He'd have worn a stripe as a Lance Corporal but he didn't want that. He wanted to rub the noses of the arrogant Nazis in the sh** they'd created, much as you'd do with an errant pet in your house.
He'd crossed the sea southward in convoy, rounded the Cape of Good Hope and up to Egypt. Men were needed for divers Arab revolts in Palestine and Iraq. They were sent back to Egypt for the Big Push (El Alamein)... Libya, Sicily, Italy and up to the Alps via Salerno, Rome and Florence...
So now 4399959 Spr R.E. Robert Stanley Lancaster found himself in Klagenfurt, Carinthia. Aside from square bashing and such like he had time on his hands. One day he spotted an attractive blonde woman in her mid-twenties. His mates did as well, and he told them she wouldn't respond to wolf whistles. She didn't and that was a bet won, and the start of a relationship... She was Charlotte Maria Elisabeth (sic) Ternouschnigg. (try saying that with a mouthful of buttered toast!)
As I mentioned above in the caption under the statue picture, here's an explanation of the myth: the 'Lindwurm' - dragon - had terrorised the neighbourhood around the nearby glacial lake, the Woerthersee. The giant told the locals he would deal with the threat. To do so he needed a goat, "It won't be harmed", he promised. So with the goat on a lead he approached the marshy lakeside, tethered the goat, went to hide and waited. Enter the dragon (now where have I heard that one before?) that circles the goat warily. He was no fool, why would anyone leave him a free meal so conveniently? He shrugs like Walter Matthau in 'The Odd Couple' and lunges for the goat. The giant steps out from hiding and clobbers him with that mean looking club you see in that mighty fist behind his right shoulder. I'm not sure of the ending any more but it's bound to be tortured, as are all mediaeval myths.
Enter yours truly on the scene, April 3rd, 19** (harumph! cough-cough - do you really want to know the year? I'll whisper it into your ear... Got that? No? Ah, well...) Ma told me once I was the only boy in a ward of baby girls... A sign of things to come? I didn't know much, not even when we (Ma and me, that is. Dad had returned already for demobilisation and back to work in civvy street as an overhead crane operator in the furnaces at Cargo Fleet works east of Middlesbrough) crossed the North Sea from the Hook of Holland on a troop ship bound for Harwich. By all accounts the ship had been held back due to January storms and only allowed away in a 'lull' that still had the Army boys retching over the sides. I wasn't aware of that either. I was asleep in a cabin. Yep, I was a little Viking in the making!
In fact I wasn't aware of much until I was about infant (Primary, year 2 nowadays) school age, when I was six. Couldn't start at five for health reasons. My class teacher was my Auntie Lorna and I was told off - in friendly manner by her - for calling her 'Auntie'. Nobody had explained protocol. It was "Yes Miss/ No Miss". We all lived together, Grandma, Grandad, Dad, Ma, Uncle Ian (Dad's younger brother) and Lorna (younger sister) in 22 Vickers Street, Grangetown near Middlesbrough, slap-bang by the gates of Dorman Long steel works (later British Steel). Dad, Ma and me moved soon after to the recently erected 'prefabs', pre-fabricated bungalows with all mod cons at 37 Dalton Road, Grangetown. They were better than the brick council house estate at Eston we moved to when I was eight!
At night during this time I had to wear what were known as 'Mermaids', padded stretchers on my legs to keep the bones straight due to a side effect of having a bad attack of measles when I should have started school. It was a bit awkward, especially as I couldn't sleep very well on my back. Eventually they were taken off one morning and never put back on. Relief! Haven't had problems on that score since, unlikely to now in my **th year. However something else had crept up on me, a thyroid deficiency. Nothing chronic, a small dosage of pills keeps me shipshape, reduced in the past couple of years.
As mentioned, come the age of eight, on my birthday, we moved lock, stock and barrel south along Church Lane to Eston. The two bedroom house backed onto what was left of Eston's railway station. Only the coal yard was still operated, by the Co-operative Wholesale Society, commonly known as 'the Co-op'. No sleeping in on Saturdays, though. They started work at 8.30, the clatter and bang of the sack-filling apparatus made sure I didn't sleep too long (I had the back bedroom with its view across Teesside - I could see over the coal yard, past the big brick C of E church into County Durham on a clear day!) Sunday was Sunday School day with a neighbour's daughter, Joan Turner (married since). That didn't last that long, I saw to that. Didn't want to go any more after my wretched performance at a Sunday School recital in front of an audience! So I joined forces with some other lads and got into trouble instead. I was at the South Eston Junior School then, a modest stone Victorian building in Guisborough Street with a foundation stone that boasted 'South Eston Education Board School' or something like that. Many an ironstone miner, ICI and steel worker's son came here to be taught by a small 'platoon' of teachers such as headmaster Mr Pattison, Mr Jennings (later also a headmaster elsewhere), Mr .Pallister and Ms Leyland. Needless to say I was slippered several times for various 'sins' such as late-coming or laughing in class. I was good in English, Geography and History, even won a book on animals for coming third in class. Couldn't receive it at the award ceremony as I'd been taken by Ma to visit her family in Klagenfurt. I remember British squaddies (slang for soldiers) sitting around the main roads here and there, endlessly brewing tea. In the summer of 1956 the no longer 'allied' armies moved out by mutual agreement*.
I did reasonably well at the Eston County Modern School on Flatts Lane at nearby Normanby, although I was no great shakes at P.E, maths or science. My enjoyment came in playing Rugby Football, even when the pitch was rock hard, whilst the Mr Hicks, the ex-Artillery P.E. teacher was there. His successor, Conrad Raine came from the Grammar School. He was ex-RAF and had a big thing for basketball and athletics. Basketball didn't feature highly in my eyes. We had a Senior and Lower school cross-country run that left the back of our school, up Flatts Lane on a progressively uphill slope. The Senior run went to the crest of the hill past a brickworks (also gone) and back down past where an ironstone mine had been. Once a party of travellers with caravans camped on our run. Their horses were fairly snappy and bared their teeth when we went near. So we had to pass along the edge of a field of cows, through cow-claps. You can imagine the colour of our shoes, shorts and legs - and our language! Along with the Grangetown Infant School and South Eston Junior School, the Eston County Modern school was demolished long ago.
Joining the Scouts at the age of thirteen was an experience written on my memory in indelible ink. I had to earn the cash by running errands for my Auntie Lorna, Auntie Janet and Grandma to pay for the uniform from a friend, Malcolm. Ma wouldn't give me it as she didn't approve of kids wearing uniform, reckoned to be 'quasi-military' (It's not as if I'd wanted to join something like the Hitler Youth, the Scout Movement was banned in Nazi Germany and we didn't carry or learn to use weapons. The nearest thing to a 'weapon' was the Scout knife). I was assigned to 'Kestrel Patrol', all the patrols being given the names of birds of prey known in Britain. Within a short time of 'enlisting' with the 2nd Eston troop (1st Eston was the Grammar School troop, based between Normanby and South Bank on the Normanby Road near the public baths and library) we went to camp at Commondale on the moors. The landowner of the site - formerly the brick works - grazed his sheep overnight in the field. If your feet stuck out of the tent for any reason they stood a chance of being nibbled. It was early April, around the time of my birthday, and in the early morning the sky was a glorious blue. We washed in the beck, the water gurgling down from the high moor. Frrreezing cold! We had to wash ourselves and then our metal plates and cups in it after breakfast and the other meals. About 7 am, each day, the sky clouded over and we walked about in drizzle all day. I knew what it must have felt like for US soldiers in southern England before D-Day especially the ones, for example, who called Arizona, New Mexico or Texas home.
At the end of my fourth year, aged fifteen I passed a test to go to Art School. I thought it was at nearby Redcar. It turned out to be Scarborough. Hell, I thought! Application was made by my parents to the North Yorkshire Education Board for subsidised fares and accommodation. Five shillings for the fare to and from Scarborough, half board was a few pounds sterling and we - Ma, Regina her niece from Austria and me - went to visit the house I was to lodge in during the week, Sunday night to Thursday night for a while. It was a big house, tall and narrow on four floors near Falsgrave Park at the top of the hill. More about that below...
*A friend of mine locally here in East London remembers being posted to Klagenfurt for a short time, even after 1956. Lucky man, he did his National Service after Korea and before the time of Suez.
Charging like a ram through childhood into adulthood...
Adulthood: pubs, life classes and girls
On to a sort of 'independence' at Scarborough...
I'm no ladies' man by any stretch of the imagination, but at Scarborough I found myself spoilt for choice at the tender age of fifteen and a half. I was drawn to a number of girls, and all us lads drooled over one of the teachers, an art history specialist I then hardly understood because she spoke with a North London accent (I only later found out her origins. I think only few of the teachers were Yorkshire born or bred). She was all legs - with fishnet tights! - and short skirts, long brown hair swept into a bun at the back of her head and a face to die for! Most of the girl pupils were worth a second look as well.
I was there to soak up knowledge for my GCE (General Certificate of Education) subjects, Art, English, English Literature, History and Geography - oh, and to pick up some skills in advertising art for a job in the advertising world. That involved typographical layout design, package design, photographic techniques, using tools such as Letraset (rub-down plastic lettering) and so on. I enjoyed it, set up and printed my own letterheads, artwork for various tasks. It also involved life classes - wouldn't have been so bad if the women were at least good looking. Two of them looked like the Michelin poster man yet they were a bit exhibitionist in their own way! There was also a solitary man who walked everywhere around the college dressed only in a plastic mac. Didn't spend too much time getting down to basics, I heard. I was glad we didn't get him in our life class Without wishing to sound homophobic, there were some very aggressive ones in Scarborough as I found out when I went to the Odeon in my first year. My cinema-going was curtailed for the duration of my time there.
In my first year at Scarborough winter struck hard from early January, (I've written several articles and short stories that cover the months from January to April, so I'll let you read them to get the gist of the time). Us males had to get out of the bus and help push while the conductor got out his snow shovel and piece of sacking to put under the wheels for grip on a gradient near Hawsker, just outside of Whitby. We had to do that twice in the same hour and the second time the conductor forgot the shovel and sacking! Good job we didn't get stuck again near Fylingdales. The buses over the moors via Fylingdales were stopped in late January owing to the severity of snow drifts, in places deep enough to take buses. Ships bringing Baltic timber were unable to dock in the small harbour, and an appendix case had to be airlifted from one by helicopter to the hospital next door to the college, using the college sports fields as a landing site. We were obliged to travel by train to Whitby and take the bus on from there. The usual diesel lightweight units were replaced temporarily by steam tank engines and heavy old Gresley or Thompson carriages, as the diesel units would have shot over the cliff at Ravenscar where the railway curved fairly radically to the left and down a steep gradient through a short tunnel (the landowner didn't want his view to the high moor spoilt by a railway.. an early NIMBY (not in my back yard).
Our final year was crowded with deadlines to get used to that aspect of the business during the day, going to barbecues, pubs and such, dates with girls after hours or evening classes. A namesake of mine got me a date with a police sergeant's daughter from Cayton Bay on the strength of teaching her German. She didn't learn a lot.... I also dated a girl from the catering school who travelled with me on the No. 58 bus back to Guisborough with her friends. She wanted to join the WRNs (Women's Royal Navy service), although she couldn't tell the back end of a ship from the front. She wouldn't have needed to, as they were generally shore-based. I don't know if Cath ever did join the Navy, I lost touch with her in my last year as her course was only two years. She had a number of equally good-looking friends with whom I also lost touch, including one, a brunette, Judith Gummerson from Redcar, with dark eyes who could have wrapped me around her little finger if she'd but known I carried a torch for her.
Did I say I wasn't a ladies' man? I wasn't before I started. Anyway I got it into my head I wanted to further my craft abroad. I'd picked up a lot of German over the years through holidays in Austria. Germany and Switzerland were expensive, so as the Sterling exchange rate was favourable at the time I opted for Vienna because they spoke a similar type of German to what I'd learned in the south on holiday over the years (two months with people who didn't know enough English to ask time of a Bobby gives you an edge over learning the language at school, and by and large English schools teach a form of German spoken in North Germany - around where the British Army was stationed after WWII).
I found out the hard way that work in commercial art was controlled by a guild society, an 'Innung'. Because Austrians who came to England only stayed long enough to learn a few skills and the language, English firms weren't keen on training them. The tendency was therefore mutual and my skills - although I knew much more because of the diversity of tools and materials available here - weren't required despite several people wanting to employ me. They had to abide by the rules. I was put out to grass. First job I had was selling the local rag - newspaper - on the big shopping street, the Mariahilfer Strasse, named after a large church further in to the Ring (the city centre). I had a pitch outside the Gerngross department store, walked down to cafes where I was allowed to walk between tables and picked up a number of 'regulars'. It was hard work, 1965 the year England lost to Germany the front page gave me nothing to be cheerful about - losing by a large margin.
Next job I had was in a garage owned by a machine manufacturer whose director - a Jewish gentleman by the name of Zuckerman had been a major in the Royal Engineers during WWII - gave me the job of hosing down and polishing cars, cleaning and oiling parts and generally getting wet, shovelling snow on the pavement outside in a freezing winter. The man I worked with was a Stalingrad survivor. He'd seen worse in Siberia and he was a bundle of joy to work with!
By spring 1966 I had a better job, if working in a poky office with a north-facing window could be called better. At least I stayed dry most of the time. The work in a film warehouse involved writing out labels and dispatch documents by hand. I had a deep blueish dent in my left index finger by the time I left in the summer of 1968. I took over the task of collecting the dispatch documents and wages from an old boy who'd seen better days. My 'security' lay in not being obviously the wages collector. I had an old leather attache bag with a broken zip and stuffed it with the dispatch notes over the wages packets. Once a month I carried the clerical salaries, including my own as well as those of the warehouse workers. I stopped off often at a small deli and sweet shop, the owner's daughter being my focal point. Funnily enough she was a brunette with sultry brown eyes as well. Maybe it's something in my genes that draws me to the type?
The last day, before coming back to England, I was kept waiting for my money. I had to go back round the corner at about 5pm to collect my redundancy money - i'd been there just over two years, so qualified for it. Additionally I'd been entitled to an hour a day off to find a new job, so as I planned to return to 'Blighty' (Army expression for anywhere in Britian) I said I'd go in for a 9 am start instead of 8 am as all office staff did. The manager agreed. Anyway at 4 pm I went straight to the Siebenstern Gasse (Seven Stars Street) and didn't go back to the office. I was a free agent! My next destination was Wien Westbahnhof (Vienna West Railway Station) at the west end of the Mariahilfer Strasse, past the Guertel (outer 'belt') road. I had two month's wages in my pocket, a month's money for each year of 'service'.
My next stop would be Ostend in Belgium, where I would board the ferry for Dover, a three-and-a-half hours crossing, Dover Marine Railway Station for Victoria, London, a taxi to King's Cross (I had a massive case, too big to lob around on the Underground, even if I knew which line to use) and a one-way ticket to buy for Middlesbrough via Darlington.
East across the Continent to Vienna
Back in 'Blighty' and back to hard reality...
The train I wanted went whilst I queued for my ticket at the booking office in King's Cross Station. It was a Saturday evening by now and my missed train would have let me change at Eaglescliffe for a train to Middlesbrough, arriving at my Aunt's house in the late evening. As it was I had a wait for the train to leave London in the dark. The seat I had was in a corridor carriage, deep upholstered seats again instead of the hard leatherette on the Continent! Open, central gangwayed carriages on British Railways, by now 'British Rail', had similar upholstery but not as comfy! So very early on a Sunday morning I had a long seven hour wait at Darlngton Bank Top Station. The buffet had closed before my train got in, so I had to rough it. When I rang my aunt the following morning at about 8 am she didn't sound as keen to see me. Still, the welcome was a bit warmer. The 'prodigal' was back. Hooray! I met old mates, one (Chris Osborne) came with his girlfriend - a brunette I could have taken a fancy to if she hadn't been attached - to help celebrate my joint celebration with Cousin Tony.
I banked what was left of my cash. Having been denied the chance to change my redundancy money from Austrian Schillings to English Pounds at a bank, I lost out at the exchange bureau at Vienna West. That would come in use soon enough. Another Aunt, Audrey told me of a flat at the back of the converted pub she lived in at 15 Sneinton Hollows, Nottingham. A new city, new adventures. New crises!
The first job I took on the spur of the moment was as a trainee manager at Woolworths on Listergate, just off the main square, Parliament. That didn't last long but I had a job getting another! This one was a bit more promising, a clerical post with the London Electric Wire Company & Smiths Limited (LEWCOS) on Castle Boulevard near England's oldest pub, 'Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem', that butts against the cliff wall below the rebuilt castle - nothing like the one shown in Robin Hood films, and even the statue of him in the castle garden looks a bit 'Hooray Henry', a bit like Errol Flynn. I sailed through that job and into the next, with a small printing firm in the city centre annotating technical drawings with a fellow Tyke (Yorkshireman), from Barnsley whose girlfriend came from Mousehole (pron. 'Mouzel') in Cornwall. That didn't last long either, although I've got to say in my defence it wasn't my fault. The diagrams I had to annotate were a bit 'off' and I was going by somebody else's drawings. "Not guilty, M'lud!"
A miserable spell of unemployment followed and unemployment benefit in those days was withdrawn after three weeks, with a fourth week's money only paid when a job was secured. I was out of work six or seven weeks before being taken on in the classified adverts department of the local rag, 'The Nottingham Post & Guardian', on the strength of my commercial art skills that manifested themselves in being moved to a new post created within the advertising department. I'd arrived at last! I was now an Advertisement Control Clerk, part of which job was the creation of typographical layouts and features with one of the shop floor lads, a part-time Bobby by the name of Brown, nicknamed 'Hovis'. He okayed my layouts and did some himself. My 'undoing' came around the issue of 'white space', the argument being that an advert surrounded by others that looks pretty much the same won't stand out, whereas a different approach - used in national newspapers even now - has a large space with a short message and the company's logo in the middle. The department manager, an ex-Army officer, argued that people would buy less space as a result. Having been 'raised' at Art School I told him not to worry. The advertisement sales reps backed me, and one secured a space from a local car sales firm to use the 'white space' principle. I was transferred back to classified ads until 'new technology' eased me out of it. I was given time to find a new job, although in Nottingham the employment situation was on a downward trend.
Through the print union NATSOPA (National Society of Printers & Assistants) clerical wing I transferred to London early in the 70s. Accommodation came with a one night stand with a girl at a party, that turned into something more. She secured a furnished room for me in the house she lived in on Putney Hill, London SW15. We moved to a furnished flat in Denmark Hill, Camberwell, SE5 and married in October at a registry office in Fulham, I had several short term jobs in and around Fleet Street before finding a long term situation with IPC Business Press at Bowling Green Lane, EC1 - not far from Royal Mail, Mount Pleasant, remember that for later.
Back to 'Blighty', (first Nottingham)
Nottingham to London
As I said, I moved from Nottingham to London mid-February and within the year had got myself a reasonably paid clerical job, a wife and somewhere to live. Her name was Karin Shirley Mary Burton, a Norfolk lass from Cromer. When I took her to see my family on Teesside I learned that my Great Grandad and his father had migrated via a Lincolnshire hiring fair (Lammas) as farm labourers to North Yorkshire as ironstone miners. That was the first time I'd heard that. I was floored! (More coincidences would follow in later years).
Things seemed to have settled down a bit. I invited a workmate and his girlfriend to stay with us, and next thing I knew were told to find new accommodation. Luckily Karin knew someone where she worked at British Gas next to Chancery Lane Underground station, who knew of a flat going at Ealing (W5). It was a bit of a hike from Ealing into town and back but we had no choice. The man who owned the house was an Irish black cab driver with cash to spare. It was easy enough getting in, although there was only one bathroom between four flats. At the back of the house near Haven Green another Irishman and his wife shared their flat with six daughters, one a baby still. The eldest was a pretty twenty-year-old. Good job I remembered I was married.
Things started to go wrong between us, however. Her father was blind - as a result of fever treatment in WWII - and her mother fed him fairy stories about me mistreating his daughter. Aside from which Karin developed a 'promotion' bug; work-orientation saw her change jobs on the ladder three times in the course of our short marriage. I was more oriented towards a social life and the union and that seemed to divide us. We both made mistakes and 'us' was history, including the two-year wait for the decree nisi to come through. 'Irreconcilable differences'.
My social life took a different turn, parties and booze, and the hunt for another woman to keep company. I found one, a blonde from Essex called Christine. We got on like a house on fire, but distance was the bugbear. Eventually I received a 'Dear John' letter, that she'd found someone on a camping holiday abroad. We met a few times, but it wasn't the same and it fizzled out altogether like a wet firework.
A move to another flat less than half a mile west, the off-chance of being involved in a mobile disco business on the graphics side (hadn't given up on that) that went nowhere, the option arose of being involved with a five-piece blues/rock band as a sound mixer, 'found' for me by a flat-mate. He drove an ex-Post Office Telephones van and provided the transport to gtet to Putney Bridge, where the pub was that the band rehearsed in. Owing to his meddling I lost interest and coincidentally the band soon had an invite to perform at Dingwall's, a venue in North London where later Iron Maiden's career path took off from. I moved to a bed-sit in West Ealing, getting up at the crack of dawn to get to work at Bowling Green Lane by bus - three buses altogether - because the price of a monthly Underground ticket had sky-rocketed thanks to Horace Cutler, leader of the Greater London Council (GLC), who seemed to believe London residents had bottomless pockets.
When I'd had enough of the daily two-way trek by bus I moved east by way of applying for a GLC mortgage introduced by Ken Livingstone, the new GLC leader a few years before being eased aside by Mr Cutler. I was able to meet the payments on my own, with just a short journey to make via the Central Line from Stratford,(E15). I'd met an attractive brunette called Jane from Sheffield on holiday in Ibiza a couple of months before and I sought to interest her in sharing the flat. She was a teacher based at a special needs school at Southport on the north-west coast near Blackpool. It didn't work out though. I was on my own again, still on the 'hunt'.
By this time I worked at Argus Press in Paul Street (EC2), not far from Moorgate and Liverpool Street stations. The fares were better by now, Ken was back again and introduced the fare zones around London, 'Fares Fair'. I enrolled at night school to learn Spanish and came across Iris 'Kath' Sinfield. Another brunette. We got on better, stayed at each other's flat, although I spent more time at hers, shared with her mother. We all got on together and 'Mum' wanted her daughter to marry me, I wanted her to marry me... It nearly fizzled out for various reasons but we got it going again... eventually to marry by August, 1981, a year after 'Chuck'n'Di' wedded at St Paul's. I worked at The Telegraph in Fleet Street by this time, and although we were married at the Bow Registry Office (on a Thursday) the reception held at the 'Sir Christopher Wren' on Paternoster Square, a stone's throw from his cathedral. To fit in with the surroundings, Kath 's cream coloured wedding dress was in the style of the time it was built, photographs taken with St Paul's as a backdrop. I wore a cream coloured suit.
Some sort of happiness followed, stability, and by this time Ma had acquired the downstairs flat, plus the freehold. A bit like, "We all live in a yellow submarine". The jolliness would be soured, however.
From a small city to a bigger one... London 1971
The newly-found domestic bliss carried on for a while. Son Gerard Alan was born late July, 1983. He was a character, smiling and happy. Unfortunately he fell victim late following February to 'sudden cot-death syndrome'. We were all distraught at the yawning hole in our lives. Nevertheless we soldiered on, and after a move to Sebert Road, less than a mile east of Clova Road, Joanne Katherine came into the world a day after my birthday in 1985. Robert James followed late January 1987 and in 1991 Suzanne Lesley Cecilia made up the numbers. Her last name was taken from my Ma's maternal grandmother in a bid by Kath to curry favour with Ma.
Ma moved across the road to a friend's house with this influx of infants. We only had a three bedroom house after all, she understood. It had been a four-bedroom house on completion back late in Victoria's reign. The house - part of a terrace - backs onto the Barking-Gospel Oak railway line that we used to travel around North London on the so-called 'Toytown Railway' because it didn't seem to go anywhere, just joined up a few other older lines. We used to to travel to Kew Gardens and Richmond (the one on the Thames, established in the reign of Henry VII - one of his titles, inherited from his grandfather Lord Stanley, was Lord of Richmond), a pleasant ride that took us across the Thames in Surrey.
I was made redundant at The Telegraph in October, 1994 after owner Conrad Black sold off a third of his shares in June to buy an Australian paper. By the time I was told to clear my desk and shown the door the shares had rallied to their worth in June, bully for me because I was one of a number who'd taken the offer of a £1 for a block of shares, and came away after commission with just under £2,000 on top of the £20K- odd redundancy package I received after signing a document to say I wouldn't contest the decision. I had planned to leave, but bided my time. I wasn't going to let them get off scot-free! I'd given The Telegraph fourteen + years of my life, and conditions had gone downhill with increased workloads over those years. I was still Advertisement Queries Clerk but practically on my own after my colleague Ash transferred to the Accounts Department proper. So I bade farewell to boss 'Bill' Reynolds and all, and walked into uncertainty... again.
I learned to drive and achieved a long-held ambition of buying a Land Rover. A company near Hertford offered services to customise vehicles and I had my first drive in my own when the job was done weeks later in a Masai Red short wheelbase Series III estate that had been converted from a 'hard-top' (van-type body). Whilst I waited for word of a job I took the 'new' Landie for a drive up to the North Yorkshire Moors. The best test I could think of was driving up the 1 in 3 Rosedale Chimney Bank. It starts from the bottom at 1 in 4 on a wide bend. About halfway there's a small car park in case you want to 'chicken out'. From there it's a steep, sharp bend to the top before evening out towards Hutton-le-Hole on the southern edge of the Moors. I was in second gear and near the top when it struggled. Luckily there was a kerb on the right ride of the road on the last bend. I set back with the offside rear wheel against the kerb, changed down to first and set off again. I'd know for next time.
Took various temporary jobs including security at the London International Financial Futures Exchange (LIFFE) at Cannon Street, under the railway station, and a 'shifting' position with employment agency Manpower.
Whilst employed by them I bought my second Landie, a Series IIA, ten years older, but more powerful, having sold the other one six months earlier to pay bills. This one had its original petrol engine (early Land Rover diesel engines were a bit under-powered as I found out). She was painted not in Land Rover bronze-green but Dulux dark green, a bit like British Racing Green. I took her north with the family to stay in the Dales, driving around between the coast and the Dales.
One of the last jobs I did through Manpower was as a casual at Royal Mail Mount Pleasant Mechanical (sorting) Letter Office (MPMLO). I asked the line manager about permanent jobs there and he advised returning as a Christmas Casual. Which I did, and was taken on part time (with overtime), then full time (with overtime) on the letter sorting machines.
Worried I wouldn't be able to meet my motor insurance bill in the New Year I sold the Landie, only to receive a letter from the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) that I was due a refund on the road tax because she was 25 years old (something John Major's government passed to get drivers of older vehicles onside). You could have run me over with a push chair!
That was 1997, during the last year of John Major - 'the grey man' - at No.10 (Downing Street). During May I secured a loan on the strength of having a permanent job and bought another Series III, this time with a Perkins 300 cc diesel engine and radio cassette player. She needed work done and I knew where to take her to have it done. A workshop in Essex specialised in Land Rover work, and they'd benefit from my custom... Oh yes! There was a fair bit needed doing over time, not least of which was the replacement of the engine by a Land Rover turbo-diesel injection engine. Another job to be done was the replacement to the gear box after the new engine worked its way through the old gearbox like a hot knife through butter! A five-speed Land Rover gearbox no less. Now we were cooking on gas! I had that Landie from May, 1997 until January 2012 when someone filched her just after she'd passed her Ministry of Transport (MoT) road-worthiness test. There I was again, floored!
For a while shopping was done by taxi, something not to be entered into lightly even if the shop was only three miles away! Some of the drivers were a bit 'iffy', using their mobiles while driving. If the cops stopped them I'd have to lug my bags to the nearest bus stop, on and off with both hands full and a ten minute walk home. S*d this for a game of soldiers, I thought. I had to wait for the insurance payout on the theft, but also had a roof bill to pay. What I had left was only enough for a second hand Discovery I, and as I found out wouldn't pass the MoT in its first year because mainly the seals had gone underneath, and the cost of replacing them would have been more than I'd paid for the vehicle. Pile it on! I had a year out of it, some small jobs needed to be done, and then sold her for scrap a year on. Now I drive my elder daughter's 2003 1.4 VW Polo until I get better (in the shape of a Landie).
Things are sort of even at the moment, with changes in the offing after the New Year. Watch this space...
There is life after retirement! Battle Abbey, 2014 to present - and Jorvik Viking Festival, York during February half-term
Elder daughter Joanne went to the London School of Economics, gained a 2-1 and then went on to a Masters at the University of London. She'd worked as a steward at Lord's Cricket Ground and took up a more permanent position in the Tours Office. She left there a couple of years ago to start teacher training. Now she's a teacher at a primary school in South East London and lives with her Spanish man friend in Greenwich.
Son Robert went to Canterbury University and also graduated with a Masters. In his exchange year he went to Prague and met Carla, a girl from Dortmund whom he now lives with in Dortmund. He's doing his practical in teaching secondary students English as a second language.
Suzy went to Buffalo University in her exchange year (she'd put Canada but didn't quite meet their exacting standards) from Sheffield University, gained her Masters. She went on to a course in Lienz, East Tyrol and taught English to secondary students. Following which she went on to the Technical University in Vienna to do a PhD in Physics. She'll gain that next summer (2018).
The Author: Alan Robert Lancaster, summarising:
Born: 3rd April, 1947, HM Forces Garrison Klagenfurt, Carinthia, Austria, father Robert Stanley Lancaster, Sapper, Royal Engineers, mother Charlotte Maria Elisabeth Wuelz, nee Ternouschnigg (told you it's a mouthful);
Brought January, 1948 to England by HMF troop transport via Hook of Holland and Harwich to London, Liverpool Street Station, Kings Cross Station and Darlington Bank Top Station to Middlesbrough Station, by taxi to 22 Vickers Street, Grangetown;
Educated: Grangetown Infant (Primary) School (1953-54, year missed through illness); Grangetown Junior School (1954-55); South Eston Junior School (1955-58); Eston County (Secondary) Modern School, Flatts Lane Normanby (1958-1962); Scarborough School of Art, Scarborough, North Riding of Yorkshire (where else? 1962-65) commercial art course & academic subjects to Ordinary [O] Level;
Employment/experience: at 13 (summer,1960) worked on demolition site, Eston cinema, Jubilee Road; at 18 (Vienna), 1965-66, selling newspapers on street corner, cleaning motor parts, washing cars, Zuckerman garage; 1966-68 clerical work Columbia & Universal International; at 21, 1968 trainee manager, Woolworths Nottingham 1968; London Electrical Wire Co. & Smiths Ltd, 1968-69; print company annotating technical manuals 1969; Nottingham Post & Guardian clerical work advertising accounts and advertisement display layouts, (joined NATSOPA print union) 1969-71; London: IPC Magazines, SE1 1971, Express Newspapers EC4, Evening Standard, EC4,Times Newspapers, EC4, IPC Business Press 1971-75 EC1, Argus Press EC2, 1975-80; Telegraph Newspapers EC4 1980-86, Telegraph Newspapers Isle of Dogs (South Quay & Canary Wharf 1986-1994) E14; casual work through Manpower, Admiral Way, London E14 (allocated around London), 1994-96; Royal Mail Mount Pleasant EC1 & WC1, letter sorting machines, manual letter & packet sorting, general post tipping & grading, 1996 (Christmas Casual), Mechanical letter sorting 1997-2008, early retirement and book writing, self-publishing 2011-17, Hub-pages 2012-present.
*That is the short version, honest! Think of the job applications I've filled out over the years. That's probably half a forest in Finland gone.