Monday, February 22, 2010

Growing up in Wolverton - Part VI

The War and its aftermath
As I was only just two when war broke out my early memories of it are limited. I grew up not knowing the taste of ice cream or banana. What you have never had, however, you don’t miss, so I didn’t even know what I was supposed to look forward to when the war ended. I do clearly remember the maps pinned on the wall which dad had cut from the daily mirror which showed the relative positions of armies. I also recall him being pretty annoyed when I said to him with somewhat faulty logic “If Hitler is on their side does that mean that Himmler is on ours ?”  - Dad was not impressed. Wolverton area saw relatively little actual action during the war. My personal recollections are few. I do remember going down into our cellar when the air raid siren went and of hearing the desynchronised throb which was the characteristic sound of Junkers 88’s on their way to bomb Coventry. One night a Lancaster with an engine on fire circled and I believe crashed in a field near Haversham bridge. The bridge itself made headlines in 1939  when it was swept away in floods and Lord Haw Haw claimed that the Luftwaffe had bombed it. Lord Haw Haw was of course the name given to the traitor William Joyce who broadcast propaganda messages from Germany. I remember dad tuning in to him and hearing his nasal tones claiming “last night our bombers bombed at random and tonight they will bomb again”  He used to special in demonstrating how well the German were informed about us by observing that a particular village clock was so many minutes slow. The Haversham bridge collapse was probably an example of that which was designed to frighten people. As far as I can made out people simply thought of him as a figure of fun. When he was captured at the end of the war he was hanged for treason so I suppose the British public had the last laugh.

Dad took me for a walk one day to the top of the allotments were from the gate (at which a sentry box had been quickly erected) we could see the tail of a spitfire sticking up above he corn.


I suppose a lot of memories relate to the things we couldn’t obtain both during and after the war when food was still rationed. For a time dad kept chickens at the bottom of the garden so we had eggs. This was not always the case however and on one occasion my enthusiastic sister had obtained some new and greatly improved kind of dried eggs (or so it said on the packet). It was claimed that three spoonfuls of this miracle mix were the equivalent of one fresh egg. Accordingly Gene dug out a recipe from the faithful Mrs Beeton for Angel Cake, which started out with the words “Take 8 eggs”. Well that was pretty straightforward .. multiply by three, that’s just twenty four spoonfuls of the miracle mix.
The result of this recipe when it emerged from the oven was a disc of about eight inches diameter and about two inches thick. We never did find out what it tasted like as it defied all attempts to cut it. We tried just about everything except a diamond cutter … and that was only because we didn’t have one. Not that I think a diamond cutter would have stood a snowballs chance in hell against that cake.
To be entirely fair to the manufacturers of the miracle mix, Gene’s culinary abilities in those days were not highly developed. She once made a bowl of porridge into which one could just about force the spoon and then lift up the entire pot.


Come to think of it her serving skills weren’t too good either as she once gave a good vigorous shake to a tomato sauce bottle without having first ensured that the top was screwed on. The result was a highly satisfactory (to me at any rate) column of tomato sauce which erupted upwards, hit the ceiling and the descended to liberally coat the initiator. I seem to remember that it was me that got into trouble for overdoing the hysterical laughter. Sometimes there was just no justice  !


Dad and I don’t come out of the culinary stakes with an entirely clean record. One Sunday when mother and Gene had gone to mass (something I used to try and avoid by lying in bed and hoping they had forgotten me until it was too late) Dad discovered a recipe for crunchy toffee in the Sunday People which involved the use of baking powder to produce all the little bubbles (we worked that out for ourselves) so in an attempt produce super light crunchy toffee that would rival the stuff that Fry’s made we upped the baking powder content (doubled it in fact if memory serves me correctly). The stuff was duly mixed up and put in a large saucepan on the stove. It started to rise… and rise…. and rise. It soon became apparent that the saucepan was not going to be able to cope with this stuff, so another one was produced and some mixture `poured into it, where it continued to rise …. And rise. before long just about every flat surface in the kitchen was covered in an assortment of pans and dishes full of this stuff. When the ladies arrived home from church you could tell that they weren’t entirely happy from the outset. I can record that they were even less happy when we tried to chisel the stuff out of the pans. Still, unlike the angel cake we did manage to chop it up and it did taste OK so we weren’t entirely ashamed of our mornings work. Neither did dads serving skills greatly exceed those of Gene with the sauce bottle. He used to pop over to the off license on the corner of Oxford Street and Green lane and buy draught bitter in a tall white jug which must have held about a litre on one Sunday he had collected his beer and whist he had gone mum served up the grub which include the rather thin gravy she always used to make in a tall white jug ……

O.K. you were ahead of me there !  Dad did seem to enjoy his roast doused with half a pint of good Phipps’s ale, although I don’t recall him doing it again.

I have mentioned the absence of ice cream during the war. Not long afterwards the Woodwood family set up a general grocery shop in the square. Not long after they had opened there was a freak whirlwind which blew out the upstairs front wall of the house. The local residents rallied round and a fund was started to help the family to repair the damage. The fund appears to have been quite good since soon after this an ice cream factory was built to the rear of the property. Soon Woodwood’s ice cream van and a small fleet of tricycles made their appearance. They had a reputation for being very astute. At the time that in the event of a fire (usually in those days a chimney fire) the fire siren would sound to summon the volunteer firemen to the fire station in the “Stratford Road” to turn out the fire brigade and it was generally reckoned that by the time the brigade arrived at the fire there would already be at least one of Woodwood’s bikes and quite probably the van as well serving ices to the crowd.

One of the bicycles was for quite a time manned by a very well known character known as “Banger” Atkins I mention this fact for the record and to stimulate the memory of any older readers who may remember him. As to the reasoning behind his soubriquet I shall leave that to your imagination !
Food rationing of course continued until long after the war so the variety and quantity of sweets we could obtain were very strictly limited. I have therefore a very clear recollection of the day that rationing came to an end. The shops, in particular the one at the bottom of our gardens set up their window displays with a dazzling array of multicoloured sweets to tempt us in when the great day arrived. I think their must have been quite a few kids sick that night – although I am proud to record that I was not one of them (damned close thing ‘though).

Whilst I am on the somewhat charmless subject of making ourselves sick, sweets were not the only way. Another excellent method was smoking and since it was strictly forbidden and actually illegal this gave it an added attraction. I suppose in fact that if you want to make something attractive to the young you first make it illegal which makes it exciting and daring. If you then tell them that it’s dangerous as well that makes it even more so. I guess I was lucky that no-one told us how dangerous it was - probably have made us worse.

Anyway most of us had to try it out. Trouble was in those days pocket money was insufficient to justify going out and buying tobacco so we had to seek alternative sources. We used to go out in teams searching for dog ends, the ash trays in the pavilions at the Osborne Street Sports club were a particularly rich source. I feel quite ill just recalling all this, but we never gave it a thought !

Once we had removed the tobacco from the dog ends we made it go a little further by adding the dried tendrils drawn from the leaves of plantains which according to legend was a good tobacco substitute. When it came to smoking the stuff there were two schools of thought. One was the obvious one of buying Rizla cigarette papers and rolling our own. To make up for our poor dexterity we even acquired a cigarette machine to roll them. The alterative, considered by some to look more manly was to use a pipe. Since these two were generally beyond our pocket we developed a manufacturing technique. First one obtained a  wooden cotton reel (still in plentiful supply) and using  a large diameter drill bit drilled out a bowl. We then drilled on airway into the side with a smaller drill so that we could push a pencil into it. Finally we would split a pencil open, remove the lead and then stick it together again, insert into side of bowl and hey presto – a pipe !

Serious pipe smokers (or ex-pipe smokers) will immediately spot the disadvantage of this type of pipe. The real thing has hard cherry wood bowls which withstand heat and even when the wood charred during the running in period the taste was (relatively speaking) acceptable. When the stuff that cotton reels are made of starts to burn it produces fumes that practically take the back out of your throat. The pipe smoking craze did not last long.

We actually had a smoking den which was situated in a hollow hedge at the top end of the new rec. and on one never to be forgotten occasion whilst returning from a dog end collecting expedition to build up our supplies as I approached the camp I spotted an adult crouching down and peering through a gap in the hedge. As I drew nearer I realised that it was Trevor Hobson’s dad. Trevor’s dad kept the off license at the top of Oxford Street and was none to pleased with Trevor. We learned later that he had taken Trevor home, sat him on a beer crate in the yard and made him smoke a whole packet of Woodbines. Trevor evidently puffed his way enthusiastically through the lot and just said “Thanks dad”. Perhaps he should have given him Capstan full strength or Abdullah – that would probably have cured him. Wonder if he still smokes – I must ask him the next time that I see him.

All too soon the schooldays came to an end. I say all too soon because I actually enjoyed my days at school and look back on them with considerable affection.

One of my more harmless interests in those day was the building and flying of model aircraft. There were several of us during the ”tech years” that used to pursue this hobby together. “Nobby” Leighton from Oxford Street, Keith “Porky” Reed from Stony Stratford and “Tubby” Saunders from Newport Pagnell .Tubby enjoyed a certain respect from the rest of us as his brother was a Pilot Officer in the RAF. Our friendship extended into the years after school when, not having had much success with girls we discovered beer. Tubby was the first to get his hands on a car. It was an ancient Singer Saloon with the battery on the running board. Unfortunately the clutch was shot almost from day one . Consequently when approaching a hump back bridge such as the black horse bridge on the Newport to Wolverton Road  the car would gradually slow down as the clutch slipped more and more. The trick was for the passengers to jump out as it slowed to walking speed , nip round the back smartish and push like hell. As soon as it cleared the brow of the hill we had to run like mad, jump on the running board and climb back in.

In those days there seemed to be nothing wrong with drinking and driving. Amazingly it just didn’t seem to be related to accidents. I suppose there was a lot less traffic about, most of it moving a lot slower. Nobby’s car wasn’t much better. It was an old Ford 8 which had a bad habit of spluttering to a standstill without warning. The cure for this problem was to produce an old tyre pump and blow vigorously into the carburettor. Nobby was ,by this time in the RAF and we often used to meet at weekends for pub crawls in these unlikely vehicles. On one occasion Nobby turned up as the proud owner of an MG no less. Unfortunately it was not one of the glamorous sporty types but a large black lumbering saloon. I say lumbering as when we got it onto a fairly straight stretch of the Northampton to Stony Stratford Road and opened it up, it was only with considerably difficulty that it reached the mind boggling speed of 40 mph. As I recall it died altogether not too long after that.

By this time of course I too had left school and still having an interest in electronics I sought and apprenticeship at EMI at Hayes. Since there was no suitable employment of this type anywhere in the area I qualified for a Youth Employment grant to pay the cost of my lodging with (theoretically) 15 shilling left over for pocket money. Unfortunately it was assumed that the maximum cost of lodgings would be Two pounds seven and sixpence a week (it was actually three pounds !)

My starting wage was Two Pounds three and tuppence a week and the grant I received ended up leaving me with about 1 5shillling per week pocket money. Every time I got a rise the grant was reduced accordingly so on 15 shillings I stayed.

 I tried to get home at weekends when possible which you will have gathered was something of a financial strain.

This was when I had the big idea ! I clearly couldn’t afford a motorcycle but it had come to my attention that EMI for reasons I have never fathomed were the manufacturers of the “ Cyclemaster”  24 cc’s of roaring power which one fitted into the rear wheel of an ordinary pushbike. Accordingly I raided my saving and bought one which was at the time on special offer at the factory shop for £24. I managed to get it home on the train and duly fitted it into my pushbike. Suitably taxed and insured and with shiny new L plates on I pedalled through the streets of Wolverton to the cycle track on the Stratford Road. I pedalled like it was going out of fashion and letting in the clutch I waited for the satisfying surge of power from my first motorised vehicle. It never came. With the throttle wide open and the slope of the road in my favour it gradually crept up to a hair raising 25 mph.

Anyway it was going to have to do. Thereafter, each Friday after work I would don two pairs of trouser a heavy coat and, if it was raining, plastic overtrousers  and a yellow cycling cape. With a fairly substantial portion of my worldly goods in a small cardboard case strapped to the luggage carrier I would set off. The route was along the Uxbridge Road through Hillingdon and the Uxbridge to Denham. Down a most enjoyable hill (almost 30mph) through Chalfonts St Peter and St Giles, Wendover, Aylesbury, Whitchurch, Winslow and then onto the home straight through Great Horwood (whatever would my ancestors have thought ?), Nash, Beachampton, Stony Stratford and (finally) Wolverton. The whole journey took about three and a half hours. I even had my own version of cruise control which consisted of having a cycle spanner in an accessible pocket with which I could lock the throttle in the wide open position.

This epic journey was not without its hazards. As you can imagine it got extremely boring sitting on a bicycle saddle for three and a half hours not to say rather uncomfortable. It was therefore necessary to stand up on the pedals from time to time and stretch myself by leaning back from the handlebars. The danger inherent in this activity had not occurred to me until on one particularly dark and wet winters night chugging up the hill into Whitchurch I felt it necessary to carry out this procedure.

Unfortunately the rain had got under the rubber of the right hand grip which promptly came off. The predictable result was that the handle bars were pulled immediately sideways and I went straight over  the top and came down with a hefty thump in the road. I must have been pretty well stunned and not thinking too clearly as I staggered to my feet and tried to lift the bike back up. Since the engine was still under the control of my patent cruise control and the clutch engaged the rear wheel was rotating at a considerable speed as I soon found out when the whole thing reared up in the air and knocked me down again. Mercifully  everything was more or less OK and I was able to carry on home, but it was a pretty sorry figure that arrived at Wolverton that night, with torn trousers, a bloody knee, scratched face and number plate tied on with string !

My next attempt at improving the transport situation was to hot up the Cyclemaster. I had by now made contact with an extremely helpful chap who worked in the Cyclemaster workshop at EMI and who for the odd packet of fags could obtain bits and provide advice. The Cyclemaster had been upgraded to 32 cc and I acquire a new cylinder and piston to convert mine with. It would have probably been alright if I had left it at that but I figured that if I fitted the 32cc cylinder but with the 25 cc cylinder head I would get more compression and hence more power !. Well, it seemed to work and I set of for Hayes on that Sunday night and was fair bowling along (speeds of almost 30 mph were being reached. Everything was going a treat until I reached Aylesbury, when, right outside the police station the damn thing just blew up ! Well, that was the end of that. I went into the police station and explained that my landlady would be very worried at my non appearance and could they possibly get a message to her to the effect that her lodger had had a breakdown and would not be returning until the following day. The message she actually received from the local police was that her husband (who had been dead for best part of 15 years) had had an accident on his motorbike and would be very late !

 She evidently sat up until the small hours and was less than impressed !
I, on the other hand was less than impressed with the digs which to my horror on arrival still had gas lighting. The landlady was a bit of a gorgon with god knows how many rules and complaints who insisted that I was in by 9.00p.m. and refused to let me have a key. Being a bit of an innocent with no previous experience of digs I stuck it for a couple of years before I escaped. One of my less happy memories was my first day at work at the EMI plant at Hayes. Having walked there from the digs (about 1 mile) I was advised along with all the other new trainees that our first 8 weeks would be spent in the companies training workshop at Feltham which would necessitated a twenty minute bus ride each morning and evening. I have already alluded to my travel sickness problem so it is perhaps not surprising that each morning of that first week I could be seen staggering off the bus and throwing up in the conveniently handy Feltham churchyard ! I went to see the training manager  shortly after arriving one morning and having taken one look at the pale green youth in front of him, he made arrangements for me to receive my initial training back at Hayes. It was during the period I spent at those digs (in Central Avenue) that I was introduced to traditional Jazz. A fellow lodger for a while, Paul was a keen net player who was keen on traditional (he worked in the car radio department at EMI ).

He took me along to the White Hart pub at Southall where Chris Barber had recently started up his Jazz club on Wednesday evenings. I was immediately hooked and became a great fan of Monty Sunshine who played clarinet and Lonnie Donegan who played the banjo. At that time it was normal for the band to take a long break whilst Lonnie entertained on the guitar. He introduced us to Skiffle which of course no one had heard of. It was an immediate success, in particular his renderings of The Rock Island Line and Cumberland Gap were extremely popular. I well remember one week not long after he had started playing these numbers that a few of us were chatting with Lonnie after the show and he told us that Decca had asked him to record Rock Island Line. That was the last time we met him ! We little realised at the time that Lonnie was to go on to inspire the Rolling Stones and The Beatles and many other groups and is widely regarded in the business as having been the inspiration for rock and roll in the UK.
The apprenticeship at EMI consisted of the usual “Cooks tour” of many of the laboratories at Hayes and was accompanied by day release to Southall Technical College to study for the higher National Certificate.

Many of the departments I worked in were extremely interesting. I worked on Loudspeaker design, capacitors and a wide range of classified government electronics work. (At one time whilst working in the companies Springfield road site I was working on the proximity fuse for the 60 kiloton Monte Bello Islands Atom bomb).

One thing could be said with certainty; most of the electronic engineers I worked with in those days appeared to be mad !

In one of the labs everyone had busied themselves making weird electronic musical instruments. Bear in mind that this was still the day of the valve and was before electronic organs were commercially available in any numbers. All of these devices had different tone circuits and were connected to home made keyboards rigged up out of old post office relay contacts. The sounds of the test gear lab orchestra had to be heard to be believed. One of the highlights of the week in those days was the broadcast of the Goon Show. This anarchic programme was entirely in keeping with the general behaviour of the engineers and only served to encourage them to greater excesses.

There was often great rivalry between one lab and another and even more so between laboratories and drawing offices which frequently led to some rather risky practical jokes. A huge deflated meteorological balloon was discovered in the loft of one of the labs, this was clearly too good an opportunity to miss. It was painstakingly inflated to enormous proportions and then manhandled into position above the partition which divided the lab from the drawing office and launched onto the unsuspecting draughtsmen beneath, practically asphyxiating them. A favourite trick involved connecting a low voltage electrolytic capacitor to a length of wire, lowering it into the lab next door and then deliberately overloading it with a high voltage. This would produce a satisfyingly loud bang and spray the immediate vicinity with hot wax.  There was a considerable interest in producing explosions of various sorts which at one time made use of aluminium powder with a suitable oxidant which produced a near commercial grade explosive. We filled a steel tube full of this stuff together with an electrical detonator then launched it onto the Canal which ran behind the labs. The resultant explosion caused a huge waterspout and was accompanied by a large number of dead fish. Still not satisfied with this performance, Roger, one of the engineers had obtained a large stainless steel canister with a screw top which he filled with ammonium nitrate and a detonator fired by Jetex fuse ( a throwback to our model aircraft days. Roger was the proud owner of a BSA Gold Star, and one dark winters evening he went out into the fields of rural Buckinghamshire with his home made bomb where he lit the fuse and “retired immediately” on his motorbike. The resultant bang was evidently heard several miles away in Slough and mad a pretty impressive crater. I think it rather scared Roger and he never made any more bombs. Some of us however were clearly slow learners. It was our ambition at the time to turn up in Trafalgar Square on bonfire night and producing a bigger and better bang than anyone else without actually injuring anyone in the process. By this time \I had escaped from “the digs from hell” and was living in Grove Avenue, Hanwell  with the charming (and elderly) Miss Taylor. who lived with her 90 odd year old mother and four lodgers. Three of us were engineers (or trainee engineers) at Emi and the fourth, Malcolm was an industrial chemist at Fairey Aviation (also at Hayes) with a doctorate in Chemistry. This was too good an opportunity to miss ! Malcolm was asked for his advice on our explosive project. Curiously as it happened Malcolm had an idea. He recalled some yellow powder which a colleague had made up for some reason which was highly explosive .. he would bring some home to demonstrate ! The demonstration was impressive.. a small cigarette ash sized pile of the stuff made a pretty good bang without even being confined. Malcolm agreed to make us some more of this stuff the following Saturday morning whilst doing a spot of overtime at Faireys.

That following Sunday I returned to the digs in Hanwell after a weekend at home to be met by the other trainee engineer. He explained in somewhat anxious tones that there had been a big explosion in the lab at Fairey on Saturday and that Malcolm was in Hillingdon Hospital.
First thing the following morning we both went to Hillingdon to see Malcolm. He was sitting up in bed looking pretty sorry for himself . His face was black with gauze patches all over. “I suppose you guessed what happened “ he said to us. It seems he had made to half kilo lots of this stuff and was powdering it down with a pestle and mortar when it just went off. He had actually been quite lucky as there had been a 10inch cubed block of glass between him and the explosion which had blown the glass at him with considerable force and left him with a square, black bruise in the middle of his stomach. Naturally we were very apologetic for getting him involved in what was all too obviously with  hindsight a very dangerous escapade. Malcolm was actually very good about it all. “I’m the chemist” he said “ I should have known better” He reckoned that his pride hurt more than the flash burns. It seems there were several children in the same ward who had suffered firework injuries and he had overheard two of them laughing and saying “ That man over there blew himself up making fireworks”.
Whilst we were visiting Malcolm, one of his work colleagues arrived to see him and updated him on the results of the explosion (he couldn’t remember a thing about it himself). Apparently the blast had broken all the glass in the lab windows and blown a whole load of jars of chemicals off their shelves. This apparently included to Winchesters full of fuming nitric acid which had burned a large hole in the concrete floor. Fortunately for Malcolm his colleague new what he had been up to and had removed the evidence (another 500 grams of the stuff ). So at least in that respect Malcolm had been fortunate and nothing more was said. I guess if we did it today we would all have been charged with conspiring to cause explosions and  got a line in the local paper.

That finally brought an  end to my pyrotechnics career or perhaps I should say almost. It so happened that at Wolverton at that time David “Daisy” Gowland, something of a character whom I got to know very well had taken up a post as pupil teacher at the my old school in Aylesbury Street prior to going off to training college. He was anxious to provide the pupils with a few chemistry lessons and was anxious to do something a bit more exciting than watching litmus paper change colour. This, of course was an immediate challenge. It was summer holidays so the school was empty. I was, of course, at EMI during the week so we met at the school on a Saturday morning and began to experiment. For some unknown reason the school had a few interesting chemicals which were capable of producing rather more dramatic effects than the average boys chemistry set (which were always next to useless with stuff like alum and logwood chips, which did nothing exciting at all ).

One interesting thing they had was ajar containing Yellow phosphorus in Naptha. (this is the stuff, in case you didn’t know that is usually used for making napalm incendiary bombs.) We had already made up a few brews in the class room and lit them with varying degrees of success. When we added phosphorus it really did go, emitting dense clouds of whitish smoke, causing us to open the windows and dash out into the playground, only to be met by an anxious resident rushing across the playground and declaring his intention of calling the fire brigade. We managed to assure him that every thing was OK and returned to the scene of the crime to pack away our gear before going home. The following weekend we agreed to go and do some more experiments. As soon as we opened his classroom door we were met with a very acrid smell. We tracked it down pretty quickly to the drawer of his desk just beneath where we had been carrying out the experiments. At the front of the drawer where it must have rolled in unnoticed was half of a stick of phosphorus which had turned black and was slightly smoking. Now phosphorus is normally kept under naptha because of a tendency to spontaneously combust – how it had survived a week like that heaven only knows. That, I am pleased to record did bring an end, not before time you may well think, to my chemical misadventures (unless you count the attempt to blow up a wasps nest some years later but that’s another story !

Not all of the misadventures in the laboratories of EMI were of a chemical nature. One of the more eccentric characters amongst the engineers was “Hick” who in addition to being a member of the lunchtime orchestra and a talented cartoonist was very keen on motorcycle scrambling (as were several others amongst the engineers) One day Hick came in with news that he had obtained some of the new miracle adhesive “Araldite” which, he assured us, was used to glue together parts of aircraft. It was his intention to make up a new pair of forks for his road bike (He came to work on this every day) He duly appeared one day with his new set of forks with which he proceeded to whack the bench like a tuning fork to demonstrate the sheer strength of the stuff. We were impressed! It was however to yours truly that befell the satisfying opportunity of being in Blyth Road in the morning rush hour a few days later when there was a sudden commotion. In the middle of it was Hick trying to drag the remains of his motorbike complete with disintegrated forkd, off the road. That was the last we heard from him about Araldite.
Some of the practical jokes were less hazardous. Following a reference on the Goon Show to “Steam Radio” we dug and old valve radio (actually they were all valve radios then) removed the valves and snipped off the top caps under water. We then reinserted the valves and connected up their heaters (don’t try this at home whatever  you do ) Gradually they came to the boil and there was our radio standing on the bench with satisfying plumes of steam hissing out of the valves. It was just a shame that the head of the laboratory chose that moment to show round some visiting dignity. When he inevitably asked what it was, to be told it was the original steam radio he went away looking a little bemused. The boss unfortunately was less amused.

When I come to think about it most of these activities took place in the test Gear Laboratory where I spent quite `a bit of time and which probably had `the maddest engineers of the lot. They were a pretty close knit bunch and had an organisation called the worshipful company of test gear engineers. They had a n annual dinner at which they paraded with various ceremonial objects in a mickey take (not the actual phrase they would have used !)  of the Freemasons. One of these items comprised about 15 feet of waveguide tube as used on radar aerials with an old gramophone horn on one end and a trombone mouthpiece on the other. It made the most horrendous racket and was known as the zacrophone. The prefix ZAc had been dreamt up for use rather as the term Acme is often used in Warner Brothers  cartoons. The term used to crop up everywhere. My main memory is of a superbly drawn (by “Hick”) poster advertising an imaginary medicine which bore the immortal words  “Zachroids for Haemorrhoids – The world’s finest pile drivers “


One of the more interesting laboratories that I worked in and which in hindsight was historically significant was a small section comprising two engineers (Ken and Roger)and two trainees (Mike and myself) under the leadership of Godfrey Hounsfield, who were working on data storage using rotating drums coated with an oxide film (in effect the first hard drives) and memory composed of hundreds of tiny ferrite beads through which yours truly had to thread extremely fine wire using a standard fine sewing needle.


Godfrey was a great chap to work for, he was always known simply  as “H” and had brilliant intuition for all thing electronic. In many ways the typical absent minded boffin he was very likeable and I was not entirely surprised many years later to learn that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for his work developing the body scanner.  Mind you H was by no means the only eccentric in the team. I clearly remember Ken, one of the engineers explaining to me that he knew that he had started to have a nervous breakdown when he found the he could see the water boiling in our kettle through the lid ! .. nuff said!!


By this time my years at EMI were drawing to a close. I had completed my Higher National and signed on for an extra year to study advanced radio engineering and design. If I didn’t do so my exemption from national service would be ended and I would be hauled off to serve Her Majesty.. something I was not at all keen on. It will have become apparent by now that I was something of what we would today call a Nerd and Nerds tended not to fit into military environments very well.

So, advanced radio engineering and design it was and I made my last move within the company to a newly formed department which was working on radiation measuring equipment. The things we were working on were hand and clothing monitors for use at places like Harwell. They used a block of special phosphorescent material which emits a tiny flash of light when struck by a sub atomic particle. This light is then detected by an electronic gizmo called a photomultiplier. Since these tiny flashes of light would hardly show up against normal background light levels the things ad to be covered with melinex. This was a bit like cling film which  had been coated with aluminium (rather like the stuff they wrap post marathon athletes in) Unfortunately this stuff always had lots of tiny holes in it, so it was yours truly that got the really high tech job of placing it on an underlit glass table, looking at it through a hood and blanking out the holes with blackboard paint.

One of the interesting characters I met in that laboratory had just transferred to EMI from the United Kingdome Atomic Energy Authority – the UKAEA more usually referred to as the UKELELE.
He had been working at Windscale when the number one reactor caught fire and knew a great deal more about it than the press did at that time. I remember him telling me that he lived with most of the other trainees in a hostel block about a mile or so from the reactors across the moors. On the morning in question they had been driving in an old Austin 7 owned by one of the other trainees when one of the passengers said “Isn’t that smoke comin2 out of number one pile” Too bloody true it is the driver allegedly replied and turned round and headed back to the hostel. Since this fire was a serious incident (one of the worst three along with Three Mile Island and Chernobyl) which is often used as a reason for not building Nuclear Power Stations I will take this opportunity of setting the record straight about what happened at Windscale. Technophobes may wish to skip the next bit which is taken from the Web site of British energy with some additional bits in italics by yours truly. It would be nice however if people tried to understand some of this before we finally bury all of our moorland under monstrous and largely useless windmills !

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