In my previous Blog I touched on the subject of nick names, to me nicknames are like “Revels” some you like some you don’t, I’m thinking back to school where I was called Baz, I would class Baz as a coconut Revel, not as good as an orange but better than a toffee one, I didn’t really like it but I wouldn’t have swapped it for the names that some of my mates had, ie Fatty Matty, Ginge, Igor, Bugs, Stinky, Eagle Beak, and then there was the most unfortunate moniker of all “One Ball” he had previously been known as Eddie but was christened One Ball after his operation when his bicycle chain snapped while he was pedaling up a steep hill, kids are cruel but I learned later on in life that adults can be too, few people grow up when they are in the Car Job and that would include me!
For a while, in the 70s my mates called me “Bertie” the reason being that I rarely wore any other colours than black and white, and they said I looked like Bertie Bassett from the Liquorish Allsorts TV advert, my current wardrobe still looks like a daguerreotype photograph but there was a period in the mid-Eighties when Miami Vice came on the TV and I went through my Pastel Colours, no socks phase then they started to call me “Sonny Crampton” I liked Don Johnson and I was quite flattered in my opinion Sonny was an Orange Revel but as soon as my mates realised this they went back to calling me “Bertie”.
Bertie is not my favorite name but It didn’t particularly bother me too much, the nickname it was replaced by was “ Frankie” that did bother me, it bothered me so much so that for a while it actually changed my personality and my attitude to life, it changed me for the worst and trying to shake the name off got me into an unbelievable amount of trouble which I will go into in later blogs, I can Imagine a lot of you are thinking Hang on Baz, I can’t see your problem there have been some truly great people throughout history called Frankie, but I can’t remember any great or even mediocre people who were called Barrie, so just for you I will explain in detail.
It was coming up to my weekend off, I had just got a new Demonstrator ( A Salesman Car is referred to as his “Smoker” in the Motor Trade) I hadn’t used all my petrol allowance and I was planning a trip to the Lake District so I drove up the road to Mal’s petrol station where we had an account, after brimming the tank I pulled away from the pumps and parked in front of the workshop, I had to go in and sign for my fuel and I always ended up chatting to my mates Dad Ken who was a mechanic and part owner of the garage, If I didn’t move my car Mal was his equal partner and he used to curse me as it would stop his other customers from filling up.
Ken was an Ex Boxer and as strong as an Ox and tough as old boots, he was also 60, he had ruined more of my shirts than I care to remember, whenever you were talking to him it was important to always keep your stomach muscles tensed as he had a habit of punching you in the gut when you least expected it, well it wasn’t really a punch more of a little dig but the force would still double you up, and if it was just after lunch there could be disastrous consequences, it wasn’t the consequences or the punch that ruined your shirts it was because his hands were always full of oil and grease, pretty much all of my work clothes had an imprint of Kens knuckles on them that even a 90-degree wash in Fairy Biological could never manage to totally erase, to give you an example of how strong he was, he once lifted the back of my Honda Goldwing Motorbike up so that I could manoeuver an exhaust under the back wheel and bolt it into place, I used to struggle to push it off its stand let alone hoist it a foot off the floor with a forearm curl and hold it there.
Ken didn’t have a death wish he just had no fear of anything or anyone, even though he’d had several lucky escapes in life he just had no respect for danger or pain, his previous partner to Mal had died, He and Ken had been working underneath a 52 seater coach when the jack collapsed, Ken was on a creeper trolley and managed to kick himself out from underneath as soon as the jack started to move, his partner couldn’t and he got crushed to death, despite Kens brush with death he still never used axle stands to make sure that if the jack moved the car he was working on wouldn’t drop on him.
Once he was heard calling for assistance from the workshop, there was no panic in his voice or sense of urgency he just asked “Can someone come here for a minute”, when the petrol attendant had finished serving her customer she went into the workshop to find a bonnet had dropped on Ken’s hand totally closing and trapping his fingers against the slam panel he couldn’t move until someone pulled the bonnet release which was inside the car and freed him, his hand was a mess and he’d been lucky not to lose a finger or two but he just carried on working, another time a radiator exploded covering his chest, neck and arms with scalding hot water, I went for petrol that day and Ken called me over, “Do you know anything about burns” he said, then he opened his overalls and showed me, he was covered in blisters and must have been in incredible pain, I’m not a Doctor Ken, but “Hello” I know enough about them to realise you need urgent hospital treatment I said, He refused and there was no way I could persuade him to go or to let me drive him there, he told me that “Hospitals find things that are wrong with you that wasn’t wrong with you before you got there”
So you get the idea, Ken was an unbelievably stubborn and a very tough guy! This particular day I was standing in the workshop talking to him when out of the corner of my eye I saw a guy light a book of matches this was a stupid thing to do on a Petrol Station forecourt at the best of times, I shouted at the top of my voice for him to put them out immediately, he turned to look at me and he was grinning like the village idiot, he was stood next to a BMW the door was open and there was a petrol can on the floor next to him, my brain took a second to process the information then I set off running towards him but it was too late, as all the matches in the book lit he tossed it in the direction of the 6 series and started to run, almost before the matches left his hand there was a “Whooosh” and the Car erupted into flames, it was obvious that he had used an accelerant as even though the door was open the force of the explosion still blew out the front windscreen and flames shot 20 feet into the air.
The fire starter ran towards a Mini to make his escape it was at the end of the forecourt with the engine running, I would never be able to catch him so I made a mental note of his registration and ran back to the office to phone the Fire Brigade and report the incident to the Police, luckily the Fire Station was only about half a mile up the road I was praying that they hadn’t already been called out to another blaze as they needed to get here fast to avert a potential disaster, the car that was on fire was parked next to my car and it was also directly over the grates which lead to the main petrol tanks and they held all the 10,000 gallons of the garages fuel supply, if the pumps were to catch fire we would all be trapped inside with no means of escape, and the scale of the explosion, if the tanks were to go up just, didn’t bear thinking about, the garage was located next to the Milk Marketing Board and hundreds of people worked in their building and they would be in danger too.
The situation was pretty dire but while I was on the phone to the emergency services operator I saw the funniest thing, the firestarter was trying to make his getaway but it was rush hour and he couldn’t get off the forecourt for the oncoming traffic, Ken had seen this so he set off in pursuit on foot, caught up with him and had wrenched his driver’s door open sadly for him, unlike my car his old Mini didn’t have the benefit of security deadlocks, Ken was trying to drag him out by the scruff of the neck, but couldn’t because the firestarter had had the foresight to “clunk click” and put his seat belt on, he couldn’t have given a toss about us being blown to smithereens but he wanted to make sure that he would be ok if he crashed on his way home, Ken was almost garrotting him on the strap of the seatbelt but a gap in the traffic emerged and the driver gunned the engine ready to let the clutch out and accelerate away, Ken realised that he couldn’t hold on much longer so as he ran alongside the mini he swung a huge haymaker style punch, Ouch I thought that’s going to leave a mark, and the World’s supply of Fairy Biological would never shift that one!
The Fire Crew was on their way, I had alerted the Police and evacuated the building, I wanted to get the hell out of there too but I hadn’t seen Ken and I was worried about him so instead of leaving I went back into the workshop to make sure that he’d gone, I was right to be worried as Ken had set about trying to tackle the car inferno with a small fire extinguisher, there were several other extinguishers on the floor that he had tried and that hadn’t worked, Health and Safety left a lot to be desired back then, by now even the cars tyres were well alight and it was obvious to me that it was a futile and extremely dangerous exercise, I shouted ” For Christ’s sake Ken leave it, it could explode at any second and blow us both to Kingdom Come”, I said “Both” as I knew he had no fear for his own safety, but he was like a 2nd dad to me and I knew he wouldn’t want me to get injured, he wouldn’t come with me, I could hardly hear him over the roar of the flames but he shouted back “Quick move your car before it catches fire,” I think this was his way of trying to get rid of me.
My response was “F### That”!, My car was the latest Vauxhall Carlton which was the new model with the latest specification anti-theft deadlocks on all the doors, this meant I couldn’t have got in through the passenger door as all the doors could only be opened from the driver’s side with the laser cut key, the flames were now only about 6 inches away, my car was engulfed in thick black acrid smoke, flaming ashes were blowing across the forecourt towards the petrol pumps and the pool of petrol that was still on the floor from where I’d tried to squeeze as much in my tank as possible, I could hardly see my car let alone find the door lock to get in it, Ken had nearly put the flames out on a very small area of the car but I could see that the smoke was affecting him, he looked like one of the black and white minstrels, I went and grabbed him by the arm to drag him away but he wasn’t for giving up until the extinguisher he was using started to splutter and the flames licked round again.
Ken could hardly breathe and was struggling to stand up, I got him to the workshop pulled the door shut, which would help shield us from the blast if the petrol tank on the car went up, but would be as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike if the main tanks ignited, I sat him down and got him a drink of water, his lips, tongue, and nostrils were covered with soot that he’d inhaled his face was black and his breathing was very heavy, he didn’t look well, at all but we had to get out of the workshop.
Not a moment too soon the Cavalry arrived, sirens blaring the fire engine screeched to a halt outside, I peered through the gap between the doors to see 6 firemen in full breathing apparatus with a fire hose that was so powerful they were moving forward towards the blazing car in unison one step at a time, they had to do this in order to keep their balance and not be knocked off their feet by the back pressure, even then it took them quite a while to bring the inferno that Ken had tried to put out with an extinguisher smaller than a thermos flask under control.
The firestarter lived less than a mile away from the garage but the Police were able to check the owner of the Minis address from the Registration Number I had given them, go round to his house and wait for him to turn up, they caught him red-handed with his can of accelerant and arrested him, that’s good Police work but the truth of the matter is that the Walton le Dale police usually move at the speed of light on a dark night and this occasion was no different, Ken’s punch had all but knocked the firestarter out and it must have been some while before he could remember where he lived, Ken recovered from his ordeal in a few minutes and went back to servicing a car as if nothing had happened, seemingly he was none the worse for wear but I remember thinking that if the oil on his overalls had caught fire they would have burned for a week.
It turned out that the firestarter was the petrol pump attendant’s next-door neighbor and they’d had an argument in the morning about where she had parked her car, he either had some form of mental illness or was incapable of rational thought and he had decided to torch the attendants BMW so she wouldn’t be able to park it in his way anymore, His prosecution a few months later was a formality and when the Judge read out his previous crimes before sentencing, they included many previous occasions when he had started fires and on one of his priors he was let off with a warning only to walk out of the Law Courts and set fire to the sign outside, presumably this was some form of protest that the judicial system these days was far too lenient with pyromaniacs.
Sunday was a day of rest for me, and instead of frequenting our usual Cattle Market-style pubs my best mates and I would go to the Swan at Higher Walton which was an old type pub that served great beer, me and my mates were in our late twenties so we brought the average age of the pubs clientele down to about 75, this was Ken and his best mate’s favorite watering hole and we all used to meet up after a few pints Ken and I started to tell our stories, there were considerable discrepancies and when it came to the bit where I had refused to move my car Ken neglected to mention that in order to do so I would have had to go through the fierce heat, thick black smoke, flames, shattering glass and another important factor to take into consideration was that the garages 10,000-gallon fuel tanks were in danger of exploding and blowing Walton Le Dale off the map.
It had made no sense to me risking life, limb, and my great looks just to stop my Vauxhall Carlton getting singed, I had seen what had happened to the brave soldier Simon Weston, he was very badly burned fighting for his country, I wasn’t prepared to do it fighting for a car, It was insured and I wasn’t, my mate didn’t take this into account he saw a golden opportunity to wind me up, he turned to me with a grin as wide as the lunatic who set fire to the car on his face and said to me “You’re a bit of a “Frankie” on the quiet”.
Frankie is cockney rhyming slang Frankie Howard = Coward, everyone started laughing leaving me trying to explain the deadlocking anti theft system of the Carlton and that I couldn’t have unlocked the passenger door even if I had smashed the window, it was the worst thing I could do as my mates could see that they had hit a nerve and the more I tried to explain, the more they laughed from that moment on the nickname Bertie had gone up in smoke along with the BMW, and was replaced with Frankie I detested Frankie, On the Revel-ometer Frankie was a piece of Rabbit shit that you’d picked up by mistake, I think I would have preferred to swap places with “One Ball”.
If any of you have been left in any doubt about how much I hated the nickname “Frankie” this is my best mate (He’s the one on the left) and is the person who came up with “Frankie”, my revenge was swift and brutal, the picture shows the “Miss Blobby Gram” that I arranged for him on his next birthday, he was in the middle of making a speech in front of all his staff when she ran in, picked him up and started smothering him in kisses, I had also arranged for a photographer to be there to capture it on film, it was a true Kodak Moment, the Blobogram remained a talking point long after my stupid nickname had been forgotten and he has never made any names up for me since.
Let this be a warning to others who annoy me “There is no place to hide”