Finding good Staff in the Motor Trade is a huge problem not because they don’t exist but because no one will pay them what they are worth, Hence an often-used phrase which seems to be used a lot to describe garage employees is ‘You pay peanuts you get Monkeys!’
I was very busy selling cars, and I was also covering for the Parts and Service Manager who had had to leave suddenly when his trousers split at an inopportune moment allowing all the parts he was pinching to roll across the showroom floor, there weren’t enough hours in the day and to make matters worse we had to keep all our sales cars in a compound overnight otherwise they would just get vandalised, The cars had to be put out every morning on display and away every night.
In those days we were still on manual chokes and a couple of quick starts and stops used to foul the plugs up, this resulted in having to remove the sparkplugs, shot blast and clean them then fit them again, we had about 25 used cars to put out so it could be a long arduous task, made even longer by flat batteries and running out of petrol.
It was decided that I needed an assistant I was only about 25 then so I put what I thought was a compelling argument as to why we should employ Debby Harry forward to my boss, sadly my idea was a non-starter as Debby wasn’t eligible for the Governments subsidised Y.O.P scheme, (Youth Opportunity Project) so a couple of weeks later I was saddled with Richard, Richard was a very nice lad with a great temperament but he didn’t like football, and he wasn’t suited to the Motor Trade if I’m honest he was actually worse than being a man short.
It was my fault really as I didn’t have time to train him and it was impossible for him to just learn on his own, he had no idea about cars, but did know everything there was to know about the pop group ‘Guns and Roses’, i figured his brain was full of useless trivia about them and there was just no room left for any new stuff, I had a bit of a downer on Richard and he didn’t help matters by turning up to work wearing nail varnish and eye shadow, his excuse was he had fallen asleep on his mate’s settee in a drunken stupor, and his mate’s girlfriend who was a beautician had used him as a manikin, over the coming months his story became more believable as he obviously never looked in a mirror.
His first job of the day was to make a cup of tea, I was busy and foolishly without inspecting it first I took a swig but had to spit it straight back into the cup it was, without doubt, the worse drink I have ever tasted there was what can only be described as an oil slick on top of the tea it looked like my cup had been used to bail out the Exxon Valdez it also had an overwhelming taste of swarfega which no amount of wiping my tongue with my sleeve would get rid of.
In an attempt to find out how he had nearly poisoned me, I took him back to our kitchen it didn’t take me long to discover that Richard made crap brews because he was left-handed, “Er Come Again Baz, how’s that work then?” I hear you all saying, well let me explain, the mechanics also used the kitchen to wash their hands, the tub of swarfega was on the left-hand side of the sink and laying there right in the middle of a pool of excess hand cleanser mixed with oil was the teaspoon, where a left-hander would naturally place it, most left-handers would naturally place it on a clean spot but not Richard.
Now you would think he would have learned but he didn’t and it soon became apparent to me that it would be quicker to train a monkey, I think he was doing it on purpose to get out of making the drinks, I am fairly stubborn and I was determined to break his spirit but after a few weeks my health began to suffer and I was blowing bubbles when I breathed out unless I could find a solution to the problem Richard would have to go, I couldn’t go back to getting the cars out every morning so necessity being the Mother of invention I came up with a brilliant idea.
After a quick trip to the workshop, the problem was solved, I drilled a hole through the handle of the teaspoon, threaded a wire through it then hung it from the kitchen ceiling, the wire was measured to precision and Richard would now have to lift the cup up to the teaspoon to stir it, meaning he could no longer drop the spoon in all the crap.
I had been fixating on the terrible tea problem for a while and couldn’t see past it, but it soon dawned on me that this wasn’t Richards only shortcomings, he called me urgently to the forecourt one day to point out the damage that someone had done when they had reversed into one of our sales cars and then driven off without saying anything, I examined the damage which extended under the rear bumper and had even dented the petrol tank unless it was a submarine that had done the damage Richard was lying! A quick scan round the bollards revealed one that was broken in half, it also had a generous coating of Ford Doom Blue which coincidently was the same colour as the car that was damaged.
To be fair to Richard I had reversed into plenty of things so I couldn’t be too mad at him, my motto is “Drive as slowly as you can on the forecourt, you will do less damage when you hit something, and you will hit something” I had learned the hard way when I was sat at the wheel of an automatic Hillman Minx staring at the Moon, the car was at a 60 degree angle and the back end was stuck in the foundations that had been dug for our new workshop, it hadn’t crossed my mind that I would end up there, but the car wouldn’t select reverse gear so at the time and in my temper it had seemed like a good idea to rev it as hard as I could, as I sat there contemplating how I was going to explain this on the insurance claim form, I cursed the workshop foundations, they were no use for anything we weren’t even going to build it, it was a scam just to pacify Vauxhall and show them that we intended to expand but we didn’t really, another couple of months when our Vauxhall Zone Manager had filled in his report and ticked a few boxes he would move on to his next hair brained idea and then the foundations would just be filled in again for ever.
Back to Richard, I used to dread him coming to my office in the morning, he wouldn’t pick his feet up and it sounded like there was a zombie approaching, he was very pale so most days it looked like it too, he would stick his head round the door and say “what do you want me to do next” to which I would reply with the list of jobs he had to do every single day but insisted on coming to ask me anyway, again I came up with a solution I wrote down on a piece of A4 paper a list of all the jobs he had to do, In big letters, I put “DO NOT COME TO MY OFFICE UNLESS YOU HAVE COMPLETED ALL THE ABOVE TASKS” ALL was underlined several times.
Foolproof! Well not quite Richard popped his head round my door the very next day and asked what I wanted him to do, he had chosen that very day to put on a clean pair of pants and my list was in the pocket of his other ones which were in the laundry basket at home, I now hated Richard more than anything else in the world but giving up is just not in my nature, I was starting to develop a facial tick, not unlike Inspector Clouseau’s Boss Herbert Lom in The Pink Panther, But determined to show him who he was dealing with I laminated the new and improved mark 2 list and stuck it to the wall in the workshop, I marched him to the workshop and made him stand in front of the list which was printed on Dayglo paper I drew round his feet with yellow tyre crayon, I then drew big yellow footprints all the way back to the door which he had to come through in the mornings and a big arrow with “This Way Richard” written next to it.
Next morning “Ground Hog Day” what do you want me to next? Jesus Richard, why haven’t you read the list? “There’s a van parked in front of it!” was his answer!
Richard made the most of his head start and showed more initiative than he had in the previous weeks by setting off like Linford Christy as soon as I commenced my countdown, unfortunately for him, fuelled by adrenalin and an overwhelming desire to kill him I set off like Hussain Bolt.
I’m going to ‘take the fifth’ on what happened when I caught him, suffice to say that I just hope they never have cause to dig up the foundations of the workshop while I’m still alive.