Just Miles
The Memoirs of Percy Harwood

Page 12

One Christmas Stephen asked if he could bring home a boarder - Mahmoud Kazeroum a Persian boy. They do not keep Christmas as we do and it was not convenient for him to go back to Persia and return. So he came and stayed with us. When Christmas was over he would not go back to Ryde School, so after a lot of problems, such as seeking permission for him to stay, and notifying the police, he stayed with us for six months. During the many years gone past we have seen him twice and received about three cards. The problem in Iran, as it is now called, prevents normal contact.

Mr. and Mrs. Humphreys and Sam Phillips (he was about 90 and was the father of Mrs. Humphreys) lived in one of a pair of houses on the same side of the road as us (Ryde side). Sam was a very special character, could have been a barrister had he had the education. He was the owner of the disused gravel pit which separated the garage from the pair of houses.

My mother had asked him in the early days that if ever he sold the old gravel pit he would give her boy the first opportunity to purchase and in due course, that is exactly what happened.

The agreed price was £1000, but because there was a possibility that the road was needed to be made up (Gravel Pit Road) £200 was knocked off the price.

Sam and I went to the solicitor to settle up and when driving home I said to him "What are you going to do with all that money Sam?" He replied "You can take me to Newport tomorrow and I will buy a pair of sea boots and a saw." At that time we had our new workshop built and he helped Mr. Williams to dig out the foundations. He was now 93.

In the gravel pit there were some very young sycamores growing, and always at the time of having our breakfast if the sun was shining these trees would always prevent the sun from coming in. I was tempted many times to cut them down, but not belonging to me, could not bring myself to do so. Now having bought the site I said to Harry Davis, "Come on, get the saw and we will cut down the trees." We got the saw, now some twenty years later, could not bring ourselves to do so. The trees are now massive and we built our showroom shop around them to protect them.

At this time there were auction sales going on in many parts of the country, Army Surplus cars trucks, equipment, building. so one day I found myself in Salisbury at such an auction.

For some reason or other I felt there was a demand for second-hand spares. With the knowledge that I had plenty of room in the old gravel pit, I found myself bidding for an RAF Nissen hut cinema. It was a large building some 80' x 40'. It was in excellent condition being completely lined and at £200 not dear.

Having bought it I was now left with the problem of getting it home, dismantling it, etc.

I transported a small caravan, Jock, one of our mechanics, two others plus a bottle of whisky for Jock, and proceeded to dismantle it.

I got Dibbens of Ryde, the furniture removers, who were often on the mainland, to bring home the shed when they had an empty van.

Having now got the shed home I had to get planning permission. What with delays and the fact that sheets of material together with the steel frames were being stolen, the shed was never put up. Another lesson in life learned the hard way.

Darley Dean Garage is situated in Station Road, Wootton, opposite Gravel Pit Road. It was planned and built by Alfred Young a ticketed first engineer, who had spent most of his time as Chief Engineer of Guinness yacht, Phantom. He had travelled all over the world and was very knowledgeable and interesting.

When he retired from the sea Darley Dean was built.

During the War I stored several cars there , paying weekly. I then asked if I could pay quarterly. This he agreed and always three or four days before the quarter was due, he would call in and give me the bill, saying you will want this on quarter day. Alf was always on the ball where money was concerned, quite rightly.

Years went by, then one day he agreed to sell the garage to me. So for £800, Darley Dean became an extension of Lushington Garage.

I fitted it out with a new lift, new jacks, compressor, tools etc. Two fitters worked there, Sid Hendicott and Eric Deacon. At first it worked out very well but problems began to arise. Some customers would bypass Lushington and go direct to Darley Dean and vice versa, in fact it became almost a separate entity.

So a new workshop was planned and built at the rear of Lushington Garage, on a piece of land behind the general stores belonging to the garage, for £50. Sid and Eric returned to the new workshop.

I always felt that Darley Dean should be used as a reserve, so I had no intention to sell or rent it. I suppose on looking back I enabled several people to make a start in life by letting them have Darley Dean free of charge. Some people who used it were Victory Cleaners of Newport. This was at the time when there was a shortage of white spirit.

Commander Fenton used it as a woodworking shop. Island Plastics started their business there.

Dr. Crane and Bill Mason used it as an experimental place for engineering. They developed the Vortex Tube, separating the hot and cold air from the atmosphere.

Two chaps from Westlands built models for tank testing.

Mr. Palthorpe when he returned from the Air Force as a car paint sprayer.

Mr. Midland had been our main sprayer over the years and was now retiring, so he spent time teaching Mr. Palthorpe the job. At this late stage Mr. Palthorpe is still there, but has developed a wholesale business in the spraying field. He now pays a rent.

In May 1946 we decided to take our first holiday abroad. Cosmos was the name of the tour operator and Switzerland the goal. The name Switzerland always seemed a fairyland and never did I think that I would one day visit it.

So one day in May we went to London and took the coach to Dover. The boat took us to Ostend in Belgium. The rain poured in torrents when we arrived and we were met by what looked like a schoolgirl - pigtails and glasses. She took us to a waiting coach and on to a hotel. There was quite a confusion. It would seem that some people were going on one tour and some on another. It seemed there was not enough people but with some switching, a coach load was made up. I say a coach - it was a converted Army lorry with about fourteen seats.

That evening we walked around Brussels and could not believe our eyes. Everything in the shops - things we had forgotten about. Toblerone chocolate bars were one thing. We were still on food rationing in England. We went back to the hotel and bed but with all the excitement we could not sleep, so we got up and walked the streets window gazing.

It was the first time I saw winking sidelights and soon learnt that it was in place of the semaphore type of indication we had in England. The next morning with our full load, twelve to fourteen people, off we went. We had a Belgian driver called Albert and soon learned he had been a prisoner of war. He could speak English fluently and knew the words of more English songs than we did.

His style of driving had to be seen to be believed. I said to my wife, if ever his horn stopped working, he would never be able to drive. I swear he had no brakes, having to use his gearbox the whole of the time. Anyone knowing a Ford V8 would know how low geared bottom was, and the awful whine that comes from it. He would change down to the very bottom gear and drive down the hills, taking his foot off the accelerator to slow down. We at home were free wheeling to make our petrol go as far as possible. He was up to all the moves presenting us all with cigarettes to cross the frontiers and taking them back again when safely across. Special petrol tanks had been fitted both sides of the vehicle and he was careful to fill up in the right places to get the better prices.

I shall never forget our first night in Switzerland. The hotel was at St Cergue. We had arrived very late in the evening and it was dark.

The meal was unbelievable, a great tray of steaks, stacked across the whole length. Have a steak and help yourself to another. We had not seen such food for years. The next morning our breakfast was in the same room, this time in daylight. One side of the room was all glass, facing the snow capped Alps. Seeing them for the first time was exciting. The room was all in pine wood, floors, walls and ceiling.

We all got into the coach and Albert could not start the engine. He put it in gear, pressed the starter and we jerked our way to the steep drive. Down the hill we started up.

What had really happened was the cylinder head gasket had blown, no wonder for the rest of the holiday we had to leave it on a hill.

On one occasion we had to have a tow. Don't get me wrong - we were having a wonderful holiday.

We went to Interlaken and Trummell Bai falls. Albert was able to explain most things, choosing certain wines and waiting a certain time so that we got our entrance to the casino free.

We made our way back to Ostend and said goodbye to the tearful Albert who had enjoyed the holiday as much as us.

The holiday had cost £28 each plus £5 each for spending. We had an eight day memorable holiday.

We had a Christmas card three years running from Albert.

In 1957 I felt that the garage needed a face-lift. I wanted to get rid of the corrugated roof look from the road, just an ordinary shed.

So two large windows were cut into the Eastern side of the garage wall. The side and front walls were extended and these now concealed the roof The two sliding doors were removed, and replaced by two shorter glass sliding doors. The East and Northern walls were now rendered white. The cost for rendering only was some £400. Twenty five pounds more than the whole garage cost to build.

In walking around the gravel pit I found discarded a Dunlop garage jack, for which in 1933 I had paid £12. I dragged it back to the garage and left it under the shed.

"I was very intrigued to see you drag the jack yesterday" said Ted our Service bay Operator. "I bought that jack with the 3/6d and 5/0d I earned playing the piano at dances. There is nothing wrong with it and I couldn't bear to see it thrown away".

I believe it is still under the shed.

Picture of Harwoods fruit shop  c1900
Percy Harwood's grandfather outside his shop probably 1897 (Diamond Jubilee year) as the shop appears to be decorated.