Just Miles
The Memoirs of Percy Harwood

Page 9

Most mornings we had to mend some 12-15 punctures, most of the roads were gravel so punctures were plentiful. Most evenings were spent mending clutch and throttle cables for motor cyclists; fitting new chains was also an everyday job. My help was Charlie Cole, a boy who also came from East Cowes, known to everyone as Ben. A nicer better man was never to be found.

A boy, Jim Colleypriest, came fora job. Also remembering there was a slump on, the answer was that we could not afford to pay him. He pleaded and said that he would do anything and at that point I said, if you will do the same as we are doing we would give him a job - 8am to lOpm every day. He started his apprenticeship and worked with us till the War broke out and he was called to enlist in the Air Force. Having wound him up so tightly, he could not stop and soon made headway in the Air Force. In 1981 he phoned me from America, saying he was now retired in California, with his own home, swimming pool, car and a good pension. Thanks a lot, were his parting words.

Travelling at a regular time especially in the mornings one met the same people, the same time and place. I always passed a girl riding her bike at the bottom of Lushington Hill. I would rush up to the garage, open it and be unlocking the pump when she came by. I found out that she lived at the Point Cottages at the bottom of the Racecourse. Her name was Doris Hendy and she was working at a Mr. Brown's house in Kite Hill. I had already seen her before, once with her mother during Cowes Week and once or twice at Whippingham School, whilst we were playing at one of the social evenings. Yes, after a year she became my wife. Stephen Frank, our Son was born the year after.

We now planned an extension to the garage with a flat built over it. This was built for £1000. The rates for the garage were £3.18.0d per half year, now the new extension had put up the rate (I have forgotten by how much) a lot. I remember appealing against them: I had no idea what happens at such an appeal. It was similar to a courtroom; all elderly men around a long bench table, and me on my own sitting at the other end of the room. Someone got up and made a speech describing the new building. I could not believe my own ears, how the new building was described, it seemed so lavish. I then had to say my piece. I was not prepared for such an ordeal. I would never have appealed if I had known. However I plucked up my courage and said that the Spares Stores, which the man had described wasp only a cupboard under the stairs. There was a little titter from the bench and my rates were reduced by £1.0.0, some difference now - 1983 - £6000.

We moved in and really started. My father in law Frank Hendy would keep us supplied with vegetables from his well kept garden.

In trying to get customers we had two bakers, two milkmen and a greengrocer. Also customers would bring in all sorts of goodies. My wife would do shopping in Ryde with Phil Deacon, taking the pram on the train which passed through Wootton regularly to meet and catch the ferries from Ryde to Portsmouth.

When, on some occasions, Ben took a car out for testing, he would take the baby Stephen with him just for fun and amusement. On one occasion he ran out of petrol and not being able to leave the baby in the car, had to carry him in his arms from the Racecourse, with Stephen pulling his hair most of the way.

My wife's brother Ern was the Chief Petty Officer of the King George V battleship. He was torpedoed twice during the War. Brother George was a Major in the Tank Corps. He received the MBE.

Brother Jim was riveter and plater at J.S. White. He was an expert craftsman.

Brother Fred served his time at Wadham's and became an expert authority on carpets.

Sister Nellie was married to Willie, Chief Engineer to HM Prisons. Sister Evi was married to postman Allbrook.

Sister Phyllis was married to motor mechanic P Radford. A night to remember.

As usual we locked up the garage at about 10pm, washed, had a little supper and went straight to bed. This was the pattern. Our home was a flat over the garage with our bedroom facing the car park at the rear. I say car park, room for about a dozen cars, waste land with gravel in small heaps. On this particular night a Morris 10/4 was parked in one of the vacant spaces. We had gone into a sound sleep when we were woken by the piercing blast of a car horn. It was teeming with rain and the wind was blowing gale force. The horn continued to blare out so there was nothing else to do except get up and find out what was happening. I got dressed and halfway down the stairs the horn stopped. I waited half-dressed on the stairs but it was now all quiet so back to bed I went. I had not been back long when the horn blared continuously again. Up I got, trousers on, grabbed a coat as it was still blowing and teeming with rain, hand on the door and yes again the horn stopped. I waited and waited not wanting to go out in the rain until I was sure all was well. When I got back into bed my wife was laughing her head off. I was not very amused. I was nearly off to sleep and again the horn came on. Up I get, dressed, put on my coat and with the torch explored the car park. The Morris 10/4 was the offender.

There was a tie bar bolting the two front wings together. The horn was bolted on to the middle of this bar, and what was happening was this. The rain was forming a bubble, which joined the two connecting wires, which were very close. This made the horn blow and then the vibration of the horn blowing caused the bubble to break and so the horn stopped. When again the bubble formed, the horn would blow. By pulling the live wire away from the horn assured me of permanent silence.

Back to bed.

There was a schoolmaster who kept a private school at Barton Manor East. He claimed quite rightly that we had the largest and smallest private cars in the country.

The largest was an Austin long wheelbase 5 ton truck and this was taxed as a private car. It was often careering around the island with schoolboys clinging to the truck.

The smallest was a miniature Rolls Royce, made by the apprentices at Rolls for the son of one of the directors. It was fitted with a Villier 1 1/2 HP two stroke engine. Again this was often seen with the master driving the Rolls which was only some four feet long. One of his favourite pastimes was to drive it into Ryde, cross the water and take it to London in the guards van of the train and drive it around London for fun.

On one occasion, a Saturday afternoon, we got a phone call. I'm broken down with the Rolls at Quarr, will you please go and get it. I'm going on by bus. Being a Saturday we had no staff on and I was at my wits end to know how to get it in. I suddenly remembered that we had a radio man working in his little shed at the rear of the garage.

Ted, will you give me a hand, there's a Rolls Royce broken down at Quarr and I need someone to steer.

A Rolls Royce broken down, exclaimed Ted in surprise. I've always wanted to drive a Rolls. So off we went. Words cannot describe the look on his face when confronted with such a small car. I persuaded him to get in and started to tow. Looking back in the mirror I could see him laughing together with people shopping in Wootton High Street.

A phone call came in, would I collect a French lady from Creek Gardens, she wanted to make one or two calls, and then catch the boat at Ryde for the mainland.

I arrived at Creek Gardens and to my utter surprise the French lady had a pet goose, complete with a coat, cot, blanket, and other odds and ends. She could not speak English or I French. It was almost a candid camera situation. It transpired because War was imminent she was returning to France and she could not take her pet goose with her. She wanted someone to look after it for her. Just imagine the problem. We drove from place to place and farm to farm, and no one was willing to take it. After several hours of driving, we ended up where we had almost started - Griffin's Farm, Briddlesford Road, Wootton, complete with coat and cot. We left the goose and she paid for twelve months' keep at 2/6 per week. I believe he let it loose with the other birds and ducks and it reverted back to normal.

There was the bride and bridegroom, who, after the wedding ceremony, would not go to the reception until after I had driven them around the block at Whippingham several times. However we arrived eventually and all the guests wondered what had happened.

There was also the railway worker getting married. When we arrived at the church he must have thought he was on a train. He poked his head through the window and tried to open the door on the outside. We moved his head carefully from the window and he made his way into church. All was well.

At Wootton House lived a Miss Sheddon, some relation to the Sheddon's my mother had served. I drove her twice a week to her Doctor's at Ryde - mostly eye troubles. When she died a Col. and Mrs. Minshall came to live at her home. Mrs. Minshall was a Mrs. Poole by her first marriage and was the mother of Lord Poole of the Conservative party. She was very well connected being a friend of the Royal Family. I drove her three or four times a week and her conversations were always very interesting.

On one occasion Col. Minshall complained to me because I was always a little late - he did not understand how busy we were squeezing in all the jobs. I'll buy you a watch to help you keep better time. No need I said, I have a watch better than any you can give me. Oh have you, and next morning he walked round to the garage to see my watch.

I had bought this watch from Mr. Burdon. A French gold hunter type watch. It gave the seconds, minutes, hours, days and months, phases of the moon, chimed the hours quarters, halves and three quarters and counted the minutes after the chimes. Also a stop watch. Some watch.

We had another unusual customer a Mr. Jackson. He had a Singer car and then a Vauxhall. We understood him to be a bricklayer's labourer, and that he was receiving about £80 a month from some source. When one realised that an average wage was about £5 per week £80 was a considerable sum.

He had his sump drained every week and a new oil filter fitted, so when his oil was cleaned it seemed a shame to throw it away, so we saved and used it in one of our older cars. Mutton cloth used to clean his car was only used once so again it was used by ourselves. All the staff were supplied with white twill overalls. All this went on at the start of the War.

His money supply suddenly stopped and after selling all his surplus goods, and there was plenty of those, he sold his car and joined the Army.

He had bought a train set for his little girl. She was not very interested so he asked me if I would buy it. I said I would and having delivered a full carload, most of it unwrapped, he said he would go back for more. He came back with another carload. I remember that we converted our spare room into a railway system, having a special table made to fit the room.

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.