by Daniel Bysouth
On every delivery route you come across characters, and my route was no exception. One that comes to mind was a little garage in the village of Coddenham called Bickers.
Back in the 60s, Dave Bickers was a highly successful motorcycle scramble rider who branched into different enterprises such as garages and coach travel. In later years he also got into supplying period vehicles for film and television. Now you will find that he also ran a very successful stunt business and was responsible for many of the major film stunts all over the world. The small garage he had in Coddenham was manned by about 5 staff the head mechanic being a short thin guy whose overalls were thick with grease and he always wore a beanie hat. A hand-made cigarette was always in the corner of his mouth and when he spoke it was with a broad Suffolk accent.
This particular morning I had called on them as they broke for tea break at 10am. The guys were all sitting on old car seats in the back of the workshop beside an oil burning heater. It was only a few moments later when a very posh lady in her late fifties pulled up on the forecourt in a Mini Metro. She got out and approached the sitting hoard of grease monkeys. “Could someone tell me if I have anti-freeze in my car please?" she asked. Rising from his seat, straightening his beanie hat the little guy rose to his full height of 4 foot nothing saying, "Right away Ma’am, follow me". He took out a piece of filthy old rag from his overall pocket and carefully released the cap on the expansion tank. He promptly put his forefinger in the hot liquid and put it between his lips, turning round he spat the mixture on the floor and turning to the astonished lady said, "That's fine on to about minus 10 Ma’am, you’re fine!".
That summed up just what sort of atmosphere there was in these homely little garages. It’s that kind of friendly personal service that sadly has been lost today in the small hamlets of our countryside. The lady was happy and drove away completely satisfied with her visit. Whether she understood that the sweeter the liquid tasted the more anti-freeze was present I doubt, but it's a fact that it's true; dangerous, but true.
When I was 12 or 13 years old I joined the St. John’s Ambulance service as a cadet. My dad had been in it for many years and he ran the First Aid surgery at the factory where he worked, so I followed in his footsteps. At that time Thursday night was Speedway night at Foxhall Stadium in Ipswich and my dad, myself and some others were on duty in the pits and in the centre green. These were heroes to me and being on duty meant I had access to all the riders.
Two of my favourites were a local chap called Tony Davey, and a young Australian starlet called Billy Sanders - I'm sure some of you will know that name. My most treasured possessions are a breastplate specially made for me and an autographed picture of Billy and Tony (below).
Now, on my delivery route was a garage that offered servicing and also body repairs. On my first visit to this garage, just a mile or so from Bickers, I pulled up on the forecourt of Evergreen garage of Crowfield to deliver a box of service parts. An old guy came out of Reception, looked at the paperwork and told me that his boy had ordered these bits and he would have to check them. "He's in the office mate" he said. Off I went, to find a chap was on the phone in the office marking a wall chart with his back to me. The phone went down and I said, "I have your parts from Mann Egerton’s, mate".
When he turned round you could have knocked me down with a mattress; looking right back at me was Mr Tony Davey, my speedway hero! He recognised me and from then on was a good friend. I was chuffed to bits. He remains a very nice chap and will always be a hero of mine. As much as the job of parts supplying was interesting we had to have a bit of fun too. I liked to play jokes on people and one of the best ones was on another delivery driver, Basil.
Basil was in his late 50s and came from up North. He had a very broad Northern accent, was very jolly and helpful but poor old Basil was completely deaf. He lip read perfectly but could hear nought. One morning, when the vans had finished their morning deliveries, I had an idea. All the vans were due to leave at 11.30am for the afternoon deliveries. Just before Basil came down to the car park to climb into his van - an R reg Marina - I turned on his radio, tuned it to Radio 1 and cranked up the volume to full blast. All afternoon the garages on Basil’s route were phoning in and laughing at the mobile disco with the completely unknowing driver careering around the country side! We all had a good laugh and when Basil returned at 5pm with the radio still blasting I told him what had been going on. He just looked at me and said in his northern drawl "You daft begger". Even the boss had a giggle.
One afternoon I was about 30 miles out of town on my way to Sudbury when a stone from a council mower hit and smashed my windscreen; it was not laminated and just disintegrated. I phoned the firm and they said it was up to me if I carry on or come back. Well I carried on and on my return was covered in flies and dirt. It took me a while longer as I had taken extra time by keeping to the back roads. The boss asked if I was OK then told me to raise a job card, get a screen out of stock and see if the body shop could fit a screen for us today. "What for? I can do that, I'm a coachbuilder remember?” I told him. He replied that if I wanted to, then I could do it and he would be very grateful. From then on, if we had a screen in any of the vans go, I fitted the new ones. I loved it.
Winter was approaching and that was not to be as much fun. That's for next time.
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