by Daniel Bysouth
Working in the stores at Mann Egerton’s, when I look back, was a very light-hearted way to earn a living. At the time I had little to worry about, the wife was working full time, we lived in a nice little one bed room flat and for me I found the work easy.
There were highlights; for instance, opposite our garage was the Afro-Caribbean centre. After being open for only a few months, it was to be officially opened by Prince Charles. Thing was, nobody informed us of certain security measures that were put into place. Each morning, on arriving at work, I would venture out onto the loading bay which overlooked our parked vans and the road in which the Caribbean centre was situated. I opened the door only to be confronted with an armed policeman in full sniper get-up. I looked at him, he looked at me, I stared at the gun, we both said "morning" then I went and checked the state of my underwear. There were a few marksmen dotted around and as quickly as they appeared they left in the same manner.
When I first started work there we had petrol pumps and a forecourt. I think it was a National Petroleum. It was handy as I used to fill up my fizzy (my little Yamaha FS1-E bike) for around £1.50 and that lasted me all week. After a while it was decided that the pumps weren’t making money so they would close. The tanks were quite full and as I had served fuel for a while, I took charge of taking readings and keeping the parts vans fuelled up. This didn't last long because of the high mileage and they were to shut them down for good. I made sure the Maxi was full to the brim with a good load of four star before we said a fond farewell to another bit of our garage.
We had noticed that we were not very busy for long periods of time and rumours had started. We had a direct rival in town called Henley’s who were also a BL main dealer, plus Unipart who had a large stores and a massive body shop in Ipswich. Their whole setup was much more modern than ours.
They had the advantage of a better site than us too, on the outskirts of the town.
The biggest shock came with the news that the CBR floor was closing down completely. For many years it was the heart of the Majors Corner site and it was such a shame to see it die. The whole floor found work easily - as they should, they were very highly skilled craftsmen. The very same day I started my apprenticeship another lad called Paul started as an apprentice panel beater. He worked with our most skilled guy and as such became a highly skilled beater himself.
We attended college together but he was and is more academic than me. He was top of the class and student of the year. He also married my niece and to this day I consider him not only my mate but my nephew. As the CBR floor started to fold up Paul was approached by an ex-employee called Michael. He was a brilliant panel beater and now had his own body shop on a disused WW2 airfield just outside the town in a place called Martlesham. He asked Paul to go and work for him and his very successful business, he also asked Keith to join him as with success more and more trimming work was being undertaken. Keith was a lifer at Mann Egertons and with some trepidation he agreed to go too.
I asked Paul to ask if there was a place for me. As Paul started a couple of months before Christmas I didn't see him for a week or so but then got a phone call to attend an interview with Dave who was Michaels business partner. They wanted a paint preparation technician - prime it , rub it down and mask it up. I should have mentioned that after the news of the CBR floor shutting, it was announced that British Leyland only wanted to support one garage in town which was to be Henley’s, so at the end of November the whole place would fold.
So I was only too pleased to accept the new job in M J Green’s body shop. John, my parts manager, asked how I got on and when I told him I start on January 2nd he was chuffed to bits. He also asked if I wanted to stay on till Christmas to help him clear out the rest of the vast stock, cash in hand! So I did. It was horrible working in that place in total silence.
One of the plus things was that Henley’s took just about all the parts staff on, so they all did well. Clearing all that stock was depressing but John told me that any Maxi parts I found I could have FOC. I got a complete new carpet, rubber mats, flash new red seat belts, an 8 track quadrophonic stereo and enough service parts to last me months.
I must admit I cried my eyes out on the last day. Mann Egerton’s was the only place I had ever worked and now I had to forge new friendships , something I'm not good at.
As Keith and I started on the 2nd January I had no idea that for the next 17 years I would be having the time of my life, but that's for next time..
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