As we discussed this, my friend recounted an event that his mum and her partner attended. One of her partners relatives was getting married. The partner came from a family that had a few colourful characters and there were a whole range of things that "were not discussed in front of the kids". He had been in the Royal Navy and had a full range of tattoo's long before they were commonplace. He came from the Isle of Wight although he'd been around a bit.
My friend recalled this event and said that it was the only time he could remember a family gathering of his 'stepdad's' family. I was intrigued to know what they were like. He said it was like an "assembly of proper geezers in motors at a pub". He said that although this was probably just the sands of time, his recollection was of sheepskin coats, heavy smoking, lager and limes and discussions of weird and wornderful things that sounded terribly dangerous and exotic. In Mill Hill in the 1960's nothing much ever happened. The shops were shut on Sundays and Thursday afternoons for early closing day. The momentously dangerous events for us kids were things such as a certain randy Labrador trying to hump one of the little girls up the road, and our own experiments with petrol for my Dad's lawnmower. There were no bank robbers, car chases, or riots. We'd turn on the news and see all manner of things happening, but none really touched Mill Hill, apart from Ted Heath's three day week and the odd powercut or sugar shortage. In hindsight it was a remarkably safe and happy childhood, but we longed for excitement. Nothing would have been better than a gathering of Geezers in Motors. I was lucky in some ways. My Dad owned a car crash repair business and if he was fixing a flash car, he'd bring it round and take me for a spin as a 'test drive' after he'd finished fixing it. Dad was an Aussie who loved a good story. These would inevitably be about the various chancers he had to deal with, looking for ways to knock him for a few bob. My Dad had a keen sixth sense for such chancers, and only one I can remember ever got away with it. He later went on to intwernational fame, having conned an Edgware Sports car dealer out of a Sports Car, that he took to the South of France, under the totally bogus guise of being a car journalist.
One of the more famous attempts was a restaurant owner in Stanmore who successfully executed the "cheque is in the post" routine to great effect. he clearly thought he'd got away with it. My Dad had other ideas. At the time, my sister was a trainee nurse. My Dad felt that such fine young women deserved a slap up dinner, so he gave them the bill, sent them to the restaurant and told them to order what they liked and when they finished sign the bill for car repairs. This they duly did. The restaurant owner went mad and called the police. It may not surprise you to know that the policemen on arrival sided with the young, pretty nurses. The next day, the restaurant owner rang my Dad in high dudgeon. They had eaten and drunk so much that they'd exceeded the debt. My Dad told him to drop down a bill for the difference and he'd square up. Within fifteen minutes, the said restaurateur arrived. A bill was presented and my Dad took great delight in saying "Sorry mate, I don't have my chequebook with me, I'll pop one in the post".
Another rather amusing story concerned a local millionaire. This chap was a great friend of my Dad, he had a lot of time for him. One day the chap appeared in his Rolls. He said "Laurie, I need a respray for the car today". My Dad was surprised, as the car was in pristine condition. He said "I'm not sure I can fit it in". The millionaire replied "Fit it in. I can't pay you for it. The car is yours until I can. You will have some people down tomorrow asking you to hand it over. Don't hand it over unless they pay for the respray in full, in cash". At this, the penny dropped. Everything was dropped and the car was resprayed. Sure enough, the next day a group of liquidators came down. The millionaire's business was in trouble and the Royal Bank of Canada had recalled a huge loan. He couldn't pay it so they'd put his company into administration. As he'd given personal guarantees, they were going around hoovering up his assets. They arrived and said "We are here to impound Mr X's Rolls.". My Dad said "You are not taking it until you pay for the respray". They said "Hand it over, your bill will be added to the list of creditors". At this my Dad said "You are on private property. Leave and don't come back without the cash. No cash, no car". We didn't see them again. My Dad became extremely popular. Every family and friends wedding, he was asked if he could drive the Bride to the wedding. He loved this. He also ferried around a few foreign dignitaries who were visiting Barnet. He was friendly with the then Tory MP for Hendon, John Gorst, who made full use of a free Roller. Sadly for my Dad, the said millionaire engaged the services of Top Lawyer, Sir David Napley, who managed to sue the Bank and get his cash back. It turned out that his Rolls, his boat and his plane (at Elstree), all had lots of work done just before the Bailiffs turned up and were all duly returned on payment of bills. The said millionaire always let my Dad borrow the motor for family weddings as a thank you.
Another amusing motor story concerned Elstree Studios. They were making a high profile feature film, and had a car that needed a respray. The production manager turned up and asked my Dad if he could drop everything and give a motor a quick respray. This was duly done. He put his best sprayer on the job, a certain Dennis Caines RIP, who worked into the night polishing the celebrity car. It was duly collected, with a promise of free tickets for the Premier. Dennis was horrified to see that his masterpiece featured for around five seconds before exploding. My Dad found this most amusing.
The motor trade had a whole bevvy of interesting characters. My Dad would take me on his rounds to collect spares. This would mean trips to Perrys in Finchley and various other parts depots. Tea would be drunk while orders were collected. IN the late 1970's and early 1980s, the system changed. It was done by computer and the smoky back rooms disappeared. Insurance companies changed the way they did business and my Dad retired in 1984.
I miss the whole men and motors culture. The cars today have no mystique, no soul and no glamour. They even tend to work when you turn the ignition key. The people who mend them are no longer magicians, they are blokes who plug in a computer. I miss the old days, but not the cars that never work