From Pigeon to Canary

From my first job to my second took only a couple or three weeks. I had signed on for unemployment benefit but that amounted to just over £2 a week – and that was the rate for a grown man in those days!

My next job was again in a drawing office, again in the aircraft industry. I suppose my one GCE was a help in getting those drawing office jobs. What I learned at Self Priming Pumps (SPE) on the Slough Trading Estate was that it could be an incredibly boring, unfulfilling job being a draughtsman. They made pumps (fuel etc) for the aircraft industry and all the drawings were on linen drawn in Indian ink.

My job was to churn through dozens of drawings, erase some small feature with an electric eraser and modify or bring up to date features that had changed. Talk about fucking boring. My boss was a curmudgeonly old git – never once saw a smile on his face.

However, despite the boring bus journey to get there from Old Windsor – the extra pound I got in wages from the last job probably went in bus fares – I found more interest in my spare time.

Since becoming interested in the shooting I discovered that enthusiasts used decoy pigeons to lure pigeons down into their line of fire. I don’t remember why but I decided to make decoy pigeons out of 24 gauge aluminium sheet and sell them by advertising in the “Shooting Times” – a weekly magazine. I can’t quite put a date on this but it was during this job or the next one.

Sales were quite healthy and I even had cardboard boxes made for packing six decoys in for posting. I then had a letter from someone saying I was in breach of their patent by making and selling decoy pigeons. I figured out that the only thing that was appropriate was that I was using a coil spring on which the pigeon moved around in a breeze to make it appear to be alive.

I then discovered fibreglass and taught myself how to use it. I made patterns and moulds of a pigeon and used an alternative to a metal spring to attach a wooden dowel to (the dowel was stuck in the ground) and made the things in fathers garage in some quantity.


me making fibreglass pigeon decoys in fathers garage

Sales blossomed and I was supplying to gun shops all over the country as well as individuals. I was earning twice as much a week as I was in my “proper” job although it wasn’t all profit – what with the cost of the boxes and the resin and glass and other items.

I believe the decoy business started whilst at SPE but I could be wrong but it almost  certainly continued in my next two jobs and with other enterprises in time I was not short of money.

Meanwhile back at SPE the recession in the aircraft industry continued and I was made redundant on a “last in, first out” basis. In the usual way I soon found another job this time at McMichael Radio at the other end of Slough. They made domestic products such as televisions but a large part of their activity was electronics for the aircraft industry. The one part of aircraft industry that was thriving was the V-Bomber force – Victor, Valiant and Vulcan.

I was put to work on drawings for the ECM (electronic counter measures) for the Victor and still have a copy in my possession of “the dustbin” as it was called. It was called that because it was about the same size as a dustbin. It was a general arrangement drawing that showed what it looked like but gave away no secrets.

I travelled to work most days (when it was running) on a Canary Yellow James 98cc motorbike that I acquired through the Exchange & Mart Magazine by exchanging it for a 410 gauge shotgun I had acquired. It was originally maroon in colour but I thought that was boring so I stripped it down and repainted it in Canary yellow.

I was still attending Maidenhead Tech one day a week but I was lost in the maths due to my missing a large part of geometry and algebra whilst at school. In addition to that most of the lecturers were appalling and rattled through the lessons regardless of the fact that what they had just taught went straight over the heads of the students and so it was that when I was accepted for another job at Phoenix Rubber where they would not release me for the sandwich course I was more that pleased to give up on the ONC. Anyway I could see at that point that I would not need the ONC if I was to become an entrepreneur.

In the meantime I was taking driving lessons once I reached the age of 18. These of course I paid for myself. I passed on the second attempt but in those days although we had to learn and use hand signals we didn’t have to do written theory exams just a couple of simple questions asked by the examiner on the highway code. It was certainly much easier to obtain a driving licence then than it is now for todays young people.

I bought a car. It was a wreck but it ran. It cost me about four times my weekly wage and then there was insurance which cost less than £20 a year. Even though I was probably making extra money at this time I was still not minted and times were hard enough.

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