It was like working for Ebenezer Scrooge

In 1984 I left a well paid job in Newcastle with a company car and as much cable and electrical fittings as I could hide in my briefcase to join my father in his business for an undefined stipend and the promise of an old second hand car that may or may not be street legal.

The undefined stipend consisted of how much cash money we could draw in every week, there was a basic salary that would not have kept a sparrow in seed let alone a new wife and a new mortgage and most of what I took home every week was the cash that we had managed to divert from the attention of the company accountant.

I actually enjoyed those days of uncertainty.

My father rented two downstairs rooms in a two hundred year old stone built house which all sounds rather quaint but the reality is that during a wet summer it was damp and cold inside and during a cold winter it was damp and cold inside, my father kept it that way in order to get us all out into our cars touring the region looking for business, there was nothing he hated more than to see us all sat around the one meagre gas fire in each room trying to warm our bones in a morning.

The gas fire in the front office actually made the room colder when you lit it and its single remaining burner would emit a weak blue flame which spluttered all day long, often dying away completely leaving just pure gas hissing out until someone noticed, relighting it at those times was a hazardous experience as you were never sure just how long it had been unlit and just how much gas was hanging and drifting around the burner for you to introduce a naked flame to it, it was probably the only time that you were ever warmed by that gas fire.

The fire in the workshop was fractionally better and half an hour after lighting it you could stand right in front of it and hold your hands within one inch of the burner to feel a gentle warmth wafting forth, only to dissipate within the next inch of frigid airspace, it too spluttered and spurted all day long and I doubt very much whether any combustion fumes ever made their way up the chimney as we sat there at our benches all day with streaming eyes and light heads.

We did occasionally mention to my father that it might be a consideration to purchase one of those new fangled electric heaters for both rooms but such tentative suggestions would precede two hours of complaining from him as to how expensive they were to operate and what did we think he was, made of money ?

His business partner Michael had no kidneys and his constant dialysis robbed his blood of any minerals needed for any sort of comfort factor in cold weather, so he’d arrive at the office clad in several layers of winter coats and scarves then push us all out of the way of the one inch source of heat in the workshop and pull up a small plastic deckchair (it was a very cosmopolitan office) right up to the fireplace and sit there for at least an hour, rubbing his hands together and complaining about how cold it was – it never crossed his mind either to introduce another method of heating the office.

So we’d all stand around this poisonous source of meagre heat for an hour or more until my dad started gently hinting that we should all be out on the road earning our corn so that he could sit closer to the fire and answer the phones all day, gently prodding us with phrases such as “Go on bugger off out the lot of you” or “Michael, get away from that bloody fire and piss off out will you”.

At least my car had a heater…

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