You never forget your first job which, I suppose, is understandable. After all, it’s a significant moment in your life when you receive a pay packet for the first time. Of course, your first job isn’t necessarily the best one. I worked here and there during my school holidays, including on a building site and in a laundry (actually, a lot of fun) and those activities gave me some sort of grounding for life in the real world when I left school.
I managed, after writing many letters, to secure a job with an adding machine firm, servicing the equipment. That kind of suited me, because I’ve always enjoyed larking around with machinery and a lot of the time was spent visiting offices where the machines were being used. I travelled by bus, too – I didn’t have a car licence at the time.
That position ended in disaster. Basically, I was on a training course, took a very expensive and complicated machine apart to relieve the boredom and got the bullet as a result. That turned out to be a highly-fortunate moment because my next job was as a junior reporter on the local paper. I didn’t really fancy doing it for a living, gave it a try and the rest is geography (no, don’t change the subject).
The senior reporters drove around in what are now regarded as classics. At the time, they were just old bangers that did the job. The chief reporter had a black MkI Ford Consul and the other blokes had, variously, a Volkswagen 1500 (now almost unheard of), 1963 Hillman Minx, Singer Chamois, MkI Ford Cortina and a Triumph 2000 – I think, on reflection, it was laurel green and it belonged to the editor. Only he could afford what was, at the time, quite an expensive car.
Notice that I have only mentioned blokes. That’s not me being discriminatory, but none of the female reporters had a car. That was probably because of their low wages – in those days, women were paid significantly less than men. It was an accepted fact…
Anyhow, there was one other bloke in the office, a junior hack and the owner of a 1963 almond green Austin Mini. I can still remember the number – 94 GXM. Even then, I reckoned I was a bit of a wiz with motors and carried out the occasional odd-job on his Mini. It started when I fitted a new throttle cable. He was delighted. He wasn’t so delighted with my methods, however, when I checked out his brakes and found that one set of shoes on the front was contaminated with brake fluid. I’d read somewhere that you could clean them by wetting the friction material with petrol and setting light to it. I must have used a bit too much fuel, because the resultant flames reduced the material to ashes. Oh well, the job did get done in the end.
The Mini developed the oddest of faults. It would start and run perfectly and then, maybe once a day or sometimes once a week, would cut out, refuse to start for a good few minutes and then resume normal service. The only sure way of diagnosing an intermittent fault is to check it out while there is a problem, otherwise, you just don’t know whether it has been eliminated. I had this theory that the Mini recognised me and, out of pure devilment, put on its best behaviour when I was in sight. When I’d gone, it played up, probably sniggering at my inability to sort it out.
I did all of the usual things – changed the plugs, points and condenser, cleaned the carb and all that stuff – but the problem persisted. And then, one Sunday afternoon, the owner turned up at my house, puffing heavily, and announced that his Mini had broken down about half-a-mile away, where he’d left it (I wasn’t even on the phone back then, let alone in possession of a mobile).
Armed with a bag of tools, I set off to finally take on and vanquish this cheeky machine. It refused to start, despite my finest attempts, and I was kind of flummoxed. A bloke pulled up, asked what the problem was and grinned knowingly. In those days, people actually did stop to help and, also, there was usually room to park. He went to the boot of his car, appeared with a mallet, disappeared under the Mini for a few seconds and then invited us to start the engine. Well, it went first turn.
Experienced Mini-ites will know what’s coming next. Yep, the points in the SU electric fuel pump had stuck. A sharp tap with the mallet freed them and the pump was back in business. It was a common fault on Minis because, let’s face it, how else was an electric fuel pump supposed to react when mounted on the rear subframe, exposed to the elements? What a cranky idea.
Anyway, I’d learnt something and the Mini owner had learnt something as well. He bought a mallet (yes, really) and proceeded to dive under the car every time it misbehaved, resuscitating the engine in a few seconds on every occasion. Something has to give in such situations and, based on the fact that wood is generally a fair bit harder than plastic, the fuel pump’s casing eventually cracked, wrecking the pump.
It meant fitting a new pump – a task I did not enjoy – but it was a good experience all round. Like I said, you never forget your first job or (in my case) your second. They say you also never forget your first girlfriend, although I tend to dispute that statement. If you saw mine, you wouldn’t blame me for making an exception.