Ivor's Insights Part 20

Part Twenty
   When our Teleprinter training started at Compton Bassett the first thing we had to learn was how to, not only type but become a touch typist. This we did on a manual typewriter with the aid of a record which provided a rhythmic beat too which we endeavoured to hit the right keys in unison. As any typist knows there are certain phrases which are used as typing exercises for learners. Phrases such as ‘Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party’ being probably the best well known. Another one, which is less known, used all the letters of the alphabet, a Pangram, and informed us that ‘A quick movement of the enemy will jeopardize six gunboats’. Easy you might think but just imagine this scenario. You are a complete novice learning to type and trying like mad to keep in time with endless beat emanating from the old shellac 78rpm record when the door of the classroom opens and your commanding officer enters with his subordinates in tow on a ‘Let’s see how the new recruits are getting on with their typing lessons Flight Sergeant’.  This unexpected intrusion by the Top Brass was too much for one nervous young lad. He was concentrating manfully and doing well as he warned of the danger of what can happen if you ignore what a quick movement of the enemy can do when, suddenly, he became aware of the Top Brass standing right behind him breathing down his neck. This was too much for his nervous system; resulting in him typing the letter ‘I’ instead of U in the last word of the Pangram, thereby changing it to ‘A quick movement of the enemy will jeopardize six ginboats’  Fortunately the Top Brass moved swiftly on, probably for a quick G and T themselves, and the red faced lad survived.
   As the camp at Compton Bassett was only about 85 miles from my Greenford home I tried sneaking off on a Friday evening and hitch hiking home. The first time a friend and I tried it the first lift we got was on an open top lorry where we froze for about an hour before we were turfed off. The next lift entailed both of us sitting in the drivers cab of a stinking diesel lorry for most of the night. There were frequent stops allowing the driver to have forty winks. The journey took all night and when I finally arrived home I went straight to bed to recover from this motoring nightmare.
   The next method to getting home was to take the official coach that left from the camp Guardhouse every Saturday lunch time to London and left Kings Cross on Sunday evening for the return trip. This comfortable alternative was organised by a Flight Sergeant by the name of Field in conjunction with a local coach company named Cards of Devizes and cost eighteen shillings return. This seemed a good idea until we heard of another way of getting home for a 36 hour pass. The only snag was that we had to wait until Saturday lunch time before we could head for home. So a third option was sought and found. This third option was a retrograde step in that it entailed the dreaded hitch hiking home on a Friday evening and travelling back by the midnight train from Paddington to Swindon on Sunday night.
 The journey took two hours and on arrival at Swindon there were various coaches waiting to collect and transfer the Airmen back to one of the many RAF camps in Wiltshire at that time. .
  As none of the waiting coaches went direct to Compton Bassett we were told by those who knew better, to board a coach destined for the camp at Yatesbury, which was a mere 3-4 miles from Compton and upon arrival at Yatesbury we were to mingle with the Yatesbury lads as they left the coach for their billets and we would calmly walk out of the camp’s main gate and head off and walk the 3-4 miles to Compton Bassett.
  This was fine in theory but on the first night we tried this ploy the coach driver spotted us making towards the main gate and in his broad, delightful West Country accent shouted out to us ‘Where be you’n going then’?  When we said Compton Bassett he went mad replying ‘Wot you’n doin’ on my coach, this be for the Yatesbury lads, Bloody Cheek, Bloody Comp’on Bass-it blokes, you’n got no right bein’ yere, go on, clear off’. And so it came to pass that at about 3.30 a.m. one Monday morning a chastened, dispirited, cold and tired band of brothers meekly obeyed this instruction and cleared off through the dark and starless night towards ‘that place’, whose name was so eloquently put by our West Country coach driver.
   As we trudged our weary way back to our camp out of the blue one of our party said ‘If I could get up a coach to do the return trip to London from Compton every Saturday costing only twelve shillings, instead of the official one at eighteen shillings, would anyone be interested’?  Naturally everyone thought it a good idea and arrangements were made to assemble at this man’s billet later in the week to finalise the deal. This was our first meeting with a man who was to become an entrepreneur long before Freddie Laker or Richard Branson came on the scene. His name was John Bloom who achieved fame as the man who bought out Rolls Razors and turned it into Rolls Washing Machines. He upset some of the well established big boys like Hoover and Hotpoint by enticing the housewives with his cut price machines even offering a free fridge as a further inducement.
   Later that week many of us went to Bloom’s billet where he was seated complete with notebook and pencil. After we had given him our name and handed over our twelve shillings, which he recorded in his book, we departed happily looking forward to the following weekend when this exciting new enterprise was scheduled to commence. Came the big day and it was a bit of a let down when we saw a rather tired rickety old coach turn up at the camp gate. The Flight Sergeant, upset at the possible loss of his trade agreement with Cards Coaches quickly ordered it to go away and park around the corner. We didn’t care we all climbed aboard, happy at getting one over on the Flight Sergeant.
   It seems to me the reason why people such as the Laker’s, Branson’s and Bloom’s of this world do succeed is their skill in seeing an opening and going for it with vision and sheer determination. I can best illustrate this point by telling you that on that first weekend trip to London, John Bloom, in an effort to maximise his profit margin, sat on the floor of the coach to London, thereby forfeiting his own seat and pocketing another twelve shillings.
  Bear in mind the coach floor was metal ribbed, cold, hard and most uncomfortable. Especially as it was at the front of the coach which meant he inhaled all the diesel fumes coming off the engine!  For my money he deserved every penny he made on that weekend. On the Sunday night at London’s King Cross coach station we all assembled for the return journey back to camp. Panic set in when there was no sign of Bloom and his coach. What some people were going to do to him is unrepeatable here, except to say they were ‘Blooming mad’  Then suddenly a load cheer arose at the sight of our chariot, practically on two wheels, came roaring round the corner with our own Ben Hur hanging out of the doorway. Relieved we all scrambled aboard and left the smoke of London Town behind and headed westwards back to that there ‘B****y Comp’on Bass-it place in deepest Wiltshire and this time we didn’t have to jump out at Yatesbury camp.  Thank goodness for entrepreneurs.
---End of Part Twenty-- 

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