Divi Day

A local history book was published in Morley back in January, looking back at the golden days of the Co-op. I bought it mostly out of wanting to support local history projects but it considerably exceeded my expectations.

The book charted the social and architectural jigsaw of the rise and fall of the Cooperative Society in the town. At its peak there were five distinct sets of adjoining retail premises along with twenty-one branch shops in outlying areas, warehouses and even a pie factory.

The book can be bought at Co-op travel and Co-op pharmacy in town and you can read a review here.

There are still snippets of history around the town un-noticed to most. This photo shows where it all began 141 years ago on the corner of Albion Street and Commercial Street, the premises now belonging to a firm of Solicitors.

To all the Girls I’ve loved before…*

I’m in the process of replacing my car as my current Betsy is rapidly approaching 100,000 miles on the clock. After much thought, scouring the Internet and flicking through Parkers & What car monthly guides, I’ve taken the path of least resistance and chosen another not too used Skoda.

This will be the fifth vehicle I’ve bought from the Czech upstart, although their prices are much higher now and the main benefit these days is value for money compared to other cars in the VW/Passat stable. The brand name still has a small stigma, although pointing out who made the bearing for the London Eye often surprises.

Every car tells a story and I’ve jogged down a list of recollections for each one.

Betsy #1- Ford Cortina Mark 1 Saloon – Sky blue with matching rust

My dad Neil bought me my first car for my 17th birthday back in 1975. It was a banger and had more filler than metal in the wings and Cills. I only went out in it a couple of times (with Neil supervising) because it was somewhat unreliable and we rapidly found out that we were not a good match for instructor/pupil. Wanting his garage back, Neil eventually quietly disposed of it when he realised I didn’t have a passion for learning to drive. I only really have one memory of this car- a longish drive in the Country where I was Ok with the controls but well aware that my awareness needed a lot of practice. A pheasant jumped out at me from a hedgerow and as I started to brake, Neil told me to accelerate, as he knew a man in a Pub who would gut it for him…

In 1976/77, having moved to Coventry, I learned to drive properly with a draughtsman called Stan Smith from the GEC, failed my first test and lost interest until meeting Stan again in 1979, resuming my lessons. This prompted Neil to give me…

Betsy #2- Morris Marina Van – Light green

Another pseudo-banger, I went out for a practice drive with my mate Les and the clutch packed in three streets away from home. Fortunately, we were able to return and crash change back as it was up a slight hill. The clutch itself was fine, but an actuating arm with dog teeth had lost its locating clip and replacing it involved a lot of swearing. In the meantime, I failed test #2 but undeterred went for test #3, struggled to read the numberplate and was given the option by the DOT examiner to get the tape measure out or put it down to bad light and get a retest. Stan said take the retest, she is giving you the benefit of the doubt and it will save you £20! On my fourth test, she gave me the coveted green slip and lectured me on ways of improving my technique. Stan could tell I had passed as he had obviously been instructing for many years and spent a lot of time in the waiting room observing what went on. He also observed that “she” used to be a “he” and caused a lot of consternation when he turned up for work as a she, back in the days when transsexuals were almost unknown.

 Going for a celebratory drive on the Motorway the evening of passing my test, Betsy decided to retaliate by the exhaust falling off at the manifold end, so I limped home from the Warwick bypass with my banger living up to its name, sounding like a demolition derby stock car.

 (Betsy #3- Saudi Arabian “Yank tank” Saloon – Vomit brown)

This car was assigned to me for most of my contract in Saudi back in 1982. I don’t recall what brand it was but it had DH1277 stencilled onto the sides, was automatic and had (essential) air conditioning. Fortunately Gasoline was free from the Aramco filling station, and only 10p a gallon if caught short elsewhere. One day, on returning from lunch, whilst carefully backing up near a greyhound bus, I inadvertently dented the wing due to a sign pole not being vertical but severely bentdue to a fracas with a bus earlier. This is what happens when you let passengers get out and wave you back. (Something similar happened one day at GEC, where I was blocked in on a site due to an asbestos removal van and the helpful builder waved me into a skip, gesturing me to stop AFTER the crunch came from the sticky-outy bit they put the chains on squashed my wing. Fortunately I didn’t get a bollocking as someone from marketing had written off the other departmental pool car and the Boss’s ire was reserved for him.)

Betsy #4 Renault 5 hatchback – Pillar box red

In 1984 (or thereabouts) this was the first car I bought from new, influenced by convenience as I walked past the Renault dealer regularly and noticed the car launch. The slogan was “What’s yours called?” to which the answer was Betsy, at first, anyway.

Driving to visit friends in Coventry on day, I hit a diesel slick on a bend, wobbled, skidded and sideswiped the kerb. Unfortunately, this broke the casting on the steering rack which cost me £180 to replace. Had I bought a Metro, the part would have cost me £40. From this point onwards, Betsy was henceforth known as “Twat”.

Betsy #5 Hyundai Stellar Saloon – White

I bought this on the advice of Neil, who said he would buy it off me in a year or two as he was a taxi driver by then and his new Sierra was round the clock. It was large and comfortable, if a smidge basic. Shortly after buying it I got promoted and entitled to a Company Car, namely-

Betsy #6 Rover 216 Saloon – Red

This was a temporary allocation that I had for six months or so. It smelt of leather and is the only car that I have known someone in the biblical sense in. On steaming up one morning many months after having “done the nasty” I was amused to see two distinct footprints appear on the windscreen, quite wide apart…

Betsy #7 Austin Cavalier GLSi Hatchback – Blue

This was known as the Pinkmobile as it had briefly been assigned to a Manager with the Surname Pink. The GLSi was the full spec one, whereas the more boy racer ones went for the SRi model in order to sacrifice trim for horsepower.

 Eventually I got fed up with the Corporate life and went to work for a small Company, where I was assigned…

Betsy #8 Austin Cavalier Hatchback – White

Nothing too much to say about CCT Betsy, apart from my burning out the (automatic) gearbox within 3 months (a fault, not a reflection on my driving!). I had it stolen one evening from a Hotel car park in St. Helens and the scratters managed to crash it on the motorway, writing it off. The Police caught them with the helicopter though.

Betsy #9 Ford Sierra Estate – Light brown

Alternatively known as “Fishy Fishy” due to an unfortunate incident with a thermos full of stale Urine, this was a car CCT had knocking about to tide me over until my replacement. It actually took another year or so, as the Company went into administrative receivership in the meantime. When we came out of the other side after facing the abyss, I was given a brand new, shiny…

Betsy #10 Ford Mondeo Hatchback – White

I then decided to get Married and get a proper job again, so reluctantly returned Betsy in order to rejoin CCT and be allocated a…

 Betsy #11 Vauxhall Cavalier Hatchback – Off white

This car suffered my first moderately serious accident in Morley, (returning from a weight watchers weigh in) although no-one was hurt, other than my department’s budget.

I had the Nortel car for 12 months, eventually returning it when I resigned and went freelance. I then hired cars as required, typically the novelty Nissan Micra from Morley Van Hire. Eventually my contract work could justify owning a car again, so scouring the compact market, I discovered the new range of Skodas that were well built and well priced. This led me to purchase…

Betsy #12 Skoda Felicia Hatchback – Steel blue

Small but perfectly formed, I eventually replaced this with the slightly bigger…

Betsy #13 Skoda Felicia Estate – Russet red

 My first diesel car, eventually replaced with…

Betsy #14 Skoda Octavia Hatchback – Racing green

This was Skoda’s top of the range car at the time, a turbo diesel 125 BHP and had been earmarked by Dougal, the MD of the dealership. Indeed it had starred at the launch party, driven on-stage  by his brother Angus with two dolly birds waving out of the windows. Dougal was willing to relinquish his new Company car for a few weeks with the prospect of a sale though, as they say cashflow is king. Technically this was a Company car, as it was bought by Delicolor Ltd, MD & sole shareholder Mr. Ian M Grey Esq. 

Eventually, Betsy had gone round the clock and was facing some expensive bills. By now, I had returned to normal employment and bought the car off Delicolor Ltd (for a fair price) when it was dissolved. I couldn’t really justify a large shiny new car at that stage, so bought a second hand…

Betsy #15 Ford Fiesta Hatchback – Deep Purple

Apart from the colour and an occasional tendency to not want to turn the heater off, this gave stalwart service. Karen started using this when her Astra got a bit long in the tooth and eventually traded it in for a Skoda Fabia. Meanwhile, I moved on to…

Betsy #16 Skoda Octavia Estate – Deep Blue

This is my current Betsy and was a much lower spec than my original Octavia, although still 101 HP (Petrol), electric windows, Air Con, 6 CD changer so not exactly basic.

Betsy #16 has also given stalwart service but is also on the fringes of starting to get expensive . A couple of years back I managed to damage the nearside cill in the Morley library car park, forgetting I had parked next to a nearly demolished wall. I also scraped the nearside front wheel arch on my garage door retaining strips at one point. The cumulative effect of the damage was reflected in what I regarded as a rather derisory trade in offer price of £750 having calculated a book value of £2000 in the What car? Guide. Buying the Parkers guide though put the trade in price at a more realistic £1305 and the salesman was happy enough to show the trade figure which was close to this. He also pointed out that the £500 or so he had knocked off for the repairs was his internal cost and it would cost me more, from a main dealer, anyway.

I am now waiting patiently for the formalities to be sorted for…

Betsy #17 Skoda Octavia Estate – Cappuccino metallic

What is “Cappuccino metallic”, I hear you ask? It is a sort of beige that looks with a hint of golden brown in a certain light. It sounded horrible in description & on photos but is perfectly acceptable in the flesh, if somewhat bland.

Moving from a nearly 7 year old high mileage car to a four year old car with just over 30,000 miles is a sensible refresh without breaking the bank. The car is a higher model so has some additional goodies like cruise control and reversing sensors, as well as a number of minor improvements due to the evolution of the design. The decent legroom in the back takes our growing David into account and the vast boot space attends to travelling with all of the stuff that Gizmo needs when we take him with us on holiday. It is a diesel with similar horsepower but more torque and the increased MPG will help contain fuel costs as we head back into our double-dip recession.

I did study other large family cars at length and eventually concluded that the Skodas remain good value for what I was looking for. I would have liked a Skoda Superb and I particularly like the generous rear space and vast boot with the very clever trunk/hatchback design. However, now is not the time to be getting into hock with finance companies and as an asset, a large car depreciates faster than an MP caught fiddling his expenses…

In case why you are wondering why I call my cars Betsy, this was influenced by an installer from the GEC called Terry Heath who drove a rather tempramental flaky car he called Betsy when sweet-talking to it. He explained that all cars were obviously female because they were frequently irrational.and he had to cajole them into being nice to him back. There was another installer called Steve Edge who carried this feminism to another level and completely lined the interior of his car with fur but I never felt the urge to go that far, mainly because it required money and effort. (Also, we all thought he was a bit of a dickhead for doing it!)

Sedgy came and worked for me at Nortel many years later, he assured me that he no longer had a fur fetish…

(*- By Girls, I mean Betsys, of course.)