1974 – Daily Life at the Depot (a further extract from “The Memoirs of a Simple Utility Worker”

As embarrassing as it seems looking back, what is undeniable is the amount of wasted unproductive time that occurred during those first years in my new job. The day began with us all getting our work from Dave or Bert, finding out which vehicle we had been allotted, and if we had a fitter’s mate  setting out – to the café! There were two café’s that were the favourite haunt of Bristol Water staff at that time, Ray’s Café by the City Ground in Ashton Road, and  Norman’s, which was on the A38 just past the turning to Barrow Gurney. Most days the road outside Rays was full of Bristol Water (and British Gas) vans. Ray would stand behind the counter shouting out the orders to his long-suffering wife whilst pouring dark brown tea from a huge teapot that seemed constantly requiring refilling.

“Egg on two with a splash” and  “One hard sausage” were all versions of the culinary delights that could be found at Rays. At Christmas he would have a bottle of sherry on the counter for all his beloved customers to thank you for their continued custom. On occasions  there was “a purge”, and a Bristol Water Foreman was dispatched to log the registration numbers of the vehicles parked outside,  “bollockings were given”, then the whole process reverted to Normans Café – and off we would go again. The ridiculous thing was that after availing yourself of your breakfast at a local café you made your way to your first job, and of course when 10am arrived you stopped for your morning tea-break!

Both Bedminster and Kingswood Depots had full working canteens, Millbrook and Cheddar didn’t. At Bedminster you could get yourself a packed lunch in the mornings at a reasonable cost, and if you happen to be in the Depot at lunchtime then a full lunch menu was available. There were around three/four staff working in the canteen at Bedminster. Whilst not being able to recall all their names – Beat Powell was in charge for many years. Beat had a slight turn in one eye so you were never sure when she was speaking if she was talking to you or the person next to you. Daisy McAddam, lived in Kings Head Lane, smoked like a trooper and was the grandmother of two lads I knew at Bedminster Down Boys Club, Dave & Alex Plenty. And then there was Lily, Joyce Norton and finally Anne Drew who took over from Beat when she retired. Anne was a great character and made a divine bread-pudding from all the left-over bread.

As previously stated this was “Unionised Company”, and there were rules. For instance, if you travelled over three miles from your Depot you could claim “lunch money”. This was on the basis that you were unable to benefit from the subsidised lunches that were available at Bedminster or Kingswood. I think the money might have been two shillings and sixpence, or 12.5p in new money. Barrow Treatment Works, as it was then known, is just over three miles from Bedminster Depot. So you could legitimately drive yourself back from Barrow to Bedminster for lunch. The problem was that to do this you would need to leave Barrow before 12.30pm to ensure there was a lunch available and you wouldn’t return until at least 1.15pm – which extended the “lunch break” time considerably and really wound up Bert.

The most bizarre thing that happened in relation to lunch money was that at some point the Company decided that the rules were unfair on those working out of Cheddar and Millbrook Depots as they didn’t benefit from a canteen – so they decided to allow them to claim the allowance regardless of the distance restrictions. This infuriated the Trade Union Stewards at Bedminster and Kingswood so much  that we all went on “strike”. Now I have to say it’s without doubt the shortest strike I will ever be involved in – lasting probably two hours. All the Union Stewards (I represented the then EEPTU) were summoned to Head Office Board Room, where the General Manager “blew a head gasket” and basically ordered us back to work.

The Trade Union movement had a stranglehold on a lot of Industries during the 1970’s it wasn’t until that Water Utilities strike of 1981 that the balance of power would be re-defined, and as such changed d the way that certainly Bristol Water would operate for ever.

Some examples – unlike modern standby arrangements where staff make themselves available to be called out from home during “out of hours” periods, when I first joined Bristol Water there was a different standby arrangement. M&E staff were not on standby at all – which meant any breakdowns went to the same individuals – more on that later. However, the repair crews were on standby. The standby consisted of them being available in a Standby Room at the Depot between 16.15 and 21.30 on an evening. The room was called the “standby room”. Now for a quite a period of time the standby room at Bedminster was at one end of the covered yard on a mezzanine floor. Every Friday morning Jim, from one of the Unit Teams, would go around the depot selling tickets to the Friday night “film show”. Whereupon at around 5pm Friday nights many staff would gather in the Standby Room to watch porn films.  I had never seen what was commonly called “blue films” at that point, so one Friday evening myself and my buddy Tim Fowler, got our tickets and made our way to the film show. We stayed to long – about ten minutes. The details of what we saw in that ten minutes would not be appropriate to record, not even now. There is one further bizarre story that relates to these films shows. It goes that the room was full of the usual suspects this one Friday night when the Police came across a burst main locally. Rather than ring Bristol Water they decided to call in to the Depot, as they were aware of the standby arrangements. The door to the standby room opened and their stood two Policemen who apparently said “sorry to disturb the film boys but we got a burst main, could you come and repair it when it ends”.

On other occasions the scenes in the Depot used to resemble an episode of “Fools & Horses”, as individuals  wandered around selling decidedly dodgy goods, from electric tools to cigarettes and towels. One character apparently used to go to South Wales and buy stuff from shops that was on offer in multiple buys. He would then bring them back to Bristol, split them up and sell them individually. Cigarettes and Cigars that had somehow found themselves walking out of Imperial Tobacco were popular if you smoked. Again, there is a story of a very Senior Manager at the time being questioned by the Police in relation to some dodgy cigarettes that had obviously been “procured” from somebody at the Depot.

One of the more genuine routines that occurred was the collection of the Christmas Club Money. John Williams, who was a Chlorinator, would do the run on the Friday after pay day collecting from those who wanted to save for Christmas. No matter how much you could offer he would take it, and then in the weeks before Christmas you would get your savings back. We trusted him implicitly with our money, and he never let us down.

So this Depot could be a thrive of activity for many reasons, some of them actually not connected in any way with work.


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