Meet Ron Watts Part 2

Well, I promised that I would let you know about the better half of my life. During the time we were working on the more up-to-date missiles I had interviewed my wife to be, June. She joined us to work in the Performance Section, reading film recordings of the instruments in the test beds.
The following year we were married, and having no savings were fortunate to rent a house in Harlow New Town. The town was indeed very new, and still had a pioneering spirit. We enjoyed living there, but rent and high travelling costs meant we were unable to save, so we moved in with June’s parents near Uxbridge and saved the deposit for a house.
Our first house was in Cuffley, near Potters Bar. Soon after moving in June had a breakdown which left her with mental health problems, preventing her from working. She also had an undiagnosed physical health problem. These difficulties continued in varying degrees for some years.
It was now difficult for me to continue working for de Havilland, so I took a job as a lecturer at Hatfield College, quite near to home, less demanding, with fewer hours away from home. It was to be a temporary measure, as my reduced salary together with the loss of June’s earnings made things difficult.
Reviving her interest in piano playing, June passed the graded exams of the London Academy with distinction and was then able to teach younger pupils – something she could do at home.
In the meantime, the Ministry lost interest in small rocket engines, and the Rocket Division was slowly wound up. Now large rocket engines were to be built by Rolls Royce. I was invited to join the project but I could not. The de Havilland company, which then made conventional jet engines, the Gyron and Gyron Junior, also turned their attention to gas turbines for helicopters. Many of the engineers from the Rocket Division joined this new project.
When I had joined Hatfield College it was a Regional College with aspirations. They were keen to run an external London University Mechanical Engineering Degree Course. I was recruited to assist with the subject of thermodynamics and fluid mechanics with special emphasis on dynamics and thermodynamics of compressible fluid flow, and aircraft propulsion. The lecturing was demanding at first as I had to build up the necessary laboratory facilities. We soon got approval from London University.
After a few years, I got leave to lecture for four days a week for a year, so that I could go back to the old company, now Rolls Royce, to assist in developing their helicopter engines. After which I returned to the College.
It was about that time that our daughter was born, bringing with her a lot of pleasure and the usual upheaval in domestic life.
Things were also changing at the College. When I joined it occupied a 93 acre sloping green field site, but it slowly spread up the slope as the Student numbers grew. Our degree courses were now run under the auspices of the NCTA, and later the CNAA (Council for National Academic Awards). A multi-storey library block was built, as well as a multi-storey computer science block, and a new industrial engineering centre. My department increased its number of wind-tunnels. Then, we added a design centre and branched into automotive engineering. Finally, the student Halls of Residence were added. So the campus occupied the whole of the original site. Later it used the land across the road. Even later, British Aerospace vacated the Hatfield Airfield, and the college expanded into part of that. This addition of extra faculties meant that engineering became a smaller proportion of the college.
We set up our first computer in the early 60s. Before microchips, it consisted of a number of large steel cabinets housed in quite a large room which had controlled temperature and humidity, and was lightly pressurised to ensure dust was excluded. It had a fraction of the computing power of my laptop, and cost a small fortune. At that time, we had to write our own programmes and produce them in punched paper tape, put in a paper tape to get a paper tape output. The rate of progress in computing has been staggering.
All in all, I was with the college for 27 years, in which time it grew in status to become a Polytechnic and finally the University of Hertfordshire. For my last eleven years, I was Head of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering. In a survey of Mechanical Engineering teaching by the Times Higher Education Supplement three years before I left, Hatfield Polytechnic was placed sixth on points, ninth overall, which put us alongside Cambridge Imperial College and UMIST, and above all Polytechnics and about 32 Universities, including Oxford.
For many of those years, June’s health meant that she preferred not to go abroad for holidays, nor did she want to fly. I didn’t mind that at all. I had to take business trips to various parts of Western Europe, and spent two short spells working in Egypt. I certainly wouldn’t go there for a holiday. But I did always like flying, though I’m less keen now with these huge aircraft. And I don’t like airports!
So when our daughter was small and until she was about fifteen, we took most of our holidays in a touring caravan – a Sprite Alpine. We covered most of the UK, from Scotland to Cornwall. Our favourite place was the Lake District, but we spent many times in Devon and the Cotswolds because we had relatives there. Norfolk was popular for short breaks.
After sixteen years living in in Cuffley, we’d moved to Chrishall, a village south of Cambridge. Whilst there, June’s health improved when her physical problem was finally diagnosed and treated. Before June joined de Havilland she held a very good job as an audit clerk for Express Dairies, a large concern with many branches supplying milk and dairy products to most of Greater London and the Home Counties. Her area was the north-west sector of Greater London.
When she was approaching her 50th year, she started work at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford as a clerk in the Finance Office, and remained there until she retired at 60. At evening classes, she learned how to manage a computer, and introduced them to the Finance Office at Duxford. For five years before she retired, she was head of the Office.
She was very talented, not only with music, but in art, in sport when she was young, and with numbers. I confess that I am completely devoid of talent, but I do have great respect and admiration when I see it in others.

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Now that my medical problems are settling, Management and I have started to travel again; we recently spent a couple of out-of-season weeks in the Algarve in the south of Portugal. I had forgotten how stressful travel can be, even when when all goes well. I have come home with some advice to share with the avid reader.
If you are ever considering hiring a car abroad, avoid GOLDCAR and INTERRENT
I have hired abroad for 30 years or more and I have never been treated as appallingly as I was at the Inter Rent desk at Faro airport on arrival. I have been aware for some time of GOLDCAR’s appalling reputation, mostly to do with applying extra charges at the time of pick-up and, for this reason I always avoid them. The Daily Mail has carried several articles detailing GOLDCAR’s nefarious practices at Malaga airport. This time, I booked with Interrent.. However,it appears that GOLDCAR have set up Interrent as a “front” company as the credit card payments went to GOLDHIRE, my car had GOLDCAR stickers and I had to collect it from their pound.
I have always had a stand alone insurance policy to cover all the possible extra damage charges which could occur. So far, no problems have occurred – I politely decline the hire company’s offer to provide the excess insurance at the airport and they lend me the car. This time, I came upon a really aggressive person dealing with my pick up. He told me very forcefully that my excess policy was worthlesss. If I did not take out his policy, upon returning the car, each scratch would cost a minimum of 600 euros or more. He went on to tell me that 68% of hire vehicles in Portugal were returned with vandalised scratches on the bodywork. If I shredded a tyre on the motorway, my policy (which he had not seen) would only pay a percentage of the cost of the tyre and would not pay anything for the pick-up truck. It went on and on! Eventually, I became convinced that, if I failed to take out his extra insurance I would have an absolutely torrid time when I returned the car so I agreed to his “cover all” policy. Much work took place with my credit card and I subsequently discovered that they had removed 414 euros from my card. To add insult to injury, after I returned the car, they had it away with another unexplained 54 euros. Conversations will happen!
During our stay, we reminded ourselves that you should always turn on the shower and sort out the temperature before getting into the shower; this avoids freezing or scalding. We were re-introduced to the over friendly plastic shower curtain which cuddles you in its cold embrace as soon as you take a shower. In one of the hotels, we could not make the bathroom extractor fan work. I have always been ambivalent about having the bog in the bedroom, albeit enclosed in an ensuite unventilated bathroom stolen from the bedroom. Steam is one problem and bathroom odours are another. We could not get rid of either. Hotel ensuites never have a window you can open. I discussed the failure of the extractor fan with the front desk and I was told that the extractor fans are all on a central system and that they only come on at certain times of the day but no-one at the desk knew what those time were! Further discussion was limited by my appalling Portuguese and the desk clerk’s limited English. A discussion about adjusting our bodily functions to suit the extractor system would have been interesting but was not possible. They did tell me that “lots of people had complained about the fan system”.
The first hotel at which we stayed had a coffee machine and full tea-making facilities in the bedroom. The third hotel, which was a sister hotel to the first hotel, did not. I did my “I don’t seem able to find the kettle” speech and was immediately give one by reception. I was mightily impressed. They told me to borrow the cups from Room Service who informed me that there would be a £5 delivery charge, if that was acceptable. I told them that it was certainly not acceptable and liberated a couple of cups from the dining room. When I mentioned the proposed charge at the front desk, they said “Oh yes, lots of people complain about that”.
A man and a woman were having a quiet romantic meal in a posh restaurant, gazing lovingly at each other and holding hands.A waitress noticed the man sliding further and further down his chair and under the table.The woman continued to look straight ahead. The waitress said “Pardon me Madam, but your husband just slid under the table”. “No, he didn’t” came the reply “He just walked through the door”.
A group of men persuaded a girl to climb up a pole. The girl was proud to be asked and told her mother who berated her and told her that they had only wanted to see her underwear. The next evening, she came home grinning from ear to ear “I totally showed them today and got my own back for them playing that trick on me. Today, I climbed the pole again but I wore no underwear at all for them to look at”.

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Ron’s Rambles – December

I remember Christmas
Christmas is for children. In the 1930s the religious significance of Christmas was drilled into us in the run up to the day, at school and at home, as it is today I suppose. My parents professed to be Church of England Christians and were believers I think, but they were not regular attenders at the local church, I don’t think they felt comfortable there seeing the church run by those more affluent. Come Christmas day the religious reason for Christmas was pushed into the background, it was a time to enjoy, there was no going to church. As a child I found it very exciting, do children feel the same today?
In those days it was a two-day holiday, as it is today of course, if we were lucky it ran into a weekend but, when I was an apprentice in 1940s and 50s, if Boxing day was on a Thursday I had to go to work on the Friday, I don’t think there are many jobs where that is true today, except for jobs serving the public.
In those days also, it was a cash economy, ordinary folk did not have bank accounts and credit cards were something that was going to happen way into the future. Few working people had any savings and so finding the money for Christmas presents and festivities was a problem, often needing the last pay packet before Christmas to buy some of the food and presents, much of the shopping had to be done in the last day or two before the big day. Brixton market was so exciting for me with things working up to a fever pitch on Christmas Eve itself. The tradesmen would shout themselves hoarse trying to drum up trade, Woolworths would be jam packed between the counters which were arranged like islands through the store with staff trapped in the centre of each island. Stalls in the market were lit with oil or tilly lamps and there were shops located under the brick arches of the overhead railway (and still are, no doubt), but they had electric lights, one of the roads was actually called Electric Avenue, and still is. The buzz was fantastic (I would hate the crowds and the noise now). There were lots of turkeys hanging up in front of the butchers’ shops, many shops were open fronted with shutters that were pulled down at night. On Christmas Eve you would see people hanging around near the butchers’ shops as the day went into the evening, all hanging on until the butcher brought his price down in order to avoid being left with too many turkeys, so it became a test of wills, the butcher reluctant to lower his price and the customers reluctant to buy until he did. The result was that shopping went on late into the evening, it was inevitable anyway because workers were not allowed to leave work early because it was Christmas Eve, often collecting their pay packet and rushing off to do the shopping. (What a difference to nowadays, I once went to Waitrose in Saffron Walden for some late bits on Christmas Eve, I came out of the store at about 4.30 and mine was the only car in their car park.)
Very few people had a refrigerator and nobody had a freezer, keeping food fresh and fit to eat was a problem, the open fronted butchers’ shops were a feeding ground for flies, it was not much better than the shops in Cairo when I was there in the 70s, it bothered me then but I hardly noticed it back in those days in Brixton. It was a marvel that a lot of people weren’t ill, or perhaps they were.
My parents always seemed to manage to get the Christmas fare, we had roast turkey and home-made Christmas pudding and home-made mince pies, trifle and sweets and nuts. We children always got a present, not very much but it didn’t seem to matter. One Christmas Eve my mother bought a toy car for me, from what I was told it sounded as though it was a tin-plate car because it was much bigger than a Dinky toy, but it was stolen from her basket, so I didn’t get a present that year. With the crush on Christmas Eve it was an ideal situation for the petty thief. My mother was devastated, but oddly enough I wasn’t, I didn’t like tin-plate cars and would have preferred a small Dinky model, even then I liked models to look like accurate models of real cars or planes.
On the big day, after opening presents, we would play until dinner time. A roast turkey dinner was something of a luxury for us and we would stuff ourselves to an amazing extent, followed by Christmas pudding containing the hidden sixpences. After dinner, and my poor Mum had done the washing up, my Dad would never lend a hand at that, we would get together with my father’s parents and my father’s aunt Jean and uncle Fred. We would play games, uncle Fred taught me to play cribbage, his favourite game, I have long forgotten how to play but the scoring was fascinating to me at the time ‘fifteen for two’, ‘two for his heels?’ or was it eels, uncle Fred was a real Londoner, ‘one for his knob!??’. As the day wore on we all became rather more sedentary, we would eat mince pies and trifle, out would come the port, we were allowed port and lemonade, very daring and exciting. Dad would have his drop of whisky, uncle Fred liked his beer but that was after he had had a drop of whisky. Nobody got anywhere near drunk, but uncle Fred had enough to be talkative, he would tell stories from his childhood, sadly I have not remembered one of them, but they interested me at the time, many were anecdotes that amused us all. He also remembered songs from his childhood, way back in the nineteenth century, I am sure many of those songs were cheeky and full of innuendo that went over my head, but they were very jolly songs and he got us all singing the chorus lines. Finally we would be very tired but reluctant to end the day, we might crack walnuts and try to keep the shell halves intact and make sailing boats. My younger brother was probably asleep by this time and eventually we had to give in and go to bed, we were never ordered to go to bed on Christmas day. It had all been a very happy time, we were a happy family.
Boxing day was a lovely day, Mum was able to relax from the start, if it was a nice day we might go for a walk, but that was rare, Brixton on a cold wet day was not a pleasant place for a walk. (I don’t remember a white Christmas before the war or much snow at all, but we did have a lot of snowy winters in the 1940s). We would play with our toys, we could play one of the board games that we had or might have had for Christmas, it was just our immediate family on Boxing day. We would have cold meat with fried up left-over vegetable with pickles of various sorts. This was as good as the roast turkey dinner for me, if not better. We still had many mince pies and there was left over trifle, and some meat, all these foods were laid out on the top of a cabinet and just covered with cloths to keep flies off. Some of it would still be there on following days and the room would be very warm, you cannot believe it now.
This described just one Christmas but it was typical of our Christmases in the three years before the war, even in 1939 when, along with my siblings, we came home from evacuation, it was not very different, the shortages and the war had not really started and my mother was so pleased to have us home again.
My grandfather and his brother-in-law, uncle Fred, were both in France in the Great War from the start, miraculously they both came home, but neither would ever talk about it and both were horrified by the prospect of another war.

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Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,
Armistice Day has passed with the 100th. anniversary of the ending of the Great War, with suitable events held throughout the nation, marking that tragic episode in our history. This year, having a greater significance than previous, the tributes and ceremonies were much more emphasised and people generally were more eager to be part of something so meaningful. With much more media and film coverage leading up to the day ~ the country was focused.
Our local villages rose to the occasion admirably and I must congratulate those that organised and played their part in the three services combining Whittington, Stoke Ferry and Wretton. I must single out the silhouettes at Stoke Ferry memorial and the presence of the Cadets at Wretton as being a very fitting contribution to the day.
However, I do not wish to appear negative in offering criticism or detract from the important event but it wasn’t until the following day that I learnt that Stoke Ferry held its commemoration at the memorial at the recognised time, since 1920, of 11 o’clock. I was led to believe from a flier, posted through my door a couple of days prior, that the official gathering in the village would take place at 11.30am I suspect others were misled by this information too.
The Village Pump of October had the aforementioned flyer published in full on page 6 and again in it’s November edition. The Stoke Ferry service was given a 1/4 page towards the end of the magazine. I was confused by the conflicting timings and was about to seek clarification when the A3 announcement arrived and I was guided by that, assuming, wrongly, that that was the definitive arrangement.
I would say though that the important thing is that the day was suitably recognised and people contributed in any way they felt appropriate. The sacrifices of previous generations through two World Wars and other conflicts will or should not be forgotten but with the passage of time and what could be our diminishing standing in the world, I feel future generations may disconnect with its past history as not being relevant. I hope I’m wrong.
Yours sincerely, Tony Hunt, Stoke Ferry