Here, in the first article of this brand-new section, which gives us (and you, if you want to tell us your memories) a chance to reminisce about stuff that isn’t solely BMC>MG-related, Mike Humble shares a nostalgic tale about teachers and their cars…
Words: Mike Humble (Tutor Group: 4C)
The dreadful Fiat 126 – a very rare sight nowadays but it brings an extra fond smile to
my face when I see one rattle past
My parents used to drum into me those words of legend and wisdom that many of you out there in readerland will remember either with fondness or sorrow: your days at school will be the best years of your life.
Well, for me, they actually were. No responsibilities, mortgage, credit cards etc. and as an extra bonus – pocket money and a few bob here and there for doing a paper round, washing the odd car or some other money spinning idea. I’ve not long come off the ‘phone with a pal and childhood sweetheart, Helen, and as we do when we have a rare catch up chat, we end up giggling at the antics we would get up to at our old comprehensive school.
Despite the fact Helen and I both left school in a very strong academic state as far as qualifications went, had we been nobbled for a fraction of the japes that took place, we would have surely been in deep trouble from both our parents and teachers. During this conversation she mentioned about the fact I was car mad as a pup. She’s quite right, of course, and when most lads my age had Trevor Francis or Kevin Keegan on their bedroom wall, I had whatever car poster I could scrounge from a local dealership.
I used to rate the coolness of a teacher by the car they drove and for most of the time my system worked. One of the most crushingly boring teachers was the Head of English by the name of MacKenzie who wore pullovers and those weird Clarks shoes with the soles that looked like a lemon sponge cake – he drove a green Maxi. However, at the other end of the spectrum, was a Science teacher, Mr. Dobson, who was a complete loon and a riot in the class with his red Audi Coupe Quattro.
Possibly the most-loved teacher at my upper school, Mr Hill, drove one of the world’s most
loved cars – the Saab 900
As you can see, for most of the time my ranking system worked. The boring teachers drove boring cars and the cool ones tended to drive something more interesting. There was Mr. Hill – a history teacher who was that forgetful it made us wonder how he managed to dress himself and find his way to work each day. However, he was an utterly wonderful old man, everyone loved him, he had a surreal sense of humour and drove a Saab 900i.
During the summer breaks, I would cycle to his massive house where we would sit in his garden and chat. His pet rabbits would lollop around the lawn while his wife served fresh orange juice and chocolate biscuits. The highlight of the visit would be spin out in his new SAAB round the border lanes of County Durham and North Yorkshire. Now, before you cry out loud “Operation Yewtree,” this was all completely innocent stuff – but just imagine the kerfuffle if this happened nowadays. Sigh!
There were, of course, the teachers I couldn’t stomach – we all knew them I’m sure and one such person in my case taught music. Mr J.N. Kirby was a tall ex-RAF man who, in my view, was so dreary he probably thought charisma was what happens on 25 December. He ran two cars, one of which was a blue Cavalier MkII Antibes – the one with the gaudy colour scheme and deck-chair striped seats. His other chariot I think belonged to his wife and that was a pastel blue Fiat 126.
The sight of this 6ft-plus music teacher heaving in and out of this little box of bolts was a truly one to behold. My friends, Colin Stead, Peter McGann, Dave Turnbull and I would do everything we could to wind the bloke up – that included stealing the stylus (repeatedly) from the Hi-Fi in the music suite, un-tuning the electric and bass guitars or the ritual of hitting the person sitting in front you with a Glockenspiel beater on the back of the head. The ultimate aim was to be thrown out into the corridor – our badge of honour.
He hated me and I hated him but actually loved the fact he seemed to feel that way. I never actually did anything that horrific or bad, all I really wanted to do was wind him up because when he blew, it was side-splittingly funny. The most inspired trick played on him involved this rancid little Fiat.
Kirby would run instrument tuition classes during lunch or after school, so quite often the Fiat would be parked alongside the music suite long after the bell rang and the other teachers cars had gone. Creeping up to the back of the car I opened the boot and swapped the plug leads round – being a 650cc twin this was a simple and quick process. Then we would hide waiting for him to leave when the car would fart, pop and bang like you couldn’t imagine – we laughed and laughed until we cried!
Early 126s didn’t even have the added security of a boot lock. Switching round the plug
leads had a spectacularly comedic effect when trying to fire up the engine – and took all
of a few seconds
This was done a few times over the next few weeks until I was rumbled…
Walking past the technical block on my way home one day around half past three, I was beckoned inside by Mr. McCann – my CDT and motor vehicle studies teacher who was standing by the workshop doors. Following him inside, he closed the door behind me and there was Kirby’s little blue Fiat holding centre stage in the workshop.
With a fixed stare he quietly said, ‘Have you been p*ssing around with Mr, Kirby’s car?’ Being the honest good boy I was, I flatly denied it, of course, only to have the charge sheet read out once more – again I refuted his claim. McCann then changed tack by saying, ‘Look Son, you know he’s a dick, I know he’s a dick, but it’s dicks like me that have to fix this.’
I entered the plea of guilty as charged and noted the drill equipment and extension cable lying neatly on a bench.
You see, Mr. Kirby was not only disliked by me, but also by quite a few of the other members of staff too. Despite this, I had to be punished and it came in the form of fitting the biggest hasp, staple and padlock you have ever seen to the engine lid under McCann’s watchful supervision.
This task in a time scale equalled a 30 minute detention period and I have to say looking back – it was a decent job. I asked how he knew it was me to be told that he reckoned I was the only lad in the school who would know how to do it or think of it and, besides, the last two times he’d actually watched me from his office window. I never did get grassed upon to Mr. Kirby – we opted to keep it between us but McCann did use that once or twice as a threat by a stare alone if I ever tried to play up during one of his lessons.
Halcyon times, indeed!
Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications
Latest posts by Mike Humble (see all)
- Blog : Tony Gothard, a connoisseur of Bangernomics - 28 April 2018
- Coffee-break memories : Camp Freddy - 15 April 2018
- History : Rover 75 and MG ZT DVD Project – can you help? - 7 March 2018