Shiprocked – New Edition launched in Dublin

The new (2014) edition of Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline was launched in Dublin last night, with former Caroline and RTE 2FM broadcaster, and current-day drive time 4FM presenter Gareth O’Callaghan doing the honours.

The book is already in stock at most large retailers in Ireland, and will be on sale in the UK shortly.

Below are some pictures from the launch event, in which selected extracts from the text were presented alongside archive TV news footage and of-air audio to give a flavour of 1980s Caroline for the 100 strong crowd who turned out at The Odessa Club for the occasion.

Big thanks to Johnny Bambury for this excellent series of shots.

(left to right) Gareth O'Callaghan, Steve Conway, and Liberties Press MD Sean O'Keefe

(left to right) Gareth O’Callaghan, Steve Conway, and Liberties Press MD Sean O’Keefe

Gareth told the audience how much he enjoyed reading Shiprocked (twice!) and also spoke of his own fond memories of working on board Radio Caroline

Gareth told the audience how much he enjoyed reading Shiprocked (twice!) and also spoke of his own fond memories of working on board Radio Caroline

A number of former Caroline staffers were present for the launch, including Caroline North engineer Michael and his daughter Sue (Michael centre in shot) and former Caroline newsreader turned music journalist Stuart Clarke (right)

A number of former Caroline staffers were present for the launch, including Caroline North engineer Michael and his daughter Sue (Michael centre in shot) and former Caroline newsreader turned music journalist Stuart Clarke (right)

Falling under the magic spell of Caroline . .

Falling under the magic spell of Caroline . .

.


Memories From A Damp Past: The Housewives Of South Dublin [16June2013]

“Oh your poor thing” the woman who answered the door said to me “come inside and let me look after you”.   I was about to find out if all those stories about bored housewives and door to door salesmen were true . . .

rainynoggin

What stirs memory can be very subtle – sometimes a combination of atmospheric condition is needed along with place to really stir the dead leaves of the past.

I had totally forgotten about my wildly unsuccessful three-day career as a door-to-door salesman, fresh out of school, more than 30 years ago.

Until I drove through Ballybrack in the rain a couple of days ago.  I have driven along Churchview Road a fair few times in recent years, with barely a flicker of memory, but this particular morning the sky was grey and heavy, a soft rain was drizzling down, the trees were dripping . . . and instantly I was transported back 30 years, to the day I trudged this road with a sack of books, and knocked on every door of every road leading off it . .

Even at the time, the smart part of my brain knew that any job that I could just walk straight into without experience and with barely a five minute interview, was probably not worth having. But I was determined to stand on my own feet and be independent, and I resolved to give it my all.

The publishing company was based in Parnell Square, in the heart of Dublin city centre, and the product was children’s books, and – yes, you guessed it – encyclopedias.

I was to be that living cliche, the door to door encyclopedia seller!

Judging by the number of people (15) that went through the three-day (unpaid) training course with me, the operation had a huge turnover of sales staff. We trained Monday to Wednesday, and then, on Thursday, were were unleashed on the public for the first time. The whole group of us were taken by bus to Sallynoggin in southeast Dublin, and there met by a supervisor in a van who gave us our stock, and split us up among the myriad of new and old housing estates over the surrounding few square miles.

It was a typically wet Dublin day – not a downpour, not blustery, just a steady seeping, weeping soft wetness from a heavy grey sky.

I was given Ballybrack – the vast complex of then fairly new housing along all the roads that lead off Churchview Road – Watson Drive, Watson Avenue, Watson Park, Blackenbush, Pinewood, and what felt like a million other places.  I started with zest, and swear I must have have knocked on 500 doors that day . .

Disheartening of course, both for me, and the poor people whose day I disturbed. Perhaps one sale in every 100 houses. But I was glad to have a job and to be (perhaps) earning money, and I kept at it. I would, of course, be paid commission only, so what I earned would depend wholly on my success rate.

As a well brought up (and well read) boy, my sales spiel, if not successful, was at least polite. I was smiling, courteous, and no matter how brusque my dismissal at the door was, I always thanked the householder for listening to me, and apologised for taking up their time uninvited. That last touch actually netted me one of my very few sales – a doctor, who had initially sent me away, called me back as I was walking down the driveway and bought an encyclopedia, explaining that he had never encountered a salesman so well mannered before!

That was one of only two sales the first day, and the next day I was back in the same location, to knock on the doors of a further 400 or so houses.

Late in the morning, I hit the jackpot. Knocking on yet another door, which was opened by a rather harassed looking young woman, I listened in disbelief as she told me that herself and a friend, to whom she quickly introduced me, were in the process of setting up a creche, and had just been discussing the fact that they needed childrens books!  I can’t remember how much I sold them, but it probably accounted for more than half of all my sales for the whole week. When I say “creche” this was of course, the pre-modern-regulation early 80s version – i.e. 7 or 8 toddlers being looked after by the pair in a normal 3-bedroom terraced house, hence their rather fatigued demenour.

Later in the afternoon, footsore and weary, and still with far too many unsold books in my heavy bag, I knocked on yet another door, and encountered that fable of lurid fiction, the housewife who didn’t want to buy anything, but who liked the look of me, and invited me in.

Luckily for me, as I was far too innocent in those days to know how to handle such a situation, this was Ireland in the 1980s, and not America or (as I would discover a few years later) the much more liberated England. The Irish Mammy who said I was a lovely looking young thing and invited me into her house did so in order that . . she could give me a cup of tea, and suggest that we say a few prayers together to the Virgin Mary that I might get a better and more rewarding job !

And even if I was disappointed that nothing else was on offer (like the purchase of a book – what else would I be thinking?) the tea was very welcome, and I was touched by her concern for my welfare, and her determination to offer up prayers for my future.

The following day, although a Saturday, was to be a work day, as the publishing house insisted on a sic day week. This time I was taken to Finglas, for an utterly soul destroying day in which I knocked on seemingly a million doors, was chased away from many of them, and did not sell a single book in 9 hours of pounding the streets. Somehow, my southside accent and polite sales spiel did not seem to be quite so appreciated here.

At the end of the week, I had managed to earn myself the princley sum of £13, but out of this I had paid for my bus fares and meals, which reduced my earnings to around £5, or, I calculated, around 3p for each door I knocked on. I knew then that it was not for me, but was pleased with myself that I had lasted longer than most of the class – of the 15 trainees, only 12 had gone out selling on the first day, only 5 remained on day 2, and there were just 2 of us to cover Finglas on the Saturday.  And, presumably, a new class of 15 fresh-faced school-leavers to start training on the Monday morning . .

Now, many decades later, and with a solid career in IT management over the years, not to mention a quarter century of radio work, and an emotionally rewarding writing sideline, that first week of commerce after leaving school is long forgotten in my past.  But memory is a funny thing, and the weeping sky and rain sodden trees along Churchview Road brought it back to me, clear as a bell, as I happened to drive through the area last Thursday morning.

So long ago that it seems to me it might have happened to another person. Many of the people whose doors I knocked on will be gone now. I wonder how the two ladies setting up the creche fared – was their career as short-lived as mine, or do they now run one of those big modern purpose built childcare centres around the city?

And I have to smile when I think of the woman who gave me tea and prayed for me to have a better career. So nice of her to care for a stranger.

Somehow, I’d love her to know that her prayers were answered.

Steve


HMV & Blockbuster, The Melting Glaciers Of My Past

How one branch of HMV kept Radio Caroline afloat in the 80s, and Blockbuster rescued my life

Blockbuster

The new that both Blockbuster and HMV in the UK have gone into administration this week would have been a huge blow to my much younger self, for whom those stores were an essential component of living.

I remember the first time I saw a Blockbuster Video – it was such a revelation compared to the tiny stores that were all we knew in the mid 80s, and where any enquiry for a popular video would be met with the new that their only copy was out on loan.

The arrival of Blockbuster in Ashford, Kent in 1989 was quite the most exciting thing to happen to the town since . . well, since my arrival earlier in the year.

Ashford in modern times has grown to a massive extent and now has a huge international station, but when I went to live there in 1989 it had little in the way of excitement, and the only cinema was soon to be demolished. Apart from the lure of the nearby countryside, the only thing that possibly kept me there was the girlfriend who had lured me to Kent in the first place.

Blockbuster was great, there was dozens of copies of each video, and many more titles than you could get elsewhere. I was a firm customer in those days.

I can’t remember when I last rented a video or DVD, it would have been sometime in the late 90s, but by 2000 it was more economic to buy rather than rent, especially as I can be something of a collector.

So I guess I’m as responsible as anyone for the demise of the store.

HMV-OxfordSt

HMV is a different story. This is a store I still use to this very day, for although I no longer buy music from them (preferring to purchase online) I still regularly impulse buy DVDs from their store in Dublin. In fact you could say that they were the beneficiary of my lost Blockbuster custom.

One store will always have a special place in my heart though – HMV in Oxford Street, London.

Here it was during my period as Programme Controller of Radio Caroline in the late 80s that I would come to buy music in bulk, to bring out to the North Sea with me. Usually hotfooting it over from Chelsea, following a meeting with Ronan O’Rahilly, I would have a bundle of money provided for music purchases, and I would spend this carefully, buying as many new albums as possible, rather than singles, so that we would have fresh music for the weeks and months ahead.

I remember one day spending £400 in the store in a single visit – which, in todays money amounts to £884 (or over a thousand euro).  My arms were aching by the time I had dragged my two heavy rucksacks of music from oxford Street, all the way to Victoria Station, down to Dover on the train, across to Calais, and on to Dunkirk from when our supply ship departed.

The Oxford Street store also had another connection to Caroline – it had an in-house radio station where many DJs worked while on leave from the ship – I remember Simon West being the mainstay there, but there were others too. Simon always made sure that advance or promo copies of new tracks given to the station were left in a package for me to collect and bring out to the ship also, so it was a “safe” way for record companies and promoters to get their product out to the ship.

In later years, that same store was where I bought my first console games – Super Mario 2 and 3, and Zelda for the Nintendo.

Hopefully the stores can survive, though these are indeed changed time, and I fear they will not.

Another iceberg from my past melted to nothing.

Steve


String Theory: My Quarter Century As “Steve Conway”

I think it was John Denver who sang the words “He was born in the summer of his 27th year, coming home to a place he’d never been before” (the song: Rocky Mountain High)

View from Radio Caroline 1987 – an empty sea

As Steve Conway I was born on the 6.30am news headlines exactly 25 years ago this morning, in the winter of my 23rd year, having just arrived at a place that would become home to me for a number of exciting drama and emotion packed years, and a sort of Tir Na Og or mystical lost land for me to look back at later in life.

This is a way of saying that today is the 25th anniversary of my joining Radio Caroline back in the days when it was offshore. Before that that day I had another name, but the practacalities of working on a radio station that was outside the law (not against the law, but actually outside it) made a name change advisible, and so Steve was born as a fully fledged adult, and Steve I have been ever since.

Steve Conway in the Caroline newsroom in late 1987.

And, in a way, it was a rebirth of sorts, because joining Caroline so radically altered my life that the date 24th February 1987  is a dividing point in my life, which was very very different in shape either BC (before Caroline) or AD (after the drifting of November 1991 that ended my offshore years). 

And what of the 4 years in the middle?  They were, in a way, outside normal time and space – life on board a pirate radioship in International Waters being so strange and cut off from normal society, but so physically, socially, and emotionally intense that those involved seem to exist in their own little bubble. For a proper detailed description of those strange years, I would refer you to my 2009 book: Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline, and my forthcoming prequel, sequel and midquel “Running Away From The Circus – Everything I Know About Radio I Learned By Screwing It Up”

No, what the anniversary has really made me think about this morning is time.

25 years – a quarter of a century. In one sense it has passed quickly, but in another, it is a very long span of time, especially if I view it in terms of the changes in the world in which I live.

I’m not talking about the micro world of radio – though that has changed dramatically, offshore pirates now a thing of the past, onshore radio multiplied in number by a huge factor – nor am I thinking about the political world, which, to be honest, despite governments coming and going, wars and alliences changing, is curiously unchanged from 1987 (I have a couple of my Caroline news bulletins on tape, and apart from the names of the participants, many of the actual stories would seem perfectly normal if broadcast today, indeed an old bulletin might almost be played out instead of a new one with few realising there was something wrong).

I’m thinking of the more general world as it personally affected me an an individual, then and now.

Information has been the defining change of those 25 years. In 1987, information was something which you were given, in limited quantities. It was not something which, in the run of the mill that you accessed, unless you have a job which specifically involved accessing files and databases.

On board the radio ship we had a television (and no, we didn’t have a licence for that either!) and it gave us the diet of entertainment and slices of news that were deemed suitable or needed for the population at large. There was no hint of customisation – you had the choice to watch or not, but could not influence that content in any way. Also on the TV was teletext, a few hundred pages of information judged to be of popular appeal, so you could look up things like sporting results, the current UK Top 40, news headlines, weather etc. No deeper dive into this information was possible, and there was no such thing as search.

Onshore it was not much different. You could go to a library, but getting hold of any kind of information outside the daily norm required a lot of effort. What exactly was said during a debate in the House of Commons last night? What are the times of the bus that goes past my friends house in a city 400 miles away? What is the history of Danzig before 1939?  All of these kinds of questions were, indeed, capable of being answered, but not on the spot, not at 8am on a Sunday morning, and often not without considerable time and effort.

When I made the snap decision to join Caroline, my family and friends back home in Ireland did not find out about it for many weeks. There was no Facebook to keep in touch, no text messages, and no way for them to listen to me even if they had known I was on there. 

Whenever I wanted to take a trip back to Ireland to see them, booking it was a big undertaking. I had to visit a travel agent or ferry or airline office, where first of all I would have to wait, patiently, while many other people in front of me were served, slowly. Then I would explain my needs to a person seated in front of a booking system which I could not see, and they would outline the various options of flights or ferries to me. I had no way of seeing those options myself, no way of knowing if what I was being told and sold was really the best for me, or the best for them.

When I went home to ireland, I was in a different world from the UK. No Caroline, no London Evening Standard, no access to my London friends other than making an international phone call (house to house in those days) which would seem . . well, strange.

I don’t have to tell you how vastly different all these things are now. I listened to Caroline on my way to work on the bus this morning in Dublin in clear FM quality via my smartphone, which will also give me the Evening Standard if I want it, let me search and book my flights, even act as my boarding pass. Any of the pieces of information I mentioned above are at my fingertips instantly. Travelling is hugely different, through apps and alerts I know what is going on at airports, can be certain when the next bus or tram is arriving, and can text Geoff in Surrey to tell him that I’m just about to get onto a fishing boat in Harlingen, Netherlands. Or research the history of Danzig should I be hit with a curiosity to do so at 8am on a Sunday morning.

When we look forward in time, we generally don’t see and can’t see the real changes which are going to happen. We think of faster planes and spaceships and wars for water, but we can’t forsee the changes that are gestating which will affect the more intimate, everyday world we live in.

There are other ways of predicting the future however. A couple of the Dutch crew on the Caroline ship had this thing going with a piece of string and a weight which they used to divine the future for the small but important events – such as when the next supply boat would arrive (FOOD! NEW FACES! NEW RECORDS!), who might be on it, and other such things.

The future was predicted based on which direction the string would move when held with the weight on the end, and whether it would stay absolutely still or move around.

The fact that we were doing this on board a ship which even in the calmest weather would move gently may tell you that we were not neccessarily applying the strictest of scientific methods here!

After a string (!) of successful predictions they started asking it some bigger questions.

Who would find love? Who would marry? When would the Ross Revenge make its final broadcast at sea? (the string correctly predicted 1990, but then wrongly told us that the ship would be bought by the Voice of Peace and move to the Israeli coast).

It's not our fault we ran the ship aground in 1991. The string never warned us!

The human curiosity for the future is strong, despite our almost always predicting it wrongly. Looking back today at this junction in my life a quarter of a century ago, I can’t help but wonder what changes there will be in the next 25 years of Steve Conway. Hopefully, when “Steve” is 50 he will still be alive (his body will be 73, so that’s a reasonable hope). Beyond that I can’t really say what will happen.

Whereas before, everyone talked of flying cars, now in the information age we predict brain chips. People will be able to access everything without any external devices, our memories will be preserved forever . . .

But perhaps we are failing to see the real future, and the changes to come will be just as unexpected and profoundly altering as the ones of the last quarter century.

I just hope they are as liberating.

Anyone got a piece of string I can borrow?

Steve


Steve now adfree, and more noisy.

Just a very quick note – I’ve paid for a couple of upgrades from WordPress to enhance the enjoyment of your visits.

As of today, we are ad-free, so there will no longer be adverts popping up for services that are beyond my control.

I’ve also upgraded the storage space which adds the ability for me to directly host audio on the site, so I can now include clips of off-air recordings etc if they add to the article.

By way of trial, below is a clip from half a lifetime ago, back in my newsreading days with Radio Caroline, at sea on board the ship Ross Revenge. The microphones and audio processing used on Caroline were very good at pulling in background noise whenever there was silence, hence the fact that on music programmes we tried to always speak over song fades and intros rather than dead air. This was not possible in the news of course – just listen to the amount of ambient ship noise (mostly generator rumble) being pulled in behind me on this bulletin – not to mention how dilligently the system amplified my between sentence wheezes!

noisy-news-24Oct1987  (this opens as an mp3 clip)

Steve Conway in the Caroline newsroom in late 1987, around the same time as the recording. This was originally the ships chart-room, off the bridge, and unlike the main studios, had no soundproofing.

We could have used a news bed (music behind the news) but a huge poportion of the audience find this really intrusive, so we lived with the background noise instead! The location of the newsroom just off the bridge,  the closest to the generator room of any of the on board studios, did not help either.  The best studio on board for silence was studio 2 (the “overdrive” studio) situated right at the back of the ship. On the clip, the news is followed by  Peter Philips reading the latest Lotto 6/49 results (the Canadian Lottery was our biggest advertiser at the time) – this would have been pre-recorded in studio 3, and you’ll note that although generator noise is much reduced, it can still be heard in the background between sentences.

Anyway, I shall add in the odd audio piece here from time to time, and hope that you continue to visit and enjoy this blog.

Steve


You Always Remember Your First . .

A collection of some of the milestones in my life, some important, some quirky!

First memory . . in a cot in my parents room, playing cars by driving my fingers around the blanket . . into transport and machinery even before I could walk!

First (earliest) memory that I can specifically date: the night before my third birthday, travelling down to Mitchelstown in our old Ford 100E sitting on my mother’s lap. The alternator/dynamo was failing and the car lights were dimming . . I remember being carried up the boreen to my great grandfathers farmhouse at midnight after we had broken down just short of our destination. Then I remember my third birthday itself, and my Great Uncle Billy telling me I was a “big boy” and giving me a toy tractor to play with.

First book read. .  Can’t remember what was first, but I was an avid reader. I was really into Greek mythology as a child, and had read the Illiad and Odyssey by the age of 8.

First girlfriend . . When I was only about 6 I had a thing for Laura from down the road. Start as you mean to go on!

First time on TV . . There exists in the RTE Archives some footage of a nine-year-old me wandering through a field in Kerry picking blackberries, as part of a “Landmark” special on farmhouse holidays.

First record bought . . Jeff Wayne “Forever Autumn” from War of the Worlds, in 1978.

First Kiss . . Maggie from New Cross, where are you?

First dance . . some very kind Co. Clare woman took pity on me when I was all alone at the disco on our school trip to The Burren, and whisked me around the floor to the envy of my classmates. I can still remember the smell of her hair . .

First proper job . . (excluding working in the family business), my first actual job was a week as a door to door salesman in 1982. I must have have knocked on half the doors in Dublin, and made only £13 in commission before giving it up.

First car . . A lovely Fiat 500 passed down from my mother. If cars could talk, it would have a tale or two to tell!

First heartbreak . . Yes, it’s Maggie from New Cross again. If you want to know what went wrong, see pages 11/12 of Shiprocked, Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline.  It’s true, I really was that innocent!

First record I played on the radio . . Joan Jett – “Bad Reputation”  (on South East Sound, July 1985)

First record I played on Radio Caroline . . Percy Sledge – “When A Man Loves A Woman”

First time abroad . . England for the 1966 World Cup. (actually it was my Dad who went for the football, I was just a toddler).

First words written to start writing the book (that became Shiprocked) . . “The call came at the worst possible time . .”  (Later I realised that I needed more background about what had happened leading up to my joining Caroline, so that first line written is now many pages into the finished version).

First Draft (of Shiprocked) . . 225,000 words. Redrafted on my own account to 176,000 words to tighten up. But then cut down to 90,000 words for publication . . that was tough!

First (of many!) rejection letters . . 1993 from an agent in London. It would be another 15 years and many more rejections before I came across Seven Towers Agency, who have been utterly brilliant in supporting me, and in refusing to take no for an answer.

First interview as a published author . . The day Shiprocked was published, I was interviewed by Sinead Ni Mhordha on Phantom’s Access All Areas show. I was used to hearing Sinead interview great rock bands, and was just blown away that she was interviewing me. Forget TV3 forget The irish Times, it was sitting across the desk from Sinead that I really felt like I’d arrived!

First show on Phantom . . November 2000, the breakfast show. I started with a news bulletin, so my very first words on air were to inform the world that George W Bush had just been confirmed president following the final court hearing into vote counts. My first record was Greenday – “Minority” – as good a musicical start as any!

That’s it for now – let’s hope I have many more “firsts” still to come.

Steve


Surbiton, pre Caroline (mid 80s)

Myself (left) and Charlie Wolf with the A.P. Systems van, the picture that sparked the discussion on memories of Surbiton below.

My posting of an old picture on Facebook of myself in pre-Caroline days sparked a discussion below which has revived my memories of those great years in Surbiton in the mid-80s and prompted me to search for other pictures.

First, the facebook discussion:

Mike Kerslake reminded me recently of the white van I used to drive in the years just before I went out to sea. (The van, and the company A.P. Systems are mentioned in the early pages of Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline). Here it is with myself and Charlie Wolf sometime in 1986. The occasion was the court case of a well-known landbased pirate, the owner of South East Sound, Ray Adams. John Burch had organised a lot of us to come along to provide moral (or immoral?) support.

Friday · ·

    • Mike KerslakeThat’s the van! 🙂

      Friday at 06:42 ·
    • Steve ConwayI don’t think I’ve ever looked that smart again in the 35 years since!

      Friday at 06:45 · · 1 person
    • Mike KerslakeSame here, only weddings ad funerals see me scrub up!

      Friday at 06:46 ·
    • John Burchand when it turned up at a TX site loaded with car batteries, tape machines, a TX and other equipment it looked most incongruous amongst the trees and bushes!!

      Friday at 09:30 ·
    • Mike Kerslake‎:-)

      Friday at 09:39 ·
    • Christopher EnglandLooking at the side of the van, whatever happened to ‘Apricot’ computers, eh?

      Friday at 11:22 ·
    • Warren StevensonAPS Systems: Were they at the bottom of Brghton Road Steve, close to the petrol station – before you got to the traffic lights at the Portsmouth Road ?

      Friday at 16:20 ·
    • Warren StevensonClose to the tyre repair centre I recall.

      Friday at 16:25 ·
    • Steve ConwayCorrect – I was their tech support guru for 3 years till Caroline snatched me away!

      Friday at 22:40 · · 2 people
    • Mike TerryBeing a regular Tuesday night 60s and 70s fan I’m looking forward to your show Steve. Hope you have loads of requests.

      23 hours ago ·
    • Warren StevensonIts a coincidence also Steve that the petrol garage in Brighton Road used to sell Epson computers in the late Eighties !

      21 hours ago ·
    • Steve ConwayThey were the same place. The petrol station was A.P. Garage and an office on the forecourt was given over to A.P. Systems Ltd.

      16 hours ago · · 1 person
    • Warren StevensonOur paths may well have crossed Steve before I headed for a pint in the Black Lion for a pint or two of Youngs Special 🙂

      14 hours ago ·
    • Warren StevensonI also recall in the late Eighties that in a road just off the Brighton Road in Surbiton (The Mall), there was always a black Mini parked which was adorned with Radio Nova car stickers. There was also a Triumph Dolomite that could be seen also regulalry in the town with a Caroline 319 sunstrip . OT: There was an excellent fish and chip shop just down the road, next to The Lamb pub !.

      13 hours ago · 

So, the above has prompted me to search my hard drive for a photo I know I had of A.P. Systems itself, which was based in a tiny office on the forecourt of what is now the Total Service Station on Brighton Road in Surbiton:

A.P. Systems, Brighton Road, Surbiton, in 1985

Click any picture for bigger version

A. P. Systems was a wonderful little company, it was run by a great guy called Tony Williams whose father owned the petrol filling station (A.P Garage) which sold Total fuel (and was in later years taken over fully by Total).

As well as being a kind employer, Tony was quite a genius with computers, and had written software for the early Epson portable systems, which eventually led to his running a full dealership, at first for Epson, and then expanding to sell other brands such as the Victor 9000 and ACT Sirius system, Apricot, IBM and others. Tony was a very good salesman, and despite our small size, he managed to make sales into companies all over London and much of southern England. This was before the days of Windows (though it launced while I was there) and all programmes were Dos based – MS-DOS version 1.12 when I started (and the Epson PCs used the less friendly CP/M system).

Wordstar was the main game in town for word processing, with Supercalc or Lotus-123 for spreadsheets. But we also provided custom systems written by Tony himself.

I came to work for him in 1984 as the tech support guru for the firm (I had been trained up by the Irish sole distributor for Sirius/Apricot, so my knowledge was good). In those days desktop computers were in their infancy, and in almost every case the company we would sell to would be buying their first computer, and it would be my responsibility to deliver and install the systems, and train the staff in how to use them, as well as being on call for tech support for ever afterwards.

The general public’s knowledge of computers was limited, and employees would be very wary of these new systems I was installing in their firms, a lot of my time would be spent soothing people rather than fixing computers. I well remember one customer who had bought an Epson potrable computer asking, in all seriousness, how much heavier it would be once the data was loaded onto it!

In the three years before I left to work for Radio Caroline, I travelled to every part of London in that little van, as well as most parts of the home counties and beyond.  As well as hundreds of small businesses getting their first computers, I also got to deliver and install systems in the GLC (in its dying days), Shepperton Film Studios, Gatwick Airport, and a law firm called Penningtons with offices in the City of London and in Godalming, where I encountered that most rare of beasts, the Apple Lisa – the almost unknown predecessor to the Macintosh.

I also have memories of making several trips down to the heart of Wiltshire, to install computers at a dogfood factory in Tisbury, whose owner was very forward-looking, and incredibly nice to me, putting me up overnight in his country lodge and serving me breakfast in the morning (no – not dogfood!) I think they were called Dinnodog or Dinnadog, but I can find no trace of them on the net these days.

AP Systems was a small operation, most of the time there was just myself as tech geek, Tony running the company and doing the selling, and young women called Kathy who acted as receptionist but did a lot more besides. There was also a guy called Nigel who came to us from South Africa and moved on to Australia, a bit of a programming wizard, and a wonderfully good-natured salesman called Brian Street who joined not long before I left, and I’m sad to have lost touch with these people over the years.

As well as us computer people, there were a steady stream of people working in the garage including a great woman called Ruth who I lodged with for many years, and a new recruit called Gail, who I remember as a part-time a couple of nights a week, but who turned into a mainstay of the site, so much so that now, almost 30 years later, she is still there, as manager for Total.

A 65 bus in Surbiton, summer 1984

Another photo I have dug up shows the 65 bus, which in those days was the main route through Surbiton, taken in May 1984, just days after I arrived. This route normally went along Victoria Road, but was diverted due to roadworks when I took this picture. The 65 was two-person operated with Routemasters up until February 1986, but these days does not even reach Surbiton (except night services).

Notice the wonderfully high-tech (!) top-loading video recorder being advertised on the side of the bus  – I think 1984 was an Olympic year, hence this being used to push video sales.

There were many nice places in Surbiton, it was quite self-contained, with a good variety of shops and eating places, and remains so today. It was a wonderful place to live a work, and I have many happy memories of the people and places of those three years before I headed off to sea to work for Radio Caroline.  (see: Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline).

Steve