What could a soda syphon and a half crown coin possibly have in common, asks Memory Lane contributor Terry Regan.
If Terry had put them together he might well have been minted after learning his trade as a forger’s apprentice, he suggests, having spent the best part of a lifetime instead in construction.
He recently enjoyed several hours in his local pub remembering with an old mate the long list of characters they had worked with and, occasionally, for.
Terry says: “First to spring to mind was Flash Percy the hod carrier who went to work dressed like a bank manager and went home looking much the same, despite having carried the brickies’ hod on site all day and every day.
“Then there was Nick C, otherwise Old Nick our one-time general foreman, well-named as he put the fear of the Devil into all apprentices that crossed his path.
“He was the size of a Jack Russell with the temperament of a rabid Rottweiler, he suffered fools, that is us apprentices, not at all, but certainly knew his job and was a good teacher.”
Throughout their session Terry and his pal recounted the likes of Big Dave, Mad Max, Geordie Alan, Cappy, and Stockport Harry.
Then thoughts turned to Old Albert, a bricklayer on who Terry says Lady Luck had often frowned.
“Having been forced against his will as a lad to enter the building trade he had never grown to like it and for years had sought a way out, often dreaming up Heath Robinson schemes that were doomed to failure.
“One time he decided to become a full-time woodturner and set up an ancient lathe in his attic.
“The neighbours soon put a stop to this, however, as his power unit was a 500cc motorbike engine minus silencer.
“Can you imagine the racket it made?” asks Terry.
Then, not long after that scheme had bitten the dust, Albert invited teenager Terry round to discuss his latest venture.
Terry says: “He hoped to include me in his daft scheme, a scheme that was guaranteed to make money as it was actually making money – counterfeit money.
“Opening a drawer he showed me a box containing a fake half crown piece that he claimed to have minted. Alongside was a genuine coin of the realm.
“Inviting me to spot the difference, which I couldn’t, he explained that he intended to make so many of these coins that he, and me, would be able to pack in the building work before long.”
Terry admits: “Naturally I was amazed but being young and naive asked where he got his silver bullion from.
“Albert explained it was a silver coloured alloy used in the manufacture of soda syphon tops.
“There was enough metal on each to make just over one half a crown, but the fly in the ointment, as he put it, was that buying a full syphon cost 7s6d (35p) which equalled THREE half a crowns!
“Therefore he needed to find a much cheaper source of raw material for his devious plan and asked if I had any bright ideas – which I did.
“Explaining that 200 yards away was a brewery yard that contained dozens of returned empty soda bottles, it seemed to me that all he had to do was shin over the wall and help himself to as many bottles a he could carry.”
Terry reveals: “At this suggestion, Albert looked absolutely thunderstruck, while uttering the words that will ring in my ears as long as I live – ‘Nay lad, I couldn’t do that. It would be stealing’.
“At that point I left him to it. As far as I am aware his scheme, like most of his others, foundered.
“Thank goodness I didn’t get involved for eventually Albert came to a rather sticky end and died sad and alone, a broken man.
“His dreams were never realised but at least he tried to better himself, even though he might well have been much better off sticking to bricklaying – it’s not a bad living after all.
“God bless you Albert and all those old mates from the building sites of yore.”