In September 1959 a chubby little lad made his first daunting journey via three buses from his home in Bellegrove Road, Welling to Cray Valley Tech’, “The Glasshouse” as it was known, a journey he would remake many times over the following five years. The No 89 to Welling station, the 241 to the Barley Mow, Sidcup and the 51 to Crittalls Corner. He never did fully understand what the difference was between a 51A, a 51B and a 51C - but he coped.
I was lucky to have a Cray Valley chap a year older than me living opposite – Chris Andrews. He kindly accompanied me and showed me the early ropes as we devoured packets of Munchies. And he fished. I recall another much older CVT boy living nearby, Ben Brown, who I believe was school captain at the time I started and later went on to Cranwell. Big Ben Brown was a lofty and distant figure to little me.
Previously I had “nearly passed” my 11+ and had been interviewed at Bexley Grammar School, where they decided that I would probably struggle with Latin verbs and so I was relegated to a Technical School. I couldn’t know how lucky I was. I did find those early days a bit scary, as I suppose many of us did, but soon pal’d up with another boy, like me a keen angler, John Stedman. We lived within walking distance of each other back then - and we are still old friends today.
I recall the names of many other boys who were more distant friends or just school personalities that one remembers. Granados, Bustin, Cook, Parkins, and Woodhouse to name a few that come to mind. Of course we were all known by our surnames at school, a bit like the army. I also remember the name Cadle – but not the face – well, of course not, he probably didn’t fish. Even today, 55 years on, snatches of the register can come into mind.
Many people who cannot remember Malcolm Davis might remember him by his well-deserved nickname “Tub” Davis. Back then I was always on the larger side (although my Mother always said I was fine) and despite this, as is often the case with fat boys, I was never bullied.
Most of the masters also called me Tub, except Leo Walmsley for whom I had a great respect and a bit of a special friendship as he also liked fishing – we sometimes discussed Pike fishing as we studied the stuffed example in the Art room, caught from the river Lea I recall. Leo did a lot to encourage my artistic efforts. I always had a bit of a flair for Art and Leo encouraged me such that I achieved a grade 1 A level in my GCEs – I was told that was very rare in the 5th form. Leo naturally expected me to go on to Art College. Sorry Leo.
The other five GCE subjects were only so-so but all were gained.
My “fifteen minutes of fame” arrived when I got a pen and ink drawing published in The Rook in 1962 –
Fishing and also rough shooting consumed me during those years. And it’s probably to blame for damaging my education as I can remember always having Allcocks Anglers Guide open under my textbook and dreamily gazing out of the window across to the lakes that I knew were just the other side of the road from the school. Until that is, Mr Yorath would suddenly pick on me to please explain this German declension.
I didn’t like team sports nor had any interest in them – I was not the right shape. I did have a slight knee problem but I exaggerated this scandalously with one Doctor’s note after another such that I actually never – yes never - played a game of Rugby – sorry Rugger. How did I manage to get through 5 years like that? For my penance I always got to clean Martin Carr’s heavy, brown leather brogues, week after week. He towered over and terrified me but seemed to appreciate me as long as his shoes gleamed. He insisted I polish the insole – funny how you remember those little things. And so we sort of got along. Same with Mr Parry. I’m still not the least bit interested in team sports, but somehow I survived at Cray – a very sports-oriented school.
I believe I was born to be an engineer of some sort, mechanical mostly and so Mr Abrook’s chemistry lessons always left me baffled. But I loved Physics and I loved the engineering workshops, John Parsons, John Gale, Reg Wincott, Mr Brimmacombe and that great big, lumbering horizontal oil engine we used to crank up to speed and gaze at mesmerized as it took off on its own…. dump - dump - dump - dump - dump.
I didn’t want to stay on in the 6th form, not sure why now and I wish I had. I think I wanted to get into the outside world and buy a motorbike – which I did – a troublesome BSA 250 C11G. Rode it to school once, feeling like a god.
So for some reason I couldn’t wait to leave in 1963 and now tonight looking through one of the 1962/3 copies of The Rook I have preserved, I came across all these signatures of Masters that bring back memories – I can clearly see most of their faces. I note now that I had the temerity to insert some of their nicknames in brackets. I bet they had nicknames for us too.
Anyway, boldly out into the big, wide world went I and joined a firm whose Directors my father knew, they were heating and ventilation engineers near to Smithfield. I could certainly draw and after 6 months was due to become an apprentice when I decided it was not for me – I wanted to work in the country. Fishing and shooting preferably. Six months with an old firm of Maidstone auctioneers cured me of that and I was back at heat & vent as a design-draughtsman with another friend of my Dad’s. I progressed and went to college rather spasmodically. Some college days would find me way out in the country working on my motorbike or shooting pigeons for a farmer I’d introduced myself to. Or fishing. I could do the draughtsman’s job with my eyes closed but didn’t want to be back at school – all this feels so foolish now but that’s how it was. I happened to be a teenager.
A few years later another hobby I got into was scuba diving and I joined Swanley Sub Aqua club – still going I believe. I had a lovely 3 years in my early twenties diving all around our shores until I met Corinne my wife and got married. However, she didn’t much appreciate sitting on a windswept beach every weekend with the other “diving widows” and so it came to its natural end. Great experiences though – I even successfully made my own underwater camera case – long before GoPro.
Eventually I settled down and progressed until in 1966 I met the brother of a friend - Roy Mitchell, another old CVT boy who I think was 4 or 5 years older than me. He had worked for Supervents, just across the road from the school and had now set up his own little H&V business and wanted someone like me. So for the first couple of years working in a basement room in Clapham, there then followed twelve years in serious H&V contracting ending up with me being made a very junior Director. For various reasons (and no, not all down to me) the firm folded but out of the blue one of our customers who had worked for our client, The Welcome Foundation, had set up a business building clean rooms – whatever they were. He said I was just the man he was looking for – and so I entered the fascinating world of high-tech clean facilities that has been my career for – well forever - as I’m still doing some today, even though I retired ten years ago.
Despite my college-averseness in early years, I eventually ended up attending The South Bank Poly and becoming an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers – CIBSE. So, Kosher eventually.
And Clean Room Construction, CRC, founded in 1964 has taken me to World Class clients in Europe, the Middle East and Russia as well as many businesses in the UK and Eire including Rolls Royce and Dyson. With three others we made a management buyout in 1988 of the rather tired old business the founder was retiring from and we developed and grew it on successfully to now employing 25 staff and many subcontractors. I ended up as managing director and finally retired at 59 in 2006. It is still a leader in this field.
Ah, now for endless fishing.
But I still had my shares in CRC and so had to visit the firm from time to time. On one of these visits I listened in on a meeting discussing a problem job and thought “do you know I miss that”. So I suggested to my partners that I would be keen to take on limited assignments now and then - and that has absorbed about 50% of my time since retiring. I still enjoy it and with the benefits of computers and the net can do most of the design work that I specialise in, from home.
I still don’t fish much, although I’m always going to. And sadly I don’t use my artistic talent, although I’m always going to. But I have gone back in a sort of fanatical way to model aeroplanes; radio controlled and have progressed and got my “A” so I can now fly solo. I love this hobby as it can occupy me building and fettling on a day like today when it’s wet and howling outside, yet it gets me outdoors enjoying flying when it’s fine. My grandson’s hobby has been decided already.
We have three sons, one living in the UK who is a natural engineer much cleverer than his Dad and the others doing fine, one in California and the other in Australia. We get plenty of air miles.
Two grandsons here in the UK keep us busy and life is rather nice at this point in time. Work I know and enjoy more or less when I want it and lucky to more or less have my health – as far as I know.
And so that’s me. Tub Davis. 69 and well, not too tubby now. Even got hair.
I am proud to be an Old Cray Vallian and remember that period in my life with fondness. I believe it and the men who taught us in a serious and traditional way, gave me much that has shaped and enriched my life. Except for understanding why the ball is offside.
Malcolm Davis – Northiam – East Sussex