Though the Annexe might have been old, and the teachers,
nearer the old age pension than the staff of most educational establishments,
I never thought the place lacked ideas.
You can't survive long in the jungle
without a quick brain and fast feet ...
... or at least faster than the slowest student!


At the Annexe, we taught Radio & TV Mechanics, and, with the recent introduction of a third TV channel - BBC2 - with colour, we were in the forefront of the big TV boom. Black and white looked well past it, and everyone wanted a new telly, a new aerial, and someone to fix them when they (frequently) went wrong.
The Radio & TV classes just got bigger and bigger. The wages grew to meet the demand, and, for the first time in years, we started to get some really smart students. Before the Courts and Borstal caught them first. The TV apprentices had brains, money, and big flash cars; the staff had experience, no money, and nothing bigger than a Volkswagen Beetle.
Life got interesting.

Jimmy Baxter was Head of the Radio & TV department, and I was the Laboratory Technician. He'd been in the Trade when they invented television. Him and his dad had hidden in the toilets in the British Museum when they'd put one of the first televisions on show in London. They crept out at night, and copied all the circuits and construction by torchlight, then built their own model, using government surplus parts and ingenuity in equal measure.
I was having the time of my life, learning as I went along. Helping out here, trying to figure out the why's and wherefores. Getting the stores organized. Running the local black-market electronic components exchange. We didn't have a big budget, so wheeling and dealing was a necessity. It's amazing what you can get by bartering a tin of biscuits, recently acquired in a previous, shady transaction.

The idea was Jimmy's. As I said - old, but not past it. We would have an Exhibition. A Radio & TV Exhibition. Invite the Trade and the Public. The Trade wanted to sell televisions, and though a colour television was pricey, the Public would only need a little encouragement to go out and buy them. What could go wrong with that?
Jimmy contacted the Principal at the Main College, and got the go-ahead, as long as the Principal didn't have to come anywhere near Methil for the event. We put this down to his usual Methil-phobia. We even promised to keep an eye on his car wheels this time - but no! We could have the Exhibition but nobody was going to get his alloy wheels. You can't drive home on bricks!

I did have a few minor qualms, but they were soon forgotten in the hustle of getting things organised. Local TV dealers were contacted through their apprentices, and most agreed to loan us some televisions and other home electrical stock. We had all the big names: Philips, Ferguson, Bush, Cossor, Murphy, Ecko, GEC. We had sets from abroad. Grundig, Bang and Olufsen. We were offered a Telefunken but reckoned that the name could cause problems, and there might be women present (The men had the money, but the women had the final say). It was going to be grand!
The senior students (the only ones with presentable suits) were roped in to look after the stands. The other students were pressed into service as fetchers and hewers of wood. If they behaved, they would be able to come to the Exhibition along with their parents or a responsible adult (if one could be found!).

On the day, it started off quiet. We opened the doors at half past nine, but we didn't reckon that the Public would come in till everybody had been down to the dole, signed on, got their money - and given it to the women for the week's shopping. The TV retailers came in early. Mainly to check that their particular brand had been given a prominent place on the stands. We knew our business - no favourites or, to put it more accurately, let everyone think that they were the favourite - and they all had to grudgingly agree that we'd done a proper job, and everybody was given an equal place.

The students hovered round the stands, answering questions, handing out brochures, each trying to outsell their classmates. Even Richie Walker, the senior apprentice from the aptly named Wide World Rentals, got himself involved in the proceedings. The other student to watch, Malky McLaren, was circulating around in the hall, avoiding the heavy labour, as usual. Definitely one to watch very closely indeed. I caught his eye from time to time, but it was like watching one particular rat in a nest.
The teaching staff and myself just circulated round; keeping an eye on things, counting the transistor radios, making sure the televisions were bolted down, checking the cars parked out in the street and counting the wheels. Just playing safe.

By eleven o'clock, the local folk started coming in, and it got real busy. People would crowd around the stands, and the students were talking their heads off. Answering questions here, giving out with a speil there. Doing a great job. If one had to answer the call of nature, another would promptly step in and take their place. As I walked around, I could catch snatches of their performances ...

"Why do I need a new aerial?"
"Because they broadcast 3 colours, and your old aerial would only pick up one. You wouldn't just want to see red and white only, would you?"
"It's awfy big!" "It is very big!"
"That's why we always take on big apprentices."
"Can ye convert mah auld black and white telly? Wid that no be cheaper?" "Could you convert my old black and white television? Would that not be less expensive?"
"Well, for a tenner, I could put some coloured plastic over the screen. Blue at the top, pink in the middle and green at the bottom. It'll look like a colour television if you take your glasses off."
"The only television with an asbestos packed Line Output Transformer. This will stop the fire from spreading!"
"Don't they 'Black and White Minstrels' look braw in colour!" "Those 'Black and White Minstrels' look wonderful in colour!"
"Oh! Ah dae fancy him noo, efter ah've seen him in colour." "Oh! I no longer find him attractive. Not after seeing him in colour."
"BBC 1, BBC 2 and ITV. More channels than you could watch in a lifetime. And all in colour. Once the BBC and ITV get the transmitter mast built."
"If you dae stop changing channels a' the time, I'm gaun tae break yer bluidy fingers aff!" "If you do not cease playing with the channel selector, I will commence to break your fingers!"

There was no doubt about it. Jimmy Baxter had come up with a great idea. The Exhibition was a great success. The Main College would have to sit up and take notice. We might even get a bigger budget next year. Things were on the way up! At this rate, come lunchtime, we'd all be having a liquid lunch ( the senior students paying ) and celebrating a triumph.
There was a rumour that the Principal, attracted by the hypnotic glitter of publicity and public approval, might even drop in briefly, in the afternoon session. The presence of the reporter from the Fife Free Press would almost guarantee it. And that could mean grade rises, promotion, and free student bus passes.
On that tide of optimism, lunchtime was a blinder! Well fed and watered, the teaching staff staggered back for what was going to be a great afternoon; perhaps even a gold medal afternoon. The Pricipal had phoned and said he would be along shortly (which, he assured us, he had always planned to be). The crowds got bigger. The noise in the hall got louder, like any good Ne'erday Party.
Although most of the noise seemed to be coming from one stand in particular. And did start to sound even more like the New Year. Round about the time when the drink starts to run out ...

The commotion was centred on the Bawbee Rentals stand. The apprentices on the stand were arguing with a group of hefty built blokes in Donkey Jackets. Not the gear for wearing on a warm June day, I thought. I got closer (not too close!) and tuned in to the rammy. It became obvious that they were not locals. They didn't have National Coal Board on the jackets. Every body local did.
"We come for the televisions!"
"Whit televisions?" "What televisions?"
"The ones we buy. Pay good money for."
"Buy? Er yis bluidy stupitt? We rent tellys. We dae sell them!" "Buy? Are you stupid? We rent televisions. We do not sell them!"
"We buy the television coloureds. Take back to Poland. Give them to us!"
"Aye! That'll be right!" No! That is incorrect!"
"You agree. Good! We take them now"
"You pit wan haund on thae tellies an ah'll ... ... haund aff!" "If you even touch one of those televisions, I will break your 'expletive-deleted' hand off!"
Didn't quite catch the last bit, but the meaning was fairly obvious.
"Pit me doon, ya daft Polish bastert! Ah watched that Commando film at the Troxy last week, and ah'll ..." "Release me, you person of dubious Polish parentage! I saw that 'Commando' film at the Troxy cinema, last week, and I will ..."
A large Polish hand around the neck prevented me from finding out about the film. Pity. I'd missed it, and wondered if it had been worth watching.
"You give us the televisions. You have the money. We give it to salesman at door."
Difficult to reply when you're choking.

The word and smell of 'rat' come to mind. I looked around, but wherever Malky had been, he wasn't hanging around here anymore. The only time that Malky McLaren and trouble weren't mates, was when the trouble got out of hand and Malky had started it. I'd better go find the little runt. I knew that lunchtime pint was dodgy. Malky never gave anything for free.
Except cheek.

"Oh bugger! It's the Principal!"
Jimmy Baxter was looking at the figure, framed in the hall doorway. He really knew when to arrive. Lining him up for a shot, was the Fife Free Press reporter.
"If only that wiz a gun, and no a camera!" "If only that was a gun, and not a camera!" rattled Jimmy. "What a time to pick. If he sees this lot, we're all in it, up to our necks."
We both looked around, desperately.
"Jimmy! If you head him off, I'll try to sort this lot!"
"Don't ask ..."

Jimmy pushed through the rapidly growing crowd. I couldn't see any sign of Malky, but I managed to grab Richie Walker.
Aw! Ah wiz enjoyin the stushie. C'n we no watch a bit mair?" "Oh! I was enjoying the commotion. Can we watch just a little longer?"
"Richie! The Principal's across there with Jimmy. If he gets a peep at the Polish Navy, then we've had it. There'll be no welding for the MOT test at the weekends. And you can forget borrowing my oscilloscope, because I will probably have to pawn it to live on."
"That's no fair, surr ..." "That is unfair, sir ..."
"Fair, be damned. Get some of the boys and get those seamen out of here afore that boy on the stand turns any darker purple. You've got the gab, Richie. Get in there and use it."

Give Richie the credit. He was in there like a ferret at a pigeon fancier's convention, and the patter was getting laid on extra thick. A quick peep over the top of the crowd. Fine. Jimmy was using his 18 stone like a road block. The Principal couldn't get any nearer. Being five foot and two inches, he'd need a box to see what was attracting the crowd.

A couple of minutes of Richie's technique, and the Polish boys were smiling. Another minute, and they were all trooping out the back door. I dreaded to think what this was going to cost me. Owing Richie big-time was a serious matter, but I needed the job. Even quite enjoyed it. And if the Principal found out what was going on, I'd be signing on the dole. And no doubt, be on the front page of the Press.

Richie gave the last Polish seaman a nudge, as they headed for the door. The student was put back on the stand, and the massive grip released. Oxygen started to flow again, and I didn't think that too much brain damage had been done. The lad wasn't complaining, though it would be some time before he was talking. Unlike the Principal ...
"Magnificent, Mr Baxter ..."
The Principal had finally reached the stand.
"... who would believe that colour television could attract such a large crowd. It is undoubtedly the way of the future. As Principal of this great institution ..."
The crowd, sensing a speech, and realising that the Punch and Judy show was over, started to drift away. The Fife Free Press reporter took a few more pictures, but I noticed that he didn't bother to wind on the film. I reckoned that Malky would be long gone. One day, there would be an accounting.
One day ...

Might as well find out the rest. I slipped out the door, looking for Ritchie. Didn't have far to look.
"Where are the Polish boys?"
"It's OK, surr. They're well gone." It is all right, sir. They have long since left the area."
"What on earth did you tell them? They were really determined to get what they paid for."
"Nae tother a baw! Once ah persuaded them that the telly's were a wash-oot, and wouldnae work in Poland, it wiz easy." "No problem at all. Once I convinced them that the televisions were useless, and wouldn't work in Poland, it was easy."
"What about the money? Surely they wanted it back."
"Nae problem!" "Not a problem!"
I could feel a deep unease welling up inside, but I had to ask.
"What do you mean? 'Nae problem'."
"We did them a trade."
It was too late to turn back.
"What kind of trade?"
"I let them hae a nice set o' Allys, wi plenty o' tread onna tyres. They were real keen, even when ah put the price up. Made twenty quid on the deal." "I let them have a nice set of Alloy wheels, with plenty of tread on the tyres. They were real keen, even when I put the price up. I made £20 on the deal."
I could feel the darkness closing in.
"And what will this cost me?"
"Absolutely nuthin, surr! No even for the bricks." "Absolutely nothing, sir! The bricks are included in the transaction."
I was about to ask, but stopped myself. I knew, with a chilling certainty, where the Polish seamen had gained their bargain. I didn't even need to wander around to the front of the Annexe.

The Principal would be catching the bus home tonight.

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