Before proceeding, please be aware that this page contains an unashamed trip down memory lane and some personal views with which not everyone will agree! In 1936, Donald Archer Scargill, son of Alan Scargill (a colliery engineer in Yorkshire), met Marjorie Irene Clazie, daughter of John Burns Clazie (a freelance musician who, when I was a kid lived in North Shields, was retired and held music lessons at home) and in 1946 they were married. Donald was at the time learning the business of the family engineering company "France & Co.", founded in 1886, originally to manufacture amongst other things brass train lanterns, just off the West Road in Blandford Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
He soon thereafter left to work as manager of the West-End Welding company in North Shields (Northumberland) for some years before returning to the family business in the early 60s. Donald died in 1982, Marjorie died in 2005. In both cases, funerals were held in Tynemouth crematorium.
I only vaguely know of my dad’s interest in motorbikes and his side of the family. Indeed, I believe he left home at an early age to live in Tynemouth with his Aunt Laura. I recall his mother (Nellie Rose Archer) married twice and I’ve seen a photo of her husband (my dad’s second father) with a superb model merry-go-round which he built himself – and that’s about it. Poor fellow ended up with severe arthritis in his hands which must have made model-building a trial! Never did find out the fellow’s name and I never met him.
On my mother’s side I do know that my grandfather in his later days was part of I think a jazz band and in retirement taught music at his home in Ancroft Avenue in North Shields. I only vaguely remember my grandmother who died when I was very young. Thanks to my grandfather’s interest in gadgets I did manage to keep a tape of her reciting a poem until well into the 1980s. This was on a small reel-to-reel (one of the first Philips stereo machines with a "magic eye") but this somehow disappeared in one of our house-moves. It was recorded in the early 1950s. My grandfather died when I was in my early teens and apart from his being a very friendly chap about the only thing that stands out was his distinct dislike of the Beatles pop band! I recall being told he’d been fine one day and the next he dropped down dead in the street, apparently there were several things wrong he’d probably not even known about!
For my own history, as a child we moved from house to house in North Shields and eventually settled in Tynemouth where my mother lived until recent years. My earliest memory is of being given a present which looked like a toy TV but which in fact simply was a back-lit slide viewer… I THINK I recall the first transmission of the second TV channel but that’s really very hazy. The only other memory of the time is of being moved, in a pram, from one house in North Shields to another on a nice sunny day.
My interests included photography beginning at the age of 11 in the garage I shared with my dad in Tynemouth. The remainder of the garage was dedicated to his hobby of making model boats and even the odd helicopter, a hobby he shared with many other enthusiasts at the Tynemouth lake where, in the summer, they paraded their machines every weekend to a very enthusiastic if transient audience.
Before leaving school I developed an interest in printing – an old fellow up the road in Tynemouth sold my dad an Adana printing press and a load of lead type which he then gave me as a present and off I went printing business cards for fellow school kids and I found that really interesting – I learned all about typesetting and fonts – a skill that would come in handy later on. Long before then I’d had an interest in electronics but by then I was really thinking that this might be in my future, but rather than falling into the family business (at at the Newcastle offices of which, as a kid I’d learned to type on an old, black mechanical typewriter which used to jam, regularly), my original plan was to be a photographer (I may add one of my relatives, David, managed just that with success I believe, though I don’t hear much from UK relatives – never did).
That interest in photography had started in my early teens when I bought a camera from a second-hand store called "Palisters Handy Store" in North Shields and figured out how to to take pictures and to process film and prints. Incidentally in case anyone is wondering if I managed to get out much, I also managed to fit in a long-term girlfriend, bowling league and became a dab hand at darts at the Gibraltar Rock pub in Tynemouth as well as maintaining a sizeable collection of DC and Marvel comics.
Somehow, however, at the last moment after some promising interviews, I couldn’t stand the thought of sitting amidst a bunch of chemicals all day in some dingy lab in the middle of sunny down-town Blandford Street off Westgate Road in Newcastle (I borrowed the "sunny downtown" phrase from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in – sunny downtown Burbank) and so I took what looked like the easy option and in 1970 I joined the family business as an apprentice and was promptly sent off to college to learn the skills of the metalworker, welder and draughtsman (I already had an ‘O’ Level in technical drawing).
Turns out it wasn’t that easy an option after all – experienced workers love nothing more than taking the mick out of the new "bosses son" junior – and they did. As an aside, like most kids I was interested in pop music and my dad’s manager in my last year at school, had on one of my many trips to the office, interested me in the superb album "Led Zeppelin 2". I remember he (his name was Albert Moss) had a purple Capri – and the inside of his house was purple! That and my interest in electronics led me to put together a disco set-up and with a bunch of guys (Ken Reed, Dave Wilson, Eric Sainty, Chris Knox and others) we started doing discos all over the place. Bearing in mind this was the 70’s yet we had radio mics (which I built), sound controlled spotlights… you name it.
At the time I spent quite a lot of time writing for electronics magazines and of course picking up on the latest fads so much of that contributed to the success of the disco – that and long, late nights! It was at the disco that my first serious girlfriend (Leslie) emerged. We had our regular haunts, I was on the local 10-pin bowling team, we spend mid-week nights at one of several quiet pubs – interestingly, given the modern re-emergence of the multiverse theory which I used to discuss constantly with those who understood (not that many), I spent quite a lot of time discussing such issue with now sadly-deceased friend and drinking buddy Ken Reed.
From the beginning, jobs at my dad’s company included everything from welding, designing adverts and the company logo, making the tea to learning engineering drawing, accountancy, and general office work… you name it. Oh, and I was the works photographer and graphic designer as well!! Somewhere here you’ll see my first car – no, not a Mercedes – the old works van with a hole in the floor. You could see clearly see the road underneath when driving. For what seemed like years I travelled regularly across to Wales – Wrexham in the old van – a far cry from today’s speedy trips down the M6 – the poor thing could not handle the country hills in anything above second gear.
The company did well and at one point my dad and I had matching number plates to our name – in total we had 124 DON, 224 DON and 384 DON (my dad’s first name) and I usually got the runt of the litter.
After a bumpy start with the old van I managed to upgrade to a 3-litre Capri – a purple Capri at that (see reference to Led Zeppelin above)… and to this day I don’t think I’ve had a car that felt more powerful – certainly at the time it beat all-comers. I remember we bought a BMW and I was horrified to be burned off by a friend with a similar Capri – so the BMW didn’t last too long.
Hobbies at the time included "customising" cars – sadly I can find no photos of a 1600cc Capri we did up for David Wilson – white – complete with eagle on the front, flames on the sides and the (mandatory at the time) fur-lined interior! I did the paintwork, Dave did the furry bits inside.
I can remember my first calculator – a large Casio black thing with green glass display – I believe it lasted a couple of months but was no match for the kind of engineering environment I worked in – last I recall I was several floors up in scaffolding and I remember it sailing out of my top pocket and distinctly remember the mess it made as it landed on a factory floor in many bits! That initial start with calculating machines was followed by a fanatical interest in computers. At one time or another I bought just about everything from the original Sinclair Mk14 (a simple SC/MP based computer which didn’t even have a proper stack), through Spectrum, Apple, Commodore Pet, Nascom, TRS-80 and I then moved onto the early CP/M and MDOS machines such as the Exidy Sorcerer before taking the IBM route.
In 1980 I wrote a simple AI program for a magazine called Creative Computing (David H Ahl) and then went on to develop a complete system for designing adventure games, published in Dr Dobbs Journal in November 1981. (here is the link to the code for ADVEN-80 written in Z80 assembly language) The "engine" was used by companies to produce adventure games though all I ever got was the odd acknowledgement.
In the middle of one of the worst slumps since World War II, in late 1981 I left the company and formed my own electronics company so that I could act as consultant to a company who were then, with my help, to develop the first ever microcomputer-controlled video "jukebox". Shortly thereafter my dad died of a heart attack – no doubt due to the stress of running a business in a recession with a totally uncooperative union some of who’s members had difficulty thinking past next week’s pay packet.
For someone with a photographic bent you’d think I’d have millions of photos of my youth – unfortunately I was one of those people who liked to experiment with chemicals and so many of the photos "went off" after a while – still – it was fun at the time. The things that did survive were colour slides from the early 70s.
The first jukebox product was developed in 1982 over months of sleepless nights and got its first demonstration on Tyne Tees TV and provided the mechanism to take myself soon-to-be business partner on a series of travels across the world including the world’s Fair in Tokyo, and so then onto Chicago, Paris, Frankfurt and several other, less exotic but equally interesting locations.
In 1984 after travelling to Philadelphia while demonstrating video technology we’d developed, I met and subsequently married Maureen Denise Ridgeway (Maiden surname Flando – father Andrew J. Flando Jnr (deceased), of Italian descent, a lawyer in Chicago, mother Mary Frances "Mimi" (Heffernan)). Offspring from Maureen’s previous marriage include Joseph (deceased) and Elizabeth, both by Maureen’s’ first husband Ronald Ridgeway, and Elizabeth now has 5 offspring (our grandchildren) Rory, Holly, Jethro, Francis and Charlotte.
Since the 80’s things have been pretty good despite banks, incompetent governments and a somewhat non-standard choice of career path. We’ve travelled extensively and now own a little place in Andalucía where we spend much of the summer and the odd week in the winter. I spent many years working with business partner Aidan on a variety of electronic innovations many of which made the IT press and one of more interesting products was a speech system for PCs which made front page of PC-World Magazine one month and was featured on their magazine disk for months after that in one form or another.
Electronics lost some of it’s grip on me as the then Conservative government decided to promote more regulations (CE – now rendered almost irrelevant thanks to the China Engineering CE logo which looks to have been designed to just happen to look exactly like the CE logo) to the point where, had they been around when Clive Sinclair first started, he’d have never gotten off the ground. The labour government then compounded things to the point where from my perspective, running an expanding business no longer figured in my lifestyle.
Developing software is still to some extent one of the last places you can enjoy the freedom to learn and innovate without excess bureaucracy and that’s part of where I am right now, still very much enjoying learning – I like to keep up to speed with technology, I’m doing my best to keep up with the latest in sciences such as genetics, evolution and indeed where everything started if indeed there ever was a start as such. Over the years I did a lot of work on websites – the whole CEO thing as well as design – now something I leave to larger organisations as it has become standardised and boring – today I concentrate on blogs and social media. For the technical, as well as developing my own CMS (which then became the heart of the website software used successfully by the FSB for over 15 years and only now looking set to be replaced) and other web tools, I’m into modern tools such as Node.js as well as the oldies but goldies such as ‘’C’ (and variations), php, WordPress, etc. That is all covered elsewhere in the blog and in my cv.
And that’s about it – I spent over 14 years hopping from meeting to meeting as National IT Chairman of the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) as well as fulfilling for two years a vice-chairman role in the ICT arm of the EU ESCO project – both roles are now history, the former as the goalposts were changed, the latter as the role simply ran it’s course – and doing smaller web-related and hardware designs for SMEs…
Today I am enjoying life by writing, travelling, getting into new products and taking in as much Spanish sun as possible.