Ken the Fireman

Now for those of you who follow my blog quite regularly, you might recall I once wrote about Ken of the Sealed Knot. It was a chance meeting; a gas man coming to fix my boiler and after a cup of tea and chat, I discovered his amazing life story.

Well, guess what? I have met another Ken! This time, he’s an ex-fireman. Here’s how we met…

A couple of weeks ago, my Chrysler’s battery decided to declare itself unserviceable. I was referred to a new mechanic as the ones we have encountered in the past have left us feeling cheated and violated! The substandard work done to Yoda (yes, I nickname my cars…and plants too!) has left her with an oil leak she didn’t have before going in for a service! Needless to say, a good referral for any engineer is similar to being given the directions to the pot of gold hidden at the end of the rainbow! So, I decided to drive by Sharp’s Auto to see if they could replace the battery. A lovely old mechanic called Dave offered me a seat in the warmth of their small office whilst he checked the car out in the rain.

I sat there pondering the wonderful smell of diesel and grease (I grew up with the smell and do actually love it) when Ken walked in. After offering me a cup of tea, he dove straight into his life story.

At sixty three years old, he has been forced back into work because of his divorce. Before retirement, he spent his life as a fireman in the Langley Brigade. Over thirty years he has seen so many changes on the service, some good, some bad. We chatted for a while and he showed a keen interest in books and writing and we ended our meeting on pleasant good-byes.

Yoda’s clutch broke down today, in the middle of the road, during peak traffic. Fun! After a one and a half hour wait, the tow truck came and carried us back to Sharp’s Auto. Dave was there again and he welcomed us, offering sound advice and commiseration. We had no way of getting home, so Ken was asked to give us a lift. He remembered me and we continued our conversation as though weeks had not passed at all!

When asked if he ever regretted his choice of career, he smiled and said no! Becoming a firefighter wasn’t his first job choice, but back in 1974, most of the young men living in Slough would turn to factory work. No CVs or work references were required. Youths would turn up at factory doors and either land a job there and then or be turned away. A radio advert calling to young men to join the Fire Brigade changed Ken’s career path as he was due to go job hunting the very next day at the factories. Instead, he chose to follow the radio advert and enlist as a fireman! Soon he was a regular on the Langley brigade.

He described a nine week strike in 1977 where firemen called for better salaries and pensions. The support they received from the public was immense. Families would stop by their pickets, offering food and drink. Ken cackled, his soft easy voice joking that it was better than being at work for those few weeks!

After the strike, Ken felt things begin to change and younger members of the force were promoted without enough management experience or call-out experience to make strong logical decisions for the force. Ken took his retirement at age fifty-three and happily told us he was more than satisfied with his pension. Retirement was looking good with a nice steady income and hobbies to try out. Unfortunately, life is never straight forward. The break down of his marriage left him homeless and peniless! Dave, his mechanic brother, offered him a job as tea boy to make ends meet.

And that takes us full circle in Ken the fireman’s life.

Ken is an inspiring man because even though all that he has worked for over the majority of his lifetime has now disappeared, he is not bitter or negative. He has a twinkle in his eye and a skip in his step. His answer to my rather intrusive question of whether he would change the outcome of his life was, “Well, if I had to change anything, I wouldn’t get to meet lovely people like you and get to chat. So no, I’m happy with the way things are.”

I hope you enjoyed meeting Ken as much as I did. Life has a way of throwing interesting people onto our paths and I think each one has something to teach us.

Have a lovely Saturday folks.

6 responses to “Ken the Fireman

  1. This is beautiful – where you feeling you are in London – this is almost a old English drama although it’s story of reality where you met few Ken’s…


  2. Lovely story, Eloise. We get so many chances in life to speak with interesting people like Ken, but we never do because others find it strange. It’s such a shame the world is now like this – we are all strangers on the same path of life, but every once in a while we bump into somebody and get talking, which can change our path for the better.

    I hope Yoda gets well soon 🙂


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