One winter's evening in the EDO, he came to my board.
I'd only been there a couple of years then.
I'd spoken to him a few times before, but it'd always been formal.
Stage-managed and chaperoned by an anxious squad leader.
'Tell 'im what y're doin', lad. Speak up, and don't show off.'
You know the kind of thing.
It was different this time.
There he was, out of the blue.
I stubbed out my Park Drive in a hurry.
He was the only one who didn't smoke, more or less.
He hitched his sleeve-bands and shifted the mug of stone-cold tea.
He leaned back against the desk.
He was looking at me, I knew, but I was busy looking at the floor.
It took me a minute to realise he was smiling.
'You're the only one left?'
I nodded, trying to strike a respectful balance between deference and communication.
I stared over his shoulder at the file of empty boards, and nodded some more.
He held out the telegram.
I'd worked on the job it mentioned the year before.
I flushed with pride when I read what the customer thought of the new mill.
He was looking at Sue's picture on the corner of the board.
She was a tracer then, down in the basement.
She'd said she'd marry me when we'd put enough by.
I guess he knew that.
I guess he knew everything, about everything.
'When I was your age', he said, 'I acquired a dad-in-law who claimed to have designed the Velocette MSS.'
'And one day, to put me in my place, he told me that for every hour he worked on that design, they sold a hundred bikes.'
I heard myself say it, so I suppose I must have done.
'He said it was the opposite with this place. I'd put in a hundred hours, and a hundred others'd put in their hundred hours, and we'd only sell one of the damn things.'
There was a gear catalogue lying open on the desk.
He tapped it with the corner of the telegram, to give me the hint, and he asked what I'd have said to that.
'One bike for one man.'
I was surprised at the confidence of my own voice.
'But one rolling mill for a townful.'
He grinned at me.
'That's why we're here, lad', he said.
He turned, and strode away between the boards.
I could have sworn he skipped at one point.
At the end of the office, he turned and waved the telegram in a little gesture of triumph.
I looked at Sue, with my heart pounding.
I guess that's when I knew we'd make it.