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Nigel aged 11 with Kimmy 140kbAutobiography of Nigel Gordon Nicholson 

Chapter 1

1951 to 1985

I do not remember much before I was about 5. I was born in Taunton, Somerset, England. My father Sydney William Nicholson (DOB 16th September 1912, died September 1984, and known as Nick to his friends) had been a Captain in the Army. I remember him telling me that he was wearing his demob suit when he first met my mother. She was Marion Joan Lomax ( nee Allen), born 1925 and some 13 years younger than the man who would become her second husband. Mum had been one of 12 children, 2 of which had not survived beyond childhood.

However the remaining 10 children all thrived and the first one to pass on was my Aunt Mag in 1982, aged about 64. At the time she met my Father, Mum's first marriage had not worked out and she was now a single parent bringing up Sheila and Robert. Sheila had been born 1943, and Robert 1945, I guess it was around 1948 or so that my parents first met. I came along in 1951, with my younger sister Amanda (Mandy to all of us) in 1955. My first memories are in a house in Taunton (45 Charles Crescent as I recall) playing in the back garden with Mandy in her pram alongside. Dad was now working in the garage industry. He took a job in Ledbury, Hertfordshire, where we all moved to in about 1956. We were there a year or two, then came to Exeter and my parents bought a house, 65 Blackboy Road. I was seven years old and after this age, my memories of early life are much more clear.

Mum made a Bed and Breakfast business at the house, a 3 storey place including the attic which was my room. Dad secured a job as General Manager at Devon Motors in Cowick Street. I went to school at St Sidwell's School in York Road, Exeter. My first class was 1a, with a Mr George, then went on to 2a, Mr Eggleton, 3a with Mrs Rowland, and then 4a with Mr Irwin. It was 11 plus exams in those days, and being quite studious at the time, it was not a problem for me, and a pass meant i could go to grammar school.  About this time my parents fancied a change and moved to Crediton where my parents took the tenancy of the White Swan public house in the High Street.

The photo here was taken about then, when I was 11. I joined the local Haywards School but it was only a few weeks before the end of term. I started at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in the summer of 1962. The school uniform was a smart black blazer with gold stripes, and matching cap and tie.

I changed schools about a year or two later, but in 1966, after my parents marriage had broken down around 1963, my dad wanted to move away to Hampshire, and after about a year living there, I was back in Exeter, living with my Mother, younger sister Mandy, and her new partner Robert Smith, or Bob as we all knew him. Mum and Bob married in mid-1966 and I am pleased to say they had a long and happy enduring marriage until 2011, over 45 years, when Mum died of a stroke in October 2011. Not long after, Bob went into a care home for Alzheimers' sufferers and Bob later died in 2015 having reached his 88th birthday. Bob was a much loved, admired and respected Stepdad, who loved and supported our Mother throughout their lives.

So there I was in mid-1966, back in Exeter, having just reached school-leaving age. My parents marriage breakdown, compounded by a number of moves, had not worked wonders for my education, so after a couple menial jobs, when I was offered an apprenticeship as a plumber, I jumped at the chance.  I worked through my apprenticeship, gaining a recognised qualification as a plumber and also obtained both City and Guilds Craft and Advanced Craft Certificates.  This skill has stood me in good stead throughout the years, allowing me to remain in work, and also work abroad in my 20s. I lost contact with my natural father at this time for a couple of years, but I made contact in 1968 and I visited him in Hampshire.  After that visit we lost touch completely, I was N G Nicholson and in the phone book, so he could have contacted me easily. It was to be around 15 years later that we met again, as will be revealed later on. 

I married young, just before my 21st birthday, but like so many young marriages, it did not work out, and it was only a year or so later that I was living alone in a fairly large terraced house in Exeter with 4 bedrooms. It seemed prudent to rent out a couple of rooms, which set me on the road to becoming a full-time landlord in later life. By the time another year or so had passed, around late 1972, early 1973, I had the 4 bedrooms all rented out having equipped them with mini-kitchens etc. I had made the ground floor self-contained with another bathroom, and the rents I collected were now double the amount I was paying in mortgage. To those interested in the actual numbers, I recall it very well. I paid £3,650 for the house in 1971, with a £300 or so deposit. The mortgage was £31 a month. At the time I was earning around £25-£30 per week depending on overtime. The rents I was collecting were about 4 x £3.50 per week, about double my mortgage, plus of course I was living in the ground floor flat.  I was not particularly smart in doing this, they were the figures at the time, being able to buy a house around 2-3 times annual salary.

By the mid-70s, my brother Robert, who by now lived in Australia, had often encouraged me to go for a visit and perhaps find work in Perth, Western Australia. I was still unattached, so it was not so much the question of if, but when. So in 1976, complete with my first passport having never gone abroad before, I set off for Perth, Western Australia. I could have flown direct, but in those days there were alternatives. I flew to Singapore for an overnight stay and then travelled on a small Singaporean vessel which plied between Singapore and Australia. The journey was very pleasant, took 7 nights, and I met some interesting people on the journey, who became friends and I stayed in touch with a couple for a few years.   

I stayed with my brother Robert in the ensuing days, but eventually saw an advert for a plumber in Mount Newman, in the North West of Western Australia. I went for an interview, it was a Friday afternoon. After being quizzed on what I knew and did not know, I was offered the job on the spot. I was told to report to Perth Airport about 06:00 the following day, where I would meet a company rep who would give me the ticket. So at 08:00 the following day I was airborne again, and after arrival and being transferred to my accommodation, I was Dumptruckworking by mid-day, less than 24 hours after my job interview and I was now the best part of 1,000 miles away from Perth. It turned out to be a great job, working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. That was not so arduous as it sounds, as apart from the pub and drinking, there was little to do in the evenings and weekends and I am not a much of a drinker anyway. Breakfast was around 06:00, the bus picked us up at 06:30, for the 5 minute drive to the mine site. Despite breaks and lunch, we got paid until the bus dropped us back at 18:30, for dinner around 19:00. So that was it, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, some 84 hours, with overtime rates etc and a casual 'premium', my pay slips were around $550 a week, fantastic.   With the conversion being only around $A1.34 to the £, that worked out at just over £400 a week. I had left England just a few weeks before, when I was earning £40-£50 a week. Of course, I had some tax to pay, but I was to find to my pleasant surprise, that as I had arrived to work in the May, I was entitled to a full tax-free allowance. With the tax year in Australia ending on June 30, I got most of my tax back.  However, with the job being a temporary contract, it concluded in the July. It was an interesting project and of course I was only one of a team. The project entailed the upgrading of an iron-ore conveyor belt, and the installation of a second one. The original belt could deliver 7,000 tonnes an hour. Upgrading to 10,000 tonnes an hour and then building a second one meant that capacity was now 20,000 tonnes an hour, 24 hours a day. The dumper trucks that dumped the iron ore into the giant hoppers that crushed it to smaller pieces before dropping it on to the conveyor belt, were huge. The smaller ones carried 70 tonnes, the largest, 200 tonnes. I have some faded photos but will place a library photo here, the enormity of the machinery involved takes some believing, but the wheels of the larger trucks were over 10 feet high.  Have a look at the size of the people in the photo. The upgrading project was due to a boom in the world economy and more countries especially Japan needing more steel for production.

So by July 1976 the contract had finished, and I had been transferred to a power station, near Bunbury, about 2-3 hours drive south of Perth. The sunshine of the dry season in the North West had been replaced with the winter of the southern part of the country. Although much milder winters than UK, the money also dropped to a more basic 45-50 hours a week. Still good by UK standards, but I saw another job based in Darwin, in Northern Territory. Again I was lucky to get the job and within a couple days after another flight I was in Darwin, doing pipework on a new hospital being built. It was here that I had my first encounters with the massive road trains that delivered goods by road, in the absence of extensive rail networks.

roadtrain Cyclone Tracey had hit Darwin just over 2 years before, and caused devastation to the town. Hence there was plenty of work rebuilding communities. Wherever I went, there were still signs of major destruction, with many buildings still in ruins. I was happy working in my job for a while, but a change of manager caused a major change to job structure, and the company was seeking to cut perks, such as my lodging allowance, while decreasing hours and rate of pay. Virtually being asked to leave on the Friday, and come back on a new contract on the Monday, or get fired anyway. About that time I was offered a seat in a vehicle going over to Queensland, just share the driving and fuel, which I accepted and therefore left my job. As I recall, I have never travelled so many hours or distance in a day, not on wheels anyway. The four of us rotated seats, about 2 hours at a time, stopping only for fuel. We left early around 06:00, and by 11:00 pm that evening, some 17 hours later, and about 1,000 miles, I arrived at Mount Isa. Not a journey I would wish to repeat but it was an adventure at the time.

I stayed in Mount Isa for a few days, but work prospects were not too great, so I went over to Cairns. From a social point of view, a great place to visit, especially as I was interested in snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, which was a truly awesome experience. I soon found myself a job, rates of pay were nearer the average but it was a great climate. However, while in Cairns I met a number of travellers who told me that work prospects were not so good in Brisbane, Sydney etc, and they were going towards Darwin, where plenty of work was still to be found in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracey.   I had the notion that I would complete a clockwise route around Australia, visiting Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, but was swayed with the offer of a job back in Darwin, so I returned to Darwin which only took 2 -3 hours by air this time.

This next job also entailed a flight by air from Darwin to get to it. Not the luxury of a jet with cabin service, just an ordinary 4 seat Cessna. I travelled from Darwin to an aboriginal settlement on the island of Milingimbi. Milingimbi lies approximately 440 kilometres (270 miles) east of Darwin. As I recall, my work there was part of the program to assist the education of aboriginals. Cyclone proof houses were being built which were intended for the teaching staff. Water was collected in huge rainwater tanks on stands, and fed to the houses from there. That job kept me happy for the rest of 1976, and I returned to Perth in December 1976 to spend Christmas and New Year with my brother and his friends who also became my friends and have remained so for many years.

During my time in Australia, I had heard so much about Bali, the holiday island of Indonesia, that I wanted to visit. However, I also thought some time back in UK might be worthwhile. I had never intended to migrate permanently to Australia, but for a young man in his 20s, it had a lot of appeal. To cut a long story short, I left Perth in January, had a great month in Bali, touring the entire island, followed by a trip through Java to Jogjakarta and Jakarta. From there I went to Singapore for a few nights, then by train up through the Malaysian Peninsula to Bangkok, where I spent some time visiting the various tourist attractions, before a flight back to Paris then on to the UK, arriving in March 1977. I had earnt good money while I was away and had enough deposit for another house, and chose a semi-detached in Exmouth. House prices in UK had boomed since I bought my first one in 1971 for £3,650. Just six years later I was paying £16,000 and putting down 20% deposit around £3,200. As you can see, the deposit was not much less than the price of the house I had bought about 6 years before.   

I had an interesting several months in England, and for one reason and another, became interested in buying and selling cars, which I did to earn an income while in UK in preference to going back to plumbing. To my delight I became reasonably good at it, going to auctions etc to buy cars then resell them either to the trade or through newspaper advertising. However, by the end of the year, with winter approaching, the appeal of returning to Australia was rather strong, so by early December I was on my way back again, taking a similiar jet / cruise itinerary through Singapore as I had done in early 1976, but with a different vessel from Singapore.   I landed back in Perth in December 1977. By this time my Mother and Bob were also living there, perhaps no real intention of living their lives out there but they had bought a snack bar making a reasonable living. I stayed with them over the Christmas period. My passion for selling cars lead me to apply for jobs as a car salesman, and after a few enquiries I was offered a job just a few miles down the road from where I was staying.  After hard graft as a plumber, going to work in smart clothes (even dress shorts are smart in the Australia heat) and being given a company car and expenses, was not a bad alternative. I could make good money too as long as I sold cars, which I have always managed to do. I made a reasonable living selling cars, easily funding my living expenses and putting a bit back as well.  I had landed a job with a Holden dealer in Fremantle, but after a short while moved to a smaller firm selling used cars, and my employers were Phil and Bob. I will give them names as Phil and I have remained friends for many years so he will get various mentions later on. I suffered a severe setback in September 1978, the tragic loss of my fiancee at the time, who I had met just before Christmas 1977, not long after I arrived back I Perth. I will call her D, and D was the reason I stayed with car selling as opposed to seeking jobs in the North where good money was still being made for those who were prepared to travel. Tragically, D died in an accident in September 1978. Losing her was the main reason I lost my passion for living in Perth, certainly in the devastating circumstances I found myself in, so I returned to UK while I came to terms with my loss. D's family were very supportive and I remain in contact with them to this day, having kept in touch and visited them a number of times in the passing years.

The UK winter of 1978/1979 was approaching. By this time my parents were also living back in UK and had bought an old wooden frame and sheet asbestos bungalow and had a vision to demolish it and rebuild a new brick built one. I assisted with the building of that, together with a few plumbing jobs, while I made up my mind. Perhaps the winter got to me, but a phone call from my previous employer Phil, early in the New Year offering me my job back was an opportunity and once again in February 1979 I was on my way back to Perth. I rented out the Exmouth house which comfortably covered the mortgage and my original house was accruing a surplus as well.

I had another year or so in Perth. D's family were very helpful to me and I stayed with them for a while. However, I had become friendly with a guy called Tom, who had moved to Perth from Sweden a few years before. He was looking for someone to share bills on a house rent, which he offered to me and I accepted. It was a nice semi, just a couple of hundred metres from the beach of Cottesloe, about 20 mins drive from work. It worked out well, but I had bought a one year return ticket, at not much more than the cost of a single.  So by around March 1980 I was once again on my way back to UK in February 1980, not really knowing where I was eventually going to settle down.

This time I took a job as a car salesman, selling Vauxhalls in Exeter.  I settled into the job relatively well, and made new friends at work and socially. In early 1981 however, my brother Robert asked me to join him on a tour of the USA, a 30 day 'airpass' with Continental Airlines was on offer for only $300. We landed in New York in March 1981, where our 30 days started. I remember the date well as we celebrated Robert's 36th birthday there,  being March 8, as he was born in 1945 some 6 years before me. Over the next 30 days we flew virtually every 2-3 days, criss-crossing through the airline's hub of Denver, to Colorado, Washington, Miami, Los Angeles, Portland, Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, San Diego etc. I had arrived into USA on a one way Freddie Laker Skytrain from UK to New York. After the 30 days it was 'decision time' and I had to fly from Los Angeles back to UK, or join my brother for the flight back to Australia, where he was heading, via Hawaii, Fiji and Sydney. For no other reason than I had my job to go back to if I wanted it, I returned to UK. It was during this year, in 1981, I sold both of the houses I owned and purchased a 3 storey house in the St James area of Exeter, that had been 'loosely converted' into 2 flats. During my time there I completed the conversions with separate plumbing systems, entrances etc. and it allowed me to sell them later on as 2 individual flats.

It was about this time in 1980 or so that I teamed up with a pal and bought a house in St Leonards, Exeter, and let to a number of girls sharing. After a year or two we sold that and bought a larger house in Mt Pleasant, Exeter, in St Johns Road. We kept that for a year or so and sold out to a decent offer on a private sale basis. 

I stayed in my job selling Vauxhalls until an opportunity for a change came up, and I welcomed the chance at the time to take a job in London.  I still had some capital for a deposit on a 3 bedroomed terraced house in Chiswick, which needed a fair amount of work. It had a second kitchen on the first floor so I was able to live in the flat downstairs, only sharing the bathroom. I soon put a second bathroom in on the ground floor, and over the time I lived there I completed a total separation of the two flats and renovated throughout. It turned out to be quite a good deal, as when I sold the 2 flats in 1984, to move back to Exeter, the sale of the first flat was enough to buy a decent semi-detached back in Exeter. Not long after I moved to London in 1982, I did take a trip back to Australia, around 5 weeks over the Christmas and New Year period,  but this time it was only intended to be a holiday. I also had a '3 year return visa' which in simple terms meant that if I stayed out of Australia for over 3 years, as confirmed by the stamps in my passport, I would lose the right to live and work in Australia as a resident, and I wanted to keep my options open. During my 18 months or so in London, I first worked for another Vauxhall dealer, then was offered a job as a Sales Manager for a Saab agency. At least I had a decent car to drive around in, I could have my pick. 

It was also early in around 1982 that I formed a partnership with my friend of a number of years, Paul. Paul was working for British Telecom but was keen to try and build some property interests. We clubbed together a deposit, and bought our first house in Monks Road, Exeter. Neither of us knew at the time that we would still own that property jointly over 35 years later. It was to be the first of many properties that we would acquire over the coming years, and our partnership has endured for over 35 years and still going to this day. We paid around £20,000 for the house then, so a £5,000 deposit, or £2,500 each would have been sufficient for our bankers at the time, Midland PLC, (who were eventually taken over by HSBC) to lend us the balance. I remember working on it and installing basins in every room, and other work, making it ready for letting. As I recall we let rooms out for around £16 a week, which was still a terrific return, some 20% gross or so. However, it was an all-inclusive rent, as we paid all the bills, so the net income would have been around 12%-15%.

It was while in London, one morning in early 1984, that I received a telephone call, with the very surprising words  "Nigel, it's your Dad!" I had not heard from him for over 15 years, he had passed away for all I knew. It turns out he was living in Evesham, Worcestershire. He had settled into life with his new partner Minnie, who he got to know in the years after parting company from my Mother. He had let the years slip by, never getting in touch. When he did decide to, it was as simple as looking into the Exeter phone book in his local library, for N G Nicholson. When he rang the number, he was speaking to a guy Richard, who was my tenant in the flat in St James, as I had not sold it at that time. Richard had taken over my telephone number, and was aware I had no objection to my London number being passed on, and so I was speaking to Dad for the first time in around 16 years. It was not long before I visited him and Minnie in their Evesham Cottage, together with my sister Mandy. It was great catching up after so many missing years. However, about a year later, a persistent cough turned out to be lung cancer. An operation revealed it had spread incurably, and he passed away in September 1986, not long after his 74th birthday. If anyone googles Sydney William Nicholson and ends up here, Dad was born September 16, 1912, died September 24th, 1986 aged 74 years, and is buried in Evesham cemetery. I was to find later on that Minnie died around 3 years later and was buried with Dad. Therein lies a tale, a source of great interest to someone on Minnie's side researching their family tree who contacted me. My dad took the name Thorogood for the last 20 or so years of his life, and is buried as Sydney William Thorogood.

By 1984 I was now back in Exeter, selling cars. I had kept in touch with Dad for the last couple years of his life, and he had visited Exeter a couple of times plus I had made a few more trips to Evesham. My first job in Exeter was selling Citroen and Fiat. I then moved to a Saab agency. I was a good candidate for that job due to my previous Saab experience in London. I remember selling Saabs in early 1986. However, not long into the job, perhaps a few months, a financial crisis hit the company, they had to make cutbacks and I was asked to find another job. They did as I recall settle up 3 months severance pay as a gesture of goodwill. By this time, I also knew my father was incurably ill and may not have too long to live. I wanted to be flexible in my work, and be able to take time off to see my father, especially when I knew his time was near.

I knew a pal who owned a plumbing business, called Mike. He had a vacancy and offered me the chance to go back 'on the tools' which I accepted. To my surprise, I still enjoyed the work, everyday plumbing and central heating systems. Technology was moving on, systems were slightly different, so it was good to update my skills. I worked the usual 5 days a week, and occasionally would visit Dad, and he also made a trip or two to Exeter. On his last trip to Exeter in early September 1986, he was not well or strong enough to drive and I had picked him up and brought him down to Exeter for a few days. I was soon aware he did not have long to live, I had to help him up to bed at night, and he struggled to eat even the smallest meals. I took him back to Evesham on a Sunday and at that time, I assumed I would have to visit him in Evesham as often as I could, and maybe even stay there eventually to help him through the last few days of his life.

Despite my knowing Dad was so ill that he did not have long to live, I still thought it might be weeks. So it a great surprise just five days later on Friday, September 24, 1986, that I was to learn that he had died. I was at work, just about to cut some pipes to remove a copper cylinder for replacement. I had left my employer's contact number with friends in Evesham, they had contacted him, and he knew where I was working of course, as there were no mobile phones then. So I made my apologies to the customer and made arrangments to be back the following week. This was about 9 a.m. Within the hour I had picked up my sister Mandy, and we were in Evesham by early afternoon. By late that afternoon we had visited his doctor for a death certificate, visited the funeral directors to make funeral arrangements and had also seen the local minister to make arrangements for service and burial. Dad had made his wishes known to us, it was to be a double grave, and as mentioned above, Minnie joined him about 3 years later, she was in her late 70s when she died, she was about 2 years older than my father. Dad's funeral service was about 10 days later and he was buried in Evesham cemetery.

I continued with plumbing for several months but about this time the property market was booming along, and my business partner Paul and I had, at least on paper, made some capital gains, and had also bought and sold a couple of houses. I wanted to be more flexible with my time and took a job as a maintenance engineer for photo booth machines. It entailed driving around 500 miles or more a week checking, servicing and occasional breakdown repairs to the machines. Most Post Offices had one, and most UK people at least might recognise the name 'Photo-Me'. I was able to finish early most days especially if I started early, and it allowed a bit of time for my property interests, that were developing around this time. One of the projects Paul and I did was a house in Mount Pleasant Road, Exeter, which we bought as a single property but loosely converted. After finalising the conversion and making the top floor into a good standard, we got most of our investment back on the sale of the top flat, leaving a tidy profit when we eventually sold the bottom flat. We turned over a couple more properties, and also bought some garages. This block of 15 or so was to be the first of many that Paul and I bought together, and by 2018 we owned around 50. The photo machine job had suited me until mid-1989, when changes of my work region increased the hours and distances I had to drive, so I left. 

During these years, it was around late 1985 / early 1986 that the '3 year return rule' for my Australian Visa came around again, and as I was settled in Exeter at the time, I did not go, hence my right to remain in Australia lapsed. In hindsight at times I wish I had made the journey which would have renewed my right to live in Australia for another 3 years. 

Next >

Chapter 1 - 1951-1985
Chapter 2 - 1986-1990
Chapter 3 - 1990-2000
Chapter 4 - 2000-2004
Chapter 5 - 2004 onwards