Today I attended a funeral for a friend. John McHardy was a TV engineer and he was introduced to me as “John The Telly”. John was what one would call a character and everyone in Connah’s Quay seemed to know John and his TV repair shop with windows so stained with tobacco smoke that you could not see through them. John was also one of those people who had ‘the knack’ he could fix or build anything electronic. It also happens that he was a radio amateur with the call GW6AEO.
When I bought my first house I had bought a small black and white TV but the owner of the house I was buying asked me if I had a TV and would I like his old 22 inch colour set as he had a new one. It worked well for a while then it started to play up. I could not afford a new one so I would fix it myself. Sometimes it would be a matter of fiddling with a loose valve or cleaning a contact and it would work for a bit. One day it went bang and I looked at the fried components on one of the boards and knew I had no chance of fixing it. I took it to John’s shop and met this strange chain smoking guy who seemed to have a soldering iron permanently fixed in one hand. He seemed friendly enough but I wondered if I would ever see my TV again. The floor of his workshop was about three inches deep in fag ends.
I waited a week and then went back to the shop. “It’s over there” he said pointing to a huge pile of TVs. “How much do I owe you I asked?” expecting the worst, but John charged me less than the call out fee for any of the usual bunch of TV engineers. Over the next few years I was backwards and forwards to John’s shop with my TV, which really should have been confined to the dump years before.
Then one day I was lent a CB by a workmate and after a day or two I cross polarised the wires to the power supply and smoke bellowed from the rig. The only person I knew might be able to help was John. I took him the rig and asked if he could fix it. It probably took longer for him to undo the screws on the case than to replace the ‘idiot diode’ as he called it. “Don’t do it again!” he said as he handed it back to me. He then only charged me for the price of the diode and I was on my way. John was an inspiration in his understanding of how to gain customer loyalty. He did not try like most people in his business to rip you off.
I took the CB home and the rest as they say is history. My wife and I got hooked on CB joined a club made loads of friends and like a lot of them found out about amateur radio and got licensed. Over the next few years I followed John’s example and replaced more ‘idiot diodes’ than I care to recall and never charged anyone for anything other than the price of the components. Whenever I bought a new TV I would take the old one down to John to use for bits. At one point I had a TV self destruct so badly that I went straight to town and bought a new one. I gave John the old one. A month later my video recorder broke down and I found one of the belts had snapped. I stopped to ask John if he could order me a new set of belts, which he did. As I was leaving I saw my old TV on sale. “You fixed it?” I asked. John smiled and said “Yes, it took a while and was a challenge, but it would have cost you too much for me to fix.” He never liked to let anything beat him.
The way John smoked it would not have surprised me if cancer had got him, but several years ago he had a hacking cough and went to the doctors. The doc suggested he gave up the fags and he never touched another one from that day on. His will power was such that he went from chain smoker to none smoker in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately the damage was done and he had a heart attack for which he had made a reasonably full recovery. The quacks persuaded him that he needed a quadruple heart by-pass and he went in to hospital. He survived the operation and seemed on the road to recovery when he died of complications on the 27th of June. John was 67.
One of the things I have found over the years is that amateur radio (and CB for that matter) bridges the generation gap and as a result for the past 30 years I have had friends who were much older than I was. Consequently I have been reduced to a quivering wreck by the last post played over the graves of a number of nice old chaps who you would not have thought could possibly hurt a fly, only to find out during their eulogy had been war heroes of the type they make films about. I have lost count of the number of funerals I have attended to either represent the club or because they were a true friend, but I feel it was something I had to do. These were the people, who made me what I am today, who showed me that the world is not just full of the selfish self serving bastards I despise so much, but that there are people who care about others and are passionate about what they do. Strange how I met them all through radio? I don’t understand what makes radio people so special or why radio attracts some of the best, but it does. Okay so there is always the exception to the rule, but in general we all like to talk so we are maybe less insular and more understanding than the general population.
Once I looked at my elders and thought they are all real characters and there were no real characters left any more. Now I look around and realise we are the characters now. It was bad enough 30 years ago when I was losing friends much older than I was but now it is creeping closer to being people of my own generation. These days I find I have a lot of friends younger than my own kids. Hopefully they will be there to see me off when I go. Although I have left my family a challenge; I want a Viking funeral, a longboat, dog at my feet and the sound of ride of the Valkyries blowing in the wind as the flames engulf the decks.
John leaves his widow Pat who appears to be a fragile soul. I just hope she can go on without her soul mate. She seemed quite solid today but I fear for her future. I saw another side to one of my other friends today he was a true rock and a much closer friend of John than I was. I think he will be her guardian angel for a while. I hope he is around when he is needed. If you have a faith please pray for her. If not then spare a seconds silence for all friends lost.
May this be the last funeral for a while!
John the Telly may you rest in peace.