As the weeks progressed I decided to persevere with the job as I was really beginning to enjoy the work, especially the opportunity to drive posh limousines around South London. During this time I visited all the different branches, including New Cross, where I first met Nicky Uden who, from a back room in the premises, managed the company in glorious solitude. (For the information of Clare Uden, I doubt if anything had changed at New Cross since you lived there in the 1960s)
Someone else who started work about the same time as me was Matthew Uden; 16 years old, fresh out of school, full of youthful enthusiasm and keen to make his mark on the company. I remember helping him learn to drive and he would tell me about his plans for the business and his ambition to make it the best funeral directors in the Country. (Nearly there Matt!)
Although Udens had a number of regular staff employed in the workshop and garage who would put on their suits (sometimes over their work clothes) when required to go out on funerals, the company still relied heavily upon casual staff to make up the numbers. Some of these men were themselves potential clients, as age seemed to be no barrier to working within the funeral profession. Like me, many of these casual staff were “misfits” who seemed to have stumbled into a role and found a niche that suited them.
After some time I became accepted as “one of the boys” and was paid an hourly rate. I also began to understand and appreciate the position of other members of the Uden family; Mr Philip, (Andrew’s dad) who was then retired, Aunty Audrey, (Nicky’s mum), both now sadly passed away, and Uncle Chris, who did all the maintenance work. Slowly, but inevitably, I was drawn into the peculiar workings of a long established family business and I soon felt completely at home working for them.
No sooner had I established a regular routine at work than Mary and I were blessed with our first grandson. As our daughter-in-law was keen to return to part-time work Mary offered to look after the child for two days each week and I agreed to take Mondays off to help her. We eventually ended up looking after three grandchildren and so I didn’t work on Mondays for the next 5 years until they all started primary school.
However, even on the days when I wasn’t physically at work, I was still in regular contact with Matthew as we began to swap Ideas and suggestions of how to improve our service and enhance our profile within the profession. So began an exchange of ideas that still continues today, despite my recent retirement.