How to tame a Jaguar

Alan has been friendly cats of all sizes. He was later to befriend a lion, but I think I can make the tenuous link to befriending a wild Jaguar XJ when he worked as a car salesman. – Charles

While playing in the band at the Ritz Ballroom in Manchester I had plenty of spare time during the day. So, to supplement the family income, I often took on a part-time day job as well.

I was a car salesman, selling new Jaguars at the Henley salesroom in Peter Street, Manchester. I was a very poor salesperson and very quickly I found myself transferred a few doors down to Pass & Joyce, who were part of the Henley group but sold Armstrong Siddeley’s large and luxurious Sapphire, and the new one-hundred-miles-per-hour 234 model.

Sales of our Armstrongs were very slow as the new Jaguar XJ over at Henley’s was far more exciting, so things were very quiet at Pass & Joyce. However, in an attempt to boost flagging sales, a member of the Armstrong family by the name of Tommy Sopworth, a well-known racing driver, arrived at the showroom to take prospective customers for a spin in the new 234. But, as the day wore on, there was no interest so, to ease the boredom, he took me and my colleague out instead.

His driving was certainly an eye-opener, in and out of the busy Manchester traffic. And, at the end of Princess Parkway, he went round the roundabout in a full four-wheel drift before briefly accelerating to over a hundred miles an hour — what an experience! I thought I could drive, but this was something else. I decided that whenever I had the chance, I needed to practise the roundabouts.

During the next few weeks, I had quite a lot of time to practise and managed to perfect the technique on a number of roundabouts. One particular day, I was asked if I would take the Jaguar XR demonstrator car to the home of a prospective customer the following morning. It occurred to me that this would be a wonderful opportunity to get a photograph of my new-found skill. So the next day I took my camera to work and asked my colleague, Arthur, if he would come with me and take a few photographs as I performed my drifting technique. He agreed, so we set off to find a suitable roundabout at the end of a long, quiet country road. Arthur settled himself on a wall with the camera whilst I drove a little way down the road to set up for the action.

I accelerated hard, reaching a good eighty miles per hour, before hammering the brake for the corner, tyres squealing and dust and gravel everywhere… but no Arthur.

I stopped and got out of the car. Arthur, it turned out, had taken fright as I headed directly towards him at such a rapid speed, and had fallen backwards off the wall into a stream. He climbed up, soaking wet, and not in a good mood.

“Did you get a picture?” I stupidly asked. His reply was not encouraging. The camera was ruined. Arthur poured himself soggily into the passenger seat, quickly regaining his sense of humour… until we realised that we still had to show the car to our customer, which would now be impossible as the front seat was soaking wet! After some thought, I decided to take the car home, dry it out overnight, and find an appropriate excuse to re-arrange the customer’s appointment for the following day. Luckily, this went smoothly and no-one was any the wiser.

Sadly, the only picture I got was the memory of Arthur’s legs disappearing backwards over the wall.

How to Write The Scottish National Anthem

(Originally published at

To say that Alan Tomkinson enjoys ambitious, quixotic projects is something of a considerable understatement. In fact, I don’t think there’s a single ordinary job or hobby he’s done in his whole life. He designed a new type of mattress; raced karts directed a 32-piece youth jazz orchestra (it became the best in the country within its first year); befriended a lion; conducted at the Albert Hall, and founded and built up the UK’s biggest boarding cattery franchise from scratch. Then, after he retired, in his early seventies, he built his own house. And now he begins his biggest and most ambitious work: promoting the song he hopes will become the new Scottish national anthem. Read more at Artistic Echoes