Ken Angell – An Obituary

Supporting the preservation and operation of paddle steamers Waverley and Kingswear Castle

Ken Angell – An Obituary

Writing an obituary for a friend and former workmate is never easy. Having to write obituaries for two is particularly sad, yet having scarcely finished John Lees’ obituary I learned that Ken Angell had also passed away. Ach…

Although I was only signed on ship’s articles at the same time as Ken for three summer holiday spells whilst I was at school and intermittently when I was Balmoral’s motorman in 1988, again, like John, Ken proved to be a very big part of my brief seagoing career.

When I was first around Waverley in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Waverley’s engineering team were exclusively Scottish, but with the arrival of Prince Ivanhoe, came an influx of Welsh engineering expertise. Sadly the Prince Ivanhoe venture did not last as long as anyone of us would have liked but a positive of that was that we ended up with Ken on Waverley, and I’ve always thought that Firth of Clyde Steam Packet Company Limited’s loss was very much our gain, so to speak.

As with John Lees, since hearing of his passing, I have found myself smiling a lot as I’ve been remembering Ken and again, that is surely a measure of the man.

Some Random Memories… In no particular order

Anyone who knew Ken must surely remember his infectious laughter which seemed to be almost permanently about to break out. But as well as his undoubted ability to brighten the place up, he was never slow to let you know if things were not up to his expectations and for a young aspiring engineer this was an invaluable mentorship. I well remember being on a particularly intense run ashore to the Off the Record bar in Glasgow and it’s fair to say that as an 18yr old I was still exploring the boundaries as to what counted as sensible drinking! The next morning I was paying the price for such overindulgence and was coiling the shore power cable with scarcely concealed nausea. I’ll never forget Ken coming down the alleyway and letting me know exactly how stupid I’d been. At the time I probably just had a bit of a huff but as the year’s have passed, I’ve come to realise that in this instance and many others, he was really just looking out for me in his own inimitable way.

It was Ken who gave me my first task as a member of the engineering department. On a bright sunny morning in Glasgow I was sent with Ken for some job or another on the steering engine. We got as far as the hatch on the poop deck when Ken turned to me and in very solemn tones announced, “Right, I have an important job for you, young ‘un. Get it right, and we’ll be fine. Get it wrong band you’ll have a bloody miserable summer holiday job. Listen carefully. I want you to make me a cup of coffee. However, I want one heaped table spoonful of coffee in it. Not a tea spoonful, a table spoonful. Think you can mange that? Good-oh, off you trot.” I was convinced it was a wind-up but I did as I was told and low and behold it was actually what he wanted. This turned out to be no emergency hangover recovery cuppa. It was just how Ken liked his coffee. I can’t have made too bad a job of it because over the ensuing seasons on both Waverley and Balmoral, it’s safe to say I made Ken quite a few!

When I had been on Balmoral as motorman in ’88 for a few weeks, Ken came aboard to visit during the overlap of a couple of days when Waverley and Balmoral were both on the Bristol Channel at the same time. He tracked me down in the Steering Flat and asked how things were going. When I diplomatically replied that I was learning more about painting than marine engineering, he said he’d have a quiet word with the Chief. That same day and for the rest of the season I was suddenly driving the starboard main engine at just about every pier! Again, he was really just looking out for me in his own inimitable way.

Ken was a man for whom all apart from the bottom two stud fasteners on his boiler suit seemed purely for decoration rather than function, but given the elevated temperatures in both Waverley and Balmoral machinery spaces, I reckon he was smarter than all the rest of us!

When I was working in Waverley’s engine room, during school summer holidays, one of my daily tasks was to polish the brasses, including the large copper funnel that sits out on one of the walkways that extends over the main engine, and it’s smaller brass companion. I used to fetch those in from their allotted positions and buff them up from the comfort of the engine room tool chest. Never being one to let the opportunity for a bit of fun pass by, Ken soon had us playing them bugle style, usually on an early morning run down from Glasgow. A favourite was “When the saints go marching in” complete with harmony parts, with me holding down the melody… sort of, and Kenny heading off on some freeform jazz improvisation.

He could deliver a bollocking and a compliment in the same sentence! When Waverley was undergoing her wheel transplant in the early 90’s I was down in Avonmouth for the start up and run to the dry dock. Unknown to me Ken had been summonsed from Balmoral to help the new chief with the intricacies of the Waverley’s machinery. When he arrived on the engine room platform and spied me there his outburst to me in front of everybody was along the lines of “oh for *&#! Sake, if you’d let on YOU were here I could have told them to get lost, you could have shown them the ropes (!) and I’d have had another couple of hours in me bed”! In amongst the expletives and moaning about getting dragged out of his bed there was actually a back handed compliment that he thought the ship would have been in safe enough hands with just me there. To be honest I think it was just a bit of flattery but I walked a bit taller that day nevertheless.

One week when we were stormbound in Swansea on Balmoral, Ken and I were tasked with re-jointing one of the cylinder heads on the port engine. Things had not, to be fair, got off to a great start as , whilst we started on the cylinder head, Iain Mac and Thundermop, the other motorman were working beneath and had removed the crankcase door. These two were obviously not used to working as a team….ahem. As the increasingly irate exchanges wafted up to us astride the cylinder head Ken and I became increasingly helpless as we tried to contain our mirth in silence. However, once Thundermop actually dropped a bit of engine on Iain’s head I’m (slightly) ashamed to say we fell about laughing

By this stage in the proceedings we were actually at the point of getting the head off the engine casing by a well established though rather novel means. This involved backing off the cylinder head nuts by about an 1/8th of an inch then starting the engine… sort of. The trick was just to put the starting air on the engine, not go for full blown ignition. The blast of air would jack up the cylinder head till it hit the nuts that had been slackened. This was then repeated until the head was easy to remove by chainblock. At this point a young steward stuck his head into the engine room to see what was going on. He was obviously and understandably bored stiff, on a wet day in Swansea on an almost deserted ship and we were subjected to an endless stream of questions about what we were doing and why. Now, call it coincidence but Ken seemed to have become a bit over enthusiastic and, as well as slackening the nuts off a wee bit more than the regulation 1/8thof an inch, also came within an ace of actually starting the engine! The resultant explosion of sparks, flames and smoke, had the steward departing up the alleyway never to be seen again for the rest of the day!

Priceless… Just like Ken.

Ken in Balmoral’s engine room.

[signature name=”Stuart Mears”]