How many times have you read that, only to be told by the company when you ask them to mend your doorbell, “Sorry, it’s too small to be economic”? Well, I found the perfect engineering firm for which it was true: no job really was too small.

My second hand Fitzwilliam potter’s wheel required a modification, just a block with two holes in it and two retaining bolts. In the old days, Mervyn Fitzwilliam, the designer and maker of this Rolls Royce of potters’ wheels, would have done the job for me, but sadly he died, too young, a couple of years ago. Then I found a little company that was willing to have a look at it. “We’re very busy, I’ve got someone just had a baby and two guys on holiday, but I’ll try and fit it in.”

They’re at the blind end of a narrow lane, all the other buildings are Victorian cottages, you can hardly get your car down and wonder how the hell you’ll get out again. The factory is also old, small and crammed tight with machinery, swarf everywhere, odd shaped parts being cut, turned and drilled. Tinker, tailor, potter, engineer – stick to what you’re good at and do it well.

The boss told me to have a word with Peter.  Peter is about eighty and comes in two days a week. The younger guys wear t-shirts, Peter has a collar and tie and a long grey coat. He fiddles with the piece I have brought for him to copy, “Hm, that fits when it touches, I suppose”, he says disapprovingly. I immediately have confidence that he will make a good job for me. “But I probably won’t be able to do it till next week.”  “Fine!” I say.

The next afternoon Peter phones to say that my job is finished. It’s perfect, of course. The prototype was made of mild steel with a painted finish. I told him my part would be used in a wet environment, so he made it out of stainless steel.

I went to pay the boss. When I asked for a VAT receipt he gave me an old fashioned look. I explained that I couldn’t record it as a business expense if he didn’t.  “Ah,” he said, “You’re very naughty. I slipped it in for you and now you want the paperwork. In that case you should have issued a purchase order, then the book-keeper could deal with it properly.” He made an exception for me. What a wonderful combination of informality and bureaucracy.

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