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Arthur’s making good time

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The repair man: Arthur Tatem was 28 when he was hired by the National Cash Register Bermuda. He stuck with the job, working on a variety of machines, until he retired at 65 (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

There was a time that if you needed an antique clock fixed, Arthur R. Tatem was your man.

He spent 37 years repairing timepieces and machines with NCR Bermuda.

When he retired in 1995, he found it difficult to give up the work.

“I felt I was doing nothing after a while and so a couple years later I started working on clocks and cash registers,” said Mr Tatem, 86. “I [initially] did it as a hobby but it turned into a business.”

He closed shop in April — the first time he’s been without a job since the age of 14. He fills his days with music, books and his volunteer work at the Bermuda Historical Society Museum.

“I left school to work and to help supplement the family income,” Mr Tatem said.

“It was Christmas 1944, the war was still on and times were hard. I was working at the Golden Gate, bagging candy for Christmas. They didn’t want to keep me on after Christmas so I found work at the Goody Shop bakery across the road, where I stayed for a couple of months, then got a job at the Bermuda Florist, delivering flowers and providing general help. I didn’t like that either.”

He found his “niche” at PW & Co Stalls Machine Shop where he was taught lathe work, milling and welding.

“I went a step further at 16 years old and applied for an apprentice trade in the Dockyard and was told that I was too old to start. So I took the next best thing, and worked as a helper riveter, riveting plates on HM ships like the Snipe, Sparrow, Portlock Bay, Padstow Bay and various others. This lasted a while until I heard of a vacancy at the admiralty catering office; I worked at Maria Hill & Watford Mess for the next 15 months. Then I went to work for the US Navy Base as a carpenter’s helper — here’s where the money was good.”

Mr Tatem was born on August 1, 1930, the eldest of eight children.

“I lived mostly with my great-grandmother [Clara Tatem] on Laffan Street, Melbourne House and on King Street until I was about eight or nine years old, and with my mother [Dulcie Tucker] and stepfather thereafter,” he said. “We lived on North Shore — from Government House Gate to Dock Hill to Friswells Hill.”

He left that all behind when he enlisted with the British Army at 18. To this day he believes it’s one of the best decisions he ever made.

“I joined the Gloucestershire Regiment on August 30, 1948. I think that I was the first Bermudian to join the British Army since the end of the Second World War.

“I told my friend, Charlie Mullen, and he told David Dobson who told Bernard Martin and so on, until there were 11 of us. Five joined the Glosters and six joined the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers or the Ordnance Corps.

“We left Bermuda from the Dockyard on the Empire Orwell on September 23 and arrived in Liverpool, England, on October 3. Since this was my first trip away from Bermuda, it was an awesome sight to see the pea green soup-looking water of the harbour compared to ours — my first impression of a world outside Bermuda. I can say that I got out of it just what I put into it. I learnt more in five years in the British Army than I could ever have learnt in 20 years in the environment that I was in, in Bermuda. During these ‘world sightseeing tours’ I managed to get my Army 2nd class and 1st class certificates of education and later my City & Guilds qualification in telecommunications, which I couldn’t finish.”

Mr Tatem returned to Bermuda in 1953.

He “worked on a variety of jobs, always moving on to better myself and never afraid to learn new skills — which I did with the help of books”.

Two years later he was married. He and his late wife, Dorothy, had two sons, George and Michael.

“[We] met in Somerset in 1947. We corresponded while I was away and got closer when I returned from overseas,” he said.

He was 28 when he was hired by the National Cash Register Bermuda. Mr Tatem stuck with the job until he retired, age 65.

“During my career I worked on a wide variety of machines including all office machines, locks, mechanical and electronic calculators, time clocks, cash registers, copiers, etc,” he said.

In 1970 he bought an antique cash register from Clarke’s Bar and restored it to its former glory. Gosling’s had imported the machine in 1895. It stayed there for 50 years before it moved to Court Street.

The register sat in a box for 40 years after Mr Tatem bought it. In 2010 he handed it over to Gosling’s Dundonald Street headquarters.

“It’s just one of the many [machines] I did,” Mr Tatem said. “By my guess I’ve done over 50 clocks. I enjoyed it and the customer relationships that came from it but at the end I felt I’d done enough, and it was time for myself.

“I’ve been very fortunate. I count my blessings. Life’s been good to me.”

•Portions of this article appeared as an Opinion piece in last Thursday’s edition of The Royal Gazette

Timely occupation: volunteer at the Bermuda Historical Society Museum, Arthur Tatem (Photograph by Blaire Symmons)
Tiime machine: on of the old typewriters (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)