How We Met: Bob Flowerdew & Trevor Baylis
'We'd spend hours discussing engineering ideas – and a lot of time on the river meeting girls'
Sunday 25 October 2009
Trevor Baylis, 72, is a prolific inventor whose award-winning wind-up radio earned him an OBE in 1997. His other innovations include products for people with limited mobility and an electric shoe. He lives on Eel Pie Island, west London
I have a lot to thank the river for; it was the Thames that got me and Bob together. I owned a boat to get from my home [near Twickenham] to Richmond, so I knew everyone on the bankside. Bob was doing some work on another boat at the time – it was around 1978 – and we got chatting. He was living on a boat without any washing arrangements so I let him come to mine, have a bath and sleep on the sofa, and we became firm friends. We'd have riverside walks with my dog, take a dip in my pool, laughing and joking away.
When he got his own place nearby he'd still come round, and we'd go out in the boat to chat up girls. He was a great magnet to the women; still is – handsome fella.
I started work on a series of products for disabled people in the 1980s and Bob was one of the people I brainstormed with. He'd say, "Foot-operated scissors, Trev?" It was great to have someone like him around, with a similar engineering mindset. Other than that, though, we're actually poles apart.
Having smoked all my life I can't tell the difference between vindaloo and vanilla, and I couldn't live without my microwave, while Bob is a good cook; he used to make some lovely meals for me. And now he's awesome when it comes to gardening, though I look at botany slightly differently. Why have flowers that need care 365 days a year when you can get artificial ones?
We've gone our separate ways a bit since he moved to Norfolk; he's settled down and become more organically motivated, while I've stayed mechanical, but what surprised me was finding out he was getting married. I went to his wedding seven years ago, which was a great honour, but I remember thinking, "That's unlike you, mate."
I'm still single; I don't think a woman could live in my house. There's a great big workshop here; it's the ultimate bachelor pad – there just wouldn't be enough room for all her clothes. So I let them rent me by the hour instead.
Now, he comes down for the birthday parties I hold each year and recently I went to the christening of his twins. I'm a bit of an anti-churcher, so I know it meant a lot to Bob for me to be there. We still swap ideas by fax; I feel he's a part of my persona.
Bob Flowerdew, 55, is a TV presenter and one of Britain's best-known organic gardeners; he also regularly appears on Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time. He lives in Norfolk with his wife and two children
I used to hang around Richmond Bridge with some friends who owned a boat company in the late 1970s and Trevor used to come to Richmond on his boat for a spot of shopping, and he kept blowing the shear pin on it. I remember this distinctive moustache and pipe clamped to his teeth. He was very friendly, so we used to help him by putting new shear pins in. I was at a loose end at the time and he offered me accommodation and food if I would overhaul his speedboat motor. I spent weeks on it, and ended up staying there on and off for months.
At my heart I'm an inventor, too, so it was one of the reasons we got on so well. We'd spend hours discussing engineering ideas; he was a sort of mentor. We also spent a lot of time on the river meeting girls; it was like shooting fish in a barrel.
I contributed ideas to his projects, such as the disabled aids, although, like a lot of inventors, a lot of my ideas don't work out. Inventors are great at inventing but not so good at making production models and running companies; I realised Trevor has something a lot of inventors don't – drive.
When he came up with the idea of a clockwork radio for people in poor countries, the idea wasn't that difficult; the real skill was in persisting until it was in production. He went to Africa and met Nelson Mandela and gained an OBE. It's all very well being famous for a while, but doing something like Trevor did – that's righteous. He's really achieved something.
Do I give him any plant advice? Generally it's along the lines of, "If you don't give that plant water soon it'll die." I can't criticise the fact that most of the flowers in his house are synthetic; they're still cheerful even if they're not real. People would call it impatience, but when you see someone like him spending hours, sometimes a solid day, to get an invention off the ground, you can't call him lazy.
The thing that stands out most in what he's done for me over the years was when I got married a few years back. My wife's Jamaican and we couldn't get her father and mother over for the wedding, so I got Trevor to stand in as my father-in-law and he gave my bride to me. It's a responsible position and you want someone who's very mature and capable of telling a good joke afterwards, which he did.
The distance is the biggest problem, now that I'm in Norfolk. We used to use the fax to swap thoughts and ideas, then email made it easier, but I prefer talking to him on the phone.
Even now, after 30 years of friendship, he's still the same perennial bachelor; urbane and mannered but blunt and caustic if necessary – a real bloke's bloke.
For more information about Trevor Baylis's work, visit www.baylisbrands.com
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