Blotted Copy Books, and Caterpillar Coats

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The 70’s is currently enjoying a revival on TV thanks to memoir sitcoms Cradle to Grave and The Kennedys.

Cradle to Grave is part written by comedian Danny Baker and is based on his own adolescence in 1970’s London. With exploding toilets and loads of ‘farkin ‘ells’, it’s hilariously funny.

The Kennedys is written by actress, writer and TV presenter Emma Kennedy and is based on her memoirs The Tent, The Bucket and Me. Narrated from 10 year old Emma’s perspective, it resonates with me the most because I too was a child in the 70’s.

The show provides a nostalgic look back at the time when Darth Vader was a scary man (but nowhere near as scary as Jimmy Savile turned out to be) and schoolgirls lives were temporarily ruined by Donny Osmond’s forthcoming nuptials.

Both shows feature cars of the decade and it brought back memories of Dad’s Hillman Hunter.

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Dad and Me in his Hillman Hunter

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Dad putting the car away in the garage while I showed Mum what I’d been doing at school all day.

Another form of transport (for kids) was the Space Hopper. I had a go on my friend’s but wasn’t much for it as the bouncing made my head ache. I preferred to spin around until I fell over on the carpet and entertainment doesn’t come much better than that!

Not forgetting the hours of fun to be had from making go carts out of an old prams and bits of wood. We were recycling way before it was fashionable!

It’s Emma’s schooldays which have evoked memories long forgotten…

~ Inky Fingers ~

I remember inky fingers, blotting paper and my brother’s leaky fountain pens which resulted in Mum having to scrub his clothes. No magical Vanish in those days – just milk, vinegar and elbow grease!

Blotting paper reminds me of one of Mum’s favourite sayings..

You’ve really blotted your copy book this time, Madam!

I never actually understood the meaning of it but could tell I was in trouble from the way her eyes narrowed as she said it just before she ordered me up to my room to ‘think about what I’d done’.

~ Technology ~

Technology at school was watching a film via a projector which invariably involved disruptions while the teacher faffed about changing the reels. The films were usually about as entertaining as tonsillitis but they gave us the opportunity to eat sweets without risk of confiscation.

~ The School Toilets ~

The school toilets (more commonly known as bogs) were damp and drippy and there was always a cubicle with an out of order notice pinned to the door.

Hygiene was soap that smelled like antiseptic (because it was) and Izal toilet roll or ‘caretakers revenge’ as I like to call it. Wiping your arse with Izal was like trying to wipe yourself with a crisp packet, not that I’ve tried but it’s the best analogy I can come up with.

~ Thatcher, Thatcher Milk Snatcher ~

Dad considered Margaret Thatcher a cow of epic proportions..

~ Healthy Eating ~

On the way home from school, my brother would take me into the sweet shop where he’d give me a few pennies for some sweets and in those days you got a lot of sweets for your money. I remember the shop being crammed to the rafters with huge bottles containing Flying Saucers, Fizzy Cola Bottles, Sweet Tobacco, Black Jacks, Space Dust, Wham Bars, Drumsticks and Space Dust. I loved them all and it’s highly likely that the sugar in this lot contributed to me having ‘blotted my copy book’ on several occasions!

~ School Fashion ~

Fashion?

*guffaws*

The 70’s was the decade that good taste missed!

The sight of Emma Kennedy and her friend with their school satchels jogged my memory of having one as a child. Things were made to last in those days and were generally worn out before being replaced. Very different from today’s throwaway society where things are changed on a whim. My satchel lasted me for years because the sodding thing was indestructible!

Mum bought my coats a size too big so that I could ‘grow into them’. She bought me one in the sales once and it’s fair to say that it was going cheap because nobody in their right mind would want to be seen dead in it. It was phlegm green, padded and made me look like a caterpillar. I put up with the piss-taking for a few weeks then it ‘mysteriously’ ripped beyond repair. *shifty face*

I also had a pair of these..

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Mum liked to get her money’s worth when it came to shoes and demanded to see actual holes before she’d fork out for a new pair. Unlike clothes, she had to buy shoes that actually fitted so my growing spurts totally pissed her off. However, being a mother myself and having spent a small fortune on children’s shoes, I now feel her pain.

~ Miss D ~

My teacher in 1978. Goddess. Looked like Deirdre off Coronation Street.  A wonderful lady who actually liked kids which made a welcome change from my previous teacher who was straight out of a Stephen King novel.

The 70’s has been tainted with the recent revelations that some of it’s biggest icons were in fact depraved monsters but Cradle to Grave and The Kennedys have injected some warmth and humour back into the era to remind us that, disagreeable decor aside, it wasn’t too bad really.

mumturnedmom

Image Credit Star Wars J D Hancock

Image Credit Clarks Shoes Alansplodge

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Once Upon A Time in a Potbank

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From the 18th century to the 1960’s, Stoke-on-Trent’s landscape was dominated by thousands of bottle kilns. Today there remains 47, all of which are listed.

I was born in the heart of the Potteries so perhaps it’s no surprise that I’ve worked in two of it’s potbanks. The first of which was one which made hotel-ware.

I turned up to my interview slightly overdressed in a pencil skirt, blouse and high heels. I was 16 years old and probably looked more confident than I felt as I click-clacked alongside the supervisor who was showing me around the factory. I couldn’t help but gawp at the pint-sized women who were balancing large wooden planks filled with teapots on their shoulders as if they weighed nothing at all. There was apparently a ‘knack’ to it which I never did master.

The interview was a formality. I turned up, got taken on and was trained up. It was that simple.

My job was Fettler/Sponger

FETTLER – Potting department. Clay end. Male or female who uses a variety of little tools to remove the rough seams and edges on the clay piece after it has been made by casting.

SPONGER Occupation. Potting department. Clay end. The person, male or female, employed specifically to remove seams and wet clay which had been created during the potting process.

I remember the noise and layer of dust that covered everything. The air was dry and cigarette smoke mingled with perfume and sweat – the kind that makes your eyes water.

Two weeks into the job I had the audacity to get sick and the management sacked me as I’d taken time off when I was still in my probation period. I appealed and won my case for unfair dismissal but I never went back.

Three years later I took a job as a ‘labourer’ on a twilight shift in another potbank which made tableware.

My job involved loading clay onto machinery which sliced it into pieces which would then drop onto moulds to be pressed to form a plate, bowl or saucer. These were then baked and stacked into piles which I would load onto trolleys while trying to maintain a steady flow of clay on about two other machines at the same time. Every so often (when I got talking) one of my makers would bellow out “OI, STOP GABBIN’ AND GET YER BACKSIDE BACK OVER ERE!!’ and that was just the women!

The factory was full of characters the likes of which you could write a book on. No airs and graces – just proud, hard working folk who knew how to have a laugh.

I loved every minute of it.

Working in a potbank was hard work and the conditions weren’t ideal despite vast improvements in health and safety compared to years ago…

In living memory, a pottery worker’s living came at the sacrifice of their health with lung diseases such as Pneumoconiosis which came from breathing in dust. I can only imagine how bad things were before health and safety laws forced companies to make improvements to working conditions.

No post about the Potteries would be complete without mentioning the dialect that is almost exclusive to Stoke.

Examples of Potteries dialect or Ar ter toke crate!

AY ~ Something I say about a 100 times a day since I’ve gone deaf.

ADAMANT ~ 80’s pop singer and brand name of a particular type of pottery made by Twyfords.

BOG ~ Common UK slang word for toilet extensively used in Stoke-on-Trent (and me)

CLACK ~ Potteries for the epiglottis. (“foone an ambulance duck, eets stuck in me clack!”)

DUCK ~ Term of endearment

OATCAKE ~ Local delicacy (also be found in random supermarkets in Bury)

FRITTENED DEATH~ Extremely frightened  ‘E’s frittened death of having to get a round in!’

MARD ARSE ~ A spoilt person or man + flu = mard arse

NESH ~ Doesn’t withstand the cold too well. (like me)

PEE DEE ~ Pay Day

RITES SPIES ~ Wrights Pies (the ultimate in pie experience)

CHAYS ~ Nice on an oatcake with some bacon

SHAPE ~  Woolly things in fields that go well with mint sauce.

It was spoken broadly in my day (especially by the potters and miners) but seemingly people don’t use it as much in everyday conversation so it will inevitably die out, sadly.

When I started work at the potbank in 1989, it employed 500 people and was split into three divisions – hotel-ware, mugs and tableware. The hotel-ware was particularly profitable but table-ware (where I worked) was facing major problems.

Sir John Harvey-Jones was brought in and as part of BBC2’s Troubleshooter series, he sought to improve the factory’s fortunes. His findings showed that a substantial amount of money could be saved if they axed about 100 unskilled jobs and replaced them with a machine.

Mine was one of those jobs, as were the makers that I laboured for. Our roles were made redundant to make way for a dust pressing unit which would mechanically do our jobs more efficiently and without the need of a tea-break.

We had to work alongside it while the teething problems were sorted out and a huge cheer would go up whenever the sodding thing broke down. Regardless of our impending redundancies – morale remained high. That’s the spirit of the Potteries for you.

Clocking off for the last time was emotional. Some jobs I’ve been glad to leave but this wasn’t one of them.

Despite the introduction of more technology – the company now employs over 700 people and that’s not bad for an industry that is in decline – in the Potteries at any rate.

Despite swapping the kilns of the Potteries for Lancashire mills, I am, and always will be, a Potteries girl.

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Yep, it’s me.

This post is in response to a request by theatre directer, Sarah, as part of an event at The Victoria and Albert museum in London at the end of this month. Maybe you have worked in the potbanks yourself and would like to share your memories?

You can get in touch with Sarah at: memoriesofpotbankworkers@gmail.com by 16th October.

Bottle Kilns Image via Creative Commons by ‘Pessimist’

mumturnedmom

Spin The Black Circle

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The soundtrack to my childhood is on vinyl – somewhere.

A few years ago, having been seduced by the digital form of the CD, I decided to flog almost every record that I owned in a car boot sale – fifty pence for an album or a pound for a double. A moment of insanity that would come to haunt me.

You see, I’ve grown up with music. Dad was a ‘Hi-Fi buff’ who spent hours sat in front of his mammoth speakers in search of the ultimate ‘stereo experience’ which I found hilarious because he was deaf in one ear. Music was his passion and one of the last records he listened to was my Queen album – one of a few which I kept back from the blasted car boot sale.

The album contained The Show Must Go On. Written primarily by Brian May it’s a song about Freddie’s determination to carry on performing despite the fact that he was dying.

Inside my heart is breaking
My make-up may be flaking
But my smile still stays on

Apt lyrics for my Dad – a man who knew he was losing his battle with cancer.

My love of music starts way back in the decade of grim decor and fashion aka the 70’s. In 1978 I got my first record player along with the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever – a film that I wasn’t old enough to see. It would be a few more years before I got to see JT in his undies!

In 1979 I bought I Don’t Like Mondays by the Boomtown Rats with my pocket money and had no idea that the song was about a 16 year old girl who went on a shooting spree because she didn’t like Mondays!

Equipment itself has come a long way. Edison’s phonograph kicked it all off and has evolved into the tiniest of devices not much bigger than a stamp. (iPod). I wonder what Smack my Bitch Up would sound like on a phonograph? Edison would spin in his grave faster than Pete Burns… right round baby!

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One of Judge Jules’ early gigs ha ha – not really. Don’t sue me.

Photo Credit

Music is much more than an art form. It connects people, or it used to.

Records were vitally important to the development of music and of all music cultures. With that being pushed by the wayside, I can’t see an iPod uniting us. In fact it separates us, the streets are full of people bumping into lamp posts, listening to their own little universe, and there’s no sharing in that. ~ John Lydon

It wasn’t always this way..

Music played a big part in boosting morale during world war two. It captured the spirit of a nation that refused to be broken by Hitler. Hearing Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade evokes feelings of nostalgia and gratitude. Nostalgia because despite the hardship of the war, my parents had fond memories of that time and gratitude because I owe my life to those who died for our freedom.

My taste is eclectic which means there is a genre to suit my every mood and there are a lot of em. Rock gets my heart pumping whereas classical relaxes me. I love Punk with it’s angst and nihilistic attitude that reflected a time of teenage rebellion with the Sex Pistols summing up the attitude of a generation with “No future”. Listening to the likes of the Sex Pistols and The Clash was part of my own teenage rebellion. The day I skimmed Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols across the kitchen worktop was a memorable one to say the least. Ma miss-lit her fag in shock at the word ‘bollocks‘.

“I’ll give you bollocks, Madam!” My Mum circa 1984

Despite embracing the digital form, I’ve felt disenchanted with music for a while. Then one day I had an epiphany when I realised that what music was missing was soul. And I don’t mean the genre.

CD’s are almost clinical. They have a ‘clean’ sound and while that may suit the techno sound, I think it robs other genres of it’s soul. I also missed the tactile experience of placing a record on the deck and trying to keep a steady hand (a difficult task when pissed) as I placed the needle on the record waiting for the inevitable crackle and hiss. But that’s just me. Music and sound is subjective. Millions of people have never looked back and think of vinyl only in a historical or value sense. As technology surges forward, I find myself hankering for a time of simplicity.

I deeply regret flogging my collection but am in the process of creating another one and it’s not lost on me that I’m often paying double or treble what I paid for them originally. Lesson learned. No more boot sales. Unless it’s to buy. 😉

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Music evokes powerful emotions and listening to Ella Fitzgerald transports me to days of childhood watching Ma doing her thing in the kitchen and Frank Sinatra instantly makes me think of Dad crooning along to That’s Life, Jack Daniels in one hand, Marlboro in the other. Despite the secondary smoke inhalation, those were happy times with memories that have become so important to me now that they are both gone. Music takes me to a happy place and back to a time when life was simple and happiness was a book or a new record. Simple pleasures…

Mum and Dad may be gone but they live on in the music. A record is made of up of grooves and within those grooves are memories and a memory is something that can’t be taken from you.

End Note :

Dear Boys, please don’t flog my records in a car boot sale after I’ve gone.

I will haunt you.

Love, Mum.

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The song is ended but the melody lingers on.

mumturnedmom

C30, C60, C90, Go!

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Technology has come a long way since I was a child in the 70’s.

Today there are numerous devices to capture our special moments but in ‘mar daaay’ it was basically a camera, a Polaroid Instant camera (dodgy, Father…VERY dodgy!) and cassette tapes.

Cassettes were great because I could bung my favourite songs on a few tapes and sit up the garden – portable tape player turned up to the max thus inciting the wrath of the neighbours – and Ma!

Ma removed my batteries on many an occasion.

She confiscated the player a few times as well.

My family made tapes for one another as another way of keeping in touch. Ma gave me a load of these old tapes when Dad died …some memories were simply too painful for her.

It’s been almost 18 years since I listened to them.

But they’ve re-surfaced including a few that I didn’t get around to playing… such as this one.

 

Merry Xmas from Granma and Grandad

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Seeing Nan’s handwriting on the tape was enough to start me blubbing.

I started with the B side because it was addressed to me and my brother. ( Nan spelt his name wrong)

I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I rammed the cassette into the player – sat down in my easy chair and braced myself.

Silence.

Five minutes later – still silence.

I fast forwarded a bit – still nothing.

Basically the entire side had nothing on it!

I turned over..

Deck The Halls boomed out from the speakers but it was playing at 45rpm instead of 33rpm. (Google it, kids)

The next few songs were the same. I’m guessing it was Jim Reeves Christmas Hits but it sounded more like Pinky and Perky.

Nan must have realised her gaff and changed the speed mid-song.

Unfortunately the next record she put on was a single but she still had the record player set to 33rpm.

Again, she must have sussed it because it suddenly changed speed half way through.

By this point I was laughing so hard a bit of wee came out…

My pelvic floor couldn’t cope.

Oh my God, Nan!!

Not only that but she’d totally ignored the pause button because I could hear the change of the records and on one occasion, the needle slipped off. Perhaps Grandad ( who was a bit shaky) was in charge of putting the needle on the record?

Nan was a technophobe but I’m hazarding a guess she’d also been at the brandy.

But my laughter faded away as I heard the familiar sound of her voice.

It was a surreal moment.

I closed my eyes and she could have been in the room with me..

“Bye bye, cheerio for now – God Bless.” she said.

I could visualise her tiny frame, silky soft skin and salt and peppery hairdo – styled like the Queen’s.

She was well posh, my nan.

Then she said “See you all on Wednesday” and Grandad (deaf aid a-whistling) piped up “God willing!!”

She started to say something about making a cup of tea but the tape ran out mid sentence.

Before I played the tape – I knew I was going to cry but I had no idea it would mostly be with laughter.

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Nan & Grandad

The Sing-a-Long

On this tape – one side was labelled Sing-a-Long and I’d heard it before so I played the other side first.

There was no writing on this side so I just shoved it in the player (jammed it twice) and curled back up on my chair.

Imagine my surprise when The Stripper started to play!

Yes, THE STRIPPER!!

As in STRIPTEASE music!!!

I squirmed about uneasily for a few minutes waiting for it to finish but then it started again!

In fact…the ENTIRE side was full of it!!!!

I was like…WTF????

Suddenly the Polaroid camera made a LOT of sense.

God only knows what Ma was doing for that 30 minutes. The mind boggles.

It’s still boggling…

I dread to think what my parents were up to while I was slumbering away dreaming of sheep. And stuff.

I’m going to need lots of therapy – my childhood is ruined.

I downed a pint to ease the trauma and played the other side.

Basically it’s half an hour of me (aged about 8) Dad and Ma singing along to Max Bygraves. Why this is on the same tape as striptease music – I’ll never know.

Dad could croon with the best of em and he’d always sing when he’d had a few.

He was a happy drinker. The more he drank – the happier he got and he sang like Frank Sinatra. Only Dad’s eyes were brown.

Hearing my young self made me smile and cringe simultaneously.

I had a really annoying habit of saying “OH YEAH” or “Olé” at the end of each song. *cringe* *cringe*

Ma’s singing would intermittently break off and she could be heard rollocking someone in the background – most likely one of my bruv’s.

The last voice on the tape is my dad’s.

“Sock it to em baby!” he says Elvis stylee and then he laughs.

In this day and age it’s so easy to capture these moments – all it takes is a mobile phone.

Little did I know in 1978 what this recording would mean to me 36 years later when both of them are gone.

Gone but never forgotten and a part of them lives on within the spools of an old C60 cassette tape.

“The times you lived through, the people you shared those times with — nothing brings it all to life like an old mix tape. It does a better job of storing up memories than actual brain tissue can do. Every mix tape tells a story. Put them together, and they can add up to the story of a life.”~ Love is a Mix Tape – Rob Sheffield.

 Unravelled Cassette Image -Andrew Malone