Saturday, August 27, 2016

Trying to make head or tail of political schisms

 I have not been a very political animal until this year. I felt - in common, I suspect, with many of the populace - that "all politicians are the same".  I live in a safe Conservative constituency, where an earthquake of Richter-scale 7 proportions would be necessary to unseat our current MP. He's a nice chap, but without exception he votes the Party line in debates. So although I have always dutifully gone to vote I never had much hope that it would change anything.

2015 UK Labour Leadership election

Ed Miliband resigned as leader due to poor Labour results in the 2015 General Election, and a leadership contest ensued.
Following the Collins review, the party's internal electoral system had been revised to a pure "one member, one vote" system:  previously one-third weight was given to the votes of Parliamentary Labour Party members, one-third to individual Labour Party members, and one third to the Unions and Affiliates. (1)
Now, members and registered and affiliated supporters all receive a maximum of one vote and all votes are weighted equally. This gives the grass-roots membership far more influence.
Jeremy Corbyn stood for the leadership at the last minute with the support of 36 MPs. A number of prominent Labour figures, including Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Jack Straw, David Miliband and Alastair Campbell, claimed that Corbyn as leader would leave the party unelectable in another General Election. However, Corbyn was decisively elected by Labour Party members in the first round, with 59.5% of the votes.

Policies

What is it about Corbyn's policies which have triggered such a huge response in voters?
Return of the NHS to complete public ownership?
Free education from primary to tertiary level?
Re-nationalisation of the railways and nationalisation of some heavy industries (eg steelmaking)?
I think it is primarily his principle that political decisions need to serve the best interests of "the man or woman in the street" rather than those of large businesses and economic interests.

Party response

This is where it gets dirty. We as a nation have got so used to right-wing policies over the last 30 years (even with "New Labour" in Government) that this shift towards traditional Labour values has been dubbed "Trotskyist". Although I don't think Corbyn's policies are those of communism, but of democratic socialism, clearly the elected Labour MPs don't feel he's got what it takes to win a General Election. A leadership challenge was first discussed in the British press in November 2015 when the PLP was split over Britain's participation in air strikes in Syria.  Another challenge was predicted in April 2016 after Ken Livingstone's allegedly anti-semitic comments led to his suspension; Shadow Cabinet members allegedly held talks with plotters.

The EU Referendum on 23 June

Corbyn spoke to Labour rallies throughout Britain advising that we should remain in Europe. He had previously been critical of the EU, and this didn't change, but he advised remaining in the Union to reform it from within. However, the position he took, and his reasoning, were not susceptible of use in media soundbites - and such a position was easily construed as weakness by both Remainers and Leavers. It was very little reported compared to louder, brasher mouths uttering promises that, immediately after the Leave vote, were admitted to be lies.
Journalists at The Guardian reported that a small group of Labour MPs and advisers had been talking about a 'movement' against Corbyn to take place on 24 June  ie, immediately the Referendum was decided.
On 25 June, a 'Saving Labour' campaign website was created, to encourage members of the public to email MPs to urge them not to back Corbyn. Hilary Benn, Shadow Foreign Secretary, contacted members of the Shadow Cabinet to inform them that he had lost confidence in Corbyn. Corbyn sacked him. At least 20 MPs resigned or were dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet over the next few days. A vote of no confidence in Corbyn was made by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on 28 June, with Corbyn losing the vote by 172 to 40. He however insisted that his mandate came from the party membership, and he refused to stand down. On 8 July he challenged the rebels to put up  candidates against him.
Over 100,000 new members were reported to have joined the Labour Party by that date, taking membership numbers above 500,000.
The party's National Executive Committee (NEC) met on 12 July 2016 to set a timetable and procedure for the election. They decided by secret ballot that the incumbent leader would automatically be on the ballot in any leadership election. They also decided, contrary to usage over the previous 7 years, not to allow the members who had joined the party in the past six months to vote in the leadership election. Approximately 130,000 new members who had joined since the EU referendum would be unable to vote - unless they registered as "Registered supporters" at a fee of £25. This angered me more than the resuscitation of the six-month rule; it looked like a cynical attempt to prevent the poorest of these new members voting, on the assumption that they were the ones likely to support Corbyn.
Angela Eagle (MP for Wallasey since 1992) and Owen Smith (MP for Pontypridd since 2010) stood against Corbyn. Nine other Labour MPs declined to stand. Eagle withdrew from the campaign after a short time leaving a 2-horse race between Corbyn and Smith.
Labour donor Michael Foster brought a High Court legal challenge to contest the NEC's interpretation of the rules that allowed Corbyn to be a candidate without having to secure nominations from Labour MPs/MEPs. On 26 July 2016 the High Court ruled that there was no basis to challenge the NEC's decision.
The Collins Review of leadership elections had concluded that the eligible electorate would include members without qualification; so Christine Evangelou and others brought an English contract law case against its General Secretary, Iain McNicol on behalf of the whole party, concerning the eligibility of members to vote if they joined the party after 12 January 2016 (i.e. less than six months before the start of voting). An initial ruling that these members could vote was overturned by the Court of Appeal a few days later. The "£25 for a vote" arrangement however still stood...
The latest is that the Labour Party appears to be stripping people of the right to vote - in a somewhat selective manner. "The compliance unit is working through applications to check whether the 180,000 new registered supporters who signed up to take part in the vote are eligible, or if some are members of, or public advocates for, other groups."..."[John] McDonnell claimed the party was exercising double standards in suspending [Ronnie] Draper while allowing long-time party donor Lord Sainsbury to remain a member, despite having given more than £2m to the Liberal Democrats." (2)
What the actual F does this political party think it is doing to itself?

The Other Lot


While all this internal strife was going on in the Labour Party, the Conservatives also fell apart. After the EU Referendum David Cameron resigned because the vote went for Leave rather than Remain. Smartest move he ever made. We had a brief nightmare vision of Boris Johnson (3) as a possible Prime Minister - and woke to the reality of Theresa May. And, despite her support for the Leave vote, she's showing a canny reluctance to invoke Article 50 (4) which would trigger the UK's actual exit from the European Union. But by contrast with Labour, the Conservative party has had no challenge to its basic policies, and so it has rapidly glued itself back together.




Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Patchwork of Sleep

I think I have cracked it.

I can't sleep for a whole night in a bed at the moment. The hip complains and prods me awake. I've tried toughing it out, but for the last couple of months I have spent the early hours, through the dawn to 6 or 7am, in the recliner in the front room. It's more comfortable there, and I don't keep disturbing my husband's sleep.

I have watched a good deal of nocturnal Olympic TV, most of it with my eyes shut - I missed Mo Farah's fall, but was awake for the interview after he'd won. I have discovered that BBC 2 broadcasts snippets of documentaries and many versions of its between-programmes signature, and that my favourite is the furry 2 that squeaks and does a somersault. I've also been permanently dopey during the daytime and prone to falling asleep while I work at the computer.

However, I think I've found the right balance.

Go to bed at my usual time with the usual bedtime painkillers.
Expect to wake around 2am unable to find a position that doesn't hurt.
Go down to the kitchen, make a hot drink, take another dose of painkillers and set up camp in the recliner with specific cushions and a pillow, and the furry throw which I bought cheap at Poundland and seems to have an extraordinary ability to induce sleep.
Sleep till, usually, 5am.
Go back to bed and sleep till 7.30am.

On this regime I have been awake and normal (well, as normal as I ever get) for a whole two days now.

Still - roll on the pre-op assessment, and a date to have the hip replaced.



Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Very Grumpy Woman has a very grumpy day

Arthritis is a bugger.

I'm waiting for a hip replacement, agreed in May, surgery date still unknown, but pre-op set for next Thursday. In the meantime I exist on painkillers which put up my blood pressure and make my ankles swell, and blood pressure medication which makes me faint if I stand up too fast. At night I sleep for an hour, wake, turn over, stifle a yelp and try to sleep for another hour, until after five hours I can't stick it any longer and go downstairs to resume the painkillers and try to sleep in an armchair.

I've snoozed through some extraordinary television in the small hours recently, but this sleeping (correction, non-sleeping) pattern does not make for a sharp and lively brain. I am irritable. Chattering noises become unbearable, whether caused by Classic FM ads at the distant end of the house or unidentified objects in the front footwell of the Honda. A few days ago with this in mind I dug around under the front seat and seized on the locking wheel-nut socket and the spare nuts which were in a rattly moulded-plastic pack and seemed to be the likely culprits. I put them on top of a box in the car shed.

I've managed despite the brain fog to keep on top of my (mostly voluntary) jobs. One of these was to re-write bits of the Fell Pony Society's Display Team script ready for 4 displays over 2 days at Lowther Show this coming weekend. So with the event in mind - and the rainy weather - I decided I'd take the car up to Harold's Tyres and have the front tyres swopped to the back and vice versa for more grip in the inevitable Lowther mud.

It didn't go well.

Mid afternoon on a Wednesday shouldn't look like a busy period on the road, should it? I was quite relaxed following Mark Broadbent's 'Fenix' articulated horsebox down from the motorway to Shap; I knew it was on its way to pitch camp at Lowther, as indeed were many of the big driving-trial competitors. I stopped off at the doctor's surgery to pick up a fresh supply of the prescribed drugs, and so I didn't see the Fenix wagon again. I did however catch up with a tail of traffic behind a tractor and loaded silage trailer, with which I chugged along between second and third gears for several miles until we all reached Bessy Gill and could overtake. At Clifton I caught up with a second slow tractor. And at Gilwilly Industrial Estate, a third.


By this time I was operating on autopilot and kept thinking I had missed my way. I hadn't, fortunately; I reached Harold's to find it conveniently only half full. I drove into an empty bay, and reassured the helpful chap in charge of it that I hadn't "brocken" anything. I explained that I had checked all the tyre tread depths were legal, but I wanted the front tyres exchanged for the less worn back ones and vice versa.

He cast a professional glance over the Honda's alloys and asked me for the locking nut tool.

I searched my memory, discovered the picture of the locking nut socket lying in its packet in the shed, twenty-five minutes away down the motorway; swore; and departed.

On the way home the niggly rattle resumed. I was feeling savage by now. I stopped on the car park of Go Outdoors and stomped through the rain to open the passenger door, wrench out the underseat drawer and leave it in the footwell. When I drove back onto the motorway, I was moderately soothed to find the niggly rattle had disappeared. Pretty much the first good thing that had happened all afternoon.

I was going uphill somewhere around Hackthorpe when I saw a group of three HGVs ahead. I shifted into the middle lane to overtake them, but when I got level with the second wagon's tail, it began to indicate to pull out. I couldn't get out of its way into the outer lane - my mirror showed me a white Transit pickup barrelling up it far too fast and too close for me to risk moving over - but at that point the wagon began to move into mine, the driver evidently determined to keep up his revs and thinking I was just being obstinate.

The middle lane is not meant to contain a Honda CR-V and a 35-tonne artic. Not side by side at the same time. I braked. Hard. Luckily I've just had the back brakes "done" and despite the rain and the speed, they held and the car stayed in a straight line.

The wagon filled the middle lane ahead of me, the Transit whooshed on by. I had time and space a minute later to overtake safely in the third lane. But I will be replaying that gap narrowing in front of me for the rest of the evening. 
 
And all that, ladies and gents, is why I've got sweet F.A. done this afternoon.

Update:
I took my car to our local do-it-all garage man this morning. A former rally driver who was once badly injured as a passenger in someone else's car and so possesses more rebuilt joints than I do, Chris is one of the bright spots of the village. "I don't have a cold. I don't have hay fever. I do have a runny nose." Blows nose on garage cleanup paper. "I am just generally delicate."

When I proffered the locking nut socket in its packet he ignored it. "Your wheels don't have any locking nuts."

Enough said about all participants.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Grumpy Old Woman and Tall Food




During my daughter’s seven-month stay with us, with our new grand-daughter, our mealtime habits changed. Where once we used to listen thoughtfully to Radio Four, we had to compromise with the chewing-gum-for-the-eyes that is presented on TV over the supper-time period. This wasn’t because daughter is particularly lowbrow or we particularly highbrow. The fact was that the needs of the baby at that time of the day tended to make her rather vocal, so the thread of a story or a nuance of comic timing  came off a very bad second to her demands. So we perforce became visual rather than aural consumers of the broadcast media at mealtimes.

As a newcomer to the early evening TV time slot I was very surprised by how many cookery programs are put out. I’m now aware of how fashionable food is, and how vital is its presentation. Inconvenient plates of vast acreage are placed lovingly before the foodie, bearing a concentrated and astonishing array of edibles garnered from all corners of the globe. I know globes don’t have corners, but you understand what I mean.  

I admit that many of these arrays look delightful. Tastyvision and smellyvision have yet to reach us, so on a TV food show colours are everything. And colours we are given, along with facial and vocal expressions of delight from the people who actually get to touch-smell-taste the products of the many celebrity cooks. What piques me, though – and piques me even more when I am just occasionally out there, dressed up and paying for it – is the excess of presentation that food seems to need, as evidenced by the catering profession.

I did see one well known foodie person on TV disparaging a wannabe chef for producing “tall food”. And rightly so. Not only is it so 1990, but a plate a foot wide with a tower of tiny edibles tottering in the middle is a waste of effort on everyone’s part – chef and customer alike. Chef spends time assembling the edifice, while customer has to calculate how he can safely eat it without the whole thing collapsing into his neighbour’s lap. I have to say that the critic, for once, got my applause. I don’t want to puzzle out how to deconstruct le gros bonnet’s presentation. Stick it all on a plate – prettily if you must – and just let me eat it.

Drizzles of any kind are irritating, too. Weatherwise they are neither one thing nor another; wet without making an effort, so I don’t want anyone to drizzle on my grub for me, thanks; whether with olive oil, mayonnaise, sundried tomato purée, brown sauce or anything else. Give me the choice of doing it for myself.

“Coulis” are snob’s blobs. Smudged artistically into a plate with the back of a spoon they are an insult, as are dots, squiggles or stripes of sauce like punctuation marks around a central noun of food. If you really are offering me a nice sauce to complement your dish, give me enough of it to let me pick it up and eat it. I’m of the opinion that this drizzle-smudge-squiggle school of presentation is no more than a cheap cheat; using very little material to create a pretentious dish. It offers me food in such a stingy way that I couldn’t even slide a palette knife under it. If I want not to eat food, I won’t put it on my plate in the first place. Don’t ask me to pay for it just because it has been painted onto a bit of porcelain.

And puddings – as opposed to desserts. A proper pudding needs a pudding dish. Pudding dishes are designed bowl-shaped so you can get your spoon into the duff and consume it sumptuously, down to the last puddle. Their sensous curves are meant to collect those juices or sauces to be scooped up and savoured at the end of the whole delicious experience. Serving a pudding on a flat plate defeats that satisfaction. You’re not giving the waiter much chance, either; how’s he supposed to control custard when he brakes or turns a corner?

Finally, there’s a pointless tendency in fashionable eateries to present you with a miserable little spot of pud surrounded by, not even drizzles, but dustings of cocoa powder or icing sugar. If the drizzle-smudge-squiggle is mean, this miserly dusting is just plain pointless. You can’t eat such culinary daftness. It is impossible to pick any of it up unless you lick your finger, wipe the plate and suck it.

Join me in exorcising this ghostly pretence at food. When your pudding is eaten and coffee is imminent, the proprietor, chef and/or waiter will be unctuously hovering, all-but prompting you to say that everything you ate was simply lovely. Don’t be swayed by their desire to be praised as well as paid. This is your cue to sigh ostentatiously – if necessary, several times – and then say loudly and with deep regret, “I do wish you had washed the plate.”


Friday, December 18, 2015

Port Sunlight in the 1920s: Part 9. The darker side of employment disputes (Reg Keen)

Your Grandad used to work in the centre of the printing room under a notice "Letterpress Printing". He was a "letterpress machine minder". Under the sign "Printing Room" in white was the part of the room used for "paper ruling", its output intended for ledgers, school exercise books and other writing stationery. There were high bridges up near the roof for official visiting parties of sightseers, who could thus watch what was going on without getting in the way of the workers or risking danger from machines or trollies etc moving between them. Official parties under the control of an official guides passed through the whole factory every quarter hour or so. Guides wore white coats and gloves and peaked uniform white caps with a label on the front in gold saying "Guide". It used to take about 40 minutes to do the trip. At the end a box of sample products was presented to each adult member of the party according to sex. I don't know what ladies got; men got shaving soap, white toilet soap and a booklet of comments.

As you know only workers in the factory could live in the village. Grandad started work in the printing room in 1897, and got married in 1907. When he asked for tenancy of an estate house, he was offered and accepted 10, Primrose Hill, which we moved into before I started school (about 1911 or 1912). We all enjoyed our village life, and in 1922 your Grandad received a gold watch for 25 years' service with the firm.

However in the 1920s disaster arrived. Every summer we used to go to Rhyl for one week's official holiday, and that year was no different except that while we were away, an official strike was called, of all printers in Britain. Dad was told that if he wished to take a few extra days' holiday it would be all right, so he decided to hang on till the Wednesday of the following week (even though we had to find fresh digs). We arrived back at Bebington Station about 7.30pm and three of Grandad's works mates were waiting for him at Primrose Hill. They grabbed him and told him the strike was still "on" next day and demanded to be told what he was going to do next morning at worktime. They wished to remain "solid" and what was Grandad going to do? Some of the bosses with the help of apprentices were able to carry on a small service of printing, but that was all. They assured him that none of his other works mates had so far turned in for work, and they pleaded with him to stay out with them. After some discussion Grandad told his mates that if they were all staying out he would stay out with them as an official member of the Typographical Association union.

Next morning those three blokes went into the works and asked if they could start work again and agreed to instruct the apprentices in the job. Your Grandad and five of his other mates nearly blew up when they found out what had been done and that they had been left "holding the baby". The group stayed out on strike for about three months but with the help of some non-union newcomers to the works the firm staggered on almost as usual. Without any warning Grandad got an official letter from the estate office informing him that he had no right to an estate house and that it was wanted for some other worker, so GET OUT. Grandad visited the office and offered to pay the rent outstanding (rent was normally stopped from wages each week, so with not having any official wages we had not paid rent even though Grandad had called in the office and offered to pay it each week).

Meanwhile the strike had ended and Lord Leverhulme had agreed to take EVERYBODY back to the old jobs with NO VICTIMISATION of any sort. The last six men then applied for reinstatement, but nothing happened, in spite of the agreement signed by "His Nibs". Within a month or so a summons was deilvered by a copper and an estate office agent who said, "Here is your notice to quit, Mr Keen." We had seven days to get out, but houses were not easy to get even in those days so NO DICE at that time. Then Grandad had to appear at the County Court in Birkenhead to state why he had not shifted as ordered. The learned judge asked who owned the house and was told, "Lord Leverhulme." The old guy just grunted, then asked, "And who is Lord Leverhulme?" - and that within 3 miles of the huge factory! The Court was taken aback, as they say, but nevertheless the Judge ordered us to clear out of the house completely within 14 days OR ELSE! So Grandad had to pick up any old house he could. He used all his savings to BUY one for £300 before we could be put out on the street by the broker's men. The house was 64 Cobden Street in Tranmere, a slummy area but there wasn't much choice.

Grandad and his Union wrote to Leverhulme and reminded him of his agreement weeks earlier, but got no satisfaction. Those half dozen men never got back into the factory even though they were the cream of the staff employed there. During the next few years they all got responsible jobs with other firms; Grandad and another bloke named Teddy McGleave both got bosses' jobs at Griffiths in Birkenhead, but they both wanted to get back to the village - without any luck.

We lived in Tranmere till 1937 then moved to Bebington to a newly built house, and the old house in Cobden Street was bulldozed into ruin not long afterwards; now it's a wasteland of bricks and grass.

The big "cheat" always rankled with your Grandad. He was always a very straight man who never broke his word to anyone and always played the game at all times - he was perhaps too straight for many creeps he had to deal with - and he presumed everyone would play fair with everyone else the way he did. He never imagined Lord Leverhulme would not keep his word, and he always lived in hope that it would come right in the end. Even when he died, there in the inside pocket of his suit was a letter from Leverhulme refusing to honour his agreement. Poor old Grandad. He learned an awful lesson during those years, that it was never good to trust anybody too much at any time, because not everyone would keep their word. It was all a terrible blow to him and he never recovered his old self. He developed a great hatred for anything to do with Sunlight except the football team, which then played on the Oval. He did go to watch them every week he could, but that was all.

END

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Port Sunlight in the 1920s: Part 8. Clatterbridge, the cop shop and club outings (Reg Keen)

Reg Keen, my father, wrote to me in 1978 about his childhood in Port Sunlight.

During my schooldays lots of lads wore their Dad's old caps, usually with a tuck made in the back with a big safety pin to stop the cap from falling over their eyes ("gone dark early today, mate?"). These days it's chic and "liberated" for girls to wear the same style.

During the days of the training ships (before my time though) there was a fourth ship in the Sloyne called HMS Clarence after the then Duke of Clarence. There are no sailing ships left these days. Gone also are all the dozens of fishing "smacks" which used to sail in and out with the tides. Some of them used to get into the midnight race to the Isle of Man along with the yachts from the Royal Yacht Club (HQ in Bedford Road, Rock Ferry). Hundreds of spectators used to gather from about 10pm onward to watch the start of the annual race, all done in the dark unless there was a moon. (More about the Royal Mersey Yacht Club here: http://www.royalmersey-yc.co.uk/about/history/)

New Brighton Pier is now being demolished (1978). It used to be a well known place in the '20s and '30s. There used to be a one-legged man who would dive into the river as the ferry steamers arrived at the landing stage; he'd shout, "Don't forget the diver, ladies and gents!" and that was how it came to be a catchphrase on Tommy Handley's ITMA radio show (It's That Man Again). Tommy was a local bloke and knew all about the one-legged diver.

At New Brighton there used to be "Ham and Egg Parade" where that delicacy could be purchased at any time. They also had a tower, higher than Blackpool Tower. The tower was pulled down in my school days (1913-1922ish) but I can remember the tower. There was also a smuggler's retreat near Egremont called Old Mother Redcap's but it is being bulldozed to dust and its history with it.

The Battery at New Brighton was an official fort, built by the authorities to protect the river approaches along with the batteries at Seaforth. They never fired their guns much at any time. During WW2 we had metal towers built in the shipyards and towed out to the Bar and lowered onto the sandy seabed. Their guns were to protect the docks from aircraft and bombs. New Brighton Battery is being turned into a museum.

There were no passenger transport services of any kind in the village in my schooldays; it was all shanks' pony at all times. The New Chester Road was always muddy and messy. At weekends, horsedrawn waggonettes took loads of men from the local clubs and pubs to the Chester area to booze and play bowls (no darts in those days) and on their way back at night these blokes badly needed to spend a penny but there was no place to go so they took turns to stand on the lower steps of the waggonette and let it go into the churned up mud. It caused a lot of hilarity among the spectators, about the nearest they got to modern day streaking I suppose. Lads used to turn cartwheels alongside the vehicles and call out for money, which the semi-drunk passengers often threw in the mud for them.

When the Lady Lever Art Gallery was being built, the great Troubles were on in Ireland. One night Grandad was on his way home to Primrose Hill after visiting his lifelong pal Jim Parr. It was about 10.30pm and as he passed the Art Gallery building site two coppers pinched him and took him to the police station in Grove Street. Some buggers had been starting fires at the site at night and Grandad was suspect for being out so late at night, He was held at the cop shop for nearly two hours before he finally cleared himself and could go home.

About that time (or a bit later) the Mersey railway was losing money hand over fist but they must have had advice from somewhere because they suddenly cut the fares from 1s 3d return to Liverpool, down to 6d return, and all other fares pro rata. Within weeks they had started to stack the profit in heaps there was so much of it - extra station extensions were built, new trains purchased - but still the cash rolled in. To compete with them the Corporation had to reduce fares on the buses and ferryboats, and that went on until the Mersey Railway was nationalised - then everything went back to something like the old rate. There must be a lesson in there somewhere.

You asked about decorations put up when Royalty visited the village. I found a photo of the old house while sorting through a box of other snaps: people made paper roses fastened together with wire. That was about 1918/1919 I think. The Diamond that I referred to earlier, in front of the Art Gallery, was renamed King George's Drive and Queen Mary's Drive, now enclosing rose gardens and fountains etc. Road names also tell you where the streams ran in the village, River Street, Shore Road, Brook Street, Bridge Street etc; also names like Greenbank Road and Windy Hill explain themselves, so does Primrose Hill (but possibly a reference to Disraeli's Primrose League?) The houses called "The Anzacs" were named after the Australia and New Zealand Corps in the First World War. Bolton Road was a tribute to Billy Lever's birthplace; "Soapy Bill" became "Darcy and Hulme" when he was given Honours early in the 20th Century. In the churchyard a crypt was built, and the bodies of Lord and Lady Lever are now in the monument. She was a much loved lady in the village at all times.

Don't forget that Charles Dickens came to visit Mr Mayer at the old house in the park and there is still "Dickens' Walk" under the horse chestnut trees, always a pretty sight in summer.

Clatterbridge in those days was just a few scruffy buildings out in the country. It was then under the control of the Poor Law Guardians and used as a workhouse. Men and women were separated there after years of marriage. Another building was an isolation hospital. In 1942 the Yanks took the place over  - calling it "Clarrabridge" in their accent - and it was all modernised, jointly with the local people - and look at it now - 1100 beds and counting.

One other photo, of the "Marx Brothers" in full dress is of my Uncle George in his Smithy yard with three of his "boys". Nunks is the bloke standing behind the big hammer, next to the man with the horseshoe in his hand. I spent many happy hours in that yard letting off fireworks etc and wallowing in the wonderful smells of the working smithy. They really were the good old days.

More in the next... 

__________

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and



Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Port Sunlight in the 1920s: Part 7. Sunlight soaps, scrumping and smallpox (Reg Keen)

Reg Keen, my father, wrote to me in 1978 about his childhood in Port Sunlight.

A magazine called "Progress" was published monthly at the Sunlight works and printed in the printing room there. It kept the village folks informed of local events and so on. I think it is now (1978) called "Sunlight News".

Products that I can remember being made included:

Lifebuoy Soap; pink, for ordinary use - probably better described as "red carbolic".
White / pale yellow soap for washing laundry, everyday jobs etc.
Lux flakes for laundry washing
Monkey Brand, a type of abrasive block like a solid version of "Vim", very gritty; size about 2 and a half by 1 and threequarter inches with the name "Monkey Brand "stamped into each block onboth sides. They were packed in orange coloured paper with a monkey's face along with the brand name and the instructions for use printed in black. Adverts said in large type "remember that IT WON'T WASH CLOTHES". It was about the only cleaner of its type in those days when pumice stone was not easy to get - and it was more useful.

There were some powder type cleaners available but none seemed as popular as modern products of that sort. One big drawback was that all the workers who were engaged in packing the stuff used to suffer from constipation and so work in that department was not popular.

The same factory also made a dye called "Twink" which was excellent for dyeing materials, such as straw hats; it sold in small brown bottles, a bit bigger than medicine bottles.

The printing room where Grandad worked for many years did a lot of outside jobs like chocolate boxes for Barker and Dobson's "Viking" chocolates; the lids were embossed - the title of the brand was depressed on the inside and so "stood out" on the lids. Paper ruling was another frequent job, ie, ruling paper sheet for making cash books and ledgers. A lot of general printing was done for sale in local shops for all sorts of purposes.

Another aspect of the factory was making "oil cake" cattle food in the department called the oil cake mills near the firm's docks beside the Pool. Presumably the oil was used in the soap making and the residue sold as feed.

The company made wooden boxes to pack their own products, to send away from the factory in their vans or by steam barges via the Pool to Liverpool for the docks or by train from local goods stations. The railway lines went to most local factories including the "Maggie Anne" works (Planter's Margarine works) which later became "Stork" and later Van Den Burgh and Jurgens. I think they dabbled a bit in the candle works too but I am not certain.

You remember the "tram lines" up at Storeton? Well, that stone was dug out to help build the wharves at Port Sunlight for loading and unloading the barges. The old waggon lines led from the quarry past the school grounds of what is now Wirral Grammar school; they passed down what is now Quarry Avenue under the bridge near the General Offices in Greendale Road and then on to the little dock area opposite Poets Corner by where the Bridge Inn now stands.

It was a great place for us kids to play around and explore and so always remembered. All us lads had an "inside knowledge" of the area and the steam trains which ran regularly from the factory and the oil cake mills down the New Chester Road cutting to the margarine works and then to Port Rainbow to start the products on their export trips. I knew several drivers on the trains.

In addition to the stone from Storeton Woods some stone came from the big quarry by the windmill (now demolished). It was a grand place for "niggers' funerals" (blackberrying) - a great spot for whipping fruit of all kinds - scrumping apples was a common pastime, even along the footpath from Mayer Park towards Ellen's Lane. (A bloody big black dog chased me on one occasion when I was about 12.) There were lots of allotments around and some kids spent hours digging under the potato haulms to get at the spuds underground, then the kids lit a fire on any handy spot to bake the spuds for eating. The plant would hang on for a while, but next day it would have drooped and withered, giving the game away to passers-by. The sabotaged plants were removed, being no use any more. I never dared to join in that lark because my old Dad suffered too much from similar predation on his allotment at the back of the houses on Primrose Hill and I knew how much it used to upset him to have spent money on seed potatoes and then not get any crop worth mentioning. But lots of kids in those days were underfed and needed those unofficial picnics. You were lucky to have shoes on your feet every day and not to have to wear "reach-me-down" pants (usually your Dad's old ones cut short). That was even the case in the "posh" area of Sunlight Village, and it was much worse in New Ferry around Olinda Street and Woodhead Street (now mostly pulled down). Woodhead Street is now a car park near Berkson's shoe shop.

I remember many scares about smallpox in New Ferry area while I was at school - usually from a patient escaping the isolation hospital near the brickworks. There were great panics and the streets used to be sealed off, so shopping had to be done by friends, or the local police, while the folk living in the streets concerned stayed in their houses until the groceries etc were delivered over the table-type barriers across the streets. On one occasion an escaped smallpox patient was found at dawn in a gents' toilet in Woodhead Street. The police took him back to the hospital then workmen piulled the whole place to pieces and removed all signs of the "utensils", then the remains were burned with a sort of flame thrower and finally sprayed with disinfectant. A lone bobby was posted to keep the nosey kids away (and some adults) - although most adults kept away without any warning, they were all so scared of the dreaded smallpox.

More in the next... 

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