In terms of the chronology of this memoir, we are now at Christmas 1978. The mill has closed, I had applied for entry to university in September 1979 and I had the promise of a years work from the Department of the Environment as a researcher until I went in. I was still working hard on the Lancashire Textile Project, helped by Mary Hunter and Vera and I were still living together but had taken the decision to separate. Before I go on to the events that followed I want to go back two years to describe something that straddles the boundary between my work at the mill and what followed. This is my relationship with David Moore.
It’s very tempting to describe things as ‘the most important thing that happened….’, I try to avoid this because it involves comparisons and assessments that even now, I am not qualified to make. However, I’m pretty certain that it’s no exaggeration to describe DJ’s influence on my life as very important indeed. To go back once more to Chaos Theory and the butterfly, an eagle beat its wings and changed everything for ever.
David Moore was born in Wigan and was, near enough, the same age as me, I was slightly older actually and used to annoy him by calling him ‘Young Man’. His father was a tailor and like me, David always liked to project himself as working class when in reality we were both a product of the working class aristocracy at least. Like me, he was a grammar school lad and there were many other ways in which our careers ran parallel. The big difference was that he had been a pilot officer in the Air Force during National Service and had gone into education afterwards whereas I had refused the WOSB and tended towards manual labour. In this sense, I was more working class than he was. We were the same size, even the same ridiculously short inside leg measurement so I used to steal his clothes whenever I had the chance and went for my first serious job interview as a graduate wearing one of his suits! We both had a healthy regard for the benefits of good malt whisky, black puddings and spotted dick. We shared many of the same interests and in short, had no difficulty in starting a friendship and developing it to a point where we started to worry some of our friends!
David was a ‘gontser macher’, this is a Yiddish phrase and means a real operator, a person who mixes people, makes opportunities and helps things to happen. If you wanted to do something, all you had to do was fly it past him, he knew the route, had the contacts and took his greatest delight in lighting the blue touch paper and watching the fireworks. The nicest thing about this was that he never took any credit. His delight was in being proved right when he backed his belief in someone by suggesting a course of action and helping initiate it. This isn’t just my opinion, I once had a long conversation with Bob Smith, his office manager about it and he agreed with me that this was possibly one David’s most endearing characteristics. Bob said he had another attribute that he’d always admired and that was the capacity to pee silently! David’s office had an en suite lavatory which was handy but could be embarrassing if it was being used when someone came into the office. Bob said that David never made a sound when he was in there and he’d never quite worked out how he did it. Of course, I asked him and found out that like me, he had been trained to go down on to one knee to make sure he hit the mark!
Like me, David was born before the influence of television. In our childhood we had to make much of our own entertainment. One very strong element of this showed up in both of us, we were both storytellers. I worry nowadays about the erosion I see of this skill, people don’t tell stories and jokes like we used to do. Part of the influence that fuels this mode of communication is undoubtedly the way we were taught at Sunday School. Teaching was by parable, ‘An earthly story with a heavenly meaning.’ and if I have some concept or complicated matter to communicate I always use this technique, I tell a story to illustrate the concept or start with a very simple everyday example to explain something complicated. For instance, I can teach a class of six or seven year olds how a steam engine works with a bicycle pump and give them precise knowledge of the basic principle. I don’t suppose there were many meetings between me and DJ that didn’t start with a story or a joke. Here are two of them, not because they are wholly pertinent to the story but because they need writing down so they are not lost.
David often mentioned his youth in Wigan and whilst I never got down to the final version, I have an idea that there was some sort of disruption in the family at one time. All I know about it is that he lived with his uncle and aunt for a while. His uncle had been a miner all his life in narrow seams. It will be impossible for anyone reading this to even start to imagine what a terrible job it was. The object of coal mining is to extract the maximum amount of coal and the minimum amount of spoil or dross. The industrial success of the Black Country in the Midlands hung largely on the fact that they had a seam of good coal under the district thirty feet thick and at no great depth. This was exceptional and in most district far thinner seams of coal were mined. In the Wigan area these could be as little as two feet thick and the miners spent most of their working lives laid on their side winning the coal by hand with a short pick and shovel. David’s uncle worked in such a pit all his life and it produced hard men.
On Friday nights he would come home, get a wash in the tin tub in front of the fire and put his suit and Crombie overcoat on before going to the pub for the evening. People don’t wear overcoats today like they used to. We spend most of our time insulated from the weather in cars and buildings but in my youth, an overcoat was regarded as essential wear in winter and the acme was the Crombie by Crombie. This was an overcoat made from cloth woven by Crombie of Aberdeen and made up into an overcoat by the same firm. A Crombie was a badge of success and many working men had one. I must be working class aristocracy because I have two!
After an evening in the pub it was Uncle Jack’s habit to come home, go upstairs and take his overcoat off and then come down to the supper which his wife would have ready for him. David said you could hear him coming because as he made his slightly unsteady way down the ginnel under the terraced houses you could hear him bouncing off the walls, they were only a single brick thick. On this particular evening he came in, went upstairs and his wife put his supper out. After about ten minutes he hadn’t come down, and she called to him up the stairs. There was no reply so she went up to see if he was all right and couldn’t find him! Remember this was a two up two down house and so there wasn’t much searching to be done.
As she stood there trying to puzzle out where he was she heard a tapping noise under the bed. Looking underneath she saw Uncle Jack laid on his side, still in his black overcoat and picking at the plaster on the wall with a coat hanger. “What the bloody hell are you doing under there Jack?” Jack looked up and said “Bloody hell lass, this is a hard seam!” She realised that in his alcoholic fog he thought he was down the pit! “Come out you silly bugger, this isn’t t’pit!” Jack crawled out from under the bed and stood up, as he did he realised that his overcoat was covered with specks of bed fluff. “Eh, look at that lass, it’s snowing down t’pit!”
At this length of time I don’t know whether this story will seem funny or whether any of the wealth of social references will get through. I suppose you have to have a certain amount of background knowledge to appreciate it but to me and David this story was hilarious and reeked of an age gone by. Even in the days when I first heard it, the story was redundant, the old narrow seams had been abandoned and that hard, cruel way of life was, thank God, no more. The significance to us was that it preserved knowledge of the time and illustrated the fact that in the most terrible situations, humans will find a vein of humour to help get them through.
Years later a friend of mine lost his wife in tragic circumstances. There was very little I could do but I used to ring him up frequently, usually first thing in the morning and tell him a joke. I still have the Christmas Card he sent me that year, inside it simply said “Now I know how we won the war.”
I remember going into DJ’s office one day and saying that I had a good tale for him, he said he had one as well but I could have the first go. The story concerned a Russian peasant who was walking down the road one day in cruel winter weather. He saw a small bird lying on the road and picked it up to examine it. While he was stood there musing on death and the meaning of life, as Russian peasants do, the bird stirred in his hand and he realised it wasn’t dead but frozen. He looked for some way to warm it up and his eye lit on a fresh steaming cow clap in the road. Plunging the bird in the hot shit up to its neck he awaited developments. After a moment or two the bird started to recover, lifted its head and emitted a faint cheep. An old cat was walking past, heard the sound, pounced on the bird, broke its neck and ate it. The moral of the story is that it isn’t always your enemies that put you in the shit and it isn’t always your friends that pull you out but if you are in it, keep quiet!
David stared at me in amazement, “Where did you get that story from? It’s the same one I was going to tell you!” It turned out that Nanette, his wife, who had an interest in Russia had found it in a Russian magazine, I had heard it on Radio 4. I just love coincidences like that, they have been happening to me all my life.
At the time I met him, David was Principal of Nelson and Colne College, a wonderfully innovative institution which was the first Tertiary College in England and was the birth place of the Open College. The OC was the route I chose for qualification for university and in the first instance David’s interest in me was that he needed someone to seriously attack OC, actually enter university under its auspices and get a decent degree. OC was actually the brainchild of David’s office cleaner, Joyce Tierney. She was cleaning his office one night as David was finishing up and, knowing her interest in poetry, David asked her if she had ever thought of doing some sort of further education like ‘A’ levels in English Literature. Joyce told him she wasn’t interested in doing exams intended for children, she had children of her own and her life experience meant she deserved a course of further education designed with mature students in mind. David thought about this, liked the idea and had a word with some of his department heads and asked them to let their minds roll round this concept. In the fullness of time a tentative series of courses emerged and David went to see Charles Carter (Lord Carter) who was then Vice Chancellor at Lancaster University. Charles Carter was a Quaker and a believed in educational democracy, he was particularly interested in giving mature students who had missed out first time round a crack at Higher Education. He saw the merit of the Open College idea and after consulting with his faculty it was agreed that the university would validate the course and accept anybody who fulfilled certain minimum requirements. The initiative was a complete success and still survives to this day as The Open College Federation of the North West. Sadly, I heard the other day that Nelson and Colne College no longer provides OC courses. I remember at the time when I started I told David he should register the name ‘Open College’ as a trademark. Years later he told me he wished he had.
I started OC in 1976. I think the first course ran the year before and there had already been one entrant to Lancaster, a lady who was a librarian I think. Whilst this was commendable, the entrance wasn’t gained solely through OC as I think she had some ‘A’ levels. What the OC as a whole was aiming for was an entrant who gained the place solely by their credentials. The reason DJ first took an interest in me was that he thought I was a good prospect to do this. He was right, from the beginning I took to further education like a duck to water. I got a few surprises of course, I found out that we didn’t sit at desks, that our tutors could be addressed by their first name and that the courses we started off with weren’t like any tuition I had had before. Study Techniques was the introduction and was just what the title said it was, we were re-introduced to the concept of learning and the techniques which would help us achieve our goals. We were a disparate group of pensioners, housewives, late starters and one or two dilettantes. My favourite fellow student was Florence who was about seventy and was doing the courses ‘just to keep her mind active’. She took all the courses I did and when things got rough she used to egg me on by saying that if she could do it I certainly could!
We graduated to proper study like Edwardian History and the History of Art and Music. We studied design and architecture and even ventured into the murky waters of Crisis in Europe. Part of the course was to take trips to art galleries and museums and on one memorable day we went down to London to do the galleries. After the days work we had an hour or two to spare and Florence, Nuala, a shy young man who’s name I can’t remember and myself decided we wanted somewhere to eat. I said I knew a good, cheap Greek restaurant in Soho called Jimmy’s and so we got in a taxi and went there. We piled down into the basement and Florence got the ball rolling by ordering a bottle of Retsina. I watched this old lady knocking it back as though it was water and gently asked her if she realised it was alcoholic. She looked at me and said “Stanley, I was drinking this in Greece before you were born, order another bottle!” I did what I was told and sat back marvelling at her capacity. We finished the meal and decided we would have walk through Chinatown on our way back to the train. It wasn’t until we got out in the street that I realised there was a small problem!
Jimmy’s was in Frith Street down the side of the Windmill Theatre and it was lined with sex shops. What was worse, they all had brightly lit display windows full of the sorts of things you wouldn’t like your mother to know that you had any knowledge of. I immediately decided that Florence should be protected from this unseemly display and attempted to shield her from direct view of the windows as I engaged her in conversation about life art and the higher pursuits. Fat chance I had! Florence leaned forward, pointed at one of the windows and said “Eh, look at them! I wonder what they call them now, we used to call them dildoes!” I was mortified, not because of the display but because I’d fallen into the trap again of thinking that just because Florence was old she was innocent and had to be protected from anything to do with sex! Of course, age has nothing to do with it and it didn’t necessarily follow that she hadn’t had far more life experience than I had. She was rubbing this in and I told her she was a wicked old lady. She talked all the way home in the train and the other two slept like babies.
By mid 1978 I had completed both modules of the OC course. I was the only student to sit Module ‘B’ and I remember that it was a very hot day and there was a fair degree of distraction from the sounds of remedial dog training that drifted through the windows from the cricket field outside. My answers to questions of the Thirty Years war and other esoteric subjects were interrupted from time to time by cries of “Heel!” or “Here, come here, come here you bugger!” shouted in a rising crescendo of hysteria. It all went well and a few weeks later I got the news that the external assessor had agreed the marks and subject to satisfactory interview, I was qualified for university! David pointed out at the time that in the whole history of my family, nobody had ever been to university, this could be reported as progress. It dawned on me then that apart from anything else, this wasn’t a bad example to set the kids, if an old fart like me could do it so could they!
I went up to Lancaster and did the obligatory interview. I was well prepared, I had asked the College to give me a mock interview before I went. Mike Austin, one of David’s vice Principals chaired it and my God, did he give me some stick! I have to report I sweated more in the mock than I did in the actual interview but of course, that was the whole point. I remember him asking me what I would consider as failure, my answer, and it still stands, is that I would only fail if I let down the people who had invested so much time and trouble in helping me to get there. It wasn’t a matter of getting the degree, it was investing the effort to make my best shot at it. Even at that stage, I had no way of knowing whether I was intelligent enough.
I had access to David at the College any time he was free, usually in the evenings. We would have a quiet whisky and range over every subject under the sun. Very often there would be other members of the staff there and I got to know all of them well. The king pin in many ways was Elsie Barrass, David’s secretary, she had started at the college in 1972 but by 1976 was devoting all her time to looking after him. I use this form of words advisedly because if ever there was a personal assistant it was Elsie. In effect, like many other members of his immediate staff, she gave him the freedom to fly by looking after the everyday matters. I fell in love with her the first time I saw her, in common with many of David’s visitors and it was getting to know her that helped me to formulate Graham’s First Law, if you want to find a good woman the first place to look is at the secretary of someone in an important position. I have to go back to my experiences with the Scots farmers to pin down Elsie’s basic attraction, it was that she was able. Throughout my life I have been attracted to men and women whom it is a pleasure to watch working, it can be a carpenter, a road sweeper or a secretary, ability naturally means grace and I could watch ability at work all day.
In charge of the main office was a bloke called Bob Smith. If anybody asked him what his job was he would say “Sweeping up after him!” pointing at David. Bob was an ex post office worker and had a direct, down to earth approach which suited the college exactly at that time. I once sat in a meeting with Bob and he said “We’ve plaited sawdust that long, all our pigeons have come home to roost!” the nice thing was everyone in the meeting understood exactly what he meant. It was Bob who told me the story about an Education Committee meeting at which he had been present and a lady called Kathleen Sumner-Clough who was one of the Governors of the college made a statement about David; “He is the most impotent and desirable Principal in the county!” Someone had to intervene and pint out that what she actually meant was ‘important and sought after’. He said there wasn’t a dry seat in the place. Kathleen got her share of ridicule and the nickname for her was ‘Big Hat and Frilly Knickers’ but David said she was a wonderful committee member, she was the one who asked the direct questions that everybody else avoided like ‘Who is going to do it?’ or ‘How are we going to pay for it?’ She wasn’t as ridiculous as some people made her out to be, I remember once giving a lecture on steam boilers at the Heritage Centre and in the discussion that followed it transpired that she was the only person in the audience who had been in the flues and water space of a boiler! Her father was a mill engineer and he used to take Kathleen with him when he did inspections. It just goes to show that sometimes first impressions can be misleading!
There were three vice-principals at the Nelson and Colne, Noel Kershaw, Mike Austin and Dave Blezard who all finished up with their own colleges. Noel Kershaw was a distant figure somehow. David always used to say he was the only Cambridge man he knew who hadn’t been damaged by the experience but I wasn’t too sure about this, this implies no criticism, he just wasn’t my sort of bloke. Mike Austin was a sharp knife, a bit too sharp I think for some people but he suited me. I well remember him saying to me once apropos my relationship with David, “Stanley, you do understand the difference between a clone and a protégé don’t you?” The answer of course was yes, but I took his point. As I said before, some of my friends got slightly worried at times! Dave Blezard was an exceptional man, he was blind but never let it stop him from doing anything he wanted to. I remember once asking him how being disabled affected his ability to do his job, in my defence I must say that we’d had a couple of drinks at the time. He exploded, “I’m not disabled, I’m blind. That’s all!” He meant it as well. There was a story about him that I asked him about and he said that unfortunately it was true. He was charging down the street in Nelson waving his white cane when he bumped into someone. “Are you blind!” he was asked. “Yes! Are you?” It turned out that they were both blind and the other fellow had a guide dog. David asked him how long he had been blind and the bloke said three years so David berated him for being a wimp because he was still using a dog. I have seen David walk into a room, go straight across to David Moore and slap him on the shoulder. I asked him how he did it and he said “No problem, just aim six inches to the side of his gob!”
It would be in about 1983 that David Blezard rang me up one day. He ran a summer school for disabled and disadvantaged children at the college during the holidays and many of the staff gave their time to supervise all sorts of activities. One of these was a coach trip to Lightwater Valley, an amusement park in Yorkshire, and David said they had a bit of a problem. The staff member in charge of the trip had realised on the way back that they had left two of the children behind. Rather than turn the coach round and go back he decided the best thing to do and the quickest way out of the problem was to ring the college and get someone to go from there to pick the kids up. It being the holidays, bodies were thin on the ground so David asked me if I’d go up there for them and deliver them home. I went down to the college and there was a car waiting there for me so off I went.
When I got to Lightwater, the staff took me to where the two lads were sitting working their way through their umpteenth ice cream. I loaded them up and set off for Nelson where both sets of parents were waiting at one house. The lads were very quiet and I talked to them to reassure them that they weren’t in any trouble. I think they were both badly affected by Down’s Syndrome. After a while they started to relax and we got on like a house on fire. I got back to Nelson, found the house and delivered the bodies. Everyone was very relaxed because David had let them know exactly what was happening, we were having a cup of tea and I was pulling the lads legs when I realised that the mother of one of them was in tears. It turned out that it was the first time her lad had ever spoken in the company of a stranger! She said she’d never heard him express himself so coherently. I reckon it must have been something to do with relaxing after the shock, whatever, it gave me a warm glow I can feel even now as I write this.
This summer school for the disabled was typical of the ethos of the college at that time. They were reaching out into the community in so many ways, trying to expand the lives of the local people of all ages by offering them the benefits of education and the resources of the college. Some of the methods David used to promote these aims were slightly unorthodox. Every Friday afternoon at about half past four was ‘Happy Hour’ in David’s office. Everyone who needed to know knew that at that time there would be some agreeable company, a couple of drinks and some good conversation. Local industrialists, members of staff, privileged visitors to the college and occasional overseas guests would all be lined up on the seats round the office and every subject under the sun would come up. Now, in certain quarters, this sort of activity in the Principal’s Official Office wouldn’t be seen as quite the right thing to do but for David it was an essential part of his community network. Many a local businessman and dignitary went out of there in an alcoholic haze and wondered how the hell he had been persuaded to sponsor X, Y and Z!
One of David’s strong points was staff development, he was a proponent of this long before it became a buzz word and attracted the consultants. He used to have a series of annual interviews with members of staff and almost always started with the question, “Where do you see yourself in five year’s time?” Norman Lowe, one of his favourite staff members and a wonderful historian told me that David once commiserated with him on the fact that he hadn’t been appointed Head of Department. “You don’t want to be head of department Norman, you’re a scholar and a gentleman, that job isn’t for you. I know this bloke at Macmillans the publishers, why don’t you give him a call?” Norman did and is still writing history for them! This was typical David, in his terms he introduced them and it was up to them whether they climbed into bed with each other!
I went into his office one day and David was on the phone, he was in high spirits and when he’d finished the call he told me that he’d been speaking to one of his staff who he’d interviewed that morning. He had rung David to thank him for not bawling him out for being late for his annual interview. I looked askance at David because he demanded punctuality even though he was a lousy timekeeper himself. He saw the look I was giving him and explained; the bloke taught English Literature and was a considerable poet. While driving in to the college that morning he had hit a sparrow and killed it and was so distraught he had to stop at the side of the road and write a poem about it! David said “How the hell could I say anything to him? I pay him for being a poet and that’s the sort of thing poets do!”
Another area that David explored was international contacts especially with the United States and Canada. My adventures as a consequence of this belong later in this memoir but this was to be another area where my relationship with him was to change and enhance my life completely. Squee Gordon and his wife Mary were frequent visitors. He was Dean of one of the largest community colleges in Canada. It was Squee who once congratulated me on wearing a formal T shirt. I asked him for the definition and he said it was one with no pictures. Dean Dudley and Leland Cooper from Appalachian State University at Boone were frequent visitors and I eventually met them on their own territory.
In 1983 I was at a fairly loose end when I got a call from David. “How would you like a weeks paid holiday in Chelt?” My response was where the hell’s Chelt? “In Manchester at the Business School!” It turned out that Chelt was an exercise in educational management which Squee Gordon and David had put together. It was run under the auspices of the Manchester Business School and the formula was that a group of high powered educationalists were divided into different provinces of the mythical country Chelt and the object was for the teams to compete with each other for educational resources. They were short of a couple of bodies so Nancy Reid from the college and myself were roped in to make the numbers up. I was never quite sure of what we were doing and my team soon found out that my forte was black propaganda. I set up a news agency and issued press releases which dictated the course of events. I gave all one province’s sheep scab and had the leader of one of the teams accused of having carnal relations with a sheep. I soon found out that the more hilarious the press release the more chance there was of the referees validating it! We had a wonderful time.
While I was at Chelt I met a Filipino called Amado Carandang, we got on well together and he gave me some of his clothes on the grounds he had too much luggage. Actually I think he just felt sorry for me because I hadn’t got what he saw as a proper job and a good wage! 15 years later Amado and I met in Perth, Western Australia and he had become a Jesuit priest in the interim. He hadn’t changed a bit and we spent a happy afternoon on the side of the Indian Ocean reminiscing about Chelt and the men behind it. I asked him what the chances were of the College of Cardinals electing a black woman as Pope? I knew the answer of course but it lead to an interesting conversation. He told me one thing that I didn’t know and that is that the bishop is, in law, the owner of the assets of the diocese . The consequence of this is that if any of his priests are sued for damages for any reason, the bishop has to pay. In view of the embarrassing cases being brought against many priests at the time, this was a matter of considerable concern to the church.
I met another man at Chelt, I found myself one evening having a quiet drink with Stafford Beer, the man who wrote ‘Brain of the Firm’ amongst other books. He was a wonderful bloke, an academic, guru, poet, socialist and one of the worlds leading authorities on cybernetics. At about three in the morning I asked him if he could encapsulate all he knew about communication in one aphorism and he said yes! I think I realised how drunk he was at that point but this is what he said; “It isn’t what is communicated, or how it’s communicated or how it’s received, it is what is understood.” His example was Chinese Whispers, the party game where you whisper a message to the person next to you and they pass it on, “Send reinforcements, we are about to advance.” Becomes “Send three and fourpence, we are going to a dance.” The other classic is “Have captured Rommel!” becoming “Have ruptured camel!” He also told me a good story and if a memoir isn’t the place for a good story I don’t know what is!
The west coast of North America was seen as vulnerable to attack by the Japanese at the start of WWII and the American and Mexican governments decided to intern all inhabitants who were Japanese. When this edict was announced there was a storm of protest. There was at that time in Mexico City an ice cream manufacturer who was born in Japan and employed Japanese workers. He, and many of his workers had been resident in Mexico for years. This man was well connected and protested to a high government official of his acquaintance that the edict was grossly unfair to long term residents who had proved their commitment to the country over the years and that there was a case for some discretion. The official consulted with his colleagues and eventually it was agreed that the man had a point and he and his long serving employees were exempted from the edict.
In 1946 the owner of the ice cream company gave a banquet in honour of the official who had obtained the exemption for them, he was by then in an even higher government post. The owner rose to his feet after the meal and made a speech in which he said that the banquet was the company’s way of saying thank you for the good treatment they had received all through the war, there was also a surprise and a gift. At this point a door opened at the back of the hall and three men wheeled trolleys into the room piled high with manila folders and documents. The owner of the firm said, “You were quite right in the first instance when you decided to intern us, we were all Japanese spies! Our job was to prepare for the invasion by identifying all the water resources in Mexico and producing a plan whereby they could be used most effectively when Japan invaded and conquered Mexico. That is the surprise, the gift is on these trolleys, it is the results of all our work over the years!” Stafford said that three years later Mexico got a large international loan to re-organise the country’s water resources and put many of the recommendations of the Japanese ice cream firm into effect!
If you overlay these new experiences on what was already happening to me in 1976 to 1978 and then add two years of demanding study and homework for OC in addition to the Lancashire Textile Project and earning a living, you’ll begin to get an idea of how hard I was working. I knew that if I was to succeed in altering the course of my life I had to put the effort in. We are back to the old Scottish saying again; ‘You get back exactly what you put in.’ There’s little doubt I was under stress but at the time it didn’t seem so, I had set a course and all I had to do was what was necessary. It has been suggested that this stress was one of the causes of Vera and I drifting apart but I don’t think so, it was the concept of change, not the execution that caused the damage. We had plenty of trips out during this period and did many miles in the Land Rover on family outings.
One outing I remember in particular was not the whole family but me and Daniel. We heard, during the drought of 1976, that Haweswater, the artificial lake behind Shap village that was a major supply of water for Manchester, was so dry that the original village, drowned when the reservoir was completed, had re-appeared above the water. We went up there one Sunday morning travelling to the strains of E. Power Biggs playing the baroque organ and made some magical pictures of the remains. We went back shortly after as a family and Daniel did some surreal pictures of us posing for him lying in the graves at Shap Abbey. My negative files are very useful in any assessment of what was going on in the family at this time, they are full of what I can only describe as warm family scenes. The memory can be fickle when making assessments of times past but the negative file doesn’t lie. It was a good time.
In May 1979, Daniel married Georgie Gethin. They were to have their first son, Harry in October the following year and ended up with three fine lads when Luke and Jack joined the team. I visit them regularly to this day and count them an essential part of my life. Vera and I visited Daniel’s parents at Washbourne in Gloucestershire. It was good to learn more about his background and my respect for his work photographing all sorts of people increased. As a general rule, the ‘middle class’ interviewer is usually hampered by the fact that they find it impossible to empathise properly below their class. I know that this is a terrible statement to make but I can see so much patronising in things like Mass Observation and certain interviews in the media. Daniel had, and still has, the ability to get right to the core of matters when he is making his pictures or doing interviews. The bottom line is that he takes the trouble to understand whatever it is he is delving into and gives his informants respect. This is a very rare attribute. At no time during my friendship with Daniel have I ever felt patronised or discounted in any way.
At the time of my re-acquaintance with Maureen Thomas when I provided the loom for the school play I was still living at Hey Farm but in effect was no longer as a married man. My course was set, we had agreed we would have as normal a Christmas as possible and that I would move out as soon as was convenient afterwards. We had agreed that the only difference in how the family functioned would be that I wouldn’t be living at Hey Farm. We had worked out how much it cost to keep the family going and I agreed to pay that until the farm was sold and then we would have a re-assessment. This seemed the best way to approach the future, to have as little change as possible. I was warned, and fully realised at the time that by moving out I could be construed as condoning Vera’s actions but that caused me no problems because that was exactly what I was doing. I didn’t like what was happening but I fully respected Vera’s right to lead her life as she saw fit. The only problem with this was that to the outside world this was seen as an admission of guilt on my part and I’m afraid this was reinforced by my subsequent actions.
During the winter of 1978/9 I took Maureen with me on trips I had to make in connection with the LTP and my work with Daniel. The first was when Maureen, Daniel and myself visited Peter Tatham at Milnrow in connection with Robert Aram’s chimneys. Peter visited Hey Farm afterwards and met Vera and I know he was slightly confused by the situation even though he knew what was going on. I was spending more and more time with Maureen and eventually it slipped over the boundary of friendship into a full relationship but this was after Christmas when I was considering my options. Maureen suggested I go to live with her as this would solve a lot of problems. I accepted with alacrity on several counts and early in 1979 moved into her house on Park Avenue.
My relations with my mother had been strained to say the least since she found out about Vera and I parting. She blamed me, largely I think because Vera and I made a mistake and didn’t tell her before she heard from someone else. I don’t know what version of the story she got but it certainly wasn’t one which put me in a good light. I persevered in my visits to her, we talked at length and eventually she understood what had happened and was able to accept that we were doing the best we could with a lousy hand of cards. This was a very considerable relief for me because the last thing I wanted was a rift with my mother, one at a time was enough thank you!
All I took away from the farm was the Land Rover, my tools, my clothes and some personal effects like my photographic stuff and a few knick knacks and books. Margaret and I had a big bonfire one day and burned a lot of stuff out of the workshop. This was painful at the time but a great relief in many ways. It hurt to leave everything behind, everything that we had worked for all those years but I was absolutely convinced that the division of the spoils was right. Vera did as well, she certainly had nothing to say in complaint at the time. I think she recognised the sacrifice I was making in moving out and respected me for it. There was never a single moment of controversy to my recollection and neither of us involved lawyers in the matter. I made some enquiries and found out that we could do the divorce ourselves and so I got the forms and eventually this was how we did it.
One word here about shedding belongings. I have heard it said that at a Romany funeral the caravan and all the belongings of the deceased is burned. What a sensible attitude! Division of a household after divorce or a death can be one of the most stressful times for a family. Anybody who has ever gone through it will recognise my description of the process as ‘Feeding Frenzy’. It seems to bring the worst traits out in people’s characters. Vera and I avoided this and I think we both deserve credit. The wonderful thing I learned from this process is that it can be the most liberating of experiences. I have heard descriptions of ‘The tyranny of possessions’ and I know exactly what is meant by it. However, I am a natural born collector and can still remember my amazement three years later when I realised I had amassed more than two thousand books! Don’t even ask how I did it!
Living with Maureen was different than anything I had done before. On reflection it was a crazy thing to do for all sorts of reasons. One of them was pointed out to me by David Moore when he realised what I had done. I didn’t know when I first met Maureen but she had a fairly chequered pattern of relationships. As I remember it her first marriage had collapsed when she had an affair with a man called Ogwen Thomas, she went to live with him in Earby and they hit the headlines in the News of the World because he was the Chief Education Officer in Pendle. This relationship foundered after a short time and it was during this period that I met up with Maureen again. As David pointed out to me, “It seems pretty insensitive for a man who is thinking of pursuing a career in education to be sleeping with the Chief Education Officer’s wife!” I had to admit that he was right in a way but I couldn’t really see what it had to do with anyone else.
Maureen and I ignored the rest of the world, she carried on teaching at Gisburn Primary which, by the way, she chose because was outside Mr Thomas’s area. She had gone to teach there so that he couldn’t have any adverse affect on her career, and I started on my new job with the Department of the Environment researching and photographing water mills in the Lake District. This was very badly paid but I was cushioned slightly by the fact that I had a small redundancy payment from the mill and I was able to pay Vera her money and survive. The farm was up for sale and this was going to be the finance which rehoused both of us in the end.
My life at this time was pure change. I soon found out that the problem wasn’t initiating change, it was controlling it once it had started. I compared it at the time to rolling a large rock off the top of a hill, you didn’t really know where it was going to end up and you also knew that if it hit anything there was an awful lot of energy to be dissipated. Further to this, change, once started, generates change in itself. The net effect is classic loss of control and I should think by now everyone who reads this will have realised how badly I reacted to that at the time. (I think I’m better at it now!) With hindsight, the relationship between me and Maureen was doomed from the start. Two people on the rebound from break-up, two strong characters and liberal amounts of change and insecurity all added up to the ingredients of an amazing roller coaster ride.
Don’t get the idea that this was all bad, it certainly wasn’t, when it was good it was very, very good. We did many things together and had some wonderful times. I soon started to learn the politics of her family, at one time or another she had fallen out seriously with all of them, particularly her sister. This was new to me, I had never seen antagonism at this level inside a family, it was almost total war. It was so bad that Maureen hadn’t visited her family in Newbiggin, up on the North East coast, for a long time. We went up to meet them and what a wonderful trip it was. For a start off it was new country to me and when we arrived the town was being battered by a tremendous North Sea gale. Waves were breaking over the church and the cliffs and the ground beneath us shook when the breakers hit the shore. I love a good storm at sea and this was magnificent. Then there was Maureen’s father Jack, we got on well from the start. He had been a deputy in the pit for over fifty years and hadn’t been retired for long. The mines up there go out under the sea and are wet pits. I remember asking him one day what they had given him when he retired and he said “A Cerstificate” [sic]. I asked him if I could see it and he sent me out to the coal house, it was pinned on the coal house door! Jack said he thought that was the best place for it and I tended to agree with him. Like David’s uncle, he had served over 50 years in the worst conditions you can imagine. In years to come, when my descendants are reading this memoir they will find it difficult to believe how hard some of these jobs were. Jack’s face was pocked with blue marks like tattoos, these were where small pieces of coal were embedded in his skin, blown there by the blast when explosives were used to break the coal. They were under such pressure to produce tonnage that they couldn’t afford the time to get far enough away from the site of the explosion to be absolutely safe.
Jack was in bad health and it became obvious he was not long for this world. He reminded me of my dad and I told Maureen she should go and visit him again because I thought he was very poorly. She overcame her inhibitions about visiting on her own and I took her to the station and she went to Newbiggin. It was just at the right time, she was there when he died, saw him buried and came home. I picked her up at the station and as soon as she got in the house she surprised me by bursting into tears. I held her for a long time while she cried herself out and in a funny way felt very happy about it because I had never seen her cry before and she had saved it all up until she got back to where she felt safe with me. I know this because we talked about it afterwards and compared notes about grieving, she told me how much it had helped and I think that was the greatest service I ever did for Maureen.
From a personal point of view, Jack’s death angered me, he was worn out by fifty years toiling in inhumane conditions and hadn’t any physical resources left to live on into retirement. Just when he should have been getting some leisure and reward, he died. I have seen this happen so many times and grieve that we live in a system which still allows this to happen. I remember not long ago reading a report of an interview by Manny Shinwell’s grandson who was leaving the Labour Party to join the Liberals. He said that the day of the unions and Labour was over as people didn’t live in poverty and have jobs which damaged them. I paraphrase, but that was the gist of his remarks. How can anybody with any intelligence believe that this is true? There are still dangerous and inhumane conditions in industry and I shall have more to say on this subject later.
Maureen and I rode our roller coaster for about six months. During that time she took note of the things I was doing and I think it started her thinking about her life and what changes she wanted to make. I must have been a very dangerous person to be around in those days! She wasn’t happy with the school at Gisburn, there were problems with her Head and it’s fairly significant that shortly after this Maureen and one other member of staff left for pastures new. This was nothing to do with me, pressures had been building there for a while as far as I could see but I think that in Maureen’s case I might have acted as some sort of catalyst. She took another job which I think was something to do with office plants and the last I heard she was teaching in Saudi Arabia. She vanished completely out of my life and I have often wondered what became of her. We were both damaged goods at the time and I often wonder how things would have been different if we’d been at different stages in our development. Late in the year I decided it was time I was out and after a couple of nights sleeping at the farm I got my act together and moved in with my mother. This was a wonderfully relaxing interlude and I got to know her a lot better. I missed Maureen badly and saw her once or twice afterwards but we were totally unable to get on with each other, probably largely to do with my frame of mind, and eventually drifted apart permanently. This is sad but doesn’t alter the fact that we had some wonderfully happy times and if I had the chance I’d do it all over again.
It’s fairly indicative of the complications in my life at this time that I find I am no longer able to write up my account of what was happening chronologically. If I did, it would be so complicated as to be unreadable and probably unwriteable too. I’ll look at my work for the DOE now and this means we’ve to backtrack to the beginning of 1978.
Just before I left the farm I made a big mistake which I have always regretted, I sold the Land Rover for the same money I had bought it for and bought a new Talbot car. I still don’t know what possessed me, I must have been wrong in my head. I hadn’t had the new car for very long when I was talking to Newton Pickles who had bought exactly the same motor and we compared notes. We both agreed that we didn’t like the bloody things because when you got to a corner you had this funny sensation it was going to go straight on. They were front wheel drive and the classic way to get one of these round a corner is to feed in the power and let the front wheels drag you round. There must have been a flaw in the design of the steering geometry because any application of power when you had any lock on tended to freeze the steering. This was what was at the root of our dislike and neither of us kept the cars for long.
I spent the early part of the year, in the bad weather, researching water mills in the warm comfort of the Record Offices in Carlisle, Kendal and Preston. I had to identify every water powered bobbin mill I could find in the Lake District. I remember ringing Peter White one night and asking him how many of the bloody things he expected me to find, I had only done two of the Record Offices and had got over 200 locations! He told me to stop immediately but I told him I couldn’t because I had Preston still to do and if I stopped immediately our research would be hopelessly unbalanced as we would have left out the whole of Lancashire above the Sands. I always knew that the Lake District was an early centre of industrial activity but was amazed at the number of sites there were. To this had to be added all the other water power sites which were used for purposes other than bobbin making. Once I had the locations and had recorded them my brief was to agree a selection of sites with Peter White and go and photograph them.
I found myself one bright spring morning driving out of Gisburn on the Settle road in a new car with a pile of cameras and film in the back going to photograph water mills. It was like feeding chocolate cakes to a pig! My first thought was that there had to be a catch somewhere. I remembered the legend carved over one of the gateways in the Escorial, “Take what you want, and pay for it.” It dawned on me that perhaps I could stop worrying, it might be that I had already paid, perhaps I was getting my just reward for something. The memory of this train of thought is very vivid and I’ve worked on it since. I really do believe that you have to pay for everything at some point, there’s no such thing as free lunch, but occasionally you can relax because you are simply taking your due, drawing on capital as it were. Whatever, I went out and did pictures of wonderful water power sites in lovely weather and produced an archive of material for Peter which was to be the basis for a lecture at the Antiquaries Institute in Piccadilly later in the year.
There was a funny incident when we were setting up for the lecture in the sumptuous surroundings of the Antiquaries. John Robinson had come to help us and to listen to Peter’s lecture. I had first met John when I started the LTP, he was Keeper of Navigational Instruments at the Science Museum in London and also had responsibility for a fund called The Fund for the Preservation of Scientific and Technical Knowledge. At one point it looked as though we could get some funding by that route but it never actually happened. John was a big gangling lad, I say ‘lad’ but he was about the same age as me. As far as I could see John had a lovely life, he spent a lot of time travelling round the country by train, First Class of course, and the rest of his working life in the back rooms of the museum. He was a regular visitor at Hey Farm and Vera always used to have to dismantle his thermos flask to clean it. John only swilled it out and it was usually filthy! He had an ex-Wrens blue canvas hold-all and the joke was that this actually held ‘The Fund’. He didn’t drive because his eyesight was so bad he wouldn’t have been safe. This problem was compounded by the fact that he was always losing his glasses or else sitting on them! His office at the museum was a glorious clutter of valuable papers and art. Evidently there was a convention that lesser works of art in the cellars of the various galleries of London could be loaned to institutions like the Science Museum and hung in offices. His desk was a jumble of documents and artefacts. I chided him about it once but he told me he wasn’t as bad as another member of staff at the museum. Legend had it that this man once lost his umbrella on his desk and it was open at the time!
If the picture I am giving of John sounds harsh, believe me it isn’t, he was and still is a most disorganised man but charming with it! I remember one day he asked me to drive him to Manchester to catch the London train. We hadn’t a lot of time to get there but just about enough to do it in comfort. On the way he decided to stop at Bury to have a look at a steam roller which the Bury Railway Society had asked for funding for. This detour, while it didn’t take long, really put the pressure on me and I managed to get him on the platform just as the train was about to leave. At this point he threw me completely by ignoring the train and getting into deep conversation with a lady on the platform. This was Jane, a friend of his and I stood there watching them talk as the train drew out! I even took pictures. They decided they would go off for a meal and I was invited, I can’t remember now what I did. The most prominent memory of that day to a man who was brought up to believe that ‘Punctuality is the politeness of princes and the courtesy of kings’ was the fact that after all that trouble and stress he had failed to board the train!
Back to the Antiquaries; there was a young man there, a regular helper at the place, who kept referring to John as Lieutenant Commander Robinson. I knew John was in the ‘Wavy Navy’, the Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve, but I didn’t know he was a Lt. Commander! I’ll bet he travelled First Class on their business as well! Evidently the young man was in the service as well. Every now and then John used to go to sea to play at being an officer, remember he was almost blind without his glasses, and he told me once it came their turn to play with a minesweeper. Unknown to them, during a refit, the steering gear had been set up wrongly, the stop had been left off the end of the gear quadrant that actually moved the rudder. The first time they put the wheel hard over to that side the pinion dropped out of mesh, the rudder jammed hard over and all they could do was sail around in circles in the middle of Portsmouth harbour. John said they never lived it down.
During this period I was completing the interviews of the informants on the Bancroft section of the LTP. We had made a decision to extend the work of the project to cover condenser spinning in the Rossendale Valley and so I had to go and work out the processes, pick the informants and shoot the pictures. By late summer I was at the point where I was recording interviews as well. It became obvious that I wouldn’t be able to finish them so Mary Hunter did what I couldn’t manage. I took Mary to Haslingden once or twice to introduce her to the mill, the workers and Richard Hardman who was the Managing Director of Whitakers the firm who owned the mill. Mary was a great hit and I have pictures of her working on the mules with the spinners. We went for a drink one day with Richard Hardman to a social club nearby and I had the surreal experience of being beaten in a game of snooker by a man with no arms! He had lost both his arms in a set of calender rollers at the local paper mill and had no prosthetics, his arms ended at the elbow. He played snooker by holding the cue in his armpit and using the table brush as a rest. He was brilliant and licked me to a frazzle! Mary made a good job of the interviews and we finished the spinning archive by early 1980. We also slipped in one or two occasional interviews with other people because they seemed pertinent. At that time I was agitating for funding to carry on and do the finishing industry as well but got vetoed on the grounds of shortage of money and time. I said then and repeat now that this was a terrible mistake. We had the chance to take a snapshot of a dying industry at a certain point in time which would have given an excellent overall picture to researchers in the future and it slipped through our hands.
I have to do one of my little flash backs now and go to 1978. Margaret had started at agricultural college as she was 17 years old in that year and had left school earlier. Mother had a fall at Avon Drive and broke her arm early in the year. I worried a lot about this, it could have been her hip and in those days this was almost an automatic death sentence at her age. I started doing a lot of thinking about this and the fact that though she was settled on the Coates Estate and had a good circle of friends it was a long way in terms of her walking abilities to the town centre. I moved in with her after I left Park Avenue and we put in some serious talking time, possibly for the first time in my life. Looking back it’s absolutely amazing how you can take people for granted
On July 4th 1979 Hey Farm was sold, I think we got something on the top side of £34,000 when all the bills were paid. Vera and I split this down the middle and she bought a house in Wellington Street and moved in there. After talking to mother I bought two houses in King Street, right in the middle of the town, literally a stone’s throw from the shops and all level going. I paid £4,000 for 12 King street, a two up two down through house. I got £400 knocked off for the smell of dog pee! I also bought the house opposite for £2,200, it was a two up two down back to back, ideal for mother. I took her to see it before I bought it and she liked the house so the deal was done. Funnily enough I have no memory of how mother moved in there, I have a sneaking feeling that I have the chronology wrong and that I might not have bought the houses together but got mothers a month or two later. However, it’s of no great significance. The fact is that I made myself feel a lot better by having mother opposite me where I could easily keep an eye on her, she was on level going to all the shops and life was a lot easier for her. When she went in I promised her that I would never take rent and would never use the house as security for a loan. I would maintain it and it was hers for as long as she wanted it. In many ways this was foolish, I could have charged her rent and the Social Services would have paid it but I wanted her to know that my gift was clean, I wasn’t interested in the money, all I wanted her to be was secure. It was a wonderfully successful arrangement. Mother was happy there and she still saw all her friends because they had to come to the town centre to shop. She went regularly to the pensioners in Frank Street and it was easy for the kids to visit her.
I moved into King Street and set myself up with new furniture and a bed! I got my dark room set up in the bathroom, installed a desk in the living room and settled down to a short respite before I started at Lancaster. Shortly after I moved in there was a strange incident. I was sat there minding my own business when I heard the sound of breaking glass at the rear of the house where I parked my car. I looked out of the kitchen window and saw that a couple of youths were lurking about and they had just broken one headlight on my motor and were starting on the other. I quickly put my boots on and went out as they were coming up the side of the house. I took them to task about my headlights and suggested that they come to the police station with me. This caused them some amusement but I pressed the case. It got to the point where one of them tried to kick me in the groin, I avoided that and dropped both of them. I must admit I surprised myself because I am not a fighting man, however, I was angry. The thought that was going through my mind was that it could have been my mother’s window and it would have frightened her to death.
I took them to the police station and handed them over. The sergeant came in after a while and asked me what I had hit them with! They said they were going to have me charged for assault but the sergeant said I wasn’t to lose too much sleep over it. They were tried, found guilty and fined, they also had to pay me for two new headlights. For a while after that one of the bobbies would call in and sit with me on Friday and Saturday night as the pubs were loosing because they had an idea these blokes would be after revenge. Nothing ever came of it but I remember my surprise one evening when, in conversation with the sergeant, I learned that there was a brothel on King Street! It turned out that the house was about 25 yards away from my front door and I knew nothing about it! To the pure, all things are pure!
There was another change this summer. While I was living with Maureen I paid a visit to London on DOE business and went down on the train. I stayed with Roger Perry, Daniel’s friend, and while I was there he told me about a Lancia Fulvia he had for sale. Out of curiosity I went to have a look at it in his mother’s garage and bought it on the spot! I drove it home and Maureen was aghast to find we were a three car family! I’ve realised at this point that another backtrack is necessary because I’ve said almost nothing about Roger.
Shortly after Daniel entered all our lives in late 1975 he introduced me to Roger Perry. Roger was a very successful freelance snapper who worked in London and whose pics could be seen in many of the quality papers. He proved to be a mine of information about equipment and guided me away from my initial foray into the Leica CL and pointed me in the direction of the Nikon F. I suppose that if there ever could be said to be a 35mm. camera that was the spiritual descendant of the steam engine, the Nikon F and the Nikkormat were they, built like battleships and incredibly rugged, they suited me down to the ground. Roger supplemented Daniel’s instruction with his own brand of advice and if ever an amateur snapper had a better teaching crew, he was a very lucky person.
Roger had many interests, one of which was a passion for Lancia cars. At that time he had a Fulvia HS with the 1.6 engine. This was the car Fulvia took the world rally championship with and held it until they brought out the Stratos which was the ultimate hairy-chested rally car until ousted by the modern breed of lighter, more highly stressed four wheel drive cars. Roger had one of these also and occasionally came up to see us in it. At the time I knew Roger there were only 19 Stratos’ in the country and Roger ran a club for the owners. The Stratos had a six cylinder Ferrari engine based on the Dino, Fiat had bought Lancia by this time and they owned Ferrari as well. The car was a beast, Roger occasionally used it as a road car for every day use and he had a lot of entertainment out of it. The only problem was that it wasn’t happy tooling about in thirty mile an hour limits, it came into its own when it got to over 100mph in third gear and then still had a lot up its sleeve!
Teddy bears always enter my mind when I think of Roger. He gave the impression of being much bigger than he was and I think if I’d been a woman my first urge on meeting him would have been to give him a great big hug. He was very quiet and definitely knew his way round. David Moore and I once coined a quick assessment method for new acquaintances which I still use and would recommend to anyone. You ask yourself “Would I share a slit trench with this person?” In Roger’s case, the answer was undoubtedly yes. I have some pictures I took when, as a family, we visited Kew Bridge Pumping Station with Roger, I also have some that he did. We both photographed our wives in isolation and within twelve months we were both living with different women, neg files again, they never lie!
I keep going back to this ‘parallel view’ of life that sometimes crops up when you are taking a lot of pictures. I really do believe that if you are totally immersed in making pictures, you apply different parameters than you would in real life. The viewfinder modifies your outlook on the world and my theory is that this is due to the fact that there are so many decisions to be made quickly in order to capture the image you are chasing that you have to allow instinct to take over many of the functions that normally would be matters of assessment and adjustment. This is the reason why you are often surprised when you look at the full frame afterwards and marvel at the fact you got so many elements right! I am very conscious that any quality my archive of pictures might possess is due in large part to the quality of tuition, guidance and constructive criticism that I got from Daniel and Roger. I was very lucky.
Early on in my relationship with David Moore he had thrown an address at me and said that the lady in question had done a large oral history project in Los Angeles which had been published and perhaps there was a connection there to the LTP. I wrote to Susan Obler in Whittier, California and she sent me copies of her work and a regular correspondence started.
One day, David called me and asked if I would do him a favour, he needed to have some materials and documents delivered that day to Lancashire College which was on Southport Road at Chorley. I had already met the man in charge, David Hird, when he visited the college so of course I was glad to do it. As I was going out David said “Oh, by the way, there’s a friend of yours down there on a course, Susan Obler, you might like to look her up while you are there.” Well motivated, I set off for Chorley.
When I got there I went to see David Hird, we did our little bit of business and had a cup of coffee and I mentioned to him that David had told me that Susi was in residence. He told me she was in the dining room so off I went. There were very few people in the room but there was one table where there was a number of ladies sat round the table evidently having just finished their meal. I went across, apologised for the intrusion and asked if Susan Obler was among the company, I had never seen a picture of her. A lady rose and identified herself and the description I am going to give now of my reaction isn’t one that is rose-tinted by time, it’s the way I described it to DJ when he asked me how I had fared. Of course the bugger had set me up! I took one look at Susi and the best way I can describe the sensation is like being hit at the back of the head with a soft, non injurious bottle! I flipped. I’m sure that I then became incoherent because the next thing I remember with any clarity is walking round the nearby cemetery with her! We had a lovely talk, agreed we’d meet later when she visited Nelson and Gawthorpe, I gave her a kiss and walked away without my feet touching the ground. Silly I know but that’s just how it was.
I need to put you in the picture about Gawthorpe before we go any further. Gawthorpe Hall at Padiham was the local seat of the Kaye-Shuttleworth family but had been handed over to the National Trust when the present holder of the title Lord Shuttleworth’s father died. I suppose it was in lieu of death duties. Lord Shuttleworth, Charlie as David called him, took a great interest in the house and when David proposed to the National Trust that the College should take it over and run it, including assuming responsibility for acting as custodian for the Rachel Kaye-Shuttleworth collection of embroidery and needlework, he was all in favour. David saw Gawthorpe as a valuable extension of the college’s involvement in the community but it also gave him his own country seat. The miner’s son from Wigan had Gawthorpe Hall as his own private fiefdom and he made the most of it.
One of his first acts was to start a movement to convert the great barn at Gawthorpe into a concert and exhibition venue. He found the funding, saw the project through and it opened in summer of 1979. We had a great day at the opening and I got some marvellous pics of DJ and Lord Charles doing their bit at the opening ceremony.
Another use that David found for Gawthorpe which I personally thoroughly approved of, was to use it as a venue for dinners to which he invited people who could contribute to the work of the college. His Head of Catering was John Farington and they ran a silver service restaurant at cost in the old Colne Grammar School where the students could practice their skills on the public. David used to shift the catering department lock, stock and barrel up to Gawthorpe and they cooked and served the most wonderful meals in the main dining room. This was a wonderful oak-panelled room, loaded with history and was the best setting you could imagine for a show-piece dinner. DJ was actively introducing me to facets of life which had slipped by me when I was wagon driving and I was also one of his show pieces, I was proof that OC worked, so I got frequent invitations to these dinners. They were wonderful and a completely new experience for me.
I remember one night sitting next to Asa Briggs and having a conversation with him and Richard Hoggart over the other side of the table. Later in the evening, sitting with Richard Hoggart on the chaise longue on which Charlotte Bronte is reputed to have had a funny turn, we got into conversation about his wonderful book, ‘The Uses of Literacy’. I asked him if he knew that if you went into the college library, got their copy of the book and dropped it onto the table on its spine it always opened at the same place. “Ah yes, the section on pornography.” said Richard. He then told me a story about this; he said that when he had finished the book and it had gone through all the pre-production stages, the last thing that was done was to give it to the lawyers to read. They found only one major problem, they couldn’t be sure that there wasn’t a chance one of the authors of the pornographic excerpts that Richard had chosen wouldn’t sue! After a long and fruitless discussion Richard said he had the solution, he went home, excised all the excerpts and wrote the pornography himself! He said it was very easy and good fun. On reflection he thought that writing pornography might be even more lucrative than ‘The Uses of Literacy’!
David loved to show guests around the house and one of his favourite ploys on a calm summer’s evening was to serve drinks on the flat roof of the central tower. I remember the time when Susi visited this was part of the tour and Stan Barker was there at the same time. Stan was a very good jazz musician who worked with David frequently. It soon became obvious that Stan had no head for heights and David was completely oblivious to the fact that the only thing that was stopping him doing a runner was his innate good manners. Stan finished up sitting in a corner with a drink no doubt hoping for an early termination of that part of the tour. I had a different agenda that particular evening, I have a picture of Susi I took on the roof that day and bearing in mind what I have said before about the images telling you things that weren’t immediately obvious at the time, all I’m going to say is that I could sit and look at that picture for a long time without getting tired of it.
I think it was this summer when Susi and her son Steve stayed with me at King Street, I can recall few happier times. Later in her stay we were walking down the street in Nelson and Susi said “Why don’t you come to Los Angeles for Christmas?” Give me my due, I didn’t bugger about, I went into the first shop I saw, Brown’s Travel and bought the ticket there and then. Some sort of a die was cast!
Later that summer I got the opportunity to do a favour for David. We were sat in his office chewing the fat and he happened to mention that he and Nanette had a yen to do some horse riding but their problem was they didn’t want to get involved in the usual livery stable route and be shown up by a lot of kids who had been born in the saddle so to speak. I told him there was no problem, I’d go and have a word with a mate of mine. I went to Alf Watson at Southfield, explained the problem and the upshot was that I took David and Nanette down there, introduced them to Alf and left them to get on with it. David told me afterwards that it was a brilliant introduction, apart from getting exactly what they wanted in the horse department they both got on well with Alf and I think they spent some very happy hours down there.
There was activity on other fronts that summer. I was approached by Les Say who had just retired from being in charge of the Rolls Royce factories in Barnoldswick. He wanted to know if I’d come on to a committee that had been set up to preserve Bancroft Engine. I agreed but with no great enthusiasm because there was still a lot of scar tissue there generated by the way Bancroft had closed. At the first meeting they ambushed me and voted me in as Chairman. I did my best for them until I went into university and we were very successful, we preserved the engine, set up the Bancroft Trust and Mary Hunter and I became Trustees together with Jack Gissing and Peter Gooby from Steele and Sons the solicitors in Barlick. Later I was to join the committee again when I came out of university but my direct involvement slipped away when I moved out of Barlick much later on.
Another interesting adventure that summer was when I was summoned by Peter White to go and look at a large suspension water wheel at Glass Houses near Pately Bridge in the company of a bloke I had heard about but never met, David Sekers. David had first come to my notice as the man who guided Gladstone Pottery at Longton through the first years of its establishment as a museum of the pottery industry. From there he had moved to Quarry Bank Mill at Styal, near Wilmslow and was building this up as a heritage venue. His family owned Sekers Silks, a famous textile firm but all he would ever say about the connection was that he was a failed cloth salesman! The reason why we were at Glass Houses was because they had a large suspension wheel which was almost exactly the same size as the one which was missing from Quarry Bank. The purpose of the visit was to assess whether it would be ethical to rob one mill to improve another. In many ways it was a shame because Glass Houses was a lovely complex and had a separate turbine as well as the wheel, there had also been an oil engine to supplement the power. However, my opinion was that it was better to take the wheel out and install it at Quarry Bank because there was no chance of it being preserved where it was. My mate Newton Pickles got the job of moving it and it was one of the worst turns I ever did him. He always said that shifting that wheel drove them to finish the firm as they lost so much money on it.
There was another visitor from the United States to the college that year and David got me to show her Bancroft and the mill just before demolition started. The ladies name was Ethel Sussman and she worked for the International Council for Educational Exchange in New York. We had a nice day out at the mill and got on very well. We were to get on even better later!
Looking back. It had been an eventful couple of years to say the least. I had started change for the best possible reasons and was now reaping the whirlwind. It felt at the time as though I had lost control of my life, this wasn’t strictly true but I was certainly riding the rapids and having a wonderful time. The pace of change was accelerating and the next phase was Lancaster. I had decided to do the three year course just like a young student straight from school, I packed my bags and headed for Lancaster, my little room overlooking Bowland Square and three years of what? I hadn’t the faintest idea what I was letting myself in for.
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