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Thursday, October 31, 2002
WHILE I WAS AWAY….
I’ve been away for a couple of months and one of the first things I did on my return was to walk round the town centre and check how well you’ve been looking after it. I freely admit that I have been homesick and couldn’t wait to get back to a place where I knew so many people and there were no biting insects and tornados!
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to notice things about people, especially children, when you haven’t seen them for a while? Exactly the same thing happened to me with Barlick. As I walked down Rainhall Road for my papers (and ten weeks worth of BET) I noticed that Tom Ward’s tailor’s shop had gone and had become a toyshop. I have to admit that I’ve never been in Tom’s shop, I’m not really a suit person but if it’s the same bloke, I remember him when he worked at Sough, Bristol Tractors I think, and served him many a time when we had the shop there.
Later the same day I was walking down Newtown and realised with a shock that the artificial tan business must be booming. A second look showed that I was mistaken, they had simply moved into what used to be Elmer’s ironmonger’s shop on the corner. Another for sale sign confirmed what I already knew from a conversation I had with David Riley some months ago, my favourite butcher’s shop had gone as well.
There can be few retail trades that have had as much pressure on them in the last couple of years as butcher’s shops. Apart from the slump in trade caused by the various scares about meat they have had to cope with a flood of new regulations and increasingly restricted slaughtering facilities. 100 years ago there was a slaughterhouse next door to Riley’s shop and more facilities down the Butts. If you wanted the suet from a beast, you just asked for it. In a modern slaughterhouse any request like this slows the production line down and special requests aren’t appreciated. So, it doesn’t surprise me that Geoff and David have had enough. Good luck to them and thanks for forty years of superb service and wonderful meat.
It would be natural to think that the Riley trade will go to the other butchers and help them survive. I have my doubts actually. When I ran the engine at Bancroft and we heard of another mill closure we never expected it to improve our trade. The demand seemed to evaporate completely. I asked Sidney Nutter why this was and he told me he never understood it either, it had always been the same. I suspect the same mechanism might apply to butcher’s shops, most people will simply buy at the supermarket.
The bottom line is that within a year we have lost a tailor, an ironmonger and a butcher. Ponder on this when I have one of my occasional rants about Barlick losing its character and becoming a dormitory town. It may be that the world is changing and I’m not keeping up but I can’t help feeling sad about the changes. I will defend to the death the right of people to open nail replacement establishments, tanning salons, hairdressing shops and crystal emporiums but theses changes look to me like symptoms of an ailing town centre and that can’t do anyone any good.
On a similar note, my picture this week is a sad one. It is the flower beds at what used to be Rainhall Road School. They are an overgrown, neglected mess and a terrible advertisement for the town. Just imagine you are a stranger coming into Barlick and one of the most prominent buildings, right on a junction that is a gateway to the town is obviously in decline.
The question I asked myself is; would the Chief Executive of Lancashire County Council allow this to happen to flower beds outside County Hall? Of course not! So why allow it to happen in Barlick? The school may be redundant but the county council still owns the property and so they are responsible for the mess. Could it be anything to do with the fact that we are a long way from Preston and they don’t have to put up with it? What’s the story with the school anyway, are we still allowing it to deteriorate until, shock horror, someone finds dry rot and it has to be demolished? I know there is supposed to be a ‘consultative process’ going on to determine future use but I have grave misgivings about it all. I think it’s about time we stood up and started putting pressure on.
I was watching the BET website while I was in the States and was very pleased when I saw that the town’s efforts had paid off and Cravenside was to be retained. I also noticed that the majority of the other care homes were to go so in a way it’s a hollow victory for anyone outside Barlick and that makes me sad. The lesson is that we all need to be vigilant and to speak up when we see anything we don’t like. Through taxes and rates, we pay for these facilities and it is a denial of our rights when decisions are forced on us.
There is one item I have to go back to. When I did the piece about ‘Ticky Tock’, the Burnley Ironworks engine at Clough Mill, I wasn’t sure about the engineer’s name. I have had a phone call from a lady in Salterforth who tells me it was George Hoggarth and she has a copy of the same picture that Newton Pickles gave me.
As usual, thanks for your support. Any questions or comments to 813527. I’m always pleased to here from you.
SCG/25 August 2002
A HOLE IN THE HEAD
Did you know that there is an organisation called the International Trepanation Advocacy Group (ITAG)? I had vague memory about them but was triggered to find out more by the recent news that a skull dating back to 1750BC had been found in the Thames mud which had a hole in it more than one inch in diameter.
This hole hadn’t been caused by injury, a Neolithic surgeon had carefully cut the scalp with a sharp piece of flint, peeled it back and using the same flint had carefully scraped away the bone until there was a large hole in the skull. The scalp was then replaced and, from the evidence of regenerated bone around the hole, we know that the patient lived for several years afterwards.
We don’t know why anyone submitted to this terribly dangerous and painful procedure, remember that apart from herbs and alcohol there was no anaesthetic then. We suspect that it was either religious or as a cure for persistent headaches or epileptic fits. This isn’t the oldest known example, it was an ancient technique even then.
I like examples of Neolithic skills like this because they shed a little more light on the lives of our ancestors. They were pretty smart, capable of moving 85 ton stones by sea and land from South Wales to Stonehenge and evidently experts at brain surgery as well.
What’s the connection with ITAG? This organisation is alive and well today and advocates voluntary trepanation, either by a doctor or, in some extreme cases, by a trusted friend. The idea is to drill a hole in the head deep enough to remove the bone but without penetrating the membrane. This allows the brain to pulsate as the heart beats, thus reducing pressure in the head and, according to ITAG, great benefits can accrue. My only comment is ‘include me out!’
All this got me to thinking about surgery in the home. The last time I came across any was when Dr Dick did a small procedure on my hand one night at Sough after I had injured myself. He did it there rather than send me to hospital because I was in so much pain and it was perfectly successful. This was only a minor matter but I have talked to people in Barlick who could remember tonsillectomies on the kitchen table. Shortly after I was born in 1936 they took me back into hospital and removed my tonsils. It was almost done as a matter of course in those days.
John Wilfred Pickard once told me that he used to cut the gums of small children when they were in great pain when teething. Nicking the skin over the tooth relieved the pressure and was instant relief. He said he did all his own children.
Childbirth in the home used to be common. After my wife had her first child in Cawder Ghyll she said she’d rather have the others at home so my two youngest daughters, Susan and Janet were both born at Hey Farm. I spoke to one of our local midwives and asked her how common a home delivery was these days, she told me that only about one baby in a hundred was born at home even though the profession regards this as a perfectly safe procedure if there is no reason to suspect that there will be complications. This being the case I asked why she thought so few people opted for this alternative. Evidently, during the 1970s there were reports which suggested that hospital delivery was safer and this means that almost all the young mothers today were themselves born in hospitals and so they consider this to be the norm. I got the impression that the midwives quite enjoy home confinements with healthy mothers.
Obviously I have no experience of childbirth beyond attending with the hot water! However, I wonder how the chances of infection in the home compare with those in hospitals?
Looking at minor ailments, if the packed shelves in chemists and supermarkets are any evidence, we are all self-medicating to some degree. The major change since the 1930’s is that people almost always use proprietary medicines. We are constantly urged by the authorities to use our pharmacist as a first line of defence and of course they are happy to give advice which sells their goods. I’m sure that this is a good thing.
Sixty years ago there were very few pre-packed medicines. Your mother was far more likely to dose you with common salt, Epsom Salts, bi-carbonate of soda, sal volatile, flowers of sulphur or some herbal remedy ‘to open your bowels’! Goose grease or bacon fat was rubbed on chests and a great favourite was a sweaty sock round the neck overnight as a cure for a sore throat. If you had whooping cough or croup your mother would take you to the gasworks and a helpful employee would take you up to the top of the resorts to be exposed to a blast of fumes from the stewing coal.
The bottom line was that the doctor wasn’t as accessible because he had to be paid so the old folk remedies had to be employed and were sometimes very successful. I suppose I regret our increased reliance on the professionals but on the whole there’s little doubt that we are better served nowadays. The trick seems to be to be able to know at what stage the home remedy fails and the doctor becomes essential.
One thing I am certain of, whilst I am quite happy to gargle with salt or treat minor wounds, there’s no way I’m going to fire up a one inch drill and bore a hole in my skull to improve my brain power. Our Stone Age ancestors had no alternative, we have Park Road and the Medical Centre. Support your local doctors!
SCG/29 August 2002
Tuesday, October 29, 2002
I see that a recent survey has raised the spectre of us being short of skilled manual workers and the most likely cause is that ‘young people don’t like to get their hands dirty’. There is a connection here with my recent comments on bath night. Levels of dirt and discomfort which, 100 years ago would have been seen as quite acceptable are no longer tolerated and yet, we haven’t abolished dirt.
The TV programmers did some interesting programmes on this subject, they looked at workers who have to deal with sewers, filthy premises, rodent control and infestation with cockroaches etc. The common thread that ran through all the examples they gave was that the people who deal with the nastiest messes we leave behind us always get paid the least. It was ever the same.
In my time I’ve had to clean up after animals, deal with slaughterhouse waste, open blocked drains and even at one point managed the sewage treatment plant at West Marton Dairies for a short while. Now there was an interesting job! It was a mystery to me why, with exactly the same management, the outflow from the plant was clear as gin one day and raw effluent the next. You can take it from one who has done it that waste management is a science!
It isn’t only the public service industries that deal with dirt. 100 years ago, every manual job in Barlick was, by today’s standards, a dirty job. Weavers came home with their hair full of ‘fly’ or as my mother used to call it ‘dirt down’. One of her favourite expressions about me was ‘you’re worse than dirt down!’. Funnily enough, my dad being an Australian, his version was ‘you’re worse than the flies’. The point is that the experience was common enough to enter into the language.
My picture this week is of ‘Paraffin’ Jack Grayson loomsweeping at Bancroft in the 1970s. He spent his day crawling about on the floor in the weaving shed amongst all the moving machinery sweeping and oiling looms. He had the worst paid job in the mill but, paradoxically, one of the most important. The firebeater in the boiler house was in the same boat. Try as you may, you can’t deal with coal and ashes all day without getting dirty. These weren’t occasional jobs, they were the normal everyday experience.
These jobs still exist in one form or the other, the biggest difference is that most dirty industries have better facilities for cleaning up before you go home and so what was a common sight as little as fifty years ago, people walking down the street in their muck after work, has gone underground. This might be part of the problem, young people grow up being told to keep themselves clean and don’t have the evidence that a different set of rules applies in the real world of work, you can get as dirty as you like! So is it any wonder that they recoil from dirt when looking for a job.
There is another facet of this that worries me. I make it my business to ask young people how much they know about the infrastructure that makes their lives possible and the level of ignorance can be astounding. Take the simple action of turning an electric light switch on when entering a room. You would be amazed at the number of people that haven’t a clue where the electricity comes from or what has to be done to keep it flowing. All they know is that it has to be paid for. Even in a relatively clean industry like the generation of electricity there are numerous dirty and even dangerous jobs that have to be done to make it work. Have you ever seen pylon painters at work? The nature of the job is such that they can’t avoid getting covered with paint. They have to have new overalls every day and cover all exposed skin with Vaseline so the paint won’t stick to them. Take it from me, it’s a horrible job.
Ninety percent of all electricity is still made by steam produced in boilers burning coal, oil or natural gas. The furnaces have to be maintained and no matter how clean the fuel, this is a dirty job. Maintaining the cooling systems in the power station is another dirty task. Even the skilled fitters who work on the generating machinery get their share of dirt. It can’t be avoided.
I could bore you for hours with examples like these but what I’d really like to get down to is who does these jobs for us?
The answer to this comes down to how highly paid they are. As a general rule, unless there is someone who has been brought up in the trade, the low paid unskilled jobs are done by recent migrants and poor people. Look at hospital and office cleaners, unskilled foundry workers and anyone doing jobs that involve unsocial hours. This might be the root of the problem.
Fifty years ago getting dirty at work wasn’t seen as demeaning. I’m afraid this has changed in this country. There is a loss of status in being dirty. It’s only the natural rebels who go against this. I know a bloke in Australia who, when he first migrated there, got an office job. He gave it up because he wanted to go home dirty at night so that people would know he had a ‘proper’ job. I can identify with that because that’s how I was brought up, there was no shame in ‘honest muck’. We seem to be losing that distinction.
It may be hard for the younger ones to accept some of this week’s opinions. Just ask yourself the question, who cleans the lavatory in your house? Does it make them a lesser person? Of course not, it’s all part of real life and as far as I’m concerned, the people who do the mucky jobs are the heroes. Can we please not look down on them.
SCG/25 August 2002