Autobiography of Beer Drinking & Life in a Suitcase
NB caution !! ... I only keep these notes on my website so I don't lose them !
This is an initial draft of musings & gleanings which contain many omissions, errors, inaccuracies & misinterpretations ... I know these notes don't make any sense, they certainly wouldn't have when I was your age but I write them down so I don't have to waste time rethinking them ... most has already been forgotten ... other bits are triumphantly revealed once again when mindful folk prod the dusty depths ... but then it is only a story, just for a bit of fun ... a story for our great grandchildren's children ... just in case they ever ask; who was great great grandpa? They will now have a clue ... Grandpa was a beer drinker!
Nostalgia ain't what it used to be.
It was a funny thing but when joints started to creak and minds misted over, we noticed that as the old urges waned, new ones emerged ... urges to tell tales lest we forgot ... but almost inevitably it was too late ... and day by day there were fewer folk around to ask ... no matter perhaps some things, like beer drinking, were best forgotten?
We remembered ration books, new looks, spangles and trafficators but we always yearned for something better for our kids. We knew that nobody should live in the past ... a place full of strange happenings ... our first house didn't have a telephone ... how did that happen? Furthermore the past was of no interest to grandchildren who were on a trajectory, an unstoppable mission of their own, and they only grudgingly admitted that 'there were no flies on Grandpa' ... but the trouble was that it was in the past where grandpa had spent most of his time ... working hard, hoping for fun, drinking beer and trying to put a crumb on the table for the family who always surprised us with their voracious appetite for cash.
The threat of 'blood on the moon' never worked with grandchildren but telling stories was fun and had long been a neglected therapy for old curmudgeons and other deprived folk like us who loved the ancient palliatives of warm beer with a lively head, proper cricket on the green, old jazz on scratchy records and savings accounts which earned interest.
Fables were cultural necessities for 'tuning the brains' of the youngsters ... and story telling was positively therapeutic for the wrinklies, a sort of cathartic outpouring, an emotional rant which emptied the mind of the stuff which was instantly available but only possibly worth remembering ... but who was to judge?
One of our more exciting stories was about great grandfather Edward who earned a crumb or two for his kids by refining rotting Cheshire cows ... he turned bits & pieces of cow into useful things ... he told us that nothing was wasted ... except the eyelashes!
The ancients nailed it -
'We hear and always forget, we see and sometimes remember but we read & write and understand' ...
and Xenophanes was no slouch either -
‘The Gods did not reveal, from the beginning, all things to us, but in the course of time through seeking we may learn & know things better. But as for certain truth no man knows it, nor shall he know it, neither of the Gods nor yet of all things that I speak. For even if by chance he were to utter The Final Truth, he would himself not know it: for all is but a woven web of guesses.’
hmmm ... 'through seeking we may learn & know things better' ... and today we know about the explanatory pervasiveness of Darwin's natural selection ... the process which constructed everything including little brains ... and learning ... and there was more ... brains got bigger and turned out to be extravagantly creative by trials & the elimination of errors ... more & more 'know how' was discovered & accumulated ... 'know how'? ... but command & control of such a treasure was an oxymoron ... how on earth could anyone command & control the production of convivial pints? ... think about it?
Overload ... there was more to do and less time to do it ... education of great great grandkids, nurturing of family & friends ... all sports, blues music ... and all social freedoms to experiment ... and beer drinking ... so where to start?
In search of The Convivial Pint.
It seemed from way back that the convivial pint had always been valuable to us & our friends. It was clear that all our best mates were giants who had one thing in common; the miraculous knack of turning ordinary beer into a convivial pint.
But what exactly was a convivial pint? Who, where, when & how did we find such conviviality? Was it just a fortunate stroke of serendipity as we discovered this phenomenal elixir? We certainly felt it was no fluke, but then it was not part of our plans either ... at the time those with foresight didn't have hindsight to help them ... the convivial pint was a bit of a mystery ... it just pitched up, but when it did it was instantly recognisable.
Transforming barley into ale was good news. Ale was not only nutritious & wholesome but also it didn't go rotten ... and it was lethal if the beasties drank it. The old sages suggested it purified water. Bad water was the pain of dysentery and an early demise but ale was safe. It was rumoured in the olden days that local water was often so contaminated with strife that even the kids had to be protected by the medicinal effects of 'small beer'. Small beer was brewed at home by doting parents; it possessed a distinctive taste, had a low 1% alcohol content and was safe ...
Ale was beautifully easy. If you waited a few weeks the golden potion arrived all by itself from bits of barley and lots of water and what's more it remained in great condition for months. Instantly available whenever wits were overtaken by thirst or hunger ... requiring no preparation or cooking, just a straw to get at the action. It was the very first convenience food, sharing was easy and it was fun ... social interaction always seemed to be somewhat smoother when folk were a bit canned.
Ale or beer, what's in a name? Pedants said ale was original and beer was bitter, but who cared ... as long as it tasted good?
So long long ago the supping of ale became the heart of sociability & civilisation ... and, like tea, ale was a loyal friend ... it was bugless sustenance for clean living ... a reliable remedy for the common ills.
There was ale in Mesopotamia 7,000 years ago and Noah had ale on the Ark. It was not clear when the magic liquor was first imbibed in England but for sure the taverns were built on the Roman roads and Julius Caesar himself declared,
'Beer is a high & mighty liquor'.
And had not Paul in the 1st Epistle to Timothy suggested,
'Drink no longer water, but use a little beer for thy stomach's sake'?
Then the Anglo Saxons had Ale Houses as well as their Mead Halls; ask Beowulf where he planned the downfall of Grendel?
In English life bread & ale played an ongoing and vital survival role which inevitably attracted help from the powers that be ... The Assize of Bread & Ale was a 13th century statute from 1266/7 which regulated the price, weight & quality of the bread & beer manufactured and sold in towns, villages and hamlets. Famed as the first law in British history to regulate the production and sale of food. The result was arbitrary recurring licensing fees, fines and punishments ... on costs and price controls had their usual insidious effects which reduced competition and did nothing for the output and quality of bread and ale ... bread and ale were on a roll.
Even the wine drinkers in France understood Napoleon's quip,
'On victory, you deserve beer, in defeat, you need it'
... and everywhere there was always beer in the Inns to resuscitate the travellers.
Traditional English ale had been made for yonks from fermented barley malt, but then in the 15th century, from The Netherlands, came the bitter bevvy as hops were added to the eclectic mix to produce beer ... and things never looked back.
After the Glorious Revolution of 1688 the Dutch struck again. Poor quality grain which was deemed unfit for brewing auspicious beer could still be fermented and then distilled to 45% proof to pack a real punch ... and this liquor was almost palatable when flavoured with juniper berries. Then suddenly the Gin Palaces were on the scene; urban, glitzy, sparking & mirrored, glass topped & modern miseries ... the Gin Palaces of London were different, therein were binges of consequence as folk drowned their sorrows and became legless.
By 1700 ardent spirituous liquors were around masquerading as effective medicines & prophylactics for all manner of psychosomatic ailments and perhaps helping as a relish to make monotonous food palatable. Long before pepper & penicillin there was gin. But gin upset the apple cart.
By 1830 the ill effects of boozing preoccupied both religious and political consciences; the Methodists, Rechabites and the like spied evil and the 'powers that be' spied radical dissent, moral decay ... and tax revenues. Happenings in England became so drunken that the Beer Houses came on the scene in an attempt to stop gin, ruination and degradation. Beer was sold by enterprising folk from their front parlours in an attempt to sober up the soaks; after all beer was harmless & wholesome but gin was the pits. Hogarth's Beer Street was elegant orderliness but Gin Lane was indebted debauchery. The temperance movements missed a trick when they failed to welcome beer as the nourishing alternative to evil gin. Nevertheless beer and the Beer Houses were an unparalleled success, institutions which became embedded in our culture ... and in our imaginations. The Taverns thrived; rural, quaint, cosy & warm, woody & stressed, with inglenooks & booths, welcoming spaces for contemplations and escapes from the rigors of reality.
By 1869, as was usual with successes, regulation & licensing & taxation continued apace as if to undermine the ordinary beer pleasures of ordinary folk doing their ordinary business. In the interests of protecting debauchees from themselves and the ubiquitous catch all of 'elf 'n' safety, these were the excuses to 'control' the Beer Houses and they became Public Houses ... the 'pub' was born as thirsty folk paid for regulation & bureaucracy as well as their beer.
Ale and the Fabric of Life ... Doing Deals & 'putting the world to rights'.
It seemed to us that beer was always more than a nourishing drink; it was our way of life; beer dissolved social angst, emboldened folk for experiments and it let business rip.
Every village boasted a church and a tavern ... or two. The church provided solace but the taverns were the centres of buzzing social interaction where amenable public space was sold to folk eager for work & play. There were places of elegant luxury or cheap & cheerful alternatives and even some mean & nasty places to give the misfits a chance. Everyone was included in ... affluents, paupers, locals & travellers ... all gathered together to celebrate & commiserate as deals were done; commerce & entertainment ... everything in the taverns revolved around sociability. Business or pleasure the deals were the same, started and finished with a hand shake ... or maybe more if you were on the pull ... but always ritualised with beer which always made things so much easier.
When push came to shove it seemed the discussions & deals were all about costs & benefits ... of folk and for folk ... both matters of strange individual perceptions which nobody pinned down ... difficult choices about incalculable costs & impenetrable values ... so folk talked a bit about it, hoped for inspiration and had a pint ... or two. Folk were searching for, and constantly discovering, mutual benefits from their interactions in the pub ... and in this way, without doubt, the wheels of commerce were lubricated with beer as folk did their deals ... oblivious to the impositions of Bishops, Princes, Generals and bureaucrats.
The Bishops said the world was put to rights in the churches ... the Princes claimed they did it all by themselves ... the Generals did it by brawn ... and some folk were beginning to insist that the world was put to rights in the parliaments? But neither churches, kings, armies nor parliaments never ever had a monopoly on good ideas ... and the taverns were always agog with ideas hatched over a pint ... some good some bad ... but the good ones always looked better if you were pie-eyed.
Folk were meticulous over their choice of watering holes. Where were the best deals to be had? The taverns and the 'private but rarely secret' clubs were often just an excuse for more fun and more booze which lubricated the happenings ... the landlords of the pubs loved the clubs, they were one and the same! Most agreed that the clubs sprouted out from the taverns and provided added depth & diversity to discussion ... Dr Johnson & Edmund Burke were avid ... and up in Edinburgh Adam the Smith & David Hulme were at it ... and so too in the coffee houses ... they were always fine, stimulating, places for business but they lacked beer ... there were some who suggested coffee was a better beverage than beer to maintain the tick of the brain but we found it a tad less creative ... but don't get it wrong, coffee was an essential accoutrement ... especially when bladdered.
Social stratification seemed to follow, not by order nor conspiracy but by choice, as the participants became bound together by shared characteristics and their choice of beer. Strangers with offerings were welcomed, as long as everyone bought their rounds they were in and exclusive became inclusive. This way there were no incompatible agendas which divided the company, just a universal problem with ignorance. Because everybody was guessing, the great social trick of the taverns & booze was to dull the divisions and enhance the empathies. Catholics or Protestants, Socialists or Conservatives, Gay or Straight, ordinary or erudite, plebs or elites, cricket or croquet, tap room or lounge bar, pie or cordon bleu, Manchester United or Liverpool ... your choice ... your friends, your customers ... or your girl ... everyone interacted for mutual benefit ... or not at all ... in the taverns the ball was always in your court ... so folk had a go.
Consensus and domination were impossible as everyone was different, cooperation was the essential characteristic if rounds were to be bought. But it was the folk who decided ... not the Pope nor the King ... the mantra was 'live & let live', 'mind your own business', 'join the club of your choice' and 'vote with your feet'. For those of us who were increasingly reminded of our status as subordinate to 'the powers that be', beer and the tavern culture offered an independent social paradise where club members set the behavioural rules. Taverns were fiercely independent, free spaces for outrageous interactions and thought experiments ... or not as the case may be ... and then maybe, occasionally, some of the better thought experiments were actually tried out in the hard rigour of reality. Benjamin Franklin concurred -
'beer did not improve skills but it did enabled execution, productivity always required social lubrication'!
So were the taverns a sifting house for value? Did beer & taverns inculcate shared values? Or did they threaten attempts at control by the powers that be? Did the taverns sustain the traditional or initiate change ... or both?
Across the Atlantic.
The English & Dutch cultural legacies of beer drinking crossed the Atlantic and flowed into America through the hum drum of daily life in the taverns and complemented nicely, or contradicted perversely, the utterances of the founding fathers and the sacred history as was wrote. As the multitude, including the travelling strangers, became embroiled in this rich fabric of life ... the world was put to rights. In this way the taverns were not the result of the law of the land, but rather the natural laws of the land were bettered in the taverns. The name of the game was to make existing law more effective and not to create new law ... ex nihilo ... folk mulled it all over.
The tavern legacies started from the demand for services to travellers and their horses, but soon others wanted to get in on the act ... there were benefits to be had from fraternising, and 'Dutch courage' could only help rather than interfere with lucrative trade. Beer and eggs for a healthy breakfast became deeply embedded in local cultures ... but so too drinking became a refuge for the wretched and a temptress for those hoping to escape drudgery and drive care away. Slowly crooked thinking blamed ale, & especially the ardent spirits, as cause & effect for poverty, beggars, starving kids & crime. The powers that be continued the efforts from Medieval times and the regulation of booze became rampant. The great & the good meddled with licenses, standards, prices, quality, numbers, opening hours, locations, qualifications, criteria, class exclusions, linger hours and segregations of establishments - taverns, inns, bars, alehouses, pubs, ordinaries, locals, saloons, cafes, grogshops, tippling houses, barrel houses, dramshops, speakeasies, hostelries, joints & dives ... and later hotels ... all became the focus of an avalanche of dirigisme, restrictive practices & tinkering.
But how could the law stop the dead drunk when folk were free to choose? Was intoxication a proper defence for bad behaviour? The preaching from the pulpit had failed to put decorum on show? Gouging landlords had established that price was a less than effective tool when credit, bailouts and compassion were readily available? And the debtors prisons never seemed to work? As the basket cases proliferated, ire was turned onto the tavern owners as the soft option ... inevitably ending up with the biggest folly of all ... prohibition ... and with the bathwater out went the baby.
So did drinking cause poverty or did poverty cause drinking? Clearly neither regulation nor outright prohibition eradicated evil but both certainly curtailed the innocent ... we were appalled at all the petty restrictions on our productive deals. As pious manipulation of human behaviour failed, it seemed to us that all regulation of booze was much to do with tax revenues ... meanwhile evil got off scot free. We ended up with one tavern for every 100 residents but was that a balance between dry throats, excise revenues and drunkenness ... or wot? An unholy muddle?
Dead Drunk ... there was a rub.
It seemed to us that the real evil was bad behaviour not good beer. We all agreed folk were free to choose but no one was free to harm others ... there was a golden rule ... 'do unto others'.
The ASBO was needed, rather than the focus on crack ... and why ban the knife that the Boy Scouts always carried to be prepared? There was much to be said for instant justice but our plea for the nurturing of the convivial pint went nowhere. The convivial pint became the innocent victim of the enormous effort which went into the curtailment of tippling, in the vain hope of curtailing bad behaviour. And as the enormous effort turned into a bureaucratic nightmare it was clear to the hapless victims that drunkenness remained as prevalent as ever ... and the bureaucrats themselves became victims of their own stupidity as they hopelessly failed to define the crime -
'Not drunk is he who from the floor, can rise again and still drink more.
But drunk is he who prostrate lies, without the power to drink or rise.'
As with gin in London, it was rum in New England that put the cat amongst the pigeons. Addiction and speed to incapacity were the big issues with the potent distillates. Don't miss the story of Sir Richard Rum of Punch Hall and the despoiling of many good folk in America.
In this way the social lubricant for the deals from agreeable companionship was confronted by the beastly vice of turbulent intemperance. And there were complicating horrors. Everyone was well aware that some of the convivial deals in the taverns seemed to involve stuff that had fallen off the back of a wagon and even, horrors ... six shooters for self defence were traded ... and to add to the mess we suspected many a foul conspiracy was first muttered in the tavern? How to sift the good from the bad in the land of the free? Was morality really a matter for 'the powers that be'? And in any case, 'who guards the guardians'? The guardians themselves knew that lewd was lewd but the alluring Jessica was different and quite refined and pretty? Who did the judging?
Beer was from God but sloppy drunkards were the Devil. The problem was that simple sober conviviality easily degenerated into debauchery and treachery. For every 'ordinary' there seemed to be a 'disorderly' house.
In America the competition for the custom of the travellers was fierce and the customers themselves proved adept at sorting out the good service bargains and the con men ... the travellers wished for safe lodgings, food for self & horse, hospitality and entertainment to pass the evening, with gossip and conversation for the exploration of ideas ... and perhaps some aspired to a private bed with clean sheets. As discriminating customers they proved adept at spotting value for their money. Bad deals were bad mouthed and there were no return visits. The good taverns thrived by word of mouth and the taverns that didn't cut the mustard went bankrupt ... the lost lamented sifting process, now forgotten, as zombies proliferate?
So much for the theory but the regulators never missed a trick as they seized on the opportunity to 'protect' travellers and their horses to justify their license fee ... and, at the same time, they chose to 'protect' local residents from competition from the strange itinerants with strange proclivities ... and money. The remarkable intrusions into which or what services could be offered to which or what folk at which or what hostelries stank of excuses for revenues and such efforts undoubtedly reduced the choices everywhere for ordinary Joe the beer drinker. The detail and the variety of the wheezes was amazing ... but were 'clean sheets for travellers' a regulation or a competitive promotion to attract customers? And how many lucrative deals were scuppered by this explosion of restrictions and costs on the social interactions of ordinary folk? Neither the travelling salesman nor the local residents were happy bunnies. Discrimination was rife, there was even discrimination in the days of the week, in spite of the 1st Amendment the Sabbath was a no no for booze ... and this was in the land of the free?
It seemed discriminatory legislation to combat drunkenness, brawling and prostitution reinforced class distinctions? The rich used booze to seal lucrative deals but it was booze that dove the poor into destitution? Why such perversity? Two universal consistencies were apparent; firstly the authorities attempted to control human behaviour and secondly they failed ignominiously.
There were baffling anomalies and a tension between stated intent and the fickle reality of the moment. Defining what was 'allowed' or what was 'banned' by the 'regulation' immediately identified the loophole ... and inevitably the tipplers went straight for the loophole. It seemed legislating temperance was no more effective than legislating wealth ... or were they both the same thing?
Amongst all this discrimination the girls had an intriguing tendency to win out. In the Middle Ages after the Black Death the country was flooded with household brewing by the 'alewives' (a much more attractive name than 'brewess') ... the girls brewed and sold most of the ale drunk in 'Merry England'. And before the first 'public houses' it was the ladies who served their beer from their own front parlours. Later widows often featured as licensees, some said this was a ploy to keep them off the Poor Law. So perhaps it was unsurprising that a number of tavern operators wore petticoats ... nevertheless it was often considered that only a man could cope with the rules of regulation and control the drunken brawling. But we knew that ever since the fall in the Garden of Eden the girls had learned how to manipulate macho men ... especially when they were drunk ... 'an attractive girl was economically valuable, they welcomed customers, plied them with liquor and kept them happy with smiles, kisses and sometimes more intimate favours'. Throughout the decline into debauchery and the slow subsequent progress to conviviality, the world's oldest profession continued unabated as many of the girls who didn't secure a husband found the wherewithal for survival elsewhere ... and we suspected that any public humiliation of the ladies of pleasure merely became useful advertising. The girls were also in the driving seat as customers as they decided between the tap room or the lounge bar? If the ladies preferred carpets to sawdust the tipplers always followed ... like magic.
The local intemperate Indians, the scurvy ridden mariners and the freed black slaves were prime targets for the masses of discriminatory laws which piled agony on the proprietors, landlords, publicans, keepers, tapsters & the money lenders, rather than on the miscreants and those who were contracted & indebted. The Captain of the ship had to cope with the drunkard in charge of a halyard not the bureaucrats. It was in the best interests of the proprietors to ensure that customers behaved themselves, but the unfree consumers and the regulated keepers were caught between 'restraints on trade' and 'sanctions on bad behaviour'. Others suggested it was all a misguided class conspiracy to 'protect the well to do from the drunkenness of the lower class'.
The taverns were perverted from accommodating travellers and many descended into decadence.
As was to be expected in this messy intrigue, the license itself became a 'valuable' asset owned by the tavern keepers and inevitably bribery & corruption crept in as the Selectmen and bureaucrats smelt a back hander as well as a fee in return for their favours. As far as the travellers were concerned the taverns had been usurped by the regulators ... and the local debauchees ... wot a mess.
No one was fooled by the conflicting objectives and unintended consequences of lubricating social intercourse, curtailing evil and raising revenue ... such was madness ... less drinking, less trade, less revenues. And to cap the lot in 1647 The Rhode Island leaders recommended 'archery' to deflect the weak from idle temptation and to prevent the resultant poverty. The honest truth. Wot a muddle without rhyme nor reason.
We concluded that the tavern culture was impervious to control by the powers that be and the taverns had a life of their own, where folk did of their own choosing ... some did great things and some debauched big time ... but everyone did their own things with their mates ... and became paralytic ... if they wished.
Benjamin Franklin in 1737 published 'The Drinker’s Dictionary' which contained more than two hundred expressions for boozing. Forty years later booze sowed the seeds of The American Revolution. Adrian Covert pitched for the Sunset Nobles in the Pacific Coast Hardball League, San Francisco, and could well have been one of Josh Birchall's history teachers. In 2016 he explained everything in his book 'Taverns of the American Revolution'. It was a good read; while boozing in the historic watering holes of America the great revolution was conceived. The pubs were the crucial meeting places for the Founding Fathers ... George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams were all brewers! ... and it was in the taverns where the great boozer Benjamin Franklin, cooked up the struggle for independence from the evils of alien taxes ... cheers!
In 1862 during the American civil war the confederates were in cahoots with cotton broker Fraser Trenholm Company of Liverpool. Liverpool was doing good business in some 60% of Confederacy cotton at the time. British neutrality law made it illegal to build a ship of war so the protagonists met secretly in the taverns of Wirral to concoct the funding and the construction of the 'Alabama' at Camel Lairds of Birkenhead. On its maiden voyage 'hull number 290' steamed up the Mersey with all the local dignitaries basking in the show and only later did the mystery hull sail into international waters to be armed and commissioned off Terceira Island in the Azores on 24th August 1862 ... 'God helps those who help themselves'. The war ship was immensely successful before it was sunk by Union action in 1864. After the war The Alabama story became a running sore in Anglo-American relations ... many insisted that the plots in the taverns in the back streets of Birkenhead could easily have been stopped by the pontificating bureaucrats in London. But we knew from delightful experience that the 'plots in the taverns' were impossible to stop ... and furthermore enlightened philosophers were likely to conclude that it was in the taverns that many inspirational ideas were mulled.
The taverns were the ubiquitous backdrop to important changes everywhere ... folk loved them and they waxed something rotten. No wonder so many adjectives coloured communications when miscreants succumbed to inebriation or intoxication - addled, befuddled, bladdered, blitzed, blotto, bombed, boozed, Brahms & Liszt, canned, crapulent, drunk, flying, grogified, half cut, hammered, high, leathered, loaded, looped, merry, oiled, paralytic, pie eyed, pickled, pifflicated, pissed, plastered, sloshed, smashed, sodden, soused, spiffed, stewed, stoned, tight, tipsy, wasted, wankered, wrecked, zonked ...
Following the industrial revolution and the middle class bulge, the infamous alehouse began to lose its reputation for evil as many of the tramping poor managed jobs and cleaner living ... and the beer drinking bandwagon went from strength to strength as there was more and more prosperity to celebrate. The industrial revolution depended on commercial success and there was little doubt that in the taverns deals were done which fostered much of the commercial success. Adam the Smith suggested that the leaders embraced universal moral sentiments ... or ... did universal moral sentiments produce the leaders? Whatever it was clear to us that slowly the new middle classes had learned that good behaviour not only brought home the bacon but was also associated with tolerance and temperance in the taverns. It was very difficult to close a good deal with a drunkard. Polite good manners were on the march ... and our Gran always said they came from Almighty.
It was as if bad behaviour solved itself slowly ... folk who behaved badly missed out, they didn't hold down a job, they didn't pull the girls and they had fewer surviving children? ... think about it? In this way it was the girls who were organising social progress in the taverns ... it was in the taverns where the well behaved met their wives and did their business. And it was in the taverns where some of the others followed their crooked path to sin and met the girls of ill repute ... and their nemesis? ... The costs & benefits of booze were perplexing and things became no clearer in befuggled old age.
Prohibition - the assault on the very foundations of American freedoms.
In 1920, in America, 'the land of the free', happenings took a dramatic turn for the worse ... a full frontal attack on beer and the social pleasures of life in the taverns ... was the 'pursuit of happiness' no longer on? Or had the powers that be got their knickers in a twist?
It was as if the lessons of the civil war had faded from memories, the federal state was flexing muscles again ... muscles which Tommy Jeffers vainly hoped had been impaired by the separation of powers and the installation of a bog standard 'yeoman farmer' with skin in the game as leader of the pack.
As for the civil war? In 1861 Evolutionary Economists didn't exist and were not available for inspiration ... but at the time it looked like the Southern States were destined for bankruptcy ... the cotton plantations were unsustainable; it was free men earning honest wages who delivered massive productivity gains ... industrialisation in the Northern free states and Willie Wiberforce explained the folly ... Willie, of course, appealed to 'Religion, Justice & Humanity' but Adam the Smith was a moral philosopher and the great man knew that his 'moral sentiments' underpinned human behaviour ... which was intensely economic.
Would inevitable bankruptcy have been quicker and less gruesome than a sickening war ... 4 years of carnage as 1,030,000 souls were lost? ... no one was around to do the cost benefit analysis ... but for sure the genes were already on it!
Too many folk were meddling ... we should have left it to the girls ... and had another pint ... a bootlegged pint?
Prohibition was a nation wide constitutional ban, the 18th amendment, top down hubris. Everyone knew alcohol was a poison, and that great grief always followed abuse of the siren liquor ... but what about the convivial pint? Why was this treasure not spared from the barrage of restrictive statutes? And few mentioned the greater grief and terror which was experienced as the wholesome contents of tuns, butts, hogsheads, barrels, kilderkins, firkins, pins and gallons of ale were forcibly consigned to the drains ... without the courtesy of passing the ale through the body first.
Good intentions always begat unintended consequences. The attempt to stop the rot in human behaviour bred crime and wastes of time & money as more and more convivial pints were turned into ordinary beer by edict. Al Capone made his mark and belatedly, some suggested that jazz & the blues were the unlikely beneficiaries as they derived an income from the action in the speakeasies and the dives?
As the powers that be seized the moral high ground in a vain attempt to mollycoddle folk into behaving proper, there was instead endless kerfuffle, palaver and social disruption. But bad behaviour was the problem not beer, and the 18th amendment proved incapable of arresting the pleasurable consumption of ale and cheers reverberated around the taverns as the good life roared on ... and further smiles turned into sustained merriment when it became clear that it was impossible to legislate away bad behaviour ... and impossible to tax the illegal consumption of beer ... touché.
Right from the start the travellers wished to quench their thirst, nourish their body, indulge in fun entertainment, relive their feats, engage in inspiring conversations ... or just relax ... and chill out. And that just about sums it all up ... and we followed suit. Beer and discussion ... and even tittle tattle ... were the order of the day and they were important parts of the legacy as we went for the pursuit of happiness. Everybody had their own ideas about conviviality but most agreed that booze unbent the mind and generated a social temper for the challenging interactions. Moderate liquor endowed the inarticulate bumbler with fluency and warmth. We chose our friends and enjoyed a plethora of excuses ... we remembered past exploits but only the good ones, we ritually toasted good fortune & many happy returns and we drank to the absent girls and congratulated them on being different ... and such always invoked another round.
Friends, neighbours, companions, locals, regulars, patrons, travellers, strangers ... booze, ale, bitter, mild, heavy, larger, cider, mead, sack, punches, toddies, slingers ... food & pies, beds & lodgings, warmth & shelter, music & dance, diversions & amusements, games & shows, recitals & lectures, exhibitions & curiosities, meetings with folk, play with girls ... talk, discussion, debate, argument, news, gossips, deals, exchanges, ventures, plots, losts & founds, sales & wants ... trades plied, services rendered ... business & pleasure ... and while waiting for action there was more fun; bowling, billiards, pool, backgammon, dice, cards, all-fours, bridge ... and for the serious with money, cock fighting, and for the affluent, horse racing.
Some suggested that the way to make ordinary beer convivial was to ban all talk about sex, religion & politics, such old chestnuts always seemed to turn convivial beer sour ... but we knew these were the very subjects which inspired the mind and drove elegant conversations ... ban was a word we wished to exclude from all discussions and we were certain that as soon as anything, but anything, was interfered with by the powers that be, conviviality went out of the window and they messed up ... everybody was different and everybody was different for the same Darwinian reason.
Beer was always unfathomable stuff, it came in all shapes and sizes ... and costs. We were weaned on Greenall Whitleys; and the Greenalls we remembered was invariably a convivial pint ... otherwise we refused to partake.
But what about the cost of a convivial pint? We noticed as 18 year olds ... or may be before ... that the convivial pint cost no more than an ordinary pint. This was a shattering observation for naive 18 year olds who had heard of supply & demand but didn't understand it. We were still on pocket money so with our limited incomes and no price differential we vowed to wallow in the luxury of convivial pints and avoid ordinary beer.
We mulled things over ... if there was a big demand for conviviality why didn't the convivial pint cost more? Was the best thing in life really really actually free? Was the convivial pint an unfair luxury only available to a few? Furthermore if the cost of conviviality could be reduced ... wouldn't that benefit everybody?
We were factory men and we knew the beer production process was well tried & tested ... but was it good value? In any case production was a small part of the total cost. We investigated the costs - only 10% of the cost was barley malt, hops, enzymes, casks & brewery production; 5% was distribution & marketing; a whopping 50% went on bar maids, atmosphere, public house rents, operating costs, license & regulation costs; 30% duties & sin taxes ... hmmmmm ... as we suspected the punters were buying the public space in the tavern not the beer ... folk could sup cheap beer at home but to buy a convivial pint folk went to their 'local'; their tavern!
We were also business economists and were daft enough to suggest that specialisation and economies of scale in production & distribution & marketing made beer cost less but licensing, regulation & sin taxes made it cost more. We never quibbled about the tavern costs because we voted with our feet! But however hard we tried it proved impossible to avoid sin taxes ... so go figure?
We voted to tax ordinary beer but not to tax convivial beer. Conviviality made the world go round, so why was conviviality taxed? Was the convivial pint taxed to reduce consumption? Why should anyone want to reduce conviviality? Was it just the envy & greed of the sad?
Conviviality was no sin, we were sure of that.
And what about those anti social licensing hours ... who did they think they were? Masters of the Universe or servants of the people?
Beer seemed to occupy a very special place in everyone's consciousness. But everyone was different and it seemed that one half couldn't get enough of the stuff and the other half worried that the first half were having too much of it. It seemed beer could make bad folk bader ... but it could also make good folk gooder ... it seemed to us that there was no problem with good folk nor good beer ... the problem was bad folk and bad beer!
We all knew what we liked and we thought we never had a preference for what other folk drank; why should we care about what other folk drank? ... but it was very strange, we did care!
We liked to share and buy our rounds but it was the convivial pint we cared about ... and there were many intriguing questions about the convivial pint that were perplexing?
Was conviviality a characteristic of beer quality and did it have to be a pint?
Folk went out for a 'pint' at the 'local'. And it was beer they were after, we never heard of anyone going out for a litre of larger. Was it possible to share a convivial pint with folk drinking a litres of larger?
And why did the taste of beer improve with the quality of the smiles of the serving wenches and the ambience in the tavern? We knew the chemistry didn't change nor the flavour of the hops but we also knew a convivial pint tasted better than an ordinary beer? A pie & a pint tasted good but in our minds a convivial pint was the best. And then some wag remembered the happenings on Mount Sinai ... we were scientists we knew the water didn't change into ethyl alcohol, we had learned our chemistry ... but the good authority recorded that it certainly tasted good ... as good as wine? If ever there was a case supporting our suggestion of ordinary beer miraculously becoming a convivial pint this was the recorded precedent!
And what about the folk who still believed the world was flat; was their pint convivial? ... and why did we worry about sharing a convivial pint with a Manchester United supporter?
And what about the girls sipping port & lemon? Surely that was convivial? For sure ... but it wasn't a convivial pint, was it?
What on earth was going on?
We were never a group of protesting grumps putting the world to rights to suit ourselves; we were all different, searching for those elusive synergies over a convivial pint ... that's what teams did ... and we always worked & played in teams ... didn't we?
Darwin made folk different for a good reason; no differences, no adaptations, no progress ... think about it?
So folk had different ideas, at different times, in different places ... and different trades and different incomes ... and different boozes?
In our neck of the woods we knew about soap ... was beer any different? For us it seemed that there were gross similarities ... different folk, in different places, at different times with different circumstances seemed to prefer different washing tackle as folk did their deals to suit themselves ... and to try suit the others ... from ordinary soap to figments of imaginations ... everyone was happy ... otherwise, they didn't deal ... and so with beer?
So was our soap a figment? There was more than one way of getting clean and we had researched cleanliness at great length; upside down and inside out. Lux was not just any old ordinary soap, Lux was different ... and Lux was exciting customers all over the globe. So what were folk spending their hard earned money on? ... excitement or cleanliness? ... delectable perfumes or a promise to impress the Joneses? Was Lux a luxury? Luxuries were fashionable & expensive, but were they alternatives or aspirations? Were they functional or fantasies? Were they better? Everybody liked an enticing aroma, and smelling good was like looking good ... and woad and lipstick had been around for ever ... and 'Persil Mum' loved he kids 'and it showed'. The first Lord Leverhulme knew his stuff, he knew that half his advertising spend was wasted, the trouble was he didn't know which half.
Of course selling figments for profit was a ball game many didn't want to play ... and good for them, they did other things ... but infuriatingly many wanted to stop the others from chasing figments ... we called it, mollycoddlement ... and it almost became PC to hate folk who chased their very own valuable figments ... even though everybody, with their own very different figments, chased them all the time?
So even though cleanliness was next to Godliness this 'value' thing complicated far more important things than simple soap ... and it certainly complicated our distinctive beer? The beer experience was a figment; an opportunity to get in touch with your feelings; imaginary associations with fun, relaxation, opportunities, friends, strangers ... but in our heads figments were real, the convivial pint was real ... the beer tasted better ... just like playing The Blues we were not drowning our sorrows but rather we were chasing rainbows ... or were they both the same thing? Whatever we loved a Weetwoods pint with our mates and we didn't care if it was a figment or real ... we just loved it ... and came back for more!
And what about a posh education at The King's School, was that functional or fantasy? Was an expensive education better than an ordinary education? Surely Copernicus and Galileo had sussed out education years ago; they were certain it was what was learned that determined quality rather than its cost. Not much point in learning that the world was flat ... was there? And there was more, the quality of what was learned depended much more on our mates than on those who taught us their stubborn prejudices? And for sure we learned most over a convivial pint in the tavern rather than over blotting paper in dour classrooms.
And then there was vodka.
Vodka was always a most popular distilled spirit, it was found in cocktails and all manner of mixed drinks and was an essential in every bar. Its popularity came from the general characteristic that it had no discernible or distinct flavor nor smell and was colourless clear, in this way it allowed other ingredients of the drink mix to be the focal point ... er? After distillation, vodka was filtered through charcoal to remove all traces of ... what?
Vodka required no aging and was ready to drink right away, though it was cut from still strength to a bottling proof, which was typically 80 proof or 40% alcohol by volume. Did Vodka's neutral taste rely on the proofing water? Or was the neutrality more subtle ... a figment? ... a con trick, a rip off even?
So vodka was vodka was vodka but some vodka was deemed better than other vodka ...
Was product differentiation a matter of price?
There was a story, no doubt apocryphal, about an alarmed 'Smirnoff' Brand Manager -
'Crisis! The competition have just lowered their prices 15%'.
But the Chief Executive Officer knew his vodka and his canny business strategy -
'Raise our prices 15%! Run the advertising copy; 'there's no rubbish in our cocktail cabinet'!
Determining value had always been a tad complicated ... and the last time we checked everybody was still different & still disagreed and folk were joining different clubs.
It seemed to us that there was often little relationship between price & value, or price & quality, or quality & value ... certainly not for the things we knew about; washing, education, vodka ... and beer!
It all depended? We did get our knickers in a twist ...
So what about the convivial pint? Who was the guy who determined the value of a convivial pint? How did you make an ordinary pint into a convivial pint and could you charge more for a convivial pint, and if you could would it still be convivial?
We always got to the bottom of our pints well before we got to the bottom of the conundrum. Was bad beer watery, flavourless or cheap? Was good beer strong, bitter & expensive? There was no British Standard Specification, no user manual and no Retail Price Maintenance.
The big breweries were interesting, they made oceans of beer but they could never guarantee the conviviality of their pints.
In the mad scramble for conviviality was there a lot of waste? Was there too much micro brewing and too much choice?
But there was much more. Some folk endlessly calculated how much damage ordinary beer cost 'society' in terms of the NHS, liver disease, cancer, obesity and all manner of ailments ... there were over a million alcohol related hospital admissions in 2013 ... and then there was also social destruction, policing costs, crime & road deaths and personal distress & ghastly matrimonial bust ups ... the same folk were silent about relieving the stress of rampant poverty, abject unemployment, dreary jobs, depressive lifestyles, family breakdown & rocky marriages ... which were all rescued by the convivial pint at the end of a hard day. It all depended on who did the calculations.
But don't get it wrong ... our doctors told us alcohol was a poison and no one argued ... and we all learned the hard way that the lechery and the ordinary beer of Falstaff was lethal stuff as livers were destroyed, desires provoked and performances dulled ... there was no doubt ordinary beer could be lethal stuff.
We noted that although everybody was different there was an intriguing consensus that dishwater beer, extortionate prices, foul tastes, cloudy beer or too much beer couldn't possibly be convivial. But we also knew by inspecting our interactions how convivial beer brought relaxed stress free pleasures to existences that would otherwise be dark boredoms and intolerable.
Strangely after several convivial pints some things became much clearer, time and again we reconfirmed that it was bad behaviour that was the problem and it was bad behaviour that should be taxed ... pour encourager les autres ... the knickers had become twisted again ... it was perfectly acceptable to get decently drunk occasionally ... perhaps when wetting the baby's head, or when accounting for the cost of a daughter's marriage ... or even at the wake of a best friend ... convivial beer was unimpeachable.
And strangest of all ... we slowly became certain that the price & quality of the beer never affected the convivial pint and you could never have too many convivial pints. This astonishing conclusion resulted from our experience that as soon as price & quality became matters of emotional concern and as soon as anyone had had one over the eight ... the pint immediately ceased to be convivial ... these monstrous defects were all associated with ordinary beer!
In the end we agreed the convivial pint was just better and that was that ... although it was about the only thing we did agree on.
So there we were. Convivial pints were never advertised and didn't have brand names. The convivial pint had a mind of its own, not to be messed with, on pain of transmogrifying into an ordinary pint. You could down a convivial pint but not up it. You could have too few convivial pints but not too many. You could enjoy a convivial pint with friends but not with foes. You could love a convivial pint but not hate it. You could nurse it but not neglect it. You could savour, sup & swallow it but not quaff, guzzle or slurp it. The convivial pint was always half full but never half empty ... and funny strangely it was right impossible to drink a convivial pint on your own ... not many people know that.
So what was the cost of a smile? Now that was an interesting question ... cheers! .., quite simply money can't buy me love and it seemed it was quite impossible to buy a convivial pint ... it all depended ... in fact there was no such 'thing' as a convivial pint ... yet we knew it existed we had downed many many ...
Was beer in decline? Around the millennium something like 42billion barrels of ale were consumed world wide each year ... gulp!
By 2015 the girls were well into pints and some things seemed to perk up but there were a lot of folk who had reluctantly concluded that the convivial pint was in its death throes. But beer consumption in Merry England had dropped by a 3rd in the last decade as pubs moved from pints to plates.
In 2015 a survey by the Campaign for Real Ale, showed that 38 per cent of British adults 'never' visited the pub and 36 per cent of pub goers visited the pub less often than last year.
In 1902 there were 99,000 pubs in England, in 1969 it was down to 75,000, by 1982 there were only 67,800, in 2015 the grand total was 53,000 and in 2019 we may hit 50,000 and falling at 27 per week.
In Staffordshire the average price of a pint was £2.95 but in posh Cheshire we had to take out a mortgage to drink @£3.16 a pint. We can ignore London @£3.60 a pint, in any case, they were all drinking wine.
This travesty of sociability was blamed by many on the French wine drinking virus which had pushed beer consumption in the UK down to a miserable 99 liters per head per annum ... lower than the Austrians @ 108 lph, Australians @ 110 lph, Germans @ 116 lph, Irish @ 131 and Czechs @ 157 lph.
But we all thought that this time, for a change, it was not a French plot ... it was self inflicted retribution.
The convivial pint had been ravaged by potent forces of evil; not only sin taxes but also the drink driving laws, the supermarket sixpacks, Sky home entertainment, fast food, delectable restaurants, CAMRA choices, property prices, beer ties, minimum wages ... and then there were always those damned opportunity costs and vodka ... and, perhaps, more than anything else, the insidious 'elf 'n' safety lobby which counted points and checked for liver enzymes, completely oblivious to the truth which held that the destructive villain of peace & tranquility was an excess of ordinary beer and nothing whatsoever to do with the convivial pint ... it seemed to us the powers that be were intent on the destruction of conviviality?
Others said it was the likes of us Evolutionary Economists, who had turned the convivial pint into ordinary beer? But in defence of all Evolutionary Economists they never claimed to know much about beer ... nor economics ... nor anything else for that matter ... except that most problems were soluble in alcohol ... and we suspected that the fear of economic reality was an illusion caused by a lack of good beer!
But all was not lost. Although Canon L F Harvey tried to teach us about calculus and changing rates, there was only one thing we remembered when he set us free from our incarceration in our ancient school in the cathedral at Chester -
'Choose your friends, don't be chosen ...'
But our erstwhile Headmaster hadn't apparently realised that it was the girls who always did the choosing?
The girls knew all along how ordinary beer was turned into a convivial pint ... but they deliberately confused things ... they had other things on their minds, after all they always danced backwards and with a twitch of a smile they could move the moon ... (as eventually our headmaster came to understand).
For sure our friends performed similar miracles with beer, without even thinking. But to start with, beer itself was no big thing, just an experiment in the garden of forking paths, as we voted with our feet and went with the flow bent on learning and fun. But slowly we felt sure we had joined a splendid club, a beer drinking tradition which had been around for some time ... a comfortable place where like minded folk were at peace in the taverns ... doing deals and having fun ... everyone was different ... but everybody could do deals and have fun ... come to think of it ... if everyone was not different they couldn't do deals and have fun ... could they? ... think about it?
Happenings always became muddled & messy and very difficult to explain to folk who weren't members of our club. But we men mulled it over and reckoned there were only two sorts of folk; fun folk and sad folk.
The trouble was that the very same folk flip flopped between the two!
Fun folk joined the club of their choice
and enjoyed 'fairness of shares' because sharing was fun but they were 'resentful of cheats', that was certain,
... it seemed to us that fun folk did things, they did verbs -
they accumulated lots of smiling friends to exchange with and then
they discovered that when
friendships were exchanged the taste of the beer did really really get better.
Synergy was fun 2+2=5. Fun friends were deep.
Sad folk never joined the same club, although it was always
open to all, for sure they still wanted 'fairness of shares' but were sad
because some didn't want to share with them and they were also
'resentful of cheats', that was certain,
... it seemed sad folk wanted things, they did nouns -
they believed they had no thing to exchange and
they believed they had no one to
exchange with and
so they became cheats and drank too much ordinary beer.
Cheating was sad 2-2=0. Sad friends weren't friends at all.
Everyone was different but some loved doing fun. The more & more fun folk doing verbs, the more & more exchanges & deals, the better for everyone ... this was no canard and it wasn't 'luck', we all knew, especially saxophone players, that the harder we practised the luckier we got ... and everybody, except cheats, had friendships to trade ... and it was friendships which guaranteed fun and the beer tasted better ... and there ain't no app for that!
And to help the strugglers who were calling for tugs, in 2016 it was announced that rivers of 'craft beers' were flowing from 1,692 'micro breweries', a new one every 3 days ... beer just like our very own Weetwoods from Kelsall ... aficionados could feel the taste Weetwoods ...
For years The Daily Mail had fed our prejudices as each day the issues were raised not as problems but as new opportunities ... and sometimes ... perhaps often ... The Daily Mail ... and even Rip Kirby, Rufus & Flook proved to be on our pulse.
And if ever we get too old for beer ... remember that the last word came from our erstwhile Captain & mate Chris Chorlton -
'rather than be sad that it came to an end we should wonder and be grateful that it ever happened at all' ...
We guessed that all this beer drinking malarkey was inherited from our Dad. Where else could such strange but inspiring behaviour have come from? Dad taught us the fine art of cricket in endless hours of practice and entreaties to 'stay sideways on and wait for the ball' ... but beer drinking was different, we never heard of anyone being taught about drinking beer ... it just happened?
But although nobody talked about it, especially when the Barnton Methodists and Rechabites were around, beer was woven into the fabric of Birchall life ... our Dad, George Birchall, was a beer drinker. We did find the occasional photo of Mum & Dad without beer ... even during our wedding year! And there was more ... the census of 1901 confirmed that our granddad George W Birchall was a publican; he was mein host at The Newton Brewery Inn, Middlewich. And The Kelly's Directory of 1906 recorded his tenure at The Crown Inn, Lewin Street, Middlewich ... all this was before Dad was born ... so was beer imprinted in our paternal genes?
Although son Jonathan started off on wine it was very clear, very soon, that beer was entrenched in his psyche and he always insisted it contributed immensely to his social acumen ... he even dressed for drinking ... his mates always insisted that this sartorial elegance was a ploy to pull the girls ... but whenever he wore this natty attire it invariably caused an uncanny effect on his health & deportment the following morning ... all this, of course, had nothing to do with his father who merely contributed a few genes.
Looking back, it was clear that by the early 1950s the slow beer assimilation process was already underway. Every day, often several times a day, the reprobates would troop up Northgate Street from the school precincts around the Abbey Gateway to the Blue Coat School just on the far side of the city Northgate. The short journey was necessary as The Blue Coat hosted Orry's art, Jammy's general science ... and Spider Roberts & Gomer Davies also had their shrines to science there ... we also hiked northwards to partake of Mrs Griffith's lunch fest of boiled cabbage, spuds & the chew of the day, finished off with semolina & red jam, all served, with the help of 'Jacko' from her palatial kitchens in the heart of the Blue Coat pad.
In 2014 superb virtual walks around Chester were instantly available on the 'interweb' for those wishing to relive old walks ... but the real significance of our own slogs north was the proximity of the Northgate Brewery.
This celebrated manufactory was founded in 1760 at The Golden Falcon Inn, on Northgate Street. The Falcon Inn was Chester's finest coaching inn, bang on the busy main route to Ireland and renowned for its hospitality as well as its beer ... there was a story that in 1741 Handel himself vouched for the excellence of the beer but not the excellence of the music! In 1949 the brewery was inevitably bought by Greenall Whitley, the big Warrington Brewers who owned most of the county. Finally the Northgate Brewery was sorrowfully closed in 1969.
But in 1952 from those dark dank buildings, just behind the Blue Bell Inn & Fire Station, the rich aromas of the brewers art continuously wafted across our path as we trekked north. The smells of barley malt, mash, wort, hops, yeasts and ferment were at once both intriguing & enticing ... we can still feel those heavy layers of gross atmosphere which emanated from that ancient manufactory. We were curious youngsters and we must have devoured such experiences with excited anticipation.
We remembered Tom Bateman ... you always remember folk who were older than you and Tom was ancient, but he was also a revered fast fast bowler. Years later our mate 'Edley Simms confided that it was Tom who put the shits up the City Grammar School lads during our annual confrontation on the green square. But Tom was something else ... he had actually worked at the Northgate Brewery ... for money! We hung onto his every word, not only had he alchemied the nectar that we had only smelt ... but he had also tasted it! Barbara's uncle was the Company Secretary at the brewery and during the six week summer break he organised a bag carrying job for Tom amongst the vats and those heavy vapours. The hallowed secret of the Northgate brew and the stronger small beer, 'Chester Beer', was reported to be the careful measures of town water and well water 'to blend the brew'. The Head Brewer was a guy called Loader, originally from a furniture shop south of the Watford gap. But he loved his beer and was a golfer when not orchestrating the vats & rats and the coopers in the yard below. (Significantly sport and beer always seemed to be inextricably linked)? The workers homes were in the adjacent terraced hoses close by. The proximity was a godsend because life was tough in that hot bed of booze. To fight fatigue and the stifling humidity there was a beer 'allowance' of a jar (two pints) every morning. But when the job called for entry into the 'mash tun', an extra jar was available in the afternoons ... and if the job was finished early and to satisfaction there was the attractive possibility of an hour off, drinking your fill and a nap on the barleys bags with the rats. But whatever those guys did it was good ... although Tom insisted he didn't drink very much in those days and often gave his allowance away. His mate calculated that some of those heavy sweats were consuming 14 pints a day. No wonder their beds were close by. Even the hopeful visitors touring the brewery were generously entertained in the 'tasting' room just below the steaming vats ... all were legless well before carriages.
At Kings we all learned that the imbibing of beer was an old established tradition, and well woven into the fabric of the school. After all, our dad was fastidious about selecting a 'good' school for his issue ... and he was a beer drinker. And even the cricketers had been exposed to English Literature by Jack Hetherington and, although most of it was forgotten well before the exam, we did remember, with shameless delight, the tales of the drunken Falstaff. Then there was Harry himself, the heroic founder of the King's School, he was a noted imbiber and famed for control of the Pope. In 1519 he tried to ban hops in beer but failed miserably. Although he described hops as 'a wicked & pernicious weed', hops continued to impart their distinctive flavour to English beer for the duration.
Clearly the beer legacy was more powerful than the Pope's legacy!
There was little doubt that we followed in the foot steps of our founder who drank his beer with the ladies ... but perhaps such were not convivial pints, it seemed, that maybe, Harry didn't drink, he quaffed, and we never quaffed in front of the ladies ... there was a serious difference.
In this way we were about to be gripped by a social legacy which made our world go round ... we learned that nothing was achieved without the help of others ... we learned the fine art of ... what would you call it? ... alliance, association, coalition, collaboration, camaraderie, cooperation, contribution, complement, courtesy, empathy, fellowship, harmony, helpfulness, honesty, integrity, loyalty, manners, ministration, obligation, participation, partnership, respect, reciprocity, responsibility, responsiveness, service, sharing, succour, symbiosis, synergism, trust, understanding ... so many different words used for the same team effort ... playing ball ... family & friends ... even the French had some words; esprit de corps ... even strangers managed the benefit of any doubt ... 'pleased to meet you, mine's a pint'.
We hadn't a clue, we groped & guessed ... learned from the mistakes of the past, lived to the full in the present and built for rainy days in the future ... if only we'd known then what we know now?
It all started at The Prince Rupert Hotel, Shrewsbury in 1955 ... inspired by our new sports master Pat Garnett, The King's School Chester Cricket Team embarked on a tour of Shrewsbury & Worcester ... the cricketing details of the these memorable happenings were recorded in The Kings School Magazine ... a copy had been fortuitously preserved by Malcolm Brewis and unearthed in Anglesey in 2015 after surviving yet another of Malcolm's umpteen house moves ... alas there was no official record of the beer drinking happenings, however we can imagine how many sorrows were drowned ... the magazine recorded john p's batting average to two places of decimals at 8.45 runs per innings!
In 2015 Graeme Guthrie remembered the upstairs lounge in The Prince Rupert Hotel. He was adamant that the tendency of cricketers to lurch across this room late at night was nothing whatsoever to do with the increasing intake of beer. Graeme was to be a bacteriologist but he had already sussed out Newton’s Laws of Motion,
'in the Prince Rupert Hotel, we used to clear the lounge area of chairs for a musical session, the lounge was on the first floor overlooking the street outside. The floor actually sloped down towards the window, so much so that if you placed a cricket ball on the opposite side it would roll down the floor all the way to the window'
... anyway we were too young to drink beer?
A couple of years later in 1957 the first photo of the gang was taken by Noel John Roy - Barnaby Lathom-Sharp, Charlie Pritchard, Ian Speechley, John Fleming, Pat Garnett, Malcolm Brewis, John Birchall, Graeme Guthrie, Alf Owen, John Reidford, Alan Williams ... and on the floor Mike Burdekin and Brian Dawbarn ... but there was a stupendous puzzle?
What was Mike Burdekin doing on the floor in 1957 when he had left school in 1956 to become an employee defending Her Majesty?
The matter was eventually explained by a mixture of introspection, nous and wit. The quality of the beer at The Prince Rupert (& the quality of the cricket afterwards!) had been so excellent in 1955 and 1956 that our erstwhile captain had returned to sample more! The evidence was clear when the image of his demeanor in the photo was examined at high resolution.
But there were rumblings of intent at The King's School much earlier than 1955 -
1952 - pictured at Lache Lane, the Holy Land, the under 14s cricket team were too young for beer but all the reprobates were assembled and ready for action - Tom Bateman, Martin Wheeler, Martin Roberts, Mike Gledhill, Malcolm Brewis, John Fleming, Martin Astill, Bill Willetts, Graeme Guthrie, Graham Hartley, Brian Dawbarn, John Birchall.
A year later in 1953 Tom Clamp had put together an under 15s soccer team with a formidable half back line which greeted Mr T C P Garnett, Sports Master, on his arrival at Kings - right half 'driving from midfield' Graham Hartley, centre half john p, and left half 'on me 'ead' Brian 'Creaky' Dawbarn; we used to take it in turns to be captain. But we were in trouble ... we were following in the footsteps of giants ... in 1952/3 The King's School under 15s won The Laybourne Cup. (The apparitions in the photo were - coaches at the back – Mr Roberts who was not with us for long, Sergeant Major Tom Clamp, by repute one of the last soldiers off the beach at Dunkirk - back row – Martin Davies, Martin Roberts, Brian Underwood, Bugsey Ward - front row – Tom Bateman, Bill Willetts, Les Slawson, Malcolm Brewis, Martin Astill, Teddy Egan, John Fleming).
The Laybourne Cup was the Chester secondary schools under 15s soccer competition. John H Laybourne, from Liverpool, was the Chief Constable of the City Police for 22 years, he retired in 1920, and in 1934 as a member of the City Council he became mayor. He organised a cup competition for all the local schools - King's, City Grammar, Chester College, Overleigh, Tarporley, Love Street ... no doubt intending to keep the youngsters off the streets and into healthy pursuits? ... Malcolm Brewis reminded us of the date of that memorable final, May 27th 1953, King's School 4 v. Chester College 1 ...
These skills had been honed by John Hudson at Arnold House.
(Mike Thornton, ?? Baxendale, Martin Wheeler, J M Forstel, ?? Chisholm, Pete Cottrell, Billy Bouch, ?? Dean, Ian Speechley, Les Slawson, Malcolm Brewis, Mickey Roberts, Brian Dawbarn).
Malcolm noted that John Hudson was not only a very good head master of Arnold House but an inspirational football coach. His appearance on the touch line at Lache Lane, even when they were in the 1st XI, was always worth a goal or two. Unfortunately we never made it to Arnold House but, of course, we well remembered JLH as an enthusiastic Vice President and player with the Chester Crossbatters C C.
While we're on footballers ... and they also drank beer, we must record that our to efforts teach grandchildren the finer arts of soccer repeatedly involved some stories about the football legends from King's Chester -
Les Slawson & ball control - Les moved his body deftly between opponents and ball and then majestically went off with the ball stuck to the end of his boot ... John Hudson said he used glue but we didn't believe him?
(with Les in the photo were Adam, Colchester, Hindley, Harrison, Reade, Stanyer, Guthrie, Foulkes, Eaton, & Speechley)
Malcolm Brewis & both feet - Malcolm was a right footer but with power & guile in his left foot & head ... Joe Cox said he dominated the middle of the park every time he played?
(with Malcolm in the photo were Milroy, Guthrie, Fleming, Birchall, Donaghy, Pattison, Reidford, Hindley, Foulkes, Dawbarn, Roberts & Underwood).
Bill Willetts & balance - everybody who tried to tackle Bill fell over in a heap ... meanwhile swift & compact he and the ball had immaculately gone ... my Dad said balance was everything?
In 1953 this trio, as well as winning The Laybourne Cup, were all well established members of the Chester Schoolboys under 15 soccer team run by Tom Elwood, the headmaster of St Bedes Catholic Secondary Modern, a great friend of Mr Willetts and Bill. Les & Bill also played for The Rest of Merseyside against Liverpool Schoolboys in a game to celebrate Liverpool winning the England Schools Cup. In the Liverpool Schools team was Jimmy Melia, later of Liverpool, Southampton and England, and later still Manager of Southampton. Bill noted that perhaps this had something to do with the fact that the Rest of Merseyside lost!
After Chester Schoolboys Malcolm went on to play for Merseyside Grammar Schools and also Lancashire & Cheshire Grammar Schools - LCGSFA. One of the LCGS matches was against Bolton School where one of MSB's future son-in-laws was playing in goal. Brian Labone was also in the LCGS team and he went on to play centre half for Everton & England in the early 1960s.
Tom Ellwood was also a key member of Chester Nomads AFC and was their regular referee. He was trusted to keep an eye on 16/17 year old Bill during some of the early Nomads Easter Tours.
A year later Tom Clamp & Tom Ellwood pushed john p into action to play one solitary game for Chester Schoolboys at Flint. We remember it well, we met at Delamere Street Bus Station with polished kit and boots carefully packed in a bag. All the other established players adopted the fashion of the day which was to carry their boots with laces tied together round their necks ... we felt like a spare prick at a weddin' and the embarrassment escalated as the team sheet demanded Birchall at left half ... as many remember, john p's left foot was merely decorative ... we only played one game but wot fun, there were even lots of folk watching and some of them clapping! There was no beer afterwards ... we were 'in training' ... and perhaps too young ... nevertheless we later often celebrated our singular appearance for Chester Schoolboys.
In 1952/3 the third form gang had a 'coronation form corporal' ... but all that was also way before beer ... at that time the highlight of the day was not beer but a lunch time dash down Princess Street to Quinns where the quaint geezer there sold the most scrumptious and delectable cream buns ... 2d each and if you saved up you might stretch to 3d for a jam doughnut ... and that was 'd' pennies not 'p' pence! The older boys at every opportunity, breaks & lunch hours, played tennis ball football in the hard school yard. Frank Elsley of Bookland fame was like perpetual motion with that little ball and if you were lucky you were inveigled to do 'the Quinns run' so the action did not stop. You ran to get the buns for your elders and 'got one free' for your trouble. J J Quinn and Sons, Princess Street.
(with john p in the photo were John Evans, Robin Dyke, Oscar Price, John Bramall, Tony Bowen, A St G Walsh, Mike Gledhill, Dave Hailey, Barnaby Lathom-Sharp, Mark Dickinson, Dave Russell, Brian Wheeldon, John Ashcroft, Jaap Souvery, Brian Stanyer, David Hewitt, Mike Clifford, John Allen, Ian Bale, Mort Hodgson, Roger Vincent, Graham Hampson, Ed Walley, Noel Roy, Chris Bisson, Philip Given & Peter Gooding)
It was Johnny Walsh's tradition to photograph the 3rd form as the aging scholars and sportsmen passed through his hands. The photographs were pinned to the wall outside Room C, the 3rd form class room, for all to ogle. In MSB's year 1951/2, some of the lads even looked happy.
(with MSB were Bouch, Cottrell, Nicholls, Brownie, Mills, Deakin, ????, Barton, Baxendale, G A Wiliiams, Fleming, MSB, Lane, Johnny Walsh, Cotgreave, Abbott, Beatty, Dawbarn, Willetts, Swash, Coffee, Roberts, Patterson, Raw, ????, Jackson)
1954 - the photo of the gang of 1954 suggested that the selectors had ignored some of the pretenders but Graeme Guthrie had made it!
Grog went on to great things and he remembered much when we caught up with him in Mayo in 2015 ... he had sobered up by then and was able to claim memory rights over the 'drinking photo' and picked the year 1955 -
Delighted to hear from you. It is time some certainty be restored to the goings on of sixty years ago. We only stayed in the Prince Rupert Hotel in Shrewsbury on two occasions - 1955 and 1956. I am almost certain that the photograph was taken in 1955 and even if I am out by a year it would explain why the legendary Mike Burdekin was present, always remember
'he is not drunk who from the floor can raise himself and drink some more,
but he is drunk who prostrate lies and cannot drink and cannot rise'
As regards my selection for the English Schools Cricket Association, this followed a match against Worcester Grammar School in 1957, the Worcester Cricket teacher/umpire was a selector for the ESCA and I was lucky enough to have scored good runs against Worcester GS in 1956 and again in 1957 but I remember Pat Garnett (who I think was more delighted than I was) telling me that what really clinched my selection was my fielding! We were staying in a Hotel in Worcester after the game so the explanation of a celebration in the Prince Rupert is not factual.
However with the passage of time the precise details don't seem to matter all that much any more, we can continue to warm our ageing hands on the embers of the memories and friendships of sixty years or more ago ...
I trust you are all in good health and enjoying your end of life experience, I spend my time gardening and acting as taxi driver to my grand children, the West of Ireland is a great place to live, for how much longer - who knows?
Enough for now, I will revert with more comments if the memory mud clears!
Very best wishes,
Grog (My nickname mercifully didn’t cross the Irish Sea)
However Grog's memory proved less agile than his batting ... young Charlie Pritchard, clearly seen in the photo (with a borrowed tie for the occasion), had hardly been born in 1955, and he insisted that the one and only tour he managed as a 12th man was in 1957 ... we concurred, but the year didn't matter, the memory did ... and we also confirmed that Charles was good with the bat ... much better than the 13th man.
We also remembered the very early days when we had learned our cricket alongside Angus M & Graeme S Guthrie ... in those days George & Eda and Edna & Alec were inseparable friends and cricket aficionados. Angus Guthrie (1937-48) taught us about 'spin' bowling but not about beer drinking as he died tragically young in 1948 of meningitis, a strange terrifying affliction ... only 11 years old ... we were devastated but didn't understand such a tragedy. In 2015 Malcolm Brewis also remembered Angus,
'He was by far the best cricketer from Northwich that I ever knew'!
We owed much to Grog, although his switch to Guinness in 1959 caused some consternation to the barmaids in Bollands. As youngsters we played cricket together for hours and hours in farmers fields and back gardens, way before the triumphs of Lache Lane. Once we remembered being taught the arts of Yorkshire League cricket by Mr Taylor who was the boss Groundsman at Winnington Park Recreation Club and the new sporting development at Moss Farm, Northwich. There he took time off and encouraged us to play in the nets 'till dark while he bowled and bowled at us so that practice made almost perfect ... under his guidance we 'got across and behind the ball' ... he demonstrated the art of swing bowling, which was a miracle , and he also described the infamous techniques of ball tampering with 'suitably modified' coins ... but he was clear that this was taboo.
Of no interest was the fact that Grog was left handed at everything ... except for batting ... we remember asking why? Why? Grog suggested,
'I just copied my dad and it seemed to work'!
Wot perspicacity. Graeme Guthrie’s selection to play for the English Schools Cricket Association team against Lancashire Second XI in 1957 was the proof that it had indeed 'worked'. His dad, Alec Guthrie, went in No 3 for Winnington Park Cricket Club and pushed a mean willow ... we used to watch ... with sharpened pencils and scorebooks. At Trinity College, Dublin, Graeme was captain of cricket and he continued to play in Ireland after University with The Railway Union until ????.
In 1955 two years after his arrival at Kings, Pat Garnett couldn't contain his excitement any longer and he organised some seminal cricket tours for the parched reprobates.
1955 - Mike Burdekin led the offensive in 1955 and the first match of the first cricket tour at Shrewsbury Priory School a guy called Tipton took 120 not out off Burdekin & Reidford; unheard of ... and he was sober. And at Wolverhampton Grammar School there was a rout by Grout, a quickie who was too quick for most of us. The King's School were all out for 26. Grout claimed 6 wickets for 7 runs. Pat Garnett was deeply disappointed ... we'd never seen anything like this at Lache Lane. The next day at Worcester Royal Grammar School, at last, somebody at The King's School scored a fifty but we still lost ... Martin Wheeler must have been the only one drinking, he managed the unforgettable fifty and Pat threw half a crown to him across the dressing room as a reward for his efforts. Jack Hetherington, our young English master, also came along to keep the peace and proved to be a good egg. Jack was still going strong in 1996 when we met at the CAOKS annual dinner ...
The Kings School Magazine carried the following report of the 1955 cricket tour -
'The next day, after the staff match, a party of
13 boys and two masters arrived at the General Station at 9.15am. For the
first time in its history, the Club was going on tour. The tour lasted a
week, during which time, five matches were played. Of these one was won, one
drawn and three lost. The two centres were Shrewsbury (two nights) and
Worcester (four nights). That we were playing in an entirely different class
of cricket is show by the fact that, during term time, no team scored 100
runs, whilst in the first match of the tour one boy scored 100 runs and his
team scored over 200 runs against us. Also, three boys from the teams we met
have played for an England schoolboys' eleven.
The spirit of the Touring Party was excellent at all times. All the cricketers are to be congratulated on this, as things did not always go as well as they might. We only hope the boys enjoyed themselves and that they consider the venture worth while and worth repeating'.
The 13 pioneering boys + 2 masters were - Burdekin, Bateman, Birchall, Brewis, Garnett, Guthrie, Hetherington, Hindley, Japes, Male, Reidford, Roberts, Stanyer, Wheeler & Willetts ... proof of identities survived ... during the 1955 tour John Reidford celebrated his 15th birthday and our pocket money was diverted from beer to the purchase of Keith Miller's book 'Cricket Typhoon', a gripping yarn about the 1954/5 Ashes tour in Oz with, Len Hutton our first professional captain, and Typhoon Tyson. This was a pressie for John and signed by all the gang in the K S tour party.
John recalled his infatuation with an sign spotted in downtown Worcester advertising '?? ??' which was carefully concealed under his coat and eventually preserved triumphantly for posterity in the Prefects Room at Abbey Square. Did this blurred photo of an extravaganza in the prefects room feature the infamous sign?
We stayed at The Prince Rupert in Shrewsbury and The Loch Ryan Hotel in Worcester, we ate at The Lobster Pot and drank everywhere.
Everybody remembered the water fight on the Severn at Worcester and that was before we'd been to the pub ... and after relaxing at The Dingle, Shrewsbury; Graeme Guthrie, David Hindley, John Birchall, Mike Burdekin, Brian Male, John Reidford ... but where were the others? ... the chances were that they were already in the pub?
By the end of the school year in 1955 Tom Bateman, Martin Wheeler, Brian Male, John Evetts, Jeff Stanyer had had enough excitement and left.
Mike summed up the antics involved during that memorable season of 1956 when just one match was lost ...
'During the 1956 tour there was a lot of banter about the Goon Show with people muttering 'Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb' all the time. The team spirit was so good that I christened the team the Old Rhubarbians and I made an illuminated script of the names of the team that I kept at home'
There were only 3 matches on the 1956 tour Shrewsbury School, Wroxeter & Uppington and RAF Shawbury.
Against Shrewsbury School Creaky Dawbarn batted for a 'Bailey' like hour for 5 not out to save the game as Malcolm Brewis got an 'excellent' 40 ... that was after we had collapsed to 9 for 5 ... some were still celebrating this miracle in 2015! (Dawbarn, Hindley, Stanyer, Speechley, Slawson & Harrison)
Some remembered an innocent john p, just 17 years old, who managed to score 88 not out at Wroxeter but he was too knackered & shocked for beer.
Our class mate and team mate Mike Gledhill was on the '56 tour and in 2015 he remembered much fun and hilarity.
The School Magazine reported on the cricket ... but no mention of the beer.
Bowling was our strength in 1956; Mike Burdekin with 56 wickets and young John Reidford still only 16 with 61 wickets!
This was probably the year that Mike B called on john p to join him as an opening partner. No one argued with Mike. It was like a lamb to the slaughter ... but Grog was our run machine and he didn't need any protection from the shine.
In 1956 there was a diversion after the cricket, but there was no escape from beer, as six mariners sought solace on the yacht 'Lapwing' on the Norfolk Broads ... there was beer & dancing at Horsey ... and rain for Barnaby Lathom-Sharp (left arm accurate), john p, Mark Dickinson (left arm wily) & Mort Hodgson (800m whizz)!
Stalwarts Burdekin & Willetts left the fray for alternative employment after the 1956 season.
In 2016 Mike B assembled an article about the Old Rhubarbians for the CAOKS Newsletter which placed in the school archives a record of some of the inspirational school activities from the late 1950s.
1957 - Roger Mills, Head Boy; Malcolm Brewis, Captain of School. john p made 56 @ RAF Shawbury but can't remember what beer was drunk ... it must have been good. Young Reidford excelled ... yet again! 9 for 17 against Shrewsbury School. And Malcolm Brewis crafted a 53 against Sir Thomas Ritches.
The School Magazine again reported on the cricket and on the prowess of Guthrie and Reidford.
The same year there was a comical limited over match in the evening against the Old Boys ... the wiles of old man Reg Stockton with John Hudson behind the stumps took their toll and many of youngsters proved incapable of running ... somehow john p managed 29 ... but in the end the Old Boys were no match for Reidford and Speechley. Hilarious fun but not cricket?
The King's School coaching crew, who were trying to keep everyone sober, posed for a photo in 1957.
Many good men left for University including my future brother in law ... but nobody knew at the time how the cookie would crumble ... remarkably john p stayed on at school for another year of cricket and soccer.
1958 - last year at school Graeme Guthrie was skipper and John Reidford vice captain. john p opened the batting with Abe Taylor, who was a good skin and could bat a bit; 50 not out against Wolverhampton Grammar School ... john p managed 62 at Malvern ... and remembered nothing ... was it the beer again?
Unlike everyone else David Hindley remembered all ... The School Magazine reported on the tour –
'The Fourth Annual Tour of the Midlands was
accompanied by Messrs Garnett and Owen. The results were not particularly
impressive - this was because the class of cricket we met was far higher
than that of the rest of the season.
In the reports of the seven matches the names mentioned were Reidford, Birchall, Taylor, Williams, Guthrie and Hindley' ...
JIR, the new skipper for 1959, tried honest obfuscation in his report when he mentioned 'the other joys of a cricket tour' -
'Of course, late nights and other joys of a cricket tour do not help the standard of play. But these are an integral part of the tour'.
Graeme Guthrie amassed 444 runs during the season ... that was serious run collecting.
Dave Hindley and Alan Williams achieved stardom and got their 'colours'! Alan Williams had taken over the Burdekin left arm spinner role with 6 for 19 against Bromsgrove.
There was no doubt that the cricket tours generated much camaraderie and esprit de corps .. it was a no brainer ... after National Service and other interruptions cricket and beer drinking must continue.
Doggie Lysons was not known for his cricket but he was known for his enthusiasm. He lived opposite to Tom Bateman in Well Lane it was rumoured he cajoled Tom into thinking about an old boys team to sustain the fun.
On Tuesday 24th March 1959 there was an epoch making meeting in the prefects room at The King’s School just off Abbey Square when some of the reprobates vowed to continue their cricketing and beer drinking exploits disguised as an old boys team.
The wag Willetts coined an appropriate team name associated with The Cross at Chester; ‘The Chester Cross Batters’ ... 'not many people know that'!
And Grog Guthrie volunteered to put together some enticing fixtures ... provided we batted first ... but it became clear that the oppositions he recruited were reluctant to accept such provisos. As fixture secretary Graeme remembered arranging Sunday fixtures in North Wales, the pubs remained closed on Sundays in some areas and so he had to be particularly alert to the licensing laws before finalising the games ...
We were fortunate to have in our gang Bill Willetts who not only had his very own unique perspective on our cricket from behind the stumps but he also had a phenomenal memory. As Malcolm Brewis noted -
'Bill Willetts is a marvel, he's on something we all need to know about!'
But Malcolm had rich memories himself which were confirmed by a fine array of old photographs.
And there was more ... both Bill & Malcolm were also very adept at turning ordinary beer into the more valuable convivial pints!
Such was the fun at The King's School ... as secretly dyslexic we thrived only because of cricket, football & conviviality with friends which lasted a lifetime. Our pious Grandma Hindley, as strictly teetotal to the end, insisted that the pinnacle of our achievement at King's was not social but the daunting task of reading the lesson in Chester Cathedral. Perhaps there were only a few questions as we left school in 1958; did time consuming sport lead to missed opportunities elsewhere? ... obtrusive time hung around ... hiking to Greenbank Station, slow steam trains to Chester Northgate, the trek up Delamere Street and down Northgate Street to school, omnibus to Cliveden Road before the exhausting last crawl to Lache Lane ... no wonder there was little time for the Army Cadet Force, the Gilbert & Sullivan Operas and the Abersoch Summer Camp? ... and even the stunning Janet from The Queen's School, fell by the wayside? ... but King's was serious fun.
please help make the story better ...
The Gutters of Sauchiehall Street & Heavy at Littlejohns
Later in 1958 we moved up North as students of Natural Philosophy with the Scottish Engineers at James Watts place ... there we learned how to drink 'heavy'.
The opportunities were legion; The Students Union at the foot of Gilmore Hill, The Glasgow Rhythm Club with Jeremy Jordan, Norrie McSwan & Humph, the University Jazz Club and The Wanderers Hockey Team at Bearsden, St Andrews & Edinburgh. Social interaction & influence was focused around jazz, hockey ... and heavy. In 1960 we were elected President of the 'University Jazz Club' which boasted the largest membership of all the clubs in the Union and thus some associated 'political kudos'. Participation in the 'University Athletic Club' was also good news, and such activity was respectfully marked with a garish scarf and recognised as a social good ... particularly by mother who fretted about beer and pouring money down the throat. Soccer endeavors had been cut short as failing eyesight added to a general incompetence but hockey was a great wheeze as we met new friends and traveled around the environs. Although we never sussed out the local vernacular we enjoyed superb all weather pitches where balls didn't get lost in the mud and you could learn strange stick skills ... and get fit!
Everyone was drinking 'heavy' ... McEwan's Heavy 3.5%-4% alcohol ... it went down well.
My old mate Vijay Bhalla helped the flow, although Vijay was also new to 'heavy' having been weaned on Watney's Red Barrel at Highgate School in North London. By 2015 Vijay had the distinction of being the oldest friend on our Christmas card list ... greetings and news every year since 1958! Beat that anyone?
Glasgow was too cold, dark, damp & decrepit for Vijay and he pointed out that the most 'modern' of the trams which ran down the Great Western Road to my digs with the Lovett's at No 1051 had been disgorged by Liverpool Corporation 10 years previously. Glasgow was ten years behind the times, London was the place to be!
Ted & Joan Lovett were a homely couple who welcomed us into their family home so that they could earn a crumb to make ends meet. With food, shelter & chores all taken care of we were 'free' to explore life on Gilmore Hill and learn all about Natural Philosophy and McEwan's Heavy. Ted was a clerk in the railway office and regularly entertained a rum set of friends who were all ex Communist Party members. Whenever we were willing we were rolled in as bait at late evening discussions and tea drinking sessions. We were left with two abiding impressions, one of simmering class hatred and another of them & us divisiveness with no feel for any of mutual benefits of social cooperation. Without any personal animosity the problems were all to do with 'the system' run by 'the powers that be'; an elitist conspiracy. Our protestations about evolutionary outcomes came to naught, then and never since! But strangely we learned just as much about life from Ted and his mates of revolutionary fervour than from the dour equations of thermodynamics.
During the late 1950s The Glasgow Union earned a fine reputation for political debate and we were avid listeners but never participants ... too busy with greasy engineering, music and beer perhaps? But the truth was that we were just starting to learn and there were massively competent debaters around at that time; John Smith, Donald Dewar & Jimmy Gordon, who intrigued us with their passionate support of managed economies, managed clubs and managed morals which seemed to clash with our own instinctive resonance with Adam Smith's 'moral sentiments', 'wealth of nations' and his exposé of 'the men of system'. It seemed as if Adam the Smith was misunderstood in his own University? We recalled the best man of political substance at Adam Smith's place was Len Turpie ... but he was outnumbered by 'the men of system'.
Nevertheless the open free thinking and beer in the 'Beer Bar' at the students union was a refreshing tonic ... clearly real life was about new friends, music, girls and beer drinking ... not equations! We always remembered Pat, one of our more reliable girl friends, who quite clearly established the ground rules -
'listen, I'm not one of your beloved equations'
Of course Pat was right, and we learned way before we heard the Darwinian explanations that the girls were in the driving seat and command & control of human activity was a real conundrum for us boys.
Apart from music, hockey, friends and beer we seemed to have little time left for 'Daft Friday' and 'The Squezy' ... and strangely the girls never seemed to match talent at The Queens School in Chester.
The 1958 Christmas break started on December 13th with work at the GPO on the 17th at 7am! There was partying at The Grey Parrot in Northwich with Maureen S, the Wall City Jazz Club and Bollands with the lads and Clem's with Senoj from The Cheshire County Training College at Alsager. And Dad did great turns with the chauffeuring and fixed my summer vacation work up at Stanlow! But on December 30th we were on our own and cycled home from Chester in the pouring rain. Wot a ball ... then back to Glasgow on Jan 6th.
Christmas 1959 was a blast. Vijay's spirit was always in London and it was therein, after sister Gill's wedding on December 30th 1959, that he entertained us with considerable panache throughout the beery New Year's Eve celebrations in Trafalgar Square and through into 1960. We didn't dance in the fountains, we had another round instead and prepared ourselves for The Casino de Paris and Alma Cadallac the following day.
Back over Shap to Glasgow Central in the new year and on Wednesday February 24th 1960 there was excitement in town; The Lyttelton Band played at The Students Union. And at Norrie McSwan's Ruchill Hospital the day after. We recalled traveling to the hospital gig on the back of John McCurley's scooter. And what a party afterwards ... and another party for The Rhythm Club guys ... unbelievable ... the band had just recorded 'Triple Exposure', an ambitious album which Ian Armitt described as a bit 'edgy' (and, yes, it was edgy); Humph, Tony Coe, Johnny Pickard, Jimmy Skidmore, Joe Temperley, Ian Armitt, Tommy Taylor ... they could play a bit and they could really drink ... we were only students. For the Students Union dance, the band were smartly turned out in blue uniforms ... apart from Johnny Pickard. It seemed the band had been drinking in the student's bar before the gig and it was reported that Johnny had met a 'jazz critic' ... Glasgow students in those days often had a struggle with Carlsberg Specials ... the trombonist had to quickly change back into his civies, he appeared sheepishly as the only bandsman in a brown suit.
We remembered Tony Coe's miraculous ear, Ian Armitt's wish for a Hammond organ, Jimmy Skidmore's snores, Humph's admiration for Hilton Jefferson, Norrie's whiskey and the dawn ...
In September 1960 we were laid low with violent tonsillitis and neglected to sit the years exams and engineered a sabbatical. An enthralling interlude started; supply teaching in Barnton & Hartford ... Noel Coward's 'Blyth Spirit' and on to Christmas 1960 and a year of fun and experience in work and play ... if only we'd known then what we know now?
At some stage in 1960 we spent a break with Vijay in London and slept in his digs in Gerards Cross, he had abandoned Electrical Engineering for the Actuarial profession. Of course we were in love at the time and told stories of passion & pleasure and as usual, some of it was true.
September 1961 found us initially in dreary digs on Woodlands Roads but they lasted only a few weeks before we were rescued by the Chem Eng gang and our new flat mate Colin M Bell, a mean golfer from Chester-le-Street who shared with us his palatial accommodation; a flat of our own with Mrs Murray at 38 Athole Gardens.
Littlejohn's, West End, Glasgow somewhere opposite the Locarno was a favourite hole in 1961/2 ... drinking 'heavy' with Colin from the winter of 1961 every Friday at 5pm ... a great relax after a week wresting with distillation columns and heat engines.
For 1962/3 were were in the capable hands of Mrs McMaster, 12 Clouston Street, Glasgow NW ... still with C M Bell and still drinking ... and beginning to learn some Chemical Engineering with the help of Jost Wendt and Alistair Lindsay.
December 3rd-14th 1962, with Colin M Bell in tow we managed a break from theory and Littlejohns but not from 'heavy' when we moved to Ballingry, Fife for a project at the Scottish Gas Board ... and we got paid! Ballingry's lasting fame was not its coal, nor its beer, but rather its proximity to Adam Smith at Kirkcaldy ... and Lochgelly, where straps were made for errant school boys. It was freezing in Ballingry but duffle coats and gas rings in our homely digs kept us warm. Memory often played tricks on us but two things we do remember - our first industrial accident as a column full of stinking distillate disgorged itself onto to our protective duffle coat which then became a major hand washing project back in our digs - and our delectable lunches in the works canteen which invariably involved ice cream topped with molten chocolate ... then there was more beer and girls ... or was it our imagination?
Christmas 1962 was memorable for running out of petrol with Rick and having to walk home from Tarvin, arrived at 4.30am ... and Christmas Day was for football; we didn't arrive back at The Briars until 4pm ... we can only imagine what Mama thought?!
We claimed in those days that the only way to learn was with the help of your drinking mates ... we certainly learned more from friends like Jost Wendt than any of the arcane lecturers in fluid mechanics! We had endless fun dissecting the intrigue of Eastern European politics and grappling with the concept of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics even as we explored the Trossachs in Alistair Lindsey's car! And I recall discussions continued after graduation when Jost stayed with us at The Briars in Northwich ... happy days ... still learning. Jost got a first, of course this surprised nobody and he went on to be great in combustion in Arizona. We also remember much later Jost was quick to point out that the insights of economic science followed quite naturally from thermodynamics ... and Denbigh, an enlightening book which was much much smarter than the lecturers!
There was a similar story at King's where the influence of peers was strong and guys like Tony Bowen were a far better bets than the formal science lessons from Gomer & Spid ... such we could never understand. Although Spid's a year with nature enjoyed lasting appeal in our household which was packed full of environmentalists ... we concluded Spid was the first of such species ... he perhaps inspired the wild life garden at The Meister with hedgehog hides & fish ponds for the herons?
In Glasgow we developed an absorption system which involved having a full set of lecture notes and working through the mysterious contents together late at night when there were no distractions. The strategy was based on two heads being better than one and learning at the start of the term was a mugs game because by exam time we had forgotten it all. This execution of this strategy was only possible if we started work after midnight when things had quieted down ... before midnight there were alternatives to the swot ... plenty of films with our heroes; Sean Connery, Lawrence Harvey, Robert Mitcham ... plenty of concerts with the Gods from America, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, George Lewis ... plenty of jiggin' and plenty of heavy ...
We became night owls, bed before 3am was a no no ... carefully building to a peak of virile knowledge for the day of the exam ... everything was fine until the first exam ... which was scheduled for 9 am ... the middle of our night!
In the end it was deemed an incomprehensible success by our more conventional colleagues ... we managed a 2.1 ... and we learned to live a little and manage risk!
There was a strange awakening ... after a life dominated by cricket, beer & girls we had learned how to understand ...
Mum & Dad joined us for Graduation Day on June 22nd 1963 ... at Moore's Hotel, India Street ... for the first time we drank serious whisky with Dad, quite remarkable because we were both beer drinkers really ... Dad's diary recorded, 'Had a long chat with john in the bar' ... 'we remember it well' (the only other time we drank serious whiskey with Dad was when eldest son Jonathan was born).
We never lost touch with the magic of Chester. All the engineering students in Glasgow were expected to grease their hands and graft during extended summer breaks. In this way we managed to learn the engineering practice & forget the theory ... and spend the cricket season in Chester ... and also earn a little lucre to go towards the bar bills!
please help make the story better ...
Just before he died our lifelong friend and social secretary, Phil Campey (1934-2008) rescued all his old Crossbatters files and scorebooks from the imminent tip. Remarkably Phil had carefully preserved minutes of meetings, six old scorebooks from 1961 to 68 and all sorts of odd bits of paraphernalia ... and even a 'constitution'.
We guessed he just couldn't bring himself to throw happy memories into a skip? His solution to this 'safe keeping' dilemma was to deposit the treasures into our garage in Mouldsworth as a safer alternative? ... there they continued to await the grim reaper ... buried in dust ...
In 2009, feeling a little ambitious, or perhaps guilty, we tried to organise a 50th birthday celebration for the Chester Crossbatters. We failed miserably to locate many of the reprobates concerned as most had disappeared into corners all over the globe. In the end four lonely ex cricketers did have a beer at Boughton Hall during a Chester v. Macclesfield match ... Mike Burdekin, John Reidford, Alan Robinson & john p ... and we also had a small table at the CAOKS annual dinner in the same year ...
We also discovered some ancient photos which had somehow managed to survive in our own dusty archive. These faded specimens immediately posed the questions of where and when and even who? We started by trying to date a splendid beer drinking photo from one of the school cricket tours. This caused general consternation as memory proved to be the second thing to go ... eventually a consensus almost emerged; 1957 The Prince Rupert Hotel, Shrewsbury!
Happy memories of the Crossbatters Cricket era seemed to be widespread amongst the those we did manage to contact and this spurred us into action; scanning some of the memorabilia and in a vain attempt at preservation. There after we started jotting down some ‘notes’ and since then it just 'grow'd & grow'd like Topsy, don't think nobody never made it' ... back into schooldays at Lache Lane and the days before the Wrexham Road splendour ... and forward into 'life in a suitcase' ...
... notes for a sort of ‘Autobiography of Beer Drinking’!
No doubt we will be too busy to write such an opus and, in any case ... too forgetful to remember ...
In 1959 The Chester Crossbatters played their first games.
1959 - after our 1st year at Uni there was some 'practical work' during the summer at Shell, Stanlow. Engineers at Glasgow were expected to get their hands dirty and get stuck in ... such physical exertion seemed to feed our thirst and there was much drinking with Len Kirkham, hooker with The Old Birkonians, and much perilous driving of a Vespa Scooter. This exemplar of Italian fashion & engineering was an risky 18th birthday pressie from the parentals. It was rumoured around Chester that the 2 stroke motor scooter ran on ale? Grog Guthrie and David Hindley spent many hours on the pillion as the motor thrived on the ferry trade between Northwich and Chester. However the Vespa was not renowned for its reliability and we were continually resorting to hitch hiking along that well trodden Chester to Northwich A54/A556 ... we knew every inch of that road.
The social Sunday matches in 1959 involved both cricket & beer and we think they were enjoyed immensely ... but at the moment memories of these games have been lost in alcoholic mists. Some vague dates and locations were recalled in old diaries - May 17th St Asaph, May 18th Davenham, May 31st Rolls Royce, July 5th Associated Ethyl, July 12th Shawbury, July 19th Shell, July 26th Park Hall Garrison, August 9th Hawarden Park, August 16th Oswestry, September 27th Cholmondeley ... such give a flavour of the venues ... but the records were missing and nobody remembered ...
This enterprising effort at social cricket was continued with some formal glue at a memorable meeting on the 22nd September 1959, Chaired by 'Hebrew Birchall' ... where did that name come from? Through the haze it was not clear whether the meeting was held at the Willetts house & home as arranged or in the riverside bar at The Boathouse Inn?
It was not quite all cricket in 1959 as we also contrived to organise a great canoeing holiday down the River Wye ... john p, Wheeldon, Clifford & Rhys-Maitland with Fred Riley called in to do the chauffeuring of boats and personnel.
And at the end of 1959 many of the troops who had been away at Uni reassembled in Chester for a Christmas beer ... or two. In 2015 Bill Willetts posed the question -
'Do you remember when the Crossbatters won Chester Nomads 6-a-side competition with David James guesting as goalkeeper? I remember Graeme Guthrie getting a hatful of goals that day and JPB by then a hockey player at Uni charging thru the mud to thwart the opposition. And a game at Winsford when Mike Burdekin was in goal'.
It was 7 a side and the date was Monday December 28th ... the team?? - Willetts, Foulkes, Guthrie, Birchall, G A Williams, ?? and David James in goal ?? ... and confirmation of this unlikely success of cricketers at soccer followed when we found the evidence; a trophy at the bottom of an old tea chest ... a splendid silver cup! The other game against the Nomads at Winsford was on Jan 9th 1960 but we still await the forgotten details.
And there was also golf at Hawarden in 1959 or 60? ... and Vicars Cross, with Bill Willetts & Martin Roberts and more? We remember Vicars Cross because john p played almost the whole round with his favourite 'spoon' ... ?
1960 - after our 2nd year at Uni practical work during the summer was in the Metallurgy Lab at ICI Winnington. Chester Crossbatters & away fixtures & wining & dining were in full swing in 1960 and the original reprobates had been joined by the young turks ... Charlie Combes, Martin Evans, Iggy Jones, Keith Patterson, Cibby Smith & Abe Taylor, Neil Tranter.
By 1960 thanks to Noel John Roy, our 'Official Scorer & Reporter', we now had posh records ... John Reidford averaged 64.25, and John P 50.29, and Malcolm Brewis 42.83, ... and, of course, Bateman 33, Burdekin 24 and Reidford 16, got all the wickets.
On July 24th at Park Hall, Oswestry John Reidford 100 ... the first ton for the Crossbatters!
NB Most of the time Grog Guthrie was away at Trinity College, Dublin drinking Guinness. But in 1960 his presence was demanded to assist the Crossbatters in the Boughton Hall Knockout Competition. He flew, bat in hand, from Dublin to help us out but as he later reminded us,
'mercifully we lost the match as I did not have the funds for the first trip so a second round would have been disastrous'.
Undeterred by this setback by 1963 Grog had found time to captain the University cricket team.
On July 31st 1960 Mike Burdekin played his last game for the Crossbatters as a local resident, it was against Tunnel Cement at Hope; he bought us all a drink!
On August 21st at Winnington Park 85 not out was recorded by john p for the Crossbatters against a team skippered by our old mate Colin Barnes, Northwich Victoria's solid right half back ... we remember the real run total was considerably higher but the scorers couldn't keep up with the action! Later as good mates do, Colin was known to retell this story in return for beer ...
On September 24th 1960 an annual general meeting was held at 23 Belgrave Road, the imposing abode of our Treasurer, Martin W Roberts. The delightful Maureen did the cakes and grand plans for a constitution and a booze up were tabled ... and approved.
We also had a Crossbatters tie ... very smart, even when beer soaked.
From the start there was great support from the school - a Vice President was John L Hudson, the coach & motivator from Arnold House who inspired many King's School sportsmen and a player who was far too young to die in 19??.
Tom & Vera Clamp were at every match with their barrow, 'Tom Clamp was everybody's best friend' ... it was a pleasure to drink with him. RIP Tom Clamp (1919-88) 20th March 1988.
Dad's dairy recorded a remarkable July weekend - Friday July 1st John 21 years old - Saturday July 2nd Old Boys against the King's School John 55, Ricky 19 not out - Sunday July 3rd Crossbatters against AEC (Knockaloe) John 60 not out!
And then in September a disastrous 'bout of tonsillitis resulted in a father's letter to the Registrar and exam resits the following March. This educational interregnum offered some thrilling unanticipated pleasures. The winter 1960/61 was spent earning some beer money whilst enjoying a supply teaching sabbatical at Rudheath, Barnton & Hartford ... and drinking in Bollands, the watering hole at the pinnacle of social activity at the time.
1961 - Malcolm Brewis, captain. By August 1960 Mike Burdekin had gone AWOL, left the district and was immediately demoted to vice-captain. Engineering work was in the Fuel Lab at ICI Winnington during the summer and drinking was at The Thatched Tavern, in Northwich with Archie Elsby, a fine dribbler with ICI Alkali in The Mid Cheshire League; a hero from our schooldays watching soccer at Moss Farm.
On July 23rd 1961 at The Octel Sports Club, Plumley, john p managed 109 not out against the reputable bowling of a big mate of ours, George Williams ... but some said he was throwing buns. When the opposition finally got round to batting young Willetts managed ... not 1, not 2 but 3 stumpings in their short innings ... we used to call him 'Speedy Willetts' but this was ridiculous!
On Friday December 22nd 1961 Quaintways was ablaze with passion and beer at a Christmas Dance, the irresistible Heather Chilton was there and all the reprobates bar none.
Creaky Dawbarn was doing National Service from 1957-9 and then away in London and Scotland for most of 1960-61 so his auspicious contributions didn't really start until 1962.
1962 - Malcolm Brewis, captain. ???? vice-captain.
Work was at Associated Octel during the summer of 1962 with John Tiplady, who also played cricket at Boughton Hall. For the whole long summer we drank Tetleys at The Octel Club, just across from the works, with George Williams and Jack Ashley. Jack was Alf Ashley's brother, Alf was a star midfielder at Witton Albion F C. This amiable club was where, the previous year, on the adjacent cricket pitch ... between rounds ... lots of runs had been scored ... it seemed cricket & beer went well together ... my dad was a good teacher and he never slurred his words -
'stay sideways on and wait for the ball'!
Our skipper Malcolm Brewis was from that hot bed of sporting acumen, Chester Road, Northwich, with Chris Chorlton next door, Graeme Guthrie next next door, john p across the road and Cibby Smith just up the road in Sandiway, and David Hindley just across the river in Barnton ... Malcolm not only excelled at soccer & cricket and always bought his round, but he also had a car. Transport was always a remarkable problem for Northwich travellers. The last train for Northwich left Chester Northgate at 8.35pm, and the last bus emerged from Delamere Street at 9.15pm ... leaving little scope for enterprise. As early as the 1956 school cricket tour, MSB and his car were invaluable. We will never forget the journey home from Worcester when Burdekin, Guthrie, Reidford and Birchall all crammed into Malcolm's Standard Eight for, what was then, a long chug!
We celebrated with Malcolm at his wedding on April 2nd in the spring of 1961. He married a fine Queen's School girl HB and the Queen's School magazine of July 1963 recorded the Brewis move to Bristol -
'We were very sad to lose Mrs Brewis at Christmas, when her husband had to move to Bristol'.
MSB left for Bristol after the 1962 season ... it was rumoured at the time that he had swapped beer for cider at The Taunton Cider Company?
1963 - John P, captain. Tom Bateman, vice-captain.
Work started at Unilever where the talk was of cricket with Roy Davies of Glamorgan C C and George Robinson of Rock Ferry ... and the needle matches against 'marketing' at the magnificent cricket ground at Shepperton by the Thames, where there was a memorable surplus of beer, hospitality and cricket. It was Roy Davies who secured our first job in 'production' in the Port Sunlight Factory. Perhaps we have to thank our shared our love of cricket for this escape from the theory of snake oil into the hairy arsed practice in manufactories?
Dad always said cricket and beer opened doors? Confirming evidence came in 1979 in a newspaper report about an old left arm spinner from Kings ... after the school cricket tours of 1956/7 Barnaby Lathom-Sharp's love of cricket enabled him to secure a breakthrough order with Barclays Bank involving the sale of 30 Olivetti TES 401 electronic daisywheel printer-based word processing machines ... the price included a cricket match on the lawns of Radbrook Hall!
In 1963 Martin Evans was the star of the batting, 15 knocks, 367 runs. Tom Bateman bowled and took wickets 40 of them. Noel Barlow only played 4 times and averaged 73 ... what a prospect, what a tragedy he died so young.
Captain john p only had 9 knocks, he must have been down the order resting ...
1964 - Tom Bateman, captain. Cibby Smith, vice-captain. The club had another successful year.
'The main feature of the year has been the excellent batting of John Birchall, who scored almost 750 runs'
We guessed that the newspaper was edited by our mum ... but we were not surprised by the run glut; john p was trying to impress the new scorer, Carole Margaret Jackson. Carole had been recruited on September 28th 1963 at Max Faulker's 21st birthday party. This happening had everything to do with her remarkable skills and nothing to do with Max's excellent beer.
1964 was the year our future skipper Chris Chorlton started to star with bat & gloves & ball. 1964 was also the year Clive Hume made his indelible mark on our club ... and a fast & furious Robin Jones and a guileful Mickey Moore left school and became serious cricketers & beer drinkers ...
The Crossbatters team fielded in the Boughton Hall Knockout in 1964 against Brymbo was impressive but nobody can remember who won.
1965 - John P, captain, Creaky , vice-captain. 1965 was Clive Hulme's year he scored 446 runs and took 53 wickets. Abe Taylor 406, Martin Evans 364, John Birchall 284 contributed some serious run accumulations ...
The Chester Chronicle reported - 'Tom Bateman was the mainstay of the bowling' ...
Another Crossbatters team entered the Boughton Hall Knockout in 1965 against Barrow ... the depth of talent was amazing but the result remained a mystery?
1966 - Chris Chorlton, captain, Cibby Smith, vice-captain. john p played in only 9 matches ... did marital shenanigans finally overtake cricket? Pat Garnett left Chester for greater things at Canberra Grammar School.
In May 1966 a match at Warrington featured two esteemed newcomers, Alan Coleman & Alan Robinson, neither of the 'two Alans' were from The King's School but both could play cricket and drink beer with the best!
AR, captain of cricket at Manchester Uni, tells the story of how John Reidford met the two Alans who helped him out and later combined to stiffen up the Crossbatters cricket & fun during the later half of the 1960s. We remember well the day at Birkenhead Park when John introduced the first Alan to Chester cricket.
Alan Coleman's first night out in Chester was at john p's stag party in October 1965; drinking beer at The Customs House. Beer drinking credentials were established there & then and Alan C went on to prove his cricketing prowess. Alan scored 120 at Bangor in June 1966. This was the start of a remarkable run scoring spate for the Crossbatters as he secured his reputation as a remarkable wellier and purveyor of convivial pints.
1967 - Chris Chorlton, captain, Cibby Smith, vice-captain. Coleman wellied two more tons in 1967, against Birkenhead Grasshoppers in July and at Ince Blundell in August.
We were lucky to have Chris Chorlton in our midst until 1969, he then escaped and generously donated his excellence to Canada, producing two children, four grandchildren and lots of runs. In 2015, by now a famous author, he delved into his memories of convivial pints and cricket and added more reminiscences and ramblings to the Crossbatters 'story' ... beer & occifers and some triumphant reflections and a solicitation -
'rather than be sad that it came to an end we should wonder and be grateful that it ever happened at all' ...
1968 - Phil Campey, captain, Martin Evans, vice-captain. Yet another ton for AHC at Neston in May ... and he brought a round ... or two.
By the end of the 1968 season it had become more and more difficult to field eleven cricketers from the pool of Kings School old boys. Several of the original reprobates had inevitably left the district and john p was now involved in the arduous task of educating his first born in the art of ball catching. At the time this was deemed to be a more important skill for the youngsters than beer drinking, a task which was delegated to Nogs and mates at Ellesmere College.
By the end of the 1960s Crossbatters life had been prolonged only by an influx of stars from Boughton Hall Cricket Club. Much to the chagrin of Tom Bateman who was determined to sire his very own Kings School eleven, the inevitable came to pass ... Chester Crossbatters retained a name and legacy of social cricket & beer and transformed into the Boughton Hall Sunday team ...
The 1968 agm
in October in The Blossoms Hotel was decisive. John Birchall & Alan Coleman
drew up a proposal
which was approved by those eminent sages
present by an
enthusiastic 10 to 1 ... confirmed in the
minutes and cheered
at a subsequent
The last fling of the independent Crossbatters was at The Oaklands, Hoole on the 20th of September where we welcomed in a new era of Crossbatters Cricket at BHCC ...
The club entered the 1969 season with aplomb, Robin Jones as skipper and Alan Coleman vice captain ... the king was dead, long live the king. Mickey Moore donated endless hours and countless wickets as his enthusiasm drove the integration of the Crossbatters social cricket into BHCC. In 2017 Mick's memory was up to scratch as he recalled he joined the general committee of BHCC as the Crossbatters representative to ensure Crossbatter cricket flourished as indeed it did for quite some years until the advent of the various Cheshire, Liverpool Echo & National KOs. Then the demand on the better players was such that there was simply no time for friendly cricket. However he remained either as a committee member & then a director until 2004 when the opening of the new clubhouse ushered in a new era. He felt new blood was needed to take the Club on ... this has been done with considerable success. And Mickey also remembered the fun. Robin Jones' 21st birthday coincided with a Crossbatters match at Davenham after which all played 'Cardinal Puff' the well known drinking game. Mickey thought he drove Robin home afterwards and was sure the car had to be stopped at regular intervals for internal relief. On another occasion Mick had skippered the Crossbatters when they won the Mid Cheshire KO at Northwich ... we topped up the cup with various alcoholic concoctions and ever loving wife Jane was elected to drive an over loaded car of Crossbatters back to Chester. Unfortunately Jane lost her bearings, but not her nous, in Northwich town centre and went down a no-entry ... only to meet an inevitable police car. Bravely taking the advice of all the delirious passengers, the car drove off as fast as possible leaving the law somewhere in the wake. Happy days, Mick. PS Crossbatters still have fixtures at BHCC and these are mainly used to bring along youngsters.
Alan Robinson in his history of Boughton Hall C C described the merging of the two clubs -
'Under an arrangement negotiated during 1968, the Chester Crossbatters C C merged with Boughton Hall to assure the continuance of Sunday Cricket at the Club. The Crossbatters had been formed in the late 1950s by Old Boys of the King's School, as a nomadic team playing Sunday Cricket. They had gained a good reputation and a strong fixture list, but since many members were also members of Boughton Hall, difficulties had arisen when Sunday Cricket was reinstated at Boughton Hall. By an amicable arrangement, therefore, Crossbatters became the Boughton Hall Sunday Xl. Thus Boughton Hall acquired a ready made fixture list, and extra members, while the Crossbatters found a home and a source of players. As was hoped, Sunday Cricket has flourished at the club since the move, and the Crossbatters are firmly established in the top rank of Sunday teams, having a good name both on the field and off. They have won the Mid Cheshire Knockout at Northwich, three times in the last five years. Such was the influx of members, to which the Crossbatters and the Junior Section contributed in no small part, that many extra fixtures were arranged'.
Alan Coleman (1943-95) spent his first night in Chester at our stag party at The Customs House in 1965. We played endless games of cricket together and enjoyed many more convivial pints ... we remembered drinking beer together at his 50th birthday party only a couple of years before he died ...
Alan was Captain of the Crossbatters in 197? and went on and on enjoying his cricket at BHCC until in 199?. Such longevity afforded Alan the pleasure of playing cricket and buying beer for our son Jonathan ...
In Alan Robinson we were lucky to find an good friend who had an excellent memory and his reflections on the other Alan were masterful ...
RIP ... Alan Coleman 19th May 1995.
In 2008 Phil Campey died; Phil was the power behind the long lasting tsunami of social cricket that was The Chester Crossbatters. Phil had also carefully preserved the old Crossbatters files and records ... Brian Gresty summarised a great effort ...
RIP ... Phil Campey January 25th 2008.
In 2012 Creaky met up with Pat and reminisced ... and we sent Pat an email on the 27th of November 2012 ...
RIP ... Pat Garnett March 9th 2013.
Pat probably never knew what he had really started; wheels were in motion!?
In 2009 there was a frantic failure to organise a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the formation of Chester Crossbatters Cricket Team ... but most of the reprobates had successfully disappeared without trace. Four lonely ex cricketers, John Birchall, Mike Burdekin, John Reidford and Alan Robinson reminisced at Boughton Hall Cricket Club watching Chester BHCC v. Macclesfield and drinking beer ...
In 2015 we caught up with Tom Bateman, who we'd never lost, a local Headmaster and Governor of our hospital in Chester. The ferocious pace of Tom Bateman's bowling which terrorised Hedley Simms at The Grammar School (see below), was also apparent in his beer drinking and his tale telling -
Hedley Simms Senior was a class act, a pro who helped out the village team in Barrow. He was matched by Peter Greenwood, a fine Lancashire off spinner who was a regular at Hoole. Peter, unavailable for a needle match between Hoole & Barrow, called in Tom to save the day and gave him his instructions. Hedley will want to get after you, two straight full length balls then a third short on the leg side and he will hook early, set your field for the catch. It came to pass. Later Peter mercilessly ribbed Hedley about the dismissal, and Tom had an excuse for another drink.
Chris Chorlton's story about his altercation with the law 'Occifer' (see above) was both confirmed and elaborated by Tom. Tom was the fourth passenger in the back of the car which had so recklessly overtaken the police car along, Mount Road, after a Crossbatters match at Oxton. Tom honestly tried help our hapless driver and explained to the investigating Occifer that Chris did indeed have a real life stammer and that his demeanor was nothing to do with the amount of beer he had consumed. Tom was convinced that the Occifer was himself a beer drinking cricketer which explained their miraculous escape.
Iggy Jones had a throw that was faster than Tom's bowling. We never worked out how on earth he managed to throw a cricket ball with such ferocity? Much younger than most of the old soaks in the Crossbatters, Iggy's dad had specifically requested and entrusted the care of his impressionable son to Messrs Bateman, Birchall & Guthrie. Dad was so confident in this arrangement that Iggy was allowed to borrow the family car. Unfortunately, returning from a match at Oswestry with a precious cargo of drunken cricketers, the car completely lost its way along the alien roads which all seemed to have identical distinguishing characteristics. Much to the mirth of the passengers a resolute Iggy solved the problem by telephoning his dad in the early hours of the morning for instructions.
Occasionally the Crossbatters outstayed their welcome. At Hightown, where matches and hospitality were always a joy, the gang were still ensconced in their Tetleys when the home team retired defeated to their beds. The steward, on his last legs, donated the club house keys to Captain Bateman with instructions to lock everything up when they left ...
'rather than be sad that it came to an end we should wonder and be grateful that it ever happened at all' ...
In 2016 Mike Burdekin retold the story of the Chester Crossbatters and guaranteed a place for the reprobates in the King's School Archives. The guest article appeared in the CAOKS Newsletter October 2016 - Celebrating 150 years of Camaraderie and Friendship!
please help make the story better ...
Jazz & Chester Beer
Amongst the beers there was always music and popular music in Chester, just like everywhere else, was closely associated with the beer trade. Right from the start jazz and beer were inextricably linked in the bars, dance dives and speakeasies in America as Chester Sociologist Helen Southall noted in her splendid thesis on the Chester Dance Band scene -
'The first five decades of its existence in America jazz was played largely in bars, night clubs and dance halls, places where the money to support the enterprise came mostly from the sale of alcohol'.
... and jazz continued its close association with beer in Chester.
However for all of us there was music to imbibe years before the beers. It still irritates us to recall the abject failure of the BBC to broadcast jazz. The only light relief we had from monotony in the early days was 'Itma' & Colonel Chinstrap, and all the music we got in the early 1950s was 'Music While You Work' & Billy Cotton at Sunday lunch time. However we certainly remembered that steam wireless, but not the BBC, did manage stir our excitement as Radio Luxembourg floated across the airwaves ... on 208m medium wave 'Your Station of the Stars' announced that 'the makers of Stayblonde and Brunitex Shampoo bring to you Top 20' ... sheet music sales at 11pm on a Sunday night for the countdown ... with interruptions from irrepressible jingles ... 'H Samuel's watches and Big Ben now agree it's exactly ten' ... and Horace Batchelor's money making 'treble chance' scheme from Keynsham that's k-e-y-n-s-h-a-m. We remembered 'Rudolph' in 1950, 'Mockin' Bird Hill' with Les Paul & Mary Ford in 1951, and perhaps a bit more sophisticated was Jo Stafford with 'Shrimp Boats' 1951 & 'You Belong to Me' 1952, Eddie Calvert 'Oh Mein Papa' 1954 was different ... and then a wake up call and a wow, Bill Hayley 'Rock Around the Clock' and Johnnie Ray 'Walking in the Rain' 1956 ... unfortunately we also remembered 'The Bell Bottom Blues' & Teresa Brewer in 1953 and Patti Page & 'Changing Partners' ... insipid stuff that left us a bit limp.
Perhaps, jazz started with a bit of fun in 1956 when we went to a concert in Manchester with Peter Oliver to hear Guy Mitchell (aka Al Cernik from Detroit (1927-99)). Al had been pushed by Mitch Miller into recording some rocked up novelty songs under his new name ... the result was a series of rhythm hits ... 'The Roving Kind' 1950, 'My Truly Truly Fair' 1951, 'Sparrow in the Tree Top' 1951, 'Pittsburgh Pennsylvania' 1952, 'She Wears Red Feathers' 1953, 'Chick a Boom' 1954, and then in 1956 'Singin' the Blues' ... Singing the Blues was different, real American music, a sort of rhythm ballad with voice and whistle complements. We loved the live concert so much we looked up the who of the next American visitor ... we discovered it was a black guy called Count Basie ... the Count meant nothing to us at the time ... but soon we were hooked.
Peter was a great friend from early days at The Grange School, Hartford. At The Grange we had been proud members of Peter's formidable gang ... of course, we were not beer drinkers then but we still managed to terrorise the girls in the playground with our exclamations & athleticism ... this outrageous gender bias at school was soon nipped in the bud when we fell in love with 'Alice', the delectable star of Miss Taylor's production of the Lewis Carroll classic; 'Alice in Wonderland'. We wished it that it were a musical and ruminated that the seeds of such affection had been sown years earlier when Judy Garland & Dorothy Gale captured our heart with 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' from 'The Wizard of Oz', the first movie we ever saw.
We spent a lot of time with Peter Oliver, building dams in the streams in the woods ... and Jetex model air craft carefully constructed from balsa & tissue ... and playing all & every sport sport we could find. Both our dads were team mates at Winnington Park Hockey Club. A friendship which culminated on Easter Sunday March 29th 1964 as we managed to execute the best man duties when Peter married the lovely Lorna in Aberdare.
Our shared interest in Jazz, which followed from the Guy Mitchell concert, led to studies and dreams associated with the book Jazz by Rex Harris ... a book which retold the exciting story of jazz and blues in New Orleans. This propelled us towards the excitement of Humph's Parlophones on 78 rpm shellac, 'The Fish Seller' backed by 'The Glory of Love' was our first prized purchase ... this platter didn't break or get lost, it wore out.
In 1957/8 there was a musical graduation as we took out a monthly subscription to Jazz Journal, a weekly Melody Maker and a daily dose of Willis Conover on the VOA Jazz Hour ... gripping steam radio stuff which fared & faded through the hiss of the airwaves even when ears were clamped to loudspeakers, often under bed clothes ... then things looked up when Ted Heath secured a Light Programme spot on a Monday night.
Heady stuff ... but there was also awesome music close at hand in Chester ...
Bollands Buttery was a licensed restaurant, The Grosvenor Oyster Bar approached downstairs from The Rows next to Brown's of Chester. After the war Bollands was well established as a premier social centre and in 1945 dancing & music were rocking the Chester hot spots ... Quaintways and the music of the armed forces gymnasiums at the Castle and College ... Al Powell and his Rhythm Aces built their reputation.
The 1950s gang used to go to Bolland’s for a pint, then across the road to The Boot and on to Clems on Northgate Street. It was extraordinary. Every Thursday & Saturday there was a hot seething market where you met a lady in Bollands and then gallantly accompanied her to the slow drag at Clemences Resaurant for after midnight music & play ... a ritual ... some folk went to the 'River Park Ballroom' for fun but The Queen School girls went to Clems.
Bollands was the focus of our social activity for five glorious years from 1958-63 ... everyone who was anyone in Chester was in Bollands ... including doughty mates like John P Milroy. Milroy was a hard full back at school and a Liverpool trained vet, who memorably attempted to drink Glasgow dry with us in 1959. He became a wizard with animals and established the John Milroy Veterinary Practice in Castlebar, County Mayo. John P Milroy was a regular at Bollands and drank so much beer that he qualified for official ushering at our weddin' ... he was charged with the task of controlling the flow of ale ... but he had some help from our best man, Mike Colledge who ended up on lager in Oz and young Max Faulker who was still drinking beer in 2015. This motley trio from 1965 had things in common ... they were all beer drinkers who could turn ordinary beer into convivial pints! Their encouragement led to an eventful honeymoon in The Drunken Duck at Barngates ... we remember the beer was terrific ... but the bride was perfect.
Before the war Clems was hosting 'proper' ballroom dancing lessons and Wilf Field and his Collegians were playing the rhythms for big occasions; The County Officers F C Dance. By 1940 there were regular weekly at Clems on a Tuesday with Wilf Field and a Saturday with Al Hartley ... such steamy clinches were loved by the youngsters until the doors closed in 1963? ... when guitar music had taken over.
The Dennis Williams Quintet
Tony Faulker remembered Clems, just at the time we also became intoxicated with the place ...
Hi John, Wow, happy memories indeed! The guitarist in
the band was Frank Jeffes who, according to a pianist friend, is still
around in Chester. I don't know whether he's still active, he's probably in
his late 80s by now. (RIP Frank Jeffes Jan 8th 2016, 93 years old).
The rest of the band were Dennis, of course, on alto sax, Jimmy Chadburn on piano, Ces Davies on bass and Harold Jones then Don Morris on drums, sadly all now deceased. In addition, I'm sure you'll remember that Syd Lawrence used to join the quintet at Clems whenever he wasn't busy with the BBC Northern Radio Orchestra and long before he organised his own orchestra. As far as I'm aware the quintet never recorded commercially although there may be some private recordings somewhere. I wish I knew where! (some live recordings were unearthed in 2016).
The drummer in the contest winning quintet was Harold Jones. If memory serves me correctly the personnel was as I listed except for Don Morris. I remember seeing Harold a few times depping for Don and at first being disappointed because Don wasn't there. That was until I heard Harold play with brushes. It's almost a lost art these days but Harold was about the best brush player I ever heard. I worked with Jimmy Chadburn and Ces Davies at the Plantation Inn on Liverpool Road, this was October/November 1963, Clemences had closed by then. During that residency I borrowed a tape recorder and recorded a dozen songs we played, a treasured memory for me, working as I was with two of Chester's finest musicians. best wishes - Tony
Try Tony Faulker's website ...
Leigh Jeffes, Frank's son remembered his dad -
'From 1948 to 1960 (apart from two years spent in
Canada 1953-55), Frank Jeffes was a member of the highly successful Dennis
Williams Quintet, the resident band at Clemences restaurant in Northgate
Street. The Quintet won the Melody Maker’s National Dance Band Championships
in 1949 & 1950, with Frank receiving the individual award for best guitarist
in both years. The band, originally under Al Powell’s name also featured Syd
In 1958, Frank Jeffes joined two other members of the Quintet, Jimmy Chadburn (piano) and Cec Davies (bass) to form the Jimmy Chadburn Trio. The group recorded a series of radio broadcasts for the BBC in Manchester under such titles as 'Cocktails for Three' and 'In a Mellow Mood' and appeared on Granada TV’s People and Places programme. They were later joined by Don Morris, on drums, who had replaced Harold Jones in the Williams Quintet.
Frank continued to make music well into his 80s, which included a long association, from 1982, with the Hywel Williams band.
Previous collaborations included the Brian Jones Big Band, the Deeside Dance Orchestra, led by Ron Lovelady, and the Ron Bartlett, Wilf Field and Ken Binns bands, as well as residencies at Quaintways and the Grosvenor Hotel.
Frank worked as an accountant for the Associated Octel Company, at Stanlow, retiring in 1987.
It was rumoured that Dennis Williams had a day job in the 50s working in the Architects Department at The Northgate Brewery ... Clems was dry and we always wondered how the quintet managed their arpeggios without beer?
Bill Willetts remembered the cricket and the nostalgia that was Clems -
'memories were stirred and inevitably a bout of nostalgia for the golden days of our carefree youth, when our only troubles were the failure to secure the latest feminine attractions of our aspirations or our inability to win our last match, the latter pleasantly a very rare event in 1956. We were lucky to belong to a generation who could still dance (after a fashion) to live music and doubly fortunate that Dennis Williams and the Wall City were such good bands. So much better than listening to a DJ putting out plastic music'.
Bill was also sure Dennis Williams recorded in the 1950s, maybe at Clems maybe a radio programme ... there's a reward for anyone who can locate it! (in 2016 Frank Jeffes' son Leigh rescued our memories).
There was no beer at Clems but the music was spectacular ... we traced our infatuation with the saxophone back to those magical days in Clems and the jazzy tones of Dennis Williams and the melodic trajectories of Frank Jeffes ... we particularly remembered being introduced to 'The Continental' and 'Sentimental Journey' with the ravishing Helen Jones singing the descending semitones ... in our heads we still heared those dulcet sounds 60 years later!
So popular was the venue that 'The Inters'; the Chester inter-schools dance was held there ... we were the Kings School representative on the committee ... but of course we were there for the music & the girls not the beer ... we think and remember little ... wot about Mary & Cathy?
We didn't appreciate it at the time but the Chester area was a active hub for wonderful dance band music, embracing the strong influences from the proximate American Forces bases during the war. Helen Southall did all the research on the Chester Dance Bands of the 1950s, admirably summarised in her project chart and her YouTube presentation.
Shortly after Frank Jeffes died in 2016, there was a moment of serendipity and to the delight of eager listeners, Frank's son, Leigh, rescued some real live recordings of The Dennis Williams Quintet at Clemences.
The Wall City Jazzmen started their enterprise on the 18th January 1954 at the Clemences restaurant in Northgate Street, Chester. They played Dixieland jazz and the youngsters flocked to hear, see & jive with them; included were most of the reprobates from The King's School.
The original band was the Stan Roberts Dance Band with Stan Roberts on piano, Tom Jones trumpet, Ian Ashworth trombone (a cousin of Bruce Jones). John Nuttall bass, Alan Lewis drums & Paul Blake clarinet were added to make the traditional line up.
Later in 1954 Gordon Vickers booked them for the residency at The Wall City Jazz Club at Quaintways almost next door to Clems. At The Wall City Jazz Club 16 year old Pete Wright from the City Grammar School joined the band as a featured 'Skiffle' singer and guitarist. In 1958 15 year old Pat (Trish) Fields was added as vocal prodigy. Trish later she turned professional and won the TV New Faces with a band called Whiskey Mac. The Wall City Jazzmen and Trish Fields have their names in bricks at Liverpool's Cavern Club.
Quaintways was a music venue on Northgate Street was owned by entrepreneur Gordon Vickers, who was also the power behind The Mill Hotel where the Wall City Jazzmen were still playing in 2015. During the rocker days of the 1960s, Quaintways was all the rage as The Wall City Jazzmen, Kenny Baker, Syd Lawrence and later rock bands like Fleetwood Mac plied their trade.
Check out Quaintways at Manchester Beat ...
Check out Jazz News in 1962 for Jazz in Chester ...
Years later when we retired in 1994 and started playing saxophones we rediscovered The Wall City Jazzmen still going strong in Chester. In 1990 trumpeter Tommy Jones re-formed the Wall City Jazz men along with Trish Fields on vocals, to play at the Mill Hotel Chester. 'The Mill Hotel and Spa. Milton Street' Chester was a Gordon Vickers enterprise which provided splendid accommodation and entertainment with Monday night jazz ... 'be there don't forget Jazz at The Mill is free to come in and free to go out'. We were regular Monday night attendees at The Mill as we drank the beer and tried to fathom out what these guys were playing. Tom Jones trumpet, Paul Blake clarinet, Dave Renton trombone, Billy Buck drums, Malcolm on bass and the vet on the piano, and Trish Fields still belting out 'Salty Dog'. Trish Fields retired in 2005. Tommy Jones retired in 2008 but Paul Blake continued to lead the band still strong in 2015. And they were joined on occasions by our very own 'bone player!
Try the Jazz NorthWest website ...
During the 1950s there were two busy coffee shops in Chester which attracted the youngsters for social intercourse; The Caprice (an espresso bar we called 'The Groth') in Werburgh Street and The Kardomah (The KD) in Eastgate Street. They were hopeless for sobering up as they closed before the pubs. After throwing out time the only chance of a coffee was at The General Railway Station!
The Commercial Hotel, Northgate Ale
The 'Snug' at The Commercial, St Peters Courtyard was a shrine to conviviality.
In 1962 with my mate 'Edley and Pete Smith and J R Hughes and Bas ... all was mirth and beer ...
Hedley Simms wrote good fiction and took up the story with his customary dash and unwarranted embellishment!
'At school my saving grace was cricket. My Father was
a wonderful cricket coach, he
had played along with Sir Learie Constantine, Alf Martindale and many great
West Indian Test players in exhibition matches during the war. At least once a week, homework permitting, I
accompanied my father to the indoor nets at Barrow, where an enterprising
cricket-mad farmer had converted an old redundant chicken-shed into a state
of the art indoor cricket net. My father got paid by two cricket clubs for
his coaching services – Barrow C C and Browns of Chester C C. The standard
of the latter club was pretty poor but the money was pretty good! I was Captain of the School Cricket
team and member of the tennis team. I had to give a match report on Monday
mornings in the School Assembly; we won every match except our Waterloo
against our arch enemies – the King’s School, Chester. This was a
devastating experience; the Kings School team had names like Burdekin, Brewis,
Birchall and Guthrie and the ferocious pace of Bateman who put the shits up
us all. I remember little of the match except that
we were hammered by a better team.
My college pal, Pete Smith, who hailed from Irby, a village on the Wirral, became a Monday night boozing companion. Along with other old soaks like John Birchall and Mike Colledge we would meet up in the back bar/snug of the ‘Commercial’ in Upper Bridge Street, Chester. The attraction was supposed to be Birchall's passion for the Wall City Jazz Club at Quaintways which was more or less opposite the ‘Commercial’. Friends of both Pete and myself would appear on a regular basis and we would collectively listen to the ramifications of each others love lives. For me it was a great joy to sink about 6 pints, maybe 4, of Chester Northgate bitter and then motorcycle home on empty roads. My Father would stay awake until I returned, not because of safety reasons but in the off chance that I had brought some mates home to play poker. If voices could be heard, he was up in a flash, dressing gown on, with a pack of cards in his hand and the whisky cabinet open!
Around this time I became big mates with a few Kings School Old Boys. John Birchall was a very special friend; he, like me, didn’t engineer a great deal of time nor luck with the opposite sex and always fancied himself as a bit of a philosopher, which he still is to this day. But sport was the priority. One day he decided we would go to the Manchester November Handicap meeting; in fact I think it was the very final meeting on this race course. We took along a very bright Maths graduate called Max Faulkner who had a host of mathematical theories connected with gambling. The day out for me was more significant for the evening festivities which involved a pit stop at Belle Vue Amusement Centre. John was fired up with the thought of ‘pulling’ a bird, as it is popularly referred to today. We all got hopelessly drunk and I very nearly killed myself on a monster whirligig by not strapping myself in properly and finding myself suspended about 50 feet upside down with my protective belt unbuckled! (JF recalled Hedley’s piece on the Manchester November Handicap was pretty accurate but missed out the fact that in between the races and the Belle Vue dance hall we managed a visit to the stock car racing. Never miss an opportunity!)
John Milroy was another Kings School character who lived on a farm on the Chester Wrexham Road. As a 15-16 year old we would go shooting together across his stepfather’s fields. I always admired his gorgeous sister. John was as mad as a hatter when he left school and found great solace in alcohol. He went to Liverpool University Vet school and took about 7 years to get his degree. He eventually disappeared to Ireland and became a vet; if he is still alive which would be a miracle, I can see him now drinking his way through endless pints of the ‘black stuff’. A fine lad, nevertheless. (In 2015 JPM was alive and kicking in Castlebar, County Mayo, having retired from his practice, 'John Milroy Veterinary Practice'. We had an email from JPM Christmas 2015 - 'On your head Johnnie. Keep 'em out. Can I borrow your canoe? Fancy a trip to Newton Puddieford for a pint of scrumpy in a Fiesta. All this due to Graeme Guthrie the dashing forward. He has turned up after 57 years living 12 miles from me. Enjoy the festive season').
Dances on a Saturday night regularly took place at ‘Clemences’, on the periphery of the Chester Market Square. These dances were a bit of a cattle market. The top totty of Chester, mainly ex-Queens School and City High School girls were admired from a distance by the likes of John Birchall, John Milroy and myself. Arriving at Clemences at 10pm with 6, maybe 4, pints of bitter inside one was not conducive to romance. The only dance that mattered was the last waltz and by that time only wallflowers of both sexes remained. We were nearly always wallflowers. Time was short and life was too enjoyable to need a regular girlfriend.
One Christmas, John Birchall and I decided we would make a 2 prong concerted effort with two lively young ladies, Di and Anita. We met at the Rugby Club and had a fair skinful there. Afterwards we all went to Handbridge Village Community Centre where the girls were in charge of entertainment. Very soon after sitting on an ice cream cone Birchall and I became the entertainment being assaulted by hordes of 5/6 year old monsters! I did continue a very half-hearted liaison with Di as her father kept The Queens Head pub in Foregate Street. I think John was out of his depth with his captivating bird.
Trying to be a mature responsible member of the teaching profession came hard to me. My wild days at Leeds University and Alsager College have always tended to return and haunt me. After a wild Christmas 1962, spent mainly with my arch compatriot, John Birchall, I really had to contemplate my future. Probably the biggest accolade I ever received was an invitation, in writing I think, to the Chester City Hospital Annual Nurses Xmas party at the Nurses home. We went along, with high expectations but left eventually slightly more piddled than when we arrived. I remember chucking Birchall’s car keys out through a window, possibly in the hope that we might have to stay the night at this hot spot of salaciousness.
1963 proved to be a big year for me. I began to think that I could play rugby (a big delusion) and had great fun trying to drink the Chester pubs dry along with my big mate John Birchall. The Whit holiday 1963 was the turning point. Once again the school had booked a party at the Holiday Fellowship Camp, N E Yorkshire. I agreed to be involved and arrived at John Street school not knowing which members of Staff were going. They turned out to be Cec Brown and his wife Trixie, Em James, the P E master and his wife Anne, Carol Davies the music mistress and Christine Wright, the new Home Economics teacher. The coach was to be driven by Tom, a merry, rotund gentleman who immediately took a shine to Carol, possibly because they were both of similar physical proportions. I got a fairly cold reception from Miss Wright, possibly because she had not forgiven me for borrowing and subsequently ruining her green flash plimsolls ... but the rest as they say was history ...
Life is what you make it or is life more serendipity than anything else? Burning ambition arrived in my late twenties. This was preceded by wildness, irresponsibility, recklessness and youthful arrogance; certainly in my case! It was terribly important to do well and I was satiated by becoming a Headmaster of a large school. This achievement gave me a glow of serenity, contentment that my life on earth was not wasted.
As a young teacher I had to learn the craft of teaching the hard way and it was several years after qualification that I could begin to think of myself as being an effective teacher! My move to the inner sanctums of the City of Birmingham in 1968 was a major turning-point and proved to be a very valuable experience. But my eventual appearance as a middle-school teacher was pure serendipity ... I found great inner satisfaction from effective teaching.
However changes brought about by the dominance of political forces, like the introduction of the so-called ‘national curriculum’, have caused Head teachers and Staff enormous trauma. Hurriedly produced documents literally arrived by the van-load day after day. What a phenomenal waste of paper! The Maths teacher had to have a copy of the new Music National curriculum and vice-versa. I foolishly decided to take the new beautifully-bound documents to the teachers myself and it was very interesting watching their facial expressions as they received their instructions!
One of the greatest joys of teaching in the 60’s was the camaraderie between Staff. The kids were tough but teaching was what you made of it. Generally it was fun! The Staff room resembled the public bar at a railway station, it was all part of life’s rich pattern, a place where virtually all teachers had a fag. The Staff room was a place of joy and merriment – a haven of relief, away from the kids who all knew about the fun.
Now, the situation is very different. I am a governor at the local Primary school and it appears that a black cloud has descended on the haven of peace. Teachers are overworked and overwrought as these craftsmen (and women) are pushed to follow detailed instructions from the politicians. The removal of many sanctions against unruly children has had a very damaging effect on morale. The very word ‘Ofsted’ strikes fear into many teachers, young & old, and has been the cause of multiple stress-related illnesses and premature retirements. Teachers no longer joke, wouldn’t dare to play bridge or ‘shove-ha’penny’ in their break times; everything has become deadly serious and tension is on the increase! Many teachers now retire early and take reduced pensions.
So today life is different. Massive mortgage debts, the ‘have-now, pay later’ way of life has taken over and young couples or should I say ‘partners’ have to have everything in advance and then wonder why life becomes a struggle. Divorce rates are soaring. It seems all too easy to throw in the towel when things become a little too difficult. Working at relationships seems to be a thing of the past and the norm is to opt out and move on. I have helped pay the bill for five weddings for our three boys. On the plus side we have 6 grandchildren, four girls and two boys. The joys of grandparenthood are incalculable ... our two grandsons, Rocky and Rambo are great characters and great fun!
RIP ... David Hedley Simms May 6th 2015.
As the Chester Beer and Jazz scene went from strength to strength two young Chester ladies began to occupy their own special space in our schedules and one of the ladies was a sportswoman ... busy schedules which also had to accommodate endless cricket ...
please help make the story better ...
Chester Boughton Hall Cricket Club 1960-71
In 1959 after a social extravaganza but a miserable cricket season and run drought at Christleton Cricket Club with Sid Dandy & Ted Kirk, we upgraded and joined two old mentors Cec Dutton and Reg Stockton at Chester Boughton Hall Cricket Club. There it was rumoured that a Jones & Hack dynasty controlled all the arcane happenings ... however the club proved to be an endless source of convivial pints, lasting friendships and quality Liverpool Competition cricket ... where we played cricket with Bob Barber, Ken Cranston, Kenny Snellgrove, Harry Pilling, Ken Shuttleworth ... and drank beer with everyone ... at Birkenhead Park, Bootle, Formby, Hightown, Huyton, Liverpool, Neston, New Brighton, Northern, Ormskirk, Oxton, Sefton, Southport, St Helens and Wallasey ...
During the 1960s on uncovered wickets playing competitive cricket our batting lacked luster ... although we remembered some class acts who passed through the club John Page, Brian Bradley, Richard Lawry. We bowled a bit and enjoyed sharp fielding in the gully ... but most of the time runs & wickets eluded us ... the one memorable achievement was in 196? when we won the first L N Jones Memorial Prize for the most improved young cricketer ... a pair of batting gloves ... whatever happened to the L N Jones Memorial Prize?
From 1960 to 1970 Bruce Jones was our regular opening partner, a beer drinker and a gentleman ... in 1960 Bruce was the first to welcome us into the club -
'Hello, new member? I'm Bruce Jones have a pint!'
and he was still at it in August 1967 -
'40 years old let's celebrate, have a pint!'.
On January 24th 1989, Bruce was there at The Red Lion, Pickmere when we celebrated the 80th birthday of Stubby (Cyril Stubbs 1909-92) and enjoyed several 'delicious halves'. The talk was of great cricket at a great club, Northwich Cricket Club; of opening partnerships with George Birchall, of Everton Weeks (1925-) hitting six after six off the back foot into the railway sidings, of Alf 'Manny' Martindale (1909-72) who was instructed by his skipper to nurse Sid Griffiths, the home captain, to his century ... but those balls had a life of their own -
'I'm tryin' boss but they just kept bendin'' ...
When Bruce stopped 1st team cricket he devoted his time to skippering the second team and bringing on the youngsters. We can report that Jonathan also benefited from Bruce's enthusiasm for cricket at BHCC.
Perhaps our proudest moment was when Jonathan established himself as a better cricketer than his dad (and certainly a better beer drinker ... he purchased a pad in Dale Street within crawling distance of the club bar!) ... BHCC won't forget the triumphs of 1994 ... winners Liverpool Competition, Liverpool Competition Knockout, Cheshire Knockout ...
In 1994 Chris Fleet was skipper and was enormously influential in nurturing Jonathan's cricket and beer drinking skills. And when the time came to move to a job in Head Office in London, Chris urged him to seize the opportunity even though BHCC would lose a significant player ... we recalled our own move overseas in 1972 when old man Fleet urged us to stay in the warmth at BHCC in Chester, 'they tried to get me to move to Warrington once but I turned it down'!
Bruce was always there helping and inspiring ... and was Club President in 1994.
RIP ... Bruce S Jones February 9th 2012.
In 1973 a superb History of Boughton Hall Cricket Club was written by Alan Robinson ... if you pay attention and read between the lines, during the decade of the 1960s BHCC was a most splendid social club ... our jovial club leader was Cec behind the bar ... we also played cricket ... our last full season at BHCC was 1970 just before we swapped cricket bats for suitcases and ventured overseas and started to play golf and squash ...
In 2015 we were still drinking beer and reminiscing about this and that with Alan Robinson ...
1963 - after graduation in 1963 an MSc in Operational Research at Birmingham was by-passed and work started at Lever Brothers and play started at Newton Lane.
Everything happened. Monday September 30th 1963 a grey Austin A35 van was purchased from Clifford Eden of Wilmslow for £325; £100 down and £7-15 per month for 3 years! Tuesday October 1st was the first day at Levers, October 21st a first pay day. On Thursday November 7th Dad's dairy recorded, 'John introduced us to Carole' ... who eventually learned to like the A35 van!
Many of the soccer players from Kings went on to drink their beer at Chester Nomads AFC but our cloudy eyes were well established and soccer with spectacles was not on, and without spectacles it was guesswork ... however hockey was a splendid alternative, and my dad was a hockey player ... and in any case Tom Bateman, our old sparring partner from Kings & Crossbatters, insisted there was good beer at Newton Lane. Inveigled by Tom the game was to play hockey and drink beer at the Cheshire County Officers Hockey Club at Newton Lane, Hoole with some of the best old soaks in Chester ...
We had learned our winter hockey at Uni on the all weather pitches in Scotland and in 1963 this was swapped for beer and mud in Chester. Unfortunately there was almost as much mud as beer at the CCO Club and this was a particular problem for soccer players who had been converted to hockey via the true & fast pitches up north.
Chester Hockey Club was built on enthusiasm, just like the Crossbatters. Way back in 1948 a group of men from the Council plus a renowned publican had the wit & nous to build their own hockey team ... and the rest, as they say, was history.
It was a riot and with the assistance of two youngsters from Alsager College, John Kidley and John Mellor, we managed to have some success ... endless fun ... and lots of pints.
The stars of the beer drinkers from Newton Lane; Dave Russell, Dave Castle & John Evans continued the tradition regularly at the CAOKS Annual Dinners ... we were there at The Grosvenor on our first leave after an 18 month tour in Nigeria and again in 1976 just before moving to Malawi ... and most years for the duration ... and in 1986 Denis Compton was our guest!
John Evo, a student of the turf, was an important player in our Beer Drinking Stakes. When the time came to leave Newton Lane for life in a suitcase overseas, John quietly purchased a glass of Glenfiddich to help our last pint go down. He reasoned that when our annual leave came round we would find the same folk, in the same positions at the bar, telling the same stories and maybe even drinking the same convivial pints. There were rumours that many of the Chester old soaks had refused jobs in Warrington because of their attachment to these immaculate surroundings and the convivial pints. However John wished us well on our journeys overseas and concluded that Glenfiddich was much more appropriate than yet another convivial pint as they were 10 a penny and common as muck around these parts ... he suggested, quite rightly, that we would remember the scotch with relish ... and in any case he was sure convivial pints would also be available overseas as he knew we would play our cards right.
We left but we were always there in spirit as the fun & games continued. John Evo remembered the quest for Beaujolais Nouveau in 19??. Beaujolais was not beer but we were always willing to experiment at CHC.
Pete Smith was a great mate at Newton Lane. We had originally met Pete in the early 1960s ... he had reliably bought his rounds at The Commercial Hotel on Monday nights and in 2015 he remembered those beer drinking rituals with mirth and affection over 50 years later! Such pleasures, of course, were before the drink drive laws & the girls curtailed our habits ...
Pete also played a mean game of hockey, he arrived at Newton Lane with Dave Russell as hockey at Brookhirst Switchgear went belly up ... and there was more, Pete Smith was a drummer ... and somewhat confusingly he was also a musician ... not many people know that ... for 60 years he had played in jazz bands and clubs and in 2016 was able to decipher many of the ancient cassette recordings of The Dennis Williams Quintet from Clems ... amazingly he put names to toons which were almost inaudible through the noise of the old technology.
In 2010 Pete was heard by the world plying his trade on Dirty Old Town on YouTube ... wot fun!
The Golden Lion, Frodsham, 1967
A J Robinson, A H Coleman, J P H Campey and J P Birchall.
Three young graduates and a school master who shared a love of cricket were drinking their way into adulthood and inevitably there were issues to get to grips with on a Monday night.
Coleman was wrestling with the foibles of the Merseyside transport system and coincidentally Robinson & Birchall were both embarking on management careers in two remarkable consumer orientated companies with much in common to contrast and compare. Alan Robinson tells the story.
For the most part we remember the beer drinkers from the past as they were in the past; good friends. Although we have regularly attended the CAOKS annual reunion dinners since the Crossbatters days we have all had little scope for renewing old friendships. Chester could never be resting place for most King's School alumni ... the world was their oyster and our friends jumped on their charges and rode off in all directions. Folk friends always drink convivial pints but we all take different routes to different locals ...
In fact we want to remember old friends just as they were in those dream days. That way even when we grow old they don't!
Looking back we mused about the sort of life our very early friends had ... we wonder what became of the dazzling Helen Godfrey from The Grange School ... not seen since 1950?
Chris Chorlton's memorable words need repeating -
please help make the story better ...
Life in a Suitcase
1963-71 Port Sunlight Preliminaries
In 1963 we had our own Copernican Revolution; we left Chester and joined Unilever to experiment and experience the world. In 1971 peripatetic life started for real within the warm global embrace of the long tentacles of Unilever. Early that year the family had decided to forgo the hum drum and chosen excitement; we embarked on life as international traders ... well that's what we told grandma.
After graduating with a satisfying 2.1 honours degree in 1963 we had abandoned our dream of eternal study and an MSc in 'Operational Research' at Birmingham in favour of the ready cash rewards available for the commissioning of a shining new all singing all dancing Ballestra Spray Drying Plant at Port Sunlight. Chemical Engineering was not so much our burning ambition but rather a propitious gamble which seemed like a good idea at the time as we rather fancied it kept our future options open. Early on we had ambitions of becoming a Stanford drop out but in the end followed convention wisdom: Chemical Engineering at Glasgow proved an excellent safe bet which unlocked the satisfactions of Unilever Factories.
One of the respected old hands at 'Levers' was Dr David Roberts, who with admirable foresight offered job experience with a commissioning team on a major capital project as a prelude to a career in Factory Management. We had worked in factories during our time out at university and knew that that was where things happened; that was where the action was. That first commissioning job also taught us that Factory Managers needed friends who kept the wheels going round and, above all, it was the engineers who became our first choice to befriend if ever shipwrecked on that desert island ... Don Newton, Mal Davies, Harry Parr, John McMillan, Percy Furlonger, John Ellis, David Crawford, Ron Stirzaker, Vernon Hockley, Andy Cole ... doers all ... and beer drinkers. It seemed to us as Factory Managers that it was the chemists from afar in their ivory towers who had the knack of getting us into trouble ... but it was the engineers at the coal face who delivered and put boxes on lorries ... but then the folk in marketing always insisted we were biased ... and they were right Unilever's expertise was in marketing ... and propitious acquisitions ... we soon learned to love and respect the marketeers.
Looking back we felt we got the job Lever Brothers, Port Sunlight because of our rather decisive sounding objectives; we had purposefully moved away from further academic study, avoided the usual crowded 'milk round' recruitment system and had become clear about factory management ... and opportunities for overseas travel. It worked, we cut our teeth on chemical plant commissioning and were then indebted to our boss at the time, cricketer Roy Davies ... with Roy we explored the processing of K462, a ternary active washing powder which ended up like demerara sugar until we managed to hydrate some phosphate and turn it into Persil Automatic ... a cause for much celebration and beer. As technical youngsters we had learned about ... bleachable fancy, McBain phase diagrams, nigres, theoretical washes, DOBS055, NDOM, optical bleach ... and more ... but that was the easy bit ... in the text books. It was Roy who helped to light a fire under our ambition and our first job in 'production' ... Section Manager, Soap Drying and 'Remillers Chips'. We were immediately faced with real factory problems, often basic but always challenging ... and often in the middle of the night ... we learned fast ... we were incompetently drying soap and musing ... 'they can put a man on the moon but we can't even dry soap'?
We soon moved to grander work with Fred Hall on Liquids & Hard Soaps. Fred taught us the importance of concentrating on getting 'the vital few' 'right first time' if you wanted to enjoy your beer ... and in Miscellaneous Products Division we did. In the 'production' gang there was another big cricketing mate, George Robinson, who was a special friend, sponsor and a general good egg ... and a beer drinker. George told hilarious stories about joining Fred and high flyer Mike Cowan as 'Shadow Board' members who met weekly to correct the errors of Unilever ... over a few pints.
At this time we felt we had made it ... and Dr David Roberts was pleased. Most of the alternative 'technical' jobs appeared to be the real scary, specialised cul-de-sacs in chemistry, which were the usual fare for young science graduates at the time ... and there was no route into the exciting 'marketing' extravaganza. Nevertheless Factory Management in Unilever turned out to be a ticket to ride; exploring the nitty gritty of the world with the world's sixth largest company?
We hadn't a clue, but we had unwittingly hatched a scheme.
We didn't go cold into Unilever, Dad was in industry and we talked & mulled and we read a bit of history. Charles Wilson told a fascinating story of business and diversity. As Chemical Engineers we also read about Joseph Crosfield & Sons, and the Quakers, where, significantly, A E Musson didn't write about chemistry but about enterprise. It was almost stimulating ... so we bought another round.
We made an early attempt to cut to the chase and focus on the technology ... we were biased of course, thermodynamics was our subject ... we still have a copy of our naive presentation on the merits Chemical Engineering to an early Management Training caucus ... we failed ... but we soon realised that everybody learned from failure ... get used to it!
Thus although we joined Unilever, Port Sunlight as greenhorns on October 1st 1963 we had our minds fixed on getting our hands dirty exploring the real life of manufactories and wallowing in some overseas adventures. Such excitement seemed like a natural fix for the fit & restless and there were rumours that overseas with Unilever you could retire at 55 and have a second bite at life. And there was more, it transpired that life overseas also helped to quench the cash appetite of our kids who both turned out, for very different reasons, to be totally unsuitable and incompatible with the deplorable state comprehensive education system in the UK. This, perhaps, proved they had inherited at least some of their dad's genes.
In this way, after 6 years of trying to understand the arcane mysteries of Port Sunlight, we realised that all the problems in our in tray, were not about thermodynamics, but were about the foibles of folk. It was the enormous influence of William R F Vale, a splendid character who inspired by example and it was Bill Vale who goaded us into coaxing the best out of the old dears on the twilight shift who mixed tablets of coloured soap into cardboard boxes; I soon realised that these ladies knew far more about the factory operations than I did. Bill was a giant who also pointed us to courses at Four Acres and 'The Human Side of Enterprise' by Douglas McGregor, we read it ... and we loved it. Knowledge of McGregor's 'Theory Y' was essential reading for all embryonic Factory Managers and Bill with the help of Douglas McGregor illuminated our way through the dark corridors of Port Sunlight in the 1960s. So much so that when we checked out the wider UK job market we confirmed that opportunities within Unilever dwarfed all alternatives.
Bill Vale offered more sage advice when he was our boss in Miscellaneous Products Division -
‘Be careful when you chose which coat tails to hang on to and be nice to folk as you go up ‘cos you’ll meet the same folk as you come down’
'Stick to the knitting. Unilever doesn't know how to make money out of miscellaneous brands' ...
The way through the bureaucracy was to work within the tent and piss out, build networks & enthusiasm for experiments with friends who drink beer ... and ruthlessly cut out the obsolete & dead wood; even the great wonders of the past from Christopher Thomas of Bristol like Puritan Household Soap had a sell by date when costed properly. We managed the end game for Puritan and saw the last production of 'framed soap' at Port Sunlight ... and so developed an enduring belief that 'miscellaneous products' were a distraction and did not fit well with the Unilever business ...
In 1968 we upgraded when we achieved fame in charge of the production of Lux Toilet Soap ... there we smacked up against the snake oil merchants from URL who delivered luxurious superfatted creamy lathers which our hot plodders processed into 'mush' ... we hadn't a clue.
One thing we did learn very rapidly was that we were up against the exorbitant costs of bureaucracy and pussy footing. Willie Vale's chat rang in our ears, we were busting with anticipation, and clear that chemical engineering was merely an entrée into enterprise. It was not very subtle but angling decisively for a job overseas was a way of standing out from the crowd of clones in grey suits who seemed to be intent on hiding themselves in the cosy warmth of the bureaucracy. As Frank Martin suggested -
'The young managers on the International Management Seminars were much too keen to establish themselves in their own companies in their own countries to contemplate the challenge of going overseas'.
There was one further learning experience at Port Sunlight which proved rather important in breaking out of the bureaucratic kluge of Port Sunlight where sclerosis of the cast of thousands brought most of the enthusiastics to their knees. We were 'promoted' into a 'staff function' concerned with cradle to grave Quality Assurance. We were a bit miffed at moving out of the factory and we embarked upon further studies at The Institute of Works Managers to keep our hand in. In Quality Department we were with Fred Hall again & Ken Robo both saltmen who taught us the importance of social working ... we were housed in a communal work shop with beer drinkers ... Fred Hall was still going strong in 2014, 91 years old and climbing the Great Wall ... and still at it at 93! Ken Robo was a rugby player and later reminded us that we spent most of our time swapping stories about bits of reality around the coffee machine ... where most of the work was always done ... the most important bit of apparatus in the lab. When we met up years later we were on doctors orders to avoid beer and we were both back on coffee. Back in the days of Quality Department a lunch time beer was normality and many local pubs provided sustenance ... The Brown Cow, The Three Stags, The Bridge Inn, The Wellington ... Peter Bradbury carried on the tradition after we left but he turned traitor and left the beer & bureaucracy of Port Sunlight for Wine Bars & entrepreneurship in Chester & Heswall. In between beer and coffee we did our bit to try and streamline the bureaucracy, by getting everybody to pull on the same rope and get it 'right first time' ... this was the only way to avoid the blame game and enjoy our beer. Our QA procedures broke the myth of 'inspecting' quality back into a product and focused on delivering to the consumer promises of Zero Defects ... such promises were always delivered by technology. Techniques, or 'flavours of the month' as we called them, included Management by Objectives, Value Analysis, Zero Budgeting & Greenfielding ... and more ... they were not invented in Port Sunlight but could be useful tactics for Factory Managers ... and like 5 year plans, the benefits came from questioning & curiosity about improvement ... they were nothing more than goads for experiments.
But, and there was a big 'but', such 'techniques' were for line managers to exploit ... they were not an expertise base for the growth of new fiefdoms ... the philosophies had to be owned by the production networks ... otherwise they were destroyed by the 'Not Invented Here' syndrome of the fighting fiefdoms. They were not to be peddled like snake oil as 'cure alls' to justify the excessive indirect charges imposed on the factories ... such charges could easily let in local competitors if the Factory Managers didn't get a grip and get their act together ... not as macho men inventing their own solutions but feeding on the social networks and sticking to the knitting ... interesting times ... but we were restless in a 'staff function'.
In this way the Port Sunlight learning process involved a few big hits -
Bureaucratic Kluge blurred the focus on the profitable projects - there was an expensive bureaucracy, a cast of thousands which was sclerotic and grew & grew ... there were sail makers, engravers, assistants & clerks for the Empire all getting in the way of the knitting ... technology solved problems ... McBain-Phase Diagrams and DLO-58-Glycerol Extraction were useful but it was the bureaucratic kluge that hindered execution on Zvi Eiref's vital few
The Unilever Accounts Manual was almost an inspired read - money was created from 'innovations' and costs were accumulated in 'indirects' ... bankruptcy was the sifting process which broke bureaucracy ... remember Ram Charan at Four Acres and The Royal Niger Company ... The 1st Lord was rescued by D'Arcy Cooper who authored the manual
Restraint of Trade and the dead hand of Regulation of the Nanny State - Douglas Jay, of old old Labour, on the marketing of plastic tulips - ‘Housewives on the whole cannot be trusted to buy all the right things’ ... a far cry from Samuel Smiles 'self help'
Restrictive Practices and the dead hand of The Trade Unions - Dan Gowler, on 'Determinants of the Supply of Labour to the Firm' - 'the ghost of economic man still haunts the corridors of many managerial suites, and his baleful influence manifests itself particularly on those occasions when the problem of labour mobility is being discussed'
Unilever was a Global Marketing Company - Port Sunlight was not the centre of the universe
We didn't learn much else ... but we had fun learning ... and had a pint or two to celebrate ... but it was time to move on.
1971 Unilever Introductions & Indoctrinations
By 1971 the flapping wings of young risk takers with nous and enthusiasm who had accumulated some meagre stripes were just what the Overseas Committee of Unilever were looking for. There was a job in Pakistan in the Rahim Yar Khan factory which called our bluff. We said yes, but the job went to an existing technical man on the 'circuit'; Bruce Madge. Bruce turned up later in our story and we drank Star with him in Aba and talked about the factory culture at Rahim Yar Khan ... and later we tried, unsuccessfully, to lure him out of retirement to help with the pan room in Limbe. The next opportunity was in Apapa ... many folks at home thought we were mad, nobody wanted to go to work in the stifling chaos of Nigeria ... but we said yes ... and so did MJC and Ross Peterson and Derek Holdsworth ... Nigeria was into oil with 80 million teeming folk and a place to be noticed. We got the job.
But first there was more 'training' in the diverse technologies and more 'testing' in the all important social networks which were to be found in every nook & cranny of Unilever. The firm believed in human capital and spent as much on training as on R&D, and training was 'Unileverisation', a ritual indoctrination into the Unilever family. Involved was a massive diversity of marketing nous and product & process technology glued together by a deep ingrained social culture ... and such was almost inevitably cemented in place by convivial pints!
We learned early on that the pinnacle of such sociability was an annual booze up; 'the oh be joyful' ... and a close second was the overseas Golf Competition; The Dash Cup ... both were underpinned by the consumption of convivial pints. We noted the origins of The Dash Cup and the development of social bonds ... this was not great golf but it was great fun -
'The object was that the competition should take place between people who would be known to each other and it was thus a convention that the teams should be selected from amongst senior members of companies overseas and from amongst those at home who had had contact with senior overseas men'.
As we were immersed in these networks from 1971 it became clearer & clearer that the reality of our 'training' was a crash course in beer drinking ... the technologies were the easy bits, it was getting things done with folk that mattered ... cooperating with others ... synergies.
It seemed wherever we traveled the convivial pint awaited ... Unilever proved to be an awesome 'social club' ... and successful to boot. It all seemed to confirm a good idea ... factories and travel were a better bet than more studenting in thermodynamics?
Perhaps the main centre of social activity in the Unilever Club was Four Acres, a palatial pad in Surrey where the beer was outstanding. It was here as early as 1968 that appetites had been wetted as the grand old gentleman Andrew Knox regaled the assembled recruits with the satisfactions and joys of Unilever Overseas ... we were hooked, our suspicions were confirmed.
Andrew M Knox (1903-??) was a Unilever Director & Overseas Committee Member of note ... and he had laboured for the 'Old Man', First Lord himself ...
He recalled that he was asked when under pressure from some bureaucratic despot -
'How on earth does The Overseas Committee cope with such complexity'?
His reply was telling -
Later, when sweating under the soap pans in Apapa, we began to understand Andrew Knox's perspicacity which was written up in 1976 in Coming Clean; with Unilever Overseas some able young men were given the inestimable advantage of learning the hard way !
Back at Four Acres in 1975 some of the able young men confirmed their partiality for several convivial pints. We drank beer with Ram Charan, an insightful business strategist from Northwestern University, who brought with him pivotal stories about American acumen. Ram's case studies were captivating. He told us which questions to ask ... but, of course, the answers were up to us to discover ... it was during one of these sessions that we debated the seemingly overwhelming importance of the 'social club' to the Unilever culture.
The Andrew Knox philosophy proved to be spot on. Our ancient mentor from Glasgow, Adam the Smith, with his wariness of 'men of system' and his understanding of social animals & moral sentiments would have been well pleased. We were convinced the Overseas Committee were on the right track ... there existed a strong viable Unilever 'culture' which worked ... and the Overseas Committee even had its own membership badge; a club tie.
But as Adam the Smith and Andrew Knox set out their tempting stalls, there was constant anti business bickering from the sidelines ... to some of our hosts Unilever overseas was part of an evil multinational company? What about the involvement in the slave trade? What about the bloody violence and the Empire? What about colonial exploitation? There was, however, another piece of the jigsaw embedded in the Unilever culture which was beautifully summarised by Sir Frederick Pedler in The Lion & the Unicorn in Africa in 1974. We enjoyed the lessons of this history book which were absorbed as part of our overseas job training; trade involved mutual benefits, synergies, it was win win and not a 'them v. us' confrontation ... but of course we had learned all this when we were at University at Adam Smith's place -
The Lion & The Unicorn were welcomed on the West Coast
of Africa where there were mutual benefits to be had from trade; palm oil was
plentiful in the rain forests and the European goodies offered in exchange were minor miracles.
Traders generally were not favorably disposed towards colonial governments which they regarded them as expensive and interfering. But the colonial system of administration was founded on the recognition of the principles that the encouragement of trade & commerce and the development of the colonies were of first consideration. One and the same thing.
In this way our hearts were 'overseas' from the early rounds ... it was an enlightened choice as the later business growth confirmed. Perhaps rather belatedly, Unilever recognised that it was not a European Company; the jewels in the crown were India (Hindustan Lever), Brazil (Gessy Lever), South Africa, Nigeria, Indonesia and later ... China ... the growth in Unilever's customer base, the middle classes, was moving out of Europe into Asia Pacific.
But it was never plain sailing overseas, the risks were enormous and there were infuriating niggles from European fiefdoms which had a nasty habit of turning violent as home markets went ex growth.
Charles Wilson suggested in 1954/68 that Lord Cole got most things right but there were also some ominous clouds -
'There is only one thing that would really put the breeze up us here - the prospect of the general standard of living standing still or declining'.
'Was research an overflowing well of invention or a bottomless pit of expense'?
'All power was strictly conditional upon practical success & reputation earned in the opinions of consumers, investors, workers & government'.
One of the biggest threats to Unilever business overseas was national government mess ups.
David Fieldhouse outlined the overseas business strategy from the Edgar Graham era in 1978; the geographical spread of new product & process technology for mutual benefit -
'Diversification overseas was seen as the way of breaking through limitations imposed by the capacity of markets in which Unilever was already dominant to expand turnover and maximise profits. The means consisted of making, in each suitable overseas company, any of the new range of products available in Europe - convenience foods, synthetic detergents, animal feeds, chemicals, toilet preparations, packaging materials. The most rewarding markets were in branded products which sold on consumer preference and could therefore command a premium. Most important the multinational could put in a team of men trained in the same business who had the full support of the home company'.
'The relationship between a multinational and a host government was not a zero sum game. Marxists, as a whole, believe that in a capitalist system the distribution of rewards was a zero sum game in which all profits go to the owner of the capital. The underlying reality was that the profitability of Unilever subsidiaries was determined less by efficiency than by government policy and the way it was implemented by the bureaucracy'.
Sustainable long term investments in big brands & technologies together with the indigenisation policy were answers to host government political intrigue -
'Important was the value of the training Unilever subsidiaries could and did offer to local people. The principle of maximum localisation had been adopted in the early 1950s and it moved very rapidly, both at home and abroad. Unilever subsidiaries normally made significantly higher profits than competing locally owned but much time and effort had to be spent in dealing with government regulations. While local managements naturally took full advantage of legal opportunities and might press their case on ministers and officials as hard as possible, they clearly accepted that their best interests lay in cooperation rather than evasion and obstruction. Unilever was not more efficient merely because it specialised in a particular range of products and has chosen to operate in many countries in order that it can continue to specialise beyond the capacity of the home country to consume all its potential products. Its stock in trade is quality control'.
It was easy to forget that local government shenanigans often had a greater influence on investment and growth than the quality of Unilever's big brand marketing & technology.
'There was a strong latent tension between central control and local autonomy. A balance was struck by 1965. Provided the subsidiary demonstrated reasonable progress the local management were allowed a great deal of independence'.
Sustainability of Unilever's business overseas was largely based on recruitment of competent managers into long term membership of the social club.
Geoffrey Jones in 2005 confirmed what was obvious, that after 1973 Unilever faced a dramatic deterioration in its European business; inflation & recession in mature markets, the rise of the supermarkets and inflexible labour markets ... and there was more ... Unilever was a laughing stock in P&G's North American home market. Unilever was 'living on the OSC & UAC' ... the 'Overseas Club' -
'During the 1970s the overseas markets became extraordinarily profitable. Unilever's Overseas business was a success story'.
'Corporate culture involved beliefs in integrity, local autonomy & human relationships. Unilever recruited people from similar backgrounds, and then passed them through a series of rituals and shared experiences creating widespread fellowship & goodwill. Unilever's corporate culture enable a diverse business to operate effectively and to high standards of professional management and integrity. No bending of the rules, relentlessly social'.
But the social Management Groups or 'fiefdoms' within such a large company were inevitably competitive -
'A debate rumbled on as to the extent to which Coordination should be extended to the Overseas countries. The Foods business tended to support the motion as it might have encouraged a greater search for new opportunities in foods. The OSC maintained that there was more of a need for country specific knowledge and the high level of profitability provided no incentive to change. Then at Marlow in 1984 core competences & strategic thinking moved from geography to products. But Detergents Coordination wanted a more centralised organisation. And when ever there was an opening somewhere they would try to get their people appointed. At times this was a subculture which bordered on arrogance. The Special Committee remained committed to the view that Unilever's strength was being close to local markets. By 1990 Unilever may have retained the characteristics of a club, but being a Unilever manager could not be fairly characterised as a gentlemanly occupation'.
Geoffrey Jones suggested that by 1990 the social club had not completely solved the problem of competing fiefdoms, things were getting nasty?
The biggest threat to the Unilever social club were the arrogant competing fiefdoms at the centre. But -
'The Special Committee remained committed to the view that Unilever's strength was being close to local markets'.
Ben Wubs in 2008 developed an historical perspective on the merits of a decentralised 'Global Club' with local autonomy in the context of the process of adaptation and the centralised Nazi confiscations & controls during WW2 -
'During the war the company became a decentralised conglomerate, with great autonomy for the national companies. This enabled them to adapt to different institutional, organisational and industrial conditions in various countries. It was possible to draw the conclusion that Unilever’s corporate governance structure was in fact appropriate for the war situation; it proved it could adapt to different national institutions. Its organisational structure helped Unilever to survive World War II'.
Central strategy but local execution autonomy was embedded in Unilever's business culture ... see -
Charles Wilson (1954/68) of Cambridge, Douglas McGregor of MIT (1960), A E Musson (1965) of Manchester, David Fieldhouse (1978) of Oxford, Geoffrey Jones (2005) of Harvard and Ben Wubs (2008) of Utrecht ... the researchers ... Frederick Pedler (1974), Andrew Knox (1976), Frank Martin (1999) and Ashok Ganguly (1999) ... of Unilever ...
So there we had it, viewpoints from the academics and some of the interns; a sort of geographic spread of innovative brands which aroused universal excitement ... a sort of profitable folk wisdom?
So what was 'the overseas circuit'?
The overseas circuit was the social club we triumphantly joined in 1971.
Unilever companies overseas were not the purveyors of snake oil as some cynics suggested ... they were into dependable quality and 'bundles of promises' as our mate Dick Stevens, Overseas Technical Officer, used to teach ... but running a business overseas had to be fun otherwise bankruptcy beckoned ... in this way overseas factories were much akin to The Garter Inn with Mine Host at the tiller ... everybody could empathise with this local hangout of fun which was frequented by The Merry Wives of Windsor ... no point in futile gravitas ... was there?
The Garter Inn was a house of reliable fun where you met your mates and had a beer. It was not a seedy joint, as many were, but then it was not exactly one of the most palatial of establishments for the girls and the family ... the technology was often a bit backward but for sure, there was always work to be done. Real life was hard down at the nitty gritty coal face and business had to be business, there were bills to be paid ... The Garter Inn thrived because Mein Host pandered to the whims of his customers ... sometimes they demanded the bog standard to get the job done but most often they wanted a bit of excitement and The Garter Inn was in the business of supplying the 'bundles of exciting promises' ... just as Dick Stevens had suggested.
The assembled folk all seemed to have a pretty good handle on human nature. The foibles of macho men, just like the coyness of the girls, were well understood as there were familiar universals whatever or wherever the local culture ... but all the positioning, posturing, bantering and grooming had to be seen in context of the mutual benefits to be had from all the frantic social interaction around the bar.
The Bard was brilliant at exposing the reality beneath the superficial trivia and tittle tattle.
Nothing worked without a smile and after all the subterfuge & intrigue was over, the girls, who always took the decisions, summed it all up and mused -
'Heaven give you many, many merry days!
Good husband, let us every one go home,
And laugh this sport o'er by a country fire' ...
For sure, most of us on the overseas circuit felt this way. If you didn't laugh you'd cry. The grandiose schemes and Machiavellian plots always tended to collapse in heaps of rubble but always there were pockets of successful reality to be discovered and nurtured ... and always there was fun ... the beer was good ... and we bought our round ... we didn't want to let the side down ... no one said it was easy but we had a good deal and we'd walk through walls for the OSC.
To us the OSC was Unilever's premier league club where the girls were included in. It was the Merry Wives and esprit de corps that made the circuit work ... it was Keynes' 'animal spirits' that mattered ... just like the football clubs and it wasn't money, technical skill nor the management egos ... it was team work ... we were all in this together.
Welcome aboard the Overseas Circuit
In 1971 there were no flies on Alf Coathup, he had earned his spurs on The Burma Road and in The Belgium Congo. This gentleman & scholar had been there, seen it and bought the T-shirt; he co-wrote the first 'Blue Book' spray drying process specification. Alf was a friend and 'straight down the middle'.
In 1976 it was Alf who courteously & confidently directed us to Unilever's heart; the decentralised local autonomy of the 'overseas circuit' -
'mark my words the overseas business will go from strength to strength ... welcome aboard'.
This memorable occasion was during an evening meal Alf when proposed the Technical Director's job in Malawi. We were gruntled, a Unilever Senior Manager at 36. We met at Alf's family pad in Esher and at the time his young lad, David, was training in the hotel business. David was called upon to practice his trade and he served, immaculately, our aperitif before we went for a pint and a pie. David's practice bore fruit as he went on to run CIS Ltd, a successful tourist business in St Lucia. The restaurant for the evening was a splendid hostelry located just outside Esher on the A307 to Cobham 'The Fairmile' ... we can still taste the steak ... and the convivial pint!
Jim Marshall, was probable the very last recruit to 'the overseas circuit'. We followed into this prestigious club a few years later and Jim propped us up on parts of an initial familiarisation tour of the 'Unilever Social Club' ... 'we didn't know much but we knew a man who did' ... we 'learnt the trade' and met 'the people that mattered' ... we shared countless convivial pints and Jim told the story in his own inimitable way ...
In 2016 we caught up with John Kerr and over a pint of Guinness in the Hinderton Arms, Neston where we confirmed Marshall and Birchall were the last of a breed of technical managers who tore up their return tickets and joined the Unilever Overseas Circuit ... we were soon to learn that the invitations into this august ensemble of excellence were to lose all significance as reorganisations, centralisations, decentralisations, indiginisations and all manner of other fiefdom fights destroyed all the meaning and significance of the Overseas Circuit.
We were a bit sad but once again we remembered Captain Chris Chorlton's revered words -
We had another beer and reflected ... we had no desire to rewrite history, remembering fun was fun ... so we raised a glass to a legendary trio; Bill Vale, Dick Stevens and Alf Coathup ... and JK added Ken Durham and john p added Derek Holdsworth ... we thanked them all for being mavericks and for their friendships ... they don't make 'em like that any more.
We both remembered that, way back in 1971/2, after 'Unileverisation' we were brim full of confidence and positive ... ready for the action ... this was how it worked ... we were plugged into a vital network of social & technical contacts ... we were 'suckers', not, we hasten to add, because we had left the cosy warmth of a 'home base' but because we were networking; building social capital, custodians of marketing & technical 'know how' and spreading this business 'know how', out of Europe over the globe ... an impossible task without the indispensible help of convivial pints.
'Good evening ladies & gentlemen, Captain John Philips and his crew welcome you aboard this BOAC flight 139, VC 10 service to Lagos. Our flight time to Ikeja this evening will be 6 hours and 45 minutes, cruising at an altitude of 34,000 feet. We wish you a pleasant flight. Please extinguish all cigarettes, fasten your seat belts and prepare for take off'.
The Overseas Committee insisted Senior Managers traveled 1st Class if they were to hit the ground running and be fully refreshed on arrival. In the old days it was a leisurely ocean cruise but in 1972 it was almost a pampered erotic seduction ... a far cry from the burgeoning Benidorm bun run.
In 1972 the Lever Brothers business in Nigerian was a basket case but full of potential from oil wealth and 80 million hungry folk. The OSC turned full on to the Nigerian problem and replaced most of the expatriate management team ... production and quality were the targets and in came a new Chairman, Technical Director, Marketing Director, Chief Accountant ... and a new position of General Technical Manager ... we set off from The Briars full of naive excitement ...
The day we were due to fly into the Apapa chaos, Alf Coathup (OSC) and Billy Mitchell (ex Apapa TD) were in the middle of a long technical harangue in the factory ... but they found time to enthusiastically journey to the airport to personally greet ... or perhaps commiserate ... or perhaps warn ... or perhaps instruct their new hope ... but Birchall failed to arrive.
We eventually arrived in steaming Lagos a day late with chicken pox. The previous day BOAC had contrived to miss our connection from Manchester, Ringway and we returned, like pricked balloons, to The Briars for another night in England and another try in the morning. Jonathan was unperturbed and announced to his worried Grandma, 'I's bin to 'Igeria'. The next day we made it, we were met at Ikeja Airport by a smiling Norman Jones and were immediately introduced to the go slow down the teeming tatty Ikorodu Road ... this was going to be interesting ...
Dakar Road was oven hot and without water and power but, with Augustine to look after the kids, Apapa turned out to be one long party ... at the Apapa Club, Apapa Boat Club, The Safari, Ciro's, 21 Club, The Flying Ant, Club Bagatelle, Lagos Yacht Club, Ikoyi Club, Midland Hotel, Ikoyi Hotel, Federal Palace, Antoine's, Cathay, The Bacchus on the Awolowo Road, Afrika Shrine & Tarkwa Beach ... everyone & their ice boxes were filled with Star beer. There were also pleasures at The Hill Station, Jos and The Blue Elephant Club, Abeokuta ... ask John Lowry, Mike Cowan, Trevor Creech, Stan Idell, Fritz Weiser, Ulrich Kurth, Harry Parr, Norman Jones, Allan Dow, Pat Keown ... wot fun.
Augustine, our 'small boy', was ace with the kids, a real gem, 18 years old and reliable, we owed him a lot although we did pay for his college course in secretarial administration ... he was swotting when we were out on the town.
Our first night in Apapa we were invited out to The Club Bagatelle with the boss Bill Caruthers. Bill was an old hand from Brazil who had helped to ingest Gessy into the Unilever fold ... 'everything over $3 a litre in the soap mixer was profit' ... Gessy didn't need the Unilever Accounts Manual it was full of business nous ... but they still had to learn ... about inflation and global brands.
The Bagatelle was a fire trap at the top of an old Otis lift shaft with no escape route. We could see the 'Omo' sign on the factory roof on the other side of the Lagos lagoon. If the company results were good Bill always insisted on Baked Alaska & Champagne. We could set our watches by the volume of the music ... but after midnight, relief came with the hot smooch which was preferred to chatter which, in any case, had become incoherent at that stage. But we still managed to look quite polished ... considering?
John Bamidele of the glorious gardens was house trained, and Theresa of cooking and seeing with new glasses was trained by Carole ... these stalwarts didn't drink but they managed conviviality no problem ... and Francis pushed a mean crumb to complement the convivial pints ... and at The Afrika Shrine up the Okorodu Road, Fela Ransome-Kuti (1938-97) played his steaming Afrobeat music, including chants and massive repetitive grooves which were strangely familiar ... Fela didn't play Buddy Bolden's Blues but his roots were legitimate.
In between beers there was the enjoyable task of educating youngsters in the fine arts. At Dakar Road there was a cricket pitch which doubled as a cycle track ... and test matches ... Dennis Lillee and Geoff Thomson, verses the English stars, Boycott, Edrich, Greig & Knott ... although the ball spent most of its time in the drain it was always retrieved by a young Jonathan who was under Doctor's orders to build up his immunity to the alien bugs asap ... by immersion? Meanwhile Sally enjoyed a more sensible education at nursery and at Corona School and tended to her dear Pipin, a prolific chuckle chicken which somehow managed to escape the pot ... and escaped the photographer in this photo.
Star beer, iced from the fridge, was the lubricant for conversations and the lasting friendships of the Dakar Road gang ...
The Birchalls were at 6B and at 6A were Stan & Vera. Stan Idell was Chief Accountant and a pea man from Batchelors; inevitably he was a Sheffield United supporter but we never held it against him. He was the power behind the local beer & banter and a skillful & ingenious organiser. Nothing less was expected from Chiefs? Top of his in tray was the annual Dash Cup which was played at The Ikoyi Golf Club and continued in the bar afterwards. However he also had time to wrestle with the foibles of the fiat Naira which had a mind of its own and always seemed to be reluctant to leave the country for the safe deposit box in The NatWest, Northwich. There were endless examples of his penchant for stories which always seemed to be better if taken with a Star or two -
The Power of Beer & Deep Thinking.
What deep thinkers we beer drinkers are ... after heavy lawn mowing
I sat down and had a beer. The day was beautiful, and the
drink started some deep thinking. My wife joined me and asked me what I
was doing. I said 'nothing'. I didn't say
'just thinking' because she would have said 'about what'. At that point I
would have had to explain that men are deep thinkers about various topics
which would then lead to other questions far more taxing than lawn mowing.
So I just thought some more about an age old question: Is giving birth more painful than getting kicked in the nuts?
Women always maintain that giving birth is way more painful than a guy getting kicked in the nuts.
Well, after another beer, and some more thinking, I arrived at an answer to that question.
Getting kicked in the nuts is clearly more painful than having a baby; and the reason for my conclusion?
A year or so after giving birth, a woman will often say, 'It might be nice to have another child'.
On the other hand, you never hear a guy say, 'You know, I think I'd like another kick in the nuts'.
I rest my case. Time for another beer?
But beer was not always instantly available.
Occasionally shortages of Star caused apoplexy in Dakar Road which could be alleviated only by 'the most important man in Apapa’. He was the store manager at the Kingsway Stores. When beer was in short supply, it was he who determined who got beer and who went dry. You also had to return a crate with 12 empty bottles to get your supply. I remember when anyone was leaving there was a always a market in empty beer bottles and crates!
The 'tours' in those days were a long 18 months and it was from Stan's office overlooking the Lagos Lagoon that every six weeks we could spy the MV Aureol birthing at the Apapa Wharf. This legendary Elder Dempster passenger liner was our real live link to Chester and refreshing Greenalls. We booked our passage for our first home leave early, ready for a break from toil & beer, the combined effects of which tended to produce giant carbuncles on sensitive body parts. The ships doctor was up to the task of remedial action. We fed at the doctors table. Dr Lloyd Davies was a fine fellow and also provided a hilarious entertainment ritual in his cabin which involved the ceremonial burning of sugar and rum ... he insisted this was not part of the carbuncle treatment ... but was it a contributing factor? Meanwhile the kids were creched & fed with consummate ease. We 'sailed' off from Apapa in October 1973 for Southampton ... via all the infamous West Coast ports of pleasure and commerce ... every name drenched in history ... as we hugged the coast northwards we thought of Vasco da Gama & the Portuguese navigators coming down the coast and the consternation they must have experienced as the pole star disappeared below the horizon ... Cotonou, Lome, Tema, Accra, Abidjan, Monrovia, Freetown, Conakry, Bissau, Bathurst, Dakar ... and then Las Palmas ... and a storm in the Bay of Biscay, before wobbling ashore unable to understand why the London shops were heaving, making walking precarious ... surely Harrods could afford stabilisers?
The Idells left 6B for more excitement in The Philippines in 1974 and then Kenya in 1977 and finally Financial Division in 1981 ... there Stan could keep an eye on our beer tab from the dizzy heights of Head Office ... we did, of course, remind him about local autonomy.
In 1994 Stan retired to Surbiton Golf Club where he excelled as resident Quiz Master after 15 minutes of fame when in 2002 he won an edition of 15 to 1 and got sufficient points to make the grand final. There were rumours that he also had a handicap and in 1997 was a formidable Club Captain and became Captain of Surrey Captains in 2014.
At 4B were Birgitte & Fritz Weiser. They had drifted into Lagos from Unilever Export in sunny St Lucia.
Fritz started Unilever life in Export and in those days the promotion ladder was into the OSC. He was hoping for a post in Malawi but was called in by Edgar Graham and offered Zaire. Fritz never understood why he accepted. Alf Coathup was not TD in Zaire when the Weisers were there; that was Julien Bischoff who briefly came to Lagos around 1976. But all was not lost as in Zaire he met Birgitte and they married in Denmark during the first leave. They transferred to Brazil for 2 years; Catarina was born there and NeNe (Karin) was born in Denmark during leave just before arriving in Nigeria in December 1972. Fritz & Birgitte produced a couple of charming daughters, who were led astray by our two wags although there was some attempt at coeducation underneath the stairs at 6B. Son Christopher was born in Lagos town and later went on to Ellesmere College with Jonathan.
Fritz always said that golf helped survival in Nigeria and certainly when he returned to the West Coast later with Tate & Lyle he was on his own and golf took up all his spare time.
After Apapa there was a 'wasted' year spent in Tehran with nothing doing. Next was Marketing Division in London before moving to Manchester where UAC, having kept Unilever afloat for a time in the past, was slipping fast.
The last time we saw the Weisers was in 1989 when we shared a beer watching the cricket on the college square at Ellesmere. Fritz & Birgitte seemed to be everywhere all at once, back to Nigeria, with his own Consultancy at 'Graylands', 43 Strines Road, Marple, then a move to Strines House in Marple and then Birch Vale and then off to France. Birgitte had worked for the Danish Red Cross in Zaire (and not 'Medecins sans Frontieres' as we errored) and as a Practice Nurse at a GP's in Wilmslow for many years. We wondered if they were still drinking beer in France or maybe they had succumbed to the wine?
We caught up with Fritz again in 2015 and he reckoned our memories of Apapa were not only clearer than his but also dearer, but he succinctly summed up his time in Nigeria where there was a great esprit de corps amongst friends -
Whilst with Tate & Lyle in Lagos I
visited Levers on business. On leaving the compound a message arrived at the gatepost;
would I wait for a certain German engineer. I did so. There followed a
Are you Mr Weiser? Yes.
Were you with Lever in the early 1970s? Yes.
Did you live in Dakar Road? Yes.
I am so happy to meet you. Every Sunday we are served a special salad, Mrs Weiser’s salad, by your old steward. He speaks of you and your family constantly.
It was for me what made Nigeria different from all the other countries I have worked in.
Catarina told us the tragic news, Birgitte died 7 years ago now. Still hard to believe. She had breast cancer. So so sorry to hear. We had no idea. We last saw her at Ellesmere College 26 years ago. They moved to France together and both just loved it out there. So they stayed! A great girl always full of fun. We were sad. RIP Birgitte 2008.
The Parrs from Brazil were at 4A. Harry was our reliable engineer, trained in the jungle in steamy Manaus, a guy who refused to be defeated by the failing domestic water supply and intermittent electricity from the National Electric Power Authority (No Electric Power Again!).
His first wheeze was to lower the height of the water storage tank in an attempt to gain some extra drops.. There was some respite until everybody else followed suit! The next stage involved excavating and positioning the tank below ground level ... which only resulted in deeper & deeper holes. There was a borehole at the factory so the first capital proposal we wrote on arrival in Apapa was for a water bowser to truck the water of life from the factory to parched Dakar Road. We Christened the new bowser with a few pints.
Nepa was a tougher nut to crack and stand by generators were slow to the scene ... but what a party we had when they arrived.
Around 1982 Harry went on to stamp his mark on the new Warrington Factory and on the bar at The Patten Arms. Marks we recognised when we went to Warrington in 1984.
Allan & Hilary Dow arrived at 4A when the Parrs left in 19??. Allan was a refugee from Dunlop and our reliable chauffeur in his air-conditioned Volvo and our beer drinking partner at The Apapa Club. Our Ford Taunus was left at home so the girls could get to their Bridge parties. Hilary was the gem who corralled Carole into her passion for bridge. Bridge, the narcotic which has addicted for the duration, was sown & nurtured in Dakar Road ... in between power cuts. Long after we had all left Dakar Road The Dows of Darker Road remembered lots of the fun, food and festivities which was exactly as should be.
RIP Allan Dow 2014.
The Lowrys were 'foreigners' from Marine Road & UAC but they were strong friends. John & Jean were major Mahjong players and squash & tennis stars; well fit for the Premier League. We had a weekly, never to be missed session, where we explored the mysteries of Mahjong in between Stars. Late nights were common, 'the boys' were expert at getting the kids off to school in the mornings ... we'll never forget one late dark night when a ferocious tropical storm hit Marine Road just as we started to stumble home behind the wheel of our reliable Ford Taunus. African storms were proper storms and we have a lasting vision of a bow wave breaking over the car bonnet onto the wind screen ... the engine with foot down kept going ... maybe it was rocket power that got us back to Dakar Road ... but inevitably as we reached home there was a power cut.
There was good squash at the Apapa Flour Mills and we were fit in those days in spite of the beers. At the Yacht Club John was a keen GP14 helmsman who polished his bottom during the off season as he searched for fame. We helped with the crewing and the beer afterwards. Only once did we end up in the Lagos Lagoon and we had to taxi back to the club in disgrace. We can't remember whether we had a consolation beer that day but we do remember that the wreck of a taxi which we commandeered to get back to the Yacht Club had no floor!
Friday night at The Apapa Club was a no brainer; end of the week, dusty throats and guilt free beer as the girls joined us later in time for the regular film show for the kids.
Unilever UAC in those days were remarkable opportunists and made money hand over fist during the oil boom. John kept the wheels turning at Bordpak Premier Packaging who were next door on Dockyard Road and conveniently supplied all our packaging needs ... another part of UAC supplied all our beer, with a little help from Heineken. We recalled a business opportunity for the UAC plastics factory in Ibadan which involved buying up all the competitive plastic packaging boxes for beer and using them as 'raw material' for 'higher value' plastic mouldings ... wot!
John, was an escaped Industrial Engineer from Port Sunlight, and loved his freedom in the sun and seized the opportunity for a permanent life with Unilever in Oz, where he played a blinder ... retiring as Chief Engineer at the Balmain Factory.
The hilarious and many conversations were continued by email years later as folk distributed themselves around the globe ... the adhesive properties of the convivial pint were amazing!
A sojourn at 'Aba Here' in 1974 provided an invigorating contrast to Apapa. There was 'trouble at the mill' as and my beer drinking mate Technical Director Mike Cowan recalled in 2008 when we swapped reminiscences -
'I remember you going to hold the fort at Aba in an emergency, and the murder that greeted your arrival ... quite like Colonial times and a story for your grandchildren! It was a lot of fun John, and I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated your company. Goodness knows not everything done was right, but the majority was! I think we worked for Unilever during the company's best years and were lucky for that. It used to be like a bright cruise liner when we joined but now is a gray battleship - but at least it's still afloat!'
Aba was a rural retreat where things mostly worked and folk smiled. Just recovering from the devastating civil war we managed to turn the factory into a buzz efficient activity; tidy, smart with quality products produced by an enthusiastic workforce. We loved them all, from the Nursing sister who looked after the kids, to the stewards in the director's pad and the managers, operators, drivers, engineers, storemen, office staff and chemists, all competent and willing ... a wonderful atmosphere ... the Aba Factory had a different culture and it worked.
We were not surprised to hear their stories about how this band of Unilever staff kept the factory going in the bush during the war ... not only producing soap in the wild but also checking %TFM quality in a mobile laboratory.
In 1972 the drive from Port Harcourt up to Aba was horrific. The road had been heavily bombed during the war and there were regular forced detours into the bush quagmire to avoid the craters. The popular cars at the time Peugots 404 were up to it but there were endless delays and dig outs ... and the inevitable refreshing Stars after the effort.
The family loved the life in Aba, Carole was organised with an air conditioned Volvo & full time independence to safely explore the town and teach Sally how to swim at the Aba Club pool ... we played golf on the yet to be reclaimed golf course ... and we were invited to the opening of a spanking new palm oil mill in Calabar, and honoured guests at two weddings. Dr Nhubia kept the bugs at bay and was also a part of the social scene ... he was a beer drinker and insisted beer did a superior job to antibiotics.
Needless to say the convivial pints flowed to keep up with the output. There were parties for every occasion ... we even had a Christening ceremony for the Nursing Sister's new car ... some sceptics thought it was a waste of premium Champagne ... but we were OK we stuck to Star!
Our concerned Personnel Manager Philip Obi, was a joy; competent and a gentleman, he went to great lengths to dissuade us from prospecting for the new factory via a helicopter. It seemed the last helicopter flying over Aba was shot down during the civil war! For the aerial photos of the Aba Factory we located an oil industry 'copter in Port Harcourt and enjoyed a spectacular flight up to Aba following the railway line. We picked up the local photographer in Aba and soared above the factory for a series of photos and spottings ... it was only the subsequent invoice that was troublesome ... the camera man had charged a 50% 'danger money' premium.
The kids were subjected to the odd trauma. Early one morning, their adopted pet chickens were prepared for plucking and the pot with blood curdling skill. There was no question of a vegetarian bent as the resulting stew was a magnificence of delectable spices and palm oil. However the following week there was no repetition of this culinary delight as a 3ft monitor lizard was cornered in the compound and prepared in a similar way for digestion in the stewards quarters only. The mangoes, bananas, plantains, coconuts and avocados proved very acceptable, although the stalks of unripe mangoes caused unwanted disruptions to Jonathan's lips and mouth ... of course, he tried to forego teeth scrubbing for the duration ... it didn't work, even though Fluoride tablets we part of the daily fare.
The return trip to Apapa involved a luxurious chauffeur driven safari in the air-conditioned company Range Rover. An opportunity to explore the country and the countryside, away from the Lagos go slow. The Niger Delta, and the bombed out River Niger Bridge crossing at Onitsha and on to the ancient craft skills of the Benin Bronzes of Benin City ... perhaps on this trip we acquired a taste for the local musical skills of Fela Ransome-Kuti (1938-97) and the artistic skills of Bruce Onobrakpeya (1932-). Our Onobrakpeya 'investment' proved to be lucrative! 'Uduowena' was a deep etching on metal foil and plastocast. A recollection of the images of the Ake shrine in a Benin village famous for its craftsmen. The shrine has mud sculptures which were visible as one walked through a dark grove usually held sacred for the gods. Onobrakpeyer's Foil Deep Etching technique involved a plastograph print in which aluminium foil was used to draw the engraved images. The thin foil was cut and placed on an engraved plate and then the embossed sheet removed, turned over and filled with resin to stabilise the relief. The resin filled foil was then laminated on plywood or no any other surface. Metal Foil Relief Print was a three dimensional metal foil print drawn on a plastocast plate. A fairly thick foil was cut and placed over a plate and hand pressed to transfer the shape of the picture on the plate. The foil was then removed and filled from behind. It was then laminated onto a plywood and coloured in the same way as the metal foil deep etching print process. Note that while the metal foil deep etching print was drawn from plastograph plates, the metal foil relief print was hand embossed on a plastograph plate. Carole did all the haggling for our master piece in 1983, can't remember the final 'best price' but 'Uduowena' was later worth a fortune (Euro $2,000) ... no wonder it had pride of place in our living room!
We were overwhelmed at the end of our tour in Aba to received a remarkable gift from The Lever Brothers Workers Union. Not many Factory Managers receive such accolades from the Trade Unions and unsurprisingly we still keep this treasure, polished and pristine, in a proud location in our living room. The inscription reads -
'Presented by Lever Brothers Workers Union Aba to Mr J P Birchall on the occasion of his transfer to Apapa 29.5.74'
The Aba soap factory gang received their just rewards when we proposed that a new NSD factory should be located at Aba.
Invest in success, chase profits and cut losses; grow the good bits! Aba here was a good bit.
The new Aba factory involved prodigious capital expenditure, regular commuting between Ikeja and Heathrow and endless convivial pints ... it was big bucks ... but then this was the oil boom and factories in Nigeria were being built as if on conveyor belts.
As the capital expenditure was expended there was a stream of Unilever visitors; 'we're from Head Office, we're here to help'. Most were selected as paid up members of the club who downed their convivial pints and earned their keep. Such were welcomed at the airport and we were happy to carry their bags for them ... they could see progress and helped enormously. You were never alone with Unilever overseas. But there were other charlatans who just wanted to get in on the act and were fostered upon us; a distraction occupying valuable time. They announced their intended arrival and somehow the associated telex was mysteriously lost! My seven year old daughter could criticise and tell us that parts of our factory were untidy and management should 'get a grip' ... that was not the help we needed ... why else had we removed to retirement the guy who was making things worse ... the permanent sweeper upperer?
One regular visitor was Joe Griffiths who was revered not so much for his spray drying expertise but for the contents of his suitcase. Early in 1972 therein was a cassette tape of The World's Greatest Jazz Band with 'Yank Lawson & Bob Haggart' which was magically left at Dakar Road ... from then on, for the duration, the Birchall beer parties always commenced with the invigorating strains of Love is Blue ... to set the mood for Star ... other exquisite jazz followed; I'm Prayin' Humble, It Must Be Him, Feelin' Groovy, Alfie, Wolverine Blues, What the World Needs Now Is Love, Savoy Blues, Wichita Lineman, Do You Know the Way to San Jose, The Windmills of Your Mind, South Rampart Street Parade ... my 'new' mate from Lagos, Ernst Koster (1924-2007) especially loved this music and always came back for more ... thank you Joe.
Sure the bugs were big and the stenches were ripe, there were power cuts, armed robberies, bribery & corruption and thievery & squalor everywhere ... and just outside of the Lagos Lagoon was a 'concrete city' of moribund ships all waiting in vain for a birth or a dash before their cement cargoes painfully perished ... and for the factory managers there were some more ominous problems.
We were greeted in the Apapa Factory with the news a horrendous death by drowning (or suffocating?) in the fat trap. Our training suggested that the fat trap was the first port of call for a new manager. The second priority was security. A traffic security chain was installed to calm the flow of vehicles and loot into and out of the factory. One over ambitious driver had tested the chain and the subsequent 'snap' and recoil had fatally injured a dutiful security guard. Then there was the murder in the Aba Factory which was an inauspicious start to our tour in the east. But perhaps the nadir was the anonymous telephoned threats of violence to the family which followed a particularly intense quest for improvement & change. This spurred us into redoubling our education & training efforts and the necessity for profit and efficient factories to fund future investment. Backed by the Chairman and our mentors we spent many hours on our training mission ... change & improvement had to become hum drum. The case for business had to be made ... the technology followed.
But no one said it was easy and there were exciting business opportunities for investment in the future ... a personal spur at the time came from RWA our OSC 'member' ... we recalled a confidential aside delivered over a beer at a dinner party -
'Continue to polish the Nigerian jewel, John, and stay close to MJC and DH'
Probably the only time we had heard Nigeria described as a 'jewel' ... but we knew what he meant!
Of course the girls didn't pretend to enjoy the living conditions in Nigeria in 1972 but they certainly wallowed in the social life and friendships were sealed which lasted a lifetime.
The Overseas Club welcomed the girls who were always included in and for senior job interviews it was Carole who was put through her paces, on the spot ... Alf Coathup asked others to leave the room as he gave her the once over ... it seemed functioning families were a prerequisite for effective Club membership overseas?
We worked hard and played hard and later we reminisced with MJC -
'It was a lot of fun John, and I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated your company. Goodness knows not everything done was right, but the majority was! I think we worked overseas for Unilever during the company's best years and were lucky for that. I didn't want to be Research Director. Had they asked me to be an OSC director I'd have jumped at it. We were in business not in industry'.
It was a lot of fun and 'The Overseas Circuit' was a club which earned its spurs.
RIP ... Mike Cowan April 20th 2015.
MJCs distinction between 'business' and 'industry' opened up our understanding ... the technology was the easy bit, we always knew who to ask about the technology but the real issue underneath the soap pans in Apapa was execution. Execution was both difficult and profitable in emerging markets ... and we learned the hard way ... nothing was ever achieved by intentions; everything was achieved with other folk.
The Unilever Overseas Club gang we rubbed along with it Apapa were friends ... and leaders and teachers ... particularly, we were taught by Ronnie Archer, Derek Holdsworth and Mike Cowan -
working overseas required functioning families with social nous. Families owning debt & houses in the UK and the business during the 1970s had to understand inflation to survive; 'subsidies distorted markets'
inefficient factories raised costs and lowered profits (a revenue effect) but also raised investment requirements (a capital effect); 'a double whammy'
DCF capital proposals were meticulously transparent, tax was a cost which reduced output; 'costs reduced real wage growth'
OSC in Brazil pioneered inflation accounting and learned how to stop cash heamorrhaging out of the business; 'price on replacement costs'
managers back at PS in the 1970s struggled to distinguish between profitless growth from inflation which created shortages of STP & poor quality and economic growth from innovation & efficiency; 'animal spirits distorted expectations' and 'price fixing produced gluts or queues'
businesses were forced to get to grips with an inflating measurement system ... and we did ... we learned from the Unilever Accounts Manual & Brazil and in 1974 we became members of the Institute of Economic Affairs, a research & educational trust, and we have subscribed every year ever since ... and we're still learning ... about inflation, comparative advantage, total factor productivity ... and Balance Sheets.
Perhaps the big learning experience followed Ronnie Archer's request for the company to produce a 5 year plan ... it was a lot of work but had a galvanising effect on the business ... we all had to think and question ... which of course was the whole idea of a business plan ... together with the inevitable increased intake of convivial pints as we chewed over the cud.
Of course it was messy and descriptions always sounded a bit glib & trite ... execution; focus on & invest in successful innovation, grow the good bits, chase profits and cut losses ... but happenings meant different things to different folk?
At the start of the day all we ever tried to do was to solve a few problems so we could sell more promises of excitement.
After MJC left for Coordination & DH left for Argentina, we waited patiently for our due rewards elsewhere overseas ... but there occurred an interesting interregnum and lessons to be learned. A inept 'temporary' TD and a new Chief Executive (and new expatriate deputies) had to acclimatise and relearn the lessons of the management of chaos and potential backsliding.
Continuity of successful business execution as managers too quickly passed through companies was a serious problem for Unilever Overseas. Expatriates were keen to get to the next promotion and Unilever trained indigenes commanded a high price in the local job market.
The OSC mantra was 'Unileverise the indigenes for continuity of business strategy'. The Unilever culture had to be nurtured and was the means of securing business continuity; a culture grown from the roots to the blossom. Culture was glue, it was all about social interactions between the like minded folk inside the organization ... local roots with global blossoms ... posh words but really simple ; like minded folk, cooperated and bought their rounds!
Early during our first tour we recalled a conversation with John Somerville in response to his provocative question,
'How long do you think it will take you to sort out Nigeria?'
Of course technology transfer was not a package to be handed over but rather a continuous ongoing process.
John Somerville would have been unimpressed with some of the macho expatriates who possessed a two year work permit and were on a mission to make an impact and then leave before their fragile edifice collapsed. We sensed such folk were preoccupied with complaining about the white man's grave or getting back to comfortable Europe ... they seldom had time for a convivial pint?
And as Derek Holdsworth demonstrated it was no answer to aggressively confront the impossible chaos & complexity, the solutions lay in 'by passing the blockages to let the blood flow to grow the good bits'. The raw material supply chaos was effectively by passed by chartering the Lagos Palm and the renovation of the LBN jetty. MOO of course was in town and suggested a reliable supply of soap was a splendid antidote to the politics of pending crowd trouble. Some 'blockages', like the NEPA (no electric power again?) electrical supply, couldn't be by passed easily and the Apapa Generators project required investment in an extensive supportive network.
We enjoyed this period with the new Chairman as we had already bought the T-shirt but we could see how easily backsliding could destroy progress; continuity of strategic effort was fraught as everyone had their own ideas about the battle tactics.
At this time we also fleetingly had a splendid boss, the wonderful Pancho Jiminez, a great character who taught us two vital lifetime skills -
the enjoyment of delectable Chilean wines which rivaled beer as an inspiration for convivial intercourse and
the catastrophe of government intervention in business which was always predatory and never enhancing.
Project Cybersyn was a Chilean project from 1971–1973 during the socialist Allende years aimed at constructing a 'distributed decision support system' to aid the management of the national economy. An alternative to imposing a Soviet style Gosplan system of top down command & control ... do away with bureaucracy in Chile using computers rather than markets?
The project was conceived as the solution to the economic calculation problem; in the absence of markets for values, real prices & money, how does a socialist economy perform the necessary economic calculations. The Stafford Beer proposal was to calculate in terms of natural physical units so that resource allocation, production and distribution were technical matters undertaken by engineers, technical specialists & computers ... data dependent decisions?
Pancho insisted Unilever must understand what went on in Chile during the Allende years and he wrote papers & recorded his history of the Unilever factory during the disastrous Allende period ... he was quick to add between beers ... it was not that Pinochet was good but rather that Allende was bad ... and then there was Stafford Beer.
Stafford Beer's foray into Chile was example of a massively ambitious grandiose scheme which he outlined in Brain of the Firm - the outcome reminded us of the forgotten lessons of the groundnut affair ... whatever happened to the entrepreneurs & innovations which were Unilever?
Pancho got excited as he exposed Stafford Beer as a dangerous freak and passionately regaled all and everyone who didn't 'get it' over pints of 'proper' beer -
Projects of astronomical size failed as hubris overtook nous
Big Brother systems were always destroyed by competitive internal fiefdoms and interest group infighting
Top down impositions of political beliefs and vanity projects always conflicted with bottom up satisfactions of evolved human souls
Unclear consumer preferences were ignored; the computer said no
Procurement economies of scale sacrificed small innovations as macho buyers eclipsed supplier developments
Small businessmen & entrepreneurs went on strike.
Reality was all about the diversity & the failures which secured progress, progress from one funeral after another where sunk costs were an irrelevant millstone.
Back home in Chile the Jiminez family vineyard produced their wines and Pancho himself taught us much about Chile and reiterated that Unilever had the experience & expertise to run successful businesses, the biggest problem overseas was government interference in business synergies which were both good for Unilever and good for host countries.
We remembered MJC had described him as a restless ferret, always on the go, Pancho's mantra was -
'Bottom up evolved systems automatically build in independent autonomy & immunity from treachery' ... otherwise they wouldn't survive.
Pancho echoed the David Fieldhouse conclusion.
All this at a time when LBN was majority nationalised at a P/E ratio of 1½!
The management ethos within the Overseas Club at the time had some merit ... lessons learned from the ghosts of the past -
care over the appointment of senior managers - hard work & honesty
delegation within agreed 'annual estimates' and 'five year plans' - focus on the knitting
prior agreement for all capital expenditure - thrift & long term sustainable investment
We'd learned a lot by the end of our stint in Nigeria and in the sheltered warmth of Unilever House we cornered Maurice Jones, an ex TD in Apapa, and asked him why he hadn't warned us about the chaos ... his reply,
'but John, you would never have believed me'!
In 1976 we triumphantly severed connections with Detergents Coordination, tore up our return ticket and accepted an invitation to join the 'overseas circuit' of the Overseas Committee.
In 1947 Unilever purchased The Citrona Soap Company in Blantyre owned by the father in law of the great beer drinker and character C J Van Jarsveld. In 1951 the Limbe factory was built a new. We soon learned that C J, almost single handedly, had built successful businesses in Rhodesia, Nyasaland and South Africa. His legacy was unable to stop the Mugabe circus from ruining Zimbabwe but his spirit left a good little business in Malawi and importantly for Unilever a jewel in South Africa. Our view from Malawi about post apartheid South Africa naturally credited the successful retention of the business to the great beer drinker C J Van Jarsveldt. His contribution to the Unilever, Nelson Mandela & Clem Sunter (Anglo American Corporation), 'solution' was immense ... no doubt with help from Nigel Clayton. One of the joys of working in Malawi was the close relationship with the Unilever businesses in South Africa ... we recalled RA's comment that South Africa was 'a jewel in the Unilever crown' ... which contrasted alarmingly with the chaos in East Africa Industries and the absence of quality staff ... although the 'Tusker' beer did provide much conviviality.
We arrived thirsty at Chileka Airport in 1976 and were immediately whisked off to a Peter Batchelor booze up where the business of business was done. Carlsberg Greens were discovered at all sorts of places - The Limbe Club, The Blantyre Club, The Mount Soche, Ku Chawe Inn, Zomba Plateau, Nkopola Lodge, Club Makakola, Kasungu Park, Lilongwe, Lengwe, Mulange Cedar, Shire Highlands, Thyolo Tea, Nkhata Bay & with Lake Malawi Chambo at Maldeko Fisheries ... the kids loved the picnics at the Drive-In cinema where they didn't serve beer but we took our Greens in an ice box.
Greens were transported to the Lake Cottage where they had to compete with Malawi Gin and the MGTs made with freshly cut lemons off the garden trees. It was at the Lake Cottage where we went first footing with the Brookers on January 1st 1977 ...
In December 2012 Bob & Toni Brooker reported back to us about their latest binges ... it seemed that maybe life in Holland had interrupted beer for gin!?
'Of course we still remember the fish eagles and a
host of other wonderful recollections of our time in Africa. Apart from the
Crawfords, who visited us once in our place in Spain and with whom we still
exchange Christmas cards, the only other members of the Malawi gang we
remain in contact are Robert and Rafaela McGinty. We are in fact due to meet
up with them shortly for a pub lunch. Our other ongoing African friendships
are with people from our earlier time in Zambia.
Toni and I are good and I will face my 70th next April. Toni will be 67 in January.
I retired in 2001 having spent the last 12 years of my working life in Holland. We stayed on in Holland for the first year of my retirement while I satisfied a long term ambition and had a boat built. It's a steel 'gin palace' sort of vessel, 45 feet long with a single engine and, although she is certified for coastal waters, I only use her on the Dutch inland waterways. She is my 'indulgence' and, like all boats, just a hole in the water into which you throw money. Luckily that wonderful Unilever pension enables me to do this with minimal loss of sleep! Before leaving Holland we also bought a small apartment in the old centre of The Hague so you might say we are enjoying a somewhat nomadic lifestyle moving around a triangle comprising Holland, Spain, and the UK. As you might deduce from my email address, we live in Haslemere on the Surrey/West Sussex border in a 1930's house, which we have owned for more than 30 years.
We are glad to know you and Carole are still enjoying life, although I do not know exactly how 'ancient' you are. Nevertheless, assuming God grants us a while yet, I would be delighted to exchange the odd email from time to time.
With all good wishes to you and Carole for the festive season and beyond, Bob.
RIP Bob Brooker January 4th 2016.
In the mix were Alf Coathup, Dick Stevens, David Parsons, David Crawford, Bob Brooker, Robert McGinty, Frank Sawyer ... and Peter Batchelor who hosted some awesome beer parties ...
Our Chairman, Peter ran a convivial ship, no doubt acquiring his business acumen from 'Aunty Ella'. He handled the vital relationships with government through the Admarc Holding with gentlemanly integrity, sticking to pricing strategies in the face of incomprehensible price controls ... and, once he saw that the factory operations were in safe hands, he left his Technical Director to deliver the promises!
David Crawford was our Chief who kept pristine order in the Factory and always had a fridge full of Greens next door to us on Mpingwe Hill. David and Bob shared a sailing dinghy up at the Lake Cottage and the tranquil beats and gybes were fine sport in between beers. David did the rounds of John Mac's overseas circuit; after 7 years in Malawi (1975-82), Zimbabwe (1982-6), Worksop (1987), Ashford (1988-92), Port Sunlight (1992-96), Egypt (1996), Israel (1996-2000) ... before well earned retirement in 2000 ... and at 56 seized the opportunity for a second bite at life. David & Sue were still tripping the globe when we caught up with them in 2016.
Limbe Factory projects also cashed in on conviviality in Nairobi, Kenya; Lusaka, Zambia; Johannesburg, South Africa ... and the 'overseas circuit' gave us ready access to the extension of 'the club' in The United Africa Company ... we had sunflowers to grow in Nigeria and macadamia nuts between the tea in Malawi ... and in Limbe my old jazz mate Frank Sawyer ran a factory for UAC which concocted chewing tobacco ... he ran an incredible operation making healthy narcotics and his customers loved it! Frank was good friend who told stories of UAC, jazz & music and also organised an almost constant stream of beer and entertainment ... 'John, if you're free why don't you join us for 'Sundowners' ... tonight, about 6 o'clock?'
We also remember a long week end away from the factory with Dick Stevens ... after we had cheered on the annual football match for the coveted 'Stevens Cup' ... we escaped the oils & fats and took a leisurely drive to Lake Malawi, just the two of us ... we drank Greens and ate Chambo at Nkopola Lodge and chewed the cud over Unilever Overseas ... Dick had his feet firmly on the ground, there were no flies on Dick Stevens ... we concluded we both had immensely satisfying jobs and the opportunities in the future were legion ... Unilever Overseas was the bees knees ... thank you Dick.
When Jonathan was seven we pushed him off to boarding school so he could learn some proper cricket with the big boys ... unsurprisingly it seemed Nogs & his mates also taught him about beer drinking ... we were quietly proud to say he ended up better than us at both cricket & beer drinking !
Sally's education was handled by Mr Johnson at Hillview School with help from Andrew Lloyd Weber's Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat and Suzanna McGinty ... and horse riding at Thyolo. Sally's bedroom was a library and she read it. Having little time to tidy up ... but, for the sharp eyed, why a bottle of green ?
In between beer & bridge parties we indulged in some jazz and David Crawford recalled how the dulcet, or was it mangled, tones of my soprano saxophone echoed across the valley from our garden to his palace through the trees, just up from our palace on Mpingwe Hill ...
The front garden at Mpingwe Hill boasted a great attraction; a running track, 30 times round the big circular driveway was a mile and just before our 40th birthday when we left this paradise were we well trained and managed a mile in under 8 minutes ... 6 times a week = Dr Cooper's 30 aerobic points a week!
Everybody thought we were quite mad and eroding valuable drinking time. But such was a ruse to protect the body from alcohol poisoning from convivial Greens ... whatever, we didn't care what people thought ... we'd never been fitter! And Robert McGinty had a go as well!
Our best minutes per a mile came down steadily each week - 10.53 - 9.99 - 9.95 - 9.80 - 9.80 - 9.33 - 8.9 - 8.80 - 8.58 - 8.58 - 8.56 - 8.56 - 8.24 - 8.24 - 8.24 - 8.24 - 8.24 - 8.22 - 8.22 - 8.22 - 8.16 - 8.16 - 8.16 (after 23 weeks training 7 weeks leave) - 8.26 - 8.26 - 8.14 - 8.04 - 8.04 - 7.99 - 7.90 - 7.90 - 7.90 - 7.89 - 7.89 - 7.89 - 7.89 - 7.89 - 7.89 - 7.89 - 7.89 - 7.89 - 7.86 - 7.86 -7.86 - 7.85 (52 weeks training!)
Such training became enjoyable and continued to become a fun lifestyle which complemented beer drinking admirably. We walked round London, there were lunch time walks at URL and lengths of the swimming pool every night at The Ikoyi Club and dog walking round the block every day at The Meister ... our mongrel hound forced us round that well worn 1.5 mile block every day at six o'clock dead by her forceful gaze in irresistible longing eyes ... our daily trek had become a unbreakable habit to be continued after the hounds demise ... RIP 'Penny' March 24th 1998 ...
Looking back the decade of the 1970s was a peak for the Birchalls who avoided alcoholism through aerobics, sorted out proper jobs, educated the kids, excelled at bridge, and started to make a house a home and grow a garden ... only saxophone playing had to wait until later!
... and during the 1970s the overseas businesses proved their worth and kept Unilever in grog as Europe & North America succumbed to missiles from P&G ... overseas we scaled the heights and avoided the croppers ...
We were paid well and had a weakness for indulgences; an investment in a riverside cottage for leave in the UK, a 3 litre Reliant Scimitar V-6 sports car and in 1980 a family pad in rural Mouldsworth ... the riverside cottage, No 9 Warrington Road on the River Weaver, was part of our great grandpa's Weaver Refining Company in 1900 and provided some protection from the great inflation for our Overseas Bonus; 1974 cost £3,000, 1999 sale £45,000 ... but it was the convivial pints which were everywhere and seemed to get cheaper and easily found for a host of reliable friends ... time and time again we found we could pick up conversations left unfinished years & years ago ... with deeper & deeper friends.
A London Interlude
Central London in the late 1970s was splendid place to park and the Overseas Committee pad in Unilever House had always proved to be a hub of sociability with friends. But it appeared to us that things had changed. On some other floors at HQ they knew how to spend the money that we had earned in the OSC.
Back from Malawi and on the 'B list' we went headlong into the battles of the competing fiefdoms ... David Webb had an unemployed Technical Director on his hands and a problem ... JL & EG had previously proposed a job in the OSC as an Overseas Technical Officer ... great ... but the OSC was being infiltrated by strangers on a mission ... and there was now no sign of JL and EG in the OSC Department. There were new masters on seat.
Out of the blue there was an alternative job suggested at Vinyl Products, Carshalton; an alien domain. It didn't materialise ... why were we self effacing & diffident? Was it because our old beer drinking friends were always around with alternatives? ... like Bill Fulton in Foods Coordination and Abidogun, now Chairman of UAC, who tempted us back to join Liptons in Apapa ... but the JFP personnel system refused to contemplate such a 'waste' and sent us on a course to Four Acres instead - Senior Engineering, Technical & Production Managers Course - May 29th - June 8th 1979 ... this was brilliant as we renewed friendships with old soaks ... and we caught up with Ram Charan again.
We settled into our temporary parking slot at our riverside cottage, No 9 Warrington Road, and started commuting Mondays & Fridays to Unilever House from Acton Bridge Station ... and waited ... 'personnel', the makers of peace and tranquility were faffing about and couldn't say boo to a goose and it appeared the best the OSC could do was to ask the new Chairman in Malawi, Paul St John Wilson, if john p could remain in his current position for another year. This was after the appointment of our successor, the mighty George Mungwira, had already been made. George had been well groomed by Bill Vale in Unilever Export and was already well ensconced in the job. What a mess.
The great David Bruce was a refugee from Thailand and was waiting in the OSC at the same time ... as he suggested we were in 'limboland' like so many before ... and after us ... but wot a thrash we had at John de Soyres' favourite hotel, The Waldorf ... this was before he sheepishly moved us to The Drury Lane Hotel where the parking fee was much reduced. Then there was beer in the Senior Manager's mess at St Bridget's House. Our old mate from the days of 'Miscellaneous Products Division' at Port Sunlight, W R F 'Willie' Vale came up trumps and we received a coveted invitation to join the biggest boozers in Unilever House ... what bliss ... we had really made it and at last could sort Unilever out over a pint ... with Willie, Ruth Micklem, Margaret Stephenson, John Mac, Frank Martin ... and the beer was superb.
There was further excitement with the girls when we had a moonlit thrash on the Thames aboard The Silver Barracuda with whoever was in London at the time ... the OSC were making money we deserved a celebration ... or two.
Amongst the festivities there was some farcical time spent at a desk in TIS and more farcical work in a corridor in ORAC and yet more convivial pints as the 'Overseas Club' survived reorganisation, even if the Overseas Committee didn't.
At the time the OSC was wilting under an onslaught from alien fiefdoms bent on arrogant ego trips & power grabs.
The profits from overseas success had attracted the predators from Europe ... some suggested we should abandon the risky 'overseas circuit' and opt for reintegration back into Detergents Coordination and the cuddly warmth of Head Office and partake of a share in Unilever's astronomical '12% indirects' ... the advice was to disassociate oneself from edible fats and toilet preps and 'other hapless fish washed up on the beach gasping' and start 'massaging for pleasure' the brown upstarts in DC ... and the salt was that the 'job class' back in the stultifying bureaucracy in Europe was actually lower ... and we knew at the time the perpetrator of this heresy had been 'black balled' by the true grit of our real friends. The profitable productive ties of friendships and beer were not so easily broken ... so we had another round.
In our time TIS was a technical bag carrying service for Senior Managers ... a paper processing unit which was used to provided bright young wannabes with a taste of the Head Office bureaucracy.
ORAC was new and grew out of an intimate and friendly 'Overseas Section' which gave overseas Technical Directors direct access to research scientists. Technology was sucked out of R&D to solve local problems. But unfortunately ORAC became embroiled in the overseas power grab and the eternal battles between OSC, Coordination and Unilever Research ... things got messy ... had the networking synergies been sidelined and the arrogant impositions started?
MJC always insisted that Technical Directors were business men and not bureaucrats and should be carefully selected networking executives ... and AG wrote insightfully on business driven R&D?
OSC TDs wrestled with the 'R&D problem' ... what were the overseas TDs getting for their 12% indirect charge ... snake oil? Were the successful business TDs providing useful input for the R&D programme?
We remembered discussing the issue with JL at one of our business reviews -
'somehow such a large 12% indirect charge must deliver some real value for companies in terms of quality & innovations ... it was not a tax'!
... we recalled that this conversation was rather important as it was continued in the gents loo after some beer!
Some time later our discussions & conclusions were relayed to HQ when ORAC was trying to be meaningful ... we suggested a potential 'way in' for R&D overseas must give some coherence to the diverse realities. The local TDs would welcome some direct support with Quality Assurance of the total supply chain for Unilever Global Brands overseas ... such was Ken Durham's Unilever as a multi local multi national? ... but ... the timing was all wrong and such suggestions were unwanted contributions which were contemptuously dismissed without discussion ... as the fiefdoms fought on ... so we had another pint ... and regrouped.
TIS & ORAC turned out to be unexciting parking lots ... but for the 2 year wait the question was do we 'go with the flow' or 'fight the folly' ... the only strategy from a diminutive corridor base in URL was both ... we were in the tent pissing rather than outside the tent pissing in ... a problem was perceived arrogance of DC R&D interestingly described by Geoffrey Jones -
'The RDAU was specifically charged with transferring and applying fully developed product and process technology to operating companies, then ORAC was set up to provide specialised resources for overseas markets. It was assumed that there was a ready consumer market for products based on the developed innovative technology ... and they hardly felt the need to seek views'.
It was assumed there was a business market for the innovative R&D goodies ... and the Technical Directors who smelt 'snake oil', were assassinated.
Nigel Clayton hit nails on the head -
'Detergents Coordination wanted a more centralised organisation. And when ever there was an opening somewhere they would try to get their people appointed. At times this was a subculture which bordered on arrogance'. Geoffrey Jones 2005.
Regretfully we never managed to have a pint with Nigel Clayton but our local beer drinking mate Dr Morton enjoyed friendship with this oracle.
The great David Bruce had often pointed out to us over our convivial pints that the successful history of Unilever's innovations had always relied heavily on acquisitions ... in fact acquiring innovative products and technology was one of Unilever's a long established 'core competences'. Was Unilever better at propitious acquisitions than R&D? In 1972 the McKinsey's look into URL had merely confirmed that research was a major 'investment'. An ongoing problem addressed by Ashok Ganguly's Business Driven R&D in 1999 was how best to secure value for money from R&D? A mad scramble was evident ... umpteen 'technology transfer units' desperately attempted to deliver some business goodies from R&D in return for the 12% indirect charge?
How did all this square with local autonomy, close to the customers and networking Technical Directors ... and Ken Durham's Unilever as a multi local multi national? Were the overseas executive & networking Technical Directors to become mere 'receptors' of 'specifications' or were they 'suckers' of 'know how' for their autonomous businesses ... the difference was chalk or cheese ... snake oil or innovation .... fear or excitement ... loss or profit? We had plenty of friends and support from the overseas world ... and a clear vision ... after all we had learned underneath the soap pans in Apapa and secured a 'B' listing in Limbe? And once again it was our friends from the 'overseas circuit' who guaranteed fun and a smile ... so we had another beer.
One investment area at this time, South America was a delight, we didn't speak the language and some just pretended to shout louder, but it didn't seem to matter as friendships thrived in any language and all good suckers were desperate to speak Unilever English as it was a possible solution to their problems ... networking was in English but execution was whatever ... but over a convivial pint or two language didn't matter a jot.
... and then there was Guayaquil where we became embroiled in how folk really washed their clothes & dishes ... in 1980 Guayaquil was without a Unilever presence and the arsehole of the world. Every wannabe tourist who indulged in 'traveling the world' and dared to brag about it should have Guayaquil on their bucket list ... but those who really wanted to travel and avoid the couch were better off walking to the pub!
During our interregnum we mulled things over something rotten. We never lost the plot and happily we had much more success later with technology transfer in 1986 with the 'Master Projects' where the local executive Technical Director, 'the customer', was in the Chair. For sure we looked at the alternatives outside Unilever during this interregnum but should we 'go with the flow' or 'fight the folly'? ... we did both!
Working in risky Unilever Zone 'A' tropical countries provided an opportunity for able young men to save some rainy day funds for the family and at the same time enjoy an exciting & challenging business joy ride and drink some beer. Unilever grew businesses overseas because there were rewards for risk & enterprise if governments didn't get in the way. But, of course, governments did get in the way. Perhaps through envy and greed, or maybe simple misunderstanding we were constantly plagued by the 'lock him up he's rich' brigade. Furthermore rewards for risk were also resented by those who stayed at home and put up with obsolete mature markets ... and in our case inefficient education and health services for the kids. As far as our kids were concerned Nanny State didn't know best. Nanny was both incompetent & suffocating. We had voted with our feet and joined a club of our choice.
David Bruce saw the light and his strongest claim to friendship after we had sank our convivial pints, was based on his erudite tax teachings and moral compass which we enjoyed long before we studied evolutionary economics -
'I have instructed my MP that it is every citizen’s moral duty to avoid tax to the maximum extent legally possible in order to deprive worthless & cash strapped party politicians of the where-with-all to squander our hard earned rainy day funds on bribes to voting interest groups via their own immoral grandiose ego trips. Our rainy day funds are wealth that they, the politicians, have proved incapable of creating themselves. They Sir, have a moral duty to avoid inefficient complexity and make tax simple, easy to collect & to understand and to spend such funds prudently & wisely'!
The difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion was the thickness of a prison wall which was wearing thin. We global traders working in countries for mutual benefits spent almost as much time & effort trying to understand tax systems as working on brands & technology. As we studied the unimpeachable Unilever Accounts Manual we knew that it was all nous; tax was a cost and all investment proposals calculated project DCFs after taxes.
The irrepressible case against waste & inefficiency was summarised later during our studies of evolutionary economics at The Open University -
'There was an immoral clamour for more & more tax revenues to be wasted on ego trips which was demolished by the moral imperative to spend other people's means wisely on innovation & diversity as Darwin had taught'.
A position supported by Adam Smith with his simple, easy & understandable taxes and Lord Clyde's judgement,
‘No man in this country is under the smallest obligation, moral or otherwise, so to arrange his legal relations to his business or his property as to enable the Inland Revenue to put the largest shovel into his stores. The tax payer is entitled to be astute to prevent, so far as he honestly can, the depletion of his means by the Inland Revenue’
Such was forgotten and instead there was the GAAR - 'General Anti Abuse Regulation' where 'reasonable' folk, may 'reasonably' ask what was 'reasonable'? ... but the reality was that everybody was emotionally repulsed by the immoral spending (or the immoral not spending) of tax revenues on ego trips and grandiose schemes ... squandering our rainy day funds was not on ... we remembered the conclusion of David Fieldhouse -
'The profitability of Unilever subsidiaries was determined less by efficiency than by government policy and the way it was implemented by the bureaucracy'.
Unbelievable ... did we really spend time over a convivial pint discussing taxation with the Bruce?! Maybe we did, but we certainly had some fun ... and some beer. We drank each night in the Senior Managers mess in St Bridget's House and organised a nite out on the town each week ... we enjoyed some classics; 'Alien' and 'Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat' and more ... and on Unilever expenses, we ate at The Leicester Square Steak House and many many fine restaurants ... and in an effort to neutralise the effects of the beer we walked everywhere and knew every nook and cranny of the West End and the City around Blackfriars Head Office ... we absorbed the different and diverse cultures of Soho, Drury Lane, Covent Garden, Smithfield, Billingsgate, Fleet Street... and the attractions of The Strand, Holborn, Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street, Park Lane and Piccadilly and all in between ... and we even went south of the river to encompass the delights of UAC on Blackfriars Road and Engineering Division at Brandon House ... and of course the various runs up to Euston Station for the trains to Crewe via the British Museum and The Bloomsbury Bookshop!
After two years embroiled in the battles of the fiefdoms we returned to Unilever overseas for sustenance ... a factory had run amuck and desperately needed sorting out ... such was the stuff of our pie.
1982-84 Managing Complexity
Ademola Street, Ikoyi
The Unilever Information Bulletin was used to announce all Senior Manager appointments in those days and in January 1982 the bulletin promptly announced the new challenge!
We drank with Malcolm Duns, Baron Steen von Irgens-Berg, Ron Stirzaker, Julien Fierens, Chris Weeks and Ernst Koster ... and we sorted out the factories but not the business ... by now the new 'arrogant' fiefdoms were in the middle of a scrap and they didn't drink much ...
Thomas, our wonderfully competent steward, fed us all until he absconded after our first tour ... but CM couldn't half cook.
On arrival in 1982 we were in tears over the backsliding ... sustaining improvements was always a problem. Perhaps senior management changed too frequently ... or was the Unilever culture difficult to ingrain ... Unileverisation was far more than following the accounts manual.
But alarmingly we recognised many of the best local technicals had left the club and many of these guys had been first rate ... and keen to be part of the club, 'I would walk through walls for these expatriates'!
And now the Apapa factory was a sprawling mess which involved a cast of 1,500 folk milling around looking for scraps to pinch ... coordination could not supply the handbook with the necessary instructions, they were out of their depth ...
We recalled that first up on day 1 was a head count ... on day 2 there was a blow up as Department Managers, Personnel Records and Payroll Department all came up with different figures! We didn't know how many folk were employed in our factory! We had another beer ... if we were going to help these guys it was a splendid first stage to find out how many folk were trying to improved the abysmal quality of Lux Toilet Soap ... we could, of course, do it all ourselves but the same effort was required for the whole product portfolio ... then the costs were out of line ... and the services and the distribution ... our brief was 'to get a grip' ... 'bang some heads together' ... 'it was a management problem' ... 'all the basic procedures had been detailed by the Technical Director at least two years ago' ...
Although a threat of physical violence to the family was below the belt we managed to keep the unions sweet ... and we kept the body fit ... 30 lengths in 29 minutes ... and Malcolm Duns, an old overseas sweat, was around. Malcolm had done a brilliant job building the new specialised factories; detergents at Aba and foods at Agbara and was now the Technical Director of the whole show ... a propitious move as Malcolm knew the country, the company, the people and his stuff. Despite, or maybe because of, his business effectiveness Malcolm was a target for the marauding fighters from the fiefdoms back home. We had both endured pathetic attempts at assassination ...
But we were both beer drinkers, synced instantly and got off to a flyer. We both knew what was needed at Apapa ... downsizing & simplification ... people & costs out and quality & reliability in ... easy to say but it came to pass ... with the help of hard work and a few pints.
The beer was just as good as in 1972 and there were still a limited few members of the club around who saw the opportunity ... teeming millions and big bucks in soap ... but for most in the fiefdoms Apapa was an unsavoury basket case ... it was complicated as it became a playing field for fractious fiefdoms each hoping for dominance in a zero sum world ... but sustaining productive improvements required special business skills not dictums and specifications from the centre but rather continuity and local autonomy.
Hindustan Lever became a model; a fascinating overseas business, full of character and characters ... and local autonomy. We had all read Prakash Tandon (1911-2004) and his three books; 'Punjabi Century', 'Beyond Punjab' (dedicated to Andrew Knox) & 'Return to Punjab' ... and we had been trained with Ashok Ganguly. Fun to record ... we extracted far more assistance with our overseas operations from Bombay than London ... from Bombay we enjoyed understanding, from London we received directives ... perhaps, in turn, we understood India following from our close friendship with Vijay at Uni?
The Taj Mahal pad in Bombay provided more convivial pints than we can ever hope to remember ... Bombay always had a concentration of old friends Ashok Ganguly, Sachit Raychaudhuri, Prem Chadha, Bertie Piera, Jagdish Chopra, Vinod Punshi, Prem Maker, Sunil Sahni, Vijay Grover, Gurdeep Singh, C V Narasimhan ... all paid up members of the Club.
Hindustan Lever, a great company, had been inhibited somewhat by an entrenched, socialist, political, bureaucratic, economic command & control minefield. Corruption and arbitrary & retrospective taxes, hindered progress but the size & scope of the entrepreneurial resilience & zest was all pervading and HLL's distinctive company culture continued to thrive into the new millennium ... 16,000 folk were involved. The company produced a series of CEO who rose to the Unilever Board and who were able to both champion local autonomy within the central core competences and also had the business stature to influence the socialist onslaught on corporate India. Prakash Tandon, T Thomas, and our mate Ashok Ganguly ...
The OSC and DW, an erstwhile Vice Chairman of HLL, knew how important local autonomy & indigenisation had been to the fortunes of HLL ... and LBN ... but had Unilever been 'fair' to the host countries in their selection of senior expatriate assistance? Or was the selection process itself part of the subcultures of the fiefdoms which bordered on arrogance, as Geoffrey Jones had reported?
The Bombay Factory employed some 3,500 folk with teeming complexity and challenges but we found that there was a welcoming buzz and real opportunities ... but was HLL itself big enough to be a Unilever fiefdom as some suggested?
We concurred wholeheartedly with Geoffrey Jones' conclusions about Hindustan Lever -
'Extensive government planning sought to guide and control the private sector. High levels of taxation resulted in India neither sought nor received foreign multinational investment. Unilever opted to negotiate rather than divest. A number of factors were important in Unilever's survival and growth in India; a long established presence, commitment to localisation provided a strong management cadre able to negotiate concessions'.
This was the important fruit of the indigenisation policy; local senior managers negotiated commercial concessions from errant host governments. We remembered the Sukarno years in Indonesia where the Unilever company hung on in there during the profitless commercial chaos of the Indonesian Communist Party but to be rewarded by a superb company serving 255 million folk by 2015. And while we were in Malawi Jim Louden asked us to look at the Zambian factory after Kaunda had neutered the company ... but it wasn't the factory that presented the problem but rather local government policy.
Similar perseverance, decentralisation and local autonomy were also appropriate for Lever Brothers Nigeria ... centralised business edicts from London & Rotterdam were anathema.
Time & again the economic reality overseas became clearer; if governments got out of the way, the middle classes would grow ... our customers were no longer in Europe but Overseas ... and once the Less Developed Countries had learned how to protect their market economies from the looting machines of their bureaucratic despots ... the middle class bulge would present a massive opportunity for Unilever ... and local competitors.
Hindsight revealed the historical sequence for Unilever Overseas; to the 1920s entrepreneurial trade & imperialism, 1920s to 1980s independence & socialism, from 1980s onwards liberalisation & globalisation.
As we left Ikoyi in 1984 the factory reorganisations were successfully completed & the manufacturing strategies detailed ... and we hoped that the lessons for Unilever success overseas had been learned by the local managers ... Malcolm Duns had been rewarded for his admirable execution of intent and longevity by an enviable position in Hindustan Lever. We had a glimmer of hope but it was dashed as Malcolm himself succumbed to the feuding fiefdoms before he even got off the plane to India. Frank Martin should have warned him?
Alas, back at Head Office, the fighting fiefdoms were escalating their invective. Wary, we ventured into another great West African trading company John Holt Ltd and we were propositioned for more highly paid excitement ... but we concluded that there must much better opportunities within the vast global Unilever that we loved ... it looked like we were a one company phenomena and we went with the flow ... if Unilever could not offer excitement & bread, no other company could ... we were right but the happenings were not as expected ... although we certainly discovered more of the convivial pints that made life and friends fun!
There was one infuriating postscript to our endeavours in Ikoyi. As we left and said our personal farewell to friends we were owed some £3,500 (1984 money) by The Bank of Nigeria. The funds were frozen and could only to be thawed out by the ubiquitous 'dash' which we refused to pay ... Unilever's long term strategy in Africa was sustainability and integrity, we concurred right to the end. We were tickled by a personal gift from Michael Omolayole 'only for special expatriates' ... we remembered many convivial pints with Michael who in his own way was a convivial gent.
So when we left the West Coast there was no longer an 'overseas circuit' ... but the vast expense of education for the kids was on a secure trajectory, the house & garden and Mouldsworth aspect were top drawer.
It was clear that the 'overseas circuit' had been superseded by an 'indigenisation' policy with support where necessary from secondees from the 'mainstream' fiefdoms. Furthermore, in Europe, mature markets, P&G and DOBs had turned Unilever sour and there were tempting challenges in the search for a reliable income stream.
Perhaps Europe could learn something from overseas? The overwhelming importance of folk and their culture?
please help make the story better ...
The great attraction of The Meister, Smithy Lane, Mouldsworth was that it was within crawling distance of a Greenalls haven; The Goshawk. Such proximity in no way detracted from the attraction of Carole who always loved driving to more distant hostelries ... a devotion which seemed to blossom after the drink drive laws were introduced.
In this way in 1984, with gay abandon (and a tinge of sadness?), suitcases were largely swapped for settlement in rural Mouldsworth. There was no apparent harm to the family nor mum & dad ... and by 1986 we sometimes even drank wine at home ... some said we had become domesticated and we even cultivated the land and attended to animal husbandry!
And one day we even managed to get 'Edley out of the pub and into the dining room.
Life in rural Cheshire had many attractions ... did they spring from a long fascinating history of success?
'We are allowed to be soggy with nostalgia as Tom Lehrer once intoned. I first met jpb with my bucket & broom handle, in No 1 Soapery, Port Sunlight in April 1967. At the time he was the side kick of a fine fellow called Bernard Moses and I had been dispatched by my boss Roy Davies of Glamorgan C C to rescue jpb from ignominious failure as he tried to launch of a new fabric softener. The turmoil had been generated by a sophisticated mixed active system. Unfortunately production had been aborted as one of the actives bore a strong resemblance to granite rock rather than fluffy fluff ... hence the broom handle. The ploy worked a treat and a grateful jpb immediately offered beer to reward my efforts ... we hardly knew what he had started when we discovered we both lived in Latham Avenue, Helsby. One Dick Morris also lived in Helsby and worked in URL and a car pool emerged ... this helped Mrs Birchall considerably with shopping and child rearing but a mixture of excess speed, single lane overtaking and a decrepit Jaguar took years off the life of jpb.
From 1979-82, I was in Brazil and on return started living in Helsby again on October 5th 1982 at 8 The Paddock, Helsby.
I had a beer party on October 30th 1982 and another one on January 27th 1984
which jpb attended but Carole was wrestling with the aftermaths of a back
operation. But in any case she preferred Chablis.
jpb returned from Nigeria at end 1983 and we indulged intermittently at the Goshawk. I recall a lady from Malawi joined us on one occasion probably mid 1980s.
Outings on a Thursday began in earnest in 1989 when Ken Robo moved north. On Wednesday August 2nd 1989 we had our first beer session with Ken and regular but intermittent bevvies followed. Thursday August 2nd 1990 Les Ball pitched up at The Goshawk. I got fed up with the Buckley Quiz night, we always won and the natives got restless. One night when the quiz was off in late 1990, Les joined us and he never looked back. Thursday June 27th 1991 Colin pitches with KBR at The Goshawk. Colin joined the gang later when he moved up north from leafy Esher because Ken thought he would be a lonely southerner in the northern wilderness. Colin gave the impression that he was really a southerner in disguise ... but I know he hails from Ellesmere Port, a suburb of Liverpool (where he knew Heather Chilton?). It is a bit like an E W Swanton story - if you wanted to wind up E W, it was good to say, as did J J Warr on occasions, 'I liked your piece in the Telegraph today Jim – good stuff, almost as good as your writings for the Evening Standard before the war'.
Sport was always a source of intense speculation over our pints, not only cricket but also soccer and the fortunes of blood ties and Sheffield, Liverpool & Manchester. Around this time in one of our rival watering holes, 'The Helter Skelter' in Frodsham, I uncovered a micro brew from Sheffield and a momentous beer drinking statistic - the sacred relationship between Morton's consumption and Sheffield Woeful.
We were just five regulars when at the Christmas Party on Thursday December 17th 1992 during an interlude in 'Hark the Herald Angels Swing', a clarinet and a trumpet and a soprano saxophone were offered for play. I couldn’t play the clarinet but I borrowed the machine, purchased a reed the next Saturday and did a bit of practice ... and the rest is history.
The first band rehearsal was on Good Friday April 9th 1993. From Easter 1993 the Smithy Lane Stompers have performed at The Meister Concert Hall almost every Thursday prior to refreshments at The Goshawk at 9pm.
jpb's retirement party at Hartford Hall on December 3rd 1993 was chaired by KBR, an ancient friend, as we declined the usual accolades from the hierarchy and concentrated on future fun & beer. We all vowed to look forward to new opportunities for music & convivial pints on a Thursday night at The Goshawk.
After chewing the cud with jpb at the Warrington Factory KJMG retired on Thursday September 23rd and had a party at Statham Lodge on October 8th 1993 ... things then went very quiet in Warrington ... then on Monday October 11th there were convivial pints at The Goshawk ... and more regular Monday night fun followed culminating on Monday December 6th with a ‘top office’ party at The Goshawk and back at The Meister ... which included Dave Clark.
Then on March 7th 1994 The Banjo Player first joined us for Jazz at The Mill with The Wall City Jazzmen. (We had first ventured to 'Jazz at The Mill' with CH on Monday November 29th). On March 21st 1994 The Banjo Player purchased a banjo. On March 23rd he pitched for practice; he was stymied at home as all his 'play along' Chris Barber records had mysteriously disappeared to the tip. On March 24th he played his 1st Thursday nite Gig, and bought a pint afterwards ... then we were four. We played for our own meagre fun and the gross amusement of others.
Following an Old Soaps jaunt at The Pollards, Willaston on Monday Nov 10th 1997, young Mike Dalton joined our Thursday bash with a guitar recklessly pulled off the top of his wardrobe. His efforts to lay down a steady groove pushed our Banjo Player to take up the trombone, which he affectionately called his sack-butt. He insisted this was the result of arthritis invalidating his fingering pattern for the Dm7b5 ... the 'bone was fine as someone told him if his hand joints failed he could always play the trombone with his foot. We had others who didn't last the pace; Ken Robbo suggested a bassoon but this failed to compete with the pleasures of golf ... even before he got off the tee, Mel Scott tried the accordion, Jim Trueman, SuperSax, brought an alto and kazoo, Mal 'Bongo' Davies persisted with drums until his dog ate them, Geoff Lewis was too accomplished on the bass for novices like us, Roy Miles tried us out and had fun but preferred his wind band and the Martins from next door tried to inject some musical nous into proceedings ... all great fun ... social fun'
Learning the sounds was hard hard and a method had to be concocted which worked for us so we worked at it and we worked it out ... all in our different ways ... some were indebted to Slim Read, others to Glenys, Jacqueline and Hannah ... wot a mixture.
So we woodshedded our way along a long musical journey through what seemed like endless time, somebody said it took 10,000 hours for things to become something like interesting ... or 'listenable to' as our piano player used to say ... no wonder we needed beer to fend off exhaustion!
But we were having fun ... even though some teachers of the dots were known to suggest that this jazz thing was all guesswork? Louis' 'West End Blues' guesswork ??
1984-94 Warrington Factory
Was the job that Mike Cowan fixed up for us at the flagship Warrington Factory a no brainer? It was certainly no sinecure and in our book Warrington was one of Unilever's finest factories with a premier league reputation overseas. It seemed a better bet for us at the time than the fun & frolics with Frank Martin's 'Twilight Club' in London where -
'the purpose was to meet three or four times a year for an alcoholic occasion including food - and a general bind about Unilever and its management and direction'.
Warrington was going to be fun. We said goodbye to a top job in Unilever and lost our Senior Management status but the family loved The Meister & the garden ... and The Goshawk was within crawling distance just across the field ... and luckily, at Warrington, we met some saltmen for the porridge ... we had one of the greatest gillies known to man to help us run the Packing Room ... and sup our pints ... Alf Gaskell was a giant and his bog standard enthusiasm rubbed off everywhere ... against all the odds we developed a plan and refused to be diverted by the analysis paralysis of a cast of thousands who tried to correct perceived weaknesses as an alternative to getting on with the job and building on the established strengths of the Warrington Factory ... and the strengths, the culture, of the Warrington Factory had been staggeringly successful -
new investment in process innovations flowed into the Warrington Factory ... chasing profits and cutting losses ... ruthlessly cutting losses as Persil progressed one funeral at a time ... Darwin would love it ...
Warrington culture was different, Warringtonians
were doers not pontificators,
innovators not bureaucrats ... Crosfields had always been different from the
very early days
... and on to the legendary folk like R V 'Ronnie' Owen who
made soap & recovered glycerine and wrote DLO/58 with a young trainee; Mike Cowan
... and Sidney
'Micky' Newall who blew soap powders ... giants who were still revered in 1985 by saltmen like Alf Gaskell and Stan Wright.
Warringtonians had belief in Brands, technology and investment in the future ... and they got on with it ... they hated bureaucracy ... but loved beer.
Warrington Town was drenched in the history of the industrial revolution, with a Quaker tradition of enterprise, and Warrington was the home of Persil, a jewel in the old Crosfields crown. Big brand Persil provided lifeblood to Lever Brothers in the UK ... to be nurtured and grown ... you didn't mess with Persil ... and when you experimented with itching powder that didn't work the speed of abandoning failure was impressive.
The front dust cover of A E Musson's book (Economic History, University of Manchester) on Joseph Crosfield, illustrated perceptively the evolution of soapmaking technology from early beginnings in 1815 to sophistication in 1965 ... as doers did.
In 1984 Warrington was a remarkable manufactory, focused on 180,000 tpa of innovative excellence ... Persil Automatic. The Warrington Factory was not to be turned into a wasteful European bureaucracy that some said Port Sunlight had become ... rather bankrupt Europe was to become a sleek Warrington; focused on doing Big Brands excellently.
Of course no one said it was easy and descriptions always sounded a bit glib & trite ... invest in success, chase profits and cut losses; grow the good bits ... but happenings meant different things to different folk?
We arrived at Warrington just as the focus on the culture was under threat by aliens from across the Mersey who had different experiences ... was history to repeat itself just as the OSC culture had been attacked by a profitless European culture? We saw the parallels with our Nigerian experience of the chaotic culture in Apapa and the earned lessons of how the efficiency of the Aba soap factory had been rewarded by new investment in an NSD Factory.
Factories like companies had cultures of their own and some cultures evolved and worked while others became moribund and stagnant. Culture matters ... the biggest threat to Warrington was Port Sunlight ... and a shortage of good beer.
The battles raged as interlopers from the bureaucracy were everywhere seeking rents and threatening value & morale ... and certainly the beer started to taste sour ... typically some folk gummed up the works, they didn't want to get on with the job and try things, they wanted to talk about it at a meeting ... Alf Gaskell called it 'contemplating their navels'.
After what seemed like 30 years under the soap pans in Apapa we knew all about the Iron Duke's problem in politics -
'I told them what to do but they said they wanted to discuss it'.
One of the young fresh faced newcomers was overheard -
'If running a factory is about efficiency & profit, I don't want to be part of it, we know what we're doing, we don't want disruptive doers here' ...
He left ... and eventually the European leadership role of the powders factory continued as we worked on improvements with the Manufacturing Technology Division in Unilever Research ... crucially the Technical Director himself took up the cudgels and was in the chair which effectively -
'by passed the bureaucratic blockages and let the blood flow'
... this perceptive comment was a ploy first uttered by our mate Ashok Ganguly ... after a pint ... or two!
For certain in the 1980s as the foibles of fickle folk disturbed the buzzing peace & tranquility at Warrington and the assailants faffed around with the Warrington culture ... it was the continuing investment in technological excellence ... and beer ... that kept the Warrington Factory ahead of the game.
Control of Complex Adaptive Systems had to be done proper!
No 'grandiose schemes' from 'macho managers' but building deliberately from the bottom up ... understanding adaptive control ... Vernon got it right first time, and kept it simple stoopid ... many of the other ambitious project engineers we had met had a propensity to orchestrate from the top and usually imposed chaos on the hapless bits of hardware, software and mankind at the coalface. Those at the coalface were trying their best with system complexity which was full of change and conflict ... we'd met such complex systems over the years ... three of the best were engraved on our memory ... The Groundnut Affair, The Cybersyn Project and later The NHS NPforIT (The National Health Service National Programme for Information Technology) here even the name was a fiasco ... three disasters provided grist for our mill.
Later Vernon reflected over a pint and remembered some powerful lessons from life and project management ... and we agreed beer helped separate fact from fiction?
One of the sympathetic young turks at Warrington was our Manufacturing Manager John Needham; a bright spark from Oxford, he was a 'colourful character' and far from the regular gray clones, he quickly grasped the importance of the ancient values entrenched in the Warrington Factory culture. He added much needed 'salt to the porridge' and provided enthusiastic support as we confronted the all pervading cultural disruption orchestrated by the aliens, as a swam of unhelpful helpers waded in with instant solutions to bureaucratic problems which they themselves had created. We strongly suspected that folk like Alf Gaskell, Vernon Hockley, Andy Cole, John Needham and Stan Wright could make it all happen without the sclerotic bureaucracy. But then we had learned from the ghosts from the past and the 'overseas club' -
care over the appointment of senior managers - hard work & honesty
delegation within agreed 'annual estimates' and 'five year plans' - focus on the knitting
prior agreement for all capital expenditure - thrift & long term sustainable investment
... and no restrictions on convivial pints!
JGN ended up as Group Operations Director at Synergy Flavors; he done good and excelled as 'a strong strategic thinker' ... we were not surprised.
We remembered much drinking & fun with the giant Alf Gaskell mostly orchestrated by the delectable Mary Jones, the smiling heroine of Warrington who ran the Food & Drink Department in The Blue Room; an exemplar of flawless operations at Warrington in 1985.
Keith Garnett was another character at Warrington who we enjoyed, he was a beer drinker and fun. We first knew him as a Industrial Engineer at Port Sunlight under the baleful influence of John Dickinson and Frederick Winslow Taylor. But he had accumulated considerable savvy in the plagued motor & print industries in Liverpool. He had been ensconced in the Warrington factory system for some time and knew all the key protagonists who kept the wheels turning in the factory ... and these guys were craftsmen who had nurtured by an old sponsor of ours, Tony Trevor, or 'dad' to the Waringtonians. They were rightly proud of the success Warrington Factory. They had been there seen it and bought the tee shirt. These were the indispensible folk who needed to be kept onside as the new technology roared ahead.
Keith later became famous as our Banjo Player but long before that he was one of the few who grasped the pioneering relevance of Eddie Shah who did for the National print industry what Ronnie Owen had done for Crosfields soapmaking ... 'The Banjo Player' and his print factory taught us a lot about the British Disease.
Warrington factory life in the 1980s was where more equaled less. As the cast of thousands and the analysis paralysis gripped hard reality we enjoyed some gritty understanding from stalwart Keith. Keith had adapted to and owned the Warrington culture as he wrestled with the Print Chapel and the gigantic fossil which was the Warrington print factory. A giant anachronism with archaic Chambon letterpress & ancient F&G machines which somehow still trundled out cartons, on time and with remarkable flexibility to satisfy the initiatives of the band managers but often defeated the modern high speed Acma carton fillers in the Powders Department. We never understood how he managed to keep things going on a shoestring budget. It was a miracle of ingenuity and nous, extracting gleanings from the best of the suppliers and massaging a nod from the 'Bishop' of the Shop Stewards. As new investment in powders and soapmaking thundered on, Unilever had deliberately chosen to neglect investment in 'the print' where the Father of Chapel ruled the roost. After a few pints Keith would tell the story of young David Pinchard, a wannabe on the Chambon machines. In 1984 in the middle of a negotiation strategy meeting in the Print Factory with the Head Office Personnel Manager, David interrupted the gravitas by barging through the office door and agitatedly exclaiming to the boss -
'Mr Garnett, you must stop Alf Grover, he's working'!
The meeting broke up.
It was ironic that close by in Warrington was Eddie Shah, the guy who led the way and urged the print industry out of the dead hands of the Trade Unions & the British Disease and into modern flexible computer technology and economic growth. Eddie Shah's efforts in Warrington led directly to Wapping and the demise of restrictive practices in Fleet Street and the rise of The Sun ... the largest selling 'daily' in the UK ... a raging success with a finger on the pulse of Joe Beer Drinker. It was The Sun wot won it and, contrary to popular belief, it was not page 3 ... whatever the breakthroughs in the print industry in Warrington were the start of something big. Over convivial pints over the years we chewed through this history of successful change ... we learned a lot from our Banjo Player and were astounded how few took the trouble to listen ... years later the lessons from our own music making were much the same ... too few took the trouble to listen?
Dave Key, was also a good friend and confidant at this time and we enjoyed many a convivial pint as we mulled and clarified our understanding of a cast of thousands, analysis paralysis and more equals less. Dave had his own educational ploy ... he wrote 'a case study' for presentation at the Four Acres management indoctrination courses ... there the emerging high flyers were to chew over a real live factory farce & fiasco ... we recalled many hilarious conversations as we discussed the cognitive biases of pontificating prancers ... way back in 1990 ... and we met up with Dave after retirement with Ken Robbo & Morton Peas and reconfirmed that the 'pontificating prancers' were involved in the three bureaucratic pains of the period -
a cast of thousands who got in each others way as they all tried to help
analysis paralysis to save face and justify simple experiments as they were reclassified as monumental decisions
more input equaled less output as bureaucratic kluge failed.
Such flawed decision making followed the crunching of every bit of data again & again into smaller & smaller detail to draw increasingly spurious conclusions from increasing irrelevant assumptions ... by the 9th meeting everyone was punch drunk as interpretation remained just a woven web of guesses ... in this way enterprising experiments became face saving decisions. And there was more ... once the decisions were taken they would be championed long past their sell by dates ... others would have simply dropped the ideas as unembarrassing errors in the exciting trials.
This was a common cognitive malfunction later described by the psychologists as 'effort justification' or 'confirmation bias' ... we called it 'not invented here' and it scuppered many a good idea.
No doubt thinking and economics were biological phenomena. Evolution shaped happenings just as it shaped the species. Physically, biologically and cognitively, folk were evolved hunter gatherers. But since ancient times the environment had changed dramatically as experiments persisted and folk remembered what worked. Back in hunter gatherer past, things were simpler and more stable. Folk lived in small groups, there was little technological, social nor cultural progress. Then in the last 10,000 years came cultural explosions which transformed the world ... crops, livestock, villages, cities, global trade and financial markets ... more interaction and more problems of change, complexity, conflict and scarcity ... cultural prosperity raced ahead of cognitive progress ... the result was economic progress but also systematic errors in thinking as folk were perplexed by Darwin's idea.
The Warrington cameo was insightful ... it demonstrated how evolutionary economics provided an explanatory understanding of happenings ... successful cultures tended to survive.
If the surpluses at Warrington were not built on and the wastes at Port Sunlight were not curbed, Unilever Research would not exist. It was win win not a fight of the fiefdoms as the economic necessity of chasing profits at Warrington and cutting losses at Port Sunlight slowly and painfully challenged the fiefdoms ... and as always economic necessity won in the end ... and as always it was slow to jell in the minds of the prancers who didn't drink?
Cotswold Bevvies 1984
In December 1947, the Value Analysis approach to problem solving had been developed in The General Electric Company in New York, where else? Lawrence Miles wrote the definitive book in 1961, 'Techniques of Value Analysis and Engineering'. We had learned about this historical precedent in 1971 when an Economics of Industry module at The Institution of Works Managers alerted us to various management techniques which were presented as potentially useful 'flavours of the month'.
However it became clear to us that those Unilever managers worth their salt were at it day in day out. Problem solving, just like innovation, became hum drum for the best ... and Value Analysis was to cost saving what Synectics was to innovation; a useful focus for necessity.
It was a bureaucratic tragedy if business necessities needed a contrived special focus to enable execution?
Don't get problem solving wrong ... it was impossible for smart cookies to go to work each day 'to make a profit', this was an outrageous myth, cooked up by soothsayers who spent all their time pontificating about the future. All the best managers we worked with 'solved problems' and 'managed risk'; they tackled their mountainous in-trays as best they could; prioritising a myriad of problems. There were some macho men who often boasted that they went to work 'to make a profit' but when push came to shove and you watched what they actually did, what they worked at ... it was all bog standard problem solving ... what else could it be? No one had ever been able to write the instruction sequence involved in 'making a profit' ... and if in the future some omnipotent ever managed to identify such a sequence we were certain that competitors would immediately change their numbers ...
As all Evolutionary Economists had learned, profit (or loss!) was an unknowable outcome of economic activity; a surplus of value over costs at the end of the day. Although every one always pontificated, it was very silly to lie about the future because the cookie always crumbled one way ... or the other ... depending? If you get our drift?
In 1984 Colin Hughes was a master of his brief, caressing £10 million cost savings out of the 180,000 tpa output from our Warrington Factory ... still big bucks even after the 30 year rule ... and that was without tackling most of our familiar suspects -
simple focus on the vital few
specialising on our core competences & subcontracting the rest
interdependency & supply chain efficiency
packaging & changing distribution patterns
product innovation & concentration ... or liquids?
Such key areas were mysteriously left outside of the brief which restricted analysis to the 1984 mid year review costs & tonnages?
.... but as the haemorrhage & sclerosis continued we remembered what we had learned underneath the soap pans in Apapa about the economics of industry ... and what we had learned with the ghosts from the past ... and the from the ground nut scheme ... and from successful businessmen like Ronnie Archer, Derek Holdsworth and Mike Cowan -
exciting innovation - cost saving salamis & snake oil were not alternatives to continuous successful innovation, which was the only answer to mature markets and boring commoditization ...
sticking to the knitting - focus on core specialisations was blurred as 'miscellaneous' brands hung around, making everything lethargically moribund ...
fearful execution - casts of thousands were enmeshed in risk averse & indulgent analysis paralysis which was indecisive bureaucratic kluge ...
competing fiefdoms - unfathomable responsibility & accountability of multiple management groups, staff functions & conflicting supply chain interdependencies & rivalries made cronies and men of the system ...
bureaucratic despotism - command & control strategies imposed layer upon layer of top down management hierarchies when efficiency demanded bottom up experiments ...
not invented here - 'risk off' jealousies led to desperate manufacturing & supply chain obsolescence and stagnation ...
keep it simple stupid - staggering complexity of too many brands & too many people endlessly eroded efficiency ...
Of course no one said it was easy and these seven bullet point descriptions always sounded a bit glib & trite ... as did all other mantras - execution; focus, invest in innovation, grow the good bits, chase profits and cut losses ... the trouble was happenings meant different things to different folk?
However a small team could produce results. Colin set up the scene in the Cotswold Hostelries and supplied the convivial pints to lubricate the mission at The Manor House, Moreton-in-Marsh & Dormy House, Broadway ... and late at night Colin was known to occasionally to forego the pint and turn his taste to a wee dram or two of Glenfiddich (perhaps a trick he learned when working with atoms at Dounreay) ... the Scotch, he insisted, actually improved the quality of the convivial pint ...
There was general agreement that the route to cost saving & innovation was via the convivial pint.
But the perspicacity of the assembled bureaucrats was amazing and many snippets were overheard which were well worth recording -
'We must start by getting our house in order and
abolishing all stupid things. Start at the beginning, go on to the end and
then stop. And we must write in plain English. Remember 100% of customers
don't received the average and the planner is still a very simple chap so
give me an example of an 'unknown' that we can't plan for.
But the decision wasn't a proper business decision, it was taken in the Brand Office and I know how to select marketing people, it's easy, they know how to talk.
Where is Richard this morning? Richard who?
The good thing about cartels is that they protect incompetent buyers and this is painless in the sense that you don't have to consult with the buyers. They're totally isolated and independent, just like Business Systems Department! I don't think we ever had this hassle in Lagos. We banned it. It was like doing brain surgery with a hatchet. Even the Unilever Team considered the remote possibility of cleaning during meal times.
It's just as good to catch it when it's closing as when it's opening and it's been dripping like that every 20 seconds for the last 20 years. It's knackered. In any case it's adjustable unless you want to change it.
I understand that Domestos is not a very good contraceptive ... no but the bottle is! And I suggest that not putting a hole in the neck of the bottle in a fundamental problem. Why are we worried about wadless caps when we send out capless bottles? Remember we don't have to solve this problem, we just need to create the environment in which it can be solved.
It's an exciting area but Vibrational Analysis is not the answer to a maiden's prayer. Muscular mechanisation & ocular inspection suggest we should do fast mathematical analysis of the transient parameters that are considered important.
Unless we have an understanding of the physics we cannot design a model of it, and unless we have a model and can express it in concise mathematical terms we cannot gain any understanding of how it will impinge or interact with other parameters. We must understand the underlying scientific principles and to do this we need need resources, and we must decide where our priorities lie and allocate our resources accordingly. We must quantify the proposition since if you can it, it will stand up ... er ... what was the question?
Now ask me a proper question ... when?
My mind is wandering, I can't read when I'm writing so I'm going to do F all and you can tell the boss to F off.
Where has everyone gone?
I'm going for a beer!'
Was this really a small team producing results ... or analysis paralysis by a cast of thousands?
As always, more serious understanding of customer value came during exchange chatter over a pint ... Why do we need weight control legislation at all? Why do we tax companies in the first place? Was 'performance under the conditions of the test' meaningful information? Was the whitening performance of enzymes eroded by the reuse of suds? Were fillers or concentration relevant to the resilience of 'the charged phased model' and 'cost per wash'? Was expensive energy intensive spray drying convenient for customers if liquids could deliver results and convenience? And who wanted whiter shirts that showed when shirts were coloured and became sweaty not dirty?
Looking back, our note of May 31st 1985, was along the right lines but woefully inadequate ... we pulled our punches. There were obvious deficiencies in the technical support given to our brands but we were essentially a marketing company and relied on acquisitions rather than R&D for continuous innovation. The great production technologies of the past had become obsolete skills: fitting on nigres, fat blending, hydrogenation, sulphonation, oil refining, tissue culture & more? Did they become old hat and less relevant to brand success? And were powders themselves becoming obsolete? We knew margarine had a tough time overseas where ever bread was not a staple? P&G were enormously successful in detergents in North America and then Europe with central strategies from Cincinnati. Technical innovations were pumped up into brand strengths, premium prices & economies of scale. But commoditization relentlessly undermined the business strategy which began to reek of centralised sclerosis ... did P&G's central strengths become a handicap when business growth moved to emerging markets overseas? ... in Europe a toaster was a toaster ...
... and above all what about Adam Smith's law of unintended consequences?
But to the point, while we chewed the cud, Colin's passion for the supply of convivial pints, continued well into retirement ... when we continued to learn and understand more ... about the difficulty of learning and understanding?
Technology Transfer 1986
Back at Warrington in 1986 there was a half hearted attempt to explore overseas opportunities again but re-establishing Unilever's manufacturing presence in Egypt became confused with helping out with an 'a facon' toilet soap line ... which our old mate Ron Stirzaker described as a 'piddling project'. This was not for a Senior Manager and Willie Vale agreed and the opportunity withered and died.
The writing was on the wall. In 1987 the Overseas Committee was disbanded and Regional Managements with their own resources was set up ... no more 'overseas circuit' we were time expired.
However there was work on global technology transfer projects with Unilever Research which promised interest and reward; we called them Master Projects ... an exciting attempt to move R&D from snake oil to business driven usefulness ... an old Four Acres mate of ours from 1975 wrote passionately about the necessary rigour in 1999. The Warrington Factory had to re-establish itself as a technology leader and it could only do this it escaped from the analysis paralysis of a cast of thousands and got serious about specialisation and economies of scale ... and R&D could be effective only if it was relevant to the business ... invest in success, chase profits and cut losses; grow the good bits ... easy to say ... but luckily the wag Watkin was our TD at the time and he was in the Chair & sponsored the project ... he recognised a good thing when he saw it ... and he also paid for all the convivial pints ... hic ...
We developed the model -
commitment - the boss customer, must be in the chair, leading and building social capital & resourcing
customer problems - real factory priorities which required solutions
relevant technology - docking of problem & solution, no solutions from the snake oil merchants looking for problems to solve
focus & speed - targeted results & quick progress reviews ... chase profits & cut losses
small customer led teams - complete delegated responsibility, risk & rewards
problem solving empirical methodology - observe reality, dock with the theory, experiment to validate, peer review with the boss
establish credibility - early wins, success breeds success
This was immensely satisfying ... looked like we got the basics right over a convivial pint ... commitment to problem solving without the fighting fiefdoms.
We docked beautifully with the decentralised Unilever culture -
'The Special Committee remained committed to the view that Unilever's strength was being close to customers in local markets'.
In our case the customers and local markets for innovative technology were the Technical Directors and their factories.
We knew simple 'fool proof' control of the moisture content of spray died detergent powders was a prize wanted by Factory Managers everywhere. We had asked them ... over a convivial pint ... and over a pint we got the nitty gritty rather than the party line peddled in the usual committee meetings with agendas!
URL Vlaardingen had wrestled for years trying to improve the detailed linear control algorithms but had failed miserably to model the complexity of the thermodynamics of our spray drying process. However dramatic success was achieved with an adaptive statistical control package based on the experimental manipulation of inputs and the discovery of outcomes that worked. This was serendipity emerging from Professor David Sandoz of Manchester University, an academic control engineer who applied some evolutionary satisficing principles to spray drying technology. An early 'win' for the team and business driven research which secured the Lever Europe Colibri Prize for innovation and a splendid booze up in Parkgate.
In this way the TDs wrote the research programme, after all they were paying the 12% indirect on cost ... Central Research and Product Coordination were not to be prima donnas ... we remembered Nigel Clayton had said -
'Detergents Coordination wanted a more centralised organisation. And when ever there was an opening somewhere they would try to get their people appointed. At times this was a subculture which bordered on arrogance.
The objective of the Master Projects was to by pass the centralised blockages and give Technical Directors direct access to R&D resources rather like our own experience with the old Overseas Section in URL.
Nevertheless there was work to be done as the 'not invented here' merchants were still around ... and some refused to drink with us.
We worked in Warrington, Chicago, San Paulo, Seoul, Nairobi, Casale, Haubourdin, Mannheim ... but did 'the international social club' continue to function amicably? The key, once again, was the commitment of the customer Technical Director; was he 'networking' or a 'not invented here' merchant? ... but one thing was for sure the successful Technical Directors were always 'networkers' who lubricated the technology transfer with convivial pints!
The projects starkly confirmed; the better opportunities were overseas, Europe was a mess full of fighting fiefdoms and a toaster was a toaster ... and the beer tasted much better overseas ... it always tasted a bit sour in Italy & France where the infighting was most fractious ... maybe because they were wine drinkers? But then the wine in Chile was superb ... funny that?
The customers were smiling and Watkin was buying pints, and in Research a reinvigorated Richard Dodds played a blinder which was celebrated at The Development Dinner in 1993 ... we think that was where we celebrated but all was not clear as our hosts arranged a taxi home; a mode of transport which always seemed to blur the memory. The merriment continued at a retirement party with our host and great mate Richard Dodds at The Blue Bell Inn in Chester ... it was most enjoyable revelry and we mulled it all over and confirmed that we knew how to distinguish between the 'operators' in the factories who cut the mustard and 'prancers' who just pontificated ... some said little and listened ... and some were bullshitters ... Alf Gaskell would have been pleased ... and it was fun ... and the beer and the company were superb!
In 2001 The Manufacturing Technology Department was closed ... Richard Dodds mused -
'it is a sad day, manufacturing technology is deemed not to be delivering value for money'
Manufacturing projects were taken on by HLL ... had the snake oil merchants won? Richard retired and went to teach at Liverpool University.
RIP Richard G Dodds, October 2014.
Was pride in the Warrington culture eventually restored? NSD powder production at Port Sunlight ceased in 1988 and with it the plant that we had commissioned in 1963 was scrapped. But the Warrington specialisation was in NSD powders and large packs of expensive powder were not convenient for customers ... to stay relevant in the future innovation & change had to be continuous.
Perhaps the sobering truth was that Warrington was established as the leading European factory though sticking to the knitting by nurturing a successful big brand and continuing innovative investment in manufacturing technology. But just as soap powders became obsolete, perhaps NSD powders were were now passed their sell by date as innovative brands moved into liquids ... and overseas.
At the end of the day the Warrington Factory and the Master Projects were successful, not so much because of manufacturing technology but rather because they revealed and exploited habits of human nature which worked ... in a nut shell productivity improved when friendships were lubricated by convivial pints ... it worked for powders, liquids ... or margarine ... technology was the easy bit.
In the words of an eminent Unilever sage (and JKM) R&D was like 'taking a running f--- at a rolling doughnut'! ... and sadly URL was not delivering value for money in manufacturing technology, it was all old hat. The Central Manufacturing & Engineering Group was disbanded in 2001 and the supply chain was managed by attentive sub contracting. More R&D was decentralised globally into the Business Groups and Unilever focused on its traditional strength, specialisation & scale from the acquisition of innovative brands ... but the overall coherence was still achieved as it always had been by the profligate exploitation of the convivial pint and the esprit de corps that went with it!
It was rumoured that Willie Vale's assessment of prospective business partners overseas involved his critical appraisal of the quality of their convivial pints!
Much later in 2008, as we had come to expect, MJC hit the nail on the head and summed it all up when he recalled an empty office with black coffee or more likely the club and a convivial pint -
'We would spend hours putting everything on the table and looking at it from every angle, every which way, honing and revising our plans and then we just agreed on an option and got on with it'. We were in 'business' not 'industry'.
'We never knew how to make money out of bits of 'miscellaneous products' when they shared Unilever's enormous 'indirects'. The European & North American problem was that we did not innovate fast enough in all product groups to avoid mature markets going ex growth and meanwhile overseas emerging markets were burgeoning and required serious investment, 'nothing but the best, nobody told me to compromise'.
'Unilever's growth and innovative success always tended to come from propitious acquisitions rather than Research Division, the purveyors of snake oil ... and even our track record on acquisitions was mixed'.
'There was no effective R&D to speak of. The product had become a commodity. Anyone could set up a factory and buy the know-how to formulate just as cheaply as us. Raw Materials were bought at common international market prices by everyone. We struggled for market leadership with 3 'national' competitors and myriad of local operators, selling their DOBs at rock bottom prices. What they lost to us in scale they more than gained through lower overheads.
You must have come across this type of situation in your studies; I came across it frequently at Harvard, and we never developed a realistic solution.
There were of course the snake-oil men in research who promised all sorts of miracles including using URL expertise to improve our buying decisions. But buying raw materials is like buying stocks and shares; no matter how good your intelligence, there are very few who beat the market, and they are the first to admit it's just luck. The sensible ones make their fortune and quit before they lose it'!
We concurred and retired early, optimistic in our belief that we had sussed it out and when the fractious fiefdoms stopped fighting and friendships deepened, the Unilever global social club would get the best of the world.
please help to make the story better ...
At retirement time Unilever was fast becoming a global company focused on FMCG, with a limited number of decentralised core competencies (Personal Care, Foods, Home Care, Refreshments) close to consumer markets (Asia, Latin America, North America, Europe). Misfit businesses were sold.
There was no doubt that the Detergents Coordination 'arrogance' of centralisation held some sway over the local autonomy of The Overseas Committee ... as Geoffrey Jones suggested,
'In DC P&Gs strong central control was grudgingly admired'
and no doubt that David Fieldhouse had identified the tension between central strategic control and decentralised local autonomy; but had there been any resolution? Had the 'Overseas Club' culture survived?
The Unilever culture of decentralised local autonomy was strong & persistent and grew within the context of the strategic focus on Big Brands. And for sure the centre of gravity was no longer Port Sunlight & Rotterdam, nor a rationalised frustratingly inward looking Europe but clearly Unilever had been reestablished as an outward embracing global entity ... focused on long term, integrity and doing Big Brands in emerging markets by investing in operational excellence and local autonomy ... we loved it!
In 2009 a new CEO was a 'stranger', he had a question to answer which was posed facetiously in Strategic Management: Awareness & Change, 2010 -
'So what would the company that moves at the speed of rock erosion do?'
Speed up? ... and Unilever was now 'sticking to the knitting' and speeding up with much less time wasted on the feuds of fiefdoms ... but what business were we in? What did we do better than our competitors?
It was Dick Stevens in the old Overseas Committee Department who insisted we were marketing 'promises of excitement' to middle class consumers, globally. As MJC concluded we were in 'business not industry', the technology was a bit old hat, but the product had to be of superb quality to justify the 12% indirect charge -
'Cleanliness was next to Godliness and Persil washed whiter; and it showed'
... and Charles Wilson's question was as relevant as ever? -
'Was research an overflowing well of invention or a bottomless pit of expense'?
We had summarised the business strategy overseas in the 1970 over convivial pints - every word significant ... and familiar -
profitable projects which created long term sustainable income streams for investment in goodies
close to aspiring customers discovered and trusted through decentralised local marketing opportunities
focused on centralised strategic core competences in global big brands 400 FMCG
operational excellence from technology & talented folk which chased profits and cut losses
continuous innovation from inspired brand acquisitions and business driven R&D
a social networking club which cemented
& glued in place a company culture which
recruited, developed and retained nothing but the best beer drinkers ...
such was Unilever's most important competitive advantage ... it was beer
which secured specialisations, scale and financial clout?
Every year or so the words changed as different folk had a different go but the cement remained firmly in place as the roots of the social club continued to produce the blossoms ...
At the start of the day all we ever tried to do was to solve a few problems so we could sell more promises of excitement.
Of course no one said it was easy and most of the 'strategy' descriptions sounded a bit glib & trite ... execution; focus on & invest in successful innovation, grow the good bits, chase profits and cut losses ... but happenings meant different things to different folk?
But we also knew different folk cooperated enthusiastically when mutual benefits were around. And it was when there were no synergies that things just got nasty ... and when things got nasty things were sold.
The convivial pint had been internationalised and fragmented somewhat into whatever tickled your fancy ... but we had no doubt things were still necessarily convivial? ... the Fat Lady hadn't sung on the 'Overseas Club', it went on regardless, perhaps disguised as a more formal network; a 'Global Unilever Club' bent on the geographical spread of local excitement ... but focused?
One tent with everybody inside the tent pissing out ... and those outside the tent pissing in were sold off.
The Overseas Committee was reorganised out in 1987 and Regional Management introduced ... The Special Committee followed in 1996 and at a stroke resolved the most senior of the Dutch/English fiefdoms ... some argued that it took an Irishman to get the Core Strategy right, a Frenchman to operate as a single CEO, and a stranger from Nestlé as a new CEO to pacify all the fighting fiefdoms ... but we were sure that the ghosts from the past were quietly smiling.
But don't get it wrong the brand excitement, innovations & acquisitions were still nurtured at the core; Unilever was still a multi local multi national as Ken Durham had planned ... but the markets were on the move.
In 2010 a search for megatrends for an OU project uncovered an Ernst & Young paper 'Hitting the Sweet Spot' -
'Over the next two decades, the global middle classes are expected to expand by another three billion, coming almost exclusively from the emerging world'.
All 3 billion of them were new consumers massing for Lux, Dove & Magnum?
And such products were not humdrum trivia ... after all cleanliness was next to godliness ... the middle classes were on the move ... globally.
Globalisation was a success story which was reconfirmed in 2013 and on 11th July 2013 Unilever PLC announced that,
'pursuant to the voluntary open offer to increase its stake in Hindustan Unilever Limited, based on the shares tendered, the Unilever Group increased its stake from 52.48% to 67.26%'.
On 7th May 2015 Unilever Overseas Holdings announced an offer to increase its equity stake in Unilever Nigeria PLC from 50.10% up to a maximum of 75% ...
Of course, as always, there was George Cole's caveat -
'There is only one thing that would really put the breeze up us here - the prospect of declining economic growth'.
If such growth of 'know how' declined so would Unilever ... and that was about right.
In 2016 the Unilever Website was a good read and reconfirmed the global nature of the focused social enterprise -
'Unilever's corporate vision – sustainably helping people to look good, feel good and get more out of life – clearly the business understands consumers and their lives - the spirit of this mission forms a thread that runs throughout our history. We want to speak to talented individuals with integrity who will help us deliver our ambitions across all locations and multiple disciplines'.
As as middle class population growth in North America and Europe stabilised and business growth was under pressure from tax & regulation ... a pro-business reaction Trumpeted Brexit ... Unilever led by example ... Unilever was a successful global 'club' bent on 'sustainability'. It seemed to us like a vote of confidence in the old Overseas Club from our halcyon days of the 1970s ...
... but we were biased?!
The FT in 2016 described Unilever’s culture as always intensely 'collegial' -
'collective responsibility shared by each of a group of colleagues, with minimal supervision from above. Marked by camaraderie; good will among colleagues; friendly and respectful'.
... but why no mention of the convivial pints?!
please help to make the story better ...
Wot an opportunity, retirement at 54 years old and still sober ... a chance for a second bite at life. Was that our original 'Unilever' plan when we started work in 1963?
Service in Zone 'A' countries and membership of the UNIAC Pension Fund provided the wherewithal ... at great expense to all concerned as contributions were elevated to cope with such generosity. Sure there was an abridged life expectancy as the 'white man's grave' on the West Coast of Africa depleted reserves ... the actuaries weren't daft.
But, of course, it wasn't really a plan ... it just happened ... that was the way the cookie crumbled.
Our expectations were high as we organised a two pronged attack on retirement -
back to swotting at The Open University to study economics and
spit & polish as we dusted off our virgin Selmer Mark VI Soprano Saxophone.
We were determined not to sprinkle the desert with a teaspoon, retirement was to be devoted to the mysteries of economics & the musicality of saxophones ... all pondered over convivial pints ...
Of course it didn't go to plan. There was the unknowable serendipity of grandchildren ... it all started with Josh in 2003 and then they arrived at regular intervals ... Georgia May 2005, Jake 2006 and Daniel in 2009 ... peace and tranquility were destroyed and time had to be completely refocused ... economics, jazz music and bridge had to be rescheduled as the traffic trips to Sevenoaks became regular relaxing fare for a rejuvenated Gran & Grandpa.
But wot a team, all different, all characters, all well and soon earning spurs. Their story has only just started to unfold and will, no doubt, be told ... much ... much later ...
Such dramatic change put paid to all other serious time consuming activities ... but Grandpa did manage to construct a splendid tree house and swing in our magnificent Cheshire oak tree in Mouldsworth overlooking the Sandstone Ridge ... and we also somehow or other kept most Thursday nights free as a 'mucky beer nites'!
Evolutionary Economics & Dixieland Jazz.
When we retired from Unilever in 1994 we retired from a strange bickering & still bureaucratic Lever Europe but not from the overseas beer drinking club, that had a life of its own. At our leaving party at Hartford Hall we invited a very select group of Thursday night beer drinkers to look forward not backwards. To the gross amusement of all, we vowed, to focus our second bite at life on Evolutionary Economics & Dixieland Jazz ...
Our tutors in Evolutionary Economics were at the Open University and our tutors in Dixieland Jazz were the blues horn and wisdom of Slim Read ... but, of course, it was the grandchildren themselves who were our most potent tutors!
During our second bite at life we concluded we were neither a Chemical Engineer nor an Economist but best described as a Biological Historian ... one who had enjoyed a real job as a businessman & free trader who never messed with the distortions & gravitas of religion & politics ... but stuck to optimistically to science.
It seemed to us that religion always involved myth & magic and politics always involved arrogance & failure.
It seemed to us scientists that something big was going on with the worms in our heads but it was certainly not as written in the good books. Neither the Bible nor the Koran cut the mustard as we all hung on to different versions of events but at the same time we all subscribed to Xenophanes, who we suspected had tutored Richard Dawkins -
‘The Gods did not reveal, from the beginning, all things to us, but in the course of time through seeking we may learn & know things better. But as for certain truth no man knows it, nor shall he know it, neither of the Gods nor yet of all things that I speak. For even if by chance he were to utter The Final Truth, he would himself not know it: for all is but a woven web of guesses.’
We confirmed that there was consistently nothing new in the shenanigans of folk. In 1345 Edward III ended up losing his tax revenues to Alice Peres and in 2010 David Laws lost much more than his tax revenues even before he started at the Treasury ... there was a note on his desk from his predecessor -
'I'm afraid there's no money left' ... Gordon Brown had spent everything including all our savings ... and more!
The secret was to lighten up, do a few deals, listen to the girls and play the blues ... then have a pint ... which all helped the genes to do their cost/benefit analysis in peace.
In 1994 retirement didn't get in the way of convivial pints as the 'Unilever Club' spawned new off springs.
The Old Soaps Walking Group ... 'Old Lever Development Scientists Originally At Port Sunlight' ... it was a remarkable retirement strategy, lots of convivial exercise before lots of convivial pints ...
Our social catalyst Les Ball told the inspiring story ...
Without doubt the best of the convivial bevvies were at The Goshawk on a Thursday nite as an ordinary pub was turned into a local institution by eight retired stalwarts who refused to stop learning - The Busker, The Social Catalyst, Ken Robo, Designer Hughes, The Banjo Player, The Celtic Strummer, Dr John the Governor & john p ... wot a team! Thankfully the quest for learning was the only thing we agreed on ... everyone was different, enthusiastically independent and aberrant ... and just as the girls stubbornly continued to dance backwards, we resolutely did our own things ... there was no such 'thing' as 'society' in our group ... nor anywhere else for that matter ... thank goodness ... we knew that without diversity there could be no natural selection. However the wags did point out that this independence caused some difficulties when it came to musical harmony. The fun was top drawer, but the sound was lousy!
Even though he avoided beer and drank coffee, it was our new Celtic Strummer who grasped the significant ambience of our ensemble -
'Everyone was different and answerable to no one as we played our musical instruments in our own way and did our own thing ... and the same distinctive character traits were obvious in the tavern talks afterwards as we drank our beer in the pub and indulged our prejudices'.
The challenge was to wallow in conviviality and avoid the trivia of tittle tattle. We loved it, sitting in front of rapidly depleting convivial pints swapping bets about the future. Although we didn't know it at the time, biological history was our theme as we tried to go beyond the obsequious evils of taxes, opium & slavery ... we searched for 'the bigger picture' and resisted the 'comfortable life of an echo chamber' ... it was the convivial pint guaranteed that fun and learning continued.
There were only two entry qualifications into our ensemble -
buying a round
reading 'The Selfish Gene'
Music qualifications didn't come into it as nobody could play anything.
Needless to say we failed miserably on everything as agile folk changed their names to Zebedee, changed their minds to suit and changed their harmonies to irritate ... but some did manage to learn a bit about - grandchildren, immanent theology, democratic minorities, natural law & the whim of kings, comparative advantage, business ethics, blues harmonies & noise, tyranny & oppression, time & space, science & technology, neverendums & voting with your feet, Mitochondrial Eve & Joe Sixpack ... and the laudable intentions but abject failures of umpires, referees, judges and bureaucrats ... and fickle folk.
There was much dross but also the very occasional useful insight ... which had little to do with luck and much to do with hard work ... and biological history.
Non Linear Conversations at the Goshawk.
The Goshawk on Thursday nights served many convivial pints which lubricated 30 years of discussion & debate which embroiled an initial launch pad of shared interests in sport, music, Unilever, retirement & computers ... but however hard we tried to avoid the time wasting passions of 'banned' subjects ... religion, politics & sex ... we largely failed at the first fence and had another pint.
Our conversations were a ridiculous mixture of tittle tattle, gossip and what some wag described arrogantly as 'nonlinear'. But whatever they were, they were certainly fun ... especially after the fourth pint ... and as prostates made their presence felt our talk was hilarious even after two. The chat never followed a logical sequence from a direct question ... 'cos no one ever asked a direct question. Provocations invoked responses involving whatever was in the brain at that moment. Thoughts were not random but they were path dependent as there was a flip flopping electro chemistry sparking the appearance of ideas as and when. Folk always felt they had permission to say whatever was on their minds, but no one was under the slightest obligation to listen ... this was creative thinking, no chairman, no agenda ... no sense ... just prejudices which were instantly challenged. Things emerged that were totally unexpected, forcing befuddled brains to try to figure out what on earth was going on. We never reached any conclusions ... and repeatedly returned to themes ... maybe there were important contentious issues be resolved ... but we never got round to them ... were natural selection, law and science interconnected? ... The Selfish Gene was required preparation ... we had forgotten what was in it ... but we agreed it was a good book.
There were seven fragments of conversations which recurred again & again within the chatter ... but they convinced nobody and occasionally even the cries of 'rot' ... 'it's a canard' ... it's not 'logical' ... were heard above the savouring of the pints -
1 - Natural Selection & 'Designer Hughes'
Was 'Intelligent Design' a physical impossibility? Did evolution 'just happen' as the 2nd law of thermodynamics relentlessly unfolded and structures spontaneously emerged ... and some structures managed to differentially survive?
We guessed that long necked giraffes resulted from the death of the short necked variety and the Boeing 747 was not an intelligent design hoax.
Why was it real so hard to swallow that intelligent folk did not on average have children who were more intelligent than the parents ... but rather the more intelligent of the children differentially survived and had more surviving children of their own?
The Watch Maker was blind
2 - Cooperative
Synergies & 'Comparative Advantage'
Were cooperative synergies discovered & accumulated from specialisation & trade? Intelligent men just didn't get it?
We guessed that the Danes were not better than the English at milk production (they had no absolute advantage in milk) ... but rather the Danes themselves were better at producing milk than cars (they had a comparative advantage in milk).
We guessed the Chinese built up a trade imbalance not because they they were good or bad at producing 'Barbie Dolls' but rather that they 'fixed' their exchange rate ... and stole software.
Why did Sir Francis Drake secure synergies & riches as a trader of good gotten gains rather than as a raider of ill gotten gains?
2+2 can equal 5
3 - The Nature of Value & 'Printing Money'
Who controlled the money supply when the bankers promised to pay the bearer of a £1 note? Money could not be created out of nothing?
We guessed that The Bank of England could not control the quantity of money notes in circulation ... but rather Joe SixPack simply requisitioned as many money notes as he wished from his credit balance in his personal account?
Did money have an intrinsic value or was it simply a measuring system which valued the output of exchangeable goods & services?
Hard work, honesty & thrift
4 - Just Wars & 'Cultural tit for tat'
Was the Iraq War part of the evolution of cooperation? A game of cultural tit for tat from chapter 12 of 'The Selfish Gene'?
We guessed that The Iraq War was not caused by belligerent politicians but rather it was an episode in the ancient historical process of cultural competition?
Why was Liberal Democracy not about 51% taxing 49% ... but rather about cooperation, repeated interaction and differential survival as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protected individuals and minorities provided they didn't harm anyone? Was the Section 30 caveat of the UDHR was drafted to stop Nation States treating their citizens as they wished?
Folk were free to vote with their feet and join clubs of their choice
Privatisation & 'Tax & Spend'
Why the endless cycles of tax, borrow & print? Did the bankers have a government guarantee?
We guessed that our Rainy Day Funds were not illegal, immoral, ill gotten gains available for confiscation by taxation, manipulation or financial oppression by Bishops, Princes, Generals or bureaucratic despots ... 'I say I will have all, both use and principle' ... but rather good gotten gains saved as self insurance policies for family & friends for a rainy day?
Why were Unilever profits seen as a cost canard and not a surplus for investment in projects of choice? The Unilever Accounts Manual defined tax as a cost, a cost just like a tariff which clearly reduced output & thus real wages?
Balance Sheets must balance
Technology & 'Globalisation'
Were freedom and equality alternatives or two sides of the same coin? Was everybody equal before the laws of nature & commerce?
We guessed that the Chinese were not irrelevant as some claimed but rather continually interacting agents in the middle of the whole shebang and caboodle? Rebekka Brooks was not acting immorally she was in an obsolescent hole and it was Ryan Giggs who was playing away from home?
Why was the NHS tolerated as a despotic bureaucracy (wasting 6-7% of GDP) where multiple assistants denied patient access to the technology and survival machines? Did the system survive off the fruits of American investment in R&D (18% of GDP) rather than contribute as a successful medical technology business selling excellent global technology from Moorfields and Alder Hey Hospital Trusts to insurance companies?
A Whole Shebang & Caboodle
7 - God of Moral Sentiments & 'worms in the head'
Was the resurrection a conjuring trick with bones? John Robinson & Bishop Spong thought not?
We guessed that Adam Smith's 'moral sentiments' were not a gift from God but rather complex neural circuits & networks, deep down in the skull which produced real universal emotional responses and empathies?
Something was going on, to a greater or lesser extent these feelings of 'a bad conscious' or 'an inner light' were universal? Did everybody 'feel' they knew where good manners came from?
Resentment of cheats and fairness of shares
Universal emotions loading the dice
Was all this intrigue a 'Search for the Bigger Picture' or just a 'Comfortable Life in an Echo Chamber'?
Was it really propitious to boil down 30 years of social intercourse to just seven headlines embodied in seven books - natural selection, comparative advantage, fiat money, just wars, taxation, technology & God? ... and what about the distractions of music & sex ... such was a crass over simplification ... we were desperately trying to understand but didn't even agree on whether we had problems or opportunities ... zero sum myths echoed round the table, robotically reiterated as the gaps widened, some saw opportunities and did deals others saw problems with theft as a solution ... but it turned out things like musical empathy were impossible to steal ... we had no chance ... but we had a go ... in March 2016 we tried to uncover new insights into these intractables by drinking in different pubs! Needless to say we failed to agree yet again ... but in the end we celebrated our differences ... we suspected that life, even in retirement, was something to do with diversity not consensus ... the girls had always danced backwards ... the evolutionary economists said -
'there was no such thing as a free lunch'
and others said -
'if it's free put me down for two please ... and the saxophone player will pay'
Darwin would have smiled as we re-remembered fondly & often that Adam the Smith from our old university was a moral philosopher he wrote 'The Theory of Moral Sentiments' 1759 before he wrote 'The Wealth of Nations' 1776.
In 2009 we noted Ben Bernanke's entreaties on economic policy to the assembled Senators -
'Stein's Law; if a thing cannot go on for ever it will stop'.
But was he talking about economics or beer drinking at The Goshawk? ... or both?
The main thing we agreed on was that the beer was good so we had another pint.
The second to last word on boozing at The Goshawk came from The Busker who regaled the gang with the problems caused by the ravages of alcohol on ancient decaying bodies and proffered The Brian Rossall Solution ...
But if we ever get too old for beer we will remember that the very last word came from our mate and Captain of cricket Chris Chorlton -
By 2016 beer drinking was in decline but music was due for a fillip.
Saxophones Playing the Blues?
On November 10th 2016 after 24 years of hard work and fun ... a feeling had emerged, painfully slowly ... that our music on a Thursday was a mess and we would be better off growing tomatoes?
The Smithy Lane Stompers (1992-2016) ... The Busker wrote an obituary ... but we preferred to think of a renaissance ... while there was still time!?
Third cousin David Hindley was not only an enthusiastic family historian but he was also a meticulous chronicler and organiser of our sporting past.
The beer was so good that the celebration was repeated ten years later in 2010 with a rediscovered Ian Speechley.
And in 2015 seven stalwarts again defied the inevitable ravages of time ... maybe it was a last fling? ... but the beer was still good!
The sharped eyed noticed that john p was not a member of the Paul Cup team ... we never made the Junior School at Kings ... we were still at The Grange School with the girls ... but we did play with this gang of soccer wizards throughout secondary school and donated our enthusiastic support and joined them for the beer.
Brian Stanyer was in the team, our old class mate from Barrow, one of the reprobates from the days of imbibing in Bollands and a worthy Crossbatter. He reappeared in disguise but proved to be just the same, still on the splendid trajectory we all remembered; a humanist and now an author of note.
The Boot, Kelsall
The Boot was a favourite eating house of ancient Eda. Eda didn't drink beer but she was partial to a tasty crumb and had a string of hostelries at the ready for every occasion. But The Boot was tops and when the time came to say au revoir, the family assembled dutifully, as promised and indulged magnificently.
And ever since, twice a year the Birchalls assembled, time and again for fun and beer at The Boot. Jill, John, Ricky and Kay were all older and a little wiser now ... with Rick, Brian & Mike we drank our beer a little more slowly now but wot a riot ... Carole always said there was too much noise ... but it was the beer talking not us?
In 1992 The Boot Inn were proud to announce the arrival of a new supplier Weetwoods. Brewed at Weetwood’s Cheshire brewery; Weetwood Ales Limited, The Brewery, Common Lane, Kelsall, Nr Tarporley, Cheshire CW6 0PY. We now had our very own local brewery.
With the tearful demise of Greenalls in 1991 we were flummoxed and incoherent, what then was to be done? Initially based in St Helens, Greenalls Brewery went back to 1762. They relocated to Warrington in 1787. Took over Shipstones brewery in 1978. And ceased brewing in 1991 to concentrate on running hotels.
A calamity ... we had all been weaned on Greenalls ... but Weetwoods came to our rescue as they brewed a range of award winning premium beers. Only finest quality ingredients were used including British Maris Otter barley, whole leaf hops sourced from around the world and Weetwood’s own special yeast. There was no compromise on what went into the beers nor the effort required to produce them. Weetwood beers were famous for being consistently full flavoured, balanced and drinkable!
That was the sales blurb; we concurred. Wheetwoods was also served at our own pub just off our back garden ... The Goshawk, Mouldsworth. It seemed Wheetwoods was a worthy successor to Greenalls and turned out to be one of the most reliable of suppliers of convivial pints. Jonathan regularly made the journey from South San Francisco to check on the current quality of the brew and contribute to their profits.
Although everybody enjoyed the Weetwoods the assembled recruits at The Boot were less than enthralled about our family history. There was life to be lived and places to be seen ... the past was a pain ... especially when memory faulted and the stories of g-grandfather Edward were, in any case, unbelievable! We had been ensnared into genealogy when regular visits to see ancient Eda in the Davenham Hall Nursing Home became endless trips down memory lane to Acton Bridge and 'grandma' ... as Eda's short term memory lapsed we joined her in the past and started to learn about The Weaver Refining Company ... as a Business Economist we became fascinated by the story of wealth from stinking bones in the factory by the River Weaver at Acton Bridge. Luckily all the remarkable digging into the Hindleys had already been done by our mate and third cousin David Hindley ... we had a flying start and thus started a two sided conversation with Mama in her final months ... we think she enjoyed the journey into the past ... perhaps we all do?
In 2015 there was a suggestion that
science was helping to extol the 12 benefits of beer drinking and we
1. Beer kept your water works in good nick. Good for kidneys and reduced the risk of stones.
2. Beer improved crap ratios. Beer contained soluble fibre which played an important role in digestion and intestinal transit.
3. Beer boosted blood flows. Fibre also reduced bad cholesterol.
4. Beer increased vital vitality. Beer contained B vitamins.
5. Beer for strong strength. Elevated levels of silicon in beer contributed to higher bone density.
6. Beer put you into sound sleeps. Lactoflavin and nicotinic acid from beer cured insomnia.
7. Beer helped healthy hearts. Beer drinkers have reduced risk of suffering a heart attack.
8. Beer unclogged aging arteries. The ingredients in beer helped prevent blood clots.
9. Beer maintained memorable memories. Beer drinkers were less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.
10. Beer induced reliable relaxation. Two glasses of beer a day reduced work-related stress.
11. Beer cured colds. Drinking warm beer was an excellent cold remedy.
12. Beer grew smooth & supple skin. Vitamins in beer regenerated the skin.
We were believers all along ... let’s go! But hang on ...
In 2016 The Chief Medical Officer yet had another go at alcohol. The dreaded 14 point count; one glass of wine a day ... and any alcohol was a poison so rest days were required for resuscitation.
The Daily Mail went hysterical. Yes, liver damage could be a problem but obesity and diabetes also damaged the liver. Yes, cancer was a threat but the environment and lifestyle also led to cancer ... we always drank to clean living.
And moderate drinking reduced heart disease and diabetes ... together with dementia, arthritis, obesity, prostate problems, kidney stones and common colds.
And wot about my gran's medicinal Burgundy? And wot about beer drinkers and healthier longer lives?
And, of course the quest of the Doctor was to help sick people not healthy ones. The Doctors 'saw' the way alcohol ruined health & happiness, but they never 'saw' the way convivial pints promoted health & happiness. So they would say that wouldn't they? But, of course, they didn't all say that ... did they?
The bottom line was that correlation was not cause & effect ... think about it?
But my doctor said alcohol was a poison and we believed him.
Wot confusion ... we reckoned, as empirical scientists, that the only way to proceed was to suck it and see what happened.
But don't get it wrong ... ordinary beer easily led to drunkenness, dependency, liver damage and woe. For sure excess alcohol from excess booze was associated with an unhealthy life style; indulgent sloth. But convivial beer was associated with a healthy life style; sociability and exercise.
The Temperance Movement, the Chief Medical Officer, the Daily Mail and our Doctor were all fixated with ordinary beer ... our passion was for convivial pints.
We remembered that the wholesomeness of health & happiness applied only to convivial pints ... but nobody said conviviality was easy, so watch out for typos, there are no guarantees ... but at least some great men think alike -
Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Terminator, was not the first nor the last to have his say ...
Thomas Jefferson was a brewer who knew his beer, 'If drunk with moderation, beer softens the tempter, cheers the spirit, and promotes good health'.
Benjamin Franklin waded in, 'I fear the man who doesn't drink, he remembers in the morning what the rest of us said last night'
Yeats hit the nail, 'The problem with some people is that when they are not drunk, they’re sober'
Ernest Hemingway knew all about the creeping dangers of ordinary beer, 'An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with fools'
Vox populi, 'If we read about the evils of beer drinking we should give up reading ... we remembered the good old days ... but it wasn't the days that were old it was us. What mattered was a better tomorrow' ...
We hear & we forget, we see & we remember, we read & write & we understand ... but we drink beer with friends ... and that is spiffing ... not many people know that?
please help to make the story better ...
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