Old Soaps & Social Catalysts
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 ... but it is only a story, just for a bit of fun ... written, before it was all forgotten ...
On the 28th of April 1994, seven survivors from the great culls of 1994 chose to have a retirement bash together @ The Bridge Inn, Port Sunlight - Dave Bain, Dick Davies, Don Easton, Bernie Harrison, Roy Palmer, Jim Pratt & Dennis Probert.
The attendees were almost exclusively members of the Lever Development fiefdom, although my mate Bernie Harrison broke ranks and invited at least one interloper from the Warrington Factory!
As celebrations concluded the fond farewells did not involve the conventional dross of 'have a good retirement' ... but rather 'see you here at the reunion next month'!
In 2015 Roy Palmer, quite remarkably, settled a debate about the date of origin of 'The Old Soaps' by producing a carefully preserved invitation to his retirement shindig. This find inspired john p to rummage through the waste bins of Mouldsworth to uncover his own prized invitation from Bernie ... mouldy but still fit after all those years. Although the year date was tantalisingly missing brilliant research by Les Ball revealed that 1994 was the year the 28th of April fell on a Thursday.
Mike Shaw was askance at this news,
'so, it's looking as though I wasn't a founder member after all. I always thought I was. Put me down as an upstart rather than an aborigine'!
Roy also pointed out the name 'Old Soaps' was an acronym for 'Old Lever Development Scientists Originally At Port Sunlight', coined by Dennis Probert during a moment of amazing creativity. This was followed up as we announced ourselves to the world with a logo designed and first used in 1995 when Jim Pratt was on secretarial duties. Roy also pointed out that some folk called us the Old Soapers (or worse) ... which was not strictly correct ... even patronising ... and confusing as some of us could never be described as scientists and many were of doubtful origin!
Bernie Harrison eventually retired in July 1994, obviously gruntled and looking forward to a few convivial pints ... but when did reunions at The Bridge start? Jim Pratt was unsure,
'I was surprised at how long it took for the walks etc to get going. My recollection was they started almost straight away, but ... my memory is not up to all this malarkey' ...
In john p's dairy on Tuesday October 24th 1995 there was the record of attendance at a reunion at The Bridge Inn to check on retirement health ... was this the first reunion? ... it was certainly productive as a Christmas lunch was proposed. The following day Dennis Probert had organised it all; a note confirmed a Christmas Lunch at The Boathouse Parkgate, on Tuesday December 12th 1995 ... from then on Tuesday became the traditional meet day.
At the festive lunch there was some agreement that walking & sweating would be a splendid alternative to disappearing into the retirement mists of inactivity & boredom and a much superior social activity to idling in a pub drinking beer ... and the Doc said that hopefully such endeavour would prolong active life. After all boozing in a pub presented the twin problems of slothful degeneration and the associated boredom of ending up sitting next to the village idiot when the interesting action was on the far table.
Some of the early admin evidence had been inadvertently preserved in john p's rubbish bin ... and these ancient documents have been retrieved and tell a story of enterprising experiments and the enduring powers of friendships and convivial pints ... this early history was revealed on real steam driven paper communications ... the later digital emails were a little more fugitive and all disappeared into the electronic clouds together with the busted HDDs.
Les & Mike joined the fray after they retired in December 1995. Jim Pratt was our early secretary and confirmed plans in a note to all the reprobates on January 29th 1996 ... a meet on Tuesday February 13th at the traditional Watering Hole, The Bridge Inn, produced an unlikely consensus ... regular walking was to begin ... although Mike Shaw pleaded for moderation and flat walks with no styles to aid digestion.
The first walk was on Monday April 15th 1996, organised by Don Easton from his home in Ness ... Mondays was a preferred day amongst busy schedules. Roy Palmer stepped in for a walk on Monday June 24th ... and yet another walk from Don on September 9th ... complete with Bernie's dog ... after such shenanigans 'secretary Pratt' suggested retreating back to The Bridge Inn for Monday November 4th to agree another Chrimbo bash at The Boathouse organised again by Dennis on Monday December 16th ... a 'tradition' of walking, banquets and convivial pints had been established.
Dennis was delighted to recall more origins -
'the inspirational naming of our a group was a logical thing to do, and I had experienced a similar group in California. They had the simple but ingenious title of 'SIR' - 'Sons In Retirement'. This was regarded as elegant but missing our specific tie to location and loyalties'.
Dennis also toyed with the idea of a constitution and membership qualifications but economics trumped bureaucracy and it was agreed that anybody who bought his round was welcome.
Expert hikers Don Easton and Roy Palmer led several of the early walks but others soon followed suit ... and walking was often substituted by visits to locations of special and enduring interest ... especially in inclement January ... our passions were stimulated by a visit to the sewage works at Sandon Dock ... but we also tried the chemists heaven at The Catalyst Museum and The Anglican Cathedral for the pious ... Jodrell Bank, British Aerospace, The Daresbury Lab, The Albert Dock ...
Mike Shaw was proud to be a founder member and an agitated campaigner for '2 miles on the flat' as the target training schedule before our exhausting banquets -
'The first walks were regular forays round The Wirral Way led by Don Easton. In the early days we also used to visit places of interest. Mel Scott organised a trip round the Liverpool Anglican cathedral. Mike organised trips to the Catalyst museum and a tour of the Sandon Dock sewage treatment works (this was a major contribution to education, a fine display of the effects of the 2nd law of thermodynamics as we learned what low density organic sludge really was!). We had a blue badge guide around the Albert Dock ... and many others. Sadly, those visits seem to have died out. But no doubt the youngsters will resuscitate them. The outings have been (and still are) a great way to keep in touch with friends and long may it flourish. And grateful thanks to Les Ball for all his great enthusiasm keeping it all together.'
Les remembered the original day for our walks were on the 1st Monday of the month but this was soon changed to the 2nd Monday of the month as this accounting trick avoided the clash with most Bank Holidays.
In 1997 Geoff Bevan, at great expense to Unilever, recruited Mavis to provide a homely secretarial services and as she plied her trade with paper communications via snail mail? This kept everybody up to speed but eventually even Unilever retirees acquired new fangled emails and paper lapsed ... and with it our records. The last paper record so far retrieved was from Mel's pilgrimage to The Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool in November 1999. Geoff was still on paper and Les volunteered to organise the Christmas lunch at The Old King's Head.
Bernie Harrison and john p started a 'kitty' in a desperate attempt to speed up the supply chain as sustenance was wanted quickly when 30 thirsty hikers with voracious appetites for beer descended en mass on the luckless barmaids at 12.30 sharp. Bernie ingeniously delegated the onerous task of collecting dues to john p who wasn't quick enough to think of an excuse. But he eventually managed to find admiral support from John Davies, Korkut Yurigir and John Rees ... and John Morton generously donated a posh leather wallet of Brazilian origin to house the funds and protect them from embezzlement.
Les and john p led a series of 'fall back options' which involved walks around Delamere Forest to fill in whenever there were gaps in the now regular monthly programme. This ploy caused some consternation; it seemed that at The Carriers Inn the beer was bad, the food expensive and there were too many trees in the forest. Dave Reed entered the breech and compiled an impressive list of audited walks which were available if ever there were any gaps in future ... these walks had already been approved by the Old Farts, a Premier League of fitness fanatics and beer aficionados.
John Morton recalls that he and Mike Rothwell represented ORAC at the 'Retirement Celebration' in 1994 and of course both had worked for a substantial time in Development and 'qualified' on that account. Mike began walking fairly soon after we started but John waited until his retirement in 1999. Mike was quick off the mark and penciled in a walk round the Alderley Edge rock mines which were his passion. Sadly we never made that walk. Mike was probably the first of the Old Soaps to leave us.
RIP Mike Rothwell May 20th 1999.
By 2000 modern email technology had taken over the organisation and The Old Soaps but the activities remained old hat ... invigorating, varied and fantastic ... Feb 7th 2000 The Bridge Inn; March 9th Bosley Cloud; April 10th Hilbre Island; May 8th Frodsham Marshes; June 12th Albert Dock; August 21st Turley Garth; Sept 18th Jacobs Ladder & The White Lion; Oct 16th Willaston; Nov 13 British Aerospace at Broughton and Dec 18th Chrimbo fare at The Old King's Head.
Sadly we lost Bernie in 2004 and Geoff Beavan in August 2013 but Les stepped up with renewed enthusiasm and displayed his renowned catalytic proclivities as the Old Soaps thrived.
Christmas lunches were inaugurated in 1995; initially at The Boathouse, Parkgate (1995&6), then The Ship, Parkgate (1997), then Les organised The Stamford Bridge (1998), then The Old King's Head in Lower Bridge Street, Chester for a couple of years ... and thence to The Crown Plaza, Chester, which was convenient for public transport and longevity of driving licenses.
At the Christmas feast, Derek Robb, the erstwhile leader of most of the pack, regularly entertained us with hilarious anecdotes from the past. But this tradition subsided as some suggested speeches were eroding drinking time and the youngsters were all focused on the future not the past ... the trouble was that most of us old sweats had spent most of our time in the past and found it thoroughly invigorating & fun.
In 2010, when Les went AWOL for a year, a work shy john p proposed a 'self organising Baton' to lighten the load of administration ... this was immediately enthusiastically sponsored by stalwart Ron Morris ... and the regular reoccurrence of the names of Ron Morris and John Reilly on the programme made some of us blush. A peak of enthusiasm was reached when john p discovered 'The Baton' was booked up for 2 years in advance ... unsurprisingly some busy folk became reluctant to sign up that far ahead, as perhaps, the fear of the unknown dulled their motivation. Later the Baton programme was kept up to date with superb panache and a smile by biker Brian Topping ... the youngsters were now propelling the enterprise.
In 2000 John Parsons was appointed official photographer and preserved indisputable evidence of activities ... all available for embarrassing retrieval at 'oldesoapsphotos' shutterfly.com.
By 2016 some 77 reprobates made the group circulation list ... and as some fell off, some youngsters clamoured for more. 50 to 60 regularly did the Christmas thrash which dropped to 20 to 30 for the exhausting walks.
At the Christmas Dinner in 2015 Les recalled the remarkable initiative all those years ago and noted the subsequent efforts of all involved ever since. The Old Soaps had thrived and once a month for more than 20 years a fantastic group of friends had shared social intercourse, exercise and downed innumerable delicious convivial pints.
One or two fell by the wayside. Some inevitably floundered. Some moved house. Some had jobs. Some had perpetual holidays. Some had other priorities. Ralph Young had a problem with his satnav and regularly contrived to arrive 5 minutes late after the party had left and some even got lost while in deep conversation at the back ... and founder member Jim Pratt was remiss -
'I guess I am a voice from the past. I have been very remiss in not contacting you all, but I am still around. I have enjoyed reading the Old Soaps emails and have had several intentions of joining one of the walks. We all know to where good intentions lead. I am still in the land of the living; had a few medical hiccups on the way but hanging in and enjoying living in Bishops Castle, if you know where that is, two breweries, six pubs & 1,800 people. My recollections of the startup of Old Soaps ... it started with five of us being told we were retiring early. This increased to seven before the retirement date. Dennis, I feel sure, proposed the name 'Old Soaps'. We were planned to retire on 31st March 1994, but we realised it was worth extra tax benefit if it could be delayed till April 5, the next tax year. On discussion with management, retirement was then postponed till April 30th. However by then we wanted an extra week not month! We retired on April 30th as agreed, in the middle of the 'Rotting Knickers' episode. The party was 28th April, on 29th, we were still working and we went to London for the annual booze up. A lot of Development members were called in to work extra time then to try and solve the knicker problem, so we began to see the benefits of retirement. At the final day retirement party, someone had found an old rule that the Company would fund a party and transport us to and from work on the final day. So we took advantage of it. We pooled our resources and arranged the party at the Bridge. We were told there was a fixed budget, but we agreed to pay any extra, so the whole Department had a free lunch plus free drinks. We must have gone over budget but never received a bill (at least I didn't!). It was the last time I rode home in a Lever Brothers taxi, by then I was in no fit state to drive. I remember the Jodrell Bank visit for the way the young lady who was telling us about the organisation, disappeared after a few high powered technology questions from us and reappeared with a more senior member of staff! I was never really secretary - just got landed with it and grateful when Mavis, Geoff and Les took the job over. Cheers from the hills of Shropshire'.
End of an era ... at the Christmas lunch 2016 Les confirmed that the Old Soaps were to be reborn as he handed over the fun of coordination and motivation to the youngsters ... young Turks like Brian Topping & Korkut Yuregir. And before we attacked the sausages and stuffing the original original Dennis Probert offered a few appropriate hors d'oeuvres -
A Few Words of Appreciation.
No, to avoid any confusion this is not the entertainment, nor the Grace. Brian suggested that I keep you from your lunch with a word or two in appreciation of Les, the good Dr LFB.
* John Birchall and I have consulted the archives to determine how long Les has willingly taken charge of Christmas events. We find the first was in 1998, and the subsequent 18 years!! In addition, since the Millenium, the record suggests he took the pivotal role in maintaining the register/general messaging. This is commitment which surely exceeds expectations.
* Les is, of course, a Sheffield boy. A number of other smart things have emerged from Sheffield e.g. cutlery and Jessica Ennis, and then as Les and John will tell you, there is The Wednesday, (whose motto hints at Wisdom and Judgement, which brings me neatly to the Les we know).
*He has both of these characteristics, a deft touch and an open, easy style. We worked closely Les and he was always an enthusiast, a man for detail and commitment, from which this group have benefited enormously. I am not sure he realised quite what he was buying in to. Keeping the Plaza billing at £28 for so long, indicates sound Yorkshire bargaining. I think you know what I mean?
Other observers have remarked -
You can always tell a Yorkshireman. But you can’t tell him much!
However, I know Les to be the very soul of tact!
*I began to think that 'Older Soaps' would have been more appropriate title as we look to a new era and an equally dedicated successor for Les.
At which point I conclude, simply offering Les our sincere thanks for all his enthusiastic efforts on our behalf, and offer him something warming he can carry to the Hillsborough terraces.
(Deviation; I mention Derek Dooley/1950-51/47goals ... I was 'nobbut a lad' of 11 ... 65 years ago! Gates have halved since then!)
Bottom line something special happened in 1994; 22 years of convivial pints ... to be continued as folk still appear and enthusiastically crawl out of the woodwork and buy their rounds for their friends ...
Please help to correct the errors and add to our history ... only fun, facts & fiction please ...
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