Autobiography of Beer Drinking & Life in a Suitcase
NB !! ... we only keep these notes on our interweb so we don't lose them ... they are just a few bits of prosaic prose for fun ... so ... just remember any resemblance to relevance may be coincidental!
Opening Gambit! Wot Ales Us?
I need new words, the leaping kind
which ought to make a difference
and bring transition from old to new,
making what is unclear clear,
what is compromised impeccable,
what is half felt whole hearted
and what is shameful peaceful,
so those who hope and trust
are not disappointed or disgraced.
Our long time school friend Jim Dening, poet, 2003.
These notes started (we don't suppose they will ever be finished!) as a rough draft of some of our very own gleanings & reflections assembled intermittently, and often embarrassingly, after we had reached our biblical ration. Such musings contained many misinterpretations, inaccuracies, errors & omissions ... it was the omissions that worried us most as they were regrettable discourtesies to friends ... or were they ... accomplices, advisers, aides, allies, buddies, chums, coaches, cohorts, colleagues, companions, confidants, counselors, cronies, guides, mentors, pals, partners, sidekicks, teachers, tutors ... wot ever they were all trusted helpers who smiled.
This was no grand odyssey and we knew the words didn't make much sense ... they certainly wouldn't have been understood when we were your age but we wrote them down so we didn't have to waste time rethinking them ... and time was short now we were 70 and more. Of course most memories had already been forgotten ... if you follow our drift ... other bits were triumphantly revealed once again when other mindful folk helpfully prodded the dusty depths ... but at the end of the day it was only a story, just for a bit of fun. We were dyslectic and separating fact from fiction always took far too long to figure out ... some said our memories were hallucinations ... just worms in the head ... and yes ... they were probably right. The more we delved the more certain we were that memory was a myth ... and as for facts ... 'Gordon Bennett!' ... who on earth knew? Don't even think about it!
But there was a funny thing ... when joints started to creak and minds misted over, we noticed that as the old urges waned, new ones emerged ... the urge to tell tales lest we forgot. But almost inevitably it was too late ... happenings had moved on and day by day there were fewer & fewer folk around to ask about our very own particular 'know how' ... no matter perhaps some things, like beer drinking, were best forgotten? ... but somehow we felt compelled to tell a yarn or two for our great grandchildren's children ... just in case they ever ask, 'who was Great Great Grandpa?'
They now had a clue ... Great Great Grandpa was a beer drinker!
A fella who held that the view of life through the bottom of a beer glass was not distorted by disappointments.
However nostalgia ain't what it used to be. We were young once, but we weren't very good at it, we seemed to forget how to read & write and often went backwards rather than forwards and only remembered fragments of irrelevances about the early times like Farex (& Farley's Rusks & Treacle on Toast), Orange Gas Masks (& Air Raid Sirens & GIs), Camphorated Oil (& Vicks Vapo Rub & TCP), Ministry of Food concentrated Orange Juice (& Cod Liver Oil & condensed milk), Ration Books (& Mrs Pownall's Pear Drops & Keegans on Castle), Biro Minors (& pencil boxes & school caps), New Looks (& perms & Nylons with seams), Dick Barton (& Snowy & Jock), Rudge Bikes (& Black Flash & Red Flash), Biggles (& Algy & Ginger), Trafficators (& starting handles & runnung boards), Spangles (& spearmint chews & aniseed balls) & R C Robertson-Glasgow (& Raymond Glendenning & Rex Alston) ... and, of course, lots of play things like Playfair Cricket Annuals (& Harrow bats & Chingford balls) ... with everything, but everything orchestrated by Ancient Eda (1907-2011) who ensured all the family enjoyed the ordinariness of wanting for nothing ... but it was from George Birchall (1907-85) that we learned special things about -
productivity agreements in the manuufactory (all about 'co-operative synergies of specialisation & scale') ...
cricket at the club (which 'opened doors')
beer at the pub (another name for 'fun' & 'friends') ... and
even some culinary delights like overnight porridge with added salt, golden syrup & cream off the milk top, Bramleys apple pie, soggy cheese & tomato sarnies and suet apple dumplings dripping with coagulating fatty sweetness (an extravagance which powered our ball games & gave Eda a rest and time to do the possing & mangling).
Sure we remembered umpteen happenings and most were fun but we always yearned for something better for our own kids. We knew that nobody lived in the past ... a place full of strange occurrences ... our mum used to darn socks ... love in every stitch ... and our first house didn't even have a telephone, never mind a telly ... and iPads were not even a dream ... how did that happen?
We knew the past was of no interest to grandchildren, they were tuning their brains during an unstoppable mission of their very own ... an exciting trajectory into the future ... but this trajectory was all about 'rocket science' ... not some lucky genetic predeterinism but rather a constantly updated journey through a garden of forking paths as 'know how' accumulated through learning ... just like the rockets ... 'know how' inspired brains and adjusted the motors & maps ...
... and, of course, grandkids never, even 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, playing cricket & saxophones, drinking beer with friends and trying to put a crumb on the table for the family who always surprised us with their voracious appetites for cash.
Just like parental entreties, the ominous threats of -
'blood on the moon'
... never worked with grandchildren ... but telling stories was fun.
Concocting yarns 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 real interest.
It didn't take a genius to realise that fables had always been cultural necessities to help -
'tuning the brains of the youngsters'
... and everyone else for that matter ... it was as if brains thought stories because stories captured imaginations and stories were remembered ... stories had staying power ... listen, laugh & learn.
We reckoned Charlie Darwin told the greatest story of all, we were impressed big time, and so were many others, even some of the Bishops agreed it was best to search for nuggets of gold beneath our feet rather than above our head.
And there was more ... we soon discovered that re-telling yarns was positively therapeutic for us wrinklies ... a sort of cathartic outpouring, emotional rants which emptied the mind of the stuff which was instantly available but only possibly worth remembering ... but who was to judge?
As emotions flip flopped between fear & excitement it seemed we 'thought through' narratives as we tried to make some sense of the complexity, change, conflict & scarcity which were all over the place ... and undeniable ... it seemed to us that stories were good survival aides? But thinking through was terrible hard for plodding scribes and the recursive minds of us mortals had great difficulty cottoning on to more than a few iterations ... ask Carole with an 'e' -
'she knows for one that I know myself that she knows that I know that she knows that this is true'
In this way getting inside the minds of other folk was persistently mesmerising ... getting to know folk was real confusing ... but we had a go and lo & behold, we eventually discovered that the power of empathy was both frightening & exciting but always rewarding ... work that one out? Empathy was something special.
One of our very own and most exciting story was about Great Grandfather Edward. Edward Hindley's escapades touched all the dramatic economic happenings in Cheshire which led to, and were consequences of, the great Industrial Revolution. His story was all about discovering & accumulating business nous and the synergies of specialisation & scale ... mass production in factories. Such nous was something special which intrigued many folk and particularly puzzled evolutionary economists.
We told bits of the story to Josh who immediately claimed Edward as his Great Great Great Grandfather, but Daniel wasn't convinced and asked for proof? But the past was not easy to uncover and we had to search into the ever deepening depths of 'Google' and even new fangled 'DNA analysis' ... but we couldn't find a search string which revealed the secret of Edward's empathy & nous. However we knew, for sure, Edward was smart and earned a shilling or two for his kids ... because we were still spending it! We discovered his special 'know how' involved the refining of rotting Cheshire Cows ... he transmogrified bits & pieces of dead cow into useful things and built, from scratch and with his mates, The Weaver Refining Company at Acton Bridge. Edward's dad was a shoemaker, no run of the mill tradesman but rather a brilliant Cordwainer ... but ordinary ... and Edward's ordinariness told us of amazing possibilities ... nothing, but nothing, from the dead cow was ever wasted ... except the eyelashes ... what to do with the eyelashes? And then there were other creatures ... 'Smokey' & 'Streaky' were wholesome hogs, who not only brought home the bacon & black puddings but also, with Edward's help thru hard work, honesty & thrift, they managed to find value in almost everything they made and grew ... everything except their squeals was useful?
If you find the time to read, remember the ancients nailed the value of stories, which were always all the better for being written down -
'We hear and always forget, we see and sometimes remember but we read & write and hope to 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' ... today we know about the explanatory pervasiveness of Darwin's natural selection ... and we guessed that that idea had staying power ... the process which constructed everything we see, and many things we can't see, including little brains ... and learning ... and there was more ... little brains got bigger and turned out to be extravagantly creative ... it was all a very simple process of copy/vary/select which involved trials & the elimination of errors. In this way more & more 'know how' was discovered & accumulated ... 'know how'? ... but where to look?
It was Georgia May our one & only ... but guaranteed the best ... who wondered why?
Georgia May reveled in obtuse questions and conundrums ... very early on, she quizzed a gobsmacked Grandpa -
'where does the flame of the candle go,
when you blow it out, I want to know'?
Georgia May was on the right track. Darwin himself had claimed -
'I got there by wondering why?'
Curiosity uncovered 'know how', and 'know how' was the treasure which seemed to underpin everything that was useful ... and this was proved regularly by some of our mates who 'knew how' to turn ordinary beer into convivial pints? 'Hecky Nora', how on earth did they do that? It seemed 'instructions' for the production of convivial pints was an oxymoron ... we were toying with a big challenge here ... we were factory buffs like Edward, we knew about production, but how could anyone organise the production of convivial pints? ... we thought about it? But thinking was hard work and we soon hit overload, there always seemed to be more to do and less time to do it ... unlike the grandkids the future was more of a problem for us wrinklies ... we were under time pressure.
How could we help the great great grandkids to learn about the production & consumption of convivial pints?
Perhaps all they had to do was to be 'enthusiastic, courteous and happy' ... just like Jake's first report from The Grange School? We thought it was all about hard work, honesty & thrift ... may be they were just different words for the same thing ... funny that?
Some stories were really ancient, not only older than grandpa but even older than Charlie Darwin & great great great grandpa Edward.
We remembered a lot about ancient yarns on Friday 20 September 2019 when young Daniel, barely into double figures, was asked to go on 'strike' with his mates and join the protest against climate change outside the Town Hall? Was this suggestion all about enjoying a car ride to Chester and having some fun with your mates ... or was it about skiving off from the incomprehensible 'Mendeleev Periodic Table' and abandoning boring rote learning at school for a day so he could learn what went on in Town Halls and perhaps enjoy a Magnum in town?
Long ago we had learned about photosynthesis and urged 'plant a tree in '73' but wot did we know we were only saxophone players. Hmmm ... ? On the same day as young Daniel's strike, Friday 20 September 2019, there was a more potent message ... The Financial Times delivered some dire news from 2050 via a brilliant video ... but wot were the kids to make of all this terror? Was there a better, perhaps a more engaging story worth telling to the youngsters instead ... perhaps about optimistic opportunities? ... 'cos it you didn't laugh you'd cry and crying just wouldn't help ... would it?
John of Patmos, a long long time ago, told a horrendous tale about Four Horsemen, Seven Seals and Armageddon ... about evangelical fribrile fervour ... conquest & pestilence, famine & disease, war & violence, death, wrath, catastrophy ... and ruinous happenings (festering, putrid, bloody, scorched, dark & parched).
Were we scared? ... or were we motivated?
'Project Fear', 'the wrath of Gods' & 'scaring folk to death' were abject social abominations, just like like craven curses and poisonous polarising plagues they triggered only evil emotions which smothered both respect & resolution ... a fast track to bloody violence?
Much better to chat & mull over all the seemingly hopeless happenings during a scrumptious family meal with mum & dad ... maybe with friends and a convivial beer? No doubt all future happenings were complex, changing, conflicting & scarce, the laws of nature saw to that and blaming others for bad behaviour was a cul-de-sac?
Ponder about personal responsibility for good behaviour ... wot about the hard work, honesty & thrift of empirical science? ... was it sensible to ‘pass the buck’ to others who arrogantly claimed some alternative, privileged access to 'know how' about the future ... and then, lo, vilify them for their inevitable fiascos & failures? Blame & project fear could never even inspire our youngsters to get up & at it and break out of a paper bag ... and 'hoping & praying' didn't seem to be the sharpest chisels in the pack.
In the old days our Gran’s friends devoutly PRAYED - they honestly believed there was ‘a God
behind every tree’ who performed miracles
... but there was never any evidence ... it was just a good yarn?
Our Mum’s friends naively HOPED - they honestly believed Bishops, Princes, Generals and Bureaucrats possessed the knowledge to ‘do something about it’
... but such leaders, like Xenophones, were confronted by a 'woven web of guesses', a dearth of know how ... that was just another yarn?
Our younger friends actively PROTESTED - they honestly believed a protest vote for the ‘Greens’ was a ‘good idea’ and everyone agreed good ideas were worth a try?
... but others had different good ideas and ‘tied their shoelaces together’?
Some of our very own friends were DESIGNERS - they honestly believed that Darwin's 'differential survival of random variants' could never ever possibly explain the Boeing 747 ... 'something else' was going on ...
but in the end Darwin explained how the watchmaker turned out to be blind, there was no evidence that 'something else' was going on ... Darwin played the only game in town? ... but wot an awe inspiring game!
So don’t despair everyone was always different but everyone could always LEARN. And that’s wot grandchildren were very good at! And in any case Grandkids knew, for sure, that the answer was 42!
Perhaps a good way to learn was with the help of friends through science
(observation, maths theory, testable hypotheses, validating experiments &
peer review) ... and understanding the five steps of science was helped by reading about the historical
hard work of those long dead ... Isaac Newton? Jimmy Watt? Albert Einstein?
... the kids were not alone and they weren't starting from
It seemed to us that if you did an experiment in Scunthorpe which you repeated in the Antipodes 17½ nights later with the same identicle peer reviewed result ... that was meaningful ... EVERYONE could discover EVIDENCE and accumulate KNOW HOW?
Better to grow science in the heads of the youngsters rather than let
fear and hatred of differences
... after all the 'Lamb of God', the 'Gospels' and 'good news' did put in an appearance in the ancient story ... wot was all that about? ... just sayin'?
To complete our story, which we believed was stimulating & thought-provoking but which others believed was boring & irrelevant, we must add that our piano player was adamant if not sceptical -
'if you do anything in Scunthorpe you've only got yourself to blame'!
and our saxophone player also chipped in -
'for every complex problem there exists a solution which is easy, simple, clear ... and wrong'!
Naturally our imaginitive grandchildren always came up with alternative ingenious ideas ... that's wot grandkids did ... they loved wheezes ... easy, simple, clear -
stop the world I want to get off ?
I'll run away from home ?
I'll get an Irish Passport ?
We tried to suggest to Jake that the last time we checked, happenings were a tad more complicated than that ... you can't just pass the buck to others and such nonsense was an outrageous cop out from personal responsibility for good behaviour ... and putting in your 10,000 hours of learning ... perhaps, just perhaps, the dice of evolution were loaded -
bad behaviour tended to die out in populations because there were no synergies ... so it was a risky ploy to immitate parasites & predators
good behaviour tended to thrive in populations because of synergies ... so as bubbles inevitably burst, pheonixes rose from the ashes ... think about it?
... busy was good ... 'Quick look busy Jesus is coming!' ... and Jake was on the ball, he said he didn't believe in myth & magic and the mumbo jumbo ... he announced he was going to be a scientist ... wonderful!
It was also good that some his friends also studied history and from the earliest of times it was clear that Bishops, Princes, Generals & Burearcrats were seldom scientists and they perpetually offered the easy, simple, clear wheezes as solutions to complicated problems which always seemed to put the costs up and production down ... Daniel was good on Greek Mythology and had read all about the 'siren voices' - 'soeone else will pay the bills, just soak other people until the pips squeak' ... easy, simple, clear?
Learning was a hard message about personal responsibility for good behaviour -
'someone else will pay the bills' was 'easy, simple & clear' ... but wrong ... unsurprisingly 'someone else', whoever he was, said no ... then wot?
Gran often mumbled about 'hard work, honesty & thrift' ... and 10,000 hours ... but that was boring ... but Harry Potter was exciting.
Indupitably J K Rowling was far better at telling stories than Grandpa and she thrillingly described the challenges facing the youngsters in her fantastic yarn about 'The Order of the Phoenix' -
Adolescent Harry Potter learned first hand that Dementors were a
threat and that the bureaucracy in The Ministry of Magic was in denial about Voldemort's
evil parasitic & predatory intent.
Harry set about and joined Dumbledore's Army, a likely club of like minded friends ... he took some personal responsibitity for the defence of good behaviour ... and felt some obligation to protect the gorgeous Cho Chang.
The Fudges in the Ministry vainly tried to bolster their failed quest for peace & tranquillity by appointing Umbridge with more new assistant bureaucrats and more & more new rules & regulations. But this turned out to be kluge which stifled & sapped most of their energy into stangant impotence.
Meanwhile Harry, with help from his go getting friends, was hell bent on hard work, honesty & thrift as they took matters into their own hands through the Floo Network ... evil must be confronted ... and at the end of the long tortuous struggle ... Harry & Co were triumphant ... 'love was the power that the Dark Lord knew not' ... now that was real magic!
We all wondered whether Emeric Switch's Transfiguration could help with Grandpa's stupendous puzzle about how to turn ordinary beer into a convivial pint?
Creating something out of nothing was at the heart Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration but worryingly there were 5 exceptions. The first exception was food, this was pretty clear to everyone, but the other exceptions were not yet known although studies indicated that 'real money' could not be created out of nothing because hoards of very clever folk were still constantly trying ... and failing.
On the other hand we guessed that the Elemental Transfiguration of ordinary
beer into a convivial pint was a genuine Transfiguration because we had
witnessed the phenomena every week at 'Mucky Beer Time' at The Goshawk CH3
8AJ. There and then the nature
of ordinary beer completely changed so that it actually tasted better! But
was such an Elemental Transfiguration approved by Mendeleev?
The kids insisted Prof McGonagall did not throw any light on our beer mystery and in any case it wasn't very interesting ... but we concurred with the Prof's teachings that there was still much to learn about Transfiguration, it was very hard work, very difficult and you had to be firm & decisive to get it exactly right. Transfiguration was more like 'scientific' magic but it still had a vast array of restrictions placed upon it, both natural laws and legal regulations, so there was a large potential for things to go disastrously wrong ... even for the experts like Hermione Granger and The Banjo Player?
With all this all pervading intrigue & malarkey we were never sure how we managed to find time to nurture family & friends, home & garden, enjoy most sports & indulge in the cacophony of blues music? How were we to protect our independence, autonomy & freedom to try hard and experiment when experiments themselves ... especially beer drinking ... always seemed to be under threat from -
'bumptious know-alls', 'smart arse clever Dicks', 'hotshot smart alecks', 'arrogant designers' ... and all the legions of oppressive Bishops, tyrannical Princes, dictatorial Generals & corrupt Bureaucrats ...
Yeah ... everyone of the talking heads with furrowed brows all claimed privileged access to 'know how' and a 'right' to rewrite 'the tablets of stone' ... just listen to them ... and wonder why?
did Politicos persistently peddle petty personal possibilities about an unknowable future - typically pontificating, ranting, fulminating and vilifying others with abusive blame and meaningless 'labels' & fake 'identities'?
did Scientists discover & accumulate effective evidence about the rigours of reality - typically engaging with others in measured debate about constantly emerging experimental evidence and meaningful 'maths' & 'logic'?
Funny peculiar but Politicos were seldom Scientists ... although they were often beer drinkers ... but it must have been ordinary beer ... there was little sign of conviviality amongst such petty adversaries ... strange that ... wot was going on and wonder why?
So there we have it ... an unabashed plea for the Empirical Science of Beer Drinking ... happenings were often bad enough without some folk always tying our shoe laces together ... and if we were not careful all this pontificating 'tittle tattle' meant that there was no time to walk to our local for beer supping with friends ... so where do we start this electic story?
In search of The Convivial Pint.
It seemed from way back that the convivial pint had always been valuable not only to us but also to our friends. It was clear that all our best pals 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 in a pint pot? Was it just a fortunate stroke of serendipity if & when we discovered this phenomenal elixir which made us hilarious? We certainly felt it was no fluke, but then it was not part of our plans either ... at the time of discovery those with foresight didn't have hindsight to help them ... the convivial pint just pitched up, and when it did it was instantly recognisable ... but it still remained a bit of a mystery.
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 for the fungi to grow 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. It was all an accident of course, the transmogrification of sugars into alcohol via yeast was unknown, then as now. The brew was 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 sharing was fun ... social interaction always seemed to be somewhat smoother when folk were a bit canned and liberated from mundane monotony. Life had a purpose after all.
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?
Health & Happiness
So long long ago the supping of ale became the heart of sociability & civilisation ... and, like tea, ale was a loyal friend ... it was bug less sustenance for clean living ... a reliable remedy for many a common ill ... cheers to good health.
There was ale in Mesopotamia 7,000 years ago and the Egyptians, Babylonians & Persians were no slouches either. Throughout civilisation ale was so effective a promoter of health and happiness that it was almost invariably confiscated by the Gods for the control of their flock. Noah had ale on the Ark and had not Paul in the 1st Epistle to Timothy suggested -
'Drink no longer water, but use a little ale for thy stomach's sake'?
Wine always maintained a close association with Rome and The Pope and, needless to say, the Monasteries were also the spiritual home of ale as well as wine. It was the Monks who honed their brewing skills, and went for tight control over their potion of magic ... in the interests of their parishioners of course. But such magic had no chance as a secret and the good news spread faster than the Gospels. It seemed Bacchus was worshipped everywhere ... in one form or another. The Encylicals were clear & sophisticated; beer was the work of God, drunkenness & debauchery were the work of the Devil ... and, of course, it was the delights of beer that kept the monks in the monasteries and away from wicked temptation. We never really understood how the Muslims and the Methodists prolonged their temperance under competitive assoult from the Eucharist?
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 -
'Ale is a high & mighty liquor'.
The Romans built their Taverns along their Watling Streets and Kingsways making precious wines from Gaul readily available for refreshment of the troops.
But ao as the wine loving Romans left our island, the Anglo Saxons from North Germany arrived and lit up the Dark Ages with ale. The Anglo Saxons had their Mead Halls; ask Beowulf where he planned the downfall of Grendel? This social enlightenment became deeply rooted and the dearth of hifalutin written history was explained as the bladdered serfs had no yen to write as they emptied & refilled their drinking horns at every meal bent on merriment & fun. But it was the Ale Houses that left an indeliable mark on our culture.
Everywhere anytime there was always ale, universal and embedded, as front parlour Ale Houses became local community centres. This was long before ale became 'beer' and Taverns became Inns to resuscitate travellers and change the coach horses ... thankfully the confusion of ale & beer and taverns & inns became irrelevant as bitter in pubs became our cultural norm.
The Normans and the upper crust stuck to the imported luxury of wine but when Harry smashed the monasteries there was a tsunami of tradtional ale. Interestingly, try as he did, Harry could do nothing to halt the march of hops. Although the Protestants of Holland favoured hops which avoided the dreaded tax on gruit, Harry called it 'a pernicious weed' adulterating traditional English ale.
English ale had been made for yonks from fermented barley malt, it was strong, sweet, thick, wholesome ... and intoxcating. Some said it was food so who wanted bread? Maybe gruit herbs like gale, mugwort, yarrow, heather, rosemary & thyme, were added to the mix. We can't know for sure how heavy the old ale was but it must have been heady stuff ... 'beer and beef made the Brits'. But then in the 15th century, from The Netherlands, came the bitter bevvy as hops were added to the eclectic mix to produce beer proper ... and things never looked back. The hops worked like a magic double whammy, both flavour & preservative. Hops helped prolong the shelf life of the brew so lethal alcohol levels could be reduced ... and pints could be consumed without getting addled. Conviviality was secured without incapacity ... cheers.
Everybody was brewing their own pet boozes ... some delicious others abject. Then just as ale had become beer, beer became 'porter' when 'mixes' became popular poisons ... different varieties of yeasts, malts and hops, all processed in different ways, all added their distictive characteristics ... and the monks themselves had learned yonks ago that even the Lord's weather imparted its own foibles to the dark art of brewing. Noone understood what was going on, it was a hit and miss affair, but the hits sure tasted good.
Porter was thick, brown with roasted malts, creamy and heavy with hops for safe keeping. Strong porter became 'stout' as variants surged with the enterprise of stalwarts like Arthur Guinness in Dublin ... 'ta we owe you one'.
It was in the 18th century that the industrial revolution led to thirst and parched pallates. Thermometers, hygrometers & filters made the brewing process more understandalbe & reliable. Sam Whitbread started 'commercial' brewing in bulk in 1742 in London with water from the Thames and help from Pasteur. But Trent water became fashionable and probably cleaner? Did Burton water possess a remarkable ability to excite taste buds? More likely political shenanigans, economies of scale and tax began to kill off all but the big brewers ... wotever Bass, Worthinton & Allsopps established a brewers magnet in Burton-on-Trent and the porter of London had competition from the paler filtered ales of Burton ... then soon the railways opened up the country as brewers went national.
In English life bread & ale were inseparable and 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. No wonder ale became know as 'liquid bread'. The result was arbitrary recurring licensing fees, fines and punishments ... such costs and price controls had their usual insidious effects which reduced competition and did nothing for the output and quality of bread and ale ... good bread and good ale were on a roll ... but inferior fare just didn't sell ... every imbiber was a quality control inspector ... ask our mates to sup bad ale and watch reactions!.
Cliff Harper knew all about good bread & good ale and needed no help from the powers that be, he was a discerning operator even though he was a bass player ... and he always had beer with his bread ... hear this -
Cliff's Sarnie - 'Today I invented a sandwich - not yer
ordinary tin-pot, ten-a-penny sandwich - but a prince of sandwiches - a
World Champeen - a meal in itself which, I confess readily, was inspired by
one Mr Schlotzsky, whose sandwich bars adorn many an otherwise dull cluster
of shops and businesses in the peachy State of Georgia.
Here we go. First lightly toast two slices of wholemeal bread, spread them with butter or even an acceptable butter substitute (sunflower spread is nice, if you have it). Spread one slice also with crunchy peanut butter, must be crunchy, and on that spread a layer of lemon or lime marmalade. Sprinkle with black pepper. Overlay the marmalade layer with four or five pieces of thinly sliced roasted chicken, a little salt to taste, on top of that place four or five slices of cured ham. Drizzle honey over the ham and sprinkle with a little more black pepper. On top of that, place an appropriate amount of thinly-sliced, very mature Cheddar cheese - English Cheddar is preferred - the real stuff, with lots of bite, not the rather tame US version and certainly not Monterey Jack. New Zealand Cheddar is an acceptable substitute, but it must be very mature - pungent, even. Add mustard to taste, English preferably, but Dijon will do at a pinch - or wotever you can steal from the local supermarket.
That is the basic sandwich - but variations are recommended, almost compulsory, including the addition of various pickles, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, raw cabbage or carrot, radishes, sliced onion, beetroot - wotever takes yer fancy - suitable accompaniments could be tea, made the usual way or iced, or black coffee or chilled Cola, but preferably ... beer!
Thassit! Betcha won't be able to eat two of 'em. Moderation for all! Away to the kitchen this very minute and try it out!'
Even the French who enjoyed wine with their pain, managed to understand 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.
Trouble int' Gin
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 their 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.
In 1854 the Broad Street cholera outbreak spread death & destruction around London but John Snow stopped the rampage in its track when he spotted the immunity of the beer drinkers at the Poland Street brewery ... science had confirmed beer as preeminent!
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 proffered to justify 'control' the cherished Beer Houses as they became restrictive Public Houses ... the 'pub' was born as thirsty folk paid for regulation & bureaucracy as well as their beer.
Ale & the Fabric of Life
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 ... it was our cup of tea.
For us Teuts, or were we Celts ... wotever, the Englishman's home was always his castle. We were essentially home loving folk. Yet why, slowly did we exercise considerable zeal in creating new spaces in addition to our home for life & fun? This was emphatically the case for the Londoner who led the way as he perfected his taverns & inns as a new species for public sociability ... and the coffee-houses ... and the bookshops ... and the sports stadiums ... and the dance halls ... and the clubs ... and other exciting extensions of the home.
However there was competition around for social lubrication ... from 1650 the coffee-houses ... then chocolate in 1657 and tea in 1660 ... all enjoyed with bug free boiled water ... then the bookshops ... and the sports stadiums ... and the dance halls ... and the clubs ... and other exciting extensions of the home.
All public spaces for social intimacy, immersed in passions of choice with friends of choice. And when the 'disrupters' came along with incredible scale & reach offering interwebs & social media, enterprising Joe seized & relished the new opportunities as Amazon & iPhones followed wireless & movies ... but the new opportunities did not kill off the convivial pint, the new opportunities added to & enhanced the intimate & exciting joys of face to face chemistry ... 'Alexa' never stood a chance ... in our day we went to the movies to sit on the back row. And don't forget the Chop Houses, they were another great British tradition from way back. A little up market they were originally meeting places with much more than just beer to drink. They were places where businessmen gathered to conducted their affairs, hatching deals over hearty platters of traditionally cooked meats, often grilled and always washed down by fine well kept local ales. Like the taverns, inns, alehouses, coffee houses, bookshops, sports stadiums, dance halls, clubs & others, the chophouse was flavoured British, an institution dating back to the origins of modern commercial trading in the sixteenth century. Succulent social chop outside of his castle was good news for everyone and as an accompaniment to ale some said it was even better than a pie & a pint.
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 ... in the pub stuff happened 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 by the word of God in the churches ... the Princes claimed they had a 'divine right' to do it all by themselves ... the Generals had the guns and they did it by brawn ... and some enlightened folk were beginning to hope that the world was put to rights in the representative parliaments? Alas neither the churches, kings, armies nor parliaments never ever had a monopoly on good ideas ... but 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 ... our beer glass was always half full not half empty.
Doing Deals & 'putting the world to rights'
'There is a Tavern in the Town'
Where were the best deals to be done? Over a beer in the local?
We were sure the dry pontificating parliaments sucked all the good out of good ideas and the decaying remains left the way open for nonsense ... as our Gran confided,
'they're up to no good'!
We were always meticulous over our choice of watering holes ... good ideas needed to be nurtured & developed with friends if they were to fly ... and they only flew when synergies and mutual benefits were agreed down here not up there. Many more good deals were done over a pint than over a dispatch box ... we all agreed on that. In any case 'putting the world to rights' was a bit of a stretcher for Darwinians like us, we didn't see much wrong with the world as it was ... 'cos as long as the beer was good we were still learning.
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, maybe they were one and the same. Most agreed that the clubs sprouted from the taverns and provided added depth & diversity to discussion ... Edmund Burke & Dr Johnson indulged avidly in the tavern culture ... who would believe a Tory and a Whig were friends over a pint? ... and up in Edinburgh Adam the Smith & David Hulme were also at it ... and so too all in the coffee houses which 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 we were bladdered.
Stratification seemed to follow, not by order nor conspiracy but by choice, as the participants became bound together by shared deals & fun, with their special trades and sometimes their choice of beer. Strangers with offerings were always welcomed, as long as they 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 us folk who decided ... not the Pope nor the King ... our slogans were 'live & let live', 'mind your own business', 'vote with your feet' and 'join the club of your choice'. 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 Pond
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 ... they complemented nicely, or contradicted perversely, the utterances of the founding fathers and the sacred history as was writ. 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 happenings 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 good behaviour of the innocent ... we were appalled at all the petty restrictions on our productive deals ... licensing hours ... wot the Dickens ... jeez. 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.
We agreed 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 toxic 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' house there seemed to be a 'disorderly' house.
Care was needed and saxophone players knew, for sure, that too much beer never made The Blues sound better ... slurring your notes ruined The Blues just as slurring your words ruined conviviality ... and we understood the double negatives in Ma Rainey's words -
'Say I'm gonna get drunk just one more time,
daddy, I'm gonna get drunk just one more time,
'cos when I'm drunk nothin' don't worry my mind'
So we had no truck with incapacity, we had to remain sharp to learn to play The Blues proper ... the hard way ... it was fun that banished worry, not booze ... and contrary to popular belief The Blues proper were fun.
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' ... which we think was a much more attractive name than 'brewesses'?
It was the girls who brewed and sold most of the ale drunk in 'Merry Olde England'. Before the first 'public houses' the ladies brewed their beer in the back and served the nourishing elixir from their own front parlours ... not only to friends and guests but also to paying customers whenever the quality was irresistible.
Later widows often featured as licensees of the 'public houses' ... some said this was a ploy to keep them off the Poor Law. In this way, perhaps, it was unsurprising that a number of tavern operators wore petticoats ... nevertheless it was often considered that only a macho man could cope with the rules of regulation and control the drunken brawling.
However we knew that ever since the fall in the Garden of Eden the girls had learned how to manipulate all the men ... especially when they were drunk ... doubtless '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 a few 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?
But the girls didn't have it all their own way, rank bad behaviour was always a temptation but never a route to happy families ... nor convivial beer.
Us respectable fellas always knew that the girls were in the driving seat as they mercilessly manipulated their candidates with their explosive 'beer musk' ... all for the sake of the kids. And as customers it was the girls who always decided between the tap room or the lounge bar? If the ladies preferred carpets to sawdust the beer tipplers always followed ... like magic.
The local intemperate Indians, the scurvy ridden mariners and the freed black slaves were targets for the masses of discriminatory laws which piled responsibility for bad behaviour and agony on the suppliers of the nectar ... the proprietors, landlords, publicans, keepers, tapsters & money lenders ... rather than on the miscreants who failed to distinguish between good and bad behaviour regardless of contracts & debts. It was the Captain of the ship who had to cope with the drunkard in charge of a halyard not the bureaucrats who tried to legislate good behaviour. It was in the best interests of the proprietors, especially the girls, to ensure that customers behaved themselves ... everybody resented cheats. But the 'convivial drinkers' and the 'free houses' were caught between a rock & a hard place ... between 'restraints on trade' and 'restrictive practices'. Others suggested all the regulation was a misguided class conspiracy to 'protect the well to do from the drunkenness of the lower class' ... but we soon learned that we shared convivial pints with both sides of such inept classifications.
In this way taverns were easily diverted from accommodating travellers and promoting sociability ... many inevitably 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 & socialites were concerned the taverns had been usurped by the regulators & 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 magnetic 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 far away 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 ... was this intrigue 'sanctions busting' or 'God helps those who help themselves'? Wotever 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 for 50% of Anglo-American relations ... the other 50% were grateful for help in time of need because all claimed 'God was on their side' ... in matters of heart & minds voting never ever helped? Many insisted that the plots in the taverns in the back streets of Birkenhead could easily have been banned by the pontificating bureaucrats in London. But we knew from delightful experience that the 'plots in the taverns' were 'plots in the mind' and 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, loopy, merry, oiled, paralytic, pie eyed, pickled, pifflicated, pissed, plastered, sloshed, smashed, sodden, soused, spiffed, squiffy, 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 & an 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?
In the name of liberty, how on earth did it happen?
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, checks & balances 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 ... crowd trouble and the high costs of slavery made the cotton plantations unsustainable ... it was free men earning honest wages up north who delivered massive productivity gains through industrialisation. Willie Wiberforce explained the folly in the south ... Willie, of course, appealed to 'Religion, Justice & Humanity', and he was right, but Adam the Smith was a moral philosopher and the great man peddled his 'moral sentiments' which underpinned human behaviour ... and human behaviour 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? Ruminate ... the girls would never have sacrificed so many potential dads?
Prohibition was a nation wide constitutional ban, the 18th amendment, blatant top down hubris ... who did they think they were? 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 & 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 ... good behaviour had to be learned. And, of course, it was 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 tittle tattle, gossip & flibbertigibbets ... and even crass attempts at erudite discussion ... 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 ... he understood clearly even if the others didn't. We chose our friends carefully 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.
Beer it seemed had attitude; our beer glass was always half full but other folk who drowned their sorrows took ardent spirits. Beer was for men who slaved in the bletch of the dark satanic mills and recovered in the pub ... those who played and did their deals with anyone who would buy their round. Beer was not for those macho bohemians who claimed a different identity and embraced bravado, rebellion, masculinity and cynicism with a large dose of scepticism about deals & privileged success. Rather beer was emollient, it straddled social strata and bridled optimism. Water was necessary, wine was given but beer was shared and beer almost guaranteed inseparable betterment & fun ... conviviality.
Smiles made conviviality, 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 ...
Free to Choose
Family, friends, neighbours, companions, locals, regulars, patrons, travellers, strangers ... all discovered the benefits of beer; the malted barley brew which spawned many guises ... booze was the catch all for all the legions -
ale = warm top fermented roasted malts, up to 24 centigrade fruity, sweet & creamy then later bittered with gruit or hops and became beer
small beer = for kids, <2.8% alcohol but healthy
bitter = better preservation of the brew when hops were added, grown in England from 1524
porter & mild = variants, less hops, darker malts & sweetish, 3.5%
stout = the stoutest porter; Guinness 1759 Dublin
1842 pilsner = Germans of Pilsen cashed in on pale, light, stable, cool bottom fermented via expensive iced caves pioneered by the ancoent Bavarian monks of the 15th century/
pale ale = pale malts were higher yielding & cheaper, malt dried with
Bass & Allsopps started branding to keep the riff raff out.
1777 William Bass in Burton-upon-Trent. The main brand was Bass Pale Ale; bright, clean & filtered ... by 1877 Bass had become the largest brewery in the world, with an annual output of one million barrels. William Worthington started in Burton in 1760 and was bought by Bass 1927
1807 Samuel Allsopp was also in Burton and in 1840 cashed in with IPA special brew for India. Merged with Ind Coope in 1934
brown ale = lightly hopped & sweetish; Manns Brown Ale was revived in the 1920s in bottles with added caramel, Newcastle Brown Ale tended to be stronger, malty & nutty - bottled beer was reliable & expensive but drinking out of the bottle .... jeez ... that ruined the exquisite aroma kick from the 'head' and led borishly to uncouth & unpleasant belching - 'Double Diamond Works Wonders' but not for aficianados
heavy = Glasgows' own, darkish & sweetish; Scotland had their own bevvies to complemeny the wee drams ... originall the Picts brewed heather ale but in our time the tipples of choice were light, heavy & export as strength increased ... McEwans, Youngers & Tennents excelled ...
lager = clean, light, cool air dried malts bottom fermented, 10 centigrade, golden see through lagers in glasses
Carlsberg 1847 Copenhagen & Heinekan 1864 Amsterdam = spread the popular lagers round UK and the globe, only 20% of brewing ended up as beer as the Brits began to bask in self indulgent elitism. - 'refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach 1973'
1960s breweries became property owners tied pubs became sales outlets
Kegs = pasteurised, filtered, dead beer CO2 pressurised delivery cashed in on mass production of reliable but commoditised brews ... and proper beer went into decline
Watneys Red Barrel = best selling keg beer by 1961 following consolidation as breweries were purchased because of the teid pubs for economies of scale for the reliable technology - 'What We Want is Watneys'
breathalyser - 1967
Davenports Beer at Home = Highgate Brewery started the dark 'mild' Birmingham brews for the workers from 1899, rumoured to originate from 1739. 'Beer at Home means Davenports' was from the 1960s but it didn't work ... a pint always found it difficult to be convivial at home. Inevitably acquired by Greenall Whitley, who else, in 1986
1970s beer declines as larger zooms
1927 Carling Black Label = originally from the monks of Munich, EddieTaylor was a huge freak from Ottawa who developed mass production of keepable light refreshing largers during prohibition which sweept into Canada, UK & Oz - 'I bet he drinks Carling Black Label 1989'
1958 the Big 6 buy ups started = Allied Breweries (Ind Coope, Tetley Walker, Ansells), Courage, Watney Mann & Truman, Scottish & Newcaslte, Whitbreads & E P Taylor's Bass Charrington in 1966
1971 CAMRA = backed real ale in real flavoured wood casks, live ale with ongoing fermentation and conditioning pull pumped up from the cellar
1986 M&MC - the big 6 - guest beers, sale of properties to the banks, Punch Taverns, Wetherspoons and homogenisation as big 6 went into leisure, entertainment and Bingo ... and the pubs themselves housed restaurants, juke boxes and tellies
Sunday opening - jeez ...
Distruptors - Six Packs, Supermarkets, loss leaders, wine, Sky, drink drive, no smoking
Oz Fosters & Castlemain XXXX
Stella Atois = Beligium go for French 'luxury' and expense
1991 Temperance Association disbanded ... gentle bladderment & conviviality with boys & girls had become an established cultural asset and the local pub provided home comforts and the excitment of getting out more where stuff happened ...
There were many other tipples to tickle fancies which competed with beer -
cider (fermented apples)
mead (fermented honey)
wine (fermented grapes; sack fortified wine),
punches, toddies, slingers ... on it went
There were big decisions to be made, was it to be ale or lager?
Was Ale for the honest English Yeoman enjoying a convivial pint with his mates surrounded by idyllic hop fields, acres of freshly mowed barley and smiling serving wenches? The warmer, faster process of ale brewing retained many more subtle flavours and often transported folk to the far side of bliss. However the colder slower process produced lager often resulted in a cleaner, crisper flavour. But some lagers can have all the character of the flip side of a camel trader’s welcome mat.
All this variety was designed for conviviality to complement 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 colours ... and costs. We were weaned on Greenall Whitleys. Greenalls was 'Local Bitter' and all the better for that ... folk walked to their local. The brew we remembered was invariably a convivial pint ... otherwise we refused to partake ... we argued endlessly about 'the head' ... was it an indicator of, the quality of the beer or the quantity of the publican's bank account ... which was best? ... we quickly concluded the best was the next ... but the saxophone player insisted it had to be in a 'straight glass' ... otherwise it didn't taste proper ... nobody agreed and the forfeit was another round.
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 youngsters 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 that 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 the pub ... 'atmosphere', bar maids, 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 own tavern!
Taxes & Sin
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 always voted with our feet! But however hard we tried it proved impossible to avoid sin taxes ... so go figure? We were beer drinkers and were 'independently correct', far from 'politically correct', we had no truck with those who twisted our morals ... beer had become a target for heinous taxes, to be wasted on grandiose ungentlemanly schemes which did nothing to improve the quality of the beer and everything to increase its cost.
Perhaps taxes were an inevitable part of bureaucratic chicanery 'cos the only sin we could see was flat beer. 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 & fun? 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 lager. Was it possible to share a convivial pint with folk drinking a litres of lager?
And why did the taste of beer improve with the quality of the welcoming smiles of the serving wenches and the atmosphere in the tavern which felt like homespun? 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 ... perhaps 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?
Wot 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 ... and that was cool?
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, at different times, in different places, with different circumstances seemed to prefer different washing tackle. So folk did their deals without harm others in an attempt to suit themselves ... and to try to suit the others ... no point in upsetting folk they may get tetchy ... so from ordinary soap to figments of imaginations ... everyone could be happy ... otherwise, they didn't do their deals ... and so with beer?
So was our our beer and 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 moolah 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 since for ever ... and 'Persil Mum' loved the 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.
We knew our soap ... and we knew our beer ... 'Guinness is good for you 1929' ... 'refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach 1973' ... 'I bet he drinks Carling Black Label 1989' ...
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 folk wanted to stop other folk from chasing figments ... we called it, mollycoddlement ... and it almost became PC to hate folk who chased their very own valuable figments ... they became 'deplorables' even though everybody had their own very different figments and chased them all the time?
So even though cleanliness was next to Godliness and conviviality was the fabric of life this 'value' thing complicated far more important things than simple soap ... 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 did tast 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 Greenalls 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 there was more, many said we were 'lucky'. 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 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 the harder we worked the luckier we got ... and for sure sure we learned most over a convivial pint in the taverns rather than over blotting paper in dour classrooms.
Vodka is Vodka
And then there was vodka ... a more potent potion?
Vodka was always a most popular distilled spirit, it was found in cocktails and all manner of mixed drinks and was an essential condiment in every bar ... and it was even found lurking in beer bars. It required no aging and was ready to drink right away, though it was cut with water from still strength to a bottling proof, which was typically 80 proof or 40% alcohol by volume. 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? A drink with no taste? Did Vodka's neutral taste rely on the proofing water? Or was the neutrality more subtle ... was it a figment? ... a con trick, a rip off even?
So all 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 acumen -
'Raise our prices 15%! ... and 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 as folk joined different clubs ... and drank different tastes.
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 ...
But in our club we reckoned vodka was lethal and we stuck to ale.
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?
There was much more grist for the mill. 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 ... no wonder the NHS was bankrupt ... 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 in the local at the end of a hard day ... maybe the convivial pint could rescue the NHS from bankruptcy? Did it all depend on who did the calculations? After all there was 'no such thing as society' everybody was different.
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 obnoxious stuff ... the girls hated the putrid stench of decay as livers were destroyed, vile desires were provoked and woeful performances dulled ... there was no doubt ordinary beer could be lethal stuff.
We questioned our doctor ... we suggested that the human gene pool could only move as fast as the weakest alleles, and when the pool was stressed, it was the weakest that failed to survive and were killed off first. But this natural selection was beneficial for the survival of gene pool as a whole, because the survival prospects of the whole group kept improving by the regular killing off of the weakest members. Perhaps in exactly the same way, the human brain could only function as efficiently as the slowest of the neural networks. Excessive intake of alcohol, as our doctor suggested, was a poison and killed brain cells. But, naturally, it attacked the slowest and weakest brain networks first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminated the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient system.
Is that why we always feel smarter after a few beers? We were twisting reality and sacrificing our livers?
Of course we didn't resolve the matter, we never did ... but 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 lonely boredoms and quite intolerable.
We were no bloated guzzlers, we savoured our ale and walked to the pub. 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.
Was beer drinking 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.
A 2015 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. Beer consumption in Merry England had dropped by a 3rd in the last decade ... as pubs moved from pints to plates.
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 unintended consequences of the dreaded tax, self inflicted retribution ... we concurred; 'Axe the tax'.
The convivial pint had long been ravaged by potent forces of evil. Convivial folk knew the tied trade was a medieval restrictive practice and had been lethal for the pubs of England and if you noticed the bus you were about to board was occupied by the local licensing inspector on a quality control mission, it was often a good idea to wait for the next one. On it went, rotten regulation, not only sin taxes but also the insidious drink driving laws ... both driving the wretched punter from the single disaster of liver failure to the multiple destructor of health ... obesity. This blatant bribery & corruption manifested itself latterly as pubs became restaurants and supermarkets sold cheap & cheerful 'loss leaders' ... the sixpacks.
The push from social conviviality to slothful obesity became shove ... as there was also, Sky home entertainment, sweet & fatty fast food, delectable restaurants, CAMRA choices, property prices, beer ties, minimum wages ... all undermining the cost structure of the convivial pint as obesity was established as the new terror.
And more, there were always those damned opportunity costs and vodka ... and, perhaps, more than anything else, the foul 'n' fractious '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 junk food ... and nothing whatsoever to do with the convivial pint ... what were they trying to do?
It seemed to us that the powers that be were claiming some moral authority to change the behaviour of folk? ... they were intent on the destruction of conviviality ... don't vote it will only encourage them?
Others said it was the likes of us Evolutionary Economists, who had fiddled costs and 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 ... they were only guessing about the future ... wot else can you do about the future? Us Evolutionary Economists had faith that most problems were soluble in alcohol ... and became opportunities ... we suspected that the fear of economic reality was an illusion caused by a lack of exciting beer!
The furrowed brows of the doom merchants never had it all their own way. There were always others like the inhabitants of The Goshawk, our local in rural Mouldsworth, who shared our enthusiasm for conviviality. Welcoming locals, were not just locals for locals, not places to get legless but social centers, spaces to relax, meet people, interact and buy your round.
And above all, although convivial pints became more costly and less profitable than the fodder plates which added grossly to indulgent obesity ... 'the local' retained an unimpeachable 'healthy option' -
we walked to our local which helped to fight the flab.
The Licensing Act 2003 opened up the pubs twenty four seven ... and in 2016 the 400-year-old tie which forced pub tenants to buy beer from their landlords was finally severed ... at last some deregulation ... it was only a start but perhaps well behaved folk who didn't harm others were now able to choose to access public spaces ... where? when? with whom? what brew? ... cheers!
Your choice, my round!
The furrowed brows of the doom merchants had never had it all their own way. There were always others like the inhabitants of The Goshawk, our local in rural Mouldsworth, who shared our enthusiasm for conviviality. Welcoming locals, were not just locals for locals, not places to get legless but social centers, spaces to relax, meet people, interact and buy your round. Fear could 'freeze the world' but everyone knew what excitement could do?
Liberating choice was a bit of a dog's breakfast, full of failed efforts and resounding successes and everybody knew that the convivial pint was something to do with choosing your friends as well as your brew? There were many words -
bonding, brotherhood, cheer, comaradarie, esprit de corps, fellowship, jollity, loyalty, morale, rapport, solidarity, sociability, synergy, team spirit ...
We were steeped in team building from the very early days 'cos we had always grappled with batting & bowling ... forwards & defenders ... selection was a nightmare as there were only 11 holes to fill and two goalkeepers and no striker would guarantee defeat. What did you say to the 12th man who always bought his round? Was it about square pegs and round holes? Or was he better off growing tomatoes?
... and it certainly wasn't luck and the 12th man was always better than the 13th man ... and the 13th man was always a good friend who also bought his round.
So although choices were sometimes forced upon us at gun point ... all was not lost ... selection was a 'social hard' but it certainly wasn't a 'legal harm' ... the restrictions on choices were to be questioned ... but they were not insidious impositions like the onerous tax on convivial beer.
Although our old Headmaster, Canon L F Harvey, had tried to teach us about calculus and changing rates of complexity, there was only one pearl of wisdom that we remembered when he set us free from our incarceration in our ancient school in the cathedral precincts in Chester and urged us to avoid all 'restrictive practices' & 'restraints of trade' -
'choose friends carefully, don't be chosen ...
choose friends to learn with ...'
This was sound advice as we confronted a world where everyone everywhere seemed to be tying our shoe laces together. But like Pooh we never had any difficulty in choosing friends ... our frinds always agreed that today was the best day of the week.
We had only just started learning at school and we were a tad inadequate at it ... there was a long way to go ... and the bits we did learn came mostly from peers like Tony Bowen rather than The Canon and his rather sour & boring science teachers. Tony remained on our gratitude list throughout.
It was later apparent that our erstwhile Headmaster hadn't warned us that it was the girls who always did the choosing? For sure we soon concluded that it was the girls who drove us to drink ... but we admitted we often forgot to thank them!
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 ... they possessed almost infinite skills ... after all the girls not only always danced backwards but with a twitch of a smile in their eyes they could move the moon ... without thinking.
Our friends performed similar miracles with beer, occasionally without even smiling ... but we knew deep down in the skull that conviviality was no 'Machiavellian Plot' ... it was real?
We took on board the Canon's advice and chose our very own friends very diligently, not by their precocious abilities at the sciences & humanities but rather by their more subtle enjoyments of beer and fun ... or were they the same things?
But let's be clear, 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 what. where and who was fun. Then slowly we felt sure we had joined a splendid club, a beer drinking tradition which had been around for yonks ... a comfortable place where we chose like minded folk who were having fun in the taverns ... doing deals ... we could learn from them ... together. Everyone was different ... but everybody could do deals and have fun ... come to think of it ... if everyone was the same they couldn't do deals and have fun ... could they? ... think about it?
Vote with Your Feet & Join a Club of Your Choice
So God said and we agreed with him -
'All the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off'. Exodus 20-18.
We saw the gravitas, the furrowed brows and the 'serious' dispositions as emotions grated ... but 'removing' and getting away from it all was a bit of a trauma ... most 'Designers' were perplexed -
'Should we report travesties to the 'authorities'? After all the Bishops, Princes, Generals & Bureaucrats, arrogantly claimed they had privileged access to 'know how' unavailable to us scientists'?
We evolutionary economists rumbled them and voted with our feet and joined a club of our own choice.
We got our finger out and tried to follow in the footsteps of great men like Adam the Smith, Jimmy Watt, Charlie Darwin & Dickie Dawkins who suggested we all enjoyed universal uncanny happenings from deep down in our skulls ... we thought to start with we were following guidance from mama ... but later realised in was all from our ancestral Homo Sapiens who helped us to exploit opportunities as a sort of strange stability of social order emerged -
moral sentiments = friendships were necessary for cooperative synergies of specialisation & scale (peculiar emotional perceptions) = good behaviour ... this was endorphic pleasure?
fairness of shares & resentment of cheats = defences were necessary against parasites & predators (wherever there are stocks there were thieves) = bad behaviour ... this was serotonin justice?
The Banjo Player said these were just worms in his head and had another pint ... he joined several clubs of his choice and seemed to cope quite well ... but we pestered him ... where did these 'worms' come from? ... we agreed they were real even when we were sober!
We were certainly suspicious of any instruction manual from the Bishops, Princes, Generals & Bureaucrats.
We tried to explain these happenings to folk who weren't members of our club but words always became muddled & messy, it was very difficult. The girls had already sussed it out and were often already in the club ... but us men had another beer and mulled it all over ... we reckoned there were only two sorts of folk; fun folk and sad folk ... it seemed to us that fun folk did things, they did verbs but sad folk wanted things, they did nouns. The trouble was that the very same folk flip flopped between the two!
The fog lifted a bit at Jimbo Riley's Christening on
the 16th of June 2013 at ???? Church in Staffordshire over a beer with Rev ???
How long have we got? Although it was never not time we needed. It was easy & quick to hear what we said but the difficult bit was to know what we meant.
We welcomed Jimbo into our club to try to give him a better chance.
But happenings in life were not 'things' that we had or owned or bought. We always tried to make happenings happen but we didn’t just accept or offer a 'package' done & dusted. We were doing things not receiving or giving things. Think Verbs not Nouns. After all we exchanged marriage vows but we did love.
The hard work, honesty & thrift involved in doing things brought momentous rewards ... and we can prove it by evidence ... just look at those kids!
Lucky us? Funny ... but it was never not luck ... the harder we tried the luckier we got. So thanks, not for a nice gift, but thanks for doing with us.
That’s wot it was ... not something we have but something we do -
Fun folk with the Smiling Eyes joined the club of their choice
and enjoyed 'fairness of shares' & deals were fun ...
of course they were 'resentful of cheats', that was certain,
... but it seemed to us that fun folk did things, they did verbs -
they accumulated lots of smiling friends to do deals 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 ... and their beer glasses were always half full ...
Good behaviour was
fun & the tops ... some said it was common sense & should be rewarded
'happenings' became exciting opportunities and fun deals
Smiles & 'convivial pints' led to free lunches ...
Sad folk with the Furrowed Brows never joined the
same club (although our club was always open to all if they bought their
round). For sure they still wanted
'fairness of shares' and joined their own club but because they were sad they didn't do many fun deals ... 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 many became cheats and drank too much ordinary beer.
Cheating was sad 2-2=0. Sad friends weren't friends at all ... and their beer glasses were always half empty ...
Bad behaviour was
sad & the pits ... some said it was illegal & should be banned ...
'happenings' became fearful problems and con tricks.
Gravitas & 'I know bestry' led to comeuppance ...
Learn by doing but remeber learning curves were steep ... the 2nd Law saw to that ... this was hard ... we thought we'd got it ... but nope try again ... help ... that's better ... nope something's still wrong ... back to square one ... all hit & miss ... have another go ... we've plateaued ... 10,000 hours ... got it!? Experiment don't procrastinate. Beer was food for experimenters. While procrastinaters procrastinated we experimented ... not the best but better than the alternative ... a pint?
We got there in the end. 2+2 could make 5 after all.
Everyone was different but almost everyone loved doing fun deals ... and if it wasn't fun, folk stopped doing deals and stopped buying rounds ... and left. We looked around and saw more & more fun folk doing deals everywhere ... and more & more deals & exchanges ... synergies ... the benefits were mutual otherwise folk stayed at home and festered.
Hecky Nora, this was no canard and it certainly wasn't 'luck' ... we all knew, especially saxophone players, that the harder we worked the luckier we got ... and all our mates insisted that everybody, apart from cheats with con tricks, had something to trade ... everyone had smiles & friendships to trade ... and it was smiles & friendships which guaranteed fun and made the world go round ... made the beer taste better ... and there ain't no app for that!
It all boiled down to the fun of hard work, honesty & thrift ... hard work, honesty & thrift fun? ... give us a break ... but try it before it's too late!
So we agreed humour was the most splendid accoutrement when boozing ... taste buds went ecstatic ... we investigated how it came about that humour, not faff, created waves and waves were -
self-generated flows, sweeping changes, strong, free, wild, shifting, challenging, unstoppable, upheaval produced from within, motor & memeic responses to opportunities, teamwork.
Resisting waves was futile, the power overwhelmed. Sentient folk communicated & interacted best thru fun, smiling with folk not at folk; asap before your teeth fall out.
Get a life and thank 'goodness'!
We came to understand that 'serious' endeavour was suspect whether in the pub, the home or at work, so why did so many newspapers, broadcasts, musicians or writers claim to qualify as 'serious'? This way differences just polarised opinions to justify viewpoints. Even 'serious' questions about science, prime numbers, natural harmonics, hydothermal vents & replicating molecules often ended up with offensive compromise. But our own experiments in empirical science were fun ... exciting serendipity from shared cooperation.
We concocted experiments, we tried for 2+2=5 ... we exaggerated, went over the top, shouted louder, ridiculed ourselves, recalled historical excitement of 'smiles' but not the fear of 'executions' ... we detailed gross irreverence and unmentionables like sex, health, popes & conspiracies ... we told it as it we felt it, we luved all the happenings we were supposed to hate ... political incorrectness, tax loopholes, filthy rich, referees & umpires ... but we never -
talked about folk who were not there to defend themselves
repeated ourselves ... our fun was allocated a number to save our breath -
No 23 'don't tell him your name Pike'
No 27 'Mr Preview played all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order'
No 37 '4 candles? no, fork 'andles'
No 56 'knock knock who's there'? 'Nicholas' ...
Fun with Flook
For years we had shocked our friends by smiling at the fun in 'The Daily Mail',
It all began 1949 as we avidly absorbed social history through the cartoon adventures of Rufus & his dreamland pal Flook. We came to know Bodger the crook, Sir Montague Ffolly from the established elite, social climber Scoop & his wife Prudence and George Jabb & his 'fake noos' journalism ... these vagabonds & thieves proved to be far more efficacious teachers than the dour school textbooks which, for reasons unknown, seemed to be all about dates of Kings? And then serendipity ... there was a big bonus ... Flook led to Wally Fawkes, clarinets, Humph and our passion for jazz.
Many others read 'serious' newspapers, studied opinions and followed the heated 'hatreds' & 'arrogant follies' in the Parliaments as they became embroiled in the unfolding Apocalypse as Armageddon was declared ... but we revved up with the fun in 'The Mail'.
Of course, the 'fake news' fed our prejudices as each day the banner headlines bent emotions and entertained outrage. The Mail wasn't 'cool' ... but then neither we were we.
'Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness' became by words for Darwin's 'Survival, Autonomy & Serendipity' ... if you didn't laugh you'd cry and if you looked there were always 'fun issues' and smiles around to provoke & entertain. Without gravitas 'The Mail' plundered 'issues' which were just a different slant on all the other 'furrowed brow' problems in the 'serious newspapers' ... in any case we guessed that all such 'issues of the day' were editorial concoctions to sell newspapers.
Chris Hughes exposed The Daily Mirror as concerned with sales as they influenced apetites with the profusions of Princess Diana? We rumbled the local Manchester Guardian as 'fake noos', even before it changed its name, as 'you've never had it so good' which followed the war & the holocoust was not for the 'serious' Guardian ... and there was more as the 'balanced' BBC also spoiled the fun and became infra dig as a pernicious perpetrator of blantant opposition to popular music and jazz ... although we did cling onto the BBC a little longer as it enjoyed a monopoly of 'news' underneath the soap pans in Apapa and also broadcast the hilarious fun of 'The Goon Show', 'Morecombe & Wise', ''Ello 'Ello', 'Steptoe & Son', 'Fawlty Towers', 'Dad'a Army', 'Monty Python', 'Only Fools & Horses', 'Yes Minister' ...
But perhaps, even the serious newspapers had to pay their bills ... and perhaps again, such serious issues were -
big problems for the sad ... with the 'top down' viewpoint of the News Editors always blaming others in their ivory towers for their incompetences ...
... but the same 'issues' were -
big opportunities for us fun loving others ... who stuck to the 'bottom up' knitting at the coal face and searched for successful fun deals with mates always involving hard work, honesty & thrift ...
Our glass contained beer which was always half full never half empty ... we weren't in the blame game, especially when folk weren't around to defend themselves, and we were optimistic about opportunities and always looked forward to that next 'delicious half' ... as Stubby used to say.
So as banner headlines raged and continued to tell their stories about the bureaucratic circuses, we hunkered down with Rip Kirby and Flook ... Flook was an ingenious creation of Wally Fawkes our favourite clarinet player ... and if you didn't like Flook ... there was all the excitement of the sports coverage on the back page which was always fun; 'cos that's wot sport was; fun ... especially, the MCC, Lords, St Leger, Ryder Cup, Etihad Main Road, Twickers, Wimbledon ... and the level playing fields in abundance.
Then on 7th Jan 2013 the Mail told about the power of the pub and proved to be on our pulse ... it seemed to us that there was a plethora of opportunities even though we were up against the sin taxes & tied houses which remained stubbornly permanent ... and painful as they funded wasteful waste. But whatever your cup of tea ... and we knew tastes were many & varied as most of our friends read serious newspapers ... vive la difference ... in the end when push came to shove we agreed it wasn't Newspapers, Religion or Politics that impoverished everyone but rather all the 'restraints on trade' & 'restrictive practices' that discouraged autonomous folk from doing fun deals ... such were not Evolutionary Stable Strategies ... and we had read the book. From 1859 we all should have learned that diversity was the feedstock for evolutionary change ... and Darwin suggested that there was no other sort of change that anyone knew about?
Then as printed Newspapers became expensive unsustainable sources of 'fake news' and YouTube became a torrent, The Mail went online and provided instant & free 'fake news' for millions at the touch of a button ... and we were back where we started ... 'fake news' was easily come by ... so why pay for it? The crunch came when broken parliaments started to 'fact check' by referring 'lies about the future' to the politisied Supreme Court for adjudication ... there must be a better way? Spoon-fed 'Editorial implants' were lethal time thieves, rampant 'YouTube' diversity became your very own personal survival aid ... sometime somewhere amongst the dross ... was there a golden nugget?
There was no wished for consensus to be seen anywhere, many saw happenings that others ignored. Diversity was the feedstock of natural selection not consensus.
Spoon-fed 'Editorial implants' were lethal time thieves, rampant 'YouTube diversities' were your very own personal survival aids ... sometime somewhere amongst the dross was the golden nugget.
The MailOnline concurred, empirical science was not just another opinion, there was evidence involved. Empirical science was 'know how', 'know how' which was unavailable in 'ivory towers' and had to be discovered & accomulated in the hubbub of 'market squares'. We Darwinites learned before the great apes at Stockholm University, that 'plans can be made without thinking' and our plausible, deliberate, rational, purposeful, intentional plans to enjoy convivial pints was fraught and 'plans' were not what they seemed to be ... the evidence indicated that we had discovered that convivial pints were impossible to buy at any price.
The best truth of empirical science was that it was very expensive, it required hard work, honesty and thrift ... not easily come by ... an experiment in Scunthorpe which was repeated in the Antipodes 17½ nights later was the only meaningful evidence ... only then could we progress a bit. But again we must add that our mate Colin was adamant -
'Whatever you do in Scunthorpe you've only got yourself to blame'!
But Science was concerned with evidence of the The Laws of Nature ... now that was power? ... science had a remarkable capacity to resolve differences of opinion and convince juries ... in Scunthorpe and the Antipodes.
Differences were to be celebrated and impossible to eradicate that’s why girls danced backwards and we vote with our feet and join a club of our choice?
Remember our Headmaster instructed -
'Choose your life'
but he forgot that it was the girls who did the choosing ... was that power?
Puppet on a String, Power & Influence
In 1967 we enjoyed strutting with Sandie Shaw's 'Puttet on a String' but by then we were convinced that there was no omnipotent pulling any of our strings ... nor designing our lives ... although thousands continuously tried ... particularly the Bishops, Princes, General & bureaucrats we read about in those history books. For sure there were umpteen and more very 'intelligent designers' but in the end the one and only thing they could design were experiments to test against the rigours of reality. After all Albert Einstein himself explained that he just guessed and followed the maths which explained the observations. Of course, the ultimate confirmation came from the girls ... they had no truck with strings ... they knew how just a smile could be awsomely effective manipulation.
We thought that the design of the future was impossible and that the watchmaker was blind ... the Laws of Nature saw to that. So we smiled at all the naive attempts to orchestrate outcomes through 'power' and carried on experimenting ... we wondered about the source of such 'power'? We new about 'influence' but 'power' was an oxymoron. Although we had to admit that Carole with an 'e' possessed some uncanny abilities ... perhaps 'power' and 'influence' were the same thing. Sure we thought power was a tad distasteful but we could all be influenced and we could all learn about good behaviuor, smiles and convivial pints which did seem to have a persistenlt positive effect on the future.
We tried to get two things straight from the start even before the first pint -
normal was the fear of decadance, decay, doom & gloom ... which was dictated by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics ... and infuriatingly, as Danilel Khumneman pointed out, 'losses loom large in the human psyche' and inconveniently we all had to stay alive if we were to learn.
exceptional was the excitement of inspiring opportunities for fun ... which required the hard work of creating some order out of chaos ... and infuriatingly, as George Shackle pointed out, 'we are ignorant of what it is we do not know' and inconveniently we had to discover & accumulate 'know how'.
So as the 'furrowed brows' of the 'project fear' wallahs complained about the 'power' of the 'ivory tower' merchants to control puppet strings we suggested that the English language was superb in teasing out the ‘meaning’ of words. Not only was there a Big difference between compromise and cooperation there was also a Big difference between -
power - the trouble with power was that, for
the target group, the only alternative to compliance was incarceration or a
bullet. Power was fear & coercion.
The Supreme Court was concerned with power to incarcerate as a compassionate alternative to violence.
influence - on the other hand, was an attempt to
change other people's perceptions.
Influence was persuasion & evidence
Unilever was concened with influence through advertising and brand stategy. But there was no 'power' that could conjor up better mousetraps ... innovation and iced 'Magnums' were essential to avoid bankruptcy ... you choose your Laws of the Land and we will choose to where to invest our savings ... or not?
We interchange such words regularly but can never change the meanings.
As Will himself said -
'A rose by any other name would smell as sweet'
Some said we were diffident & self-effacing ... sure we were different but nothing special ... but then so were all folk.
In 2016 to help the strugglers who were calling for tugs The Daily Mail announced that there was 'too much choice' ... jeez ... 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 ... our friends and aficionados could feel the taste ... Jonathan claimed he travelled all the way from California for Weetwoods at The Goshawk ... wonderful ... and by 2018 Hydes Bitter was even better ... and then J W Lees bitter in 2019 ... but then our first love Local Greenalls was no slouch either ... all this was a tad confusing as it was not lost on us that our convivial pints were masquerading under different brand names ... so we smiled and had another one!
And if ever we get too old for beer ... we should remember that the last word came, not from The Daily Mail but from a far more influencial source ... our erstwhile Captain of Cricket & 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' ...
... cheers ...
We guessed that all this beer drinking malarkey was inherited from our Dad. Where else could such strange but inspiring behaviour have come from? We spent the whole of the 1940s learning how to live from Mum & Dad ... and a little bit of 'know how' also came from Mrs Perry's infants school, although they thought we were a tad backward. 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 the question was ... 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 suggested that this sartorial elegance was a ploy to pull the girls ... but whatever, only one thing was certain ... whenever he wore this natty attire it invariably had an uncanny effect on his general health & deportment the following morning ... all this, of course, had nothing to do with his father who merely contributed a few genes.
Chester Northgate Brewery
Looking back, it was obvious that by the early 1950s the slow beer assimilation process was already underway. Every day, often several times a day, at the King's School, Chester, 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 furthermore Spider Roberts & Gomer Davies had their shrines to science up Northgate Street by the old debtors prison ... and more more we also hiked northwards to partake of Mrs Griffith's lunch fest. The starting gun for this ordeal was often mumbled by duty masters who were eager to get the pious pleadings over with and get on to the Pied Bull -
'Benedictus Benedicat for Christ sake sit down'.
The dark green boiled cabbage, spuds & the chew of the day followed and were invariably finished off with semolina & red jam, all served, with the help of 'Jacko', from the 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 revisit these old haunts ... this time with blessed relief there were no compulsory school caps, straight on with parted hair ... however the real significance of our own slogs north in those days 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 if not the excellence of the music! The wonderful ales were delivered to watering holes on the ancient Scammells and quenched the thirst of hoards of grateful Cestrians. In 1949 the brewery was inevitably bought by Greenall Whitley, the big Warrington Brewers who it seemed to us owned most of the county. In the end a act of vandalism sorrowfully closed the Northgate Brewery 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 way back from those early days at School ... you always remember folk who were older than you and Tom was ancient... but in fairness to Tom he never aged ... he looked exactly the same when we met him in The Peacock at 80 as he did when he was 18!
Tom was our 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 confrontations on the green square. But Tom was something else ... Tom was a brewer ... he had actually worked at the Northgate Brewery ... for money! We hung onto his every word, not only had he alchemied the nectar which we had only smelled ... but he had also tasted it!
Barbara's uncle was the Company Secretary at the brewery and during a six week summer break he organised a bag carrying job for Tom amongst the vats & rats and those heavy vapours. The hallowed secret of the Northgate brew and the stronger small beer, 'Chester Beer', was mysteriously 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 malts & worts and the coopers in the yard below. (Significantly sport and beer always seemed to be inextricably linked ... and Tom wondered why)?
The workers homes were in the adjacent terraced hoses close by. Such 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 in Water Tower Street. Even the hopeful visitors who toured the brewery were generously entertained in the 'tasting' room just below the steaming wort ... and inevitably all were legless well before carriages.
Yet there was much more to Tom's friendship than beer. We habitually used his pad at 'Ingleton', Norley Road in a vain attempt to sober up before we embarked on the treacherous journey back home to The Briars in distant Northwich. Barbara's black coffee was always piping and superb ... and it was Tom who claimed credit for cementing for ever our affections for a young Chester Carole with an 'e'.
After one memorable night in the Riverside Bar at The Boathouse, just for once, Carole agreed to try a black coffee at Tom's and somehow managed to escape unnoticed from her enthusiastic chaperone; brother Colin. Distraught at losing his charge, Colin's detective skills soon ascertained that his sister had last been seen in Norley Road with King's School boys ... wot horror! Colin panicked and was soon banging on Tom's door at 'Ingleton' and demanding access to his sister. Tom's skills involved hiding the love struck reprobate concerned behind his sofa while he placated the dutiful brother ... inevitably by plying him with an additional beer ration ... a herculean effort which smoothed the way ahead for two young lovers who were forever in his debt ... and this proved what we had long suspected, that the finest emollient for true love ... was beer!
Back at Kings, way before these shenanigans, we all learned that the imbibing of beer was an old established tradition, 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 were the stories of Harry himself. Our heroic founder of the King's School was a noted imbiber and famed for his manipulation of the Pope. With the dissolution of the monastries went the wine making preeminence of wine and left the Brits free of indulge in honest ale. In 1519 Harry tried to ban hops from his royal 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 English beer legacy was more powerful than the Pope's legacy!
However, in fairness, we always suggested to all the macho men of system that the Pope's legacy was not defeated by Harry's whims but rather by Anne Boleyn's enticing smile ... and we'd read the signs, times over.
So 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 always seemed to be lubricated by beer and made our world spin round ... we learned that nothing was achieved without the help of others ... and 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 ... was so many different words used for the same team effort ... playing ball ... family & friends ... even the French had some words; 'esprit de corps' ... and strangely strangers always managed the benefit of any doubt ... 'pleased to meet you, Sir, shake on it, thanks, mine's a pint'.
In the 1950s we tried but we hadn't a clue, we groped & guessed, we 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? We were almost educated in cricket at King's and passed a few exams ... but our passions for beer (& jazz music) were extra curricular and only just beginning to infect our psyche.
The serious stuff may have 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 their 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 most folk insisted 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. Charlie Pritchard, who wore a tie for the occasion, claimed confirmation rights that the year was 1957 because that was the one and only cricket tour he enjoyed ... 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 (we think this was the under 14s cricket team ... 'cos it was scribbled on the back). We 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 murky 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 the great 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 -
Bill Willetts & balance - anybody who attempted to tackle Bill always seemed to fall over in a heap ... meanwhile swift & compact he and the ball had immaculately gone ... my Dad said balance in sport was everything?
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 & his head - Malcolm was a right footer but with power & guile throughout ... Joe Cox used to say 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).
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 a future son-in-law of MSB 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 solitary 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! Dave Russell also recalled Quinns was on route to The Queens School and advertised on a sandwich board 'Hot Crumpets for Sale'. 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 into doing '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, Eddie 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 cricket gang of 1954 suggested that the selectors had ignored some of the pretenders but Graeme 'Grog' 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 -
John, 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 ... and deserved his place in the fun. We did confirm from Dad's Diary that 'Grog played for English Schools XI v. Lancs II on August 1st 1957 and scored 7'.
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 we remembered 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 George Taylor who was the boss Groundsman at The Winnington Park Recreation Club. George was in charge of the new 26 acre sporting development at Moss Farm, Northwich started in 1949. There he took time off his daily grind and encouraged us kids to play in the nets 'till dark while he bowled & bowled at us so that practice & practice made some semblance of improvement ... under his guidance we 'got across and behind the ball' and 'stayed sideways on and waited for the ball' ... he also demonstrated the devious art of swing bowling, which was a miracle to us youngsters ... and he also described the infamous techniques of ball tampering with 'suitably modified' coins ... but he was clear that this was taboo and there was no substitute for practice.
Of no interest to George was the fact that Grog was left handed at everything ... except for batting ... we remember asking why? Why bat right handed? Grog, unabashed, 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, rubbers and scorebooks ... and we remembered the names Jack Powell, Alec Pimblott, Alec Guthrie, Bernard Woodcock, ? Wilkinson, Alf & Joe Dale, Lance Drayton ...
At Trinity College, Dublin, Graeme was captain of cricket and he continued to play in Ireland after University with The Railway Union ... way on 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.
The years of trekking past the Northgate Brewery seemed to mingle into the memory mists ... but for sure we were not drinking beer ... the reprobates we were still in training ... the school years went something like this -
1949/50 last year at The Grange School
1950/51 Remove A - Mr L S 'Doggie' Lysons
1951/52 Upper Shell - Mr E 'EY' Yates
1952/53 Upper Third - Mr A St G 'Johnny' Walsh
1953/54 Upper Fourth - Mr A T 'Aty' Owen
1954/55 Lower Fifth 'A' Science = 'O' levels - Mr K A 'Ken' Hart - Maths, Physics, Chemistry, English, French, Architecture.
... in the photo; John Milroy, Dave Haley, John Birchall, Jaap Sovere, Brian Stanyer, Derek Norton, Roger Vincent, Dave Russell, John Ascroft, Morton Hodgson, Graham Hampson, D L Williams, Les Slawson, Tim Wheeler, Brian Japes, Robin Dyke, Tony Bowen, John Allen, Brian Wheeldon, Mark Dickinson, Ian Jolley, Noel Roy, Chris Bisson, Ken Rhys-Maitland, Eddie Whalley, Ken Hart, Mike Clifford, Ian Bale, Peter Gooding, Fred Riley ... (where was Philip Given? ... we did the split into 'science' & 'arts'?)
1955/56 Upper Fifth = Mr J E 'Spid' Roberts
1956/57 Sixth = 'A' levels - Maths, Physics, Chemistry
1957/58 3rd year Sixth - stayed on for more cricket !
1955 - Mike Burdekin led the offensive in 1955, his 4th year in the 1st XI, 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 ... amongst the palpable distress at the performance of the rest of us. Jack Hetherington, our young English master, also came along to keep the peace and proved to be a good egg. Jack, or 'Butch', was still going strong in 1996 when we met at the CAOKS annual dinner ... although he did abscond to Sir John Dean's Grammar School in 19?? ...
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 shown 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 our secret weapon. This was a pressie for John and signed by all the gang in the King's School 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 a blowout 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. Meanwhile john p on May 23rd took his frightening French oral, he was convinced he had failed but in the end on July 20th 1955 six 'O' levels launched a belated academic career - Maths, Physics, Chemistry, English, French and ... Architecture ... we surprised ourselves ... forgoing the obvious genetic connections with woodwork and the masterly constructions of model aircraft and canoes we plumped for Architecture? With hindsight it was propitious, the Architecture 'O' level introduced us to a lifelong fascination with the interpretation of history, which we didn't get from EYs history lessons. Perhaps not as important as cricket and beer ... but a moment of serendipity.
Mike summed up the antics involved during that memorable season of 1956 when just one match was lost and we all learned a lot about teamwork ... and life ...
'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. I like your sentiment about the good old times and still remember them as a great platform for the rest of life.'
There were only 3 matches on the 1956 tour Shrewsbury School, Wroxeter & Uppington and RAF Shawbury. A three day tour started on Wednesday July 25th.
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 on Thursday July 26th an innocent john p, just 17 years old, managed to score 88 not out at Wroxeter but he was too knackered & shocked for beer ... but he did get his 1st XI colours ... and at least our mum and Bill Willetts remembered,
'I should not omit mention that a certain JPB in 1956 scored the highest score in my memory at The Kings School and almost certainly the highest score ever to that date - 88 not out against Wroxeter!' ...
However bowling was our strength in 1956; Mike Burdekin with 56 wickets and young John Reidford still only 16 with 61 wickets! We lost only one match during the year against the fully fledged men of RAF Shawbury.
Our class mate and team mate Mike Gledhill was on the '56 tour and in 2015 he also remembered all the fun and hilarity which built a foudation for the future even though he became a Tax Inspector.
The School Magazine reported on the cricket ... but why no mention of the beer? Statistics never lie and Bill Willetts kept them in his safe deposit box ... 1956 ... some said it was before beer and girls were invented ... but wot a year!
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. There was a note about yet another intrusion into our delpleated beer funds as the team scrounged around and gathered enough of the readies to purchase a pair of pads for our departing skipper ... an inadequate recognition of our very own school boy cricketing legend.
Stalwarts Burdekin & Willetts left the King's School fray for alternative employment after the 1956 season ... National Service and then, as Bill later reminded us, off to Uni to learn how to learn.
In 2016 Mike B assembled an article about the Old Rhubarbians for the CAOKS Newsletter which placed in the school archives an indelible record of some of the inspirational school activities from the late 1950s.
At the start of the nexy school year, on 13th November 1956, Dad announced that he was feeling much better after six months off work with nervous hell ... and he recorded an entry in his diary -
'John was made a Prefect'
... this breakthrough had little to do with the Headmaster and his perspicacity and everything to do with Sergeant Major Clamp and Head Boy Mike Burdekin who were rewarded for their generosity with copious beer ... john p's reward was a luxurious dinner jacket for £19 ... specially arranged to impress the girls during the winter season at the Fourways Ballroom, Delamere ... these grand 'dances' were organised by the old girls from the Grange School and proved to be surprisingly exciting for 17 year old cricketers who knew a bit about holding a bat but nothing about holding a girl.
1957 - Roger Mills, Head Boy; Malcolm Brewis, Captain of School. Thursday July 18th we played at Old Trafford ... admittedly on the practice ground but Roy Collins was playing ... it was somewhat ignominious. On the annual cricket tour on July 31st 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 perpetual 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 our 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. TV arrived at The Briars and on June 17th 1957 Dad was 50 ... on the 29th of June George played for the parents against the school and got 5 runs - Parents 50 - School 200 (john p 75). On July 1st john p was 18 ... August 17th john p 'A' levels Maths, Physics, Chemistry and played with Winnington 3rd XI under skipper Uncle Sam (66*) ... and on 'the post' at Christmas.
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 unmentionables -
'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.
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 cricket 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 some Sunday fixtures in North Wales ... but in those days the pubs remained closed on Sundays in many areas so he had to be particularly alert to the licensing laws before finalising the games.
Doggie Lysons was not known for his cricket but he was known for his enthusiasm. He lived opposite to Tom Bateman in Well Lane and it was rumoured that he continuously cajoled Tom into thinking about an old boys team to sustain the fun.
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!
After our investigations into our beer drinking photo only two unkowns remained ... we managed to trace everyone with the sole exceptions of photographer Noel J Roy and spinner Alan Williams ... ??
Of course, for the most part, life at King's was without the ancient golden elixirs which were later to besott. Such was the interactive fun with our pals at The King's School that we never mused how much better it may have been if lubricated with beer ... it was serious good fun in abstinence ... unassailable.
Later we reflected ... our secretly dyslexic tendencies were a tad debilitating and perhaps we thrived only because of cricket, football & conviviality with friends ... fun which lasted a lifetime. The persistent inability to read was insidious and traumatic but we coped knowing that we could escape to the sports field ... we certainly tried hard to read and had some meagre success as worried parents bribed us with 'Biggles' books. But the King's School was different ... at the gun Doggie Lysons was in charge of 'Remove A' and the 'set book' for the reading challenge was Erskine Childers’ 1903 novel 'The Riddle of the Sands' ... we honestly read every single paragraph of that dense book and never understood nor remembered one iota ... we still ponder such a waste of time ... but the herculean effort was, in a strange sort of way, prescient and exciting ... maybe next time every single paragraph would be helpful? ... were we beginning to learn about hard work, honesty & time investment ... and 'if at first you don't succeed try & try again'?
In the end we did learn to read abd eventually our library became established as a treasure, an inspired happening of choice.
Our pious Grandma Brocklehurst, strictly teetotal to the end, insisted that our pinnacle of achievement at King's was not our social gallivanting but the daunting task of reading the lesson in Chester Cathedral. We remembered the first ordeal ... Isaiah 40-6 -
'A voice said, cry, and another asks, what shall I
That all mankind is grass, they last no longer than a flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon them,
the grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God endures for evermore'.
We never claimed to understand our religious indoctrinations and were mystified when many of our mates were 'confirmed', but we came eventually to a sort of an epiphany ... not the conjuring trick with bones which was the 'resurrection' ... but how our genes themselves might just 'endure for evermore'?
But we did read Honest to God when we were 17 and it did sceptically chime.
From 1956 we remembered just one seminal moment of academic fun ... we won no prizes, scholarships nor accolades ... sure we passed exams but didn't remember much ... guys like Tony Bowen were far better bets than the formal science lessons from Gomer & Spid ... such we could never really understand. Although Spid did rise in our estimation when he wrote A Year with Nature, a book with lasting appeal in our household which became packed full of environmentalists ... we concluded Spid was the first of such species we had met. Perhaps he unwittingly inspired the wild life garden at The Meister with hides for the hedgehogs & fish ponds for the herons? But perhaps not, by the time of these happenings we were pinned under the considerable influence of Carole with an 'e'.
The one happening of academic fun was indelible; leading a school debate on The Suez Crisis. Had a 'broad' education from peers made us comfortable in a minority? We learned that in war, and all other altercations for that matter, God was always claimed by both sides, so who was the tyrant & oppressor? ... and who was to judge?
We were on the side of action ... with Tom Clamp ... and Edmund Burke & Winston Churchill -
'I'd be there with my barrow'
'It only takes good men to do nothing for evil to triumph'
'Liberal Democracy was not the best organising system, it was just better than the alternatives which have been tried from time to time'
So in 1956 the 'Suez Debate' heralded the begining of the end of adolescence as we were maturing as we enabled a -
'helicopter view of the world'
Liberal democracy just worked out better than the impositions of dictators in the end.
Such weltanschauung became a significant tool for our understanding of all predicaments for our stretch of life ... and for effective action ... a splendid precursor for Darwinism? Reinforced later by the best we met, like Ram Charam, Derek Holdsworth, Daniel Kahneman ... and all who stayed above the fraying trivia, tittle tattle & gossip and got on with the job.
There was no right or wrong just some alternatives which worked out better than others. Our voice was heard above the emotional hubbub of that one avid debate about nationalisation of private property and privatisation of production ... of course our paltry efforts convinced no one but ourselves ... but unwittingly around 1956 we absorbed two very personal nuggets of enlightenment -
ethical matters were not adjudications of mythical Gods, oppressive Bishops, tyrannical Princes, dictatorial Generals & corrupt Bureaucrats ... nor school teachers ... they were matters for individual folk and their mates ... we were on a mission ... as Darwin first explained giraffes long necks ... then economics ... and then morality
different viewpoints were both legion AND necessary as the feedstock of evolution and natural selection ... differences were to be celebrated .... reconciled, in the end, only by the evolving success of empirical science.
So as we left school in 1958 there were not many irksome questions, we had had a ball. But did time consuming sport lead to missed opportunities elsewhere? Every decision to invest our time was also a decision not to do some alternative ... only much later did we learn the significance in economic theory of 'opportunity costs' and the intriguing different between 'hard work, honesty & thrift' and 'jacks of all trades masters of none' ... did cricket & cricketers at school embed our belief in fun & friends and our aversion to 'sprinkling the desert with a teaspoon'? ... for sure intrusive time hung around everywhere ... hiking to Greenbank Station, slow steam trains to Chester Northgate, the trek up Delamere Street and down Northgate Street to school, omnibuses to Cliveden Road before the exhausting last crawl to Lache Lane ... endless hours travelling ... no wonder there was little time for the Army Cadet Force, Gilbert & Sullivan Operas, Continental trips and Abersoch Summer Camps? ... and even the stunning Janet from The Queen's School, fell by the shameful wayside? ... nevertheless we guessed that investment in sport saved us from the ingress of our terrifying & debilitating affliction; a serious inability to read ... in the end 1950s King's Chester was real good fun.
'Holidays' and 'a change is as good as a rest' never really cut the mustard with us independents. We didn't want a rest, we claimed to be fit and 'in training' ... and we didn't wish for change, we were enthusiastically happy playing cricket, joking in English and drinking beer with our mates ... 'I got Rhythm ... who could ask for anything more'?
Hot weather and new environs meant little ... cricket was played on the village green and not on the beach in Beridorm. We dressed for the weather and we actively & routinely wiggled our niche environment to suit ... the grass was never greener on the other side of the hedge there was more to do on our side ... we avoided especially the cancerous sun, deck chair concentration camps and gritty sand under foreskins ... and we always preferred a T-bone steak to 'yams' & 'draw soup' ... 'feijoada' was tempting but then that was available in Soho ... travel hours & miles with picnics on the motorways and dehydration in cramped economy class just wasted time and tired us out ... we dwelled on the ginormous opportunity costs. With our dyslexic inability to learn English fluently, new languages were not at all attractive. Later everyone we met around Unilever seemed to be hell bent on learning English, so we were not shocked and we smiled when our Chairman was transferred to Buenos Aires proclaiming, 'if they don't understand me I'll shout louder'?
Of course we did learn our economics under the soap pans in Apapa and wouldn't have missed it for the world ... it was serious fun ... but it was no 'holiday', we earned big bucks while we dripped blood for the family and earned our spurs.
Camping was fun but not 'to get away from it all' but rather to 'do more of it all' and intensify social skills and cement camaraderie and save money for beer.
Greenall Whitleys always seemed to taste much better than Tequila. A taste we constantly checked just to make sure.
So why 'holidays'?
In January 1945 Dad succumbed to the dreaded 'undulant fever' which descended on Burnside, Little Leigh ... or was it 'typhoid'. Dad sweated it out in his cricket sweater with Dr Booth's M&Bs (sulfapyridine; all that was available in those days?) Tuesday May 8th was VE day after 6 years of war. How did we all survive?
'Holidays' were never even mentioned during the war ... we had a bike and a ball and doting grand parents with fields and orchards just next door ... David Hindley and Janette Carter from just across the road were always up for it and within easy reach.
1946 dutiful parents worked on our education and carted us off to Mrs Blacklock at Lytham St Annes where we were introduced to beach donkeys, dressed for the occasion in school cap & tie, and the freezing cold but we did have a ball. The Blackpool Tower Circus also featured in the learning program, complete with smelly elephants and an horrendous tattooed man ... which was all very interesting but such extravagance interrupted our endeavours to emulate our soon to be budding heroes, Stanley Mathews and Denis Compton.
This was Three before Four ... on October 19th 1946 Kathryn Ann was born and surprised us.
1947 August 28th £31-0-0 was paid to Uncle Edward and Auntie May's for hols at their boarding house in St Anne's. April 26th 1947 Charlton 1 v Burnley 0 FA Cup Final after extra time. And our long lost 'scrapbook' started to become a collectors item. We also made it in Womans Pictorial.
1948 memories were certainly clearer. Bradman's Oz giants were at the Old Trafford Test Match on Saturday July 10th. We were part of a massive crowd and the gates were closed early. We saw Arthur Morris in the nets and Dick Pollard at his best. Also in August another massive crowd for Cyril Washbrook's benefit, we were agog on the grass boundary. He accumulated £14,000 which was big big money in those days and sensibly invested in 'Alec Watson & Mitchell Ltd, Piccadilly, Manchester' the supplier of my cricket balls. On 28th August 1948 @ Bloomfield Road - Blackpool 1 v. Aston Villa 0. November 24th The Briars was purchased for £2,500 ... seven bedrooms and a sink room and an alcove ... jeez ... did it break the bank?
1949 The Briars in the snow January 1949. Walter Hadlee's New Zealanders tour and a booklet with all the details for my birthday from our splendid neighbour & family friend; solicitor Mark Fletcher. 1949-50 Northwich Vics enjoyed 'Their Finest Year' ... and after the season, in 1950, the Northwich Guardian published a celebratory booklet ... probably the result of the enthusiasm of stalwart sports reporter Mike Talbot-Butler who later helped us with our failing memory ... sadly our copy of this treasure was lost together with all our collectable bits of memorabilia when aging parents cleared out the untidy remnants of their fledglings who had long left the nest.
We were glum for a while at the loss of our treasures ... but nobody could rubbish our memories which were burnished regularly and remained bright for the duration.
1950 On Friday April 14th 'Eagle' was delivered to The Briars by our Newsagent Mr Bowden. We had pestered concerned parentals to allow us to indulge in this weekly dose of excitement at 3d a go. We were somwhat surprised at this luxury ... perhaps 'an educational comic edited by the Rev Marcus Morris' could help with a wayward education and keep their first born son off the booze? We joined the Eagle Club but never made the accolade 'Mug of the Month' but we did sport a gold 'Eagle Badge and star'. On Feb 13th telephone Northwich 4087. Was the year spent finding a suitable secondary school for us? Saturday April 1st King's 'entrance exam' ... Friday June 23rd 'through to King's' ... Monday Sept 4th 'free place at Sir John Deans'. But Wednesday Sept 13th we started at King's as enthusiastic parents splashed out in hope. Regretfully we don't remember thanking the parentals for this opportunity ... but we tried not to let them down. We were happy & grateful to avoid a cheap boarding school somewhere in North Wales ... so was Mrs Perry.
1951 Monday July 30th train from Chester to Llaneillian and in Peter Hardman's bungalow we were in the garden shed ... wonderful weather. Saturday 22nd September we were selected for King's U13s footy.
1952 Monday Jan 28th dad's Driving Test and his 1st works car a Vauxhall ... Wednesday June 4th Clare's Wedding. Llaneillian again Monday July 28th visited the Amlych Factory. Befriended Brian, rowed and played 'fives', and fished for conger eels with John Hardman ... rain but new friends were positively therapeutic.
Later luck was on side when we discovered our very own '1952 Eagle Diary' which was still decipherable and jogged the memory with written evidence of joys ... it seemed our attention span was not dominated by Dan Dare, we also experimented.
In 1952, after an inspiring Christmas gift of a 'box of magic' from 'Gamages', we fancied a go as a Conjurer. Conjuring tricks from specialists 'Davenports' became a fascinating obsession. We devoured the catalogues and desparately saved our meagre pocket money and managed to accumulate twenty five shillings, the price tag for a Davenprots most famous Demon Wonder Box ... 25/- was a massive amount of dosh in those days ... we were off Mars Bars for months. But in the end we secured an enduring prize, a Demon Wonder Box ... the Trick of the Century ... and a fantabulous Christmas Show for the whole family at Heathside.
In the cold winters of the 1950s we played school soccer on Saturday mornings and in the afternoons we watched Northwich Vics at The Drill Field although later our allegiances switched to ICI Alkali at close by Moss Farm.
We were also into 'hobbies', fun play things in our 'top floor' bedroom, not a 'man shed' but a comfortable space we could call our own ... most memorably with Hornby OO model trains, aero modelling, stamp collecting, model aircraft, construction of wood & canvass kayaks and our fascinating conjuring tricks ... but no beer we were only 13.
1953 was the year we discovered an ancient folio of strange and exotic postage stamps in the Heathside archives? We still wonder who on earth started this stamp collection in that old red album? We never asked who, why and when? We were too preoccupied wth the stories of the stamps. Reg Whittick, one of Dads work colleagues, helped us out at enormous expense with an original 1840 'penny black' and some shining stamp tweesers!
Another diary, a 'Collins Diary', was recovered from 1954 which suggested we were training for our future beer drinking entrée ... ballroom dancing lessons with Kitty Oaks and Breezy Len with the Grange School girls ... and we recorded that we were rather pleased with Gill's boyfriend, Colin Brown, who could drink and play cricket! A less salubrious entry reminded us that poor Rick had pneumonia!
1954 August 28th c/o Mrs H E Williams, Benllech ... a not very good Boarding House for a week ... but Traeth Bychan was good. Doris married Tuesday August 3rd and rural fun in Bosley starts.
1955 March 31st grandpa 'Pops' 80th birthday ... why do we remember that? August 13th c/o Mrs Jones, Gors Eilian, Llaneilian, Amlwch for a 'lovely cottage' holiday ... we had a treasured unplayable 'saxophone' part from Uncle Bill and we devoured a tutor book instead of the sun ... alas the ancient instrument was only half there and proved impossible for Boosey & Hawkes to resuscitate ... suspiciously they offered 37/6 for it; we reluctantly accepted ... but aspirations became firmly embedded ... we had been bitten and were to revisit saxophones in the future.
In 1956 there was a break after the cricket tour, 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 kid even after a fag)!
In 2017 we enjoyed a lucky break; Brian Wheeldon was in town and Brian's memory of bygone days proved awesome -
I noted somewhere on your beer and cricket
recollections a mention of the Norfolk Broads. This was supposed to be a
celebration of our school days. Regrettably none of us had much idea of
cooking and were not in the eating out twice a day brigade. I do remember on
the last evening having a lot of canned fruit and I think some other items
left and it was decided we would put them all together for our final meal.
To accommodate the volume from the tins we emptied them all into the plastic
washing up bowl and then it was washed down with much beer. You recall our
evening at the village dance. What I remember most of the evenings events
was trying to find our boat rowing back at midnight. I cannot remember how
many boats we came alongside before we were back at our temporary home. Our
boat was called Lapwing.
The two crews were Hodgson, Dickinson and Wheeldon in Lapwing - Clifford, Birchall and Lathom-Sharp in 'wot's the name of the boat.
Attached two photos - we didn't have a timed shutter camera!
I am still in touch with Mike Clifford (having said I was not in touch with anyone!). He and his wife Pam came to stay with us in Cornwall and again in our new Wiltshire home last year. He hasn't changed much, like the rest if us, he just got older!
Barnaby L-S was one of the few in our year who contrived to serve Her Majesty in National Service ... and we remembered that his story of promotion to 2nd Lt in charge of a tank earned him a beer.
Morton Hodgson had excellent taste and settled in a fine house in Acton Bridge close to great granddad Edward's place on the Weaver ... but is most famous for accompanying us on our first expedition to purchase real ale with our own money ... in 1957 at 18 ... in Sam Smith's shrine 'The Boot', Chester.
RIP Mort 22nd March 2016.
Mark Dickinson turned into an academic and settled in Hull, but was always remembered as the trumpet player with the Dee Delta Jazzmen, a schoolboy band in Shotton ... although 'Baines' was accomplished they never made The Cavern Club nor the Hit Parade but they did have fun.
After all these prescient reminders of the summer hols, all still seemed to coagulate into a misty mess in the 1950s ... so much was going on in those days ... that was our excuse. There were camping trips to Borth-y-Gest (1957), Conway (1958) and Abersoch ... we recalled being stranded by the vicious flood tide on the bar at Borth in a small GP 14 and eventually managing to scramble ashore on Harlech Sands ... one memorable escapade involved old steam 'push' bikes ... on Sunday 7th September 1958 we extended the pleasures of our 'beer holiday' in Conway by one day ... the strategy was masterful ... instead of wasting a day travelling we peddled back to Chester during the night ... we started out on the dot of midnite and saw the dawn at Flint ... strange wot fun was remembered when you're old and funny peculiar that we never thought Daniel was 'deprived' of such pleasures.
It was not quite all cricket and 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.
In 2017 Mike Clifford recalled the heroic trip down the River Wye in self built kayaks during the summer of 1956 -
'Nice to hear from you. You have lots of King’s School nostalgia in your epistle. You are quite right that I am not really into beer but yes, I remember building and flying The Walthew, and my uncle climbing a large tree to retrieve it. I also recall both of us building canoes, mine was a PBK 20 kit using Parana pine stringers and yours a Tyne Folding Boats design ... you had to saw the lengths from a plank, which impressed me. I think the Wye expedition was Rhys-Maitland, Wheeldon, Birchall and Clifford, with Fred Riley doing the transport using Ken’s old Bentley, but I have no idea which year it was. I suppose we need a photo with a date on it.
john p's memories of the Norfolk Broads and the River Wye were now a little clearer and he bet on 1956 for the Norfolk Broads ... miraculously confirmed in Dad's Diary, 'john to The Broads September 1st 1956 returning to The Briars Sept 8th'!
A splendid photo of Mike in the dinghy reminded me of the GP 14 pleasures on the Winsford flashes and the trauma of the flood tide off Harlech Sands ... and flying our balsa wood & tissue sailplanes first 'The Walthew' and then 'The Last Straw' ... and then we went all sophisticated with 2' wing span 0.75cc Albion diesel powered plane Madcap ... detailed plans purged from the monthly copy of 'Aeromodeller' ... it flew well and in our mind's eye we can still see the maiden flight in the garden at 'Lambay', the home of the Cliffords in The Grange, Hartford. 'Lambay' was also the scene of embarrassment when we flew our 'control line' model 'The Gnat' and the circular tethered flights put us dizzily on our backside.
But which year for the River Wye? Not that the year mattered as much as the fun. But Brian Riley was a reliable chronologist, authenticated by his enduring status as our brother-in-law. In 1959 Brian owned a splendid? Jaguar Saloon re-sprayed British Racing Green and complete with bumpers, running boards, magnificent P100 headlights ... and a roof rack. This was the vehicle that transported two canoes, two tents and four paddlers to Glasbury-on-Wye in September 1959.
Dad's Diary to the rescue with the date - September 19th 1959, 'John home from Wye Valley with Brian Wheeldon and Mike Clifford'.
JBW also remembered bits of Wye adventure ...
paddling bow with Mike behind me as we approached Symonds Yat Rapids, as we went through the white water I called out the powerful paddling instructions and used all my strength to keep us on course. We thankfully emerged unscathed but to my horror found Mike had held his paddle above his head all the and simply trusted to the Almighty to guide us. I now to understand that I was trusting my life to a homemade canoe?? Actually it performed very well !!
I really don't recall being chauffeured around in a Bentley. Did it have a roof rack? I don't think I have ever seen a Bentley with a roof rack!
john p recalled that apart from the Symonds Yat Rapids the lasting memory of the Wye spectacular was not the beer but the tree stump that broke through our rubberised canvas hull ... just a minute or so after launch! The accident was certainly not driver error ... we were off the beer and in the wilderness.
john p was also sure the Bentley was not involved, he remembered that Fred Riley had a fine old Jaguar, confirmed by Fred in 2017. But we also recalled the Rhys Bentley ... a renovation undertaken by Rhys during dentistry studies in Glasgow ... in a garage somewhere on Byers Road ... the engineering work was funded by an interest free load from john p who had accumulated a little surplus on his grant by backing 3 year old favourites on the flat ... but this was not the summer of 1959 ... the car renovation work was going on in the autumn of 1961 when john p was digging in Woodlands Road and poet & author Jim Dening was our financial broker who arranged the loan.
Once upon time the very same Jim, in the very same canoe, made a remarkable trip down the industrialised River Weaver from Winsford to Northwich with portages round the Vale Royal and Hunts Locks ... 'remarkable' because a generation earlier Jim's dad had enjoyed the very same water sport on the very same river with the very same transport mode.
However it was not Jim's kayak skills nor his beer drinking skills that we remembered most ... but his books ... F Scott Fitzgerald familiarised us with 'the jazz age' & 'intense physical affairs' in This Side of Paradise ... and then the entreaties in Most Likely to Succeed from John Dos Passos , a young erstwhile Communist who became a thoughtful Libertarian,
'there was a library in Des Moines and Jed read it' &
'Jefferson's decentralized American democracy'
One Deningism that was always remembered,
'progress is stuck at the traffic lights, and we can't see round the corner' ...
We're still at it 60 years later ... 'stuck in a sepia photograph' ... in between beers!
Jim reappeared from his bolt hole in Ledbury in 2018 as several old friends emerged from the woodwork in response to fund raising efforts at our old school. With Jim we enjoyed some more of the same old banter from the 1950s ... this time we were on Hydes Original at The Goshawk ... the beer was excellent and the memories vivid as we picked up the conversations from where we left them 60 years ago ... the fun was still up front and the happenings had had no obvious deleterious effects on body & soul ... in fact they seemed to have been positively therapeutic ... what more can we say, the perfect sentiments were generously and gratefully offered to posterity -
Ode to a Pint Pot
A newly discovered sonnet by John Keats,
found in a dustbin by Jim Dening in 2018
Oh thou much ravish’d bride of drunkenness,
now serve us also a convivial drink
of Cheshire bitter, which may make us think
of quiet friendship instead of loud excess.
When old age shall this generation waste,
a few companions will recall the taste
and share another pint or two of beer
to seize the present moment of good cheer.
Most like a straight, but some prefer a handle –
wrong shape can turn into a tasting scandal.
Oh pot, once moulded out of sand and fire,
formed solely with the aim to quench desire,
remind us of the truth and beauty in thy glow,
and this today is all we need to know.
Yes ... 'truth & beauty in thy glow' ... we loved it. Jim's poem was complemented by a photo of his inspiring plaque which he donated to The Prince of Wales, Ledbury, the haunt of the Ledbury lowlife in need of encouragement.
During these years transport was a serious problem for folk in the Northwich outback ... john p and Grog became intrepid 'hitch hikers' ... Mike Clifford had a posh motor bike ... but john p had to wait until after his 19th birthday before independence and mobility, from then on the Chester and North Wales mileage was regularly clocked up on a Vespa scooter which ran on beer.
Brian Wheeldon impressed us all when, on his 17th birthday, he managed to secure regular access to 'Annie', an impressive Ford Anglia Saloon, from then onwards chauffeured lifts into Chester kept Brian on free ale as eager passengers paid in pints. We kept in touch with Brian at his wedding in 1962 at Whitegate Church and beer afterwards at The Woodpecker in Leftwich ... then it was our own wedding bash in Norley in 1965 ... and on Saturday October 3rd 1987 a lavish silver wedding shindig at Watersmeet, Brian and Pat's palatial hostel in Mortehoe, Woolacombe, Devon ... and yet again in 2018 when Brian pestered a few of the gang from the class of 1958 to a reunion at the new King's School ... built on Milroy's Wrexham Road Farm just after we'd left. There we shared a drink with Brian but this time it wasn't beer ... the pubs were shut!
The 2018 Kings Reunion was a sobering leap into the past ... the new school, vintage 1960, was a foreign and faceless place, it seemed strange and new fangled to all the decrepit old men who crawled out of the woodwork for the event ... the only memory we could relate to was the splendid window which had been rescued from the old school in the Bishop's Palace aka Barclays Bank. But it was great to see many of the best of the reprobates who made the trip ... Wheeldon Birchall Walley Allen Eaton Dening Hewitt Stanyer Vincent Speechley Siddorn Russell Hindley Clifford ... but where were all the others?
The reunion of the class of 1958 inspired Roger Vincent to provide a wealth of memorabilia rescued from the milieu of the 1950s. Roger was our old mate from Remove A (1950/1) was always full of fun & yarns (even in the absence of beer) and he reminded us of an auspicious event from 1957 ... the Curzon Park Cricket Club Dance ... everybody who was anyone was there. All with ambitious intents of infiltrating The Queen School social scene. Roger uncovered a photo of Mike Colledge tripping the light fantastic at the do in the Sarl Williams Hall in 1957. This goes a long way to explaining our choice of a reliable best man ... Mike had the extraordinary ability to dance coherently with the girls after a pint ... we remember attending the same dance but missed the photo opportunity, & the girls, as we were in the bar ... or may be still in the pub, with Senoj. Also uncovered were the identities of the fabulous cricket team which proved to be of significant social and sporting importance ... Tony Bowen, ?, ?, ?, Dave Haley, Mike Colledge, Alan Bowen, Roger Vincent, Chris Bisson, ?, Chris Roberts.
Later in 1958 we moved up North as students of Natural Philosophy with the Scottish Engineers at James Watt's place ...
At King's we had only learned a bit about cricket & beer and we were in awe of our intellectual mates who possessed an uncanny capacity to pass exams with distinction. Jim Dening went to Oxford, Tony Bowen went to Cambridge ... we went to Glasgow for success in engineering but although we didn't know it at the time, once we were out of the examination hall we failed miserably to retain most, some said all, of our indoctrination into Chemical Engineering ...
Up there in the cold on Gilmore Hill, we learned how to drink 'heavy'... we met lots of other good skins although we never mastered Jeremy Jordan's Glasgow twang.
The opportunities were legion; The Students Union at the foot of the hill, The Glasgow Rhythm Club with 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 which 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 very fit!
Everyone was drinking 'heavy' ... McEwan's Heavy 3.5%-4% alcohol ... it went down well ... and we soon mastered the graduations from 'light' to 'heavy' to 'export' ... and to the 'wee half' chasers. Although we did notice the unfortunate, if not distasteful, proclivity of many of the locals for ordinary beverages ... and 'excess'.
Our old mate Vijay Bhalla helped the convivial 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 'retired' from the Liverpool Corporation 10 years previously. Glasgow was at least ten years behind the times, London was the place to be!
Our first digs were at 1051 Great Western Road. 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 regardless of tribal affinities. 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 Students Union earned a fine reputation for political debate and we were enthusiastic 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 within his own University? We recalled the best man of political substance at Adam Smith's place was 'conservative' Len Turpie who explained that universal 'moral sentiments' were the key to making life 'work' ... but he was grotesquely outnumbered by 'the men of system'.
Nevertheless the open free thinking and beer in the 'Beer Bar' at the students union were refreshing tonics ... 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 'Natural Philosophy', 'Daft Friday' and 'The Squeezey' ... and strangely the lovely girls from St Margaret's Union, Anniesland Teachers Training College and the Gorbals never seemed to match the talent at The Queens School in Chester ... amongst all the helter skelter of student life we seemed to miss out on the fascinations of the Scottish ladies.
The 1958 Christmas break started on December 13th with work at the GPO on the 17th at 7am with the delectable Dorothy at the Northwich Sorting Office! There was partying at The Grey Parrot in Northwich with Maureen, the Wall City Jazz Club and Bollands with the lads and Clem's with Senoj from The Queen's School and 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.
At some stage in 1960 we also spent a break with Vijay in London and slept in his digs in Gerrards Cross, he had abandoned Electrical Engineering for the Actuarial profession. Of course we were in love with the ladies at the time and told stories of passion & pleasure ... and as usual, some of it was true. We can't remember where we drank?
Sometime in 1959 or 60 Vijay also enjoyed a beery visit to The Briars and we somehow remembered beer at 'The Fox & Barrel' Cotebrook ... recklessly arranged on our Vespa scooter & pillion ... wot a riot!
Vijay was still going strong in 2018 in New Delhi ...
Back over Shap to Glasgow Central in the new year and on Wednesday February 24th 1960 there was excitement in town; The Lyttelton Band were at The Students Union.
The first things we had done on arrival at Gilmore Hill was to seek out opportunities for our passions for sport, music and beer. Hockey and The Students Union were straight forward and sign posted but jazz at the Glasgow Rhythm Club was a little arcane. Jeremy Jordan was a wily local student with a penchant for the electric guitar of Barney Kessel ... and a regular at the record recital club. There he introduced us to avid listening and eclectic jazz ... and to Norrie McSwan, a local surgeon, President of the Club and devoted discographer for the Lyttelton Band. We learned more than thermodynamics during our first two years at Glasgow.
The day following the Students Union gig Humph was to play at Norrie McSwan's Ruchill Hospital. We recalled traveling to the hospital gig on the back of John McCurley's scooter. And what a party afterwards ... and then a second 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 bar before the gig and it was reported that Johnny had found hinself too close to 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 ... magical stuff.
Much later at a concert at The Liverpool Phil we reminded Humph of Norrie's scotch ... and received a warm smile as well as a CD.
Back in Northwich, on June 18th 1960, George engineered a new car, an Austin A55; 244 GTU. In September 1960 we were laid low with violent tonsillitis and neglected to sit the 2nd year exams and engineered a sabbatical. An enthralling interlude started; supply teaching in Barnton & Hartford ... Noel Coward's 'Blyth Spirit' and the mysterious lady Di, then 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?
September 1961 found us initially in dreary digs on Woodlands Roads but they lasted only a few days before we were rescued by the Chem Eng gang and our august mate Colin M Bell, a mean golfer, ladies man & wag from Chester-le-Street who shared with us his palatial accommodation; a flat of our very own with Mrs Murray at 38 Athole Gardens, just off Byers Road. We tried but failed to keep up to date with C M Bell and his later adventures ... we remember we were invited to his wedding ... we wonder if this was our man?
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.
Christmas 1961? A blank ... 'Edley thought it might have been the Christmas of Anita & Di ...
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 Westfield, Ballingry, Fife for a project at the Scottish Gas Board ... and we got paid! Wot a breakthrough ... we could pay for our own warm & comforting beer as we experienced 'fun' in the freezing grime of Fifeshire. We were learning how to learn.
Westfield Works was a brand spanking new Lurgi high pressure coal gasification plant opened by The Queen on June 27th 1961 ... we were pioneering the latest technology ... production only lasted for 10 years prior to the switch to natural gas in 1974. But in the fullness of time we realised Ballingry's lasting fame was not its coal (Westfield was closed in 19??) 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 condensate 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 & better beer and girls ... or was that 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 ... and the turkey was cold?!
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 we recalled discussions continued after graduation when Jost stayed with us at The Briars in Northwich ... happy days ... still learning. Celebrating after exams also involved our first venture into the air ... a DC3 flight from old Renfrew to Ringway ... wot excitment. Jost got a first, of course this surprised nobody and he went on to be great in combustion in Arizona. We also remembered that 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 stronger than teachers.
In Glasgow, with the Colin M Bell, we developed an absorption system which involved securing a full set of lecture notes (even if they were only carbon copies they were prized) and then we worked 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. The 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' 'n' boppin' at the Union dances ... 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 ... for one day only we remembered the intricacies of thermodynamics ... we even knew about 'Foot Poundals' and our ancient slide rule had driven many miles ... 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 had learned to live a little and manage risk. This was a strange awakening ... after a dyslectic life dominated by cricket, beer & girls we had learned how to understand a few additional bits and pieces ... this was after the trauma of being unable to read at 11 ... our personalised annotated notes and our slide rule became treasured possessions for our tenure ... unsoiled since the exams but still with us ... just in case?
This combination of personalised notes & execution tools also worked later in Unilever disguised as strategies & tactics for social execution at the coffee break or in the beer bar ... and even later still in retirement with more 'notes' on a PC for the cultivation of global families & friendships and even music.
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 a proud 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 in 1968 ... but we never really fathomed scotch and always found that the was never any warning of impending disaster).
At Glasgow we discovered we were quite good at learning to pass exams ... and we actually enjoyed understanding a little bit about what was going on ... we were keen to continue the bonanza and assumed in the end it would be a smart way to enjoy cricket, girls and beer. We seriously planned 'Operational Research' at Birmingham ... if we could get a grant?
During university years we never lost touch with the magic of Chester. All the engineering students at Glasgow were expected to grease their hands and graft during extended summer breaks and we engineered jobs in Chester. In this way we managed to learn some engineering practice & forgot the theory ... and, of some significance ... spend the cricket season in Chester with Queen's School girls ... we also earned a little lucre to go towards the bar bills!
Crossbatters Cricket was special, some of the beer drinkers from the King's School cricket tours of 1955/6/7 & 8 got a hold of the esprit de corps by the scruff of the neck and made things happen.
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 1961-68 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 manage to arrange 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 ... this time including Charlie Pritchard, Mickey Moore , Robin Jones and John Evans.
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 compile such an opus and, in any case ... too forgetful to remember ...
However some bits did stick ...
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, famed hooker with The Old Birkonians, but a perilous driver of my Vespa Scooter. This Vespa, an 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 ... which on one occasion involved intimate contact with my elbow and right hip when the Vespa headlight quenched and a battery driven cycle light was hopefully strapped to the handle bars. Needless to say the ploy failed to sufficiently illuminate the road ahead as we sped through Vicars Cross to Northwich. We reluctantly left the lightless contraption behind a hedge to be retrieved the next day.
Transportation problems loomed large 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. There were real breakthroughs in our quest for mobility ... access to convivial pints and the entertainment of the ladies seemed to depend overwhelmingly on the wherewithal to get to Chester -
1943 George purchases 'Pip Squeak' autocycle for £15 on January 11th. On Sept 24th 'Pip Squeak' plus £15 was swapped for a magnificent 'probe' a Velocette 250cc two stroke ... wot a mean machine, we did many stiff miles on the pillion.
1947 - a brand new sparkling 'Rudge Black Flash' bike offered some local independence from the pillion.
1953 - Dad wangles a company car; a Vauxhall ... but one driver only! Then March 2nd 1953 an Austin A40 saloon 'NLM ...'
1956 - on Jan 12th George was awarded a new Ford Consul 'WMA 988' which should have relieved the pain of 'anxiety neurosis'.
1957 - john p learned the skillful methods of 'hitch hiking' and 'thumbing' along the Northwich / Chester Road ... which sometimes worked.
1959 - March 17th 1959 a engineering miracle, a Vespa Scooter, delivered ready for work at Stanlow on April 13th. As noted by in Dad's diary the 'L plates' disappeared on July 9th 1959 as john p passed his test.
1962 - Feb 10th £582-16 to Clifford Eden for a spanking new Green Austin 7 Mini '201 UMA'. Mama at the grand old age of 55 learned to drive and john p was gifted access having passed his test in the Glasgow go slow in March '62
1963 - an Austin A35 van on the 'never never' paid for from real Unilever earnings ... real independence at 24?
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?
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 playing 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 - In 1960 Her Majesty confirmed that we were no longer required to defend the home land as National Service was abandoned. After our 2nd year at Uni practical work during the summer was in the Metallurgy Lab at ICI Winnington. We were in awe of this august company where dad's mate Hoot Gibson discovered polythene in 1933.
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.
In 1960 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 disastrously timed 'bout of tonsillitis resulted in a father's letter to the University 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 when we watched 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 was there and all the reprobates bar none.
Creaky Dawbarn made his mark at school as our wicket keeper until that fateful day when he was hit in his unprotected delicates and Willetts claimed the stumps.
Creaky 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. This return to Chester was a good move, we'd missed his performances 'behind the stumps' ... and he was back in plenty of time for our weddin' ... he continued to remind at every opportunity that he was always our first choice keeper and had only been displaced by Bill when his nuts had been savaged during an absent minded moment when he 'forgot' his treasured box. From then on remembering protection was second only to remembering money for a pint!
1962 - Malcolm Brewis, captain. ???? vice-captain.
Work was at Associated Octel started April 30th 1962 with John Tiplady, who also played cricket at Boughton Hall, Alan 'anemometer' Knight from Weaverham ... and a gorgeous young librarian at EP. 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. 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 ... but he reappeared in 2015 in Anglesey!
Cricket was not our only sport in 1962, and egged on by Max Faulker and 'Edley Simms we became students of the turf and forever remembered the riches won at the Doncaster St leger on 'Hethersett' ... and tennis at Glan Aber, greyhounds at Sealand Road and fun at The Dale.
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 Tom Bateman bowled and took wickets, 40 of them. Martin Evans was the star of the batting, 15 knocks, 367 runs.
Martin Evans was still in short pants when we were at school but later over the years we played a lot of cricket with Martin. He was a reliable friend and his claim to fame was as a fellow Chemical Engineer. He was much more convention than we were and went into a proper job with Shell, in the oil business in Aberdeen.
RIP Martin Evans May 2018.
Noel Barlow only played 4 times in 1963 but 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 ... and preparing for Max Faulkner's 21st birthday bash at The Stafford Hotel, City Road where he met a smile.
'The main feature of the year has been the excellent batting of John Birchall, who scored almost 750 runs'
We guessed that the newspaper reports were edited by our mum ... but we were not surprised by the run glut; john p was trying to impress our new scorer, Carole Margaret Jackson.
Carole with an 'e' had been recruited on September 28th 1963 at Max Faulker's 21st birthday booze up at The Stafford Hotel, City Road. This happening had nothing to do with Max's excellent beer and everything to do with Carole's remarkable and enduring skills.
1964 was also the year that 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 contributed some serious run accumulations ... john p mustered only a miserly 284 ... he was away with the fairies preparing for October 23rd when he married a smile.
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 1965/6/7 our President was one of our most enthusiastic supporters Mr G C T Bowen Esq who was CC's guest at our Annual Dinner at The Oaklands Hotel in Hoole Road,
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.
A splendid description of the social cricket of the time was skillfully provided by our captain of repute Chris Chorlton ... read his book! In 2017 Chris was writing again for the CAOKS ... hilarious!
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.
Mick recalled that 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!
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.
The Music Industry around Chester during the war and afterwards into the 1950s when we met the intoxicating sounds was ... fantastic!
However for all of us there was music to imbibe years before the beers. It was the 'wireless' that had access to our ears. Much later we realised that our mum was a 'flapper' and, with dad, the pair were immersed in the intimate excitement of the British Dance Bands during the 1920s and 30s ... Jack Hylton, Henry Hall, Ambrose, Lew Stone and the rhythmic American songs they danced to at the Winnington 'rec' were in the air and on the air in our house and home all the time. Without any intention these sounds were unconsciously ingrained for future recall and pleasure.
It always irritated us to recall the abject failure of the BBC to broadcast American 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 the steam wireless, and the BBC did reluctantly broadcast American influence dance band music. But our excitement was really stirred in 1954 when 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 Dinah Shore 'Buttons & Bows' (1948), Donald Peers 'In a Shady Nook By a Babbling Brook' (1949), Teresa Brewer 'The Bell Bottom Blues' (1953) & Patti Page 'Changing Partners' (1953) ... insipid stuff that left us a bit limp.
Perhaps, jazz started with a bit of fun in 1955 (or was it 56?) 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 had always listened to steam radio and started listening to Radio Luxemburg in 1954 but 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 very early days at The Grange School, Hartford. Eventually three generations of Birchalls learned their nous at this fine establishment ... but we were not being primed for beer. A June 1949 photo revealed two pals on the back row, one looking a bit grumpy ... probably 'cos cricket had been interrupted for a photo opportunity with the girls.
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 ... but 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 ... with a grand finale Friday July 21st 1950. We wished that it were a musical and ruminated that the seeds of such affection had been sown some years earlier when Judy Garland & Dorothy Gale captured our hearts with 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' from Harold Arlen's 'The Wizard of Oz', the first movie we ever saw.
Years later in 2017, Pat and Brian Wheeldon recovered the treasured reminder of our first and only adventure on the other side of the footlights ... Pat (née The March Hare) and many other names from the past emerged from this yellowing relic ... we remembered them all, the names and the faces ... we were only 10 and far too young for beer but we did have fun ... and even earlier we had been perplexed at the excitement of 'Postman's Knock' which intrigued us long before we tasted our first delicious half? How did that happen?
We always insisted dad taught us cricket throughout the hours & hours of barrowing loads of marl to build our magnificent 'cricket pitch' at the bottom of the long garden at The Briars ... and then hours & hours of 'on the spot' bowling to quench our irrepressible desire to bat.
However around 1949 Peter Oliver lent a hand in the quest for proficiency ... he saved up his precious pocket money to purchase, @ two & sixpence, our special birthday pressie - 'How to Play Cricket' by Don Bradman - the words of the master became imprinted ... we still have this treasure in our bookcase!
The message was practice, practice, practice, as for any accomplishment invest your 10,000 hours ... no one argued with hard work, honesty & thrift ... not luck, not easy and don't blame others ... you can't pass the buck.
So before King's we spent a lot of time with Peter, and then we both managed to secure Hornby Dublo three rail model train sets for passing our 11 plus exams ... Peter bagged Sir Nigel Gresley, and john p had The Duchess of Atholl; a die cast loco which was the centre of enduring layout constructions and dreams. We also built dams in the streams in the woods ... and Jetex model air craft were carefully constructed from balsa wood & tissue ... and we played all & every sport we could find.
Both our dads were team mates and beer drinkers 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 interest in jazz & beer certainly matured in Chester but perhaps the seeds may have been sown much earlier ... with our mate Peter at The Grange ... my birthday party at The Briars in 1950 didn't serve beer ... nevertheless the gang seemed to be enjoying themselves (Robert Cann, Richard Atherton, john p, Peter Oliver, John Alcock ... where did they end up?)
Music was in the air at home as the 'wireless' was always on and Mum & Dad were Dance Band aficionados. But our shared interest in Jazz followed from the Guy Mitchell concert and led to studies and more dreams associated with the book Jazz by Rex Harris ... a book we both purchased 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. We bought a Garrard SP25 and '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 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 ether and 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. We never sprinkled the dessert with a teaspoon, the deeper we went the more intense the satisfactions ... always.
Heady stuff ... but there was also some 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 real doughty mates.
Mike J Colledge who ended up on lager in Oz ... but reappeared, out of the blue in 2017 ... just the same young Mike that we remembered from 52 years earlier ... and miraculously we were still on beer. In 1965 we had agreed that onerous best man duties required a 'reliable' choice ... someone who could be guaranteed to get you back home when you were face down in your curry ... in our case a 'reliable' friend was the one who always bought his round.
Picking up conversations where they were left them 52 years ago was easy, memories were just about up to it, and what we didn't remember we guessed and concurred.
Great fun ... and we were on 'Hydes Original' at The Goshawk.
John P Milroy was a regular at Bollands and drank so much beer that he qualified for official ushering duties at our weddin' ... he was charged with the task of controlling the flow of ale ... but he had some help from our best man. John P was from farming stock and wore a hat to match. He was a real 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. Happily JPM retired to rural pursuits in Mayo and became an aficionado in avifauna and messed in boats on Lough Conn ... not doubt he would have been appalled with the lack of opportunities on his old Wrexham Road Farm in Chester which turned foe and became a Business Park.
John 'Max' Faulker was the third of our pressganged weddin' helpers was who was also still enjoying his beer in 2015 ... unrepentant and much wiser entrepreneur of note.
This motley trio from 1965 had things in common ... they were all beer drinkers who could turn ordinary beer into convivial pints!
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 dances at Clems, on a Tuesday with Wilf Field and a Saturday with Al Hartley ... such steamy clinches were loved by the youngsters right up 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, not Nat Gonella and Lew Stone, but the Williams alto ... and also 'Sentimental Journey' with the ravishing Helen Jones singing the descending semitones ... in our heads we still heard 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 ... but we 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
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 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. We were 'regulars' around this time and were there when Billy Buck abandoned his sausages in the Chester Market for some new priorities with his drum skins ... with The Wall City Jazzmen.
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 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 ... and sadly at the end of 2019 vocalist Irene Martin announced the disbanding of the group and their last gig. Only drummer & sausage maker Billy Buck from the original band ... remained to the end.
RIP Wall City Jazzmen December 3rd 2019.
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 with a platform ticket!
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.
In the early 1960s Pete Smith 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 ...
We returned to The Commercial with Pete Smith in 2018 to try and recreate the taste of Northgate ale from 1962? Catastrophe ... our old watering hole in a prime spot on The Cross at Chester was boarded up and the doors closed to all comers. We managed a photo of two lonely & bewildered beer drinkers ready to break down the barriers to get at a pint! But the sad demise of The Commercial didn't stop the fun; we retired to The Vic across the courtyard and enjoyed a couple of pints of Deuchars ... and wondered why the youth Chester had neglected our cherished tavern of old?
Pete Smith was not only a hockey player and a beer drinker of old ... but also a drummer ... we used to think drummers were around to make a noise ... but Pete was a musical connoisseur who studied the dots at 'O' level, 'A' level and at college ... and he could actually sing the circle of 5ths and those shifts 'the other way' to the 'b's ... we were impressed big time. We remember him running off after he had bought his round at the hockey club ... frit that he would miss his Saturday evening gig.
Famously Pete, in his prime, was strutting his stuff with the Liverpool University Jazz Band at The Cavern Club. And there was evidence his grandeur at the Wigan Little Theatre on 21 May 1958. At the time we were severely handicapped with cloth ears and shortage of time but we remembered Pete's adventures and were secretly envious of his stories recounted over Northgate beers -
Mersey Beat - 1958 was OK for me up until that summer. Ralph Whatmough's band's line-up had some very familiar names in it as you can see from the Wigan Theatre programme. Hugh Potter and I started at Calday Grange GS together in 1947 and I would have classed him as my oldest friend (He was my son Chris's godfather) Hugh died in January 2017. His bass playing was in a higher league than my drumming's and in his time he played and depped in many well-known bands. Dave Ellis (see Wigan programme) graduated in law but went on to play in Bob Sharples ATV Show Band. The accordionist and salesman Arthur Price will probably not have his name in the Echo as his domain as far as I remember was Cammell Lairds Social Club in Tranmere. The Howell Williams band played mainly in our area and Harry Worsley, his tenor player, (who had a tone like yours and Coleman Hawkins!) I knew quite well as he lived near us. I certainly remember 'Pennies from Heaven' and it had some wonderfully mimed tunes in it. If you're feeling a little bit masochistic try Googling 'The Fallen Archers Chuck Penman', Chuck is Charlie, the inimitable uke player and bovine waste merchant.
Pete was still at it in the 1970s depping with the Howell Williams and Arthur Price bands and he even tinkered on piano as a budding 'musical director' at Cammell Lairds Social Club, Tranmere. He also played at those other hotbeds of dancin' & pullin', The Spinning Wheel, Broughton and The Cornist Hall, Flint. Perhaps his musical pinnacle was the regular gigs with the Saratoga Jazz Band (never 'eard of 'em) in the early nineties at Telford's Warehouse, Old Orleans, Chester and Rainhill Ex-serviceman's Club ...
... for 60 years Pete had played in dance 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.
We were always secretly envious of all this musical nous but only became awestruck many years later when we ourselves tried the dance band toons we loved with The Smithy Lane Stompers.
Pete eventually retired to The Fallen Arches and in 2010 was heard by the world plying his trade on Dirty Old Town on YouTube ... wot fun!
Hedley Simms wrote good fiction and took up our beer 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 politicos. 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.
The enthusiastic encouragement of our motley trio soon led to a splendid splice on October 23rd 1965 followed by an eventful honeymoon in The Drunken Duck at Barngates ... we remembered the beer was terrific ... but the bride was perfect.
And after the Siberian winter of 1965 in a cheap and drafty rent in Capenhurst we moved into our very first pad, 71 Latham Avenue, just off Primrose Lane in Helsby ... this smart bungalow was a snip at £3,000 ... a gamble paid for by The Woolwich Building Society which proved to be a winner. Eventually sold by our tame solicitor Robin Jones in June 1981 for a potent £26,500
Then in a flash, with little ado but much excitement, and with no help from beer whatsoever, on September 17th 1968 and July 15th 1970 Niblets & Star started their triumphant journeys ...
In 2018 The Busker hiked past 71 Latham Avenue and took a nostalgic photo of that memorable abode where we learned all about married life which, to our surprise, was not nourished by beer but by something far more potent and satisfying.
From 1963 Bollands slowly petered out ... and even Clemences seemed to lose its lustre ... as busy schedules also had to accommodate working for crumbs ... and endless hours of cricket ...
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 ...
We were introduced to Boughton Hall while still at School in 1958. The BHCC 1st XI were one short at the last minute during the holiday season and they called the school for emergency cover. We recalled generous & gushing welcomes from the Joneses & Stocktons as we prepared for action in the old decrepit pavilion ... more appropriately described as a broken down wooded shack? Our contribution was meagre, batting number 11, our leg stump was immediately removed by the prodigious speed of Birkenhead Park's Norman Hassall without a run on the board ... but Bruce Jones later recalled that we did field well!
This early introduction into BHCC 1st eleven cricket was rewarding because the pleasures of the Liverpool Competition involved not only the high standard of club cricket but also the small numbers of clubs involved which resulted in lasting friendships over beer after the matches. Everybody knew everyone else and strengths & weaknesses were hotly debated! We remembered Norman Hassall's opening bowler partner was Tony Shillinglaw ... one of the best. Later we still enjoyed talking cricket with Tony and his erudition resulted in a superb book about Don Bradman - 'Bradman Revisited: The Legacy of Sir Donald Bradman by A L Shillinglaw. Read it.
It was a pity we couldn't access this book until we were well past our sell by date but it did reinforce the messages in Peter Oliver's gift from 1949, 'How to Play Cricket' by Don Bradman!
During the 1960s on uncovered wickets playing serious competitive cricket our batting lacked luster and we were somewhat embarrassed ... 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 very 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 -
'I'm 40 today 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.
Bruce was always there helping and inspiring ... and was Club President in 1994.
RIP ... Bruce S Jones February 9th 2012.
Perhaps our proudest moment was when Jonathan established himself as a better cricketer than his dad (and certainly a better beer drinker) ... BHCC won't forget the triumphs of 1994 ... winners Liverpool Competition, Liverpool Competition Knockout, Cheshire Knockout ...
In 1994 the young Chris Fleet was skipper and was enormously influential in nurturing JJ's triple armoury for future family defences -
cricket skills ... which opened doors ... our old club with its ancient wooden hut full of half a team of Jones & Hacks with a hogshead tapped in an drafty outbuilding was transformed into a modern sports & social club ...
beer drinking skills ... which cemented friendships ... funding this habit was one less onerous paternal responsibility ... as was a Dale Street pad within crawling distance of the Club bar ...
investment skills ... which grew wherewithal ... shrewd awareness of cognitive bias as 'losses loom larger than logic' guided investment stategies ... illogical gambling on a coin toss with the visitors' tea money was not on ... but avoiding loss out weighed the opportunity to win double the amount ... the ancient preoccupation with 'sunk costs ... why?!
And when the time came for JJ to move to a new job in Head Office in London, it was Chris who urged him to seize the opportunity even though BHCC would lose a significant player and future captain ... we recalled our own move overseas in 1972 when old man Fleet encouraged us to stay and cosy down in the warmth at BHCC and Chester,
'they tried to get me to move to Warrington once but I turned it down'!
For us return visits to BHCC were always enjoyable .... the beer never went off. The facilities now catered for an exploding membership of youth, age and gender with the novelties for the new age like brick built pavilions, school boys, girls, covered wickets, helmets, PJ kit, County facilities, electronic score boards, all weather nets, white balls ... and Curtly Ambrose & The Nomads AFC ... and endless social intercourse ... with bars that never seemed to close!
Inevitably as things changed as there were fewer and fewer folk that we knew and even the game itself changed as the 'red ball' tradition that we loved changed into a new fangled 'white ball' bash & thump. Nevertheless in 2018 we secretly hoped for three generations of Birchalls at Filkins Lane. Josh was keen to explore the mysterious connect between baseball and cricket ... and beer ... and Georgia May was happy anywhere where there were friends.
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 SJ interrupted our tranquil routine in Helsby and we swapped cricket bats for suitcases and ventured overseas and started to play golf and squash ... which turned out to be fun but no more successful than our undernourished batting and bowling potential.
In 2015 we were still drinking beer and reminiscing about this and that with Alan Robinson ... we tried to persuade him to update his history of Boughton Hall Cricket Club ... but he, quite rightly, suggested it was someone else's turn to write and it was his turn to buy the next round ...
Newton Lane, Chester Hockey Club 1963-71
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 1963 Dad's dairy recorded,
'John introduced us to Carole'
... a lovely girl who eventually learned to like our 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 and endless fun amongst all the mud, pasties & beans, lost balls on the railway line ... and lots of pints.
We also excelled in beer and sticks at The Annual Blackpool Easter Hockey Festivals held in Stanley Park. We were entertained at The Limes by Bloomfield Road and in 1969 a young JJ was in tow ... we often wondered whether he learned his beer drinking skills at this fine hostelry? We were handed a pass for beers at Brian London's infamous downtown 'Night Club' ... and we triumphantly revisited 'Feet First' and Bloomfield Road where on 28th August 1948 dad had treated us to the vision of our tangerine heroes Stanley Mathews & Stan Mortensen beating Aston Villa 1-0 .... we still saw in our mind's eye Mortenson's 'low headed' goal ... and Harry Johnston, George Farm & Eddie Shinwell ... and shamefully we remembered a green apple at half time which resulted in an embarrassing early exit. We worked out that this family holiday was at Uncle Edward's place in 1948. We also remembered a year earlier we stayed at Lytham St Anne's at Mrs Blacklock's boarding house and found ourselves at the Tower Circus only to be alarmed at the strange foul stench of the elephant troupe and an obscene 'tattooed man' ... funny peculiar how vivid were some memories.
The stars of the beer drinkers from Newton Lane were John Evans, Dave Russell & Dave Castle. This trio 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 in 1986 Denis Compton was our guest ... we hardly missed a year ...
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 at Newton Lane and the associated convivial pints. We were planning journeys a tad further afield. However John wished us well on our excursions overseas and suggested that Glenfiddich was much more appropriate than yet another farewell pint. Convivial pints were 10 a penny and common as muck around these parts ... he insisted, 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. Wot a star.
We left Chester Hockey Club after the 1971/72 season but we were always there in spirit as the fun & games continued ... not in the mud at Newton Lane but on immaculate all weather pitches at the new sports club at Mannings Lane.
By 1980 JRE was established as 5th team captain where he rapidly recruited & enthused most of the rich beery reprobates regardless of stick work proficiency. He established a strict 'team bonding' regime which involved compulsory alcoholic fortification prior to the match ... young wannabes flocked to the beer pots & fun until concerned mothers, partners & girl friends raised the issue of temperance at the AGM. We were recruited on 15th October 1980 during home leave but escaped censure due to extra terrestrial commitments overseas.
In 1984 John Evo and his entourage had new ambitions ... an adventurous the quest for Beaujolais Nouveau. Beaujolais was not beer but we were always willing to experiment at CHC. At the time of this escapade we had left town but we claim part ownership of the story 'cos we were sure we would have been there participating if Unilever had not intervened. Evo claimed that his rich & beery crew were the envy of the club ... evidenced when an over enthusiastic member had somehow or other managed to secure an air pilot's licence and was keen to demonstrate his prowess to his disbelieving mates. Luckily photographic evidence survived to suggest this was no ordinary prank.
The eventful trip started with beers and Dutch courage prior to take off and finished the next day with Beaujolais instead of oranges at half time during the Saturday hockey match. Much to the grief of Air Traffic Controllers, several airport 'slots' were missed as there were unfortunately several unscheduled take offs and landings. These were required to manage the very necessary urinary reliefs ... and safety checks on open doors which had threatened instant access to the fields below.
Eventually a young Alan Turner bagged the spoils. The Beaujolais went down well but the beer after the match was even better. After repeated requests in 2017 nobody recalled the match result but everybody recalled the fun ... we approved.
Dave Russell was another great mate at Newton Lane and played a mean game of hockey. He arrived at Newton Lane with Pete Smith when at Brookhirst Switchgear went belly up ... Dave was from way back in Remove A at school ... and there was more, Pete Smith, his accomplice, was not only a renowned beer drinker at The Commercial Hotel but was also a drummer ... and somewhat confusingly he was also a musician ... not many people knew that.
Dave was a club member in the thick of it for yonks, not only a half back ace in the mud at Newton Lane but he also wrote match 'reports' for the local rag and then more as he became the indispensable umpire with the whistle and with a capacity to keep up to date with ever changing rules ... we remembered 'roll ins', 'sticks' and 'bully offs'. He reminded us later that many of the fun fixtures seemed to be around South Manchester ... Brooklands, Bowden, Sale ... always outrageous hospitality ... and delicious beer ... and even doubtful limericks ...
|On the breasts of a barmaid from
Were tattooed the prices of ale
And on her behind
For the sake of the blind
Was the same information in braille
|There once was a girl named
Who said that no man could surprise her
Pabst tried with a rant
found Schlitz in her pants
and now she is sadder Budweiser
Chester Hockey Club survived in fine fettle into 2019 as we continued to support the now private enterprise with copious funds which we happily poured into the 100 Club.
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 in Frodsham ... half way between Chester & St Helens.
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 seemed to remember the beer drinkers from the past as they seemed to be our good friends from the past ... if you follow our thinks. 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. Friends always drank convivial pints but we all took 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 had ... many had inevitably been lost from the radar ... we wondered what became of the dazzling Helen 'Alice' Godfrey from The Grange School ... and Richard Atherton who excited us with his self assembled crystal set ... which worked ... not seen since 1950?
Things always moved on ... folk were in a hurry ... but during the 1960s we became fully fledged and learned to 'speak truth to authority' ... respectfully ...
'sticking to the knitting' - 'minding our own business' - 'getting on with the job with empirical science'
We were on a roll and memorable words needed repeating -
Life in a Suitcase - Unilever viewed through the Bottom of a Beer Glass
Life in a Suitcase - Unilever viewed through the Bottom of a Beer Glass
1963-71 Port Sunlight Preliminaries
In 1963 we had our own Copernican Revolution; we left Chester and joined Unilever to experiment and experience the working 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 & unexpected 2.1 honours degree in 1963 we had abandoned our student 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 toyed with ambitions of becoming a Stanford drop out but in the end followed respectable convention wisdom: Chemical Engineering at Glasgow proved an excellent safe bet which unlocked the satisfactions of Unilever Factories ... and some of the readies helpful for social intercourse.
Looking back we felt we got the job Lever Brothers Port Sunlight Ltd 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 fascinations ... and opportunities for overseas travel ... our globe was exciting. It worked, but we cut our teeth on chemical plant commissioning for Dr David Roberts at an extravagant salary of £850 pa.
Dr Roberts was one of the respected old hands at 'Levers' 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 were well pleased with the quality of our 'sponsor' although our ongoing interaction was minimal ... it was David Roberts who opened the door. 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 & business accountants.
Our first naive presentation at our first Management Training Course in 1965 focused on Chemical Engineering as an antidote to bureaucratic kluge ... we identified a problem but not a solution.
So the lesson from our plant commissioning job was how easily priorities and deadlines were eroded by the baleful influence of bureaucracy. The engineer from our Italian suppliers got excited -
'listen, I want to move my hat from this table to my head, easy, but at Levers we need a committee meeting to arrange it!'
And there was another enlightening moment ... our plant commissioning involved the delights of shift work and 'nights'. At night the factory took on a completely different guise ... after 5 o'clock the bureaucratic nightmare subsided and we survived on our own wits & relaxed enthusiasm ... there was the fear & excitement of being thrown in at the deep end ... and we found new friends at the coalface ... and even had a beer with them at the end of the week. We were beginning to realise we could be cultural misfits in the bureacratic morass?
Mal was not only a happy lad but also a doer who actually made things happen ... a shining light amongst the idle dross that was one of his sidekicks and sometimes the norm in 'Works Development'. Mal even got excited by the quality of our 'H / Phi Chart ... and he was a great beer drinker ... ginger beer ... but that never adversely affected his demeanour.
Mal was one of two youngsters who worked for us at the time, recruited from the quality lab and still at technical school acquiring their credentials. We recalled the trauma of the 'annual performance appraisal' and the responsibility to discriminate between our two aspirants. Personnel Department, the makers of peace & tranquility, insisted that 'ratings' had to be scrupulously fair & honest and the usual cop out that 'everyone in my department was rated at least a 3 out of 5' was just not on. Fairness & honesty was best for everyone and meant that the better performers had to be 'encouraged & motivated' and the poorer ones -
'had talents which were far better suited to other companies' ...
'many good round pegs could not be accommodated in Unilever's square holes'
This adage was the learned outcome of our first confrontation with the Unilever appraisal system as we wrestled with fairness & honesty with both Mal & his less able colleague. A learning which stayed with us for the continuance.
For this and much more we were indebted to our boss at the time, cricketer Roy Davies ... Roy was a 'people person' who could sort the wheat from the chaff, a fully paid up member of the human race, not only a cricketer but also a beer drinker ... totally unlike a big boss at the time who thought technology could be passed on to folk by posting packages of instructions.
With Roy we commissioned The Ballestra Spray Drying Plant & wrote up the acclaimed report ... we then 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.
Mal reminded us of the vagaries of the Experimental Tower where we learned how to spray dry nasty powder formulations. Such an apparently simple process needed much 'patience', an attribute that was never mentioned in the instruction manuals, and we would have been totally lost without the deep familiarity of the effects of heat & water on interactions that resided in the fulsome experience of Mal's 'Process Operators'. It was the likes of Jeff Perry (back right), Billy Middleton, Arthur Russell and Mike Higgins who helped us out of many a hole and it was Jeff Perry who taught us how to drive the drying towers, rather than some incoherent user manual ... we met some of crew on the cricket field in the annual match 'Technical v. Marketing' where they proved to be just as adept at beer drinking after cricket as at spray drying.
We met up again Mal in 2018 and had a beer and recalled the fun.
Transforming marketing expertise into quality products often required sophisticated technological 'know how'. Our exasperated Marketing Manager was clear -
'I know it's only soap but nobody can sell crap, customers don't like it'.
We soon learned about the power of the marketeers ... as technical youngsters we learned about ... bleachable fancy, top white, crutchers, SAFE bleaching process, McBain phase diagrams, Wigner's Rule, nigres, fitting, theoretical washes, sulphonation, DOBS055, NDOM, NSD, STP, optical bleaches, Pitot tubes, twaddells ... and more ... but that was the easy bit ... it was all in the text books.
Perhaps Roy Davies' lasting legacy, which we immediately noticed and eventually noted, imitated and tried to exploit as future baggage, was his 'network' of friends, buddies, chums, cronies, mates, muckers, oppos & pals ... who were all steeped in helpful hints & expertise. For Roy everyone who was anyone was on the end of a telephone and willing to help. To us youngsters Roy's social network was miraculous ... he was always on the phone ... who was he talking to? ... we lapped it up, Roy was everyone's best friend, typically modest and he always bought his round -
'experts don't know it all, experts know who to ask'
Roy Davies was the man we needed to impress ... and it was Roy who turned up trumps and helped to light a fire under our ambition and our first job in 'production' ... Section Manager, Soap Drying, No 4 Soapery. At this time we felt we had 'made it' ... and our old mentor, Dr David Roberts was pleased ... real hairy arsed big plant commissioning as an intro into real factory management ... our bets were paying off. Dr Roberts was an inspiration, we will never forget the day he stopped us in the corridor a few years after recruitment and he asked how we were getting on, and had we made 'factory management' yet? He remembered the face and the ambition and was interested ... we supposed Dr Roberts was our first mentor and we always tried to follow such 'people' orientation.
Most of the 'alternative' technical jobs at the time appeared to us to be real scary and unpalatable ... specialised cul-de-sacs into the bottom of test tubes, such were the usual fare for most young science graduates at the time. As The Busker said many years later -
'too many were working at science instead of making science work for them'
Wot of the other pretenders into the intriguing Unilever marketing extravaganza which had grabbed our imagination? The popular route was through the sponsorship of the Unilever Companies Management Development Scheme; a fast track into marketing & general management ... but that train had already left the station. The UCMDS was a powerful 'corporate' sponsorship scheme but lacked the very personal relationships we came to value.
Once in 'production' we were immediately faced with hairy factory problems, often basic but always challenging ... and often in the middle of the night ... we had to learn fast ... we were incompetently drying soap and musing -
'they can put a man on the moon but we can't even dry soap'?
Bernard Moses was our big wig boss in No 4 Toilet Soaps, a helpful fellow who had been there, seen it all & bought the T shirt. But Jack Hopwood was running the show, he was a 'Charge Hand', we were 'only managers', he knew how to make such esoteric SKUs as 'E shaving' and 'Remillers Chips'. We felt guilty, he had the enthusiasm & nous ... and he ran & legged it everywhere in his desperation to improve efficiency ... but many of the tools we gave him did not pass muster ... our soap turned rancid yellow and stank on a whim of the weather ... and nous was never ever no match for the weather.
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 certainly enjoyed our beer. The DLO-58-Glycerol Extraction scripts were useful but it was the bureaucratic kluge that hindered execution and diverted attention from the vital few ... a truth which was exposed by an analysis from a young commercial trainee, we even remembered his name, Zvi Eiref ... we learned the way to grow efficiency ... and change things -
'don't sprinkle the dessert with a teaspoon'
In the 'production' gang there was another big cricketing mate, George Robinson. George 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 one of the 'Shadow Board' members who met weekly to correct the errors of Unilever ... over a few pints. But his great contribution was as a team leader not a technical buff, and George and Fred built smaller teams around them ... we even changed the name 'Supervisor' to 'Team Leader' ... and when we were all pulling on the same rope, the Shop Steward often made the best Team Leader -
''know how' was not passed down from above on tablets of stone it was grown at the coalface in teams of beer drinkers'
Strange ... but looking back on our naive years before before that ... the three 'Shadow Board Members'; George, Fred and Mike enjoyed a prolonged place in our affections ... they were not only beer drinkers and good skins ... they had nous, wit and friendships to trade ... these guys were mavericks willing and able to help us through the bureaucratic terrors ... thanks guys.
RIP Fred Hall January 9th 2018.
We learned that the way through the bureaucracy was to work within the tent and piss out. We started to build networks & enthusiasm for experiments with friends who drank beer ... and ruthlessly by pass or cut out the obsolete & dead wood of clutter. 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 an unexciting distraction and did not fit well within the Unilever business.
In this way, 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 ... so we got used to it! The the first rule with Unilever training was buy your round ... so we got used to that as well!
In 1968 we upgraded when we achieved fame managing the prestigious production of Lux Toilet Soap ... there we smacked up against the snake oil merchants from R&D, in the rush to promise beauty for film stars, technical 'know how' had been by passed -
Mush - waste & technology - luxurious superfatted creamy lather from R&D chemistry was processed by our hot plodders into gooey 'mush' which was used for sticking soap tablets to washing basins ... we hadn't a clue
Black Specs - pollution & technology - oxydation of environmental polythene pollution from tallow renderers appeared in our whiter than white toilet soap as 'black specks' ... which were unseen in the R&D labs and only after trauma and displeasure did we remove the ingress by the simple practice of filtration at a lower temperature
Moisture Control - quality & technology - double whammy of powder flow & phosphate degradation, well understood in R&D but required the absent automatic adaptive control which did not appear until 20 years later
Weight Control - technology & technology - R&D solutions seeking problems, a 'cost saving opportunity' which increased the cost per wash for the consumer
The message was clear and long remembered -
'technology solved intractable problems not entreaties for diligence' ... the question was 'how to get a grip'
After years of trying to understand the arcane mysteries of Port Sunlight, we realised that all the issues in our in tray, were not about our specialisation in 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; we soon realised that these ladies knew far more about the factory operations than we did. Bill was a giant beer drinker and after the pint pot he also pointed us to courses at Four Acres ... and 'The Human Side of Enterprise' by Douglas McGregor, we read it ... and we loved it ... we naively conjured up some words of approval/disapproval which stayed with us throughout -
Theory X or Theory Y = macho managers or people persons - arrogant or
empathetic, gung ho or reflective, bureaucratic or networking, competitive
or cooperative, Confucius or Democritus, efficient or effective, expedient or
investment, militaristic or polite, overconfident or magnanimous, P&G or
Unilever, loud or quiet, narcissistic or synergistic, self interested or
performance orientated, expert or leader, ruthless or courteous, tactical or
strategic, short term or long term, bravado or modesty, get a grip or team
work, conceited or diffident, big headed or self effacing, bull shit or
reason, pontificating prancers or smiling friends ...
... you get the picture but maybe you need both at the same time to survive rather like fear & excitement ... or even boys & girls ... and testosterone & estrogen?
We reckoned that 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 the Port Sunlight bureaucracy in the 1960s. So much so that when we checked out the wider UK job market, offerings were made for our knowledge about the foibles of folk rather than text book thermodynamics. The good news was that we confirmed that the opportunities within Unilever dwarfed all outside alternatives ... so we got on with it.
And as we moved on Bill Vale offered more sage advice -
‘Be nice to folk as you go up ‘cos you’ll meet the same folk as you come down ... and be careful when you choose who's coat tails to hang on to ’
'Stick to the knitting. Unilever doesn't know how to make money out of miscellaneous products' ...
Perhaps the one thing we did learn very rapidly was that we were up against the exorbitant costs of bureaucracy and pussy footing around. 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 boxes within the bureaucracy.
There was one further learning experience at Port Sunlight which proved rather important in breaking out of the bureaucratic kluge 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 Total Quality. 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 in 1970 we were with Fred Hall again ... and we unearthed a couple of stalwarts, Ken Robo & a young Turk J Mike Shaw (more of this character later) ... both saltmen who taught us the importance of social networking. We were housed in a communal work shop of beer drinkers ... 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 beer bars and coffee machine ... that was where most of the work was always done ... the coffee machine was the most important bit of apparatus in the lab ... and in the beer bars at lunch time we solved all the knotty problems.
When we met up years later with Ken Robo 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 ... Ken carried on this fun tradition after we left until his new mate turned traitor and left the beer & bureaucracy of Port Sunlight for Wine Bars & entrepreneurship in Chester & Heswall.
In between, and during, beer and coffee we did our bit to try and streamline the bureaucracy ... we tried to get 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.
In 1970 we put together a slick presentation to the Board in an attempt to justify our elevated 'job class'. The ideas were imaginative & creditable and we earned applause from the Directors and beer afterwards ... but how the devil could another fiefdom in the bureaucracy help anybody?
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 ... such were not invented in Port Sunlight but could be useful tactics for all managers ... and like 5 year plans, the benefits came from questioning & curiosity about improvement ... they were nothing more than goads for more experiments.
But, and there was a big 'but', such 'techniques' were for line managers to exploit ... but they were never 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' ... it was production that paid the bills.
In this way the Port Sunlight learning process involved a few big hits which stayed with us for the continuance -
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, heavy gangs, demarcations, mates, assistants & clerks for the Empire all getting in the way of the knitting ...
'technology solved problems'
Marketing Called the Shots Unilever was a Global Marketing Company - Chemical Engineering & Port Sunlight were not at the centre of the universe and we were increasingly fascinated by the real arcane workings of global businesses ... and the opportunities they provided for the kids ...
Quality Cradle to Grave was a 'line' not a 'staff' function, feuding fiefdoms & flavours of the month didn't solve problems, technology solved problems ... and technology breakthroughs came always came after the molecular activity discovered in the R&D labs
Mergers & Acquisitions in the Unilever Accounts Manual was almost an inspired read - revenue was generated from 'innovations' but costs were accumulated in 'indirects' & 'bureaucratic kluge' ... Mergers & Acquisitions and bankruptcy led the sifting process ... we remembered The Royal Niger Company and Ram Charan at Four Acres ... The 1st Lord purchased many innovations but had to be rescued by D'Arcy Cooper who authored the manual ... and we remembered the snake oil from R&D
Restraints of Trade and the dead hand of Nanny State Regulation - 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’ ...
Restrictive Practices and the dead hand of 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'
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.
We hadn't a clue, but we had unwittingly hatched a scheme.
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 began to see Unilever through the bottom of a beer glass ... and wot a view ... bottoms up!
We didn't go cold into Unilever and we had chosen well. 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 with A E Musson who significantly, didn't write about chemistry but about enterprise. It was almost stimulating ... so we bought another round.
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.
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 beer 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.
As we left 'Quality Department' for the tropical paradise in 1972 ... complete with a pewter beer tankard which young Mike Shaw later swore he had paid for himself (he didn't think we were worth a silver one) ... we were assailed with his stories about West Africa ... about Sapele timber, boarding schools and being hit by oven hot oppressive disembarkations. Mike was an old hand who had set up the lab Ghana in 1968 for their new spray drying tower ... he was the guy who shattered our innocence about life in the white man's grave with the ravenous West Coast mosquitoes? His parents had worked in the Sapele plywood factory from 1948-70 prior an interesting period in a Forest of Dean factory designed to keep the manufacturing expertise in the country just in case more Mosquito bombers were ever needed ... the airplanes, that is, not the ridiculously ineffective insecticides!
Mike told it like it was; a potent mixture of excited anticipation & horror. As his parents were wrestling with the mad dogs and midday sun in Sapele, Mike was dumped in a boarding school 87 miles from home, it was the cheapest to be found! Unilever didn't pay school fees nor fly children out for school holidays in those days. So widowed grandmother in Port Sunlight provided a temperate shelter. Grandma was a woman of little humour but, to be fair, she didn't have a lot to smile about and when he was 13 Mike was packed off for a holiday adventure in Nigeria where he discovered what sunshine was really about. In 1948 Unilever paid for overseas staff to go to Fortnam & Mason's to get kitted out with protection ... thankfully there was no such extravagance for Mike ... he remembered his dad had dressed up in his pith helmet and knee high snake proof boots ... wot a laughing stock for the old coasters when he arrived in the sweltering swamp for the first time. Forewarned was forearmed and in 1972 when the OSC urged us to indulge ourselves at Fortnam & Mason's we resisted naive notions and just purchased a sparkling white dinner jacket for the beer fest ... this ended up as a sparkling white dinner jacket without a beer stain in sight ... it was far too hot for adornment and provided zero protection from the invading mossies.
We soaked up Mike's instructions, most notably when drinking beer in the tropics you need two beer matts. One goes underneath as usual to collect the drips but another goes on top to keep the flies from your elixir. New arrivals don't know about this trick. The first week, when you find a fly in your beer you throw the beer away and call for another. The second week you fish out the fly and drink the refreshing beer anyway. The third week you wring out the fly before drinking the beer so as not to waste any.
We listened to Mike's stories but like his dad we didn't really learn until we were out on the west coast and met the Nigerian witch-doctors ... probably the same guys who had offered some magic to Mike's dad that was guaranteed to alter mind or body, but not both -
Witch-doctor: 'Here's the deal, a better memory or
Mike: 'Which did you choose?'
Dad: 'I can't remember.'
But first, before Africa, 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 more 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 1971/72 it became clearer & clearer that the reality of our 'training' was a crash course in social 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 all over the globe, the convivial pint awaited ... Unilever proved, again and again, to be an awesome 'social club' ... and successful to boot.
It all seemed to confirm a good idea and career strategy ... Unilever 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 ...
Lasting notions from this eminent sage came over beer at Four Acres -
'after the 1967 devaluation the assembled Board of Directors of Unilever enjoyed a deeper understanding of the Terms of Trade and the impact on commercial business than all the gaggle of MPs in our Parliament'!
Business economics became interesting.
On the same occasion he recounted that he was asked when under pressure from some bureaucratic despot -
'How on earth does The Overseas Committee cope with such complexity'?
His reply one word reply told the story -
Bureaucratic kluge and social interactions also became interesting.
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. We seemed to be an ideal 'cultural fit' for the Unilever Overseas Committee.
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 and they couldn't afford a pint.
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 ... including the almost inevitable tax on beer.
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'.
'The profitability of Unilever subsidiaries overseas was determined less by efficiency than by government policy and the way it was implemented by the local bureaucracy'.
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. A club which was sensitive to the business strategy and the Fieldhouse conclusion ... most happenings engineered by Government Officials involved not 'market development' but 'market distortions' for personal enrichment.
Geoffrey Jones in 2005 confirmed what was obvious, that after 1973 Unilever faced a dramatic deterioration in its European business; inflation & recession in mature commoditised 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' ... and 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'.
One by one the fiefdoms were succumbing? and the club was intact?
In 2008 Ben Wubs 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'.
Darwin would have loved it ... decentralisation, diversity, innovation and survival.
Central strategy but local execution autonomy was embedded in Unilever's business culture and social club ... 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 ... almost invariably the outcome of propitious M&A deals ... a sort of profitable folk wisdom hatched over beer?
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 ... and overseas the girls were always included in ... 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 ... 'laugh this sport o'er'. If you didn't laugh you'd cry. The grandiose schemes and Machiavellian plots of the 'men of system' always tended to collapse into 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 the 'animal spirits' of John Maynard Keynes 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 with Alf when he 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' ... it was an unforgettable banquet rather than a pie & a pint ... we can still taste the luxurious steak ... and the convivial pint!
Jim Marshall, was probably one of the very last recruits to 'the overseas circuit'. We followed into this prestigious club year or so 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 some men 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 the revered words of our Captain -
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 as the gray clones proliferate.
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 'sucking' expertise from the network; building social capital, custodians of the access routes to 'know how' and spreading this business 'know how' ... out of Europe ... all over the globe ... an impossible task without the indispensible help of convivial pints.
Things changed, of course, but in 2013 the importance of the Unilever 'social glue' seemed to be emphasised with the opening of 'Four Acres Singapore'. We were long retired but we imagined that in the global Unilever, the social club, and the convivial pints were still at the very roots of business success?
The Unilever CEO -
'Four Acres Singapore will be used to support Unilever’s efforts to develop tomorrow’s business leaders with a ‘purpose-driven’ approach to business. This is in keeping with the stance Unilever has taken throughout its history, where it has strongly advocated for corporations and corporate leaders to actively support the broader needs of society.
In an increasingly volatile and uncertain world, a new type of leader was being called for – both in Unilever and society as a whole. These leaders must be guided by values and understand the responsibility of leadership for the 21st century. We will actively seek and develop these leaders through Four Acres.
Four Acres London has set the standard in leadership development since it was established over 60 years ago, underpinning our commitment to nurturing world class talent. The launch of Four Acres Singapore will continue this tradition, further lifting our capacity and underlining our commitment to Asia – as an increasingly important hub for talent.
They say that we have three friends in life: 'Friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for a lifetime ... for myself and for Unilever, we will always be true friends for a lifetime ...'
He didn't mention convivial pints but we knew what he meant ...
'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 so they would 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 and in the 747s we even arrived before the pilot ... 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 ... unfortunately Birchall failed to show up.
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 the following morning ... in those days we had to dispatch an apologetic telegram. Jonathan was unperturbed and announced to his worried Grandma, 'I's bin to 'Igeria'. We eventually made it the next day and arrived in steaming Lagos late and with chicken pox. 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 ...
Talking over the Apapa chaos with Alf & Dick much later we reflected on the task at hand in 1972. From the s h one t of the oil receipting tanks to the fat trap losses there was no alternative to a slow thorough build from the bottom up by the enthusiastic local sparks we found already insitu ... ready, willing and able. It was not 'macho management' that we remembered but rather unintended consequences of The Groundnut Affair and the grandiose 'solution' to the Lagos 'go slow' ... not more roads and more cars but a 50% reduction in the traffic by decree; cars with even number plate digits ending in even digits were banned on a Monday, Wednesday & Friday, and odd digit endings on Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday ... and the police were armed. We chewed the chaos over with Iriah and a cool Star. Iriah was a smart cookie from out of town and recounted the story of the Lagos entrepreneurs who set up thriving businesses in new number plates, most had fallen off the back off a lorry ... the rich, of course, simply purchased a second car and forgot about idle capital.
So we smiled at the chaos, planned our experiments, had another beer and got on with the job.
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 ... and unforgettable adventures 'up the creek' ... with the help of 'automatic canoes' and cold Stars in the ice box this was an awesome experience ... 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 from 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 ... critically 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 Ikorodu 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, were up against 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 swanned 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; on seat was Julien Bischoff who briefly came to Lagos around 1976. But all was not lost as in Zaire Fritz met Birgitte and they married in Denmark during the first leave. They transferred to Brazil for 2 years and had a ball; 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, no doubt, 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 following Jonathan by a few years.
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 ... a hard rock to crack. 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 when they moved to 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 a lifetime, 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 ... the stifling smells couldn't be photographed and were best forgotten.
RIP Allan Dow 2014.
The Lowrys were 'foreigners' from Marine Road & UAC but they were strong fun friends. John & Jean were major Mahjong players and squash & tennis stars; well fit for the Premier League. We had weekly, never to be missed sessions, where we explored the mysteries of Mahjong in between ice cold 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 the Port Sunlight bureaucracy 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!
In 1974 we were on our own, and asked to confront a crisis in the Aba Factory, we were given just one line of insightful and trusted advice from the Technical Director ... which we never forgot and often repeated ... we were excited not fearful -
'don't compromise yourself, don't let your best friends down, you won't be able to point fingers to avoid self responsibility'!
Was MJC talking about standards of behaviour with the local girls or standards in the factory? There was no doubt in our minds ... it was both ... they were after all one and the same thing?!
The sojourn at 'Aba Here' provided an invigorating contrast to Apapa. There was 'trouble in't mill' as our beer drinking mate, MJC, 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'!
It was certainly fun ... and well worth telling to our grandchildren ... but Grandpa's stories couldn't compete with the Jedi Epics of Star Wars.
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 of exciting 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 very different culture to the Apapa maelstrom ... and it worked. Rather like the Ajegunle Market ... in the Aba Factory there was evidence for all but the blind to see ... some complex systems did 'work well' in the appallingly chaotic environment of Nigeria ... the bits that worked needed nurture not neglect.
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 an invaluable 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 skeptics 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' ... underneath the soap pans in Apapa we certainly needed help ... but 'help'from Head Office required careful sifting. Most 'helpers' we selected on their track record as paid up members of the club who downed their convivial pints and earned their keep. Such stalwarts; enthusiastic, vigorous, knowledgeable, willing even brave & courageos and we made sure we welcomed them at the airport and we were happy to carry their bags for them ... folk like 'Gordon' were bent on 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 get stroked, such like 'Arthur' were fostered upon us without approval; a distraction occupying valuable time. As they announced their intended arrival somehow the associated telex was mysteriously lost! My seven year old daughter was still learning and yet she was up to speed and could easily criticise and tell us that parts of our factory were untidy and management should 'get a grip' ... jeez ... that was not the kind of help we needed ... why else had we removed to retirement the guy who was making the factory environment worse ... the permanent and expensive sweeper upperer of filth?
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 generously left at Dakar Road 'a gift from URL' ... not snake oil but a magical inspiration for exhausted expatriates ... from then on, for the stretch, the Birchall beer parties always commenced with the invigorating strains of Love is Blue ... to set the mood for cool Stars ... other exquisite jazz followed; I'm Prayin' Humble ... the motivating toon for Humph's 'Bad Penny Blues' ... and more ... 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 ... and thank you Ernst for sharing the fun.
Sure in Apapa 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 solidified and perished ... and for the factory managers there were some more ominous problems.
When we first arrived in the Apapa Factory we were greeted with the news a horrendous death by drowning (or suffocating?) of a poor soul in the fat trap. Our Unilever training had suggested that the fat trap was the first port of call for any new manager. Welcome to Apapa John.
There was a second priority and a second sobering death; factory security. Our attempts to improve and calm the flow of vehicles and loot into and out of the factory involved the installation of a traffic security chain. Queuing was not the norm in town and one over ambitious driver had tested the chain & Hook's Law and the subsequent 'snap' and recoil had fatally injured a dutiful security guard. Experiments often went wrong.
Then there was the murder within the Aba Factory precincts which provided an inauspicious start to our tour in the east. The local police were forensicly trained but often blinded by the West African 'dash'. Mike Cowan suggested that such henious behaviour was a trauma that most factory managers never had to confront and was a sobering story to tell to our grandchildren.
But perhaps our nadir was an anonymous telephoned threat of violence to our young family. This followed a particularly intense quest for improvement from our planned cessation of the inhumane and inefficient system of exploiting 'casual' labour from the queue at the factory gates. This threat to our family spurred us into redoubling our education & training efforts and our 'heresy' about the necessity for profit and efficient factories to fund future investment. We were pilloried for our 'profit'. Profit was never ever 'a dirty word' it was an outcome of a successful business ... a 'surplus' for investment rather than exploitation of developing economies. 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 we promoted followed hand in hand ... the bills had to be paid.
But no one said it was easy and there were exciting business opportunities for investment in the future ... a personal spur for us 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, and Carole with an 'e' still instists she bears the scars, but they all certainly wallowed in the social life and the friendships that were sealed which lasted a lifetime.
The Overseas Club always welcomed the girls (Mesdames Idell, Archer, Birchall & Weiser) who were always included in and for our own 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 a happiness & health check ... it seemed functioning families were a prerequisite for effective Club membership overseas ... and Carole with an 'e' was an impeccable cultural fit?
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. 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! I didn't want to be Research Director in Europe. 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.
Our discussions with MJC over cold Stars and raw life were seminal and his distinction between 'business' and 'industry' opened up our understanding and sparked our essential fascination with economics. 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 difficult but profitable in emerging markets ... and we learned the hard way ... nothing was ever achieved by intentions; everything was achieved with interaction and help from other folk.
The Unilever Overseas Club gang that we rubbed along with in Apapa were friends with nous and wit ... and they were leaders and teachers ... particularly, we were taught by three giants, confidants and socialisers ... if not beer drinkers ... 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 hemorrhaging 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
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 non-political research & educational trust, and we have
subscribed to this august charity every year ever since ... and we're still learning ... about
inflation, comparative advantage, total factor productivity ... and Balance
During the 1970s & 80s the IEA was the supreme shining light, coaxing us into our alternative deeper understanding of what the hell was going on ... the strange behaviour of folk and the economic synergies of specialisation & scale. The IEA Hobart Papers became a lifeline and consistently propitious & presient. Thanks IEA you made us laff at bumptious boffins and encouraged us the take a helicopter view of the swirling reality of complexity, change, conflict and scarcity.
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.
OSC - winning strategies - 'by pass the blockages to let the blood flow to grow the good bits'.
Nigeria was difficult, no doubt about that, the operations were chaotic and corruption rife ... but amongst all the beer and fun there was a way through the mess ... underneath the soap pans in Apapa we learned our trade ... The Apapa Factory Manufacturing Strategy ... was all about 'growing the good bits' and not about macho management and 'orchestration from above'.
There were several strings to the bow of the OSC as they mobilised rapid quality investment from an extensive supportive network of beer drinkers. There was great depth to the help that the local operating companies could call upon from the global concern. this was admirably demonstrated by Derek Holdsworth who suggested that it was no answer to aggressively confront and moan about the impossible corruption, chaos & complexity in Lagos, There was a job to be done.
raw materials and power - without raw materials and power no factory in the world could produce. The unbelievable supply chaos in the Apapa Port was effectively by passed by chartering the Lagos Palm directly to the renovated LBN jetty in the factory precincts. The 'blockages' in the NEPA (no electric power again?) electrical supply, couldn't be by passed easily but the Apapa Generators project did receive instant attention.
motivated and inspired human capital - the people were upfront. 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?'
We were clear that 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? Continuity of successful business execution was a serious problem for Unilever Overseas as managers passed through the companies too quickly. Some expatriates were keen to move on to the next promotion and Unilever trained indigenes commanded a high price in the local job market. And such was the reputation of Lagos for corruption, chaos & complexity that too many budding expatriates refused appointments at the outset and too many indigenes succumbed. MOO was also in town around this time and his work was in the political quagmire ... was it possible to make anything happen without a self defeating 'dash'? A reliable supply of soap was a splendid antidote to the politics of pending crowd trouble? Not compromise but co-operation and there was a big difference.
There was a second string to the bow which was the undercover cultural mantra ... '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 and synergies between the like minded folk inside the organization ... local roots with global blossoms ... posh words but really simple; like minded folk, didn't compromise but cooperated ... and bought their rounds!
We enjoyed a period with a new Chairman as we had already bought the T-shirt but we saw how easily backsliding and discontinuity could destroy progress; continuity of strategic effort was fraught as everyone worth their salt had their own pet ideas about the battle of the basket case ... the most meaningless of all was that good management was required.
At this time we also fleetingly had a splendid boss, the wonderful Pancho Jimenez, 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 went ballistic -
'I can do sums and my times tables but I know for sure, productivity in the Santiago factory is enmeshed in sculduggery, a cloggy web of complexity, change, conflict and scarcity ... unresponsive to hilarious instructions from aliens with a telex machine ... and guns'.
Pancho insisted Unilever must understand what went on in Chile during the Allende years and the arrant destrution their property. He wrote papers & recorded his first hand experience of the Unilever factory in Santiago during this 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 an 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.
Later in 1996 we remembered the Cybersyn Project and The Groundnut Affair when we studied 'Systems Thinking' at the Open University with the illuminary, provocater, friend and general good egg; Peter Checkland. Reality was all about the diversity & the failures of natural selection which secured progress, progress from one funeral after another, where sunk costs were an irrelevant millstone.
Back home in Chile the Jimenez family vineyard produced their wines and Pancho himself taught us much about Chile and helped us understand how Unilever exploited their experience & expertise to run successful businesses. The biggest problem for Unilever overseas was government interference in business synergies ... Allende hadn't a clue ... but it was the 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 systems evolved over time automatically build an independent autonomy & an 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 most of it culled over cold Stars with MJC & DH ... we learned that progress was possible but only the mavericks seemed to learn ... we knew about the perspicacity of mavericks like MJC & DH and Alf & Dick and Iriah & Obi ...
On leave in the sheltered warmth of Unilever House we cornered Maurice Jones, an ex Apapa TD, and asked him why he hadn't warned us about the chaos ... his reply,
'but John, you would never have believed me'!
We also talked to Bill Vale about the chaos ... his reply,
'yes John, let's have another pint'!
On July 1st 1974 john p was 35 years old and half way through his biblical ration ... and really motoring, and although we say it ourselves a master of his factory trades ... and he recalled an urge to write ... and again in 1981 when Auntie Doris died ... funny that ... but we had no time for writing we were on a surge we'd learned about running factories & building new ones and now was the time to lead our own show.
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 own Greens in an ice box.
Greens were also transported to the Lake Cottage where they had to compete with Malawi Gin and the MGTs were 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 Malawi 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 Limbe 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 ? Later in 1982 schooling was expertly polished by Antonia Sara ... Head Girl at The Grange School, Hartford.
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 ... we even tried to coax SJ into singing some Glen Miller songs ...
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 as exercise had become a fun lifestyle which complemented beer drinking admirably.
We always 'walked' around our factories, and see below, 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 ...
We had learned early on that understanding what was really going on came from walking round our factories to listen to the real talk of the folk and listen to the machines. We got to know folk by walking around with them. Walking around was the way we freed ourself from the bullshiter positions and got at the real McCoy of everyday life. It went back a long way there was even a name for it ... 'management by walking about' ... walking along the dirt roads without climbing into the ivory towers. Sitting and reading about it was an elitist plot, a conspiracy to wash the brain. Walking was always the best way of keeping our feet on the ground ... walking was democratic, liberating, healthy, footloose & fancy free, whimsical and at the heart of the notion of 'psychogeography' (Google it?). We walked and were jolted into a new awareness of folk and the places they inhabited. Above all wandering freely & continuously in pursuit of inspiration was inspirational! We 'drifted' around the London West End during our interregnum in 1979. We were not in suburbia but in the city and felt the pulse of the capital ... slowly, we were allowed to feel the experience a place rather than just pass through it, subtle regional differences. Young people always seemed to want to move away from the places of their youth ... to compare & contrast ... but the best way to get to know Adam the Smith, and what was going on, was over a convivial pint with David Hulme in their home town ... or the next best thing! We retired to the Old Soaps walks and during the Mouldsworth hikes we 'encountered' the village gossip not at the pontificating at the Parish Council Meetings. Driving cars and on the bus or train folk didn't talk to each other much and found it hard to discover what was really going on ... and crucially 'the real what' was not available on the apps on your iPhone it was likely fake news ... but we get ahead of ourselves ...
Looking back, we left Malawi and the Limbe Factory and our lads on a high, the decade of the 1970s was a peak for the Birchalls,
'we had voted with our feet and joined a club of our choice'
There existed an awesome 'cultural fit' with Unilever Overseas.
We avoided alcoholism through exercise, 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 to cap the lot during the 1970s the Unilever overseas businesses proved their worth and kept the whole shebang in grog as Europe & North America succumbed to missiles from P&G ... overseas we scaled the heights and avoided the croppers ... we were heavily involved in directing a profitable business, investing in future developments and leading a factory operation involved in sophisticated technology and a gang of enthusiastic people who we understood and we were happy to call our fiends. Wot more could we want!?
We were paid well and had a weakness for indulgences we splashed out on a Reliant Scimitar 3 litre V-6 sports car like Princess Anne and then in 1980 a superior family pad in rural Mouldsworth ... we also managed a clever investment in a riverside cottage for leave in the UK. 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. In 1974 this pad cost £3,000, and after the council had paid us for a spanking new bathroom, toilet & kitchen, we sold it in 1999 for £45,000.
But throughout the 1970s it was the convivial pints we remembered ... they were everywhere and seemed to get cheaper and more 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.
And we confirmed that one of the big pluses of the 'overseas circuit' was the depth of the friendships ... not only the expatriates, but also the Head Office smarts ... and the local indigenes who, more often than not, were good skins and seemingly grateful for our help ... and invited us for beer.
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, on the crest of a wave and on the 'B list' we went headlong into the battles of the competing fiefdoms ... DW 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 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 ... some said we were 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 beer fest at Four Acres instead - Senior Engineering, Technical & Production Managers Course - May 29th - June 8th 1979 ... this was brilliant as we renewed friendships with many old soaks ... and we caught up with Ram Charan again.
We had some great fun explaining what Unilever looked like through the bottom of a beer glass as we explored Unilever's strengths & weaknesses
M&A strength - financial expertise which funded the purchase of successful innovations
R&D weakness - 'bottomless pit of expense' rather than 'an overflowing well of invention'.
Many were unconvinced by 'speaking the truth to power' but they managed to laugh and buy more beer.
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 'new' 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 on 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 M, Margaret S, John Mac, Frank, John Kerr ... 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 & a beer ... or two.
Amongst the festivities there was some farcical time spent at an empty desk in TIS and more farcical work in a corridor in ORAC ... but 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.
Frank Martin summed it all up,
'1976 was a year of changes within the OSC, and of strange happenings, events which could not have been predicted in a month of Sundays'.
Our timing was impeccable, Frank was the only guy around who remembered us and he continued to befriend, guide and mentor ... the view of Unilever from the bottom of a beer glass was 20/20 ... we remained convinced that all these knotty questions were best viewed this way ... most of the fractious issues of folk were soluble in alcohol ... and Frank bought his round.
The profits from overseas success had attracted the predators from Europe ... someone 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 official 'advice' was to disassociate oneself from foods, 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 than in the profitable environment overseas ... and we knew at the time that the perpetrator of this heresy had been 'black balled' by the true grit of our real friends. The new OSC line remained indiginisation but with zero expatriates without a home base and 'return ticket' ... and our bureaucracy was deemed to be DC.Thee profitable productive ties of friendships and beer were not so easily broken ... so we had another round ... or two with Willie, the Bruce, John Kerr and Frank ... we noted also that EWLW had fretted about problems with 'the lack of broad experience in Europe for some OSC jobs'?
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 real messy ... the networking synergies had been sidelined and the arrogant impositions started ... plenty of angst but no sign of any beer? We were particularly appalled by the attempted imposition of doubtful technology on a successful overseas TD in one of our brightest emerging markets, Indonesia ... wot on earth was going on? We needed two rounds to cope.
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 ... surely not 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 any 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 ... but this was to be 'sucked' out of central research rather than 'imposed' from an arrogant central bureaucracy ... such was Ken Durham's Unilever as a multi local multi national ... unfortunately the timing was all wrong and such suggestions were unwanted contributions for desperate Fiefs and were contemptuously dismissed without discussion ... as the fiefdoms fought on ... so we had another pint ... and regrouped.
In this way the 2 year wait in TIS & ORAC turned out to be unexciting parking lots ... for sure we looked at the alternatives outside Unilever during this interregnum but should we 'go with the flow' or 'fight the folly'? ... the only strategy from a diminutive base in the corridor of URL was both! ... we were in the tent pissing rather than outside the tent pissing in ... the problem was the perceived arrogance of DC by many overseas Technical Directors which was 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 technologies ... and they hardly felt the need to seek views'.
It was assumed there was a business market for the innovative R&D Detergent 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'. See Geoffrey Jones 2005.
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'.
The other Product Coordinations didn't behave this way, they drank beer. 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 Frank Martin and 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 perhaps the most enduring of Unilever's a long established 'core competences'.
Unilever was a great company, always close to the customer. Was Unilever better at propitious acquisitions than R&D?
In 1972 the McKinsey look see into URL had merely confirmed that R&D was a major 'investment' and needed focus and the wraps taken off academia. There was no answer to the Charles Wilson question; was R&D a 'bottomless pit of expense' or an 'overflowing well of invention'? An ongoing problem, addressed by Ashok Ganguly's Business Driven R&D in 1999 ... 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 more 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' management potential 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 and regrouped.
One investment area at this time, South America was a delight, we didn't speak the language and 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 and an opportunity to buy another tea shirt from Unilever Overseas. Guayaquil was without a Unilever factory and the arsehole of the world.
In 1980 we became embroiled in how folk really washed their clothes & dishes in foreign countries where happenings were very different amongst the filth of cholera, typhoid and hepatitis. Although customers the world over may have wanted clean clothes, product cost effectiveness varied with different habits and cultures ... and the Unilever business opportunity was different ... products were to be tailored to the locals.
We had to learn and understand these differences.
Every wannabe tourist who indulged in 'traveling the world' and dared to brag about their cosmopolitan credentials should have Guayaquil on their bucket list. Holidays in The Benidorm Hyatt feeding on fish, chips & mushy peas was great fun but added little to the real benefits of understanding different cultures.
But those who wanted fun and exercise to avoid slouching on the couch were better off walking to the pub than visiting Guayaquil!
During our interregnum we mulled things over something rotten.
We never lost the plot and reassuringly we had much more success later with the fraught problem of technology transfer when in 1986 we set up the 'Master Projects' ... the local executive Technical Director, 'the customer', in the Chair.
We knew working in risky Unilever Zone 'A' tropical countries provided an opportunity for able young men to learn about Unilever and business ... and save some rainy day funds for the family and at the same time enjoy an exciting & challenging 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 with its futile attempts to reduce risk and orchestrate conformity. We had other ideas and voted with our feet and joined a club of our choice.
David Bruce saw the light and there were stark lessons for businesses ... especially overseas ... the bills had to be honestly paid ... and corruption rooted out. Following his perspicacious understanding of the value of propitious acquisitions ... and after we had sunk our convivial pints ... his second claim to fame & friendship 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 politicos 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 politicos, 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 always an immoral clamour for more & more tax revenues to be wasted on ego trips. This clamour was only demolished by the moral imperative to spend other people's means wisely on innovation & diversity as Darwin had taught'.
A position supported by Adam the 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 judgements were easily 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 seemed to be emotionally repulsed by the immoral spending of tax revenues on wasteful ego trips and grandiose schemes ... and squandering our very own rainy day funds was not on ... we remembered the conclusion of David Fieldhouse -
'The profitability of Unilever subsidiaries overseas was determined less by efficiency than by government policy and the way it was implemented by the local 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! One memorable night was spent at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club on Frith Street in Soho where we drank beer during a long wait at a front row table before eventually Dizzy Birks Gillespie appeared and played unbelievable jazz.
In 2018 it was tough and so very sad, we lost a mate ... but we only remembered the good times and the fun. 'The Bruce' was a 'brick', a true reliable friend and a beer drinker ... we thought the same way ... years and years later he still remembered all the fun and started writing up his memories of fun ... typical, only the fun ... thanks for sharing times ... together we discovered convivial pints in every pub in Fleet Street ... remember that time we had a beer with a young journalist and 'wound him up' about making Unilever customers happy with gifts of plastic tulips as he held companies must never be allowed to go bankrupt 'cos jobs were lost ... fun, endless fun ... thanks again and now we look forward to meeting again in the celestial tavern in the sky and hearing those enticing words, ‘thanks The Bruce and mine’s a pint!’ ... ?
RIP David G Bruce January 15th 2018.
In 1982 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 Overseas
Ademola Street, Ikoyi
The Unilever Information Bulletin was used to announce all Senior Management appointments in those days and in January 1982 the bulletin promptly announced the new challenge.
Back on the West Coast it was almost 10 years to the day after our first sweltering trip down the Ikorodu Road ... but this time was very different. The kids were at school in the UK swanning it at Ellesmere College and The Grange School and we took the Tin Can Island Expressway and chose the posh side of town and the Ikoyi Club for our passions. We hit the ground running our Ikoyi Survival Kit was renowned throughout the expatriate community ... bridge every day, 20 lengths of the pool every day and to cap it off to quell the dust of the day ... ice cold 'Stars' always complemented by a ravishing 'Club Sandwich' which was a meal in itself ... although CM insisted it was all a lottery with local hygiene ... 99 out of 100 were scrumptious but the one always 'gotcha'. This was our favourite pic of CM ... sacrifice with a smile
The Ademola Street 'apartments' were fully air-conditioned with standby generators, doubled security with lucious Lebanese food readily available close by and ample bottles of beer for friends ... it was almost cosy adequacy. The go slows were by passed by a automatic canoe which skipped across the Lagos lagoon in a minute to the factory jetty ... and our reliable personal driver Chris Uzoigwe with his cool Peugeot Saloon always waiting on hand ... Chris topped our recruitmant effort, a smiling if not devout Catholic, who relished his job of 'protecting Madam' from the hostile enviroment ... often perhaps apologeticlly questioning, 'why don't white man jump queue? ... we're still learning Master'? We gave him a 'v.g. plus' and a pay rise ... but many happenings were still ridiculously corrupt, stubbornly chaotic, infuriatingly unresponsive and made worse by the oppressive heat and fecundity of the pathogens ... we reckoned we earned in spades our Tropical Zone A Bonus and Overseas Pension. But for sure we couldn't have survived without our deep friendships which developed and thrived over cool beers.
We drank with Malcolm Duns, Baron Steen von Irgens-Berg, Ron Stirzaker, Julien Fierens, Chris Weeks and Ernst Koster ... wot a gang ... we sorted out the factories but not the business ... by now the new 'arrogant' Unilever fiefdoms back home were in the middle of meddlement and another scrap ... the new lot 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 in the factory ... sustaining improvements was always a problem. Perhaps management changed too frequently? ... or was the Unilever culture difficult to ingrain? ... Unileverisation was far more than following the Accounts Manual and the 'Blue Book Specifications'.
But alarmingly we recognised that many of the best local technicals had left the club and many of those guys had been first rate ... and keen to be part of the club,
'I would walk through walls for some of these expatriates ... but not all'!
1982 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 ... but Malcolm Duns was now on the job.
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! ... and worse it transpired that we were paying for some unknown folk who never bothered to work on the site!
We had another beer ... if we were going to help these guys the first stage was 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' ... 'all the basic procedures had been detailed by old Technical Directors years ago' ... the popular refrain was that it was all about 'management ... but was it really 'a management problem'?
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, a great bloke to work with ... we concurred.
Malcolm had done a brilliant job building the new specialised factories; detergents at Aba and foods at Agbara and the rest at Apapa ... and he 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 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 how could it come to pass? ... with the help of reliable engineering from Ron Stirzaker and hard work at the coal face over a few pints ... the whole show was led by old hands who had bought the T-shirt.
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 from the centre but rather continuity and local autonomy ... a culture ... after all Unilever was a multi local multi national?
Hindustan Lever became our 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 indoctrinated with Ashok Ganguly at Four Acres and became hooked after extensive 'training' visits to the Bombay Factory where we indulged ourselves in the intricate vagaries of 3,500 employees and learned how to 'by pass the blockages to let the blood flow'. The Bombay Factory was teeming complexity and challenges but we found that there was a welcoming buzz and real opportunities ...
Hindustan Lever, a great company, had been inhibited somewhat by socialist governments ... a political, entrenched, bureaucratic, economic command & control minefield. Corruption, arbitrary & retrospective taxes, hindered progress but the size & scope of the entrepreneurial resilience & zest was all pervading.
We concurred wholeheartedly with the 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 a production problem but rather local government and their bureaucratic anti business policy. Similar perseverance, decentralisation and local autonomy were also appropriate for Lever Brothers Nigeria ... in the early 1970s there was an attempt to 'nationalise' the company (buying a majority stake at a P/E of 1½) but the new 'owners' accepted expensive service fees and brand licenses from Unilever as the cost of staying in business ... it was also clear that Ken Durham's strategy of a multi local multi national company suggested that centralised business edicts from London & Rotterdam were anathema.
HLL's distinctive company culture continued to thrive particularly after the 1991 deregulation inflection point ... and continuing into the new millennium as Hindustan Unilever Limited ... but was HLL itself big enough to be itself a Unilever fiefdom as some suggested? 16,000 folk were directly involved in the company which produced a series of CEO who rose to the main 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.
The OSC and an erstwhile Vice Chairman of HLL, knew how important local autonomy & indigenisation had been to the fortunes of HLL ... and although local R&D in HLL enjoyed a fine innovative reputation ... it was innovations from propitious M&A that took the biscuit (remember Lipton, Brook Bond, Chesebrough Ponds, Tata Oil Mills and Tata Lakme ... and the Modern Foods privatisation?).
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.
But had Unilever been 'fair' to the host countries in their selection of senior expatriate management? Or was the selection process itself part of the subcultures of the fiefdoms which bordered on arrogance, as Geoffrey Jones had reported?
Fun to record ... we extracted far more insights into our own 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 and beer drinking with Vijay Bhalla at University?
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 ... perhaps we took tea with these stalwarts more often than beer ... but it tasted just as good.
Back in Apapa we spent happy hours around the fat trap with HLL enthusiast, Bertie Piera, an ace from Goa. Bertie had been steeped in the electic mix in HLL and Unilever factory workings ... but above all of his accomplishments, he had managed to corner a superb culniary aficianado, the delightful Hazel ... it was Hazel who showered us with extreme hosptitality and endless scrumptious curries.
We recalled that MLD had been rewarded for his admirable execution of intent and proven 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. FM should have warned him?
So as we left Nigeria 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 ... specialised factory technologies, cast of thousands cut to the bone of a simplified flat line management structure without interfering staff functions ... costs down, quality and reliability up ... and another beer.
Alas, 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 ... imagine how many beers ... and liver failures? 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 very convivial gent ... and certainly a member of the 'club'.
So when we left the West Coast in 1984 there was no longer an 'overseas circuit' ... but the vast expense of education for the kids was on a secure trajectory ... and the house & garden with the Mouldsworth aspect were top drawer.
It was clear that the 'overseas circuit' had been superseded by an 'indigenisation' policy which we supported. Any necessary help/guidance was to come from specialised secondees from the 'mainstream' fiefdoms. OK but ... the social glue for a cohesive culture was never sacrificed for short term expedience ... the foundation for all successful overseas ventures was Unilever's knitting; the social glue. Furthermore, in Europe, mature markets, P&G and DOBs had turned Unilever sour and there were tempting challenges in the search for a reliable personal income stream.
Perhaps Europe could learn something from overseas? The overwhelming importance of folk and their social cultures? The view of Unilever through the bottom of a beer glass was 20/20!
The 1980s were about consolidation, we had learned our trade and confidently knew how to pay the bills ... we knew -
'vision without finance was an hallucination'
but 'luckily' we had both ... but we also knew it wasn't 'luck' ... Gary Player's words often rang in our ears,
'funny but the harder I practice the luckier I get'!
We told anyone who would listen that ... perhaps ... it was all about,
'hard work, honesty & thrift' ... with beer?
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 all spring from a long fascinating history of success ... family and friends some long since dead?
Back in the UK we had an opportunity to get more serious about convivial pints as we surveyed the local picture with an old friend, workmate and neighbour from Latham Avenue, Helsby. Dr CJM was a maverick and immediately established himself as a fun friend ... a polymath with memory ... massively into the intrigues of all interesting sports and all interesting sciences ... and some interesting jazz ... which left us bereft and isolated, contributing little but some meagre nous gleaned from our acquaintance with dark satanic manufactories and the hidden depths of human nature that we had glimpsed underneath the soap pans in Apapa.
CJM told the story of a fine tradition of Goshawk beer drinking which transmogrified into jazz -
'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 manufacture for the launch of a new fabric softener product. 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 pitched up at The Goshawk with KBR. 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 we knew he hailed from Ellesmere Port, a suburb of Liverpool (where he knew the gorgeous Heather Chilton). It was 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 jpb 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 1993). 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 after one of Myra's spring cleans. On March 24th he played his 1st Thursday nite Gig, and even 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 cluttered 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 arthritic 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'
So, we found ourselves embroiled in music. 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.
As 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 MJC 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 ... a superb product, supported by technical excellence and ongoing capital investment. 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'.
Was this something about a mid-life crisis? Was it something about climbing the ladder of success, only to find that it had been put up against a crumbling tree? And who chose to put it up against that particular tree in the first place?
Warrington was going to be fun.
My old boss a smiling Tony Trevor greeted us effusively, 'Welcome back to the fold, John' ... we certainly didn't feel we wanted to be in a protective enclosure, there was work to be done. We remembered our conversations Bill Valve when he returned to Port Sunlight from precarious Burma in the 1960s ... a breath of fresh air from alien parts who was out to cut the mustard ... he was certainly no lamb coming back to the fold.
Our first assignment was a bit ominous. We embarked on a tour of Europe to familiarise ourselves with the European powders business. We remember well our European tour of 1971 with Jim Marshall when we met enthusiasm & excitement in smiling faces and a stampede to help get technology into the vast markets of Indonesia and Nigeria ... Europe & URL seemed to be 'overflowing wells of innovation'. What a contrast in 1984, we seemed to meet nothing but doom & gloom from beaten up bureaucrats smarting from the twin barrels of P&Gs perpetual success and the commoditisation of laundry powders. Warrington & Persil were isolated jewels in a morass of squabbling fiefdoms ... sad & sour folk had gone belly up, 'not interested, not invented here' ... good folk were wasted and reduced to 'jockeying for favours in the hierarchy' ... Europe & URL had become 'bottomless pits of expense'. There were few convivial pints and we even met some threatening demeanors.
However in a strange way all the bureaucratic kluge was motivating ... after all we'd met it all before in Port Sunlight in the late 1960s ... we vowed to inject a bit of fun and a few convivial pints into the proceedings!
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 at Warrington, we met some saltmen for the porridge and a Factory Operation & Culture second to none ... we hatched a strategy and dedicated it to the saltmen ... by pass the blockages and let the blood flow ... and the blood was in good nick ... daughter SJ promoted our plan with her dab hand at calligraphy.
Our practice had been well establised in No1 Soapery, Aba, Limbe, Bombay & Apapa Manufacturies ... we arrived with a plan after all that's why we got the job in 1984.
Our 3 pronged strategy for Manufactories -
deep immersion into the folk and the environment - underneath the soap pans in Apapa the factory talked to us - we could 'hear' where boundaries were being breached or compromised
strategy communcation & investment - we'll do it proper - direction, speed & destination - help provide the 'tools' for autonomy - by pass the blockages and let the blood flow for motivation - grow the good bits
leadership - trust, respect, fun ... and beer - management by 'walking about'
First up were questions, not about the technology and organisation but rather ... 'wot was the crack'? ... plug into the factory gossip to reveal all the pertinent happenings which were unknown in the corridors of power.
Uncannily 4 to 5 years later in 1989 we read a chiming letter from Warren Buffet to his shareholders ...
1989 Warren Buffet, Letter to Shareholders 'The Unseen
Running an institutional bureaucracy is far harder than it looks from the outside.
You arrive with a plan, that's why you got job. Call everyone together and tell them what they have to do. They ignore you. Not openly. They nod obligingly, and then get on with what they were doing before, a sort of 'institutional imperative'. All bureacracies will resist any change in its current direction, after all it has survied.
Decent, intelligent and experienced managers don't automatically make rational business decisions obout the future.
Rage, as the new manager discovers, is a bad idea.
Rather study the system. Ask people to explain what they are doing and why. Do not confine yourself to those at the top. Talk particularly to those unregarded people who have most direct contact with the action; the public, the customers and the services. They know far more than than their job titles suggest.
Watch, listen, talk to some of these people over coffee.
First, the system is always tough to change. It has been built up over the years. There are often strata of technology that have accreted over time. Pull one thread and it could all unravel
Second, not all the old ways are bad. There are slivers of good practice that are worth preserving.
Third Many people know things can be done better. Employees are not an undifferentiated mass. Some will feel threatened. What does change mean for their jobs? But others, hearing that you are genuinely receptive, may send you their ideas unprompted. You will have allies.
After a while, you build up a picture of what needs to be done.
Try to work out who is likely to resist your changes. Speak to them too. They may raise legitimate objections or they may reveal themselves as people who need to move on.
Alf Gaskell was one of the greatest gillies known to man and helped us run the Packing Room, understand the factory ... and sup our pints ... he was a giant and his bog standard nous & enthusiasm rubbed off everywhere ... against all the odds we refused to be diverted by the encroachment of the 'analysis paralysis of a cast of thousands as more equaled less' ... those 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. This was bureaucratic kluge gone mad ... and we were certain that the strengths, the culture, of the Warrington Factory had been staggeringly successful and must be nurtured and grown not neutered -
technical excellence had always underpinned factory operations with a history of technological know how - continuous soapmaking, DFA saponification, NSD automatic, non tower processes ... technology drove productivity ...
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 ... search for profitable projects not cost savings ...
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 ... and Warringtonians loved beer.
There was also a culture in Warrington Town which we knew from our studies of great granddad Edward Hindley. Warrington 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. We were proud to be part of the effort to perpetuate this culture at a time when it was under assault.
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?
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. There was gravitas around and folk stopped smiling.
We saw the parallels with our Nigerian experience of the chaotic culture in Apapa and the learned lessons of how the efficiency of the Aba soap factory had been 'rewarded' by new investment in an NSD Factory. Aba was a jewel in a Nigerian morass, anything was possible! Grow the good bits!
The quest was to grow Warrington not change the culture, it was the Port Sunlight bureaucracy that needed a culture change?
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 'the contemplation of 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 and effectively -
'by passed the bureaucratic blockages and let the blood flow'
... this perceptive comment was a ploy first heard when uttered by our mate Ashok Ganguly ... after a pint ... or two!
Years later Dr John Davies, 'The Governor', was a big drinking mate of ours and we indulged in fascinating discussions about factory cultures. Like The Banjo Player, JGD had wallowed all the challenges of a 'real job' in factory management, at the coal face and far away from 'ivory towers' ... 'people persons' who had learned the hard way about how to get the best out of technology and folk of all shapes & sizes. The Govenor had started at Warrington commissioning DFA chemical plants and then confronted the foibles of production at Port Sunlight before a look see at how ICI and INEOS liked their factories to be managed in Warrington ... we discussed, compared and contrasted the bullet points of the different factory cultures -
bureaucracy v. enterprise
complex organisation & staff functions v. flat hierarchy & line responibilities
multiple brand marketing v. big brands focused technology
unionised labour intensive workforce v. enthusiastic operators of technology
loaded up with high indirect costs v. trim, tight economies of specialisation & scale
marketing know how, adverting & consumers v. technology know how, suppliers & customers
low capital investment, low efficieny v. high capital investment high efficiency
short term milking of commodities, low R&D v. long term investment in innovative products/technology, high R&D
For certain in the 1980s as the foibles of fickle folk disturbed the buzzing peace & tranquility at Warrington and the assailants from Port Sunlight faffed around with the factory culture ... it was the continuing investment in technological excellence ... and beer ... that kept the Warrington Factory ahead of the game.
Technical control of Complex Adaptive Systems had to be done proper! So we had a pint, chewed it over & over, every which way, upside down & inside out, all the angles, nothing but the best, technology solved problems ... we agreed and then went for it, all systems go ... and had another beer to celebrate.
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 & conflict ... and invariably with 'grandiose schemes', the politicking of the bureaucrats ... we'd met such complex systems over the years ... three of the worst were engraved on our memory ...
Groundnut Affair --- learned from Edgar Graham OSC
Cybersyn Project --- learned from Pancho Jimenez TD Chile
NHS IT Project --- learned from son-in-law Eddie Medical Physics NHS
... three disasterous faiure provided grist for our mill. Such arrogant command & control projects from above were 'pies in the sky' ... evolution don't work that way ... and if happenings were not the outcomes of natural selection, wot on earth were they 'Intellient Design'?
Later Vernon reflected over a pint and remembered some powerful lessons from life and project management ... and we agreed beer always 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, Mal Davies 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 ... he was Unilever's loss.
We remembered much drinking & fun with the giant maverick 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 ... and he was a beer drinker and fun. We first knew him as a Industrial Engineer at Port Sunlight ... then 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 ... and had acquired a deep distrust of bureaucracies ... he was also a history buff which was a considerable help as he had seen it all before in ancient Greece. 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 been nurtured by an old sponsor of ours, Tony Trevor, or 'dad' to the Warringtonians. They were rightly proud of the success in the 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 & Mickey Newall had done for Crosfields soapmaking & powders ... '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. The innovative technology which underpinned the Warrington success and culture had by passed 'the print'. After a few pints Keith would tell the story of young David P, 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 exclaimed 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 ... but whatever your cup of tea ... and tastes were many and varied ... many of our friends were 'Guardian' readers ... the productivity breakthroughs in the print industry in Warrington were the start of something big ... in the end when push came to shove all 'restraints on trade' & 'restrictive practices' impoverished everyone and were not Evolutionary Stable Strategies. Diversity was always the feedstock for evolutionary change ... and Darwin suggested that there was no other sort of change that anyone knew of?
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 to the diversity of views?
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 -
casts 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 clogged things up.
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 un-embarrassing 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.
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?
The Warrington cameo was insightful ... it demonstrated how evolutionary economics provided an explanatory understanding of happenings ... successful cultures tended to survive ... and we were convinced successful cultures were embroiled in beer.
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 managers ... 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 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 manual 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 ... or 'structural reforms' ... cost cutting was never a route to exciting innovation -
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 business ... and what we had learned from 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 adages - 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 & taste 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 ... 'good everyday managers did good every day value analysis ... everyday' ... and always started with 'zero budgeting' innovation by definition had no truck with insidious sunk costs.
Unilever was essentially a marketing company which relied on acquisitions rather than R&D for continuous innovation. There were obvious deficiencies in the technical support given to our brands. The great production technologies of the past had become obsolete skills: fitting on nigres, fat blending, hydrogenation, sulphonation, oil refining, tissue culture & more? Such were old hat and less relevant to brand success? And were washing 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 P&G's 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' ... and MJC's admonition -
'we're in business not industry'!
Just sayin' ...
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 - URL 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 were set up ... no more 'overseas circuit' ... we were time expired.
However there was work on exciting global technology transfer projects with Unilever Research which promised interest and reward; we called them Master Projects ... an 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 be re-established 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 ...
Technology Transfer had long been our experience & forte and we promoted the model at every opportunity -
commitment - the boss was the customer, he must be in the chair, leading, building & resourcing investment and social capital
customer problems - real factory priorities had to be identified 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 ... no faffing about
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, cut the crap
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 located in their factories ... not R&D boffins in isolated ivory towers ... and we immediately discovered brilliant 'boffins' with brilliant technology buried alive in a stultifying bureaucracy ready, willing & able to get out into the action help ... all they need was the opportunity.
Technology solved problems ... rather than snake oil. We had bought the T shirt.
Simple 'fool proof' control of the moisture content of spray died detergent powders was a prize wanted by Factory Managers everywhere. We knew, we had asked them ... over a convivial pint ... and it was only over a pint that we got down to the nitty gritty rather than the party line peddled in the usual committee meetings with agendas which produced instruction manuals and blue bibles.
Serendipity, we had a big win early. Young Bob Lee and 'Control & Automation Technology' confirmed that URL could help with effective solutions as well as useless snake oil. URL Vlaardingen had wrestled for years trying to improve detailed linear control algorithms for moisture control 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 commercial enterprise emerging from Professor David Sandoz of Manchester University, an academic control engineer who applied some experimental evolutionary satisficing principles to spray drying technology. His Connoisseur adaptive control system was an early 'win' for our 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. 'By pass the blockages and let the life blood flow' ... there was work to be done, we engineered innovative projects in Warrington, Chicago, San Paulo, Seoul, Nairobi, Casale, Haubourdin, Mannheim ... and Green Fields.
Many customers were smiling and the good Dr W 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.
So in 1986 we went for broke with the Master Projects. Top wank, experimental science & technology investment dovetailed nicely with the Warrington culture. The merriment continued right up to 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 less and listened ... and some were bull shitters ... Alf Gaskell would have been pleased ... the beer and the company were superb!
Wot fun, there was light at the end of the tunnel ... but the 'not invented here' merchants were still around ... and some of them refused to drink with us ... were we tainted with snake oil? The Master Projects were a bright spark in difficult times. In the words of an eminent Unilever sage (and JKM) R&D was like 'taking a running f--- at a rolling doughnut'. Sure the active molecules were the priority but overseas and in Europe for that matter ... putting them into a quality mix and into boxes in the warehouse often proved to be the Achilles Heel. Sadly sometime after we retired in 1994 and after a magnificent new Manufacturing Technology building had opened at Port Sunlight URL (built by our mate from Malawi, David Crawford) ... the rumour spread that we were 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!
So in 2001 The Manufacturing Technology Department was closed ... Richard Dodds mused -
'It was a sad day; manufacturing technology was deemed not to be delivering value for money'
Manufacturing projects continued and were taken on by HLL ... but had the snake oil merchants won? Richard retired and went to teach at Liverpool University.
RIP Richard G Dodds, October 2014.
So did 'the international social club' continue to function amicably? The key, once again, was the commitment of the 'customer' Technical Director ... some were 'networkers' others were from alien fiefdoms? ... but one thing remained, for sure, we were convinced the successful Technical Directors were always 'networkers' who lubricated the technology transfer with convivial pints!
The projects starkly confirmed that the exciting opportunities were overseas. Europe was a mess full of fighting fiefs and commoditised ... a toaster was a toaster. The beer tasted much better overseas ... it always seemed a bit sour in Italy & France where the infighting was most fractious ... maybe it was because they were wine drinkers? But then Pancho Jiminez's wine in Chile was superb ... funny that?
Soooo ... was pride in & growth of 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 now passed their sell by date as innovative brands moved ... into more convenient liquids ... did Port Sunlight become a focused, specialised liquids factory? ... 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 working friendships were focused on big brand successes which were lubricated by convivial pints ... it worked for powders, liquids ... and margarine ... technology was the easy bit.
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 level of '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 a fair crack at progress ... we never thought we'd be the best out of the world ... just better than some of our competitors who had tried their luck from time to time.
Looking back in the 1990s we were smiling and convinced that we got Technology Transfer mostly right in the Master Projects. We remembered all about the difficulties in ORAC and our hearts & minds were with the OSC who had wrestled with global technology transfer & organisational learning since for ever ... and we remembered the words -
'Technology Transfer was not a facile process ... organisational learning was not about instruction manuals nor questionable snake oil technology ... especially when it all became embroiled in the fiefdom fights and a shortage of good beer'.
At 50 we were bullet proof and believe it or not we were looking forward to retirement in 1994 and lots of good beer! We were finishing on a high but were still fascinated with the Unilever business and the role of science & technology in problem solving.
In 1992 we enjoyed one final opportunity to wrestle with the Unilever business strategy overseas and the conundrum associated with the intricacies of Market Development, Technology Transfer and Unilever's Knitting ... a social wort of financial clout and M&A nous.
In 1981 Bill Vale & Frank Martin had established a promising partnership with Madam Chang and The Aekyung Industrial Co Ltd Korea which had gone pear shaped. Market Development turned into forced Technology Transfer as naive intellectual property theft led to inevitable collapse of trust & cooperation. Madam Chang did not wish to be part of a 'little Unilever clone' ... she wanted her very own success with her very own brands ... give me the instruction manual and 'I'll do the rest' ... if only Market Development were that simple.
In 1992 we mulled over the strategy with the local expatriates over fabulous Tsingtao beer in Hong Kong before a memorable train trip up the Korean peninsular from Seoul up to the factory in Daejon with a budding John Kilgallen who knew the technology nuances inside out but had much more trouble with the gorgeous local girls who all looked the same ...
Korea was eventually resolved most effectively in 2017 with Unilever's financial clout and the acquisition of Carver Korea ... an established innovative high margin successful business in Personal Products ... Goldman Sachs & Bain Capital invested in 60% of Carver and trebled their investment in 12 months ... time will tell ... A.H.C (Aesthetic Hydration Cosmetics) had developed their biggest market in China ... we recalled FM musings when he planned Shanghai Ponds -
'I should explain the logic of getting into skin creams. The bitter winters in northern China along with vile winds and dust storms and the inevitable need to be out in these, result in faces like well tanned leather and hands like kitchen graters - so skin cream is very high on the list of 'luxuries' which the women dreamed about when they were not dreaming about food and warmth'.
There were bits of 'know how' hidden in corporate culture ... we had felt & touched the wisdom under the soap pans in Apapa, regurgitated with MJC during our beers, and from FM during our interregnum in the Bridget's House bar in 'limboland' ... these gentlemen were on the ball and led the team which broke into China in 1986 ... Frank's book of memoires recalled the story on page 292 ... Messrs Martin, Cowan, Cheng and Kam ... wot a team.
In 2019 we caught up with Fred Cheng who we first met in URL in 1982 to reminisce over coffee in The Hinderton Arms on the Parkgate Road.
China was a fascinating Case Study and we believed that from 1983 the success of Unilever's operations depended on the personal relationships developed in Shanghai -
Fred spoke the language in Shanghai and knew all about Lux Toilet Soap and was everybody's best friend ... and a coffee drinker ...
Mike was bought up in Shanghai and was a technical & business connoisseur ... and beer drinker ...
Frank was an overseas business aficionado ... and beer drinker ...
Edson was the man on the spot in Hong Kong who we didn't know ... we wondered, was he a beer drinker?
... wot a team and we were happy to call them mates ... but we would say that wouldn't we?
On 31 July 2008 @ 08.20pm well into our retirement, out of the blue, we received an email from our old mentor from Unilever Overseas, MJC ... it seemed to sum up all our fun pretty well -
Hi John, I was Googling Apapa Soap? Yes it seems pretty
unlikely! I’d read that morning that Unilever had sold its US Laundry
business, which peeved me a bit since I’d helped to save it 25 years ago. So
I decided to look what they’d done to the Malaysian and Nigerian Businesses.
Sure enough in Malaysia the factories had been closed, though the business
still exists. In Nigeria I found no mention of our Aba plant (do you
remember when you went to run it in an emergency – quite a 'colonial
incident'! I certainly remember you going to hold the fort at Aba and the
murder that greeted your arrival! Quite like old colonial times and a story
for your grandchildren) and then, for Apapa, your article popped up. I began
reading it with sheer amazement, Port Sunlight, Bill, Fred, Stevens, Coathup
... trying to work out who was the author – I’d never heard the generator
story before. Suddenly the penny dropped.
I thought it was a splendid essay, which every ‘westerner’ should read before going overseas to work.
These informal networks we’ve developed over many years, some based on friendships, others on just a style of working, were I think special in Unilever and were incredibly effective. Consultants brought in by Mike Perry were surprised to find them, and very much troubled by them when trying to install formal systems. The US P&G style was that nobody could do anything outside the job spec in the blue book. Our style was to pick up the telephone and get on with the job ... (well some of the time!)
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.
Glad to be in touch. Best, Mike.
So there! We remained convinced that all the knotty questions Unilever faced were best viewed through the bottom of a beer glass with mates ... most of the fractious issues of folk were soluble in alcohol ... bottoms up ... and go with the flow and get on with the job!
During our retirement we needed beer money and we were determined to keep in ongoing touch with our pension and the opportunities for -
China's Emergence ... Market Development
Unilever's Knitting ... Mergers & Acquisitions
Sustainability ... Long Term Profitability
Happenings were still going to be interesting ... we retired immensely satisfied with our Unilever and 'life in a suitcase'!
Retirement 1994 'a second bite at life'
Wot an opportunity, retirement at 54 years old and still sober ... a chance for a second bite at life.
Was this a 'planned strategy'? Our original 'Unilever' plan when we started work in 1963 was a quest to see the factories of the world? Of course, it wasn't really a plan ... it just happened ... that was the way the cookie crumbled.
Fun and grind 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.
Our expectations were high as we embarked on a two pronged attack on retirement -
Open University -- back to swotting & exams and the study of Evolutionary Economics and
Selmer Mark VI Soprano Saxophone -- as we dusted off our virgin device with a bit of spit & polish and attempted some Dixieland Jazz ...
We were determined not to sprinkle the desert with a teaspoon, retirement was to be devoted to the mysteries of economic behaviour & the musicality of saxophones ... such intrigues had remained untouched in our first half century as we succumbed to the essentials of putting crumbs on the table for the kids ... the new challenges were to be fun, mulled over and pondered with family & friends over convivial pints ...
Of course happenings didn't go according to plan.
We motored on Economics and Saxophones at the start gate with naive enthusiasm but there was no doubt the big disruptor of retirement plans & time 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 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 had only just started to unfold and would, no doubt, be told ... much ... much later ...
Such dramatic change put paid to all other serious time consuming activities ... but in 2005 Grandpa did manage to start construction of a splendid tree house and swing in our magnificent Cheshire oak tree in Mouldsworth overlooking the Sandstone Ridge ... and we also, somehow or other, managed to keep some time available for 'mucky beer' with our mates!
How to Find Time!? problems or opportunities?
The imperative was to organise time to exploit the potential of early retirement. After our initial forays into The Open University and The Smithy Lane Stompers it became clear that time itself had a mind of its own ... things were getting desperate ...
In 1968 just before we packed our suitcases we had had some fun with J Mike Shaw when the ancient institution of the 'Works Laboratory' was reinvented as 'Quality Department' ... this new fangled collection of scoundrels became prey to his penetrating questions ... and his outrageous 'jokes'.
As well as a mean chemist Mike was a thespian & raconteur, he not only intoned The Galaxy DNA Song in front of a real live audience, he also employed original props ... would you believe a Bishop and an actress ... a real dizzy dizzy blonde? -
Jessica, 'wow, that's big!'
Bishop, 'you're pulling my leg'
After these early escapades Mike reappeared with less hair in 1994 as an enthusiastic member of the Old Soaps walking group. He proved to be a fellow after our own hearts when he insisted walks should be confined to 3 miles on the flat so that we would be back in fine fettle in time for a pint in the pub just as the doors opened.
Inevitably more outrage followed, this time from the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin.
Somewhat furtively JMS was sharp and observant and he noticed immediately that Jessica must have changed her telephone number!
There was more ... young Mike was in possession of two remarkable abilities -
his intriguing questions cajoled idle folk into thinking & using their imaginations and
his miraculous capacity to turn ordinary beer into a convivial pint was extraordinary
Mike's questions not only intrigued us old fogies who were well passed their sell by dates but also activated actions as we vowed to pass on such conundrums to the grandkids in the vain hope of helping to complete their education -
In 1972 when grandpa was a tropical flower in West Africa he was lounging in the hot sun, in a small boat in a small pool and, as expected, savouring the delights of a large crate of mucky beer; McEwan's Heavy. The midday sun was burning so the worry was that the cold beer might be getting a tad warm. Easy; a rope was tied to the beer crate which was cast overboard into the water to keep it cool, confident that it could be pulled up again for subsequent, well deserved, refreshment.
The crate sank to the bottom of the pool no problem. But the intriguing question was ... wot happened to the water level in the pool? Did it rise, stay the same or fall?
Answers to Archimedes care of Topical Science, The Grange School, Hartford.
One way or another we understood a little bit about science but never really understood time, nor how to find it, so we were grateful to Mike when he inspired our investigations into the predicaments & opportunities embedded in the phenomenon.
In 1999 Mike offered a solution to our ordeal ...
John & Carole Birchall, The Meister, Mouldsworth - 53 14 07 N 2 43 59 W.
Needless to say this considerable investment of AVC funds into heliochromatics and Mike's GPS expertise, failed miserably to locate that elusive retirement time which had been thieved from us so successfully. However all was not lost as the time piece was an attractive accoutrement & centre of attention when we welcomed in the millennium. This was somewhat remarkable as it was dark at the time, 12 midnight December 31st 1999 ... but the beer was good.
The Birchalls were not alone as beneficiaries of such auspicious wisdom. It was recorded for posterity or prosperity in the Journal of the British Sundial Society that Mike also offered his considerable services, for free, to the Duke of Westminster at Eaton Hall in an attempt to pin down an errant travelling sundial ... it was not known whether the Duke was suitably gruntled by this erudite historical investigation into ignorance?
The Shaw scholarship continued unabated and all sundial aficionados were in debt ... wot the hell was a toposcope?
But like all problems ... they just queued up ... but for beer drinkers every problem was an opportunity ... so if ever we did manage to 'find time' ... wot were we going to do with it?
Evolutionary Economics & Dixieland Jazz.
When we retired from Unilever it had been 10 years since the curtailment of our excitement with the overseas club. In 1994 we left a strange bickering, still bureaucratic & somewhat backward looking 'Lever Europe' but we chose to stay close to our beer drinking club which 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, there and then to focus our second bite at life on Evolutionary Economics & Dixieland Jazz ... and beer.
Our tutors in Evolutionary Economics were at the Open University, at Manchester, Liverpool, York & Bath where the sages and peers pointed us towards new ideas & books of wisdom. Our tutors in Dixieland Jazz were led by the blues horn & nous off Slim Read ... but, of course, it was the grandchildren themselves who were our most potent tutors!!
During our second bite at life we eventually concluded we were neither Chemical Engineers nor Economists but best described as Biological Historians ... we were folk who had enjoyed real jobs as businessmen & free traders who never messed with the distortions & gravitas of religion & politics & bureaucracy ... we stuck optimistically to empirical science. Our beer glass was always half full and never half empty.
It seemed to us that -
religion always involved incredible myth & magic and
politics always involved arrogant tyranny & oppression and
bureaucracy always involved stultifying restriction & restraints
... just sayin'.
We paid our dues to the scientists. It was the scientists who convinced us that something big was going on with the worms in our heads and such was certainly not as written in the good books. Neither the Bibles, nor the manifestos, nor the regulations cut the mustard as we all hung on to our own different interpretations of events while at the same time we all renewed our subscription to Xenophanes, who we suspected had been tutored by our hero 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 recent shenanigans of folk. In 1345 Edward III ended up losing his tax revenues to Alice Peres, in the 16th century The Pope gave up on taxing Harry and in 2010 the new Treasury Secretary lost much more than his tax revenues even before he started his work ... there was a note on his desk from his predecessor -
'I'm afraid there's no money left'
The previous Chancellor had spent everything including most of the Birchall rainy day savings ... and more!
In the face of all this ackamarackus we suggested 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 us to forget all about the Bishops, Princes, Generals & Bureaucrats and helped us to look after the genes who themselves did their cost/benefit calculations when left in peace.
We had met Dr Les Ball when he was a young quiff on August 2nd 1990. He had been rescued by The Busker when he swapped the monotony of pub quizzes and ordinary short measured beer for the delights of convivial pints of Greenalls at The Goshawk.
In 1994 retirement didn't get in the way of the continuity of the beer consumption as the 'Unilever Social Club' spawned new off springs.
The Old Soaps Walking Group ... 'Old Lever Development Scientists Originally At Port Sunlight' ... such was a remarkable retirement strategy, lots of convivial exercise followed by lots of convivial pints ...
Our social catalyst Les Ball told this 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, our Social Catalyst, Ken Robo, Designer Hughes, our Banjo Player, our 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 enthusiastically different, 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 ... we were thankful for that ... we knew that without diversity there could be no natural selection ... diversity was an opportunity for co-operation ... not compromise. We Googled the words co-operation & compromise and agreed there was a significant difference in meaning. 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, the 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 very 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 that guaranteed the fun as learning continued.
There were only two entry qualifications into our ensemble -
buying a round
reading 'The Selfish Gene' by Richard Dawkins
Musical qualifications didn't come into it as nobody could play anything.
Needless to say we failed miserably on everything, even buying a round became difficult, 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, calculating flow rates, immanent & transcendental theology, democratic minorities & human rights, natural law & the whim of kings, comparative advantage & trade, business ethics & profit, blues harmonies & noise, swingin' & dottin', tyranny & oppression, space & time, science & technology, neverendums & voting with your feet, resurrections & conjuring tricks with bones, natural selection & Boeing 747s ... and we met with many fascinating but absent friends ... Mitochondrial Eve, Ricardo's Friends & Joe Sixpack ... and Slim Read ... and in weaker moments we lambasted the laudable intentions but abject failures of umpires, referees, priests, judges and bureaucrats ... and all fickle folk who were not around to defend themselves.
There was much dross & tittle tattle but also the occasional useful insight ... which had little to do with luck and much to do with hard work ... and biological history ... so wot exactly was happening with the happenings at The Goshawk?
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 ... and eventually covered all the tittle tattle, gossip & crack known to man ... 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. The ubiquitous start piont ... 'I don't fancy yours' ... was also ignored all provocations invoked responses involving whatever was in the brain at that moment. Thoughts were not random but they were path dependent and there was an infuriating flip flopping electro chemistry which sparked 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 echoing themes ... maybe there were important contentious issues to be resolved ... but we never got round to them ... were natural selection, law and science interconnected? ... The Selfish Gene was required preparation ... but although we had forgotten what was in it ... we agreed it was a good book.
We managed to agree, without doubt, that the stupendous outcome of evolution was the capacity of folk to learn ... and furthermore empirical science was the stupendous methodology involved ... both involved social interactions which we enthusiastically lubricated with beer.
And we had proof of the efficacy of the barley malt brew as both Benjamin Franklin, and his mate Thomas Jefferson, were beer drinking aficionados and they both exposed the fatal flaws whenever naive fools ventured outside of the scientific discipline into the unknown - synergistic co-operation collapsed and impossible compromise reared its ugly head -
Our very own contribution, after beer, admitted ignorance but was sharp ... even though it only 'worked' with real friends -
'listen to what we mean not what we say'
True friends understood our meaning ...
So what were the themes of our non-linear conversations? There were seven fragments of conversations which must have been interesting because they recurred again & again within the cluttered chatter... but they convinced nobody and occasionally even the cries of 'rot' ... 'it's a canard' ... it's not 'logical' ... were heard above the... 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 & 'Designers'
Was 'Intelligent Design' a physical impossibility? After all 2+2=4, was not the end of the story, scientists were now certain the universe was not clockwork. But did evolution 'just happen' as the 2nd law of thermodynamics relentlessly unfolded and structures spontaneously emerged ... as some structures some how 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 hard to swallow the evolutionary truth 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 From Bacteria to Bach & Back
2 - Cooperative
Synergies & 'Comparative Advantage'
Were cooperative synergies discovered & accumulated from specialisation & trade? It seemed after all 2+2=5, was the norm in Adam Smith's Pin Factory and now biological historians were reinterpreting the past. Intelligent men just didn't get it? There's no doubt comparative advantage was a difficult idea?
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. Otherwise the trade balance would balance.
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 must equal 5 Co-operation not Compromise
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 Trade, Torts & Technology
4 - Just Wars & 'Cultural tit for tat'
Was the Iraq War a natural 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 politicos but rather it was an episode in the ancient historical process of cultural competition? Even cultures must learn to cooperate or die?
Why was Liberal Democracy never ever 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 drafted to stop Nation States treating their citizens as they wished?
Did the UDHR make the world safe for diversity?
Folk were Free to Vote with their Feet and join Clubs of their Choice Caveat No Harm to Others
Privatisation & 'Tax & Spend'
Why the endless cycles of tax, borrow & print? Did the bankers have a government guarantee?
We guessed that our own 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 Unilever a Business not a Political Circus
Why did too many assume a sustainable surplus was a rip off? Did JJ follow our footsteps and go global in his search for good gotten gains? We guessed that a cure for cancer would not come from the local council?
Were freedom and equality alternatives or two sides of the
same coin? Was everybody equal before the laws of nature & the laws of commerce?
Perhaps the Chinese were not irrelevant as some claimed but rather continually interacting agents in the middle of the whole shebang and caboodle? Was Rebekka Brooks immoral, or was it Ryan Giggs who was playing away from home?
Why was the NHS tolerated as a despotic bureaucracy (wasting 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? Or did the investment in the USA also mostly end up in outrageous bureaucracy?
A Whole Throbbing 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 load the dice
Was it really propitious to boil down 30 years of social intercourse to just seven headlines embodied in seven books?
Was all this intrigue a 'Search for the Bigger Picture' or just a 'Cozy Life in an Echo Chamber'? Some said it was idle gossip? We said it was tittle tattle? Most called it all a flibbertigibbet? We certainly savoured all the descriptives from Readers Digest ... in all the kerfuffle & hurlyburly we were just cantankerous curmudgeons bloviating codswallop ... and having fun.
We tried books, endlessly, but they didn't help much, there was a book for every flavour. We ended up reading the books that fed our prejudices. Books were often much of a muchness and little like our own yens (which were all different, of course) ... and any conclusions were a crass over simplification ... we were desperately trying to understand but didn't even agree on whether we had problems or opportunities ... problems were easy see everywhere as zero sum myths echoed round the table, robotically reiterated as the gaps widened ... but the real marvel that we were grappling with was the opportunity for positive sum cooperation through hard work, honesty & thrift as folk did honest deals ... rats had problems but rats saw theft as a solution ... parasites & predators were constantly impeding progress by tying shoelaces together ... no wonder we needed beer ...
In the end we only read science books ... as antagonists were cut to the quick when experiments in Scunthorpe worked in Chester. But what about the strange distractions of politics, religion, music & sex?
We found scientific endeavour was making inspiring inroads into the understanding of these such intractables ... was it all about ... fear and excitement ... the dark & dismal economics was fast becoming an evolutionary science. Some inspiring folk suggested that things like friendships and musical empathy were intensely economic and impossible to steal as the genes themselves did cost benefit analysis ... and you've got your work cut out to steal genes?
After may be 33 years of Goshawk booze were we were stuck in a cosy rut? We felt we were well fed up & drunk with peurile talk and sterile jazz ... and we were rapidly running out of time.
Had our Thursday nights and tavern conversations become a boring echo chamber and our music a painful cacophony?
In March 2016 we tried to uncover new insights into these dilemmas by experimenting 0and drinking in different pubs!
Intractables, obdurates & intransigents led Reuters to proclaim Brexit Fatigue is Driving Britons to Drink ... but this was all 'fake news'? ... wotever happened to the big economic surges like the 'Universal Declaration of Human Rights', 'subsidiarity', 'privatisation', 'Doha Rounds', and 'draining the swamp'? ... it all seemed to be just the usual politicos 'kicking the can down the road' instead of 'getting on with the job' and settling differences by co-operation ... we didn't see any sign of problem solving and more opportunities for empirical science.
We were betting pints that 'polarising neverendums', nor indeed any sort of 'voting' for that matter, were 'red herrings' simply because 'voting' became a justification for 51% to screw 49% and could never no not ever solve problems ... especially as jazz saxophone players always seemed to be in the 49% who were being screwed.
We were all trapped in an emotional, vitriolic, exhausting, irrelevant slanging match about the unknowable future ... polarised extremes which would never materialise because folk must, sooner or later, experiment and go balls down for the synergies which secure survival and escape the zero sum alternative of decay, destitution & certain death ... the fan chart of the future identified no go areas for home sapiens and his enviromental niche ... amongst all the kerfuffle & asted time we were forced to remind ourseves that behaviour was always either adaptive ... or non existent ... QED
Problems were solved by technology ... with some help from torts and trade ... and there were always endless opportunities for -
level playing fields = diversity = technology was discovery - new variants from sex & single nucleotide polymorphisms?
semi permeable borders = immunity = torts protected accumulation - eukaryotic cell membranes discriminated & specialised?
positive sum games = synergies = trade enabled specialisation & scale which delivered win/win mutual benefits - differential survival of existing variants?
inevitable parasites & predators = bribery & corruption = as soon as there were stocks there were defensive arms races - adaptive immunotherapy systems?
Nobody could 'stop' the Laws of Physics, chemistry & biology ... and even Liberal Democracy itself from the process of natural selection? We loved all the science in The Galaxy DNA Song ... and the bright ideas abounding in the maths of Ken Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, The Condorcet Paradox ... David Ricardo's Comparative Advantage ... Richard Dawkings' Evolution of Evolvability ... so we urged all who would listen (but, of course, nobody did) - Vote with Your Feet & Join a Club of Your Choice
Sure, we were mere saxophone players and had no deep understanding of evolution and its explanatory power as genes themselves did their own cost / benefit analysis ... but we reckoned that voting was useless and only empirical science settled arguments about outcomes -
It was experimental outcomes in Scunthorpe, which were validated in The Antipodes, that provided the opportunities for new 'know how' ... survival 'know how'.
So in this way, seen through the bottom of a beer glass, Trumpeting Brexit was no big deal at all ... some thought it was a 'race to the bottom' others believed it was top wank ... a profusion of experiments, not for 'equivalance' but for 'betterment' ... productivity and 'quality of outcomes' ... all was exaggerated emotional froth in a broken Parliament ... it added zilch to the knowledge base ... put it this way -
Us evolutionary economists reckoned that nobody knew much about the future ... different folk in differnet places at different times had different ideas obout the what, who, when, why and how of happenings ... the question was which random mutations of ideas in imaginations, in combination & recombinations, would emerge and result in experiments in the real world which would gather enough steam to be noticed as complexity panned out and everyone mutually benefited from the unstoppable 3% compound growth of 'know how' ... or as we had summarised in our tutorials at OU in 2000 -
Evolutionary Economics explains the unleashing of a process of technological & institutional innovation involving the generating & testing of a diversity of ideas which discover & accumulate more survival value for the costs incurred than competing alternatives. The evidence suggests that it could be adaptive efficiency that defines economic efficiency ... as know how evolves.
It transpired that evolutionary economists seldom bothered to gather votes for bureaucracies ... they had better things to do. The one & only best best option for us all as we were confronted by 'the garden of forking paths' was personal endeavour -
'stick to the knitting' -- more specialisation, more scale, more synergies, more trade
'mind our own business' -- more hard work, more innovation ... and
'get on with the job' of discovering & accumulating 'know how' from 'empirical science'
The Laws of Nature guaranteed the diversity of opportunities ... the problems were the bureaucratic distractions, 'spanners in the works', the opportunities were sustainable, 'synergies & surpluses', nurtured by the 'hard work, honesty & thrift' available to everyone who tried for experimental innovation & discovery ... so we smiled at all the bureaucratic impotence & pretentious nonsense -
ackamarackus, babble, balderdash, baloney, bamboozle, beguile, bilge, blah, blather, bluff, bribery, bullshit, bunk, bunkum, charlatan, chatter, cheat, circus, claptrap, codswallop, con, concoction, corruption, crap, deceit, delude, drivel, dross, dupe, fake, false, fast one, fiddle, flannel, flimflam, folderol, folly, foolishness, fraud, fudge, garbage, gibberish, gossip, guff, hoax, hogwash, hokey pokey, hoodoo, hoodwink, hooey, hokum, hot air, humbug, hustle, hypocrisy, jest, lies, malarkey, malfeasance, misinform, mislead, moonshine, nonsense, nuts, pantomime, phony, piffle, poppycock, pontification, prank, propaganda, punk, put-on, quackery, red tape, rot, rubbish, scam, senselessness, sham, silliness, slush, spit & polish, spoof, sting, stupidity, swindle, tittle tattle, tommyrot, tosh, trash, trick, trivia, twaddle ...
So many words for 'spanners in the works' yet so few for 'surpluses & synergies'? ... no wonder there was a 'risk averse bias' ... no wonder there was 'anti-business rhetoric' ... but why? ... we all smelt out the folly yet we all participated in the fertile ground for bullshit especially when we indulged ourselves in the myths, mirrors & magic of religion, politics & sex (just testing, you know what I mean) ... but such were well established no go areas for empirical scientists ... few asked, where was the evidence? ... why pontificate if you don't know? ... fewer still smiled at the fun and had another pint.
'better to remain silent and be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all possible doubt'!
'admitting one's ignorance is the first step in acquiring knowledge'
We loved to repeat the Unilever mantra and we always pushed hard for 'sustainable synergies & surpluses' -
'if you act like it's all a hopeless problem you will soon be overtaken by some guy who's already been there seen it and done it ... probably Chinese'!
'tell us what your trade rules are and we will decide
where our investment opportunities are ... currently we're focused on India, China, Indonesia,
Brazil & Nigeria' ...
... and perhaps in the Oxbridge Business Park!
and then someone said -
'we should respect deeply held differences'
Everyone clapped ... but some remembered that as soon as their were stocks there were always parasites & predators so we guessed that 'Gilt Edged' trust and 'draining the swamp' were physical impossibilities and we went for 'due diligence' and 'caveat emptor'.
Even our very own 'Designer' forgot about his penchant for manipulative Statutes and was crystal clear -
'you make peace with your enemies not your friends who you trust'
He didn't make peace, he respected differences with his splendid supplication,
'vote with your feet and join a club of your choice'.
Needless to say, 'drowning sorrows' wasn't the solution ... so we celebrated our differences instead ... with another round. We reiterated that life, even in retirement, was something to do with cooperation not compromise ... diversity not consensus ... influence not power ... after all we remembered that the girls were always happy to dance backwards ... and the evolutionary economists said -
'there was no such thing as a free lunch'
but there were always others who cried -
'if it's free put me down for two please ... and the saxophone player will pay'.
But the saxophone player had seen it all before, underneath the soap pans in Apapa, and the only thing he could do was more practice ... more 'hard work, honesty & thrift' ... which was another way of saying, 'stick to the knitting', 'mind your own business' & 'get on with the job of empirical science' ... and that word 'empirical' was important ... all the slick words rolled off the tongue easily but they meant the same thing ... more trying, more learning and discovering that convivial beer does really taste better?
So our grand design to 'set the world to rights', like all grand designs, had hit the buffers, foiled by the rigors of reality. The Bishops, Princes, Generals & Bureaucrats had ballsed it all up.
So we tried to abandoned polarising blame and unrealistic expectations and went instead for far more rewarding introspection. We slowly realised, if & when we watched & listened, that it was the grandkids who were teaching us ... not the Gods nor the texts and certainly not the arrogant bureaucrats ... the grandkids were learning marvels ... just watch the speed of their fingers & thumbs on their iPhones ... our gran would have smiled -
'if at first you don't succeed try & try again'
A slam dunk, they were far far better at learning than us wrinklies ... it was almost as if the grandkids couldn't stop learning and that we had given up and become parasites ... work that one out!
With this strange inversion of reason it seemed clear that we all shared, with all the grandkids, ... the greatest happening of all ... we were all, everyone, remarkably good at learning ... so why stop?
One of the things that us friends had learned was that the convivial beer was good ... and that was why we should have another pint and another conversation ... so we did.
Darwin would have chuckled as we re-remembered fondly & often that Adam the Smith from our old university was a moral philosopher who wrote 'The Theory of Moral Sentiments' 1759 before he wrote 'The Wealth of Nations' 1776 ... and more recently a Central Banker reminded the assembled Senators -
'Stein's Law; if a thing cannot go on for ever it will stop'.
But was he talking about free lunch economics or beer drinking at The Goshawk? ... or both?
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 we vowed that if we ever got too old for beer we would remember that the very last word came from our mate and Captain of Cricket Chris Chorlton -
So in 2016 beer drinking was in disarray but friendships and music were due for fillips ... opportunities not problems ... a Renaissance ...
The Busker reminded us that it was beer drinking at the Goshawk tavern that originally inspired some action for our musical adventures in retirement -
Sounds of Jazz and
Banjo Player and
After the annual Christmas Party at The Meister following a pint or two at The Goshawk on Thursday December 17th 1992 we started to think about playing the Blues.
On November 10th 2016 after 24 years of hard work and fun ... a feeling had emerged, painfully slowly ... that our music at our Thursday sessions was a mess and we would all be better off growing tomatoes.
The Smithy Lane Stompers (1992-2016) ... The Busker wrote an 'obituary' ... but we preferred to think of it as a 'renaissance' ...
Rather like Trumpeting Brexit to us this was all about co-operation & opportunities for diverse synergies rather than compromise & problems with polarised beliefs.
... while there was still time!?
... and still some sap left!?
Our CDs, hot off the press, soon ran to 6 Volumes of 'Me & Them @ Smithy Lane' and 3 Volumes of 'Quartet @ Smithy Lane 2016/7' and 3 Volumes of 'Me & Him @ Smithy Lane' ... so far we've sold one copy for £5 to Ro ...
As our musical renaissance prospered, so our beer drinking was also restored to its rightful place in our affections. We were so physically & mentally knackered after our excursions with 'Tiger Rag' at 220 beats per minute that we started drinking in the afternoons ... this was an assault on ingrained habits of a lifetime but we were still learning ... night time was for sleeping and recovery but in rural Mouldsworth, beer was best supped in the midday sunshine or even in the gentle rain.
Third cousin David Hindley was not only an enthusiastic family historian who guided us through the fog of our ancestral Hindleys 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, Hartford with the girls ... but we did play with this gang of soccer wizards throughout secondary school and donated our enthusiastic support for the reunions and joined them for the beer or two.
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, sometimes twice a year the Birchalls gravitated, time and again for fun and beer at The Boot. Jill, John, Ricky and Kay were all older and a little wiser now ... and 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 brothers, sisters & recruits who made The Boot were less than enthralled about our 'intriguing' family history. For most 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 did?
Later our mate John Rees goaded us into proper Family History and DNA analysis ... we discovered, somewhat belatedly, the complexity and intrigue of biological history ... very different from history as writ ... it was certain that John was our distant cousin ... 'cos everybody was ... so we bought him a pint!
In 2001 Jeremy Woodward & Duncan Falconer purchased the old 'Railway Inn' by the station at Mouldsworth. It had been renamed The Goshawk during one of the refurbishments as the old Greenall Whitley pubs tried to up trade as spit & sawdust, pickled eggs and Smiths Crisps ... complete with added salt available to taste in a blue paper wrap always at the bottom of an opened pack ... were replaced with pub grub. The old place enjoyed a purple patch with the Balls and a young waitress Sally Jane but mostly we enjoyed reliable Greenalls pints ... with George at Sunday lunch times and The Busker whenever he was in town.
By 2015 Jeremy & Duncan had transformed The Goshawk into a pinnacle of reliable gastronomy and expanded elsewhere ... and then at the top they sold out to Hydes Brewery of Salford ... the lads done great.
As the tavern changed hands and Jeremy & Duncan left ... with them went our lifeblood ... Weetwoods bitter from crafty Kelsall, which had proved to be an admirable substitute for the defunct Greenalls of the past. All hell broke loose as Weetwoods was destocked ... at a distance in California Jonathan was mortified and even Daniel's staple of 'Chocolate Brownies' turned black!
Thus it was with great trepidation that we fearfully watched the introduction into the heart of our very own 'local' an alien brew ... 'Hydes Original Made of Manchester' ... concocted in promising parts somewhere in Salford just across the river from Main Road ... and a far cry from the accumulated flood of bitter from Burton on Trent ... and much to the Busker's disgust, a country mile from Anfield ... he was not best pleased.
Then slowly but surely some semblance of order was restored as Hydes Original, on repeated sampling, established itself as one of the finest convivial pints in town ... we confessed to becoming addicted to this novelty and the reliable taste & conviviality of the Hydes pint became indispensible ... many old friends agreed proved that the new brew was indeed convivial after all. We even trained our barman, Danny, on the routines & disciplines required if he was to avoid getting his lines crossed and our ale in the wrong pump ... and furthermore how to pull smoothly to ensure a good creamy head without knackering the pump mechanism ... it appeared that Jenny & Ffion had mastered the technique with some aplomb.
By 2017 following exhaustion after our Wednesday afternoon 'dance music sessions', the Smithy Lane Trio firmly established a beer drinking renaissance ... 1pm @ The Goshawk, Mouldsworth, CH3 8AJ ... became a routine in full swing. Around this time we stopped doing night flights as insidious glaucoma struck and car journeys became taboo as our prostates dictated a maximum distance of 4 to 5m from a bog.
It worked, the beer tasted even better in the afternoons and we could crawl home after the ecstasy ... with such stringent constraints we really discovered who our friends were ... real friends continued to emerge from the woodwork and discover the convivial pints @ The Goshawk.
As we got into the groove we repeated to anyone who would listen that the wholesomeness of health & happiness applied only to convivial pints ... but nobody said conviviality was easy, so watch out for typos ... and thinkos, there were no guarantees ... but there were five of our very own home spun lifetime choices which considerably helped the flow of convivial pints, and we all voted yes to -
smiling for friendships
sleeping for resuscitation
slimming for longevity
exercising for efficiency
cooperating for endorphins
Slowly but surely as years crept by and lungs became congested, it was the 'blowing' that proved most irksome especially for us brass players -
Our indignant 'bone Player - 'it's Ok for you piano players you don't have to blow'
Piano Player - 'so that's where I've been going wrong'!
The saxophone player was terrible forgetful and just couldn't remember which end to blow. In this way we seemed to remember less & less about the old days ... but it wasn't the days that were old it was us.
By 2018 our old beer drinking mate The Baron Steen von Irgens-Bergh from Copenhagen was calling time, The Danes, he said, called it 'The Repair Age'. We weren't sure about repairs ... our big ends had gone ... we were 'write offs' ... but we clung on ... our musical renaissance was positively therapeutic as we were in awe of our recorded mp3s which were constantly consulted during morning shaves and drives at the wheel ... we had no idea where the lines & lilts came from ... they just happened!?
So in this way in addition to our musical renaissance there was also a beer drinking renaissance as we discovered the delights of a pint in the afternoon at The Goshawk ... and there was a bonus ... just one conversation full of humour and without angst ... we discovered that life itself was not all about erudite philosophy and replicating bits of DNA -
Reflective Saxophone Player, 'Wot existed before life'?
Designer, 'Thursday nights'!
Designer, 'I told you beer was the answer'!
Banjo Player, 'I can't remember the question'?
Designer, 'Someone has to rule us, otherwise there would be chaos'
Saxophone Player, 'eh? ... but E=mc2 '?
Banjo Player, 'You misheard, he said, Someone must fool us to cause the chaos'
We all chose friends with common interests and a shared sense of humour. Laughter was universally contagious ... in retirement as in business -
technology & analytical skills were useful
cooperation & social skills were essential
... life seen through the bottom of beer glass was fun -
surviving physical pain of trauma was a matter for the Specification Chemistry
surviving social pain of rejection was a matter for a couple of convivial pints
... in this way we only remembered the fun ... what mattered was a convivial pint tomorrow ...
'1pm @ The Goshawk, Mouldsworth, CH3 8AJ'
... a clarion call for family & friends who generously travelled from afar for a convivial pint ... Jonathan even roped in his friends from Californian for a taste of the delights ... we always managed to crawl home after the action and that was something spiffing ... but we felt guilty so we bought the first round, lightened up and traded smiles.
On Wednesday March 27th 2019, two days before Brexit, The Goshawk was closed ... rumours abounded ... our music was appalling ... not because of fear but rather lack of beer ... we were forced to travel to foreign parts over the border to The White Lion at Alvanley where we surprised ourselves and found excellent convivial substitutes.
We soon discovered that the closed door was not a personable affront. Two days earlier on 25th March 2019, William Lees-Jones, Managing Director of J W Lees had announced the purchase of The Goshawk, Mouldsworth, a 19th century former Coaching Inn in the heart of rural Cheshire ... an impeccable location ...
J W Lees, a family brewery company, was founded in 1828 in Middleton by retired cotton manufacturer John Lees. Manchester's oldest brewery? The company were winners of the 2019 Best Brewing Pub Company -
This family business was spreading joy and growing a pace in the North West -
'Ring o' Bells' Frodsham
'Vale Royal Abbey Arms' Oakmere
'Hanging Gate' Weaverham
'George & Dragon' Budworth
'Golden Pheasant' Plumbley
'Saracens Head' Warrington
... wot a party!
We hear & we forget, we see & we remember more but whenever we tell stories and write we have to understand, otherwise what chance have the others got?
In 2015 we came across a suggestion that science was helping to extol the 12 benefits of beer drinking and we concurred ...
1. Beer kept your water works in good nick and washed
out the pipes. Good for kidneys
and reduced the risk of stones.
2. Beer improved crap ratios and mobility. Beer contained soluble fibre which played an important role in digestion and intestinal transit.
3. Beer helped healthy hearts as drinkers had reduced risk of heart attacks. Beer unclogged aging arteries as ingredients in beer helped prevent blood clots with boosted blood flows and good cholesterol especially as you walked to the pub. Fibre also reduced bad cholesterol.
4. Beer increased vital vitality and strong strength. Beer contained B vitamins and elevated levels of silicon in beer contributed to higher bone density.
5. Beer put you into sound sleeps. Lactoflavin and nicotinic acid from beer cured insomnia.
6. Beer maintained memorable memories and enhanced social interaction. Beer drinkers were less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.
7. Beer induced reliable relaxation. Two glasses of beer a day reduced work-related stress.
8. Beer helped cure colds. Drinking warm beer was an excellent cold remedy.
9. Beer grew smooth & supple skin. Vitamins in beer regenerated the skin.
10. ... and wot about dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins ... ?
We were believers all along ... let’s go!
Experiment don't procrastinate. Beer was food for experimenters. While procrastinaters procrastinated we experimented.
And to top the lot our mentor, Robin Dunbar Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at Oxford, claimed empirical science was on our side ... the Prof knew all about convivial pints ... so QED.
But hang on ... remember in 2016 The Chief Medical Officer had yet another go at blaming alcohol for ailments ... and blaming alcohol for bad behaviour ... jeez ... last time we looked happenings were a tad more complicated than blame games -
Blame furrowed the brow and put you in a zero sum attack mode 2-2=0
Blaming other folk, or others things, let you off the hook of hard work, honesty & thrift and discovering synergies 2+2=5
Blaming causes was daft when effects were also causes of other happenings ... causes and correlations were different beasts
Blaming others who were not there to defend themselves was all too easy and a cop out
Blame was malfeasance ...
aspersion, backbiting, calumniation, calumny, deceit, deception, defamation, detraction, dishonesty, disinformation, distortion, evasion, fable, fabrication, falsehood, fib, fiction, forgery, fraud, guile, hyperbole, inaccuracy, invention, libel, mendacity, misrepresentation, misspeak, misstatement, myth, obloquy, perjury, prevarication, revilement, slander, subterfuge, tall story, vilification, whopper ... why so many words?
Blame was also angst ...
anxiety, fear, dread, apprehension, worry, perturbation, foreboding, trepidation, malaise, distress, disquiet, unease, uneasiness ...
Unsurprisingly there was no shortage of different happenings & different groups around to blame & vililfy and feed our prejudices - differences were not confined to the girls who danced backwards but there were also many others who found other Gods behind other trees ... and then there were ordinary folk who had learned different things, in different places at diffent times and could be 'identified' as Boomers & Millenniums ... on it went as '#howdareyou' and '#staywoke' were the cries ... left footers & right footers ... cricketers & croquet players ... Manchester United & Liverpool ... and even those who preferred warm beer to iced lager ... all could be 'identified' as different ... and blamed for ills ... and even hated? Connor McGoo suggested his granddad was to blame for Brexit and others suggested Covid-19 was a 'boomer remover' ... the 'final solution' ...
But we 'dared' to be 'woke' and experimented. We reckoned happiness was immersed in family & friends, work friends & social friends ... they were all the same mavericks who indulged in hard work, honesty & thrift and never blamed the incidental marginalia of trivia & tittle tattle associated with uselessness like fake money, ordinary beer and other diversions from the knitting.
Perhaps the dice of natural selection were loaded ... cooperation trumped compromise every time 'cos compromise missed out on the opportunities for synergies. So we bet on family & friends, Empirical Science & Liberal Democracy and we bought a round.
In 1979 the advice was no more than 56 units of alcohol a week. This was later reduced to 36 units, then 28 units and then 21 units and then the Chief Medical Officer suggested 14 units ... the dreaded 14 point count; one glass of wine a day ... and any alcohol was a poison ... so rest days were required for resuscitation.
Yes but ... yes my doctor also said alcohol was a poison and we believed him ... but my doctor, just like everybody else, 'was ignorant of wot it was he did not know' ... he knew a lot more than many others and was worth a listen. And he was honest, the quest of the Doctor was to help sick people not healthy ones ... but also help healthy ones not to become sick. The Doctors 'saw' the way alcohol ruined health & happiness, but some pretended not to 'see' the way convivial pints promoted health & happiness ... and, funny, the amount of alcohol sold in the UK was about twice the amount that folk said they drank?
So they would say that wouldn't they? But, of course, they didn't all say that ... did they? Some agreed beer was cheaper than therapy ... and we said it was also more effective?
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 ... but moderate drinking reduced all the 10 beasties above ... and more ... so we always drank to a clean living ... and had another if everybody agreed.
Meanwhile the US government estimated that 26,000 deaths a year were prevented by moderate alcohol consumption thanks to reduced risk from heart disease, diabetes and stroke and recommended up to 25 units per week.
And wot about my gran's medicinal Burgundy? And where did healthier longer lives come from? The bottom line was that correlation was not cause & effect ... think about it?
The Temperance Movement, the Chief Medical Officer, the BBC and our Doctor were all mostly fixated with ordinary beer ... our passion was for convivial pints. The Daily Mail went hysterical ... but that's what the Daily Mail always did ... and the BBC ... come to think about it.
All the time we were all battling the formidable 'J curve' ... some said the 'J curve' had been confirmed by The University of Sheffield ... and become respectable? But many thought it was a device deliberately confusing and contrived to thwart our honest endeavour ... our mum said it was to ease our conscious? Research never mentioned convivial pints was anathema to us -
adamant, bloody-minded, determined, diehard, inflexible, inexorable, immovable, inveterate, iron-willed, intransigent, obstinate, obdurate, pig-headed, relentless, resolute, rigid, stubborn, tenacious, tough, unaccommodating, uncompromising, unbending, uncooperative, unmalleable, unpersuadable, unshakeable, unwavering, unyielding, unrelenting
... so like all good empirical scientists we agreed to do our own experiments and 'peer review' them ourselves!
Wot confusion ... we reckoned that the only way to proceed was to suck it and observe what happened ... so we walked to the pub and had another pint ... but Designer opted out of experiments as he feared he might not be around to see the results!
It seemed the easy bit was getting to grips with the brewing of ale, such was simple 'bottom up' physics & chemistry ... the difficult bit was understanding how Banjo Players & Piano Men could manipulate endorphins with a sort of secret 'top down' orchestration which miraculously set fire to our taste buds ... set our feet tapping ... and touched our idiosyncratic sense of humour?
So don't get it all wrong ... ordinary beer easily led to drunkenness, dependency, liver damage and woe. But convivial beer was associated with a healthy life style of sociability ... not enough folk knew that. So wot about sin taxes on unhealthy behaviour? ... how can you tax scowls and sloth? ... give us a break?
So we had more beer and hailed all the great men who think alike -
Thomas Jefferson was a brewer who knew his beer, 'If drunk with moderation, beer softens the temper, 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'
Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Terminator, was not the first nor the last to have his say, 'milk is for babies. When you grow up you have to drink beer'.
Vox populi, 'If we ever read about the evils of beer drinking we should give up reading'
Just sayin' ...
please help make the story better our memory ain't as good as it was ...
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