Archive for September, 2010

Nottingham University Highfields Park — Revisited

September 27, 2010

Nottingham University Highfields Park — Revisited

The fine Trent Building in University Park, Nottingham


Highfields Park lake. The path we used to tread.

We have been away a few days visiting family and friends, plus places where I used to frequent when I was a young child growing into an adult.
So here are photographs of the elegant Trent Building built in University Park and formally opened by His Majesty King George V in 1928. Nottingham University has a proud history, but with all the benefits to learning come these wonderful amenities for the ordinary citizen.
As a child, I walked there occasionally with family or friends, rowed boats with my friend Brenda, played tennis with school friends and met a boy that I was silly enough to want as a boyfriend. Silly? Well, I was only twelve at the time and knew nothing about boys. He was only after getting a propelling pencil from my dad anyway. Did he think I was going to steal it? What a cad! Bounder, breaker of hearts! Yes, that was Eric.
So we walked around the lake and passed by the spot where my dad was stung by a bee on his lips, which puffed up like balloons. And years later, where he swore at my mum because his hard-to-control wheel chair was heading for the water’s edge. “Are you trying to bloody drown me?” We walked by the willow trees we used to sit under, and walked over stepping stones with a view of the waterfall — generally indulging in reminiscences of a former age.
In the University building I went to a ‘going down hop’ with my student brother (he died three years ago). In a boat similar to one there, I repelled would-be boarders with a good-sized oar (served them right for trying to overpower us fair maidens).
And the lake itself where we used to see huge fish, and where somewhere lies my brother’s glasses, lost in the lake when fooling around with his student mates. (Worse, his only suit shrank!)
The grassy slopes where we rolled as kids, and where my teacher cousin took us in her car (the only time I met my cousin). The path where youths mocked a bright red spot I had on my nose.
And so memories continue to flow and flow…

Looking across the lake to the park entrance from the University lawn


The Trent Building from the lakeside by the lawns. Where we used to see students sitting with books or chatting.


The waterfall above the stepping stones at the lower end of the lake. Beautiful!

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Charity Mail — When Does It Become Emotional Blackmail

September 22, 2010

Charities that kill off donations.

When does a plea become emotional blackmail?


Every year I get piles of envelopes and packets with letters appealing for donations to various charities. The cost of the so-called ‘gifts’, leaflets, brochures, letters, postage must be considerable.

I already subscribe to several charities on a regular basis, plus a selection at Christmas only. To the latter I write, either that this is a one off, or that I will consider them the following Christmas. But to all the occasional charities I warn that if I am pestered with begging letters during the year they will get nothing else. One or two have taken note and they continue to get my support. The rest carry on, so that eventually the gift I made becomes reduced in value. Likely not worth the paper the cheque was written on.

When disasters happen I do respond, but not to all the begging letters put through the letterbox. There are ways to give anonymously.

Meanwhile the letters and packets keep coming, and not just from those I’ve given to before. Why me? Do charities pass on donators to other charities? Do they get my name from a certain church list? From OU graduate lists? Can’t be just the electoral list — the others in the house get hardly any.

In Britain, millions are given to charities every year. Some declare how much goes to raising the money, but what of the others? I suppose if they only get a tenth or a fifth of that donated, that is money they might not otherwise have had. I no longer look at the contents of these envelopes. I see enough starving babies and incredible suffering on the television, without reminders each time the postman comes.

I started disposing of unwanted ones when they arrived. Now I drop them into a box. Nearer Christmas I’ll make sure pesterers will receive nothing. Emotional blackmail is despicable.

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Doom and Gloom — Look For the Silver Lining?

September 20, 2010

Rain today is water through the tap tomorrow.

Spreading gloom and doom is easy to do. A few days ago we heard that food in supermarkets had severely risen in price. We went shopping and found we actually spent less because of many reductions. Do these reporters go from shop to shop looking for the highest price to report?

Evidently only 15% of income is spent on food. It used to be much higher than that. And clothes can be bought cheaper today than many years ago. In my younger days, it paid to do your own sewing, now it costs more to do so. Bags and shoes are bought like sweeties. I rather think that money goes on more non-essentials than anything else. Phrases like ‘must have’ ‘shop until you drop’ ‘retail therapy’ were unknown years ago. I think we must have been more content and happy then. ‘Much wants more,’ my mum used to say.

Of course, it’s foreign imports that give us cheap choice. Unfortunately someone has to pay and it is those working many hours for very little pay. It would be called slave labour if it happened here.

Sex too, is ‘cheap’ in the sense that it is seldom considered special with virginity a desirable state until that special person comes along.

Are people happier for spending money frivolously? For leading shallower lives?

Society has to pay the piper financially for the individual’s over-indulgence but the individual pays with severe problems in his or her later life — should they live that long.

What we need is to change our attitudes and be thankful for life itself, to live more simply — as the old saying goes — ‘that others may simply live.’

So best not to listen to those spreading gloom. Otherwise their forecast will be self-fulfilling. When troubles come, why not look for the silver lining?

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Dithering — is there a cure?

September 16, 2010

Titles - did I get them right?

Choosing book titles and covers, choosing pen name or own name. If pen name what name? I still don’t know if I have got them right. Likely not. I will forever agonise over such choices.

I think I was born a ditherer. When I was thirteen and took an exam to go to art school, we had several choices for one of the tests (Memory and Imagination). Oh misery! From the list given, first I chose a woman scrubbing a floor. Then I turned the page over and tried a scene at a railway station. Didn’t think it good enough so turned over and finished the woman scrubbing a floor. Didn’t like it and so, with five minutes left, I turned back to the railway station and put as much in it as I could. The other tests no problem — a nature drawing (leaves with berries) and a simple still life (for shading and perspective). Decisions, decisions, decisions! I guess I got through in spite of the agony of choice with one of them.
I have always had a problem making choices. That is, except in wartime and the years following. We had few choices to make then. Rationing and lack of variety saw to that. No choice with school dinners either. That suited me fine. When school dinners were brought in, to me that was like eating out!
Oddly enough lack of choice gave us a sort of freedom to experiment and to gain satisfaction through achievement. But starting out in the world (that is what it seemed like when I had to travel by bus to Nottingham) forced me to make decisions. I was the only one from my school and felt somewhat alone until friendships were made.
The trouble is I can see possibilities in most things and most actions. Which is the best buy? Which is the best way to proceed?
My mother used to say to ditherers, “You’ll never hang yourself.”
Maybe, but sometimes it feels like that is happening. Tension does horrible things to one’s body!

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A Poem For Those Who Like To Waffle

September 9, 2010

The Long and Short of it

Ned always speaks extemporaneously
And few would doubt his eloquence
But in ad captandum argument
His words lack fruitful resonance.
He’s good at stirring up a mob
And receiving adulation,
Although with facts fallacious
He discombobulates the issues —
In words of simple syllables
Contradicting the empirical.
Perfidious I will seem to be
In a megalomania’s Utopia,
For I audaciously reveal the truth
Of Ned’s impediment to glorious fame —
His Hippopotomonstresquippedaliophobia

Ulverston — Festival Town Twixt Sea and Fells

September 4, 2010

Looking over Ulverston from Hoad Hill


Dickensian Weekend 2009


Ulverston is in the Furness region of Cumbria. The canal of just over a mile connected the town to Morecambe Bay. The canal is now blocked but it is a lovely stretch of water to walk along; full of wild life, and with beautiful views across farm land towards the fells. The coast there is quite delightful with a great little hotel, where you can get a drink, a good meal, or spend a few days in a room overlooking the bay. An ideal spot for exploring South Cumbria and beyond.

Ulverston — Festival Town Twixt Sea and Fells

A market town, friendly and warm,
Blessed by distant mountain scenery,
Seashore, bay, canal and monument
Surrounded by fields and woodland greenery.

On market day the band will play
Tunes old and new for one and all.
Shoppers from villages near and far
Buy goods from stalls and the market hall.

The Cumbrian Way leads from the Gill
Along a path and bridging a brook.
Trekkers togged in boots and anoraks
Follow Harvey map and Cicerone guidebook.

Take the Gill Banks path for a pleasant walk
By tumbling brook and broad-leaf trees.
See wild flowers growing by sparkling water,
Listen to birdsong, feel the whispering breeze.

Visit the Hoad — it’s an uphill trek
Along various paths — just make your choice.
When you reach the monument stay for a while,
The view is magnificent — your heart will rejoice!

Midst ivied tombs and forbidding trees
The Parish Church stands aloof from the throng.
Stained glass, choir, organ, tell the ancient story
And bells ring out their welcoming song.

By war memorial, under dark November clouds,
People come to honour the dead, as best they can
With wreaths of red poppies — symbolic of the suffering
Of man’s grievous inhumanity to man.

The Railway Station with tall clock tower
Stands just as it did in days of old.
Building embellishments and fancy iron structures
Picked out in bright colours of red, green and gold.

Walk by the cinema to the unusual museum
Where Laurel and Hardy are worshipped by fans.
Sons of the Desert are viewed there daily
On mugs, jolly posters, and films out of cans.

Hear the Town Crier ringing her bell
Loudly telling of what’s on in the town:
Art exhibition, drama and dances,
Church coffee morning with tombola and clown.

Festivals abound throughout the year —
Walkers, words, music, beer, banners and flags.
Folklore with singers, street music and dancing
Magicians and comedians telling old gags.

Dickensian Weekend come end of November —
Ladies in finery, sweeps in old rags.
Music and carols, roundabouts, chestnuts,
Mulled wine, fancy stalls set on cobbles and flags.

Carnival day and the town is packed full
Of locals and visitors, and child dancing troupes.
Floats, gaily decorated in colourful themes
Follow the pipers and marching band groups.

Late September when Charter Weeks end
There’s dancing and fun well into the night.
Wonderful sculptures with candles inside
Parade with live music, in a river of light.

At civic events and festive occasions
Join with the throng and let all-comers rejoice.
Firework displays end all great celebrations
With sighs of pleasure and joyful voice.

From the Anthology, Northern Lights (Magpies Nest Publishing.)

The Shore at Canal Foot

Looking over Ulverston towards the Hoad Monument and Morecambe Bay


The far end of the Gill footpath


Ulverston School Band is one of a number of bands that play occasionally in the Market Square. During the summer the Town Band plays nearly every Thursday

Dress Design in the 1950’s — So you want to be a designer? Final Part

September 3, 2010

Dress Design in the 1950’s

So you want to be a designer? — Final Part (see previous three posts for rest of story).

I did indeed find another job. As a designer, yes, but also assistant to the Manageress Designer. This was to be a new thing for me — designing straight to the retail.
The premises were above one of the shops the factory supplied. The names may have been different, but both factory and shops were owned by the same person. Plans were already far advanced for their move into specially renovated premises, on the opposite side of the periphery of Nottingham’s city. Little did I know then that we would be treated to the stink of the glue factory every time a window was opened. No doubt our boss was not too pleased to find his new Daimler with piercing scratches right along the sides. (The lads who did were quite open about it. They told him, “We did it with this rock, mister.”
The room I worked in before the move was crowded but friendly. The finishers and others worked at one end and I had a long worktable at the side of the designer-manageress’s. This is the person I answered to (I’ll call her Joan). The boss, an incredibly busy person not shy of taking off his coat and doing a job to push production along, rarely spoke to anyone other than Joan. Here I will call the boss, Mr Big. He surely must have been at my interview, but I have no recollection of an interview taking place. That seems to be lost in the mist of time with events of far more significance taking place.
It was just as well we were to move. Tales of being overrun with mice, crowding, and the drabness of the place were depressing. Joan was overbearing and watched me like a hawk. Her upgrading of sizes were done to the perfection of cutting through the correct side of a fine pencil line. She would check to make sure the correct fraction had been added and that no pencil line showed. In a way it was funny because the boss seemed to have a far laxer approach, judging by what he did occasionally. He sometimes bought dresses and had them copied. One day, when Joan was not there to do it, he quickly unpicked the seams of a dress, placed the pieces on fabric and cut round them. He gave the parts to Joan’s sample hand to make up. Later, Joan cut a proper pattern made to our own specifications.
It did not take me long to hate the place. Moving to the prepared factory didn’t help either. It was still two bus journey’s to get there and it was in a deprived area within the stink of the glue factory. It had two toilets, but after a factory inspection one had to set aside for the man who came to work on the cutting bench, and the one who did the driving. Not that it mattered, no one had time to visit the toilet unless really urgent. Golly, I was timed by Joan, and what’s more, told off for not switching off my light during those few minutes.
Finally I was allowed to do a few sketches when things were slack, but I need not have bothered, Mr Big had no intention of using them. It did not take long to realize that I was only there to cut patterns. In fact, Joan came up to me one day and said, “Mr Big had been contacted by a man who can use the electric cutter, and he can grade patterns too. He wants eight pounds a week. He thinks he would be better off with him than keeping you.”
I was getting about five pounds a week then. I felt utterly humiliated. But that was the way things were. Mr Big took on a machinist. At the end of the week he looked at her work card, saw that she had not earned as much as he expected from his machinists and gave her two minutes notice to leave. They may have been on piece rates but he wanted to fill his benches with girls who could push through the work to his advantage.
So there I was, keeping my nose to the grindstone while thinking about looking elsewhere. The man did come and work for the firm. He was fast with the electric cutter and laying up machine, but he had no time for pattern cutting. Business was booming.
The only highlight for me was manning the firm’s stand each afternoon for a week during a Nottingham Trade Fair. I wore one of the firm’s designs made just to fit. That was to be my uniform for the week.
It did not take long to get another job. I informed Joan that I was leaving and where I was going. She was furious and sneered, “Huh! Another jersey-knit firm!” (As opposed to the many types of fabric used there.)
About ten minutes later I was brought my ‘cards’ and pay in lieu of a week’s notice. I was given two minutes to leave the factory.

The next place did not work out either. They really wanted help on the cutting bench (where I used an electric cutter for the first time) and an assistant for the designer. Not that she did much designing, as simple ‘sloppy Joe’ type of garments, made of brushed nylon, were brought in to be copied. I cut plenty of samples of her designs but few apparently sold. I was given a chance to design a couple of garments myself, one to specific instructions and the other freely. It was a nice black suit with perfect fit. All the samples were sold off in the factory after a few months, so I bought my suit and wore it on my honeymoon!
But I was back in that awkward position of being staff in a segregated system. Having lunch with staff in a boxed-off corner of the canteen was embarrassing. I soon joined the girls I worked with. The factory was even further away from home too. So I found myself another job.

At my new firm, I knew I was on a two week trial, not that it made any difference to the way I worked. The first thing to sort out was the blocks they had been using. Nothing fitted properly. The sample hand told me that if a bodice was too big for the dress’s skirt they would make a tuck in the bodice. Likewise if the skirt was too big for the bodice. What if the sides did not meet up? They cut off a bit themselves. Having been used to working to the thickness of a pencil line, I decided things had to change. Once I had a perfect set of blocks for the main sizes — not a big job — I could get down to designing.
What a place to work in though. At least I had a window near my cutting table, the rest of the room had to be lit up. The ceiling was low, with old wooden beams, and somewhat oppressive. The only toilet was off a landing down the stairs. It had a wash basin in there too, which was used to wash cups and mugs used for tea or coffee.
At the end of the first week, apart from cutting some specials and improving the blocks, I had designed ten dresses based on ones in a brochure I had been told to look through. The samples were all looking good and well made. Friday afternoon, I was called into the office. Of course, I expected to be given the post permanently. Instead I was told the opposite. They were really looking for an overlooker and I was not the person for the job. However, they said they could not fault my pattern cutting skills and would gladly give me a reference. They said I could stay for the second week if I wanted to. But I took my one week’s pay and left.
Before I left the building the sample hand came up to me. “You’re leaving aren’t you? We all knew you wouldn’t get the job. You see you’re too good. Mrs Smith (the previous designer who still had some influence) will never allow someone in her job who can better than her. We’re all very sorry about it, and we wanted you to know.”
I found that support comforting, especially as I had not been told about the overlooker requirement when appointed. The room had been working very smoothly that week. What did Mrs Smith do that would have made a difference? When she was cutting the patterns, likely she had to constantly sort out seams that didn’t fit!
On the Monday I called in at the Labour office (now job centres). I refused to be ‘signed on’ and found myself a job as a sample cutter at a well-established Nottingham firm turning out high quality garments. The pay was about the same but I only had one bus to catch to get there. It kept me going financially for a few months until that real break came my way.
I had applied for a job some months earlier but had not received a reply — that is, until it suddenly arrived unexpectedly . I was the only one for the interview. Their main interest in me was my connection with the firm I had done my training with. They sold garments to some of the same buyers. The man who did most of the selling for this firm knew the managers of the other one. (Likely had gulped down a few ‘glasses’ with them.)
The person who interviewed me lived in Manchester and only dropped in a few days a week. A ‘sleeping partner’ came rarely. One of the main partners had died some time before I went there. (His two sons ran a lingerie business on the floor above) The business seemed to be mainly run by the traveller, who got the orders and made sure the goods went through the factory and out. A secretary did all the office work. The overlooker made sure the garments were made and went through the system. (Unfortunately, this overlooker was a friend of the designer whom I was replacing.)
I was told why they were letting their designer go — evidently she came and went as she chose. Possibly she had someone to look after, I’m not sure. I was given £6 a week and told it would be raised to £8 if I merited it. Later on, supported by the traveller who kept the business afloat, I asked for the £8 and got it.
The overlooker was openly hostile but with Freddie (the travelling salesman) behind me, I got on okay. I also had an excellent sample hand and we worked well together. Freddie got what he needed, someone to be there, drop everything, and get on with whatever he had brought in that was hot on the market scene. This is where his connections came in. He would come along with samples of embroidery or ‘skirt permanent pleating‘ and want samples of dresses doing straight away. It was easy enough to design dresses to suit these samples and cut both pattern and fabric within a short time. Freddie would have his completed samples to take off to a customer in pretty quick time. This is where he scored at retail production. So this firm did both wholesale and retail trade. I could imagine he must have got somewhat frustrated before if the designer was missing half the time.
Freddie took me with him occasionally to meet the customers — both London and in Nottingham. He once told me what the buyer at C&A had said to him: “… and did that little girl design these?” He was quite impressed.
One day bales of a silky fabric arrived that had been bought incredibly cheap. I was asked to design a blouse that would be attractive but work out inexpensive. My design was just right. The blouse sold and the whole lot gone within a week.
To me this was all a dream come true. A good job with good money doing something that I was good at. What could be better?
Unfortunately, the boss in Manchester died and the business was sold out to the brothers who owned the lingerie firm above. They took over the two floors and the office.
With an excellent testimonial from Freddie, I applied back to the first firm that I worked for in Awkwright Steet. Not only were they pleased to take me on, they also took on a number of the workgirls, including my sample hand. I also had yet another another rise in salary. More to my personal satisfaction, I returned to that factory as a fully-fledged designer, and only just a little over two years after I had left it.
When I turned freelance, soon after my first child was born, I continued designing for that firm, plus the lingerie firm that had taken over my previous one. Shortly after, I designed and cut patterns for a firm manufacturing housecoats in Dudley, and occasional designing for others — in Nottingham, Leicester, London. These last were just fleeting as I had no wish to travel as my second son had been born. A few years later our third child arrived.
By this time manufacturing in this country was quickly dying out. The firm I first worked for sold one of their factories and turned the other over to underwear as being more profitable. Then the housecoat firm collapsed. I was still doing good business with the lingerie firm but they were greatly concerned about imports and looking for ways to reduce costs.
When my sons started school I became interested in Education. I took a three year teacher-training course, and finally qualified a year after we moved up here (Cumbria). It had been incredibly hard: my hubby in a completely different job, a mid-stream change of colleges for me (driving me towards a break-down in health), our children in different schools away from friends and family, and a different way of life for all of us. But I still did an occasional bit of work for the lingerie firm. Then the overlooker at that firm suddenly died. The remaining director (his brother having died some years earlier) sold out. Like most factories in Nottingham, that building is now turned into expensive apartments. What’s more, clothes can be bought at ridiculous prices due to cheap, if not, ‘sweated’ labour abroad. Even so, while workers labour long hours for low pay merely to put food in their children’s mouths, fortunes are being made at their expense. Does anyone care?
I look back on my life and consider these last years. After teaching I studied for the church and worked in lay ministry. These last years I have been writing stories and novels. Everything in my past is useful as a writer, but of interest to the modern reader? I very much doubt it.

The Designed For Love Trilogy — Awakening Love, Seduction By Design, Checkmate. Published by Magpies Nest Publishing in the Uk

The first book, Awakening Love, does contain settings familiar to me — the factory, home, and life in general with social distinctions as lived then. But June’s story is not mine. She does have much of my spirit though — a desire to achieve. Her love life is not mine but the morals and education do reflect those times. ‘Seduction’ moves the reader on to the late sixties and seventies, when mini skirts and hot pants became the rage, and sex was no longer a hush-hush subject. The final part takes the reader to the glorious Lake District where June regains an even stronger zest for design. Her former boss is as sexually potent as ever!
Chapters from all the books can be read at Magpies Nest Publishing.