Dressing for the occasion was not something we did much of in the Plisner household. If I tried I could probably count the number of times dad wore a tie; and even then it wasn’t your usual tie. In fact I don’t think I ever saw my dad wear, what most people would think of as, a normal tie. And, although I can see from old photos that he did wear one for his own wedding, I can only ever remember him owning the one tie throughout my childhood. It was a rather flowery strip that looked like it belonged to a 1960’s curtain – which is no surprise as it was indeed made, by my very able mum, from something that had seen better days behind a pane of glass accompanied by the obligatory net. The fact that it came out from time to time in later decades meant that anytime that dad did wear it, it always shouted out “If you are going to force me to conform, then this is what you get.”
I still have the tie somewhere, but my filing/storage system (okay, I’ll admit that boxes on top of files, on top of boxes doesn’t really count as a system) has some limitations and, as I write this I can’t quite remember where I put it. I’ve searched in the box marked ‘Dad’s Sundry Bits’, the file marked ‘Misc.’, the file marked ‘Misc Undated’, the one marked ‘Untitled’, the one marked ‘Sundry’, another file marked ‘misc.’ (though as you will observe this one has a lower case ‘m’ to differentiate from the other of the same name), and lastly the one marked ‘Doodlings’. I recognise that a tie would never be put in a file marked ‘Doodlings’ but I am the first to admit that my filing system leaves much to be desired and there is of course always a high possibility of ‘user-error’, and that it has been mis-filed.
Mis-filed or not, it is nowhere to be found; so in between the (many) minor re-writes, and the lining up of photographs (they never seem to make it quite to the centre of the page) I will continue my search and, if I find it by the time I am ready to post this blog you will see a photo of it below – if not who knows what will be below this piece of writing! (Exits stage left to search files and boxes marked: ‘Prisoner of War Camps’; ‘1949 – 1959’; ‘Undated’; ‘Dad’s Bits’; ‘Other’; ‘Random Jottings’; and ‘Stuff’. Well you never know…………………
At school, being a metalwork teacher, dad could get away with being tie-less most of the time as whatever he wore was always covered by a grey lab coat. I can’t remember him ever owning a suit, let alone wearing one. There was an occasional jacket, though usually that would be suede or leather and would be made for him by my mum (who could turn her hand to just about anything). Give her a piece of fabric, a photograph of what you wanted and she could make it for you.
Dad only really had three forms of dress: the workshop lab coat (which always had that evocative smell of metal filings and grease); going-out-to-tea/parent’s evening attire (leather or suede jacket, M&S polo neck shirt, and corduroy trousers); and pyjamas and/or bathrobe, which went on pretty much as soon as he got home from work (as a teacher this would often be 4.00pm) or a bit later if he had gone out to his workshop for a couple of hours. There would be a variation of any of the above when he worked in the garden, though usually topless and always accompanied by Wellington boots. I’m sure I have already mentioned that dad would frequently be in his pyjamas and bathrobe when he collected me from parties or discos. For me it was choice between dad at midnight in his bathrobe or mum at 10.30 (in perfectly respectable clothing). The bathrobe won every time!
In his later years, shoes were ditched in favour of slippers or snow boots. Which was fine for most of the time, but I do remember suggesting to him that they may not be the most appropriate footwear for the funeral we were about to attend.
A chat with a friend a couple of weeks ago reminded me of an incident of not being dressed for the occasion myself. I must have been about 9 or 10 at the time. One wet December Saturday afternoon mum decided to take a friend and me to the cinema. Sadly having driven all the way into Cambridge, we found that the film was sold out. Not to be put off we wandered over to the Cambridge Arts Theatre, a short walk from the Victoria Cinema on the market square (now Marks and Spencer’s). Luckily, we were able to get tickets for the Pantomime of the season; I can’t remember for sure, but I think it was Cinderella starring Cyril Fletcher, in his customary Panto drag, as an ugly sister.
Now, remember we were dressed for the cinema, not the theatre. I can’t say I noticed as we went into the theatre that we were dressed inappropriately in any way, but even if I had it I wouldn’t have been bothered, after all we were going to be sitting in the dark for a couple of hours, so what did it matter? That everyone else had dressed up for the theatre only really dawned on me when I volunteered to go up on stage, alongside Cyril Fletcher, to take part in a group rendition of “Do-a –Deer”. Each child had to do one of the lines of the song and, while “Do”,” Re”, “Me”, “Fa”,” La” and “Ti”, came from girls, hair adorned with ribbons and pretty dresses, “So, a needle pulling thread”, was delivered by a smiling child with knotted hair, muddy wellies and a comfy bobbly jumper.. …….
Needless to say, my dress sense hasn’t improved much since. Apart from school uniform requirements (more on that later) and my wedding day, I have hardly worn a dress or anything so feminine as ribbons in my hair and, I have been known to decline invitations that require me to do so. Well you can’t climb a tree, operate a chainsaw, build a bonfire or mend a shower in a dress, can you? Though, as I am sure I have mentioned before I have been forbidden to operate a chainsaw, because it’s “tooooo daaangerous”, I am on a warning for bonfires ever since I set the tree alight in the garden, and my attempt to mend the shower, that ended up with a horizontal jet of water and the emergency plumber being called out, didn’t work out too well either. I am still allowed to climb trees though……..(when nobody is looking).
So, dressing for the occasion has never been my thing either. But I did eventually learn that sometimes you have to dress out of your comfort zone to achieve things (whether you like it or not). Having trained as a youth worker, my usual attire for both work and leisure would be pretty much the same day in and day out: jeans, t-shirt and trainers, cowboy or trilby hat for going out, and occasionally sunshine-yellow dungarees. However, my first job was with in organisation which was at that time dominated by old men in dark suits and ties (they were probably only in their 40’s, and 50’s which, now I am there is of course not very old at all, but I was only 23 at the time).
I found it incredibly frustrating that as a young female ‘General Secretary‘ (that was the title of all those who ran YMCA’s in those days) nobody appeared to be listening to my views or taking me seriously. After a particularly difficult meeting one of my colleagues, much later in years than I, took me aside and suggested that instead of my usual jeans and t-shirts (along with those witticisms across the front that we enjoyed in the early 80’s), that I might make more of an impression if I were to play the suits at their own game by wearing one myself. My knee-jerk reaction was “Why should I? They should recognise my skills however they are dressed”. But I did have a great respect for the gentleman in question, who persuaded me that dress was just another tool to get the job done; and he was of course absolutely right.
On those slogan T-shirts…. I was once introduced by the matron of a school I was working in (who really didn’t approve of me or anything I did) as “Julie, whose bosoms always have something to say” (I think it was when I tried to start a trade union that she went off me). My favourite slogan of the time was my ‘Idontgoto University’, which I had emblazoned across my sweatshirt. Growing up in a university town I deeply resenting that, having left school after O’ levels, the taxes that were now being deducted from my feeble wages (at the extortionate 1976 rate of 35%) were contributing to this privileged section of society who seemed to spend most of their lives in the pub. (The fact that I eventually married one of them just goes to show what a forgiving person I am). And, as if to prove what we all know; that intelligence does not necessarily equate to common sense (in fact it is very often nowhere to be seen), I was once asked by a Cambridge student if ‘Idontgoto’ was a University in America.
Just a quick aside on school uniform – which I hated. My school was the first of a certain breed, and a trial move towards the comprehensive system of education. I passed my 11 plus, but instead of opting for the Girls Grammar or the assisted place, apparently deciding (at the age of 11) that the single-sex schools were not for me, I chose the comprehensive experiment, that being the only co-ed option in my area. My school of choice was Impington Village College , famous for its building having been designed by revered architect Walter Gropius – A fact that is strangely still ingrained in my mind some 40-odd years later; (if only more useful facts would lodge there as readily).
Anyway, back to the uniform; in order to have a more progressive approach the school had a bit of a mish-mash between traditional and modern. You could wear any navy skirt, white shirt and navy jumper; but there was still a blazer with latin-embroidered logo though I only remember having to wear that in first year (we called our years what they were in those days – none of this ‘year seven’ rubbish). The tie was an unappetising shade of green with white stripes, and the whole thing was topped off by a beret for the girls and a cap for the boys. The berets and caps were ditched in the first week and for the remainder of my years there, it was a constant challenge to see just what you could get away with.
I don’t remember consciously choosing to flout the system, but there was a constant complaint at parent’s evenings that I didn’t follow the school uniform rules. My mum’s response to the school was always: “Julie leaves home in the morning dressed in uniform, how she arrives is your problem”.
Weirdly, I don’t ever remember getting reprimanded for it.
Doing cartwheels in the Environmental Studies lesson – Yes; Talking in the Dressmaking class – Yes; Passing messages along the back row in History – Yes; Talking in Science – Yes; Locking a teacher in a cupboard in Geography – Yes (only a student teacher so it doesn’t really count); Talking in Maths – Yes; Letting off a fire extinguisher in the form-room – Yes (though that was a joint form effort); Talking in English – Yes; Climbing out of a window in Geography – Yes (same student teacher); Talking in Biology – Yes; Running in a ‘walking’ area – Yes.
Not wearing the appropriate school uniform – Never.
And, nor was I ever told off for having ‘holiday hair’, as my daughter once was, or hair that ‘contravened health and safety rules’ as my 8-year-old nephew was recently; but then it’s a different world these days.
NB. My friend Splodge and I were constantly getting into trouble for talking so much and we were frequently split up in lessons. We did however still manage to communicate with each other though, and at frequent intervals would exclaim: “Oh dear I’ve dropped my ruler/slide rule/test tube/rubber/pins” so we could pass notes to each other under the desks. What I don’t really understand is why it was always referred to as ‘chattering’ in my school report, as if it what we were talking about wasn’t important. My response now would be that there would have been less to talk about had lessons been just a bit more interesting.
Still on the clothing and school theme; one of our campaign successes at school was for girls to be allowed to wear trousers. Many of us had quite long journeys into school which involved waiting at a cold bus stop, sitting on a cold bus into Cambridge and then waiting at another cold bus stop for the next cold bus, with a short cold walk at the end. I had my share of those woolly tights (remember those with the baggy crotches that would be level with your knees by lunch time), and thought it was grossly unfair that the boys could wear trousers when the girls couldn’t. On a roll from our first success in getting the school to change from that hard, non-absorbent toilet paper to soft toilet paper, we thought what the hell – let’s go for trousers next. I would like to say that we wore the school down with our frequent requests and lobbying, but like so many things in life it was an ill wind that finally brought us success. During the miner’s strike in ’72 and the subsequent 3 day week, the temperatures at school plummeted so low that we were actually encouraged to wear trousers – and once the genie was out of the bottle as they say…………….
Of course these days the school would shut in those circumstances because of the low temperature failing to meet Health and Safety Standards, but we were hard then – when we lived in t’shoebox in middle of t’road (Monty Python ‘Four Yorkshiremen’). As I recall we were only ever sent home on two occasions: once during a blizzard (mad really because they arranged a bus to take us all back to Cambridge, where we were stranded for hours because all the timetabled buses had been cancelled); the other occasion was due to a bomb scare which turned out to be a hoax by a boy in fifth form who wanted to avoid double geography because he hadn’t done his homework.
Anyway, I realise that I have digressed greatly from the usual topic of my dad, and the clearing of his stuff. I have to admit that the net result of the past few months is that there has been more ‘incoming’ than ‘outgoing’ and, as well as adding to dad’s various collections with the odd thing here or there, I have discovered a new interest in the correspondence of complete strangers. It all started when my son brought home a bag of letters that had been found in a cupboard of a house he had been renting as a student. The landlord wasn’t interested in them so the idea was that he try to trace a relative of the late owner of the letters and pass them on.
Of course, hidden amongst the many guitars, they didn’t move from said son’s room for some considerable time and in the end I offered my services in trying to trace the family. It was a fascinating trail which had my friend Heidi and myself captivated for some time with, what turned out to be, quite an easy family name to trace. The Gledhill Family had designed and manufactured the clocking in and clocking out machines used in many factories and it appears that they went out of business because the machines were so reliable that they never needed replacing. The letters cover a 40 year period and mark affairs, mental breakdowns: “Don’t let anyone see you post the letter to mother at the asylum”, as well as documenting royal visits, elections and the blitz. As we have yet to find any surviving relatives so the letters will eventually be dispatched to the local history archives in Halifax which is where the family were based.
My latest acquisition is a collection of letters, covering a 30 year period from the early 1900’s, from several people to one woman, Mary Croome. I give you one line which easily illustrates the appeal:
“When I saw you that evening at the station Mary, you saw how it occupied my mind to see you in a coat I didn’t like; I think it was the bitterest moment of my life.”
“Father has just come in from the club, he has heard of your gambling debts and is in a fearful rage. He declares that unless you pay off every penny and promise never to touch the cards again, the engagement must be at end between us”
This particular batch of letters, are not only entertaining, but the writers include Alfred Palmer an RA artist and Alfred Sangster, (who appears to have both an artist and an actor) and a few of letters even include sketches of paintings – but maybe more of that in another blog.
But anyway, back to dad’s stuff. What can I tell you about the fascinating world of rough jaw vices, chucks, collets and feed fingers, injection nozzles and gear hobbing machines? Not much as it happens, but it was the language of the world I inhabited, albeit briefly, earlier in the year. Who knew that you could hob your smallest pinions, have adjustable friction couplings and that there were 28 styles of solving your hollow milling problems? I didn’t even realise I had hollow milling problems – though that would explain a few things!
I had cause earlier in the year to take stock of the boxes (and boxes) of stuff that I have slowly transferred from Dad’s house to my own, and decided that enough was enough – I needed to make some space for other things. I can hear you all gasp with surprise – but worry not, I didn’t throw anything away.
I’d had some brochures, manuals and books all relating to engineering machinery that had been sitting on a table since their transfer from dad’s study to my workroom. All that time ago, when I had first started the clearing process, I had emailed a trader to see if they were interested in them. The response was that I would need to photograph and document each one individually. I took one look at the two-carrier bags worth and decided to file that job for later (much, much later) and they remained in my room untouched. I was close to tipping the whole lot in the recycling bin, but just thought I would try a couple on eBay to see if there was any interest.
Oh Boy, was I surprised at the bidding frenzy that followed. Who knew that a 10-page, lathe sales brochure would have 20 people bidding on it and that it would fetch £50 (and I had two more of them in my box)!
The next few months went by in a haze of listings, and with several rolls of parcel tape, lots of cardboard and many trips to the Post Office, my dad’s treasure was dispatched all over the world. At some point in the process I started getting messages from people asking for brochures on particular makes of machines. I had one bidder ask me if I could put him in touch with a competing bidder (after the sale) as they obviously collected the same type of thing and he had never met a fellow collector before, another who told me that he had purchased a particular brochure because he had designed part of the machine during his apprenticeship.
Here are just some of the comments:
“Thank you very much for the extra leaflets enclosed with the Elliot shaper Manual, Do you have any info on a Rapidor Major hacksaw machine in your collection?”
(Might I just point out the reference to ‘collection’ in that sentence above – not junk, not rubbish, but ‘collection’.)
“They were in production for a short time until the Luftwaffe flattened Coventry in 1940”
“It probably will not be until tomorrow because it is almost midnight in
Australia and it is bedtime”
“Thanks for all this hassle; this is going to make my dad happy again :)”
“Rest assured they have gone to a good home as I have one of these lathes myself”
I discovered such passion, that very early on I started sending scans of the brochures to all the losers in the bidding wars and if somebody had bid successfully on an item, I would add any extra bits that I had on the same machine to the envelope for them. For me the exercise was not about making any money, but more about distributing the treasure. I know that dad would have been delighted that, yet again, he had been justified in keeping it all.
(Most of the literature I sent was nothing more than a photograph of a machine with the specs listed, but there were a few with some artistic merit (see the ‘Taylor’ literature above) and some with clearly going for the cheap laughs – I really can’t believe this was not intentional.)
So anyway, that is two carrier bags less I have in my room now.