Saturday, 15 September 2007
St Bonaventures, Maths and Jam
Two pictures of Hartleys Jam factory. For a fuller explanation of the cow on the roof go to the end of this post and you'll appreciate how Monty Python really won World War 11.
St Bonaventures was located at the bottom of Cedar Road. Next to it was a field of coarse, yellowing grass. Hartley’s Jam factory stood on the other side of the field. We could smell jam during PE, History, Geography, jam in maths, and English, jam in R.E.
If Monty Python had attended St. Bonaventures, they’d have written the ‘Jam Song’ instead.
The top of Cedar Road opened out into Walton Vale. On one corner was a black Methodist Church. When I was young, very young, I assumed there was a quarry somewhere that provided black stones exclusively for Methodist Churches. The industrial grime pervading most northern cities - and our lungs - didn’t figure in a child’s mind. What did figure was the grimness of the church and its posters, exhorting us to save our souls - follow Jesus or else - and something called love that bore an unfortunate relationship with old women and tea. The words were in red or violent magenta, and, like Northern grime, pervaded my world outlook, added to a general sense of gloom.
Facing the church was the Black Bull Inn, where the damned drank, and where we would too, one day. On the other side of the road, separated by a tiny park consisting of gravel two benches and black-painted railings, was the Midland Bank. Mammon and God, and us in between, with only the smell of Jam to sustain us.
The school was newly built and playground politics resembled Dodge City. Two other schools, Blessed Sacrament and Holy Name fed into it and with it, their established gangs and pecking orders.
Presiding over everything was Mr Coleman, stern, avuncular, and largely dressed in grey. He reminded me of a bear, who fed on honey and boiled egg, and growled when he was hungry, and caned you when you’d done wrong. These are the things that go through a small boy's head when other things around him don’t make much sense.
I’d seen egg crumbs on his grey pullover once - so that was a fact. Maths however was not a fact, important but largely incomprehensible. Mr Roberts taught us. He wore a tweed jacket, was sarcastic and dry, and I liked him because he was funny. He did a good job, teaching very large classes, his voice occasionally reaching me where I sat at the back.
My ‘Road to Damascus’ moment was when he introduced fractions. I was brilliant with addition, subtraction, even multiplication. I was getting the hang of these little buggers. Then, one day he drew breath and announced he was about to teach us how to divide fractions. I knew at that moment we were about to attempt the impossible. It was the way he drew breath.
“Well, boys,” (There were girls in the class but he never addressed them. I didn’t think it peculiar at the time) “Well, boys,” he said. ‘To divide fractions…you turn them upside down…” He paused. “And multiply them!” He glared round the classroom as though daring anyone to argue, or question the sense of it, and I dropped my pencil and lowered my head. This was all nonsense, nothing compared to the smell of jam.
The Blitz began in 1940 and, as was promised by William Joyce (better known as Lord Haw Haw), it started over Liverpool.
Another promise he made was to put "jam on the crackers", a reference to the bombers' aim to blow up Jacob’s Cream Cracker factory, which was situated next door to Hartley’s jam factory.
The threat was taken seriously by the management of Hartley’s who had already installed a fire-watch on the eight storey building. The previous week in the local area of Walton Vale a pub called the ‘Windsor Castle’ had been demolished by the Luftwaffe, also the local Catholic Church of ‘Blessed Sacrament’ had had its roof blown off. The bombers were after the local Royal Ordinance factory and so the area was to be targeted again and again.
Some diversion or camouflage was called for so the management of the two factories met together to discuss ideas. The roof of Hartley’s was chosen to be the area of camouflage as it was the larger of the two factories. They planned to paint the roof of the factory green and place rocking wooden cows on it. From a great height the cows would appear to be moving in a field, and so there appeared black and white Friesian cows on the roof of Hartley’s.
Unfortunately nobody had calculated the effect of high winds on these strange rocking creatures and one flew off and landed on an adjacent railway line causing the line to short circuit. A major enquiry was held and the rocking cows were retired from service.
No one is sure whether this story is true. But apparently ‘rocking cows’ were found in an old store room in Hartley’s factory.
True or false? It’s up to you to decide.
From ‘ Forty Square Miles of Walton’ by the Walton on the Hill History group, 2000