Tuesday, 8 April 2008
Minster Minerals and the Little Red Book
My very first job was a paper round which paid me 7 /- 6d a week. Following a gentle hint from my dad I gave it to my mum for housekeeping in continuance of a long working class tradition. Both were pleased by the gesture, but mercifully it was returned.
After that, especially during my student years the part time job became paramount. I’ve worked delivering bread for ‘Mothers Pride’ bakeries and still remember the warm and sweet yeasty smell of the ovens and the diesel fumes of the vans, their engines running on dark winter mornings. I’ve queued for summer jobs at the Corona lemonade factory someway down Hall lane but the queues were always too long and I always got there too late.
The job which paid most money and which nearly destroyed my mind was the night shift in a bottling factory. Minster Minerals. I was put in charge of the capping machine which stood below a very large clock. The shift was 10 pm to 6 am, and my job was to refill the capping container when ever it ran low. This basically involved standing there, gazing from clock to capping machine and back again. The conveyer clinked and a thousand bottles passed; the caps in the transparent capper jiggled and slowly subsided like sand in an hour glass…The second hand ticked…You are feeling sleepy…sleepy…. It was crash course in self hypnosis – only when that happened the capping machine ran empty and hundreds of un-capped bottles passed on a conveyor belt that couldn’t be stopped.
The foreman screamed and you ran backwards and forwards in panic, taking off the uncapped bottles and re-filling the capping machine as fast as you could. Then back to the tick of the clock and a brain slowly dying.
There was one other person there with a worse job. Quality control. He had to sit by the side of the conveyor belt, scrutinizing each bottle as it passed, watching out for foreign bodies or a level of liquid that was more or less than it should be. He went quietly mad, putting in foreign bodies to give his job meaning. Cockroaches, wood-lice, some he even pissed in.
At last the foreman took pity on me. He put me in charge of a small forklift truck but this promotion ended when I ran over my own foot… Or was it me? Maybe Stephen King had once worked in Minster Minerals and shortly afterwards wrote Christine.
But the money was good, for those days, and I met interesting people. I met Tim, a casual teacher who worked when he needed money and spent the rest of the time wine-making and brewing beer, which he stored beneath the stairs. I met a Chinese student called Andy who was enamored of Mao tse Tung, and who handed round these little red books.
It was the height of the Cultural Revolution and about that time a Chinese Ship had berthed in Liverpool docks. It caused a great stir amongst the Dockers. The ship was festooned with banners and flags, its crew on all decks, singing and waving their books like handkerchiefs. The great proletarian revolution had arrived, much to the surprise of the Liverpool docker. ‘Daft twats’ said with amusement, seemed the prevailing view.
Not really Liverpool's style.
Shortly afterwards the little red book began to circulate, discarded by contemptuous Dockers. I have one still as a curiosity. I probably also have a file in British security by virtue of this Chinese student whose name I can't quite believe was Andy. He told me you could get white leather bound copies of the works of Chairman Mao by writing to the Chinese embassy. I looked at the capping machine.
“I’m not spending my money on that!”
“No, they give them away if you’re poor.”
Hmm… A Homer Simpson moment.
The Keyton acquisitive gene took over. And I duly wrote my begging letter stressing my poverty and my undying admiration for the Great Helmsman. They didn’t seem that impressed, sending me another copy of the little red book. No doubt they learnt about my well paid job in Minster Minerals.
All jobs have their drawbacks. My friend Geoff Fimister had a job cleaning out the sugar tunnels in Tate and Lyles. When he emerged after a shift his hair was four times bigger framing his face in Afro-Candy-floss. Still, better than teaching.