Thursday, 7 January 2010

radio on

Listening to Laurie Taylor on Thinking Allowed yesterday, he said something that got me thinking. Appropriately enough, I guess. To a backing of Calling All Workers, he said

"I don't know whether I've somehow imbibed my dad's socialism, but as a child I couldn't ever hear this music without imagining a vast factory full of downtrodden workers who were required to fulfill their mundane repetitive modern-time tasks to the insistent, unrelenting rhythm of the marching radio."

..and there went another of my cosy versions of an imagined past, where I'd cycle into the factory along with a horde of fellow-workers, and spend a useful day building engines for Spitfires and spinning stuff on a lathe and designing something really neat on a drawing board, aided by my trusty slide-rule. And occasionally singing along to Our Gracie.

Fat chance, really, perhaps.

When I was building tricycles for children with special needs a few years back, I worked with a bunch of people who'd once worked in the engineering factories around the Stroud area, now defunct or reduced; like Lister, whose engines have powered several of the ships upon which I've worked. My colleagues' tales of life in the factories fitted reasonably well with my imagined past, though there were unpleasant things too; the description of the comapny in the link above mentions the good integration of Eastern European refugee workers into the workforce and locality in the immediate aftermath of the war. It doesn't mention the West Indian workforce who, as one of my colleagues described it, were brought in to work for Lister, but obliged to live in Gloucester because they didn't want That Sort living in Dursley.

In fact, of course, any workplace is going to have its annoyances and petty feuds and plain nastinesses, and the tricycle factory was no different. But I am thinking mostly of music-while-you-work, so I'll limit myself to that. The workshop always had the radio on. The best you could hope for was Radio Two, which was just about survivable, though I prefer Kenny Bruce and Terry Wogan as options rather than forced listening. As often as not, though, if the young apprentice got to the radio, it would be Radio One, or one of the local commercial stations. And that was deeply unpleasant, and contributed nothing at all to my productivity...

...silence was not an option, of course. Like telly in ships' crew messes. I remember a bosun coming into the mess of the Havelet, where I was quietly reading, and sticking the telly on. It was Rainbow. I asked if he really wanted to watch Rainbow. He said, in a tone of voice that said it should be obvious, "It's the telly, isn't it?" Duh.

My friend Mary had some work done on her house not long back, and was driven mad by the builders' radio, tuned to Radio One, very loud. She asked them to turn it down or off, pointing out that it was her home and she was in it. This did not go down well. I guess it's a class war thing. And a bloke thing. Like leaving fag-ends in the toilet, and tea bags on the draining board. A bit more civilised than pissing on lamp-posts, but. You know.


  1. Thankfully in my office we have a couple of radios but most people have headphones and listen to their own music on the computer. Of course when you get someone who turns up the music you then get the train issue of very tinny music annoying you...

    Very nice photo by the way.

  2. I'll have to listen to the music later. I was amused to learn that in the war a lot of cups were broken to "Deep in the heart of Texas"

    I have a cosy picture of working in a factory, my Grandfather was a tool maker at Joseph Lucas so it would have been all right. When my dad died mum advertised some of his tools and one of the men that came to buy some had been an apprectice of my grandfather - goodness knows how they got round to talking about that - He had very happy memories of him and appreciated him as a master. So I think working in a factory would have been okay.

    In my head I can see a huge,broad, fat bosun with a beard watching Rainbow - perhaps he was into zips?

  3. Listening to the radio tends to give me willies for various reasons. I know that it isn't inhabited by small creatures being prompted with nano-scale cattle prods, but it's nice to dream.
    Hate me for it if you will, but I keep my early morning radio alarm tuned to Heart FM for the simple reason that there is nothing else in existence that is more likely to instantly transform me from slumbering beast to a state of wide eyed, rage filled wakefulness.

  4. Yes, Stace; I think sometimes it's the quality of the sound rather than its volume that can be so annoying. I once had the cabin next door to the 24 Hour Party Cabin, where a party started in May and continued until September, but that was OK because the music was good.

    On the other hand, a neighbour used to play Foster and Allen, on the limits of audibility, and I would lie awake absolutely fuming with indignation.

    Oddly, one of the bosuns on that ship was the biggest bosun you ever saw, Anji, and a bit smelly too. But this one wasn't. He married a french girl, by the way, and when she was pregnant decided that if it was a boy it was going to be called Maverick. Fortunately, they had a daughter who was named Oceane. A lucky escape there.

    That's very brave of you, Graham. Though when I worked in a pub in Portsmouth, we had a small collection of Music To Put On At Chucking-Out Time, to which I contributed a recording of a Portsmouth Symphonia LP.