Saturday, July 23, 2011

We Met On the Bus… Part Three... My new job — Designer at last!

We Met On the Bus… Part Three
My new job — Designer at last!

It just so happened that the traveller for my new firm knew the bosses at my first one, they traded with some of the same firms in the wholesale trade. I did wonder if this guy had anything to do with my new appointment. I soon got on very well indeed with the traveller as he was the main stay of their business, both in wholesale and retail. He knew the right people. When sunray pleated skirts were all the rage, he knew where to get the pleating done as well as lovely embroidery by a firm close by. Leather belts too. I would get samples sent of embroidery suitable for dress bodices, which I could use with the sunray skirts. So it was more a matter of good pattern cutting and overall style than cleverness of design. Those dresses went straight to the retail within weeks of samples being done. I met the top man at the local C&A and a few days later he was shown the new design samples. His reaction was “Has that little girl done these?” He was quite impressed and a good order made.
New samples were done for the traveller to take around the country. Sales were good. Occasionally rolls of fabric would be bought at a knock-down price and I would have the job of designing something simple, cheap but attractive, to make a good profit. I recall a simple striped blouse made in black and white striped silky material. It had a black narrow velvet ribbon to finish off a fly-away-collared neckline. The rolls of material were used up and every blouse was sold. My quick response to the traveller’s requests meant I got on very well there.
I met reps who came selling buttons and accessories and, most of all, the buyers who bought our designs. This sometimes entailed me going to London with the traveller to meet these important people, so that I could answer their queries concerning required changes and generally use my knowledge and design ability. One firm that had its own label to put on the styles bought from us, had a really snooty buyer (a lady heavily made up to hide — unsuccessfully — wrinkling skin) who treated me with complete disdain. Our traveller hung our dresses along a rail for them to look at. The woman went along the rail, dropping to the floor most of the samples. Then she examined the rest. She picked out a two-piece that had velvet set into the collar and pocket flaps. I knew that the model was cut too tightly on the lay to allow for ‘give-away’ changes, so much so that even the shoulder pads had to be joined. But she asked how much cheaper the garment would be if we used self-fabric instead of velvet for the trimming.
Being honest, I said I thought it would make little or no difference, as more of the self-fabric would be required.
She sniffed deeply, looked down her nose and said, “It must make SOME difference, Ducky!”
The traveller intervened and said that something could be arranged if that is what they wanted to do.
Anyway, we got an order there and elsewhere — a very good multi-store clothing business, which treated me as the young person I was, but with the respect due to me as the seller’s designer. I was still only twenty but learning fast.
Since our marriage, my husband and I had been living at my parents’ house, using an upstairs bedroom as a bed-sit. We were to be there for three years. Not a very happy arrangement but places to rent were few in number and very expensive when any became available. Council property was reserved for those with children and on a points system. Since we did not want children until we had a house of our own, we were doomed to always be on the bottom of the very long housing list.
My hubby was still attending Evening Classes several times a week and studying at other times. I spent three nights per week ironing for the whole household, as my mother did our washing for us. No TV, of course, but we went to the cinema once a week and I read books or sewed. On Sundays we had a ride on the motor-bike (no springing in those days!) perhaps to his old home or maybe visit a relative. But we lived economically on my wages and saved as much as possible until we had enough cash for a deposit on a house. During this time, I travelled on the bus and my husband on the train.
As far as work was concerned, things were going very well indeed by the time Christmas came along. To top it all I found I had two weeks extra pay for a Christmas bonus, something that had never happened to me before then. Not only money but also a huge box of chocolates to go with the bonus! Such appreciation! Alas, I did not know what lay on the horizon!

The picture is just a rough idea of what the early sunray dresses with embroidered bodices looked like. (About 1953-4 onwards) These were made in black finely-knitted woollen fabric. The machine embroidery was of a thread that looked like beaded work when completed.

More to come…

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Why do we do it?
Do what?
Push ourselves beyond our inclinations…

At the age of fifty I took early retirement from teaching (my teaching career followed after freelance designing) and trained for non-stipendiary Church Lay ministry. Overcoming my natural shyness (not easy I can tell you), I became the first woman in this area to preach in a number of churches, conduct funerals and church services, visit nursing homes as chaplain, as well as visit the housebound, the sick and bereaved, and generally assist the clergy. Yes, some hostility but not from the general public. Having become addicted to study, I gained the rare A DipR. Then decided to do an Open University BA (hons) degree (mainly religion in Victorian times).
Then aged 69 and unable to drive because of failing sight, I gave up ministry and turned to writing fiction. You might think writing to be just the right occupation for someone like me, but…

One of my novels was Blazing Embers (now rewritten as SMOULDERING EMBERS by G B Hobson, and published by Dare Empire). Since I had been inspired by something witnessed on the UK TV Kilroy Programme, I wrote to Robert Kilroy Silk to see if he would comment on my manuscript. I received not only a yes, but also an invite to appear on his TV show. WOW! (Er… did I really want to make a fool of myself?)

When I reached the London studio I was told the title for the show that day: ‘I’m still sexy though I’m older’! (Definitely NOT ME. So what on earth was I — a retiring CofE Reader — doing there?) A few women were already being given prompts to cause animated and aggressive discussions concerning their sexuality.

Robert, while moving along the rows, drew out conflicting opinions about dating, dress and the sexy behaviour of some seniors. Sometimes the discussion became quite heated. Would you believe, one young woman said it wasn’t fair that older women were taking it from them. (Presumably when competing for men — not enough of ‘IT’ to go round? What a laugh!) Then came my turn to be involved.

(The following is only as I remember it. I cannot bear to look at the video of the occasion.)
I felt Kilroy’s hand on my shoulder. He addressed those gathered there.
Robert: ‘Gladys sent me a manuscript to read. It was about a granny who wanted more sex.’ (Howls of laughter.)
Me: ‘Well, actually, Alice wanted an orgasm…something so far denied her…’ (Oooooo and more laughter)
Robert: ‘And that isn’t sex?’ (Howls of laughter.)
Me: ‘Of course, but watching late night TV made her aware…’
Robert: ‘Didn’t I suggest you cool down the sex?’ (Oooooo! And more laughter.)
Me: ‘Yes. But this is serious, Robert. People my age did not get sex education. Many people were totally ignorant about love-making, even on their marriage night.’
Robert: ‘I expect they found out by morning.’ (Howls of laughter.)
Me: ‘This is serious, Robert… ’ I was getting cross. ‘In those days…’

And so it went on with Robert Kilroy Silk causing belly laughs. That is, until a woman in front of me joined in. I was still trying to get over the difference between fulfillment and ‘just sex’ and how a woman could go through life unfulfilled, but she diverted the chat to other matters. Okay, so the book is truly funny as well as poignant. I guess I kind of asked for the teasing.

Eventually Robert asked the guy next to me if older people can still be sexy. He assured everyone this was so, in fact better because older couples were more experienced and likely to take more time with preliminaries.

At the end of the show I was surrounded by most of the women present, wanting to know where they could buy my book! So too when I got back home. Alas, all I had was a manuscript and although literary agents were interested, they didn’t think they had the contacts for that particular genre to take it on. (The main publishing houses want stories that fit neatly into pigeonholes and likely to sell in the hundreds of thousands — I guess my story is a bit kinky!) But my son set up my own publishing house and now all my books are in print. Better still, DARE EMPIRE has contracted all my novels (where I am known as G B Hobson), and Justin James has given them all attractive covers, especially Smouldering Embers and The Dark Mirror. They are all available in PRINT and as eBooks.

I still have to push myself as far as publicity is concerned. Sometimes I just want to curl up inside my shell and have a quiet life. It is good though when readers tell me how much they enjoy reading my books. One said she had passed round this particular book so many times that it has become tatty. (Encouraging even if not good for sales!)

You can also get unusual handcrafted copies of my novels from
— who knows, maybe one day they will be collectors items!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Heaviness but the sun comes through

I often draw from nature to solve my problems or discomfort. Heavy clouds with sun breaking through has always been an uplifting sight for me. I don't care much for bright sunshine as it is bad for my sight. In just about everything to do with life, I find Contrasts easier to cope with. You can have too much of a good thing? Well that is the way we were brought up to think. (And 'too much' for us in those days would seem to be what most folk take for granted these days!)

I can't walk like I used to but I enjoy getting out to view nature close to, but also look at vistas that go on for miles.

You don’t have to go far out of Ulverston to find staggering views towards Coniston. Of course, you can get excellent views of distant fells and mountains from the local Hoad, and other places too, but this one here, where Coniston Water lies below a sweep of mountains underneath smouldering skies, is always close to my heart. For those keen on walking (fairly steep hill to climb) follow the Cumbrian Way until reaching the road that goes upwards towards the moors (or go straight up Old Hall Road, turning left at the crossroads, passing Windy Ash Barn and upwards towards the Anglers Tarn. Continue walking upwards until distant Coniston comes into view. Actually we often drive this way home into Ulverston and stop the car to take in the view. But we have walked in that direction a number of times. At a rough guess I would say it is about two miles from the town centre. Maybe less — walking uphill always makes the journey seem much longer!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

We Met on the Bus...part two. (The ups and downs of a design career)

We Met On the Bus… Part Two
My new job is a turn for the worse!

While things were going smoothly, well smoothly in relative terms, with my new boyfriend (I’ll give him the name of John) whom I met on the bus, it was a different story with my new job. I recall a college lecturer saying, “They’ll exploit you, if they can,” and how true this turned out to be.
I had been taken on as an assistant designer but in actual fact they were short of cutters. That is where I was needed and that is where I stayed — cutting samples, plus garments for production. Eventually I was given a chance to do a couple of designs but I knew it was just a sop to keep me there. Their main production was in sloppy sweaters made in a type of brushed nylon popular at that time, and that is not enough work even for one designer. But the designer turned out her seasonal samples and I had the job of cutting a number of each them. Some were totally impractical for mass production — lines and checks having to match at every meeting point. The costing was way out and if I had been on piece rates I would have been looking sick by the end of the week! So said the manager who was not pleased with my output. I started looking for other jobs.
Just seeing John once a week to visit a local cinema did not exactly fill my evenings. My best friend, whom I had known since we were at junior school together, agreed for us to go to the Nottingham Palais for square dancing once a week. We had always been fond of music and dancing, visiting the Nottingham theatre when we could afford a seat in the gods. We also enjoyed plays at the Nottingham Playhouse. In our younger days we put on concerts in the attic of her big house. Keen on designing, I made the costumes when necessary. We both found square dancing fun.
It wasn’t long before a boy named David had me as his constant dancing partner, which was just as well because I really needed someone to prompt me during the sequences. After some weeks he asked me if I would help him out. He was a church youth-group leader and wanted to introduce dance into their programme. For this, he needed a partner for a course on leading country dancing. Most of my evenings being free, I accepted although it meant meeting him in town straight from work.
I met David the following Monday. He insisted on paying for my coffee and bun at a café before going on to a hall a bus ride away. Fair enough, after all I was there for his benefit and I would not get home until quite late
Unknown to me, it reached David’s ears, through a lad in his youth group, that I was seeing a boyfriend every Friday. My dancer was not happy and arranged a meeting with John that lunchtime to see what was going on. Not pleased, that evening David told me all about the meeting. I said that John had no serious intentions, we only went to the cinema together once a week. Since I was only David’s dance partner what was the problem?
Evidently David saw things differently. There may have been no cuddling, no kissing, no sweet talk but this guy had intentions of marriage! But I had never seen him in that light. What’s more John had told David that he intended to marry me! I can’t say that I was pleased that I had been the object of such a discussion. I had already been told by someone who knew John that he was not the marrying kind, and had already upset a hopeful lass back home.
From then on, David stopped paying for my tea. I guess it was a sign of a break-up of something that never was. The night he told me, John was waiting for me at the bus stop where I caught the bus home. He was not pleased. It came out that he was truly serious about our relationship. Before long he stopped going home every weekend so we could have more time together. After all, his evenings were taken up with night classes and study. So we sorted drifted into marriage — one year to the day that we first went out together.
I found a designing job but they only took me on for a two weeks trial. I first got their block patterns corrected and then turned out ten designs in the first week. I was told at the end of the week that they really wanted an overlooker, rather than a designer but they would give me an excellent reference for my abilities. I chose not to stay for the second week. The girl who sewed the samples told me they all knew I would not get the job. ‘Miss Smith will not allow someone much better than her to take over her job.’
Out of work. I took on a job as a cutter for a few months. Then a letter arrived quite unexpectedly. Four or five months earlier I had applied for a job as a designer but had not received a reply. Now I was being offered an interview. I got the job, worked hard and before long had a rise to a magnificent sum of £8 a week. This was in the days of poor pay for women and I was getting not much less than my husband received in his new job in Research and Development. Of course by this time I had given up dancing. My hubby has no sense of rhythm, apart from being born with two left feet! Ah, such is love!

The photographs: The electric iron I bought just before our marriage in 1953 and, with some new parts, still doing excellent service. Plus a photograph of a table cloth I bought and embroidered before and after our marriage. The cloth was bought with a £1 note, a reward for handing in a gold watch I had found by the factory I was working in at the time of the above events. In the party photograph I am with a workmate and her boyfriend. It was when I was working there that I met John on the bus. At the next party I was wearing my own designed dress and my hubby was my partner.

More to come…

Thursday, July 7, 2011

We Met on the Bus at a time of my working at a career in dress design...

We Met on the Bus
at a time of my working at a career in dress design...

(Late 1940's Designs done when I was in my teens)

It was late February of 1952 and I was starting a new job in the city of Nottingham. Along with my sister Phyl, I was waiting in the queue at the 5A bus stop, just around the corner from my home. I was dressed in grey — coat, stockings and shoes. A grey outfit for a grey day! But there was nothing gloomy in my mood: I had a new beginning, a chance to prove my ability to design clothes that would sell in shops all over Britain. At least, that is what I thought at the time.

The bus arrived and we slowly boarded. There were no seats left for me to be able to sit with my sister, so I sat on the long seat by the stepping on-and-off platform. My thoughts wandered to my previous jobs: trainee designer at a knitted-clothing firm catering for the wholesale trade, followed by two years as a designer pattern cutter at a manufacturer of dresses for the retail trade. I had done well with my first employers, William Gibson and Sons. I joined them when I was just sixteen and had worked my way up from the cutting bench to designing outfits for the younger end of the fashion trade. I smiled to myself as I recalled my first day of working in that huge factory.

The factory was a red brick, early nineteenth-century building. One of the many mill buildings in that city which was once a centre for Britain’s finest industry — clothing, lace, bicycles, pharmaceuticals, and many small engineering enterprises. Nottingham also has a fine university building, standing on a hill within the magnificent Highfields Park. I looked up to view the majestic white building silhouetted against a grey sky.

I suddenly realised I was being watched. Two soft brown eyes under thick eyelashes and heavy dark brows were smiling at me. I coyly dropped my eyes, knowing my cheeks were turning pink.

Oh, why did I have to blush when a man looked at me? It had been the same in my first year at Gibson’s. Every time I went down to the canteen with the other workers, the men sitting near the yard door, would whistle, knowing what would happen. It took the motherly overlooker to get it stopped. But it was the same at the cutting bench. The male supervisor would stand the other side of the table looking at me until I lifted up my head. Then everyone would laugh as my cheeks revealed my embarrassment. At least, a later supervisor did not get away with his sexist chauvinism. He had a habit of running his thumb knuckle down my spine as he passed behind me. I asked him nicely not to do it several times. The laughter was wiped off his face when I swung the tip of my boot at his shin. He called me a foul name but he didn’t touch me again.

I lifted my eyes a little. My dark-haired fellow traveller was still watching me, but now the corners of his lips were curling into a curious little smile. I dropped my eyes again. This time I had a picture of him in my mind: mid-twenties, medium build, short wavy hair, rather a swarthy face out of which shone those penetrating, but warm, eyes. Somehow he had connected with my inner being and that was disturbing. I turned my mind to other matters.

I had done well at Gibson’s. It had been tough to start with. My soft hands were not used to handling the heavy tailoring shears used to cut patterns and cloth, and my skin had to be hardened before I was comfortable using them. I had to get used to a lot of things: machinery noise within that huge room, and coming from the floors above and below; long hours of toil and the uncertainty of knowing my place — officially one of the staff, but unofficially one of the girls. Socially, I was totally out of my depth.

I soon found out that certain class distinctions operated in that place. Management, designers and office staff, tucked away in the offices were monthly paid. Cutters (close to the stock room and offices) and sample hands were hourly paid. Lockstitchers, embroidery machine operators, overlockers, finishers (at the opposite end of the factory floor) were on piece rates. The steam press workers and ironers, who were separated by a glass partition, would have been hourly paid. All piece rate workers received bonuses on top of the rate for the job. The bonuses brought them up to a living wage comparable with the other workers, with the speedier and more experienced girls doing very well. It was hot and sweaty working on those machines but the girls seemed cheerful enough, singing as they did to songs coming over the Tannoy system.

Until I actually began designing I found it difficult to fit in with any group, but then it became even more of a problem for me once the season rush was over. I would be back with the cutters. It especially became problematic when the chief designer thought, once the design rush was over, it would be a good idea for me to join the machinists and get really skilled. This way I could fill in where needed. This seemed unfair to me: the designers had time to relax and prepare for the following season, since my designs were selling well, why shouldn’t I have the same privilege?

I found myself another job. It seemed I had jumped out of the frying pan into the fire! I wasn’t really needed as a designer, even the designer-manageress copied just about every design produced each season. The boss would pick dresses up in London or elsewhere and have exact copies made. Even he himself was known to rip open a dress and use the pieces as a pattern for a new model. I hasten to add here that either the manageress or myself would have the job of translating it to our own pattern blocks, which were incredibly accurate. There was a strict system of grading different sizes too. Strict was indeed a word to describe many things there. Someone was told off for talking to me, I was practically timed if I went off to the toilet, and told off for leaving the light on while I did so. A new machinist was dismissed after the first week because she wasn’t earning enough — the boss said he could fill her place with a quicker worker. I was told that someone had applied for a job as a cutter and that the boss considered, since he could cut patterns too, he might be better off with him than me. I decided to get another job before I was put under even more pressure. When I gave in my notice, within less than half an hour I was handed my ‘cards’ and told to leave the building within two minutes. The manageress stood over me to make sure I did not take anything not mine, and that I did not speak to anyone. I resented being treated like a criminal!

So here I was on my way to a new job, which required two bus journeys. This earlier travelling time had brought me into contact with this young man. His eyes were fixed on me and nobody else. After a few days he started sitting next to me whenever he could. It wasn’t long before other passengers left us a seat so we could always sit together. After a few weeks he asked me to go to the cinema with him the following Friday, the one night he did not attend evening classes. It was Spring Day. Exactly one year later we were married in our local church.

A regards my designing career, there began a whole new turn of events …

(More to come)