Sitting in the Evode canteen breakfast as usual and someone says the magic words “Remember when?” And one by one hundreds of memories good, bad, happy, sad come flooding back. So with a mind full of treasures, where did I start? For me anyway it’s February 8th 1982.
After my mum packing me a lunch and fussing around with her usual good advice and well wishes, it was an 8 o’clock bus ride to Evode, my first day.
Arriving at the gatehouse as requested for 9 o’clock sharp with the usual fears and butterflies, what are the people like and can I do the job? You know the sort. I was introduced to my new co-workers, another Carol, Paula and Dorn (spelt correctly as I was informed of regularly). We all hit it off from the start and within 10 minutes Dorn had us in fits of laughter and eased our fears no end. Many times returning from break to the Mastics department to which we’d been employed and after settling in, we’d had to sit down after a session of hysterical laughter to avoid wetting ourselves. The very naive 20 year old Carol White was just about to be educated into the real world.
Dorn and Carol unfortunately only made a few months and when they left I was moved to another department, the adhesives, and by gum one whiff of the Impact Adhesive had a better effect than a good night out on the ale with the girls. Just as I was getting used to the fast work and the strong mind blowing aroma the work load across the factory slowed down and I was after 3 months about to be layed off. I was heartbroken.
However, my boss, Noel Bevans (a good man) thought I must have been worth saving because he put my name forward for a new department opening on what was then the end of May shut down week. Back in again for more interviews, heart in mouth and fingers crossed I met my future boss, Alex Ferguson. What a personality, but more about that later.
Other departments were settled and in order, many of the people in them resented the new Kelseal and the people within. We started Kelseal with a skeleton force of about 20 people evenly split between men and women,, the more the department grew so did the rumours, there was always somebody having affairs or having sexual habits that could make your toes curl, very little of it was true of course but it earned us the nickname of the chicken ranch, good job we all had a sense of humour eh! It was true to say though, the humour within the Kelseal crew was second to none, especially as in it’s prime there were 26 women, a perfect setting for a cats home you’d think, but not our lot - well not often anyway!!!
There was never a dull moment in Kelsael, in the early days we had a small wooden hut they called a social club, but knock it not as it was friendly little place. Every Friday lunch time it was either a cob or ‘pie’n’pint’ before running back to the grindstone so’s not to be late back for clocking on, in fact our boss spent more than just a Friday dinner in the club, fortunately for us, as Alex was a moody devil in the morning, but the life and soul of the workplace after lunch - can’t guess why!!
Pauline Moseley, another original co-worker, at this point recalls another Kelseal classic, most of the materials made in Kelseal were for the motor industry, machines about five metres in length produced this. The men in the mixing shop produced ‘slugs’ of material between 0.5 of a metre and 1 metre in length, 10 cm's in diameter and between 3-12 Kg in weight. The ‘slugs’ were put onto pallets then left to go cold; they are then ready for extrusion. Before being brought to the machines the pallets are placed onto metal frames called stills, the height of these is to enable the operator to lift the ’slugs’ at waist height. The operator has to peel the material off the pallet (the layers are divided by release paper), then place the ‘slug’ into a hopper on top of the machine. Which now brings me back to Pauline’ story. The usual Monday morning blues, everything that can go wrong IS, customers are screaming and complaining due to having to wait for orders not received, then another machine breaks down, then adding insult to injury the machine setter goes home ill. At that particular time we had operators that did not know how to help themselves never mind wanting to, so slowly but surely, after a steady whining of “Alex, help me”s, just as Pauline and I got the end of our machine to which he was mending, Alex stood up, banged his head on the top of the machine then promptly picked up the set of stairs and threw them in our direction, Ha missed! The new health and safety rule from that day was; avoid Alex Ferguson before dinner like the plague due to fear of flying objects!!!
Talking of Fergie says Woody (Sheila Woodcock started in 1982) he was game for a laugh, the day he left Evode was proof of that. Waiting until after dinner (for obvious reasons) we presented Alex with a small keepsake to remember us by, then amidst all the tears and bids of farewell, the girls at the count of three, presented him with another surprise we’d prepared earlier - a barrage of home-made custard pies. Fergie being the generous type of guy he his had to share the pies, so amidst all the squeals of laughter the whole department became awash with paper plates and shaving foam.
Mr Alex Ferguson was going to be missed.
Talking of custard pies, brings to mind another colourful era at Evode - Steve Best started, it must have been a real culture shock for him, starting very innocently, but not for long as within a few short months wet clothing became a regular occurrence.
Revenge was also a must and so the saga continued. Plastic cups and pots were frequently balanced on doors and ledges with the culprits quietly hiding in inconspicuous places. I received for my sins full and smack in the face a custard pie and all I did was ‘whilst at dinner’ was to stitch Steve's overalls up at the wrists and ankles and filled them with tiny polystyrene balls and left them standing on their own - his face was a picture!! I’d like to bet mine was covered in cream!! Cheers Steve, the next ones on me!
Sharon Jackson, my old school mate, started in May 1982, recalls how she and I celebrated our 21st birthdays while working at Evode, her enjoyment was somewhat different to mine. I had a party outside work at Stevensons Rocket pub, Sharon, however had one or two brandies (ahem!) at the club and not having booked any holidays returned to work and promptly fell asleep in the toilets. After grovelling to management who were still not aware of her predicament ½ day holiday was granted to Sharon and Judy (who started the same day as Sharon). Judy being the only one with transport on that day was picked to do the Sharon-sitting. Trying to squeeze a legless female into a sidecar of a motorbike was a sight worth seeing.
Over the next few years many people came and went, lots of parties occurred, engagements, weddings, birthdays, Christmas do’s at the Amasol club, all with their own extremely good tales to tell, albeit with a good bit of gossip to add some spice. Of course with the parties came the frivolity, there was always someone being tied up, floured and egged, dunked in a barrel of water, rolled in snow etc. A good example was Dave Tulley, getting married in St Lucia, and what no party?! This man has got to suffer, so after a long hard struggle, it was off with the trousers (leaving the pants alone) and on with the nappy, complete with nappy pin, bib. Bonnet, booties and dummy, a bit of make-up for the rosy cheeks (not that he needed blusher) HA! That would teach him, no party indeed!
Life was good in those days and work did get done (eventually!). Being the kind of people we were we never left the management out, for example; the shy (or he was when we met him) Graham Richardson was about to reach 40, that needed a special recognition. So his fate, a very skimpily dressed Millie, fit and 50, was clad in just Basque, stockings suspenders and a smile!!
You’d have thought Graham would have more sense than to trust us lot. As in April of the same year, Erika Dawson, straight faced, walked into Basil Holloway’s office informing them of a massive order to an important customer being sent out, made of the completely wrong material. (Made believable by something on a far smaller scale happening a few months before). They came running out of the office quite prepared to order a few sackings, to the herald of “April Fool”!! They were gob-smacked into laughing.
Basil a few years later had his smile wiped off his face unceremoniously? It was that time of year again! Children in need and as with any charity event - anything goes! One uneventful Friday morning, Chief Inspector Thingy, and P.C. Wotsit arrived at Basil’s office charging him with sexually assaulting Sheila Woodcock in Stafford town the previous evening. “But I wasn’t even out last night” Bas cried “Here she is now, here’s Sheila ask her yourselves” “Yes, Constable, that’s him” said Sheila “Well, sir” said the Chief “I think you should accompany us to the station, don't you?” The officers frog marched Bas into the panda car having to endure his pleas of innocence. Eventually they released him totally ignoring the workforce’s please to permanently ‘lock him up’ £50 won his release.
Basil was not the only one arrested at Evode, Neil Griffith fell victim once. Special Officer’s Andy Sharrett and Bob Jones were two of Kelseal’s workers, armed with helmets and handcuffs made their way to Neil’s office. Having tried to arrest him for curb crawling, he went absolutely ballistic. As he hurled abuse in their direction he also pointed a finger, big mistake! No sooner had the hand come up so did the handcuffs. Got Ya! The language got stronger and for fear of reprisals, Mike Topley (works manager) pulled me through the door. As I was dressed up as Bart Simpson you’d have thought he’d have guessed Children in Need was at foot, but no. He was about to hurl more abuse when Mike took my head off (not literally though, though sometimes I’m sure he’d have liked) Neil was speechless, but £50 from his own pocket showed his gratitude, well I think it was gratitude!
Basil and Neil are two of life’s hero’s, but Neil, God bless him, was taken from us with a brain tumour. Another very much missed person. So too is Kay, who sadly at 37, befell the same fate. Kay Alexander, what a cracker! Nothing was impossible and there was good and humour to be found in any situation. One of Kay’s Children in Need favourites has to be, when we decided to target the main warehouse, as they were, because of the distance from the factory, somewhat left out. Until now!
Over we go and the first person we meet is Graham Wood (for many years the works union convenor) but now, a nice but grumpy, department manager. We couldn’t let him just stand there when there’s money to be made now could we? So we very gently persuaded him to sit in the chair! OK, so we tackled him down kicking and screaming, cursing and swearing. When he was eventually tied and gagged ( a necessity it seemed), we then made small ransom requests for his freedom - nothing! Kay then asked if anyone would pay to keep him there. Two hours and £20 later, Graham’s still there and the money’s still rolling in. At this point, Jean Embury phones and offers anyone £50 to try and turn the frog into a handsome prince (sorry folks not me as there has to be an easier way to earn money). Kay on the other hand, eager to take up the challenge, (especially when there’s money involved), sat on Graham’s knee and smothered him in sloppy kisses. He very quickly offered Kay £20 not to do something she’d whispered in his ear! It later turned out that, having his trousers sent around site on a stacker truck was more than he could bear. Good old Kay, it worked and a very profitable day was had by all!!
Evode and Children in Need, were excellent times with no ‘them and us’ situations, everyone dressed up, played up and paid up with the good spirit to which it was intended. Even the directors and Judith Walker (MD's secretary) walked around with a bucket. Dressed up in suits you’d think, but no, punk rockers no less! (Trying to regain their former youth I reckon) Many people worked hard for the cause, but didn’t think so, as it was such good fun. E.g. Ian Melville (manager) and Ann Bell (fellow team leader) dressed as Teddy boy ‘n’ girl. Carol Meacham and Melv Dodd (engineer) as Noddy and Big Ears. Bob Craib from Michelin (team leader, trainer), wore his kilt and girls paid to see what was underneath. We made a fortune and when revealed, he had on an elephant shaped Willie-warmer!! Good old Bob, complete with red face, never let the side down and kept the real secret of a true Scotsman! Between them, the Kelseal and Mastic girls have had the most fun, by dressing up at some time or another as St. Trinians, Christmas characters, the Flintstones and factory girls from the wars to name but a few. Everybody’s part has been fabulous and a lot of money has been raised over the years.
The inter department football match proved to be a great success. More so as Mike Topley, after being scared half to death by the thought of being tackled by Melvin Farmer, returned to his office, glad to be in one piece and unscathed, found to his horror, some of the girls, headed by Jan Roberts, had pinched his clothes. It was either pay up or sit in a high powered meeting in shorts, football boots and very hairy legs. Guess which one he chose?
Mike came to believe I was some sort of professional extortionist, (that he happily told a room full of people at the end of our team leader course), but without some inside information from my mate Eileen Ramsey, I wouldn’t have known so much., Eh! But as she was Mike’s secretary, I’d better say there was no industrial espionage, honest!
As soon as Mike left Kelseal, things started to change.
Tom Leadbetter joined the company and my first meeting with him was is the midst of kidnapping Ian MacAleer, (MD 1998), with Melv Dodd and Ann Bell. Mind you as he was Ann’s boss I felt I had a little less to worry about than her, after all it’s not every day your boss starts a new company and becomes part of a high profile Kidnaping? We couldn't have been that bad though, as Ann, Melv and I became team leaders soon after.
Unfortunately when the team leader (depending on who you listened to, as some people defined T.L.’s as punch bags, gofers and low paid skivvies) programme started, things around Evode became very serious. Despite some of us trying very hard not to let this happen, people seemed to forget how to smile on a regular basis, let alone laugh. Eventually and very regretfully, Children in Need became a thing of the past. I found this very sad and life in general around Evode with take-overs and serious new management etc., things were about to change for the worst. Understandably, profits became paramount, and people became numbers, But I’m sure Dr Simon would have been mortified to see his beloved empire about to be butchered. The new management of the higher level became number 1, and to hell with the workforce. Perhaps the union over the years did do a good job because now the bad workers got away with murder and the good one’s penalised. Also, teamwork starts at the feet and ends at the knees, despite what management says! So having to go along with the change, my friends and I, desperately wishing we still worked for the old Evode, and despite the ever growing number of take-over companies keeping the god name, we’ll have to except that Evode lost it’s meaning some time ago.
Well as the saying goes ‘you can take my heart but you’ll never get my soul’, with that in mind we’ll go back to the past, the good old days.
Other people’s pain is never something to laugh at, so forgive me this; a lovely person, Janett Pratt, had her finger chopped off by a machine not properly guarded. Many friends, including myself felt terrible for her. During her recovery, Alex, and Charlie Grant (charge hand) decided a visit to Jan would be good for her. So, in groups of ten we were escorted to her house. Before we even got there we were warned “under no circumstances to mention the lost finger, don’t bring it up at all, avoid the subject” they said. After a while of awkward conversation, there fell an uncomfortable silence, so to try and ease the discomfort Jan said “So how's Charlie treating you the?” Without thinking I replied “Working our fingers to the bone as usual!” Mighty Mouth has done it again.
There were many amusing but dangerous things to happen in those days, if you can possible put those two words in the same category. Such as Caroline (the poisoned dwarf, you can probably guess why she was called that without me telling you), very heavily pregnant, working on an unbearably hot machine, fetches a bowl of ice cold water and invariably while still running the machine, dunks her feet in the water! Babies with frizzy hair for Caroline!
The infamous Derek Kelly, who left to become a junior schoolteacher, had a rickety, unreliable transit van. As usual during dinnertime (an hour at the time) someone had to look at why the van was playing up. Charlie Moore was today’s mug! Off they go and with spanner in hand, Derek gets in the van (smart man, comfortable and dirt free), while poor old Charlie gets underneath. While fiddling with the starter motor or solenoid, bright spark Derek turns on the engine. BANG! (Yes, very big bang!). Off flies the top of the battery, out crawls Charlie rather ‘holly’ from his experience with battery acid, trying desperately to avoid the melting tarmac. Believe it or not, the van, with only half a battery starts, but only this time and never again. The top of half of the battery was found in various parts in the car park for weeks.
Six foot four Derek without his trusty transit had to rely on lifts! Judy comes to the rescue! Everyone waits in anticipation for Derek to squeeze himself into the little sidecar. As most of us were on overtime you can imagine the audience, with howls of laughter and Derek crunched up, smacking his chin with his knees off they set. We watched in pure admiration as one fat lady and Biggles rode off into the sunset! Not!
While talking about cars. Pauline remembers her and I running a machine, minding our own business when, on this unbelievably windy day, a Reliant Robin parked on a small incline in the road comes rolling down the road. Over it goes again and again, people bobbing away from the runaway vehicle. Then it stops in a crumpled heap. Brian Powell soon got rid of his rather damaged little piece of scrap metal. For fear of embarrassment I recall he chose a motorbike as transport (with sidecar).
And last but no means least, and before you all nod off I must tell you briefly what great characters I worked with and the laughs we had. Us factory girls are always being told how much better the office ladies act and dress and Mike Topley was no exception. After hearing this for the umpteenth time, one night shift, and knowing Mike Topley would be returning to work to check on things he found, to his humour, Erika Dawson and Jane Williams clad in their best evening dresses sipping through champagne flutes from a silver tray complete with a bottle of Moet, freshly opened!! Full of water, - oh well something had to spoil the story, Ha!
Finally I hope you’ve enjoyed my stories as much as I have reminiscing them with old acquaintances.
Evode was a very fine place to work and I’m not on my own saying a sad farewell to everything she stood for. I am, however, happy to be saying goodbye to Bostik Findley who are trying very hard to break the workforce’s soul. Well they’re not having mine!
So with my requested redundancy cheque in hand I say after 19 ½ years so long and farewell.
Good luck to all who remain - They’ll need it.
31 August 2001.