Blowing The Gaff: A Matter Of Time And Place (23 March 1973)
In a northern county borough stands a building whose dome and clock and general solid Victorian magnificence are secondly only to that of the town hall itself.
They are the central premises of the town’s pioneer co-operative society.
High up on either side of the main door, two medallion-type heads of men are carved in stone. One of them commemorates the society’s first president and the other another founder.
As I walk by, which is usually once a year, I amuse myself by tipping my hat to them. You see, I have always understood the first president to have been one of my great-grandfathers and as far as I know he is the only one of the tribe of Hepworth, or the associated tribes of Cave (his name), Sykes (my second name) and Dove to have had a statue put up to him.
HOPING TO BE ABSOLVED
Unfortunately, I don’t know which of the heads is which, so I do the hat-tipping midway between and hope to be absolved.
In my boyhood, the village branch of the co-op supplied our groceries. When I grew big enough one of my weekly jobs was to fetch a stone-and-a-half of flour which was scooped from a bin and placed in a clean table-cloth for me to knot and carry home.
“And don’t forget the check!” Ah, those divi checks. They were even more important than the penny bank. My parents spiked them all most carefully and come divi-day they knew to a halfpenny how much they were entitled to receive. And who wouldn’t with the divi running at from two shillings to half-a-crown or more in the pound?
The tiddly stamps issued in so many quarters of the retail trade today are as nothing compared with those checks.
The meetings of all the co-operative societies I came in contact with then and later were wide open to the press. They were cross if you were not there. I have reported many rowdy meetings in their packed halls, with no verbal punches pulled, either on the platform or below.
Usually they were stories of triumph, but very occasionally they were stories of impending bankruptcy unless the society could be absorbed in some sounder society near by.
So when I came to Bletchley I automatically joined the co-op with the object of some of our shopping being done there. I was also impressed by the size of the society compared with that of the town itself.
At that time of austerity and scarcity there had been some kind of hitch in the bread supply. The president, Mr. Jack Goodwin, made some pretty forthright comments and explanations which I duly took down and reported.
WAGGING AND SHAKING
It made a cracking story for those times.
But on Monday mornings I had to call at the co-op to see various people for various purposes. And on the Monday following publication of the bread story who should be there to meet me but Mr. Goodwin and the chief officer, Mr. Clifford Flack. They met me with their usual quiet smiles but also with wagging fingers and sadly shaking heads.
The gist of it was that as a member I was very welcome to attend the meetings, but not as a reporter. They did not question the accuracy of the report – but it was simply that the meetings were not open to the press.
Which shows how innocently you can be where you ought not to be and just as innocently blow the gaff and all because customs and relations are different in different parts of the land and also at different periods.
CLUBS WERE ALL ALIKE
The clubs may be another instance of this. As a youth I was clubbed off with all the annual meetings at which we were expected. Working men’s clubs, trades and friendly clubs, ex-servicemen’s clubs and political clubs were all alike in this. They did not mind anybody knowing how much beer went down members’ throats, nor how much in total it cost.
It was a case of “Come in lad and help thissen and here’s t’balance sheet and watch out for t’secretary’s resignation.”
But not in Bletchley. And may not be in the north now either, for aught I know, though I should think that up there you could still get it round the corner, so to speak, and thus again blow the gaff, though not so innocently.