Bedminster Down – Laying the New Foundations

And so the demolition of the former Bristol Water Depot on Bishopsworth Road has been completed, and one assumes at some point in the very near future the work to lay the foundations of the new houses will commence.

As I stand here viewing the City of Bristol form the “Down”, my eyes are naturally drawn to the view of Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge, but it’s the area nearer to the place that I am standing which interests me more. Behind me is the former Zion Chapel.  The first “Zion Primitive Methodist Chapel”, as it was then called, and was the dream of Joseph Jenkins. When it opened for its first service on Sunday October 25th 1863, with twelve pews and seating for 150 it served amongst its parishioners the local mining community. Mining provided that vital employment to the working class families that soon began to populate the area, an area that was previously barren and occupied by thieves, robbers and vagabonds.  Standing on the green opposite the Cross Hands Pub and looking down on to Ashton Vale the former mining area is still clearly visible. Turning my head slightly to the right is the new Ashton Gate Stadium. The City have been there since 1904, and of course football was the game of the working class, and yes, whilst accepting that there is no place in a modern society for a “class system”, it cannot be ignored that the very roots of our modern post 20th century world have been built on the pain of the class system, a class system that was designed to keep the “working class” in their place. Every Saturday in the football season thousands of working men would make their way to Ashton Gate or Eastville Stadium to watch City or Rovers. Many would just alternate between the venues just to watch “footy”, devoid of any primeval feelings of hatred or loathing to any of the teams. They went to watch a game played by “working class” sportsman, many of which took other paid employment when the season was over.

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Photo  provided by Alana “Curly” Lewis

On working on a project recently at the local school to catalogue their historical records I became very much aware of the struggles that challenged the lives of many of the residents of Bedminster Down post World War 1. The School in Cheddar Grove opened in 1927 in a Temporary Building, and moved into its present building two years later, the Junior School came some five years later in 1932. It served the children living in the recently built Council Houses that were now part of the growing Bedminster Down Estate. It had 80 pupils or “scholars” as they were called, and the Head Teacher was a DE Salter.

The School and the Chapel provided a base for much of what went on during that post war period, and continued until society, and communities begun to change, or perhaps I should say “evolve”.

The challenges for children growing up in the period between the two wars were great, and yet there was obviously a great sense of nationalism that existed at that time. Every opportunity was taken to celebrate a Royal Birth, or “The Empire”. Empire Day was celebrated every year, the “Great” in Great Britain signifying our status in apparent world domination at that time. However the wheels on the “Great” bit were slowly coming off and it wouldn’t be long before the “days of the Empire” would be gradually destined only for the history books.

As many households return to putting their central heating back on to cope with sudden drop in temperature over the Bank Holiday weekend, our children of the era I refer to had no such luxury. Schools closed when they run out of coal for the boilers. In a period prior to the formation of the National Health Service, epidemics of influenza, chicken-pox or measles were commonplace, and tragically – so was infant death. On the 5th January 1931, the School opened after the Christmas Holidays with over 100 children absent due to a measles epidemic.

On Monday August 12th 1940, the Air Raid Warning sirens sounded for the first time in anger across Bedminster Down. Having been given an instruction from the Education Authorities that Schools should remain open during the summer holidays, the children at both schools in Cheddar Grove ran for cover. I cannot for one minute image the fear that went through those children’s minds at that time. All pupils had already been given instruction in the use of a gas-mask, and now they were running from “bombs”. On the basis that there was not enough room at the shelters for all the children at the school, a rota system was introduced to reduce the daily attendance at school to the maximum number the shelters could accommodate, effectively giving every child one day off from school every week. Just twelve days later on Saturday August 24th four incendiary bombs hit the school grounds.

On September 11th 1941, as the estate tried to cope with so many of its men folk either in the Armed Forces or on other War Work, a Club for Lads was started at the Junior School. Bedminster Down had always found a way of looking after its own, and it is also worth mentioning that in September 1951, with over 550 pupils at the Junior School alone the Lower Church Hall at St Oswald’s, and the Cooperative Building on Bishopsworth Road were used as classrooms.

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Photo provided by Christine Parmenter

I am always mindful when writing of not to be caught in the very dangerous mind set of always looking, referring or talking about the “past”. I do believe however that it is important to ensure that the human stories related to our history are recorded for prosperity. And of course, with so many new people moving into this wonderful area there does seem to be a renewed interest in local history. The number of “locals” who lived through that period between the late 1920’s and 1940’s is reducing, and there memories will soon be lost for ever.

For me as I walk “The Crescent” (Ilchester Crescent) on this brisk Spring morning in May I can’t help but remember many of the families that lived here when I was a mere boy walking the streets. As a cub I used to walk around here on “Bob A Job Week”, looking for the tale-tale sticker in the window that somebody had already visited the house. If there was no sticker there was an opportunity to “knock” the door. An errand to the local shop, cut the grass, sweep the steps, washing the car was not much of an option as there weren’t that many– anything to get that “bob” for Cub Funds.

Zion is empty this morning, so I have consumed my bacon sandwich on my own, with just Tanya to listen to the sound of my laptop keyboard tapping away as I do a duet with Bruno Mars (I think I’m going to marry you).

Building  foundations for the future – sometimes we have to rip the existing one’s up and start again. Whilst on other occasions we just need to build on the solid basis that has already been put down by others.

 

Published by: The Retired Utility Worker at Zion Community Space.

 

The End of another Bedminster Down landmark

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And so, several years after the last of the staff left they have began demolishing the former Bristol Water Depot on Bishopsworth Road. I stood and watched for several minutes as bit by bit the walls came down. And then there was a pause, and I hear noises – ghosts from the past perhaps?

“The wheels of the tea trolley rumbled over the concrete floor, the doors at the end were open and the wind whistled through”.

“You lot want tea”, said Daisy.

“Of course we do, and where is the bloody biscuits? Big John Peters had big hands, a deep voice and a heart to match.

“There aren’t no biscuits John, they are cutting back” replied Beat, as she poured good old “builders tea” from a very large tea pot.

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The Depot was a hive of activity from morning until night. Men in long gabardine mackintoshes, adorning peaked hats collected their meter reading books before jumping in their two-tone Morris Minor vans and heading out for a day’s toil. The day for many was a simple routine, stopping at Press Newsagents opposite on the way in to work and pick up their fags and a morning paper. At the end of the day the reverse – collect a copy of the “Post”, and top up with 20 Embassy, or No 6 – not many “roll you own” bods – too much hassle when your knee deep in water. Around 150 staff making the Depot their first point of call in the morning. You didn’t take your vehicles home in those days. If you couldn’t park your car in the Depot then Ilchester Road was a good spot.

In the winter when it snowed we would sit on the wall and watch the cars and Lorries attempt to negotiate the hill up from Bedminster. Press Newsagent had left their corrugated cabin and taken over the Wool Shop next door, the cabin was now occupied by a taxi-company. Moylan’s, Ted Coombes (The Barber), Sticklers, the Post Office, Amburys Chemist and Long’s Wet Fish Shop all adjacent to Press’s. Further up the road was two Grocers Clarkes Gro and further up Bryant’s (where Cardill Close now is). Of course on the opposite side of the road was Dyer’s Fruit & Veg, and Zion Methodist Church, where I sit this lunchtime, once again contemplating the past history of my beloved “Bemmy Down”. Over the years they have all gone – its progress they say!

The covered yard of the Depot became a bit like a street market on some days , as certain employees wandered up and down selling a multitude of “questionable goods” – including towels, tea-shirts, dodgy cigarette lights and of course cigarettes themselves. On Thursdays at 4pm we would line up and collect our weekly pay packets. Small brown envelopes with little holes in the front and with the corner cut off that allowed you to count your notes and any loose change before opening.  On Friday morning’s John Williams would do his rounds collecting money for the Christmas club, something many of us relied upon.

Over the years the people and the roles changed. We moved to monthly pay, and vending machines replaced the canteen. I like others have many great memories that are embedded in the fabric of the Building that once stood opposite the Cross Hands PH. It has stood on the corner of Bishopsworth Road for as long as I can remember. I passed it every day on my walk to school from our family home that sat at the back of it.

When the Depot closed a few years ago people lost their jobs, not many I know – but it doesn’t matter how many does it, they all had families and mortgages. People are important, its people that make the communities that we all live in. It’s those communities that give us a sense of prospective on what is going on all around us.

A hundred and fifty years ago Bedminster Down was a pub, and there was nothing much else between the Cross Hands and Bishopsworth Village. Miners from South Wales made their way to the area to work in the pits in Ashton Vale, and slowly the community of Bedminster Down grew. As the community grew so the need for “facilities” grew with it. Small independent shops, supplemented by your local delivery service from the butcher, grocer and veg man were at the heart of the community. And then of course the big conglomerates arrived sucking the blood out of those who had for years sustained a moderate living by supplying all our needs. The local shops disappeared, our great national mobilisation plan replaced bicycles with cars, and our communities started unwinding as we all found the world outside of it more interesting. We lumped our kids in the cars and took them out of the community for such things as schools, sport clubs, and of course holidays. The need for providing young people with activities locally was waning and with it when attendance at Youth Groups. Youngsters decided that hanging about on street –corners, and now –sat in front of a games consul was far more interesting.

So where does that leave us? Well I see many of those that voted with the feet as youngsters many years ago now complaining as parents, that there is nothing to do locally. That they are plagued with vandalism and theft, and of course that nobody is listening to their issues.

Of course, some of what is being said is correct, especially the bit about “nobody is listening”. As a society we have lost the art of listening and understanding, from Governments to Local Communities and especially Parents.

As I write this from one of the last bastions of local facilities on Bedminster Down the Memory Club are having lunch. The “Writers Club” will start in an hour and yesterday it was the Music Group. Along the road the Blenheim Scouts still operate and The Grove is still doing its best to survive continued financial hardship to provide a safe place for young people on a few evenings a week.

What will our communities look like in the future? Well perhaps the answer to that has to surely ley within the Communities themselves!

The Retired Utlity Worker at Zion Community Space.

 

 

 

More Ramblings of a Retired Utility Worker

And so, some ten months after retirement I have completed fully the first DRAFT of my memoir. Why did I start out on this journey – well, I needed to ensure that when I retired I had a number of things I could focus on. And as good as it is to wander aimlessly along the cliff paths of the East Devon-Dorset coastline from our retreat on the outskirts of Lyme Regis, one also needs something to do when its “pissing down with rain”! So I write:

I have found writing, sort of “therapeutic” and have also got myself embroidered in a Local History Project. The history project focuses on the area of Bedminster Down in Bristol, and those who come from that area are often referred to as “bemmydowners”. And yes I am a true “bemmydowner” – born and bred in captivity you might say.

Currently I am focussing on the specific history of Cheddar Grove School – and the thing that links this all nicely together is the Zion Community Space, where I tend to do all my writing.

Bristol Water Head Office sits in Bridgewater Road, on Bedminster Down. A road often ridden by Highwayman in the 17-18th Century – “Stand and Deliver” and all that – or was that Adam Ant? Cheddar Grove Primary School is located in – yes, well thought out – Cheddar Grove, which is in Bedminster Down. It opened in a temporary building on October 10th 1927, with 80 registered pupils and a Miss DE Salter as its Head. It has been serving the area of Bedminster Down, and surrounding areas ever since. And finally Zion Community space used to be Zion Chapel, opened in 1863 to serve the local miners and their families. Now a Community Space that provides a host of other services to the community.

Of course the debate about what “Bemmy” Down consists of continues to capture the attention of many when being debated under the influence of alcohol. When WJ Kew built the houses that exist at the back of Bristol Water he called it  “Uplands”, and by doing so put a clear dividing line between his private housing development and its nearby Council House tenanted neighbours. Uplands parents would be aghast if it was thought their children lived on “the Down” – there had to be a distinction between the two areas. The children – well they didn’t give a toss. It made no difference to us – because it was unimportant. Maps are drawn that include Uplands in the area of Bedminster Down but the name “Uplands” survives – by way of Estate Agents, using every mechanism possible to enhance the environment the property stands in. But it is not the property that defines the area it is located in – it’s the people that do that – the community.

And the community of Bedminster Down has once again shown its true colours with its recent tribute to John & Shirley Quantick, who died within four days of one another just a couple of weeks ago. They lived and raised their family on Bedminster Down. Like many other lifetime “bemmeydowners” they were popular, loved and respected.

As communities change it is worth us all remembering the values that made those communities what they are. And perhaps, somehow, in spite of all the challenges – we can keep that spirit going.

Why Your Opinion Matters.

A number of chance conversations over the last week or so have led me to pen this latest blog – and it’s about a couple of things that are really important to me – empowerment and communication.

I’d like to start off by recalling an incident that happened many years ago at a Bedminster Down Boys’ Club Parliament. For those who are unaware of this club it was a South Bristol Youth Organisation where the members, aged between 11- 19 yrs of age, were empowered with the all the decision making, from the gym rota to the cost of subs, even the cleaners wages. Nearly a twelve month prior to his particular meeting the Club had appointed an Assistant Youth Worker; unfortunately he was “released” prior to his probation period being completed. At this Parliament the Leader announced this decision and the reasons why. The members were outraged, and made their feelings very well known. Not because they any sense of loyalty to the individual – I think they all thought he was a good bloke but a bit out of his depth, but because discussions had taken place and decisions made without any reference to the membership. At no time did any of the Clubs Leadership discuss any concerns/issues they had, even worse – the membership had not been involved in the original appointment. As a management team we learned a lot that evening – not only about the lack of visibility there had been over the whole process but our failure to communicate to the very people who been impacted by the decisions that had been made.

I now fast forward many years to the present day – with the continued failure of those in positions of authority, whether at a Political or Business level, not only to communicate, but to maintain any relationship with those who they are there to represent, as in Government. Or those who are burden with the results of often poor or crass decision making, as in Business.

All Businesses are different, but many of them rely on one particular thing to ultimately survive – and that’s teamwork, whether it is at a Board Room or an operational level. They also survive by having solid communication processes in place at all levels, and I am not just talking about formal communication processes here, I am talking about the basic communications skills that allow one person to talk to another, regardless of their differing perceived level of status within that organisation.

During my time in management I endeavoured to practice what I preached. And that was that “people are important”, and having an “effective relationship as Senior Manager with all staff in your area of concern was essential to deliver business requirements.” I might also add that I didn’t always get in right.

When Governments lose sight of what the issues are for the electorate then they cannot govern in the best interests of that electorate. Whilst I try to avoid “political discussions” of any kind I was party to a three way discussion at Zion recently, with two other people – one of which was Labour Party Activist. What was interesting was that we shared many of the same values, such as the care of the most vulnerable in our Society, and a wage that working people can survive on. I firmly believe that open and honest conversations can often overcome political, religious or cultural differences. Being open to the concept of accepting that “somebody’s opinion maybe different to yours” is an important value in any civilised society. Attaining a level of “management” in any organisation is not a prerequisite to being “right”. In fact the most successful managers are those that are open to others opinions, they don’t take criticism as a personal attack and are open to the concept of being challenged around the decisions they have made.

As we limp towards BREXIT it is worth us all remembering that, regardless of which side of the fence you sit, or even if you’re precariously stood on top of that fence, the only opinion that really matters is your own. In a free civilised society where everyone has been given the same right to choose, nobody has the right to condemn another because his opinions are different to their own.

Regrettably, at a time when we all need to work together Politicians are becoming more and more detached from the people they are there to represent, and in Business the gap between Board Rooms, Senior Managers and the workforce is getting bigger. If you’re in a position of authority in Business and you don’t think your direct reports are being open and honest with you then you should take a dam good look at yourself – because you’re the one with the problem, and it is probably one of your own making. If somebody is telling you that you are too close to your staff then in most cases that person has probably never managed people and knows little about how to get the best from the workforce.

It is my opinion that BREXIT occurred because Politicians didn’t really understand the issues that people had – and the subsequent chaos is a direct result of that. But in Business, it is often not until you have a crisis when you need the support of your staff that the realism of your failings will materialise – and of course that could be at any time, and it will be too late to do anything about it – just like BREXIT>

Bedminster Downs’ Very Dodgy History!

img259Those avid users of social networks living in South Bristol couldn’t have missed the regular updates of the recent night time antics going on in Bedminster Down. The previous few months have seen a constant flow of thefts or attempted thefts that seem to be plaguing those living in this popular area. Of course Bedminster Down is not unique in its sufferance, but social media has the ability to give instant information to those who wouldn’t in previous years, pre social-media, have been any the wiser.

Growing up on this estate in 1960’s I would say that life was a little more “gentile” then, in fact we didn’t even lock the front doors, such was the trust amongst neighbours. And of course the transportation system wasn’t as it is now – so people pretty much stayed in their own communities. They went to school there, they shopped there and they even went to Church there. Not so many cars,  – very few in fact. The red telephone box on the corner of the green was our means to contact those living outside the area, or of course you could “write a letter”. So when the Council Rent Man was robbed in Ilchester Crescent one day the locals were aghast. (for those much younger than myself the Council sent the rent man around weekly to collect the rent from all those living in Council Houses).

As a member of the Zion History Group we have been delving into the past to find out what we can about Bedminster Down and its history. With the advances that have been made in technology it’s much easier now to  do your “research on-line”, and make use of what others have done before you. However, not everything that has been written is available on the “internet” – and there still a lot of reliance on individuals personal memories,  collections of photographs or other documents that we can all benefit from. To make this point whilst we were accessing the records of Bedminster Down Boys’ Club we came across copies of a number of articles written by one of their members for a monthly newspaper produced by the Churches of the area called “Contact”. The articles, under the header “History of Bedminster Down”, was written by RJ Lewington, or Bob as everyone at the Club then new him. Bob was an older member when the Club opened in its new building in Winford Grove and quickly became involved in producing the Clubs own magazine called “The Key”, as well as penning the articles for Contact. Bob was quite deaf, and was in the habit of pronouncing his words very slowly with profound mouth movements, which made him a prime target for the good natured micky-taking that used to go on. Bob’s faith was very important to him, but this didn’t stop him taking part in the Clubs Annual Christmas Show (called Show Down) for all the local pensioners, dressing up, and making a fool of himself for the enjoyment of others.

Bob did a lot of research for the articles he wrote, and they reveal a very “dark side” to the area. Below are some paragraphs extracted from the articles Bob wrote for Bedminster Down’s Contact Magazine between 1965-66.

 

 

“In time immemorial, the area of Bedminster Down was a barren, rough marshy land, almost uninhabitable. Not until the development of the mines at South Liberty Lane and District, did any person settle down in humble dwellings. At night no-one would venture to travel outside, due to the popular belief that the stretch of road known as Bridgewater Road, was a notorious district where vagabonds roamed the countryside. In consequence the Merchants and rich people also feared this last part of their journey to Bristol where they were frequently robbed and left penniless. It is with no-doubt that the “Cross Hands”, a once coaching inn was filled to the capacity until the morning light”.

“Toward the end of Bridgewater Road on the now common-land, are three large tree plantations, jutting out on the hillside. Old people yet affirm that these were the plague pits where countless numbers of people who had died during the Black Death of 1348-49 lie. A plague known as Bubonic Plague caused by fleas on rats, swept the country like wild fire”.

“Near to the site now known as the Corporation Estate the Public gallows were erected. On September 14th, 1740, a soldier named Millard, accused of highway robbery with violence, was hanged. . According to Latimer, Millard with his companion murdered a servant of Mr Thomas Knight of Southmead, named Westbury. He was found nearly dead on the Downs, with twenty cuts on his skull, and his pockets rifled. His horse was later found at the foot of the Downs Hanging Post. Within two weeks the two murderers were charged with the crime by a comrade called York, who confessed that he had been a companion in the perpetration of the two atrocious robberies at Brislington and Bedminster. One was a burglary in Wine Street, the other that of stealing twenty-one sheep at various times in the southern suburbs. York was thereupon arrested and the three men were sentenced to death, and afterwards hanged, together with a fourth culprit convicted of a robbery in Brislington. Miller and York spent the night prior to their execution in “Bedminster Bridewell”, a prison maintained by the County of Somerset. The former was hung in chains on Bedminster Down, and the latter on Brislington Common, in the presence of thousands of spectators”.

“A few days later Millard’s father-in-law, a cobbler in Thomas Street, strongly concerned about being connected with the above crimes, was executed in Bristol for a shop robbery”.

“No information has been given as to where the hangings were exhibited, but as far as accounts go, a handful of people have been hanged, including two men Thomas Perryman and John Roach, on April 19th 1750, who was hanged for aiding and assisting in pulling down Mr Durbin’s house during the recent Toll House riots throughout the city. Another-Thomas Cox was also tried for the same offence but was acquitted for being a lunatic!”

“Also on Bedminster Down, on Saturday morning 6th September in the year 1783, a seventeen year old youth, by the name of George Gane, was hanged for stealing a quantity of linen from the Bleachng Yard of John Gomer at Ashton. Richard Blake, an accomplice, who was charged with him for the same offence was reprieved.”

“Most of the events which happened on Bedminster Down and in that locality up to the year 1800 were robberies and villainous attacks. As already has been explained this was amongst the commonest crimes found on barren, marshy lands where vagabonds and other notorious characters lay in wait to pounce on their victims with a shout of “Stand and Deliver”, to the astonished traveller who might well be a rich merchant or a person who did not fully appreciate the consequences of travelling alone at night instead of waiting until the crack of dawn before setting out on their journey.”

RJ Lewington

 

The mining industry on the 19th Century provided vital work to the area, and saw the development of groups of miners cottages, some still exist. Towards the latter part of that century we saw the building of the first Primitive Methodist Church (as it was then called) on Bedminster Down.

Zion will be opening its Bedminster Down Museum on Sunday December 2nd at 2pm, whilst still in its infancy it is hoped that we will be to continually add to it over the coming months

However, if you want to learn more, or know more about the history of Bedminster Down, then seek out the History Group at Zion Bristol. (They also do a dam good sausage sandwich)

 

Further information on the Zion History Group is available through:

Zion:                     info@zionbristol.co.uk

Emma:                 EM07Moore@outlook.com

Six Months on – Scotland and a tick off the bucket list

The end of September realised another landmark – six months since I retired from full-time employment. I have had numerous conversations with friends over this “whole retirement” thing, and how easy, or not, it is to adjust to life outside of “full-time work”. Retirement would no doubt be difficult without the financial resources or indeed health to enjoy it. Of course you would assume that most people thinking of retiring “do the maths” as part of that process, and unless you have access to significant other financial means I think everyone accepts that retirement means surviving on less money. Is that actually a problem? Well, there is no doubt that everyone has to live within their financial means regardless of whether they are working or not – and retirement doesn’t change that. What it does mean through is that if you do “overspend”, you are less able to replenish those “gold stocks” through working. So the “note to self” is don’t overspend!

The other great lesson I have learned in life is that “financial standing” has very little impact on the state of your health. As much as we all no doubt endeavour to live “healthy” lives, sometimes the cards are simply just stacked against us. Luckily I have been in relatively good health all my life, and two replacement knees have done wonders for my mobility. So retirement was going to provide me with new opportunities to do the things we have planned to do together, travel, walking and for me, writing. And that is exactly what the first six months has been about. Yes, there have been some hiccups along the way – but, it looks like we are back on track. I started having issues with both hands in June that stopped me writing – the diagnosis was suspected carpal tunnel. Then in August the problem spread to my arms, legs and shoulders. Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR). Wikipedia states that it is thought to be brought on by a viral or bacterial illness or trauma of some kind, but genetics does play a factor as well. With the diagnosis now confirmed I have my very own “dispensary in a plastic container”, and look forward to popping pills for the next twelve months or so. I can now again put my own socks on, tie my own shoe laces, and dress myself without assistance. And just as important, as the autumn weather prevents me walking the coast of Devon – I can return to my other passion of writing, albeit with a permanent tingling sensation in both hands.

So on to the “bucket list”. Yes I have one, but most of its not written down. Scotland has always been one of those places I wanted to visit. We have been to Edinburgh to see the Tattoo, but nowhere else. Whilst I am not usually allowed to plan holidays by the boss (after taking her to Laganas, (Zante) for a week where we witnessed at first hand the antics of the 18-30 brigade. A cross between watching a live sex-show, whilst being locked in your worst pub filled with a binge-drinking mob.), she does allow me to plan UK or trips to France that involve driving. Of course, I have to run the itinerary past her first, and then pray to god that the reviews I have based my decisions on turn out to be correct when we get there.

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Loch Lomond

Our journey through Scotland centred on the Highlands. I used the well-established tourist locations as a guide.

Gretna Green – it was a convenient overnight stop between Nantwich and our first real stop at Balmaha, on the banks of Loch Lomond. I’m glad we stopped at Gretna, but just say “once is enough”. You can only put so many gift shops in one location and Gretna Green has gone one better. Yes, the history of how it became the place to elope to following the 1754 Marriage Act, and the role of the Blacksmiths shop are interesting, and the museum is worth a visit, but you won’t be in there that long!

Our journey took us up the Western side of Scotland through the Highlands. We stopped over at Loch Lomond, Glencoe and Loch Ness, before travelling further north to Inverness, Culloden and Aviemore before travelling south to Stirling.

The sheer beauty of the scenery is impossible to put in to words; it has to be seen by the naked eye. Our trip was not accompanied with ideal weather, and very much like our trip to the Lake District many years ago, the whole two weeks was spent almost entirely in the presence of rain, drizzle, or dark clouds. However, as I was reminded by a member of a Scottish group rambling in the Nevis Range “you woodnt git the viw if yu dinna ave the weather!” We “rambled” in the Nevis Range with the wind and rain coming at us horizontally. We got to the viewing point on Aonach Mor (at 2000ft) despite the wind doing its best to remove us from the mountain ( or the “munro”as it is called), and we stared at the majestic beauty of Loch Lomond.

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The view from Aonach Mor

We learned much about the history of Scotland, and the Scottish people. We were welcomed wherever we went; the people were friendly and hospitable. In trying to understand more we visited the memorial to the Glencoe Massacre and the site of the Battle of Culloden, and whilst not being a fan of the nationalistic cause and an independent Scotland, perhaps the trip has given me a greater insight to the history of this wonderful part of the UK, and why that call exists.

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April 16th 1746. The final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745. Between 1500-200 Jacobite supports died, and the battle was over in an hour

Our journey covered just under 1500 miles, stopping at Nantwich on the way up and Keswick in the Lake District on our return. In our effort to pursue the perfect holiday we often seek far-away destinations and of course the “sun”. In retirement we have the time to plan, we don’t need to fit our immediate requirements into a two week period at the behest of our employers. Whist we have only covered a miniscule part of what Scotland has to offer on this occasion the elements we have done have given us an understanding of its history and a vision of its beauty.

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Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness

 

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                                      Inchcailloch Island, in Loch Lomond and white deer (look closely)

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Glencoe

So what next? Well the plan we put in place for that period immediately following my retirement have pretty much gone as planned – time spent away at the caravan, and an extended trip to China, supplemented of course with plenty of time with the grandchildren.  A bit of a hiccup as my writing plans were de-railed for three months, but plenty of time over the Autumn/Winter period to catch up.  And what of former work colleagues – do I see them? Well again my initial thoughts, or expectations as to what would pan out have been fairly accurate. I have been well chuffed with the efforts of a handful to keep in touch, and to meet up occasionally.  Providing a “mentoring” role to some of these, without having the direct attachment to the business has distinct benefits. And  from a selfish prospective, the fact that they have confidence in my ability to provide that is very satisfying.

So, as they often say in Game of Thrones – “Winter is Coming”, and whilst I don’t have any particular fears of an impending attack from the Night King and his army of White Walkers, it will no doubt have its challenges. Our time at the caravan reduces, the weather changes and I will not be concerning myself with the “total volume of outstanding leaks” or dealing with “a rise in burst mains as temperatures plummet for three months.”  A trip to Vienna in December and two weeks in the Caribbean in February are to be looked forward to  – some reading and of course the progression of my personal memoirs.

The Retired Utility Worker.

October 2018

Zion – The Return

I parked up down the road from the Chapel – opposite where the Co-op Butcher used to be – the floor of which was somehow always covered in sawdust! The date had been in my diary for some weeks – a possible new “Historical Society for Bedminster Down”, or something similar along those lines. The last time I was in Zion was when the 266th Zion Scout Troop disbanded and the troops colours (their Flag) was handed back to the Church in a ceremony at the Chapel. It was a sombre occasion – the end of another uniformed organisation that had served its community for many years. Zion Chapel ceased being a place for religious worship in August 2008 and is now a Community Art Space & Café. I was about to find out what that actually meant.

It would have been in 1961 that I became a Cub. Whilst I can’t remember the occasion now I would have certainly been full of excitement at that prospect. The uniformed organisations would have been the only providers of activities for young people outside of school. Cubs met on a Wednesday 6.30-8pm I think. The 266th neckerchief was a complicated affair as it was in two parts, where most others were in one. I would have had to learn my Cub “promise”, before I could have been fully enrolled.

I crossed the road and waked towards Zion. Past the spot where Mr Searle and then Mr Smith who both owned the Hardware Shop and sold pink paraffin from a wooden garage. Then past the building that was Colin Jones’s shop. April 10th 1973, the date of the Swiss Air Disaster – Colin, his wife Shirley and his youngest son Andrew lost their lives in that tragic disaster that impacted many people in this area. Their funeral was the first I ever attended and took place at Zion. Then I passed the houses immediately adjacent to the Chapel – the first one was occupied by Toby Allen. He kept horses at the bottom of cockleshell lane (one of the lanes that join that back of Ilchester Crescent and Hartcliffe Way, and called so due to the volume of shells that made up the path at the bottom.) Toby’s horses were stabled at the bottom of the lane on the right hand side– and his daughter Barbara used to let us sit on them occasionally.

Entering the Chapel was exactly as I recalled it. A bit of a shiver as I remember that this was the place where I married my first wife – it didn’t last long! I turned right and then looked left through the small double doors that took you into the main hall of the Chapel. I could see the welcoming face of Robin Pine – we went to school together. The pews have all gone and have been replaced with small tables and chairs. Looking up to a spot above the altar to an area that used to be the choir stalls and house the church organ I see that it is blocked off. However, the balcony that was the upper seating area for the Chapel is still there.

I left School in June 1969 – nearly 49 years ago. That would have been the last time that Robin and I had any sort of conversation. We are both here at Zion due to our shared interest in the history of this South Bristol community. Robin’s grandparents owned a shop (Scagell’s) at the end of Lewis Road, next to what used to be Robbins Bakery. They have both since been replaced- first by Bristol Thermal Insulation Company and now the Doctors Surgery. When I lived on Bishopsworth Road our house backed onto these properties. No 143 – bought for a snip at £8400 in around 1978!

It’s odd what bits of useless information you remember at times isn’t it! Robin lived in Highridge when I first met him in 1964 at Bedminster Down School – No5 Costiland Drive. Why do I remember that – it’s a completely useless bit of information, especially when he moved into Eastlyn Road, on Bedminster Down a couple of years later, but it’s just stuck in my mind for some strange reason. So we sat and chatted – as if it was yesterday that we had both left school and were making arrangements for a “kick about” later with our mates. We were the generation of kids that existed before the world became over influenced by years of technology advances. A generation that went to school together, we played at break times in the playground together. We played competitive sports for the school together- we very much only had each other. We were all mates in a time when friendship was important – we had values. Whether we all knew it at that time is debateable I suppose, perhaps I should ask them all? I question today’s society where “friendships” are based largely around social media values – which let’s face it – are pretty much non-existent.

“You must be Andy?” the lady said – “I’m Jess”. And so the introduction to the owner of the building I was currently standing in was complete. People were sat in groups chatting. A group to my right were from Bishopsworh British Legion Ladies Group, and the one to my left were all former worshipers here at Zion, when it was a Chapel. To the right of where the altar was a counter that served food and drink – and cakes! There was a number of other individuals sat chatting.

Zion has always been a welcoming place and remains very much so. I chatted to some of the former parishioners. A lady called Jenny Coombes; her dad had been a Sunday School Teacher at Zion and thinks my brother Chris was in his Sunday school class. Yes, I have checked and my brother remembers him clearly. Another lady used to work at MAC (UBM) in Winterstoke Road with my sister – “My mum worked there”, pipes up Robin – another connection. Another lady from the legion said “you worked with my son”, and it turns out yes I did.

Stories were exchanged. The most bizarre being the one about having to remove some of the pews at the front as they couldn’t get the coffins in for funerals. I went for a walk, taking in the whole building and grounds. There is a community garden at the back and a safe place for young children to play. Jess and I natter again – I talk about my background, my “life on, and in “the Down”. She talks about her plans, her hopes and aspirations for the future of Zion.

Bedminster Down has always had a “community” feel about it. The schools, the two churches and their associated uniformed groups, local shops and of course the Boys’ Club. As society has changed over the last thirty years we have lost many of the focal points that existed in local communities. Some have been lost forever, whilst others struggle to survive in an ever changing world. However, some things don’t change – and they evolve around the needs of the people that live in those communities. We demand that our younger generation “get more exercise” but fail to provide any facilities within walking distance of their homes. We recognise that many of our senior citizens want to remain in their own homes – but fail to provide local facilities that they can get to.

I grew up in a time when front doors were actually left unlocked. When communities looked after each other – I was “delivered” into the world by our next door neighbour, May Blake. I was given her husband’s name Frederick, as my middle name. Communities looked after each other and supported one another. From the comments I have received and from my visit to Zion I see and feel something I haven’t felt for a long time – a sense of purpose within a community. Yes, perhaps it’s still in the embryonic stage – but the need has been recognised and the seed has been sown.

The community of Bedminster Down has a great opportunity, and it exists at Zion.

Customer Services – A dedication to those at the “front end”

The phone rings, rings and rings again. There’s a pause and the feeling of anticipation grows throughout your whole body – and then the sound of Bach’s “Orchestral 3rd Suite in D” reverberates through your ear and rebounds off the inside of your brain. Your head is currently empty of all thoughts other than the immediate issue you have  – “your internet is not working”,  “you have received an over-estimated gas bill of £10000” or the fact that your cold water tap only produces the sounds of a “babies fart” and not the customary clear “nectar of life” that it is supposed to deliver. Your temperature rises, your hands sweat and your heart pounds – “for “fucks sake” you shout down the phone – are you really expecting Beethoven to cease conducting his amassed musicians to answer your enquiry – I think not!

How many times of have our hopes and aspirations for a quality customer service been doomed from the outset–from the point that we actually attempted to raise our query.

“We are here 24hrs a-day to answer your call” – that’s if you can actually get someone to “answer your call”.

“I’m sorry we are experiencing an unprecedented high volume of calls currently, please try later” I like this one as it is normally as a result of you already trying to make contact and getting a similar message earlier. So you have set your alarm clock for 3am and got up to ring again. Obviously the same idea that 1000 other people chose to do at that very same point in time.

However my blog is not directed at those nameless Businesses who have no qualms in taking our money off of us on a regular basis and then provide a staggering appalling to service to us in return. I want to focus on the millions of people who are at the front end of our wrath – those actually working as “customer service” representatives.

Bad customer service is certainly “bad for Business” – any business. If your business has a monopoly it sometimes is not that easy to take direct action and go elsewhere. We need electricity for instance – so we have to go to an electricity supplier. Nobody is going to convince me that there is anyone of them that is reliably better than the other at customer service. We all have had good and bad experiences with many of them – and if you haven’t, consider yourself lucky.

Having worked in the Water Industry for many years I can assure you that 99% of the people who contact us either want something, or want to complain about something. The call that goes:

 “I thought I would contact you to thank you for my recent bill, it’s a very good deal and I hope you have a wonderful day”, doesn’t happen regularly, if at all.

I once took a call from a lady on a Sunday afternoon to complain that she had no ELECTRICITY. When I explained that she had contacted the Water Company she responded with “yes I know, but I can’t get an answer from the electricity company”. On another, a night shift, I received ten calls from the same lady who was convinced that the government was poisoning the whole country through the water supply, and what was “I” going to do about it!

On a regular basis we often find ourselves as individuals, either expecting someone to deliver a service to us, or actually having to provide a service to someone who has high expectations of us. Of course those two events are often computed separately in our brains. When we are expecting a service form an individual or a Company we apply a different set of criteria on the merits of those expectation to what we apply when the boot is on the other foot.  How often do we find ourselves trying to justify what we haven’t done with such responses as:

“Yes, I’m sorry but I will get to it shortly”

“I wasn’t in yesterday”

“I had to take the dog to the vet”

“Our engineer has gone sick”

For many, the applying of differing standards or expectations comes naturally, when it comes to the providing of a service.

It is frustrating for us all when the service we receive falls short of our expectations. The reality of course is that many organisations cannot provide the service we expect for financial reasons, for others it’s a choices of a different kind.

What aggrieves me more is the degree of criticism that is continually directed at those staff in customer service roles, many of whom are good hard working individuals, who often find themselves with little or no  support. I have been there when individuals have been reduced to tears by the abusive comments received via the end of a telephone. Calls made by people who have no concept of who they are directing their venom at. The worse kind of abuse is that which is directed as a result of gender

“I want to speak to a Manager”.

“But, you are talking to a manager sir”

“No- I want to speak to a man!”

It has been a privilege for me to work with some fantastic ladies in my career, at all levels. I have never believed for one moment that gender is relevant in the workplace – however competency is.

If companies want to provide a high level of customer service then they need to invest. I’m pretty pissed off with this general concept that we can “make efficiencies and improve customer service at the same time”. Especially when “make efficiencies = headcount reduction”.

So this blog is dedicated to the millions of people working in customer facing roles. In particular it’s a tribute to those staff who I have worked alongside over many years – all of us trying to meet the expectations demanded of us, and sometimes, just sometimes – managing to do that.

Customer Services – A dedication to those at the “front end”

The phone rings, rings and rings again. There’s a pause and the feeling of anticipation grows throughout your whole body – and then the sound of Bach’s “Orchestral 3rd Suite in D” reverberates through your ear and rebounds off the inside of your brain. Your head is currently empty of all thoughts other than the immediate issue you have  – “your internet is not working”,  “you have received an over-estimated gas bill of £10000” or the fact that your cold water tap only produces the sounds of a “babies fart” and not the customary clear “nectar of life” that it is supposed to deliver. Your temperature rises, your hands sweat and your heart pounds – “for “fucks sake” you shout down the phone – are you really expecting Beethoven to cease conducting his amassed musicians to answer your enquiry – I think not!

How many times of have our hopes and aspirations for a quality customer service been doomed from the outset–from the point that we actually attempted to raise our query.

“We are here 24hrs a-day to answer your call” – that’s if you can actually get someone to “answer your call”.

“I’m sorry we are experiencing an unprecedented high volume of calls currently, please try later” I like this one as it is normally as a result of you already trying to make contact and getting a similar message earlier. So you have set your alarm clock for 3am and got up to ring again. Obviously the same idea that 1000 other people chose to do at that very same point in time.

However my blog is not directed at those nameless Businesses who have no qualms in taking our money off of us on a regular basis and then provide a staggering appalling to service to us in return. I want to focus on the millions of people who are at the front end of our wrath – those actually working as “customer service” representatives.

Bad customer service is certainly “bad for Business” – any business. If your business has a monopoly it sometimes is not that easy to take direct action and go elsewhere. We need electricity for instance – so we have to go to an electricity supplier. Nobody is going to convince me that there is anyone of them that is reliably better than the other at customer service. We all have had good and bad experiences with many of them – and if you haven’t, consider yourself lucky.

Having worked in the Water Industry for many years I can assure you that 99% of the people who contact us either want something, or want to complain about something. The call that goes:

 “I thought I would contact you to thank you for my recent bill, it’s a very good deal and I hope you have a wonderful day”, doesn’t happen regularly, if at all.

I once took a call from a lady on a Sunday afternoon to complain that she had no ELECTRICITY. When I explained that she had contacted the Water Company she responded with “yes I know, but I can’t get an answer from the electricity company”. On another, a night shift, I received ten calls from the same lady who was convinced that the government was poisoning the whole country through the water supply, and what was “I” going to do about it!

On a regular basis we often find ourselves as individuals, either expecting someone to deliver a service to us, or actually having to provide a service to someone who has high expectations of us. Of course those two events are often computed separately in our brains. When we are expecting a service form an individual or a Company we apply a different set of criteria on the merits of those expectation to what we apply when the boot is on the other foot.  How often do we find ourselves trying to justify what we haven’t done with such responses as:

“Yes, I’m sorry but I will get to it shortly”

“I wasn’t in yesterday”

“I had to take the dog to the vet”

“Our engineer has gone sick”

For many, the applying of differing standards or expectations comes naturally, when it comes to the providing of a service.

It is frustrating for us all when the service we receive falls short of our expectations. The reality of course is that many organisations cannot provide the service we expect for financial reasons, for others it’s a choices of a different kind.

What aggrieves me more is the degree of criticism that is continually directed at those staff in customer service roles, many of whom are good hard working individuals, who often find themselves with little or no  support. I have been there when individuals have been reduced to tears by the abusive comments received via the end of a telephone. Calls made by people who have no concept of who they are directing their venom at. The worse kind of abuse is that which is directed as a result of gender

“I want to speak to a Manager”.

“But, you are talking to a manager sir”

“No- I want to speak to a man!”

It has been a privilege for me to work with some fantastic ladies in my career, at all levels. I have never believed for one moment that gender is relevant in the workplace – however competency is.

If companies want to provide a high level of customer service then they need to invest. I’m pretty pissed off with this general concept that we can “make efficiencies and improve customer service at the same time”. Especially when “make efficiencies = headcount reduction”.

So this blog is dedicated to the millions of people working in customer facing roles. In particular it’s a tribute to those staff who I have worked alongside over many years – all of us trying to meet the expectations demanded of us, and sometimes, just sometimes – managing to do that.

White Collar-Blue Collar (A further extract from the forthcoming “Memoirs of a Retiring Utility Worker”

During a Company “Town Hall Briefing” in 2017 I was asked to comment on, what at the time was believed to be by some, a “perceived” difference between the way Operational and Office staff were being treated. My response at that time was “that whether there is actually a difference or not can be subjective, however, the important point was that if operational staff believed that they were being treated differently, then there actually is a problem”. What was more worrying for me at that time was that many of the operational front-line managers weren’t supposedly aware of the fact that this perception existed – which for me was of a bigger issue.

All through my employment there has been at times an underlying issue around the relationship between Depot, or operational staff, and those that worked in the offices. Whilst the physical barriers relating such things as toilets and restaurants have been removed – this under-current seemingly still remains. Back in the 1970’s the Directors had their own Dining Room at Head Office, and were served by waitresses. For many years Head Office had the use of a barber on the top-floor!  On the unlikely occasion that you would have to attend there, and occasionally as an electrician you did, then you would be required to remove your overalls before entering the building. At Christmas an entourage of Directors would tour the Depots to wish the “underlings” Seasonal Greetings, and offer them a cigarette or indeed a cigar. What is interesting about this is that I don’t think for one moment those people at that time believed that they were any better than anyone else. Certainly the Company’s General Manager for many of those years was well regarded by all. Yes he was well spoken, and he certainly commanded a lot of authority, but he was approachable and a good communicator. So the question has to be asked – what feeds these apparent divisions?

There is no doubt for me that a lot of the problems are caused by individuals who, by way of their action or influence, continue to feed this perception. What is more of a concern, is that if there is acknowledgement an issue exists, why is it that so many decision makers find it impossible to deal with . The failure of any Business to address a problem like this actually feeds the  notion that people from differing areas are actually  being treated differently.

So when it comes to these perceived differences, what is fact and what is speculation, or myth? We have come a long way from the 1970’s era where manual labour was portrayed as the vocation of the “working class”, dedicated to the aims and ideologies of the Labour Party, and perceived to be the victims of persecution by the “ruling classes”. Our modern operational workforces consist of a wide range of often intelligent, articulate staff who, are well educated and are, quite rightly in some cases, very opinionated. Yes, of course there are still the odd remnants of the old rear- guard, resisting change at “all costs”, but they are few. I see this change as an important part of the discussion  – as we now need to understand that this operational, “shop floor workforce”, see themselves as equals to those who are office based, managers or “white collar”, and quite rightly expect to be treated as such.

Forty years ago front-line managers had often worked themselves up through the ranks, and having worked hard to get there were going to ensure that there was a very clear division between them and the one’s they left behind. Many senior managers, were professional Engineers, and used to being addressed as “Mr”. Everyone at that time accepted the status-quo, as if it existed for some divine reason, and served as some purpose.

Of course, we now see more and more people entering senior management positions with degrees or other professional qualifications. Their route to the top, whilst through hard work I’m sure, is not as it previously used to be, which was often from the bottom up. If I am being really honest I often find myself at times resenting the interference of those who are less able or experienced to deal with a “people issue”, but consider themselves more qualified based on their Education. Do we really have to refer to the “book of best practice” to deal with some of the fundamental problems that employees have? Have we really lost our ability as human beings to be compassionate, supportive or understanding when listening to each other’s issues in the workplace?

During a conversation I was a party to last year the issue came up regarding the apparent unwillingness of some of our staff to do additional planned work on a weekend. “I don’t know what the issue is”, I was told. “We pay them overtime don’t we?” The concept that many of our lowest paid operational staff will jump every time someone says “double-time”, has long gone. They too have partners, wives, children and grandchildren – their time with them is as precious as everyone else’s – regardless how much your monthly salary is.

It clearly has to be accepted that there are significant differences between the work being done by many employees. That difference is at is greatest when you compare staff working in a fixed location to that of a mobile workforce. There has to be a realisation of these differences between all parties. Operational staff need to be realistic with some of the issues they raise; not understanding these basic differences only undermines the issue when true injustices are occurring.

It’s for each of us to think hard about what we actually feel and then to consider whether our behaviours reflect what we actually do think.