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Friday, 1 May 2009

Fit as a butcher’s dog. Part two.

Dewhurst the Master Butchers. (image above taken by Derby evening Telegraph.)

Whilst under this company’s employ I worked in Sadler Gate (central Derby and old shopping centre before the Eagle Centre Mall was built), the towns of Beeston, Belper and the factory on the outskirts of Derby. The last venue was deemed a punishment for lads who got too cocky.

In the Sadler Gate premises the manager was a strict little bulldog of a man called Dave. He had black hair, hints of grey and a chin you could strike matches on. It was a very busy shop and he ruled it with a rod of iron, or so it felt to my young and sensitive perceptions at the time. He had a favourite young man helping him called Geoffrey who I didn’t like much as I experienced him to be a bit of a bully. Geoffrey seemed to have this predilection of poking the other apprentices’ bottoms with the knife sharpening steel as a ‘bit of fun’. I don't mean the cheeks, I mean something more invasive .... nuff said. If you said anything to him he would make trouble for you with the manager and sneakily do it even more.

There were other older female staff, including a large woman of Irish descent called Annie who looked like a red-faced boiled sweet on stubby legs. There always seemed to be friction between her and the Dave the manager with Geoffrey there as Iago in the background subtly implying more wrong doing by the largely innocent Annie. Then there was a buxom gentle soul with lustrous dark curly hair called Sally. Ah Sally, dear Sally always smiling and pleasant to the constant stream of customers, and buxom, very buxom. I liked Sally. Actually, I fancied her rotten but she was a married lady and probably saw me as a gauche slightly spotty youth.

I’m sure there were others that came and went over time but I do also remember a lad about my age then with white curly hair and white eyelashes and a cocky and condescending attitude. This was Andrew. He and Geoffrey spent a lot of time together plotting and planning practical jokes – mainly on me.

Looking back I think that I was probably seen as being a bit cheeky, a bit daft and someone who was getting obsessed with Kung Fu, Karate and a new hobby, amateur theatre. The people that I was working with were more into looking after their families and for the younger lads; football, the potential for sex with anything that stood still long enough and was willing and getting pissed on a Saturday night out in town.

These years were really hard work with the weekly bonus of some free meat for my Mum as well as wages. The shop was on a main shopping thoroughfare in Derby and we were constantly busy, learning and practicing butchery skills, creating elaborate meat displays for the shop window, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning and killing mice. The cellars and age-old tunnels beneath the street were full of them and each morning as we arrived for work there would be at least a couple of brown mice dodging around the floor and surfaces in the prep room at the back of the shop. The braver of the mice set up a Saturday Night Fever dance routine in the empty shop window and scarpered as the manager’s key turned in the shop door of an early morning. Eventually the Health folk came in a laid poison traps everywhere to try to eliminate them.

The whole working week at Dewhurst’s was like a military operation. Monday began with the male staff working on the general shop window display creating attractive metal trays of meat offerings like pork chops each with a small amount of grease proof paper rolled into a ball and pushed into the body of the chop to plump it out. Each item was arranged in a pre-destined order in the window and plastic rods with pretend parsley would separate each tray with a strip of bright green. There would be trays of pork chops, lamb chops, chump chops, steaks, (but no fillet steak as this deemed too expensive to display), shin of beef, chuck steak, sausages, mince, stewing steak with beef kidney, pork loin, black and white puddings etc. Scrag end of lamb and oxtail would on there too and I recall neck of lamb being especially popular for Lancashire hotpot. In a side display there would be deeper bowls containing lambs and pigs liver and kidneys. The women staff would be given the task of arranging all the pre-sliced cooked meats such as ham, corned beef, cooked beef, polony and black puddings as well as a few English cheeses.

At the weekend the whole window display would be given over to joints of meat like topside, silverside, brisket, shoulder pork and leg pork and seemingly dozens of shoulders of lamb hanging in serried ranks on the rails above the ramped display of joints. Fillets of English and New Zealand lamb would be on display partnered with legs of lamb with a sprig of plastic mint for good effect. Most of the time there would be fresh and frozen chickens on sale but the Game side of things was left to Roomes the fishmongers two shops up the street. Pricing up the joints of meat was a thankless task done very early on a Friday and Saturday morning. There was always pressure from the grumpy manager to get the job done quick with no mistakes. You had to put the item on the scales, tap in the amount per pound, check the resulting amount, fill in a rectangular paper ticket, attach a metal pin to the paper ticket, place it carefully on the joint and add it to the row of joints in the window. Ad Infinitum. I often got the mid week mind numbing job of pinning up all the tickets for ease of action come the weekend. We used hundreds. They all went into clean liver tubs ( the liver came from the factory or New Zealand frozen in plastic tubs which were utilised for further practical use in the shop).

The hours of work were 7.00am to 5.30pm Monday to Thursday excepting Wednesday when most of Derby closed for half day closing on mid-week so we shut at 1pm. Friday and Saturday we had to start at 6.30am to get the display ready for the first customers who would trickle in from 8am onwards. Sometimes even earlier. I cycled to work every day but no longer had to cycle around with deliveries like I did in the village. Once ensconced in the shop the only places I was released to go to were the Barclay’s bank to get change and Pearts the Bakers for food and soup for the break time.

One of the essentials that none of us looked forward to was the big daily delivery from the factory of all the fresh and tinned goods that were needed for this exceptionally busy shop. Whole lamb carcasses and pig sides (half a pig) were easy enough to carry from the van parked on the street, down the alley, to the side entrance of the shop as were the boxes of tinned peas, apricots, corned beef, mint sauce and horseradish sauce and trays of pork pies etc. The things that we lads hated carrying (and I had been let off this chore at Bosworth’s somehow) were the fore quarters and hind quarters of beef.

Cows and bulls are bloody heavy beasts especially when dead and slippery and they are very awkward to lift and carry. As they say in the world of awkward things ‘there is a knack’. The fores you had to allow almost to fall on you from the back of the lorry and hook the stump of the shin around your right arm and taking the full weight yourself across your back and then move swiftly to the point of disposal ie: down the narrow alley and inside to the fridge. The hind quarters were quite another matter; ridiculously top heavy with the powerful back leg of the cow uppermost and the sharp backbone of the beast lowermost. Now, you were expected to heave the blessed thing the same distance, hugging it like a dead lover with the bones cutting into your forearm.

A lot of mine hit the deck and one memorable occasion on a snowy Winter’s day I did an abysmal impromptu ice skating routine and smacked into a stationary Morris Minor landing this colossal greasy lump of dearly departed Hereford Heifer on the bonnet of the car. Fortunately it landed skin down. Dave the manager helped considerably by shouting “Pick it up! Pick the ruddy thing up!” rather a lot. He also went ruby red in the face and stamped his feet furiously which helped even further to calm me. I expect Geoffrey and Andrew enjoyed a good snigger in the background. Little Heifers!

During the summers we would expand our stock into tomatoes and cucumbers much to the chagrin of Ted the Greengrocer further down the street who got severely undercut in price by Dewhurst. So outside the shop frontage stood chips (balsa wood boxes) and chips of these toms and cucumbers. We got through tons of them and a lot of my time was spent tying up the boxes with string in the mice infested cellars. I was also learning karate on a Sunday and practised my side kicks on some unfortunate ‘damaged’ boxes. Not only that but it was the decade that Bruce Lee was the latest hot thing at the cinema and I was his biggest fan! I knew the whole soundtrack of Enter the Dragon by heart and did a very good Bruce Lee battle cry! Wa Ja!

I think that my work buddies finally knew I’d cracked and it was probably unwise to continue to poke my anus with the knife steel when I arrived at work with a home made set of nunchakas. These were two short fighting sticks – in my case cut off broom handles – joined together with a chain. I had roughly fashioned these at home and showed no fear in the narrow back yard of the butchers by swishing them rapidly round my vulnerable head in best Bruce Lee style. Wa Ja! Wuh! Achoy! Regrettably for the staff room window above the shop, the adjoining chain wasn’t quite as securely attached as it should have been and half a nunchak demolished a pane of glass and landed two inches in front of the manager formerly enjoying his cup of tea and slice of Pork Farms Pork Pie. Bruce Lee got his first verbal warning that day.

As times in the 1970s got more prosperous for Derby’s population the novel notion of bulk buying for the freezer became more feasible and orders would come in for a whole lamb, a side of pork or hind quarter of beef to be prepared and costed out to save the customer money over time. These orders bought in additional income for the Dewhurst firm and lots of extra physical work for us. In those days I never personally considered the economics of running a business. I was much more interested in getting my weekly wages on a Friday morning, come what may, and that interest expanded to the things that I could do with the money – like go on holiday abroad, trips to the cinema or theatre or buy the next Bruce Lee magazine.

I was still living at home and so had a reasonable amount of cash to indulge my young life with. I also had a strange obsession with the volcanically hot sausage rolls and Cornish pasties we used to buy for our break from Peart’s the Bakers around the corner on the Market Square. I couldn’t get enough of them and although they used to be hot enough to burn my mouth out I got an odd masochistic enjoyment out of juggling red hot meat and pastry in my mouth every day. Finally on this score, my buddies from the Venture Scouts had introduced me to the delights of Real Ale – a sorry day if ever there was one! Oh look there’s a beer festival……!

While I was employed at Dewhurst in Sadler Gate I had my first real little romance since leaving school – not with the buxom Sally but a sweet girl called Esther who worked at the Opticians on Sadler Gate. We went out a couple of times a week for some months and spent some happy hours cuddling and enjoying shy giggly kisses on the back row of the Esseldo Cinema. Happy innocent days.

Whilst I worked for Dewhurst I was constantly moved about in order to cover other branches who were short staffed and spent my latter times working in the Dewhurst branch in Belper in Derbyshire. I walked to the railway station in Derby (3 miles) early every morning to arrive by train at Belper for 7.30am and I occasionally got a lift back home by the area manager otherwise I had to find my own way home by bus or train. I was often late home for my tea and got a good bollocking for my tardiness and grumpily presented with a cooked dinner that had been kept in the oven and had rings around the dried gravy. After several of those bollockings I decided that it was time for a change and applied at a rival butchers in central Derby – Rydes the Pork Butchers on the Cornmarket.

I had, over the five years I worked for Dewhurst, learned a lot of butchery skills but still had a lot to learn about the trade – not all of it nice. See you soon for the final instalment.


StGeorgeOfEngland said...

Another great read Phil. Thanks.

I think that in some ways we led a similar life. When I left school I just scraped enough qualifications together to attend Mansfield Art College. I wanted to do ceramic design, or pottery to most.
Well that lastd three months before they booted me out for having 'no artistic talent'. Dreams shattered, I entered the big wide world of job hunting. Off I trotted to the job centre with hopes of doing something at least a little creative. I had a passion for art of some form.
I remember a sturdy woman with a moustache most men would envy asking what I wanted to do. "Errmmm... I am quite creative" I said. The reply knocked me over and snapped me into the real world.
"They always want meat boys at Hacketts!" (for those that don't know, a slaughterhouse near to my home).
"Ummmm... no thanks".

So after I had about 14 months making trophies and shields I joined dad in grocery. My interests at that time were Venture Scouts, Bruce Lee and getting to grips for the first time with a young ladies fun bags.

My time was not as eventful as yours but I loved every minute of it. Well, nearly every minute, unytil some kid came in the shop and puked his guts up all over the shop floor. I was the only one there and had to shut shop to clean up. *goes green remembering*.

Loving these varied blogs. It keeps everything interesting. I have sent your link to a couple more friends in the States and one has already told me how much she loves your view of life.

Cheers my friend. Have a good weekend.

Phil Lowe said...

"They want meat boys at Hacketts" what a career option. We used to have a fictional butchers est called Hackett & Slashett when we wanted to be derogatory about butchers with poor skills.

Did you ever go to Drum Hill camp site? i used to practically live there and was a regular volunteer camp warden at the weekends. This is where I got my camp cook badge no less.

Thanks for your encouragement from the USA. Without the comments I have no real idea if folk are enjoying these posts, particularly the longer ones of late.

Dean said...

I can remember having to go and queue with my mum on a Saturday morning to pick up the meat order from Dewhursts in Belper and the same from the Derby branch when we lived in Allestree, Very entertaining read and im looking forward to the next instalment.

Athina said...

Thanks for sharing with us your work experieces as a young lad, Phil. Entertaining and funny and affecting.

Phil Lowe said...

Thanks Dean. I completed the three parts of my journey in the butcher's trade. I hope that you enjoy the last part my friend.

Cheers Tina for your encouraging comments on my writing as always.

French Fancy said...

*As they say in the world of awkward things ‘there is a knack’.*

and a knackers yard!

(i'll get me coat)

Phil Lowe said...

French Fancy: 'and a knackers yard' :0) lmfho