Unfortunately I happen to be off work at the moment with an injured back. Thankfully I haven't had one of those for a while. In fact the last and worst time was probably in the late 1980s when I was last in the traditional butchery trade. I was off work for thirteen weeks. These were the days when men were men and pussy footing around the sensitivities of staff was unheard of. Hurt your back? Can hardly walk? Wimp! Carry this slippery hindquarter of beef weighing twice your weight up these narrow stairs to the cutting room! Ger on wi it!
So, as I sit painfully on my settee reading and catching up on emails I find myself looking through a few old pictures from 'back in the day'. The images remind me of a lot more than the actual objects reveal.
Sides of smoky bacon. I used to love boning these out mainly from the knife skill satisfaction of the job but also the proper rich smoky bacon smell and the feel of the nearly dry bacon. I liked the feeling of pulling the long rib bones from the flesh and the satisfaction of completing a job in good time.
Interior of a tenderising machine. This took a lot of cleaning and could be very sharp or, equally, very blunt. They were hardly worth the effort of using them as they would often rip the meat going through to shreds.
The bacon slicing machine. Much used and very dangerous and a pig to clean. One of my old managers (now in butchers heaven gawd bless him) managed to slice his hand four inches across and down to the bone whilst cleaning the circular blade. He just spat on the wound and carried on. Well that's a lie really. He nearly fainted and I had to call an ambulance as he went whiter than a sheet of greaseproof paper in sunny spot and bled copiously into a greasy hand towel.
Stolen bikes. It's funny the things you think you remember that may not have been true or as accurately true as you think. Even today I have dreams about working in a trad butcher's environment and being late for work or miles away from work because my bike is in bits or has been stolen. I used to think that maybe I had a succession of racing bikes nicked from the back of the shop or from the yard behind the shop. In actual fact I probably only had one or two bikes taken by casual thieves so why I should have these alarming dreams all these years later I don't know.
Creating attractive window displays. Apart from a short spell at Bosworths the Family Butchers in Little Eaton my main proper butchering work was for Dewhurst The Master Butcher and Rydes The Pork Butchers in Derbyshire. For both establishments the focus of the day was to create attractive displays (and in Dewhurst's case - quite elaborate) to draw custom into the shops. These were jobs that had to be done at speed by half a dozen staff male and there was a pride in the work and also in maintaining a decent display throughout the day. The ladies who served usually had the job of keeping the cooked and cold meats sections clean and tidy and to cut the limited styles of cheese as well as serve. They were never involved in the actual butchery of cutting up carcasses or carrying hunking great pieces of dead animal about with a bad back.