Sat, Jun

Down Memory Lane

This ‘new normal’ has me reminiscing. Fifty years ago this month, I spent a day at my uncle’s old school printing company. As I was trying to look inconspicuous in the corner of his office, a bloke came in and said they needed a new plate-bending machine. To my ten-year-old self, the very idea of such a machine sounded exotic, intriguing and, ultimately, baffling. What, I wondered, was this plate exactly?

Why did it need a machine to bend it? And why didn’t they make it in the right shape in the first place?

These were not the kind of questions I could ask my uncle who, to use an old fashioned phrase, did not suffer fools gladly. To be honest, he didn’t suffer anyone gladly. Even customers were regarded, at best, with brittle tolerance. Luckily, my dad was a bit more amenable and explained the whole thing in terms I understood - up to a point. That was my first insight into the fascinating, intricate and complex process called printing - and it set me thinking about a career.

My careers teacher was dismissive. At that time, he was only recommending four careers – girls were advised to become nurses, boys were urged to become electricians or miners. (There was a large pit nearby where my best mate’s dad worked). When I mentioned printing, he snorted, wished me the best of luck and told me that “printers are worse than the bloody masons”. He did concede, though, that having an uncle in the trade might open the door into a profession he described as a closed shop.

It didn’t turn out that way. One of the many things my uncle didn’t suffer gladly were Labour governments and in 1979, ironically the very year Margaret Thatcher got elected, he sold the business and moved to Spain. He got out at the right time - the commercial printing industry in Britain was about to be savaged by accountants - but it made my career path a little more meandering than I had hoped. Yet eventually, Mole Graphics was born and whenever I’m asked how I got into this ‘racket’ - to use my uncle’s term, I always blame the plates and the plate blenders.

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