Serious Note


A very good friend of mine died recently. Her husband asked me to write a few words and read them at the Crematorium.

Anyone who knew Beryl well enough, would know of her playful infatuation with rabbits.

Over the years we’ve seen sagging shelving, carrying the burden of yet another metal, pot or papier mache rabbit; we’ve seen display cabinets full of miniature bunnies and walls festooned with pictures. The garden was also treated to stone ones, tee shirts and pinnies to printed ones, and a must, of course, the 1000’s of greeting cards over the years bearing funny, bunny images.

Bugs and Bunny are two words that go well together, Bugs Bunny was rebellious and cute. Maybe like Beryl.

However Slugs & Bunnies are something else.

Slugs are common pests in town gardens, and are dutifully dispatched & disposed of as soon as possible.

Bunnies are common pests in country gardens and are dutifully dispatched & disposed of as soon as possible. Here I have a confession to make to Beryl……. something I kept from her, for over the 25 years we’ve lived at Riley Green.       I shoot rabbits! In the words from our old school days, Beryl Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa!

Beryl & I were friends for many years, straining my memory back to her & Mick’s courting days and Saturday Nights out at the Top Rank with Petula Clark singing Downtown, Cilla Black’s version of You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling and Tears by Ken Dodd. Just what did we have to put up with?

Beryl was a skilful dressmaker, seamstress and cutter. Many times she would roll out a dress fabric on the floor and the lucky lass in need of some low cost garment, would lie on top of the cloth while Beryl cleverly cut round the silhouette, and in a very short time produced a flattering frock to be worn that night at the Top Rank, dancing to the strains of the Rolling Stones, Hey You, Get off my Cloud!

It was when Beryl came to work with me at Plumbs that more of her skills came to fruition & recognition. She’d been at Plumbs for a while before we actually worked together. It was in a small factory behind Bill Head’s motorbike garage, at Broomfield Mill (later to become the home of Unravel Mills). It wasn’t so much a workplace, more of a fun place where work was part of the fun. (I hope Geoff Plumb didn’t hear that).

At the time, Plumbs were developing a range of furniture and were also importing a unique Stretch Dralon Velvet from Germany. Due I’ve no doubt, to Beryl’s skills, our factory was given the task of producing the covers for the furniture, in this German cloth. The fabric was unbelievably expensive, at the time around £7 per yard, equivalent to about £80- £90 per metre today.

Beryl & I were under very strict instructions from the big boss, Tom Plumb, to individually hand cut each and every component of the furniture covers. This fabric was not to be laid up and cut with the usual tall reciprocating knife, …….strict instructions because velvet slides around when laid one on top of the other.

Well we did a week or two of hand cutting, piece after piece, all the same and all getting more and more boring! The Plumbs van would come each day, sometimes twice, and take away our meagre but much sought after offerings. Customer’s orders were coming in by the hundreds, we were producing only a precious few at a time.

One day Beryl said that we should lay up the fabric despite the orders from on high. This not only threatened our job security but risked throwing to the scrap skip, £1000’s of pounds worth of fabric. No pressure then! We experimented and found that placing the velvet in the lay pile to pile produced no slippage!

So when the customary van arrived for its meagre daily ration, and went back to Plumbs with a full cargo, it didn’t take long for the boss himself to arrive. Of course he knew full well what we’d done but after listening and inspecting, was soon praising Beryl……………”this was getting on top of production, pleasing the hundreds of customers, saving lots of money in wages,” and most of all, thankfully, keeping Beryl & me in our jobs!

All these years have gone by. Our last away days together were in Harrogate last summer, a week before the Tour De France came to town.We witnessed all the fantastic street decorations without the hustle & bustle of the Tour itself. Though Beryl was struggling then, she never bothered us with her woes.

The picture on the back page was taken in Harrogate, Beryl’s red scarf in sling form disguising that her arm had become useless. The very arm that had laid up that fabric at Plumbs and had so skilfully made many dresses and blouses for herself and for her many friends.

Despite all of her pain throughout these last few weeks she maintained her caustic wit. With a smile on her face her very last words to me were “And anyway stop staring at me you.”

I smiled back and kept on staring! Beryl we all love you, and always will.