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Tuesday, 8 May 2012

A MOMENT IN TIME - ERF MIDDLEWICH 2000

by Dave Roberts
We've remarked before that nothing is too trivial or esoteric for our Middlewich Diary, and here's another example of that principle in action.
This is the whiteboard-cum-noticeboard which was placed in the Goods Inward Office at ERF Service in Middlewich in the late 1990s in a bid to improve efficiency.
The fact that a large chunk has been cut out of the board, together with its general air of dilapidation, lends weight to the theory current at the time that its original destination was, in all probability, the rubbish skip and its redeployment in the Goods Inwards Department was a bit of an afterthought.
The Goods Inwards office, and what was known as the 'shop floor' generally, were the usual destination of all cast-offs from 'The Staff', those superior beings who worked in luxurious surroundings and benefited from ever more comfortable chairs, desks, carpets and other office necessities while the worn-out and shabby predecessors of their gleaming new items of equipment were given to us.
Thus we lived out our working days sitting on wobbly chairs (some of which were, it was rumoured, quite capable of breaking your spine when their inevitable collapse finally came) at scratched and wonky old desks.
All this life-expired junk was usually housed in the traditional 'tin-huts' found on the shop floor in many a factory and warehouse.
There's an old ERF tale which I am very happy to vouch for the truth of.
It concerns the late  Mr William Atherton Ravenscroft of Winsford (known to all as Bill) who worked in ERF's Warranty Claims department adjacent to the Goods Inward office.
Bill spent the greater part of every day stapling together various bits of paper to do (presumably) with warranty claims and the click-click-click of his stapler was part of the soundtrack to our working lives.
Inevitably, the day came that Bill's trusty stapler wore out and he put in a requisition for a new one.
This was refused on the grounds that staplers were only issued to office staff and, as Bill worked in a 'tin hut' rather than an office, he was not eligible to be issued with one.
This, I can assure you, is a perfectly true story.
ERF could teach the British Army a thing or two when it came to mind-boggling illogicality and sheer raving lunacy, and I'm sure those who have worked in other factories and warehouses could tell similar stories..
Bill solved the problem in traditional shop floor style.
He sat and read the Daily Mirror all day until someone saw sense and gave him a new stapler.
Back to that notice-board:
The idea, thought up by one of those dynamic whizz-kids who think up such things was to have the whiteboard standing by ready for 'urgent messages'.
Someone descended from on high (well, from the office block, at least) to show us how the whiteboard worked, and how it was possible, using the marker pen, to produce writing on it.
The management fondly imagined this kind of scenario:
If, say,  a replacement gearbox was needed for a distributor in Carlisle, we would take down the information, dash over to the board, and quickly and efficiently write something like

GEARBOX NEEDED FOR DISTRIBUTOR IN CARLISLE

in red ink.
This seldom, if ever, happened.
In practice someone would ring us from Sandbach and give us the details and we would make all the necessary arrangements without recourse to the board.
If you have ever worked in such a place as ERF's stores, you will have guessed what the board was actually used for.
It was used by storekeepers to write libellous and frequently obscene remarks about other storekeepers and  the management.
Occasionally a drawing would appear.
 The one of me, seen on the right of the board in this picture, is, although  far from flattering, probably just about the only one ever found on the board fit to be reproduced here.


Along the bottom of the board are lists of part numbers, distributor codes, items to be transferred from Sandbach to Middlewich and all the other  information we once thought so important but which now, to coin a phrase, 'don't amount to a hill o'beans'.
The car advert was placed there by my colleague Mark Nevitt, who is now a railway signalman, and shows his 'dream car', though what kind of car it might be I couldn't tell you..
To the left of the board, looking rather lost and lonely and a bit inadequate, is fire-extinguisher 'No 1'
If there was ever a 'No 2' we never saw it.
And scrawled across the board itself is the last thing anyone ever wrote on it (in actual fact, I wrote it myself).
The closure of ERF's Service Centre went unremarked and unnoticed by many (including, it seemed to us, many at ERF), but it was the beginning of the end for the company.
And that valedictory message, scrawled in marker pen across our almost completely unnecessary noticeboard on the day the final closure of ERF Middlewich was announced, marks the moment when we realised that things would never be the same again.

SEE ALSO: ERF SERVICE 1971-2000

4 comments:

  1. Good one Dave.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you Jerry.

    (Jerry is a former manager of the White Horse and kept me sane by plying me with drink during many a Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival -Ed)

    ReplyDelete

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