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Sugar - A Little Stick of Blackpool Rock

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
Sugar - A Little Stick of Blackpool Rock
Somewhere, hidden in the maze of back alleys and side streets of South Shore, there once stood the rock factory. It was only a two minute jog away from our pub, very handy for my first summer holidays job and I was excited to start. Well, I was more excited at the prospect of earning a wage to fund the spends for my school trip to Yugoslavia at the end of August. Dad gave me pocket money for sorting empty bottles at weekends and re-stocking shelves when the pub was shut, but he’d paid for my adventure and anything more was down to me.
On my first morning, I presented my fourteen and a half year old self at a side door to the factory. It was only eight o’clock but already a hive of activity. I was ushered into an office where a fearsome looking man dressed in chef’s whites glanced my way and barked orders. I would work eight until six with an hour off at dinner time. I would brew up when told to for morning and afternoon breaks. I was given a pale blue, long sleeved overall, the same as all the ladies. Some wore headscarves tied like a turban. They were the ones who touched the soft, pliable rock when it was tipped from the sugar boiler. They rolled it, gently stretching it until it was the required thickness, or thinness. This was a skill. They had to work in unison and very quickly before the rock began to harden, otherwise it would crack when cut into lengths. The things we learn in life.
My place was in packing, no headscarf needed. I put labels on jars of ‘pebbles’, wrapped sticky tape round the lids and boxed them up ready to go. I put rock into walking-stick tubes and taped caps on them. I tied ribbons on to blue and pink plastic handles ready to be put into the ‘sugary dummy’ mold. Later, I was shown how to operate a machine that sealed cellophane wrapping round giant humbugs. I knew I’d reached a peak when, at last, I donned a pretty headscarf and went into the finishing room to learn how to wrap sticks of rock. There is a skill to it and I’m not sure if I mastered it. Holding one end still, it sort of twisted itself while my other hand rolled it quickly then twisted the other end, and remember to pop a ‘Blackpool Rock’ slip in as it rolled. It is likely that there's a machine to do it these days. Mainly, I was packing items up ready for despatch.
It was a learning curve about some aspects of the real world. Although I was brought up in pubs, some with ‘salt of the earth’ men’s vault bars, I must have had a sheltered life. I’d never heard so much swearing all at once and really rough talk from women and men alike. A couple of girls who had come to work in Blackpool for the summer talked openly about meeting lads and what they got up to on the beach at night. They weren’t much older than me and were friendly enough but laughed at my naivety.
The highlight of my time there was being pushed around the huge sugar store in a wheel-barrow by a boy I knew from school, also on a summer job, and jumping out quickly without being seen.
The low moments were nearly every day for the first week, probably longer, the sickly, sweet smell of molten sugar with a hint of mint or worse, aniseed, turned my stomach so much I’d be running down the yard hoping to make it to the loo before vomiting. At the very least, I’d have a headache.
I managed the full five weeks as arranged and had new clothes and holiday money for Yugoslavia. It was all worth it.     A light-hearted blog, a serious poem. I love this.     The God of Sugar (Sugar Shed, Greenock) Cavernous – and empty now –
no shouts of dockers,
no barefoot women shovelling
molasses – it has the chill
and hush of a cathedral.
Like a pilgrim arrived at a shrine,
wanting something to touch
for a vision or sign
that a saint or god is there,
I rub the tip of my finger
against the rough bricks
of the wall and lick, tasting
sweet dirt, seeing, shining
in the gloom, an obese boy¬
like Elvis in a sequin suit.
What prayers should I offer
to this god of sugar?
Most fitting and proper,
prayers for the slaves
drowned in leaking holds;
or for those who survived
the voyage to the Caribbean
to cut the cane, lashed
until their backs were striped
with festering wounds.
Or prayers for the child
who spooned golden syrup
from the green lion tin, dribbling it
in spirals to form amber pools
in her porridge; who stole
from her mother’s purse
to buy red-tipped sugar cigarettes;
who ruined her teeth
on lollipops and seaside rock?
Prayers for the woman
who still craves sweetness:
savouring strawberries dipped
in the sugar dish, gobbets
of crystallised ginger, figs
almost rotten with ripeness.
by Vicki Feaver   Thanks for reading, Pam x   Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook


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