The gale force wind had calmed a little, though the evidence remained. Everywhere the verges were strewn with debris, as if an automotive bridal procession had just passed by, the bridesmaids strewing branches.
Late, as usual, stress kept me company as I wound my way through the backstreets of Oldham. Ms Satnav had been accurate – up to a point. That point, unfortunately, not being the one at which I wanted to arrive.
But a crackly phone call later and here I was.
A man with a beard waved from across the road as I arrived, but before we could greet each other an evidently Muslim man with a great big smile on his face stopped – and the two men hugged.
Next in line for a cheery exchange of greetings was a man in a pale grey track suit.
I began to wonder, did I need local membership?
No, seriously, I was already warming to my subject – he knew everyone! But then, Oldham’s an old northern industrial town so that’s only to be expected.
The next challengers to my arrival were two dogs, low level hairy creatures that even to a non-doggy person were cute as a baby panda.
Skipper, was the more inquisitive. Red, a little reluctant, retired upstairs.
They were rescue dogs.
Even their names were rescues.
Graham, my host, didn’t fancy yelling ‘Fred’ on the street. Nor Kipper. But the new names had to sound the same, still, for the dogs. Just one letter each made all the difference, as you’d expect a publisher to understand.
Stepping into a ‘space’ that barely deserved the name, it was obvious this was a place of many treasures.
Of passion well spent.
Of ‘where-did-I-put-it’ winning out over ‘everything-in-its-right-place’.
This was the home of a small Press – and I’d invited myself to visit.
Its name came from its original address on Incline Street, but though now on Bow Street, it still inclines over an incline.
The nineteenth century building, once a small cotton mill, is ‘fireproof’.
No wood was used in its construction, rather brick, stone, rubble and metal – which won’t catch fire.
And now it’s full of paper.
Which probably would.
The paper’s the kind that makes you want to stroke it – especially the Amate, from South America, made of bark.
And the marbled kind. Silken to the touch, rich to the eye.
Music was in the air, Dylan warning us, too late, a Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall. That was the night before. But then, this is the North of England, so he’ll probably be right again soon.
Graham Moss, who runs this gem of an enterprise, is a human repository of useful and arcane knowledge about the craft of printing. About the art (as a determined craftsman, he probably won’t like that) of publishing.
It was among those jewels of arcane knowledge that I encountered the Devil.
Early in its genesis, industrial printing drew odium from many quarters.
Words printed by metal, impressed upon paper, were forgeries. Real words were made of handwritten letters, using pens held in monkish hands in scriptoria.
What with the forgeries and the spreading of the vernacular Word to common folk, it was a bad time for scribes.
And then there was the blackness of the ink, which inevitably transferred itself to the skin of the lowest link in the production chain. The poor young lad who swept the floor and fetched the beer and pies.
He might, if he was lucky, work his way up to apprentice. Until then, though, he was shunned as the Printer’s Devil.
Mike, Graham’s typesetting colleague, claims to be a latter day version. But he looked pretty clean to me. (I suspect he’s really an apprentice but is wary of having ideas above his station.)
The selection and commissioning of the works – books, pamphlets, ephemera – is Graham’s domain.
He needs, I think I detected, to feel inspired in order to start on this long, exacting process of setting, printing, binding and publishing by hand.
Sometimes it’s a long forgotten or never published work that the two men bring to the modern world. Sometimes it’s a new commission, on a theme that has lit Graham’s flame of enthusiasm and intrigued him.
Poetry figures large on the list.
‘Always work to a design, not a budget,’ said Graham – and it applies to every detail.
Politics creeps in.
And even jam.
The printing process itself almost feel like an irritating necessity, only done to make these labours of love visible to the world.
I’m planning a more detailed post on my Maid in Britain site. So please visit there in a few days’ time if you’d like to know more details about the press’s work and see more pictures.
But now, it was time for the unwelcome journey home.
It was a day of some anxiety. The day before our General Election. Could I do anything, still, to make a difference?
As I drove back, eschewing the motorways this time, I realised what we lose as we travel on the highways and miss out the byways.
For I saw the transition of this part of the world as I drove.
Everywhere, I saw red brick.
Mills, their chimneys toppled or shortened. The old terraced houses of the workers. New terraced houses. And factories turned shopping complex.
Walls still standing, shielding active demolition.
Former pubs turned who-knows-what – or nothing. Functioning pubs, looking shabby. Forlorn mobility scooters tethered outside, waiting for their owners to take them home.
The palace of brick that once was Pendleton Industrial Cooperative Society.
Defunct police stations, casualties of austerity. Betting shops. The Job Centre.
And then, the remains of a dramatic accident. A car upside down. No choice but to observe, while my traffic lights stayed red.
But then I saw grass and trees. And the sun emerged.
And I saw this world is never still.
What once is rich can be poor. What once is poor can be rich.
And I hoped that one day, our politics might bring fairness and equality to our lives.
To all our lives. Everywhere.
Yeah, I know. They may say I’m a dreamer.
But I’m not the only one.