Dylan, dogs and the Devil

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.

Possibly cuter.

I think Red likes Graham

I think Skipper likes Graham too!

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.

And more prosaically: http://www.inclinepress.com/

Its name came from its original address on Incline Street, but though now on Bow Street, it still inclines over an incline.

Graham leads elusive Red and frisky Skipper back in from a breath of fresh air.

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.

The cover of this work in progress is made of the rare and beautiful Amate paper

And the marbled kind. Silken to the touch, rich to the eye.

I can see this making beautiful end papers

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.)

Mike at work on a first proof – where the type is laid out a in a tray and given one press to make sure it’s correct. It’s not quite there yet, see the next picture

Now this is the first proof marked up. Rather Mike than me.

Graham is showing me why we have the terms ‘upper case’ and ‘lower case’ – the capital letters were originally in the case above the desk, the rest below. Now the cases house both upper and lower … cases

A font. No, a design of type is not a font. Font is a collection of type, a standard font weighs 7lb, There you go, pub quiz sorted

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.

Lines from an unpublished poem ‘An Essay On Censorship’ by Anthony Burgess, portrait by John Watson

Look closely and you will see that some letters are actually just one piece of type – like the ‘st’ in Feed’st – and that some of the capital letters are different forms of the same letter. A term applied to the sweeping tail of the R in rose is, I believe, swash. This was submitted by Kathy Whalen at Incline for the Bodleian Library on the 400th anniversary of the first printing of this opening and thus unnumbered sonnet

‘Always work to a design, not a budget,’ said Graham – and it applies to every detail.

Politics creeps in.

Printed for the Women’s March in January, the Manchester one


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.

Bought from the widow of a Welsh Methodist printer, this is operated by a treadle. It prints using a technique called ‘clam shell impression’

Originally imported by Eric Gill (he of Gill Sans, yes) this electrically driven printing press operates by ‘parallel impression’

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.


This entry was posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Dylan, dogs and the Devil

  1. Christa says:

    Fascinating! Wonderful to know such places still survive, even in austere times.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thel says:

    It’s wonderful to see people continuing to maintain high standards for the love of their trade.
    Setting type the old fashioned way is like dancing backwards in high heels! A special skill.

    I really enjoyed examining your pictures. Linotype and letterpress machines were not that common in the 1970s when offset printing became state-of-the-art. It took me back. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hoped you would like it – as an artistic person with a print/publishing/design background you wold have loved to visit with me I’m sure!. I love your comparison with dancing backwards in high heels – brilliant and so true. The patience, the persistence. Not a job for me 😉


  3. Heide says:

    What a beautiful story — as Thel said, it’s wonderful that people are still making things by hand, and with passion. What a beautiful realization, too, at the end of your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Heide – and especially for noticing the bit at the end! I thought about adding a link to the Imagine YouTube with John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s beautiful video, but decided against it. Just watched it myself and shed a little tear.
      And how our world has turned, here in Britain, since my visit. It’s true, I’m not the only one…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Miz B says:

    My favorite line from your piece: “And I saw this world is never still.”

    I have a special fondness for the world of printing, although more from the newspaper side than the letterpress side. (I’ve been working on a piece about it.) There was an old printshop here years ago–Gummerman’s–which I loved to go into. Fortunately, they sold some stationery items, so I found excuses to go in. I liked the smell of the place. But ink and paper strangely excite me.

    I hope your closing remarks come true.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much MizB. Yes, the smell of new paper and ink and dusty pencils and poster paints and rubbers and rulers and glue… I love stationery stationery shops and this was like being in a pick and mix of beautiful paper, beautiful colours and shapes and words. Ahhh. And, like Heide, thanks for noticing the ending and I hope so too, we are a smidgen closer now, I think. I hope 🙂 I’ll keep an eye out for your piece, sounds interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Looks like a really interesting place, as you know I was really impressed with their work and your pictures bring the place to life. I hope the visit was worthwhile as well as producing a good blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron, if it hadn’t been for you I wouldn’t have known about it – serious thanks for telling me about it and showing me their work. I meant to thank you in the piece – folks reading this – go visit Ron’s blog – a joy! And the visit was well worth it whatever came/comes out of it! Thanks, Ron.


  6. Fiona Unwin says:

    What a lovely post, Mary. I like the short snaky sentences, imitating the individual lines from a printing press.
    Interesting piece of info – did you know that when the Germans smuggled Lenin back into Russia after the March revolution, they provided him with a printing press worth the equivalent of £10 million? So he could produce unlimited propaganda for his Bolshevik take over if power in the November!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooh Fiona, short snaky sentences! You’re right, reminds me of the leading between the type actually! But hadn’t thought of it till you said…
      And no, being a totally inadequate historian as you know very well, I had no idea about Lenin and the press. Sounds like a good title for a short story. Hmmm…


  7. jilldennison says:

    What a lovely little place, this Incline Press!!! I loved this post! And … I learned something new about the terms ‘upper case’ and ‘lower case’ letters. Thank you for sharing your journey, Mary!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome 🙂 Forgive me for not being very commenty on yours lately – the world has worn me out. I’m so impressed you keep on going so diligently – and with so little sleep! I need some Nature, next, to revive me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jilldennison says:

        I understand, my friend … it wears me down too, and you guys have your own problems now. Yes, nature is the best cure for all this angst! I am taking a break in a couple of weeks to spend a long weekend with H, and possibly do a bit of hiking if it isn’t too hot. Take care of yourself, Mary … hugs!!!


  8. seer1969 says:

    Ah, the roar of greasepaint and smell of the crowd! 😉
    I was thinking recently [do it all the time] of how the world of hominids has changed just in my lifetime: very few cars, but horses delivered coal, milk and bread, and of course the rag’n’bone men [only human after all!] who recycled society’s unwanted items; graphic dedsign was accomplished with scissors and glue, and newsletters laboriously typed onto stencils for duplicating into smudgy missives; phones were what the rich owned or in public call boxes for important calls by the rest; films were black and white and the only affordable entertainment for most, and many houses were still lit by gas since electricity was still far from universa;.space travel was the province of science-fiction and many food items were in short supply.and still ratione, and as a result everyone was skinny.
    I still haven’t decided if it really was the awful, brutal, misogynist, racist times that today’s children have been taught to believe it was.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was hoping you would venture over! Dogs and typesetting and design – what’s not to like?
      And as for your last point… I suspect that everything is relative. How about that for getting out of answering the question?


  9. Pingback: More of that small press; a new archaeologically-themed site; husking | MEMOIRS OF A HUSK

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