Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Six Degrees of Separation

There is a theory that everyone in the world is connected to everyone else, by no more than six degrees of separation. As I was reflecting on things recently, it struck me how true, and how strange, in some ways, that is; that we live in a world of six billion people, that covers a vast expanse of territory, and yet you can so regularly come into contact with people you know, even in the most unlikely places. Some years ago, I reflected on that, in another context, when I referred to having come across a bloke who lived around the corner from me, when he was running down Helvellyn, as we were walking up it. So, I thought I would reflect on similar such connections.

When I left school, I worked for Stoke City Council. I will come back to this link later.

In the Summer of 1971, I was going out with a gorgeous girl called Jackie, from Bentilee, who I met at the Golden Torch.  She worked as a sewing machinist at a clothing manufacturer in Normacot Road, Longton. There are a number of connections here that could be gone into, but I will go down one channel, which is that, a few months later, I was working at a similar company, in Burslem, which is about four miles from where I lived. Not a huge distance, but the company I worked for only employed a few people. Yet I knew several of them already, because they lived in the same village, some went to the same school.

As part of my job, which encompassed almost everything from looking for contracts to tender for, to buying material from suppliers, to working with Frank the cross-eyed cutter, to work out the most efficient lays and so on, I had to negotiate new piece rates with the machinists for new products. The person I had to negotiate with was the mother of one of my friends from school.

About a year after that, I was working in Longton myself. This time for Royal Doulton, in Uttoxeter Road. Longton is at the other end of the city, and about ten miles from where I lived. The Chief Executive at the factory lived next door to my school friend, John Lowndes. I went to school with his son, although he was in a different year, and some years later his daughter lived in the same road as me. One of the production managers at the factory was the uncle of another girl I went to school with, and who lived in the same street as me.

When I moved from Longton, to Doulton's main factory in Burslem, one of the people I worked with there, was the mother of someone I worked with some years later at Newcastle Borough Council, and he was friends with, and went to school with Ron Foulkes, who I knew from the Labour Party, and Trade Union activity.

Just flipping back from there to the Autumn of 1971, I went to college for a few months full-time. Although, it was a Business Studies course, besides me there was a lad from Market Drayton who turned up always with his copy of Mao's Little Red Book in his jacket breast pocket, another became a leading member of the SPGB in Stoke, and another, Paul Humphreys, became a full-time worker for the potters union, who I again met when he was working with Ron Foulkes and John Urwin at the Stoke Trades Union Studies Department. Paul who lived in Smallthorne, was also the nephew of Alec Humphreys, who owned the CnC supermarket chain, and one of his close relations also lived in a small terraced house in the next street to where I lived as a kid.

Many of these connections also came out, a few years ago, at Ron's 50th Birthday celebrations, held at Port Vale, which also combined with a Northern Soul and Motown night. There are also a whole host of connections I could spin off into there about connections between Ron and various people involved in Northern Soul, as well as my connection, some years ago, through the Labour Party with the lad who ran the Ski Slope at Festival Park, who told me about his connection with King of the Mods, Tombo, who was one of the main characters at the Torch, when I first started going there in the late 1960's.

While at college in 1971, I also worked on the Christmas post, at Leek Road Sorting Office, in Stoke, and a lad I worked with there, Mick Brown, who used to join me in nipping over the gates to go and drink at the pub across the road, was also the son of the woman who was in charge of the last office I worked in, in the bowels of Stoke Town Hall, before I got the push.

Going back to Newcastle Borough Council, one of the women I worked with there, one day, was talking about her daughter, and her friendship with another girl she went to school with, who turned out to be the daughter of a bloke I had first worked with when I left school, when I worked at Stoke City Council.

In a similar vein, when I was twenty, I was offered a job working for Hambros Bank, selling investments. I was actually a few months too young, but they offered it to me anyway. In the end, I turned it down, which could have been a big mistake financially, but “What profit it a man if he shall inherit the world, but lose his soul.” About thirty years later, when I was going to the Alsager Writer's Circle, a woman joined who lived in Holmes Chapel, and lived next door to the man from Hambros who had offered me the job, except he now spent most of his time on his yacht in the South of France.

At around this same time, I was involved as a County Councillor with the process of twinning with the French town of St Paul Du Bois. The idea had been led by a former Kidsgrove resident whose brother still lived there, and they arranged regular football matches via Ladsandads. A couple of years ago, when I was in Spain looking for villas, the bloke who ran the estate agency, and himself came from Yorkshire, also knew the same brothers, and was involved in the football matches! In the context of Spain, there have been other connections, for example, walking through Javea and seeing a car of some locals, in which there was a sticker in the rear window for “John's Motors Sandyford”. That was not surprising, as I spoke to them later, and they had moved there from Sandyford. Just as an aside, on the walk back to the villa that day, I also passed Tony Robinson. On a different occasion, looking at villas for sale, the vendor of one villa was from Silverdale.

For a long time, when people asked how to pronounce our name, we referred them to our “Uncle Frank”, that is former Grandstand and BBC Breakfast presenter, Frank Bough.  In fact, he's something like my dad's second cousin and not my uncle. However, about thirty years ago, I was sitting in a waiting room at the North Staffs Central Outpatients, and the woman sitting next to me, was his aunty, and we had a short chat about the family connections, which her daughter had been investigating.

I'm sure there are any number of other connections I could have listed, had I started from a different channel to go down. I'm about to start writing my new novel based around the Golden Torch, and the period from the mid 1960's through to about 1975. Its all of these kinds of real life connections, and the lives of ordinary people that intersect and interact, often not just once but several times, separated by varying amounts of time and space, which create the potential for such stories. I will be creating a Facebook page, for the novel, in the hope that I might be able to get contributions towards the story, in what I hope will be possible to make into a co-operative venture, as I'm also considering the potential for a kickstarter project for a film based on the novel. Look out for details in coming weeks.

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