I was brought up in one of the poorest areas of Crewe in Cheshire, UK, a working-class town famous for being one of the biggest rail junctions in the country. The station is a connection point for trains to Wales, the north of England and Scotland and the east side of the country. Railway engines were manufactured in a factory extending the width of the town, about four miles long. It was also home of the Rolls Royce car factory and HQ. So I suppose we were quite posh really!
My dad worked in the foundry in the railway works, was not paid well so struggled to support his family of my mother, me, four sister, a dog and a budgie – and for many years one or other of my grandmothers. Holidays were limited to short breaks in a caravan in North Wales. I did not know in those days that some people went abroad for holidays.
What has this to do with an embarrassing moment? Patience please, it is all relevant. Somehow I passed my 11 plus exams and went to Grammar School, leaving behind my mates who went to Secondary School. Among the privileges of Grammar School education was that I got to learn French. OMG why do I need to learn French? I never go further than North Wales. So one day my 'classmates' dared me to hide UNDER my desk for the duration of the French lesson. Unfortunately, I fell asleep, must have been snoring and was discovered by the teacher, who marched me off to the Head for punishment. My embarrassing moment? No, patience, please.
After leaving school I entered the clothing industry, in the pattern-making department of Chester Barrie Ltd, makers of some of the finest tailored garments in the world – see we were posh. My career got off to a flying start, was production manager of a factory at the age of 24, in South Wales – no French needed, look you. Then in 1979, a very unexpected opportunity came my way – I was offered a job as а consultant to improve the efficiency of a factory in Athens, Greece. So off I went with my family on this big adventure – never mind the job, let's see Greece.
At the time I arrived the factory had recently secured some big orders with a French company based in Paris. You see the French connection? Embarrassment coming! As the boss was keen to make a good impression, he gave me the job of over-seeing the production of the garments from fabric to shipment. No problem! He did not tell me that a French technician would pop over from time-to-time to monitor progress. So one day the boss called me to his office, gave me the keys to his sports car and told me to collect Monsieur Lambert from the airport.
I greeted Mr L with “Bonjour Monsieur, bien venue, je m'appell George”. See. I wasn't asleep all the time. There was not much conversation between the airport and the factory as I was still learning to drive the boss's sports car through the mad traffic of central Athens.
During the days before Mr L's visit, I had prepared the cutting room for the visit, cutting instructions followed, fabric spread on the tables. At the factory, we did a tour of the cutting and sewing departments before going to my office to enjoy a coffee, armed with a Collins Robert French dictionary. I apologised for my poor French pronunciation. Mr L explained that his two young sons were having special lessons to help them with THEIR pronunciation, so not to worry. Nearly there, I feel embarrassed writing this.
I knew nothing about the LAY MARKERS which Mr L had sent to the factory a week before his visit, addressed to the chief designer, who was a very tall, very proud man, full of confidence and his own importance. Mr L asked if we had received his LAY MARKERS. As I did not know, I went to the design room and said Mr L would like to see his LAY MARKERS.
After a long delay and chat about the heat in my office, no air conditioning, 30c outside – the designer appeared in the corridor, pulling a garment rail loaded with paper patterns. He pulled the rail into my office, sat down with a big smile on his face, clearly expecting to be thanked for his work of cutting every pattern from the LAY MARKERS, from size 8 to 16, beautifully labeled with a style number, size etc and hanging on separate hooks. I froze, Mr L jumped from his chair, red in the face, waving his arms and shouting a lot of French which I must have missed while sleeping under my desk. I did recognise, however “VOUS ETES STUPIDE, VOUS ETES STUPIDE, QUEL EST ARRIVEE? You are stupid! You are stupid! What has happened????
At this point, my brain seized up. I could not think in Greek or French. Mr L was about to have a heart attack, the designer had no idea what was wrong and was shouting at me in Greek asking for an explanation. I knew exactly what was wrong and felt VERY, VERY STUPID. THIS WAS MY EMBARRASSING MOMENT!!!
Those of you who have worked in a factory will be familiar with LAY MARKERS – and hopefully will understand why I was so embarrassed. Anyone who does not understand should stay tuned to mc2-patterns.com to catch up with the technology of pattern-making and cutting in a future article.