ON the way home from Bury Market the other day we found ourselves behind this van, bearing the legend LightWeight Roofing Solutions Ltd.
Which is just what you want in a roof, isn’t it? Something insubstantial that would blow away in the first gust of wind? Not for the first time I was flabbergasted by a choice of company name. Here are a few further examples we’ve enjoyed over the years:
Scorpion Bathrooms: When considering the purchase of sanitary ware, the last image you would wish to flash through your mind is of a poisonous predatory arachnid coming up through the plughole waving its fearsome stinger at your unprotected private parts. However, when we lived in south London we often saw vans bearing that name and a Google search reveals there is a Scorpion Bathroom Distribution Ltd based in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire.
Brown Leaves Nursery: Until fairly recently we would be entertained on our journeys along the A59 in Lancashire by a sign advertising the above in the village of Copster Green. Really? What kind of gardener wants brown leaves on his plants? This place was in business for many years despite its name but finally withered on the vine. In its memory there is now a Brown Leaves Grove, although we have yet to visit and assess the quality of the foliage.
Là Bedrooms: For that touch of class, there’s nothing like a gratuitous French accent to bring in the customers. Or so this firm in Nelson thought before it went belly-up.
Montagé: Another Lancashire business, in this case a picture-framing outfit, which decided an accent would be a cute idea. Wrong!
Silverfish Chinese Restaurant: This was in Baxenden, near Accrington, and I often passed it on the way to and from work in Manchester. Strangely, I was never tempted to call in. The proprietors no doubt hoped to evoke visions of a leaping piscine in a pure mountain stream but all I could think of was the disgusting things that were wriggling about when you lifted up damp linoleum. Baxenden, known locally as Bash, is the home of the wonderful Holland’s Pies and the location of the shocking murder by ‘Black Panther’ Donald Neilson of sub-postmaster Derek Astin in 1974.
Rectella Curtains: Still going strong in the North West despite being named after a rear end.
Albatross Builders: Had clearly never read Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner when they set up shop. Still in business, however, based in Coventry.
Magpie Builders: For anyone with a healthy mistrust of the construction trade, this south London firm seemed to guarantee that property would go missing. See Rossini’s 1817 opera The Thieving Magpie. The company, for some reason, is no longer with us.
Burnt Ash Ceilings: Another image you wouldn’t wish to conjure up when improving your happy home. Yet this family business based in Lewisham, south London, continues to thrive.
Sensible Priced: Still our favourite. At one time you could see vans from Sensible all over the country, advertising the Burnley vernacular. There is still a firm in Padiham, minus the final ‘d’, but it’s just not the same.
Curse of the copytakers
IN the days before computers ripped the heart out of print journalism, reporters working away from the office (yes, it used to happen) would have to search for a phone box before dictating their story to one of the team of copytakers (all female on my evening paper but often male and ostentatiously gay on the nationals).
In one of my early dispatches for the Burnley Evening Star, I described someone as ‘Mr R (for Robert) Smith’ but saw it go in the paper as ‘Mr Arthur Robert Smith’. Mistakes such as this were legion.
During the 1998 World Cup, there was a clash between England fans and local toughs in a Marseille bar. A reporter who saw it happen phoned over some copy which ended: ‘The trouble-makers dispersed when a police van drew up containing a dozen armed gendarmes.’ Somehow this got past the subs and went in the paper as ‘a police van drew up containing a dozen armed John Barnes’.
In a county cricket report a while ago, the writer dictated that a batsman had hit a series of sixes having performed similarly in a previous match at the ‘self-same arena’. This appeared in print as Selsey Marina.
Over to my former Daily Mail colleague Mike Stanford, from the sports desk. He tells me: ‘Back in the 1980s, the eagle-eyed Kelvyn Lee avoided a possibly catastrophic international incident. He was subbing a live report of Liverpool’s match with a German club (I can’t remember which) and was shocked to read, “The Germans suffered an aerial bombardment from Russian Jews”.
‘Fortunately, he realised it should be “Rush and Hughes”.’
Another sporting yarn from Mike: ‘It was in 1987 and a young sub moved from the sports desk of the Mail’s Manchester office to the paper’s London operation. On his first shift he found himself sitting next to a colleague, Peter Spain, who was an enthusiastic budgerigar breeder. Peter was well known for spending time on the phone to fellow breeders, but it did not stop the new guy moving several inches away when he heard him say: ‘Well, of course, there is no way in the world that I would take my cock out after October the first.’
A PS from PG
The stationmaster’s whiskers are of a Victorian bushiness and give the impression of having been grown under glass.
PG Wodehouse: Uncle Dynamite