Work? Don’t talk to me about work. It’s just one long drudge from start to finish. The trick is, to enjoy what you’re working at, then it’s not like work at all. It’s more like play; having fun… and getting paid for it. Sorted!
As luck would have it I’ve been one of those really fortunate people who seem to have mastered the trick early on and, apart from one or two odd occasions that thankfully didn’t last very long, have managed to… er… “work” it every time.
My very first “proper” job, as a fairly young teenager, was working in a pub! Wouldn’t get away with that nowadays of course, what with all the stupid rules and regulations and the Nanny State and the rest of it.
A pub then… but not any of the conventional jobs that may immediately occur to you. Nope. I worked in the cellar. Trained as a cellarman in fact, back in the days when that really meant something; when real skill was involved.
As a possibly interesting little footnote to this, that was when beer was still delivered in wooden barrels, and the place where I was trained was the very last pub in the town to use hogsheads… huge (52 gallons if I remember correctly) wooden monsters that, if handled incorrectly, could maim or cripple with no effort whatsoever. As a youngster it was as much as I could do to move one of the beasts on my own… though, as with most things, there was a knack to it that rendered it (relatively) easy.
It was a job I thoroughly enjoyed; even moreso when, training completed, I was occasionally left on my own. Wow! The responsibility! At that age it was a real buzz, and of course I did my best to live up to it. Can’t remember now why I left the job, but it turned out to not be my chosen career path, though some of what I’d learned was to prove of real use later in life.
But no, my chosen career path (that I stumbled across almost by accident, after a detour or two) proved to be… print! The wonderful world of printing.
Ah, the sound of the machines. And the smells… of ink, of paper, of all the various chemicals. And the papers themselves; the different types… so many different types, and textures, and weights. Each presenting their own unique challenges. Exquisite. How is it possible for someone to be so enthralled by things so mundane? Yet it is; and I was; and, bizarrely, still am… by the memory of them at least.
One of the sayings in the printing trade used to be that once the ink gets into your blood you’ll never get it out. And I guess that’s just about right.
I went through practically every aspect of the trade; the actual printing itself obviously, but also typesetting, proofreading, bookbinding and yes, even the darkroom, where the scanners, process cameras etc are a far remove from the cameras and kit of the “conventional” photographer. In the printing world you don’t get photographers of course… its camera operators, darkroom technicians, platemakers etc, with the roles being combined in the smaller printing houses.
I even dabbled a bit, in the early days, with silkscreen printing… though that’s a horse of an entirely different colour.
Not just different aspects of the trade either, but also different printers. From the in-house print departments of large companies producing their own stationery and stuff, equipped with banks of machines little better than glorified duplicators; general purpose jobbing printers; a few months in one of the very early forms of instant print shop, when they were still using “proper” (albeit small) printing machines; right through to high quality colour printers having machine rooms filled with big four-colour presses, each with their own two-man crew and where printing is more science than craft.
Even taking in along the way the little back street printer, barely more than a one-man band (well, there were four of us actually… which included the boss!), where the machines had to be gently coaxed to produce anything at all, and the most technical bit of the home-made cobbled together platemaking machine was an egg timer! A place where letterpress rather than offset litho still ruled the roost.
About the only thing I missed out on were the massive web presses used for the production of mainstream newspapers, magazines and the like. Gigantic machines that can take up an entire building just to themselves.
Naturally enough, being still young and up for trying new things, there was the occasional departure. Rarely more than a few months though. I think the longest was about 18 months spent in the confectionary department of a bakers… decorating cakes! Another job that was utterly absorbing, incidentally. And I got to eat my fill of cake as well… whenever I wanted. Though it’s surprising how quickly you can lose interest in eating cakes and buns and stuff. Surprised me, anyway.
But always and always I’d return… back to the soon-missed world of printing.
Nothing ever stays the same though, does it? Certainly not Life. It changes, evolves; one thing leads to another. As did my career in print, gradually nudging me away from the print production side and into pre-press. Graphics in fact; graphic design, and all entailed thereby.
For the first time in my life I became fully my own boss with my own design studio and everything. The printing press, the plates, the reams and reams of paper that I used to so casually “air” (or “knock up” as it was termed) with the assurance of a gambler shuffling cards were replaced by the drawing board, technical drawing pens, airbrush and art boards. Where type became more than just a means of reproducing words on paper, transforming into an important design element in its own right.
I moved from being a producer of print to becoming, on behalf of clients, a buyer of print… with me originating all the necessary artwork. But old habits die hard, and over a decade or so of running an increasingly busy studio I set up my own typesetting facility, my own darkroom, and began to embrace the then relatively new world of the personal computer and DTP (desktop publishing)… with the next inevitable step being my own print room. Had not stuff happened.
Stuff in the shape of a couple of really intense years of cataclysmic events; events forcing me into a whole series of life-changing choices that eventually led me in a completely unexpected direction, far removed from anything to do with print, graphics, visual imagery and reproduction, or anything even remotely connected thereto.
Yet here I am, twenty or so years on, having trodden a painfully tortuous path with much soul-searching along the way, finding myself messing with photography, the odd stint of website design, and other graphics-related stuff… activities not a million miles removed from where I started.
Strange how this Life caper works, innit?
So what’s prompted this most unusual (for me) bout of reverie?
A dream it was. A dream of once again being back in the print room. Once more hearing the machines and sniffing the gorgeously unmistakable smell of freshly printed paper. It happens occasionally. I’d hesitate to call it a recurring theme but sometimes, once or twice a year perhaps, the whole environment of the printing world of yore will pop up unexpectedly in a dream somewhere and if, having woken, I pause to reflect upon it I realise just how much I miss it all. In a kind of subdued “background” sort of way.
One can never go back of course. The technology has moved forward so rapidly, and so far, that I’d likely not even recognise a modern-day print room, the skills I’d acquired and taken for granted now no longer of any use… completely redundant. Had I stuck with it I would doubtless have kept pace. But I hadn’t… so I didn’t.
To say that I regret some of the choices I’ve made would perhaps be putting it too strongly. Not regret then. But, sometimes, a sort of nostalgia. A wistfulness for things that have passed, and can never be again. Oh well. Such is Life.