Hoover Factory, 15 May 1981

I recovered this Hoover Factory memory vividly at a pilot of Rohan Candappa’s new performance piece on 31 October 2017:

What Listening To 10,000 Love Songs Has taught Me About Love. It’s an exploration of love, and music, and how the two intertwine. it’s also about how our lives have a soundtrack.”

Here is a link to my review of that performance piece.

Somewhat unexpectedly (to me), one of the songs Rohan featured in the show was Hoover Factory by Elvis Costello.

In case you are not familiar with the piece (and/or the building), less than two minutes of divine vid, below, will give you all you need:

I came across the song in March 1981- click here for the story of my cassette swaps with Graham Greenglass and my trip to see Elvis (sadly a Hover Factory-free concert) with Anil Biltoo, Caroline Freeman and Simon Jacobs.

I listened to the cassettes Graham made for me a lot in that final term of my first year at Keele. I especially liked the Hoover Factory song, even before the events of mid May.

Wednesday 13 May 1981

I was in the Students’ Union that evening (as usual) when I got tannoyed.

The sound of Wally across the tannoy saying:

would Ear Narris come to reception please. Ear Narris to reception…

…became a commonplace in my sabbatical year…

…I even have a towel emblazoned with the legend “Ear Narris”, a gift from Petra…

…but this was probably the first time I had ever been tannoyed in the Students’ Union.

It was my mum on the phone. My father’s older brother, Manny, had died suddenly of a heart attack. I was needed at home. Rapidly. Traditional Jewish funerals are conducted very soon after death and that branch of the family was/is traditional. I went to bed early, knowing I would need to make a very early start (by student standards) the next day.

Thursday 14 May 1981

A flurry of activity.

Early in the morning, I went round to see a few academics to reschedule my essays and excuse myself from a tutorial or two. I recall the topology tutor (professor?) seeming incredibly strange. Twice I told him that my uncle had died and twice he said back to me, “I’m sorry to hear that your father has died”.

Once I had agreed my absences and extensions, I legged it to London, having arranged to stop off at the place near Euston where the religious paperwork for births, marriages, deaths and stuff used to get done. Was it Rex House in those days? Anyway, I was suitably “family but not immediate family” (the latter are officially in mourning and are not allowed to do stuff) to help get the paperwork sorted out.

I learnt that Uncle Manny was (officially) born in Vilnius, although the family hailed from the “twixt Minsk and Pinsk” Belarus part of the Pale of Settlement. The family might have already been on the move by the time he was born or that answer might, at the time, have seemed more acceptable when the UK arrivals paperwork was being done.

When I got home, I recall that Grandma Anne, 88/89 years old, was in our house and in the most shocking state. Apparently Uncle Manny had collapsed in her kitchen and she was unable to get past the collapsed body of her son to try to call for help. A nightmarish scenario that would seem unlikely & overly melodramatic if used in fiction. Grandma Anne never really recovered from the shock of this event and didn’t survive that calendar year.

It was the first time I had witnessed death at close hand. I was very small (8 or 9) when Uncle Alec, the oldest of the four brothers, died; in truth I had been shielded from it. But this time I was very affected by witnessing and being part of this family bereavement.

From left to right, Uncles Manny, Michael and Alec

Friday 15 May 1981

The funeral, at Bushy Cemetery. We were driven out as part of the funeral cortege of course.

I had only been to one funeral before – as it happens at the same cemetery – that of Bernard Rothbart, a teacher at Alleyn’s – perhaps two years earlier. I’ll write that one up for Ogblog when I come to it.

I’m not sure I had ever been out on the Western Avenue before – at least not knowingly and not with senses heightened. In fact, I’m pretty sure I had no idea where we were until I saw that magnificent Hoover Building loom into view.

Oh my God. That’s it. That’s the Hoover Factory…

“Yes, dear”, said mum. “Your ‘Uncle Josh’ used to work for Hoover”.

I don’t think mum got the point.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the line from the song, “it’s not a matter of life or death. What is? What is?”  Because my family was suddenly experiencing something that really was a matter of life or death. And people really did, profoundly care who does or doesn’t take another breath. I wanted to understand, but Elvis wasn’t helping; his song was just stuck in my head.

Hoover Factory remained stuck in my head for the rest of the day…the rest of the week…the rest of the term.

And the rest of that term turned out to be a very eventful few weeks indeed for me:

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