Sunday, 28 April 2013

Suckerpunched by nostalgia

Partner and I were watching one of the obscure channels at about midnight the other night when an advert came on which entirely overwhelmed me with memories (look. You get to an age...). It was for David Nieper, which is a factory in Derbyshire where I worked in customer services for about a year after I finished my degree and was saving up to come to Cambridge.
I believe that is the first time David Nieper catalogues have ever been arranged near a pole. A first there for David Nieper
I imagine this is the same for everyone but, every job I have had, we have spent all the time laughing. I mean, I do do some work as well, but, I always end up in places where we laugh a lot, for some reason (and eat a lot as well). But, David Nieper was the best. It was great. I think there is a certain type of humour when you put a lot of northern women together in a factory and I still miss it. It was probably the most fun place I worked. I thought it was merely preserved in the aspic of my memory but no! They are still going! I had to order a catalogue! And they have literally not changed one bit in the fifteen years since I left. They are a small piece of perfection in a changing retail world.
Just imagine this woman in 30 years' time with a labrador. YOU SEE
All the models in the catalogue look as if they have stepped straight out of the wives' section of an Aspiring Tory Candidate Selection Panel. Some of them look a bit racier than others but still. When I worked there we supplied Mrs Thatcher with her full length lace slips, I believe she favoured the 1826. I am sorry to see that the 1826 appears to have been discontinued but you can still get the 1726 which is a perfectly acceptable substitute. We also provided Catherine Cookson with her nighties, indeed I like to think we contributed to making giant swathes of Middle England look less alluring in bed. We probably kept down the birth rate in the Home Counties.
Me on my last day. My desk is the one on the right nearest to the camera. I did a version of that squat in Hot Yoga this morning
I loved working in customer services. We had a large following of transvestites because we did larger sizes and were able to customise things, and our favourite, Mr Transvestite, once sent us a photograph of himself in a wedding dress in the back garden of a small pebbledashed house (much like mine in fact! House that is). All the women in the factory worked on piecework, which was kind of a good idea, but meant they churned out the things with just a few seams much more quickly than more complicated things, as the factory manager was a young man with no control. So, if you wanted a velour gown, you had no problems, whereas if you wanted french knickers - well, good luck to you. I used to find the velour gowns (useful for entertaining at home or on a cruise! Bracelet-length sleeves that won't tangle with your breakfast tray!) so amusing that when I left they made me a mini one and I still have it in a little gift box.
I always get great presents when I leave jobs. Sometimes I worry they're pleased to see me go...
They employed me solely because I was a size 12 (they already had an 8, 10, 14, 16, 18 and 20) and would be useful for trying on the sample sizes and impromptu shoulder-to-nipple measuring sessions. If you've never modelled sample underwear in front of a panel of women hyped up on cava and ready to heckle, then you've not lived. The graphic designer used to spend hours airbrushing nipples out of the catalogue on the specific orders of Mr Nieper, and all our customers had titles and were mad. It was marvellous. We spent all our time apologising for how slow the french knickers were being and eating pecan slices from the bakery down the road. I sat behind a nice woman who used to save up all her weightwatchers points so she could get slaughtered on lager at the weekend and who poked me periodically with a ruler, and who once got drunk and tearfully gave me the following, excellent advice: 'never have two men in love with you at the same time, Susie. It's not fun. It's awful'. (No danger yet, Mandy).
I aspire to be the kind of woman who would know what to do with a full slip
Sometimes things went wrong. There was the man who wanted to order, on his wife's account, french knickers (can you see where this is going??) to be sent to his recently widowed sister-in-law secretly, with a card which said, from an anonymous admirer, I mean, can you imagine. Well, the french knickers were delayed (plenty of velour gowns though), and somehow, in error, we sent the wife a letter (we are sorry the knickers you ordered to be sent to xx at xx address with the following gift card won't be available for another month) and that dirty rat was exposed. There was the woman who ordered a black patterned two-piece for her mother's birthday party: the fabric ran out: it was horribly delayed: she was very angry and said, cancel the order!!!. However, she called us back a few weeks later and said on reflection she would like to keep it on order because (I kid you not) although it had missed her mother's birthday, her mother was now looking a bit peaky and she thought it might do for the funeral. There was Miss Smith who burst into hysterical tears when the coffee silk peignoirs were discontinued before she could get one to match her pyjamas. There was the time I rang the bewildered woman in Australia to ask if she wanted a pink or a blue nightie, forgetting there was a time difference.

But on the whole it was a perfect family firm of the kind that cares about its employees and puts on a dinner dance every Christmas: the kind you don't think exists any more. But it does! So I hope they're all having as much fun in customer services as I used to do. I hope they're having pecan slices and sausage rolls for tea, mince pies at Christmas, and kebabs for the Saturday shift. I hope the Silly Name Competition is still running. I notice they've taken the french knickers out of the catalogue. It's probably for the best. And if I ever get a windfall, I might be tempted to buy a nightie. I always found the high necked long sleeve ones strangely alluring in an Amish kind of way ...


Vivianne said...

I'm off to Google them :)

Vivianne said...

PS I nearly choked - I have never paid £80 for an old-fashioned nightie and I'm not about to start now ! LOL

Susie said...

Not even the same kind of nightie Catherine Cookson wore? Have you no sense of history? ;-)

Anonymous said...

I've always thought that as I am only 71 I am too young for David Nieper yet!However after looking at their online catalogue after your blog post I rather fancy one of the Amish type nighties for whenI have flu-but the thought of Maggie Thatcher having been a customer is rather off putting.
I enjoy the blog Susie!

Anonymous said...

I work in exactly the type of small family-run clothing manufacturer, and you are spot on.