The Factory Girls – Episode 01

The day was only a wink of pink along the rugged skyline of the Lancashire hills as Carol Jenkins let herself out of her cottage and turned purposefully up Deveroe high street. At the far end of the rising road she could already see the high red roof of the factory, and suddenly the first brave rays of a chill spring sun caught the topmost windows, making it seem as if it was winking at her. Carol smiled fondly and picked up her steps. She’d worked at Cardill’s Textiles all her adult life, first on the shop floor, then as a supervisor and finally for the last 16 tough but happy years as factory manager. Automatically her hand went into her handbag to feel for the front-door key. Cardill’s was housed in a former Methodist chapel and the key was a big old iron one, more fitting for a treasure chest than a modern factory. She turned the key in the old lock and pushed gently on the door, wincing as it creaked open. On normal days she left it to the supervisors to open up, but today wasn’t normal. Cardill’s was owned by a large international company, Xion PLC, and this afternoon the big bosses were coming to visit. Cardill’s, with its unconventional layout and brassy Lancashire workforce, was one of the company’s quirkier businesses, but it also turned in a strong profit and Carol was fiercely proud of it. Today she wanted the men in suits to see her precious factory at its finest.“You’re up early.”Carol jumped at the soft Scots voice behind her.“Ina, you scared the life out of me!”The other woman grinned.“It would take more than little old me to do that, Carol, hen! Come on, then, let us in. I’m about dropping under these bags.”Carol stood back and stared in amazement as the factory cook staggered past her into the factory with three shopping bags in each hand.“What on earth have you got there, Ina? I thought the supplies were delivered yesterday?”Ina shrugged.“Just a few extras I whipped up last night. Don’t want those fancy London businessmen thinking we can’t cook up here in Deveroe, do we now?”“No danger of that,” Carol said fondly, divesting her of some of the bags and peering inside to see tubs of fresh scones and shortbread.Ina had been the cook at Cardill’s for as long as Carol could remember and she tended lovingly to the girls’ stomachs with her fiercely traditional cuisine of stews, soups, cakes and pies. Any “faddy” diets were tossed scornfully out of the canteen windows. All problems were solved with great mugs of tea and if they were severe hearty helpings of Ina’s infamous sherry trifle. Many was the broken heart, troublesome pregnancy or cracked friendship Ina had stitched together in the factory canteen. She was Carol’s greatest ally.Now, the two padded into the deserted factory together and looked around. Carol drew in a deep breath, savouring the soft smell of wooden floors, sewing machine oil and newly cut cotton that was as familiar to her as home. Cardill’s made classic ladies’ underwear, even if the old chapel was not a classic factory. Sewing and lace-attach machines were fitted all around the original pillars and, as the early light filtered in through the big arched windows, they cast wiry shadows across the floor. The simpler garments were sewn on the ground floor and the more complex ones in the “advanced” room above. The two areas were joined by an ancient, temperamental conveyor belt that was kept operational by Mike, the contentedly grumpy mechanic, and Little Mickey, his son and general dogsbody. All the completed goods were collected behind this belt and moved through to the only modern part of the factory an ugly but highly functional packing area and warehouse. With the factory employing women from virtually every family in the area it sometimes felt to Carol as if this unconventional building was more the heart of the community now than it had been as a church. Every joy, trial and tragedy of Deveroe life seemed to come through this crazy place and she was at the very hub of it all. She was sure that today the bright, positive atmosphere would impress the Xion top brass, but all the same she was glad she’d made it in early to check the place over. She rubbed her hands together, relishing the challenge. When her dear Eddie had died last year, her friends had suggested she should give up work, but she’d refused. She wasn’t ready to retire she was barely past fifty-five! Yes, the factory made demands on her, but thank goodness for that. The last thing she wanted to do was sit at home in endless wretched peace and quiet.“Time to get to work, Ina,” she said now. “Let’s get this old place fit for a king.”


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