Friday, 6 March 2015

Signs Of The Times

Today I snap the signwriter at work on the row of shops on Langlands Rd. A traditional signwriter at work in Govan is something to be celebrated.

A few personal reminiscences of my grandfather, John M., who was a signwriter in Govan are in order; thanks for contributions from Tillie and Magscat and a couple of my own.

His working life began at age 13 with a short-lived apprenticeship as an electrician in the shipyards, but his real desire was to be a signwriter. Before long his mother contacted Master Signwriter, Percy Tolley, who was seeking an apprentice. John went for a trial and was accepted immediately to begin learning the trade.
As a Journeyman, he started in business on his own.
In his house in Broomloan Rd., there was a wee cupboard at the end of the lobby filled with pots of paint. At night, John would hunch down on the landing, mixing paints to the required colours for the next day's work. A strong smell of turpentine and oily rags pervaded the air.
He carried the paints in a narrow wooden case which kept them upright and the tins had thin wire handles which he'd made. Two essential pieces of equipment were the mahl stick, with its pad of chamois leather and the wooden palette on which the colours were mixed.
Most of his work was shop signs, ship signs in the yards, and signs on the sides of carts and vans.
He was a very good artist, drew well and loved to sketch, but didn't get a chance to study art.
Often in the evenings, he'd pore over a collection of volumes with his daughters. One of them contained the works of the Great Masters and they'd admire them and talk about colours; Magenta, Prussian Blue, Olive Green, Cobalt, French Ultramarine.
He was a pleasant and sociable man and always had plenty of work, and plenty of stories.

A favourite to listen to was about Percy Tolley; he'd been a bit of a braggart and a bit of a drinker. John had many a story to tell about him, how once they'd gone out of Glasgow to undertake a job and on the return journey, they were sitting on the train waiting for it to depart the station. A shifty looking character all at once appeared on the platform and began showing them watches for sale, obviously stolen goods.
Percy asked, "How much?" and the man answered, "10 shillins."
"Five," called out Percy and the man said, "Eight."
Percy said, "Let's 'ave a look then," (John mimicked Percy's English accent) and the man passed the watch up to the carriage window. Just then the whistle blew, the train was about to leave. As it gathered speed, the man, hurrying alongside shouted, "Seven!"
Percy called down "Five!"
The train hastened along, the man getting desperate bawled, "Six!" then running out of breath, cried, "Right! Make it five!" but Percy by this time had pocketed the watch and to the dismay of the other, leaned back in the window with a "B---- off!"