50 Years a Flagger

Ray Whiteside

Ray Whiteside (2009)

It is 1961 – beer was 7p per pint, but more of that later. Elvis Presley is top of the hit parade with Are You Lonesome Tonight and four mop-haired Liverpudlians are yet to have a hit record, they are still playing in a small cellar in their hometown. Incidentally England’s World Cup win is 5 years in the future, Mrs Thatcher’s political debut on the world stage 20 years hence but Garstang has its own milestone.

Mrs Whiteside’s pride and joy, her young lad Ray starts work with a local builder Billy Helme. As well as the usual sweeping up, making tea, running errands, he also cops another job – flagger.

Now to a lot of folk flaggers are men who lay stone or concrete flags – in Garstang it has a different meaning, these are the men who decorate the town, and importantly the pubs, with bunting for the Children’s Festival weekend. Mr Helme had ladders and supplied volunteers to help with the bunting, unpaid and after work of course, and so Ray started his “flagging”.

Flagging is, I am assured by the flaggers nothing like as simple as it seems. Schedules need to be arranged and meetings held to agree dates for starting. Due to the lack of suitable alternative venues the men, always men, no women allowed, meet in a pub. Women are only allowed to help with such jobs as washing the flags, help fold them after use and even the odd repair.

Given the nature of the British climate it is inevitable that some nights be rained off, this of course requires another meeting to arrange an alternative date, venue for this – obviously nowhere better than a pub.

Getting all the flags in place and then attending to the individual pubs consumes many nights. I have asked why, after the event, the flags all seem to come down in a couple of hours but my query has been dismissed with the comment “that’s a woman’s question”.

The pub landlords must also accept some of the blame for the lengthy process. They have been known to reward the flaggers with a pint or two for their efforts. This of course immediately signals an end to the flagging for the night, “well it would not be safe to go up the ladder”. What about refusing the pint? Answer – don’t be stupid. Ray probably did not realise back in the 1960s he was embarking on a 50 year (and still counting) career, one in which he has stopped many a pint going bad.

He has recently had a milestone birthday and, although he might think about retiring from his day job running the family dry cleaning and Clowns toy shop, his voluntary activities with the Children’s Festival, Garstang Lions, British Heart Foundation, Garstang in Bloom and the Chamber of Trade will doubtless keep him occupied. Seriously though, well done Ray and thanks to all the other flaggers, because you have to admit come Children’s Festival weekend the town looks very colourful.

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