A Babys Arm

briefcase

In the film Pulp Fiction, there are particular scenes where various characters intermittently come into contact with a briefcase of some importance. Each time the case is opened, the camera is situated in front of the person who currently possesses the expensive, leather trimmed hold-all, so that you are looking at their faces as the lid is raised.

Their eyes widen, as their faces are bathed in a golden light that the open lid exposes. There are a few moments of awed silence before the case is finally and reverently closed, and the source of the light blinks out of the scene, with the suddenness of the latch snapping shut.

It leaves everything at that moment immediately darker and emptier – only increasing the impact and mystery of what ever the object was in the case.

The people who view it are left momentarily stunned when the case is closed and the light shut off, unable for a time to comprehend what they have witnessed.

Because, all the way through the film you never actually find out what is actually occupying the case.

But you do know that its special.

You know this by silence as the case is opened, by the expressions on the faces of those who examine the interior, and by the way they lean in and almost, huddle, that bit closer to observe what that raised lid has exposed.

But the golden glow, well.

The beautiful golden glow from the open lid is the beginning and end that the visual impact has on those clustered around it.

The same goes for the scene where the Arc of the Covenant is finally opened in the Indiana Jones film – Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

covenant

When the lid is slid across to open the Covenant, there’s the growing atmospheric music, the almost rapturous initial expressions on the faces of those exposed to the objects within – the glow that seeps out as it is cracked open, giving way to the incredible flash of pure light that shatters the surrounding darkness from the exposed interior of the Covenant, leaves you in no doubt of its heavenly importance.

The light reflects the purity of the interior objects. In fact, that light is a pre-cursor to the fact that your soul isn’t actually fit enough to view it.

But people have to look. They can’t help themselves.

But then it kills them stone dead.

Now, you can’t get better visual impact of the effect that a mysterious yet important object can have on those witnessing it, than that.

Its the images of those people with varying expressions on their faces. Stunned, staring down while crowding round those objects. Just opening and closing mouths as they tried to speak but stricken momentarily dumb. Seeing what lay before them but unable to describe or take their eyes off it – that was the image that took hold in my mind when a friend of mine relayed this story to me recently.

He had been working on an exclusive housing site in North Yorkshire. Not your run of the mill homes. These were individually built, with clients requesting particular refinements or high tech fit outs as the properties were being developed.

Big, detached homes aimed at people with large wallets and expensive tastes.

So when one client became aware of a faint, tinny electric buzzing noise that she could hear of an evening when she was trying to go to sleep, it became a area of concern for the developer.

If there was an electrical fault with properties as exclusive as these, then it was a matter of urgency that it was identified and resolved as soon as possible.

“I’m not saying it was loud – it wasn’t.’

Explained Mark.

“But d’you know, when you go on holiday? Or when we actually get some hot weather, and all the little bugs or mosquitos appear? And the bastards are either making a meal out of your arse, or just irritating the life out of you just as you’re about to go to sleep? Whizzing round your head? You know? That whiney buzz as they get really close to your ear and you’re like -”

And he demonstrated by ducking, flapping his arms around his head to ward off an invisible entity while looking around sharply, trying to locate the source of a miniscule sound – then his eyes met mine again as he straightened up.

“Yeah? You know what I mean? One of those irritating little fuckers buzzing round your ears! And you can’t actually see it!?”

I nodded my head emphatically. Who hasn’t been in that situation when you’re just dropping off to sleep and suddenly there’s a kamikaze flea dive bombing past your ear. You actually hear it coming from a distance and all of a sudden you’re jumping up trying to ward off what sounds like a tiny motorbike from driving down your earhole.

I always imagine a tiny bug dressed as a Japanese Kamikaze pilot – helmet and all – circling above, weighing up how long an hour actually is to be alive. Then, seeing a person just nodding off and thinking –

Jesus, only 15 minutes left. Fuckit here we go..”

and seizing its chance to scream,

Bonzaiiiiiiiiii!!!”

Kamikaze 1

Then nose-diving down and whipping past your ear half-a-dozen times, then zipping out of range to continue circling and waiting for the leviathan below to lie back down again to line up another run.

“Well,”

continued Mark,

“It was that sort of noise. There but faint. You wouldn’t even notice it if you weren’t told about it, and even then, it had to be really quiet. I mean really quiet. But as she’d be in bed , about to nod off, the noise was noticeable in the quiet of the night.

It was driving the client mad.”

The client being a well heeled professional lady, very hoity-toity, a high level legal job and she was very clear – and rightly so – that she wanted it sorting out. She would be going to bed and this indistinct faint buzz, un-locatable, would be on the edge of her hearing in the silence of the room, and the more she became aware of it the louder it became.

“Well how did she notice it? Was it some sort of back ground noise? Water filling a tank? Or the house moving?”

“No,”

continued Mark.

“It was definitely there. But it was impossible to actually pin-point the source. But she wasn’t happy. For one thing, over the sheer cost of the property then discovering this fault in the middle of what should be bespoke perfection. This noise. And secondly, she was flapping about a possible fire risk.”

“Did they turn the electric off? See if that stopped it?”

“Mate, they tried all sorts. Half a dozen times they went in. Everyone. You know Matty the spark? The old boy? Retired after that job?”

“Yeah, yeah I remember Matt. Smashing bloke. He was getting on a bit anyway. Thought he’d never retire.”

“Yeah, he didn’t hang about after that job. Well Matt went in, worked through the house. ‘Cos we couldn’t source it he had to check every room. Every socket. Every appliance. Anything electrical. I mean, he stripped every socket off the wall and checked all the wiring to them.”

“And he found it?”

“Christ no. What hair the old bugger had left on his head he was almost pulling it out in frustration. Then they sent the plumbers in -”

“Plumbers?”

“Yeah, they had to check everything they had been involved with, boiler, fittings – taps, toilets, joints to pipes – anything they had fitted.”

“Blimey.”

“Yeah. I know. Everyone was sent round to have a listen to see if they could locate it. Then, they decided. Everyone was going in together.”

“Everyone?”

“Everyone. Plumbers, sparks, joiners, agent and foremen. Even laborers – just to see if anybody could source it. We all ended up in the bedroom where she mainly heard it when she was trying to go to sleep. About 12 of us, all stood round trying not to make a sound, whispering to each other, straining to hear it.”

“And what happened?”

“We took everything apart in that room and the en-suite. Sockets off again, sink and toilet out. Vanity dismantled. Tiler stood ready to re-tile the new vanity I had ready to re-fit when we were done. Everything out. Don the plumber was going mad.”

“I bet he was.”

“Kept ranting on about ‘Never heard a fucking toilet buzz in all my years..'”

“Anyway we’re at that point. All pissed off and we’re stood in the bedroom trying to listen again and we can just about catch this faint buzz.

“Then Matty says –

‘We have looked under the bed haven’t we?’

“Well we all turned to look at the bed, at each other then back at the bed. I mean. We’d all wandered round it each visit. It was a big room but still, this was a big bed – massive mate – super king size. Paul the agent says – ”

Are you telling me,”

“A bit testy like,” adds Mark,

Are you telling me that not a one of you dickheads have looked under that fucking bed??”

Mark continued,

“Dom dropped down on his hands and knees pulls the old for-lock and says – “One sec Massa, I’s a lookin..” has a nosey under and adds-”

“Seriously. Do we have to move this thing? There’s only a couple of boxes and a suitcase under it.”

Mark continued,

“I mean – he was right. It was enormous. Who in their right mind would it occur to, to try lumping that big bastard thing around the room?”

“So I said –

‘Well I’m a joiner – what would I be looking under a bed for..?’

And Don gives it –

You don’t see many beds plumbed in, so – No. I’ve not shifted it. why would I? look at the size of the fucking thing!”

“But Paul’s stood there looking right pissed off. So that’s it then, Nothing else for it – Paul wants the only area of floor that hasn’t been checked, exposed. The beds got to move.”

He paused for a moment as he stared off into the distance, revisiting the scene again in his own mind.

“So. We strips the bed, tries to keep it all tidy, ‘cos she’s going to go mad if we make a mess of this bed – no two ways about it. It’ll be the icing on the cake. The vanity’s in bits. Toilet, sink – all need plumbing back in. New vanity will need re-tiling, sockets hanging off the wall all over the place. And here we are stripping the bed…”

“Heavy was it?”

“Man. It was solid oak. They must have assembled it en-situ. We got the mattress off it and it took 8 of us to lift it across the room.”

“And what was under it” Any bare wires sparking away?”

“No. Just a couple of box files and this expensive looking, heavy duty designer suitcase. But..”

And he’s looking a bit sheepish,

“But the faint buzz actually did get louder.”

“Really? After all that?”

“Yeah, I know mate. All this time of looking and its coming down to some boxes under the bed.”

“So what happened?”

“Everyone came in to see, sort of bunched up round it. So I leant down and opens the box files but all they have in them is paper. So its just the suitcase.”

“And?”

“Well I unzipped it and stands up weighing up what might be in the case.”

“Yeah??”

“Paul’s tanting on in the background giving it –‘Come on open the thing then!’ – so I stick’s the toe of my boot on the lid and flips it open. And straight away the noise goes up ten fold and everyone jumps back. Then we can’t help ourselves, we all lean back in to look at what’s in that case buzzing away. I’m not kidding mate. Everyone was gob-smacked. But Matt’s a bit blank and says -”

What is it?”

“So Don leans over – with out taking his eyes off the meaty object buzzing away – and tells him.”

It’s a what now?”

“Don lean over again – again with out taking his eyes off it – and explains, and Matt is stood gaping at Don for a couple of seconds and then -”

You’re fucking kidding me?”

“”And that, as far as I can remember was the only time I remember him taking his eye’s off the thing – to look at Don to ask that question. Because then his eyes went back down and all you could hear in the silence was old Matty saying -”

Fuck. Me. I mean. Look at the size of the thing. Fuck me. Fuck Me!”

“At this point, ”

continued Mark,

“We’re all stood there staring down at this thing in the case, heads turning to different angles to take on board whats it is, with Matty blathering away at this point. And who walks in but the owner of the item in the case. And she’s not happy at all.”

Oh dear god. Now you’ve wrecked the dam bed. Wonderful.”

Mark carried on.

“Everyone, has stopped staring at the thing in the suitcase to swivel their eyes to the woman. I’m not kidding – no one could say a word. Except Matt. Matt can’t stop staring at the thing, and can’t stop talking. And while the woman’s demanding answers, oblivious to anything but the destruction and disarray, Matt is completely focused on the open case and as oblivious of her. He’s was verging on an asthma attack at this point! All you could hear was her heavy breathing through sheer temper, Matt panting like Lassie, and this bloody thing buzzing like a Flymo!”

“And he can’t shut up!”

Fuck me. Its like a Subway foot-long.”

How wonderful! You’ve took all the bloody sockets off again I see. Oh! Yes! And Yes! You’ve now destroyed my bathroom!!”

Look at the size of the fucking thing.”

Oh tremendous! The beds on the other side of the bloody room! How spectacular!”

Mark continued the tale,

“Matty was actually clutching his chest at this point, I think he was on his way to a stroke. And he’s still not taken his eyes off the case or even realized the woman is in the room. Everyone else is too stunned to talk. We’re looking from the case to the woman to each other to the case again, while she’s stood there with her hands on her hips, waiting for answers getting more pissed off by the minute. So I turns to her, and had to say something, ”

I think we’ve found the problem love.”

“Honest to God pal, I’m not joking. All you could hear at this point was this thing buzzing away because its so quiet, and Matt breathing like a steam engine, gripping his arm because he’s tipping into a cardiac arrest, with his mouth going like a goldfish.”

You could rob a fucking bank with that thing!!”

Are one of you imbeciles going to tell me what you’ve found then?”

All haughty demands from the lady.

Sweet Jesus its like a fucking baby’s arm!!!”

What is that buffoon talking about? Get out of the bloody way?”

And she shouldered her way into the semi-circle of lads to come to an abrupt stop and look at the source of the buzzing noise in the case.

Oh..”

The wind was well and truly gone from her sails.

Oh its my..its..Well..Oh..What?…Christams.”

“Matty had the final word mind..”

A fucking donkey would be proud of that thing!!”

She was almost as breathless as Matt as she searched for something to say to fill the heavy silence.

Mark continued,

“I’ll tell you what, I didn’t know where to look. No-one did. Apart from Matt. He’s suddenly realized she’s there along side him and is looking at the doo-dar in the case and back to her, and man, his eyes are popping out on another level. The only good thing was he had hit the point where he just couldn’t speak any more.”

Mark took a breath then continued,

“I felt right sorry for this woman mind. I felt like giving her a pat on her arm or something, try and make her feel better. But with this thing buzzing away in the case I couldn’t think straight. Anyway, Paul beat me to it.”

“What did he say??”

“Well he looks at her all fake cheery like, and just chirps out,”

Ne’er mind love! Nothing to worry about! This sort of thing is always happening is this!!”

babys arm

On retrospect though, I wasn’t surprised Old Matty finally retired after that job…

Razzle Dazzle

cane

Growing up in the 70’s has quite distinctive memories for me. There was a certain visual flavor to that period for a small boy. Attitudes, clothes, and from a kids perspective, toys even more so stick in my mind.

Everything seemed garishly bright. Or patterned like a carpet, so you looked like you were wearing a weave people could wipe their feet on.

My (purple) Raleigh Chopper bike that I loved, was one of those items that must have been designed by someone taking LSD when it was on the drawing board. It was a step up from the Chipper I had had prior. My bright yellow chipper. Both bikes had been developed with that 70’s affliction of terrible colours.

Dreadful,  but still, I have to say, incredibly cool in their own way.

A boy on a Raleigh Chopper, 1970s

Then there was the bionic man. The boys doll. Steve Austin. The six million dollar man, almost killed in a rocket launch into space, almost. But not quite.

But they managed to drag his mangled arse from the wreckage, minus one arm, eye and leg, then rebuilt him with bionic parts.

With his super strong bionic arm, his superduper bionic eye that gave him super vision, and his amazing bionic leg. That very leg that enabled him to jump incredible heights and run at 60 miles an hour. With only one bionic leg mind.

I never quite got my head round that. Wouldnt the other one plough a furrow in the tarmac trying to keep up?

And what sticks in my mind most significantly was he knocked the shit out of Big Foot. The American equivalent to the yeti. Why? No idea. But I remember being glued to the television waiting to find out. Steve always managed to overcome the odds. I think they became friends.

Big Foot and Steve.

Again. No Idea.

six_million

It could only happen in the 70’s.

There were different attitudes to an awful lot of things back then, and it wasn’t all for the good.  Punishment back then was much more casually dispensed. And it was meted out to a young age by people in authority. An accepted..

School and church were also significant in my life during my early Catholic upbringing. I’ve already mentioned this in Bless Me Father. Being interrogated on the Monday at school over whether or not I’d been to church on the Sunday and had I been to confession before hand? As a young boy, of course this was a priority in my life.. Go tell the priest all the bad things I’d done that week. Before I was sent to Hell for my sins.

Well. I think I went a ways towards reserving my position down there in the eyes of some people during this particular week.

Oh. And the other thing I remember.

The cane.

A kind of bamboo stick that you would get across the seat of your pants or palms of your hands for some misdemeanor.

I found myself seriously considering how much it could hurt this particular morning, sitting on one of the four chairs lining the wall outside the headmasters office, reflecting on the last 24 hours. Wondering how things managed to go so bad, so quickly.

Because in a small boys world, lets be honest, from their perspective its always bad.

And, stationed on the furthest chair from to me, just to highlight how bad thing actually were,  was my friends mum. The thunderous frowns of distaste she kept throwing my way only adding to the pressure.

And just to add to all this, my mum in her wisdom had decided today,  I was wearing short trousers. Short trousers. Short trousers  my mother chose that I felt were too tight, too short and too revealing. I honestly believe my lower buttock cheeks were on display.

Having the build of a sturdy sumo as a kid always left me feeling as I grew up that clothing  was just, tight.

Nothing  ever quite fit. My mum was usually taking up trouser legs after buying something bigger to fit me. But, this was the 70’s.

Everything was either tight, ridiculously flared or florally psychedelic.

70's

(Above a typical outfit to go to the shops in.)

Everything I wore fit in the “Tight” zone. Even my flared stuff was tight. Bythe time my mum took the legs up, the flares became drain-pipes anyway.

I actually believe my shorts were flares she took up too much but was determined she was going to get her money’s worth out of.

Knowing what I was facing at school today, I felt I could have done without the anxiety of making my way around the playground being the only young kid wearing hot pants.

When she gave me my clothes for that day, my lip had dropped in preparation of a dispute, but the warning look from my dad dissuaded me from any utterance. I was already in enough trouble as it was.

Roll back a day.

clock

Its amazing as a kid, just how quickly your easy-going no problem day, can turn upside down and find you in – to your young mind – the worst amount of trouble its possible to be in.

On this day at school I was wandering around the school yard with my friend Martin Greavy – AKA Groovy Greavsy. Our school had two playgrounds, one either side of the school buildings. The older kids, 9-10 year olds,  were placed in the yard at the front, where the main road was situated just the other side of the fence that separated us from the rest of the world.

The younger kids, the 7-8 year olds were placed in the yard at the back of the school. In between the two playgrounds was a sort of middle ground, a small square area that you was accessed by a walk through from either yard. It was kind of out of sight of the dinner ladies that patrolled the two yards, and kids from each age group tended to bump into each other there.

Today Greavsy and I wandered around there to find three girls huddled over something, whispering between themselves. I knew them all, two twins and their best friend. It was impossible not to know everyone in the school in one way or another. It was a small place. They were some two years younger than my friend and I, 8 year olds, all in my younger brothers year.

“Oi! What’ve you got there then?”

I shouted over. The girls  jumped at the sound of my voice,  from the way the three of them bunched up facing us, hiding whatever they had behind their backs made it clear it was something worth seeing.

“Nothing!”

“Behave. Come on. show us what you’ve got.”

They shared a glance then one of the girls brought forth a damp looking magazine.

“Here.  Just this. We found it over there – its not ours!”

Greavsy and I took the proffered magazine and both stood looking at the cover.

There was a moment of silence. The three girls stood, staring at us, staring at the magazine.

“Is it yours?”

One of the twins asked us.

“What? No! Its not!”

What we held in our hands was a kind of paper gold to a small boy. It was an adult magazine of the day.

We’d just been handed a visual promised land.

Razzle.

Not that we were any the wiser about Razzle. But it was full of semi-clad and naked ladies. Where else was a 10 year old going to see something like this.

We began to turn the damp sheets breathlessly, even reverently. Pealing back each page carefully from the one below it. And each page brought something new into our lives. Complete absorption followed. Two small boys huddled over this magazine. Turning the pages to different angles to better observe what was before us. looking like a pair of siamese twins,  joined at the shoulder, heads turning in complete sync following the viewing position.

Probably unaware we were making slight Ooooing and snorting noises, and occasional

I say old chap that’s just not cricket

I came out of my daze to hear a determined tread coming towards us, and looked up to see Mrs. Abbot walking along the pathway from the young kids yard. I have to impart at this point that Mrs. Abbot was the head dinner lady, who brooked no messing about. She was a lady of firm, clear beliefs and rules and you crossed her at your peril. I’m sure she was a very nice lady. But as a young boy there were certain people in the world you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of. Your dad being one. God. And Mrs. Abbot was another.

She was  flanked by the twins and their friend, with one of the twins leaning around the iron lady to point and whisper something urgently to her. The steely gaze that took in the scene as she marched towards us was enough for me.

With a slight whinny I passed my share of the magazine sideways to Greavsy without taking my eyes off the assembly marching my way, and stepped sideways, trying to put what little distance I could between myself, and what was the focus of Mrs. Abbots fixed gaze.

Greavsy never lifted his eyes, only taking a firmer white knuckled grip on the magazine and becoming that much more absorbed now he had full control on the paperwork.

He even went to nudge me, elbowing fresh air, mumbling incoherently,  leaning slightly to display the page with his gaze still fixed, with me bending away like he had the plague.

Christ I wanted nothing to do with it!

Martin! Greavy!”

She shouted at him.

He almost shredded the magazine out of hand.  Mrs. Abbots voice was an instantly recognizable sound. The colour drained from his face and he automatically tried to pass me the mag. Only to find the short gulf between us unbridgeable as I swayed out of reach, leaving him proffering  it into fresh air while his attention was firmly rooted on Mrs. Abbot.

Greavy! What have you got in your hands?!”

“I don’t know Miss! Nothing Miss! I found it Miss! With him!! He found it first! I didn’t even want to look!! He made me look!!

(contrary to the avid concentration he was  displaying when Mrs. Abbot arrived)

He wailed, looking at her and pointing at me with the magazine  in hand, like a kind of lewd pointing stick, its pages wide open to the world.

I stood facing this very visual denial, recoiling each time he waved it in my direction and flinching each time he appealed to Mrs. Abbot with it flapping in his hand.

Mrs. Abbot, her shoulders back, hands on hips, a look of disgust on her lined face, like this here, was the lowest moment in her long and proud  career of service to small boys and girls. These two boys stood before her, fighting to make the other hold the dirty mag. What was also interesting in my detached third person observation was, she also managed to convey that she wasn’t at all surprised

“That’s it you two! Come with me!! You’re going to Mrs. MacTaggart !!”

Oh for fucks sake.

I thought things were bad being discovered by Mrs. Abbot.

Mrs. MacTaggart was a  teacher at the school. She was old OLD school. She was one of those old teachers who ruled with an iron fist. No discussion. No mercy. Probably coming towards retirement age. she had seen it all and dealt with everything.

And crushed all before her.

There wasn’t a kid in the school who didn’t shudder when her name was whispered.

I actually felt some pee pass. I think Greavsy went straight past Go and filled his boots.

“What? Noooooo! He gave me the magazine! And Them!”

(Pointing at the girls, still, using the magazine)

They just went into round eyed denials, supported by Mrs. Abbot.

“How dare you accuse these young girls Greavy!”

While Greavsy,  goggle eyed himself at this point, continued to wave the magazine at me then Mrs. Abbot, spouting vehement denials.

(Please God just put the fucker down and back away I kept wishing every time he flourished it)

Mrs. Abbot decided the matter for him and snatched it out of his hands, tucked it under her arm, gripped both of ours and marched us off to see Mrs. MacTaggart .

I looked at the girls as we were dragged past, Greavsy wailing as we went. The smug smiles said it all.

We had just been rolled over.

The only good thing to come out of it was firstly, Mrs. MacTaggart wasn’t in.  (She was probably on call at some death camp)

Neither was Mr. Conlan the headmaster. But that just delayed what was coming when he was the next day.

As a good catholic lad, I was enthused with guilt. On top of what was coming I had the fear of going to hell already burned into my bones by our local church over the slightest miss-step in life.

I mean. Fuck knows where looking at a ladies beaver and busters rated on the punishment scale knows with the church.

And the cane.

I’d never had it before. I didn’t even know for sure if I was going to be strapped to the wall and whipped with gusto by someone dressed in an Third Reich uniform, or if it was a couple of strokes across the hands. The uncertainty only added to the anxiety.

I spent a long, sweaty day, waiting to go home. Confess to my dad or not? Stay stum? After all, he was going to find out all the sordid details when I saw the headmaster the next day and received a call describing the filthy thing I had done. And this would only happen after he had caned me, expelled me, then passed me over to the clergy to be excommunicated and my head shaved.

I was going to look a right state when I got home.

The thing was, it wasn’t that I was going to be battered all over the house by my dad. But I’d just spent a day have looks of disgust aimed at me by all the dinner ladies and listening to every kid in my class tell me what was going to happen tomorrow.

I was going to see the headmaster for looking at PORN!

I didn’t think my dad wasn’t going to slap me on the back and say,

“Well done son!

I decided to come clean that night. Get it over with.

“Dad? Can I tell you something?”

He stopped what he was doing to focus on me.

“Yes son? And…?”

“I got in trouble today at school dad. I’ve got to go and see the headmaster tomorrow.”

It came out as a torrent of words.

IthinkI’mgonnagetthecaaaaaaaane!”

Right.  (Deep breath before he went on) And what have you done?”

I hesitated. How to break it to him?

“I got caught looking at dirty pictures dad.”

He did a double take.

“What now?”

Again the words spilled out.

MeanGreavsygotcaughtlookingat ladies Nellieeeeeees dadddd!!”

I wailed at him.

I got a crack round the ear.

“Don’t do it again then! You dirty bugger!”

I think the crack round the ear was a token gesture.  His face was unnaturally set as I received the lecture.

“Your just going to have to take what’s coming son. You got caught. That’s it. Now. You wait here. I don’t know how I’m going to tell your mother…”

I sat there ruminating how it had gone. At least it was over, just the cane tomorrow…

There was a muffled conversation from the other room. Then it sounded like someone spat their tea and I heard my mother laughing hard from the kitchen and trying not to.

My dad reappeared round the door pulling it closed behind him, muffling only slightly my mother in the other room.

He took a long hard look at me while I avoided his eyes. Finally,

“She’s as disappointed as I am son. Devastated in fact. ”

From the sounds coming from the kitchen, I begged to differ. But I felt I was getting off lightly. Stay quiet and keep in front while you can. It was as an after-thought that he seemed add, as thought he thought he better punish me for what I thought was a terrible thing.

“And bed. You can go to bed after your Tea. There. That should do it. And don’t do it again! You’ll go bloody blind!!”

And he went back in the kitchen with my mum.

The next day I went to class to confer with Greavsy, only to find that he had ducked. He wasn’t in school. I was left alone to wait for the call to see the headmaster. I was finally  summoned and walked past my classmates like one condemned. They all knew what had happened the day before and had probably started a sweep to see how many strokes I would receive.

I had a seat pointed out to me by the elderly secretary outside the office and was told bluntly to

“Wait right there.”

Headmaster-Office-Door-si-007

I sat down resigned to what was coming wondering if I would be able to sit down again at the end of it. With these shorts on probably not. I felt like I was getting a wedgie just trying to find a comfortable position. I was left squirming around on the plastic seat.

And obviously as a Catholic I was destined for confession this week. There was no  way I was telling the priest what I’d been caught doing.

Fuckit. I’d tell him I was rude to my mam.

I’d worry about  the consequences  when I died.

When Greavsy’s mum arrived and sat as far away from me as possible, my worry went up a whole new notch. If my friend had sent his mother in because of what was due to happen to us, then things must be really bad. I mean a catholic kid, looking through a porn magazine, on school property. Jesus, they were going to nail me to the  school gates.

Mrs. Greavy certainly didn’t wait long. the secretary ushered her in not long after she arrived. And she didn’t waste much time in there either. She was out not long after, door held open for her by the head master, almost deferential in his goodbyes.

I followed her progress past me and away down the hall, only to have my attention snapped back by the head teacher.

“Walsh. In. Here. Now.”

I almost dragged myself into the room, passing  the man who was to thrash me. I stood before his desk eyes down as he released the door behind me, allowing it to close as he made his way to his seat and sat, looking at me.

“So. Michael. You’ve been looking at fithy pictures I hear.”

“S’ sir.”

“And did you enjoy looking at them Walsh?”

I sometimes think these are trick questions.

Gamble.

“No sir?”

“But look you did, didn’t you?!!”

“‘Yes sir?”

“And have you learnt a lesson Walsh? Would you look again?”

Christ. Here we go again.

No? Sir?”

“No Walsh! You’re bloody bang on!”

I could see the cane stood up against the wall behind him, almost bathed in a righteous halo of light from the single window. And all I could think was, I didn’t know where I would  prefer to be thrashed with it: on my arse or across my palms.

“Well Walsh. This is your lucky day. I’m going to let you go with a warning. I think we understand each other here. It won’t happen again will it?”

Not where you can catch me I thought.

“Definitely not Sir.”

I answered breathlessly. Still wondering what part of this interview was going to trip me up.

Mr. Conran continued.

“Then we’ll say no more about then. I mean boy, can you imaging what you parents would say if they knew what you had been doing??”

I have to say I stared at him for a moment slightly goggle eyed, as the previous evening raced through my mind.

“Walsh!”

“Yes! Sir!”

“Well! Have you any idea how your parents would react boy!?”

“Oh! Yes sir! I think I do Sir! SaynomoreaboutSir!!!”

I answered, almost at attention, staring earnestly at Mr. Conran. While the previous evenings events still skipped across my minds eye.

You bastard.

I actually felt cheated.

Yeah you’re dead right I had an idea how my mum and dad would have reacted.

I wouldn’t have got a crack round the ear and early bed if I’d kept my mouth shut for a start.

But to be fair my mum had done me a favour.

Mr. Conran probably couldn’t bring himself to thrash the young lad with his buttocks hanging out of his high-cut lederhosens..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sleepless in Rotherham – Part 2

pumps

My back was killing me. I just couldn’t get straight. It felt like it had a  knot right in the middle of my spine. How I felt was reflected in the others as I hesitated before entering the pub where we were staying, looking back across the street at them making their way towards me. They were all in distorted shapes.

It was like watching a cripple convention on a walk-about..

Looking further down the street was Tommy. Looking dazed in the morning light, not quite sure where  he was.

My mind swept back across the previous evening and how it had panned out.

Hours earlier, (a lifetime ago it felt) we were stepping out into the night, from the bar  I was about to re-enter, feeling  relief to be away.

(see Sleepless In Rotherham – Part 1)

Having witnessed the unseen argument that had rolled across the ceiling above us, then seen the end result when the landlords girlfriend appeared in the bar, mascara streaking her cheeks. After listening to her loud description of what had happened in an almost indecipherable accent, well, it was nice to be heading into town.

We had decided to cut short our evening in the bar and leave our hosts to sort out their differences. So, it was step smartly forward, bumping each other as we discussed what had happened and (I won’t lie) laughing about the indignant way the girlfriend had described what had taken place up stairs which had ended for her with – as she put it –

A smack right in tha’ kisser“..

Our party for the night  consisted of six. Tex, Gaz, Dennis, Tommy, Colin and myself.

We landed in the first bar we could find, still laughing about the events, wondering how the evening would progress back at the pub.

“Well, lets face it. She’s finally seen the light! That 26 year age gap has come home to roost!”

said Gaz.

“Yep, that 46 inch waist difference may have come between them too!”

Added Dennis.

“Anyway. Lets not let it get in the way of our night lads! It our last night and time for a party!”

Said Gaz, with his usual enthusiasm. Gaz was a short, stocky lad. Around 35 and thickset –  hairy is a word closely associated with him. Black hair seemed to cover him like a light mat, giving him a kind of swarthy look – he reminded me of a small, stumpy monkey. He always seemed to be filled with an unsettling amount of energy.

This was reflected in the way his attention jumped from pillar to post.

gorilla

In this instance his attention zoomed in on   Tommy, the young myopic apprentice trailing along at the back. Gaz threw over his shoulder as we made our way into the city center bar.

“Right lad! You know what night this is? No? Let me tell you son! It’s Gaz’s pulling night! I’m going to trap off tonight I can feel it in my water!”

Tommy just continued to stare blankly at him, deciding that silence was the best option.

“Your sharing Gaz’s room aren’t you Tom lad?”

I asked him.

A silent nod answered the question.

“Well, you’re in for a long night. Have you got any cotton wool?”

“Cotton wool?”

he asked.

“Yeah cotton wool.”

The mute shake of the head was all that was offered.

“Well. Not to worry. You’ve got clean socks? Yeah? Yeah, course you have.”

“What do I need clean socks for ?”

He asked.

“Well if Gaz brings a monke – lady back to your room, and she’s screaming her head off as he’s throwing her all over the  shop, you can stick your socks in your ears.”

The myopic gaze  grew, if it was possible,  wider behind the dense lenses, his mouth a round Ooooh  as the image of  Gaz performing with a lady friend around the shared bedroom painted an image in his young mind.

It’d be like sitting ring side in a zoo.

“Mind you,”

I added,

“If the action spills onto your bed you might need a fucking blindfold too. Have you got any clean underpants..?”

Tommy’s shock gaze snapped to Gaz who interrupted.

“Never mind a blindfold lad.  I just want you to know something.”

And he paused for effect,

“If I don’t pull tonight and we get back to those digs and I’m on my own, you do know what happens then don’t you?”

Tommy’s mute shake of the head was as much as he could offer,

(He must have been running through his minds eye what state his underwear was in.)

“If I don’t pull tonight then you become stand-in. You know what a sub is? Yeah? You’re tonight’s sub.”

Sub?”

It was almost a whisper from the young lad, his  binocular like gaze a tad unsteady.

“Yeah. Sub. If I don’t pull I’m going to ride you round  that room like a blackpool donkey!! Like this!”

And he span Tommy round and onto the bar, holding his hips and began  bumping him from behind.

Tommy was left clutching at the bar as Gaz simulated thrusting  behind him.

“Like this! (Thrust) I’m going to get lucky! (Thrust) one way! (Thrust) or another!!”

I swear, Tommy’s nails were drawing curls of varnish from the bar as he clawed at the surface, his glasses askew across his face, while Gaz hung on behind, banging away.

As quickly as he began Gaz’s attention switched and he suddenly released Tommy and turned his attention to his pint.

“But not to worry lad – I normally pull.”

I have to add here, building site banter can be – and is – quite raw at times. We did laugh because we knew the situation Tommy thought he was facing later in the night, would never happen.

(I feverishly hoped this was the case)

Dennis turned to the pale Tommy,

“I’d cross my fucking fingers if I was you son.”

The night progressed in high spirits. A good group of people to be out with. Its a strange situation to be in at times to be honest. You work on a variety of jobs for fairly short term periods, meeting different blokes on your travels. It’s not all peaches and cream and you don’t get on with everyone you meet. But on the whole, considering the short time scale you spend together, you can make some great friendships.

Tommy, on the other hand was young, naïve and worried he was in for a good bumming if Gaz didn’t have a successful night.

His answer to the prospect was oblivion.

“Whooa son! Slow down! its not a race lad!”

Said Tex as he watched Tommy pour his pint down his neck like he was on  a mission.

“Gaz was only joking you know lad.”

I offered, meeting Tex’s eye, then all our gazes sliding onto Gaz, animated at the bar, still full of excess energy as he descrided something to Dennis and Colin, all the  gestures busy and massively exaggerated.

I looked over Tommy’s head at Tex, both of us feeling that sense of relief knowing we weren’t sharing his room.

“Tell you what son, its my shout. Let me get you a pint lad.”

Tex offered,

By the time we reached the last bar of the night, a small club somewhere in Rotherham, we were helping Tommy along.

“Col! Colin! Don’t you think its time you took him back?”

“Whats? He’s not my responsibility!”

Everyone turned on him.

He was breaking an unspoken rule.

“Whoooa. Hang on pal!”

Interrupted Dennis.

“Yeah, hold your horses there  Judas!”

Added Gaz. (!)Then continued.

“That lad cane from the workshop. With you. An apprentice. Your responsibility.”

Colin was faced with four fellas looking at him and suddenly started to sober up realizing how his comment was being interpreted.

“Hey hang on I didn’t mea-”

“Yeah, yeah, we know what you meant pal.  But here it is. He’s your responsibility. You make sure he gets back safe! He’s a kid! He needs looking after!”

Continued Gaz, his indignation loud and vocal. As ever that bundle of energy was very animated in showing his displeasure.

“Wha? Yeah bu-”

“Yeah you bastard! Look at ‘im! You’ve let the poor bugger get hammered!”

He’s pissed because he think’s your going to bum hi-”

“Whoaaa!  What do think I am? Thats banter!!  He’s just a kid! Your supposed to be making sure he’s ok!”

“What? I can’t stop him drin-”

“So yeah! He is your responsibility! So lets have you! Get him home!”

Colin’s shoulders dropped as he  resigned himself to what was being placed before him and made a move to support young Tommy.

“Come on la-”

But  something suddenly occurred to Gaz and he interrupted with a shrewd, if drunken look in his eye.

“Here, hang on. Its your round.”

Colin paused in the process of getting Tommy straightened up,

“Wha-”

“Well that’s nice you skint-flint bastard! Put that girl back down and go get the beer in!”

“But you just sai-”

“Never mind what I said! I can see your game pal! Come on tight arse! Get to the bar!!”

Colin dropped Tommy back in his chair where he slumped forward onto the table,  his cheek pressed onto the surface, oblivious of everything at this point .

Colin made his way to the bar resigned to getting the beer in. I have to admit the rest of us were struggling to keep up with Gaz. His focus was jumping all over.

I took a quick look at Tommy as I made my way past him to the toilet. He was well away.

Minutes later I came back to my friends to hear Gaz again remonstrating with Colin over Tommy.

“Look at the poor bugger! Lookat’im!”

He said, relieving Colin of the beer he held.

I peered past the group at Tommy slumped on the table. He appeared to have belched once and followed through by throwing up across the surface, his cheek still pressed onto the varnished top, oblivious to what had happened.

Dennis sat him up, wiping him with a napkin.

“Come on Colin! are you taking this poor bugger back or what?”

Said Gaz, taking a pull on his pint.

Everyone stood and stared for a moment.

“Do you know what?”

Said Tex.

“I’ll come with you Colin. Lets get the lad back.”

“Yep. I’ve had enough myself. I’ll come with you.”

I added.

Dennis pulled Tommy to his feet, Colin getting a grip on his other side.

“Hang on lads. What about the beer. The nights young yet!”

Gaz’s voice had taken a wheedling  tone. I think he realized he had gone too far.

We took Tommy briefly to the toilet, gave his face a quick wash and made our way out to the exit half carrying him  as he stumbled along, his head rolling around as we made our way back to the B&B.

It wasn’t long before we heard Gaz behind us.

“Lads! Hey! Lads! Hang on!”

He caught up, puffing slightly, looking sheepish.

It wasn’t worth saying anything so we continued on our way, the conversation vague, everyone tired by now.

We arrived back at the digs to find all the lights out. Exchanging glances Tex took a step forward and tried the door.

“Fuck me. Its locked.”

“What? Your Joking!”

“No! It’s locked!!”

There followed thirty odd minutes of banging on the door trying to rouse the manager. But all we could hear was the pony of a dog going mad somewhere in the back.

“What are we going to do?”

Asked Colin.

“I know!”

jumped in Gaz.

“My car! I’ve got my keys!”

“Actually, so have I!”

Agreed Colin.

“Thank Christ for that! Lets get in!’

I said.

Tommy burped gently.

Tex and Dennis who were supporting him, took a softer grip, gently holding him further away from themselves. It looked  was like they were handling a hand grenade.

“What about Tommy? ”

Queried Dennis, as the lad in question belched again, a slight bubble appearing at the side of his mouth then popped and disappeared.

Everyone exchanged glances.

It was like we reached a mutual silent agreement.

“Right. Fuckit. Tommy can sleep it off in your car Colin.”

“Wha-”

“We’ll sleep in yours Gaz.”

“Hang o-”

“Right-oh I’ll open up.”

Agreed Gaz.

“I’m not having that in my car. What if he goes off??!!”

Began Colin.

“Oh, here we go again!”

Fired up Gaz.

“Didn’t we just have all this about your responsabil-”

“Alright! Alright!! Fuckit!! Get him in the fucking car!”

Shouted Colin.

We eased Tommy gently into the front making him comfortable.

“Right. Where’s your motor ?”

Asked Tex, turning to Gaz.

“It here. Right behind Col’s.”

We turned to look behind to see  a rusty looking dented, small, Mini Metro.

mini metro

We all turned to look at Tommy gently slumbering in the front seat of Colin’s Escort Estate.

“Are you taking the piss? ”

Dennis shouted  at Gaz.

“Why didn’t you say you drove this at the start?”

“Well you can all fuck off if you think we’re moving Tommy now – he’s staying in there. He could go off if we disturb him!”

Shouted Colin, having reached breaking point.

“Shotgun!”

I shouted.

“I want the front seat!”

Flared up Colin.

“Sorry Colin lad, Mike shouted it. It’s like, The Law.”

Dennis explained.

What followed was one of the longest, most uncomfortable nights of my life.

Five men – all pissed but rapidly sobering up – jammed into a small space, cramping and attempting to find a comfortable position. I resigned myself to having someone’s legs dangle over my shoulders as they attempted to find a manageable position in the rear seat with two other fellas to contend with.

What kept waking me up was having said person use my cheek as a scratching post for their sock-clad foot.

The morning couldn’t come quick enough. And I assure you  – it didn’t.

I think the most rested person in our group was Tommy, who slept like a baby with myself or Gaz getting out every twenty minutes or so to check him.

Our Landlord and his young girlfriend had in fact spent the evening drinking in the pub, making up it appears. Upon settling their differences they had made their way to bed and slept the sleep of the devoutly drunk.

Making it impossible to rouse them.

We, on the other hand, spent our final day on the job walking around like we should have had a wheel chair each reflecting what it must be like to travel in a third world country.

car

I hate Mini Metro’s.

And I couldn’t say goodbye to Gaz quick enough..

Sleepless in Rotherham – Part 1

Myopic

We were sat around the bar in the  pub nursing a beer each, exchanging glances then rolling our eyes back to the ceiling,  listening to the rumble of an argument going on above our heads.

It was just the start of the evening.

I have to admit, I hesitated about writing this one.  Not that it was a terrible situation. It was just that I was trying to work out how I could actually portray the whole set of circumstances. Sometimes, what is incredibly funny is difficult to get across. Part of this problem is actually capturing the mentality of the moment, not the smuttiness.

I instead try to share the ridiculous circumstances that we can find ourselves in, reflect back upon them and laugh. I hope, (I really do every time I write one  of these ) that I manage to get that across and not have someone sat reading it thinking,

Jesus..

In this case, waking up intermittently to find someone’s legs dangling over your shoulders, using your cheek to itch the itch on that persons sock clad instep was verging on the ridiculous but I’ll get to that.

I had been working on a nightclub refurbishment over in the Yorkshire town of Rotherham.  It was a typical shopfitting job – 12 hour, 7 day weeks – and I had been there some several weeks already, but the end was in sight. The job was drawing to a close and a group of the lads had decided to go on a night out, let off some steam after a fairly intensive work period.

We were staying in a pub B&B a short distance from the job. The digs we were staying in were quite tired looking. A pub that let out the upper rooms of the property. These were basic bedrooms, 3 – 4 to a room with one box like wardrobe taking up space, a tiny sink, a small table, a tiny kettle (no cups or brewing gear) and one window.

Jammed into this room were the beds.  The pub had maybe 4 rooms available, all quite similar. The lads staying here shared two toilets and one bathroom, all situated at the end of the corridor that ran in between the rooms. The bathroom had one of those doesn’t-quite-work-showers that has no real pressure behind the water.

It just spits intermittently at you. All you could do was  jump in at the end of the day and get clean as best  you could.

The landlord, it has to be said, like to imbibe with the patrons, so that come bed time there would be a slight sway to his movements. Then he would throw the light switch and worry about cleaning up in the morning. This lacks-a-daisy approach was highlighted to me in the middle of my first night.

I made the mistake of getting up to go to the toilet in the early hours, opening the door to head off down the corridor to relieve my bulging bladder. Only to find  this huge, donkey of a dog, illuminated by a faint night light on the other side as I opened it.

I managed to slam it shut as it launched itself at me, its meaty weight thudding against the door as I  landed in the open wardrobe behind me with a muffled Whinny.

My urgent need to pee retreated immediately.

Then the shock hit me and I needed to go even more.

I clawed my way out of the clothes and hangers, panting and whimpering in turn, with the urgent need to go now ten fold. I was fumbling around in the dark crossing my legs trying to decide where I could relieve myself, while listening to the beast snarling and scratching away at the door.

Mmmmmm. Whats going onnn?”

Came the muffled question from a room mate.

“There’s a dog! Its not a dog! There a fucking werewolf  outside the door!! I need to piss! I think some piss is coming out!!!”

I replied, a slight hysterical edge to my voice as I stood clutching myself, hopping from one foot to the other, wondering how much pee a  toy kettle could hold. I wondered frantically what every one else had done before me. I do remember coherently  thinking through my panic,

If I get through this, don’t ever brew up in the kettle

 

KETTLE1

Nnnnnn. S’just the dog. Don’t go out. Piss out the window.”

I have to admit I actually stopped hopping around to momentarily  peer at the invisible person in the dark.

What?”

Mmmnnnn. S’window. Piss out the window.”

And the indistinct half asleep figure rolled over, burying himself in his duvet. I stared at him for a few moments then the urgency of my situation came pressing back.

Ah. Well. When in Rome…

It was a matter of moments to open the curtains slide the window up and – sweetbabyJesus – instant relief.

I had a quick moment of almost drying up again as the dog  – obviously feeling cheated – threw itself at the door briefly. But to be honest, nothing was interrupting that flow for long.

Eventually, the stream petered out, the relief indescribable. I climbed back into bed and took a deep, ragged breath and attempted to  settle back down. It took a while for the adrenaline slowly easing away.

The following morning after complaining to the landlord as he brought the breakfast through, and listening to his deep apologies, and knowing he wasn’t taken my near death seriously when he described his pet, saying,

“Aww, nay lad. He’s nobbut a big soft dog!”

I left the pub shaking my head, promising myself I wouldn’t get caught out again, only to see Dennis stood by his car, distracted, looking skywards then back to the vehicle, sniffing and  gingerly touching the roof and windscreen.

“Alright Den?’

I asked.

“Yeah. I think so. looks like someone’s poured something all over the car, Its all tacky…A bit sticky.

I had a moment where I gnawed a knuckle, thinking

Please God don’t  taste it,

but i’m happy to say  he managed to restrain himself from that next step.

The trouble with this kind of work is you tend to live out of a suitcase and never really settle. It becomes a blur of get up, go to work, back to digs, have your evening meal, beer and bed.  The real hard core would spend the  evening drinking which I never understood. You would literally be drinking away the money you were working away  to earn in the first place.

The accommodation was never the best either. Basic in the extreme and you always ended up sharing a room. This wasn’t so bad if you were there with a work mate you knew. But if you landed on a job as a new face, it was pot luck who you ended up sharing a bedroom with.

Initially it was four I didn’t know, a situation I hate, but more familiar faces appeared as the job progressed so that I ended up partnered with a good friend of mine, Tex. The room situation changed as the job progressed with people coming and going. The four sharing the room at this point were one guy I worked frequently with, (Tex) (See Tex, The Amazing Memory man and Fred West The Carpet Layer) one I knew (Gaz) and the other I didn’t very well (Dennis), who was the remainder of the four I started with in the room.

Due to the intensity of the work as the job neared its conclusion, the firm had sent extra lads up from the workshop to help give a final push. Two of these were Colin, an established bench hand joiner and Tommy the young 18 year old apprentice.

Tommy was a slight figure, a nervous quiet kid who hardly spoke. He wore the thickest, heaviest looking lenses I had ever seen on a young lad. He had that myopic way of tipping his head back to look down his nose through the glasses to really focus on something. It looked like he was trying to balance the glasses on his nose – which I wouldn’t be surprised about considering how heavy they  looked.

The overall impression left him looking at things with a slightly vacant expression, his mouth partly open each time he did it.

Every time I saw him he reminded me of the character Dustin Hoffman played in the film Papillon. papillon-1973--00

“Come on boys it our night out tonight!”

Shouted Gaz, throwing an arm around young Tommy’s shoulders and giving him an enthusiastic squeeze, as we made our way back to the digs to get ready. Gaz was enthusiastic about most things to be honest. His attention would flit from one thing to another in rapid succession.

It was hard keeping up at times.

Added to this was the site humour.  Which, was at times caustic even merciless. You just had to know how to handle it. Never show a reaction and if you did be damn sure you gave back a lot worse than was coming your way.

Gaz seemed to thrive on it.

He was quite ready to rib anyone he could. And Tommy, who I think  was just about getting through puberty – found himself fairly consistently in the firing line,  just because he didn’t know how to react.

And he was one of those kids that you just know, I mean really know, has spent most of his life being ribbed in one way or another and never been quite sure how to react to it. We all took turns to make sure he was ok. I mean a joke was a joke as long as it was funny but you didn’t want to make someone a victim.

Back at the digs and it was have something to eat, up stairs and wait for your turn for the shower, back to your room and dig something out of your case to wear and get your last pair of clean underpants out, handling them like they were the Holy Grail.

Quick spray of deodorant and it was down to the bar to wait for the others and a quick pint before heading out.

Which was where the evening began.

Lads began to filter into the vault, in good spirits looking forward to the night out. We scattered ourselves along the bar, a group of young couples at the other end of the room the only other people in the pub, friends of the landlords young girlfriend.

The land lord was a fifty-something big beer bellied chap. In complete contrast was his young twenty-something blond bimbo of a girlfriend.  In very trim shape if somewhat dizzy, it left you shaking your head  watching them together trying to understand the relationship.

The argument only became noticeable as the noise of it rose above our heads. As it became louder it became quieter in the bar as every one strained to listen in. I mean, you couldn’t actually hear anything. It was just the general undecipherable rumble of an obvious argument and punctuated by the heavy steps across the ceiling, slamming and banging of objects.

You only knew who was shouting by the change of octave as the young girl threw her obvious dissatisfaction  in.

The argument came to a final close with a solid THUD on the ceiling. Followed by the  stomp of steps away to one side and opening and slamming of a door.

We sat exchanging glances, laughing quietly. I think that’s another thing that we fail to admit at times. We do laugh at other peoples misfortune. Not necessarily in a nasty way but in a sniggering kind of observation.

It’s never as funny when your in the situation, but its always entertaining to watch someone else deal with it.

The young girl suddenly appeared amongst her friend, mascara runs on her cheeks and obviously unhappy. She was surrounded by her friends and whispered words of concern were expressed but all we could hear were her loud replies.

Ah only said, I didn’t agree! ‘E’s a bastard e is. Ah Bastard!”

(whisper whisper?)

Ah don’t care! Ah told ‘im! Ah’m no dolly bird! Ah’v a mind of ma own!”

Contrary to evidence.

(whisper whisper?)

‘E said ah was lucky to ‘av ‘im! The cheeky fat bastard! “E’s tha lucky one ah said!

(whisper whisper!)

Ah told ‘im – ah did! Ah said  -“A diet wouldn’t go amiss for tha’ likes of you!”

(whisper whisper?)

That’s when he smacked me right in tha’ kisser…”

We made our way into the night shortly after..

Going Dutch

Enfield

“We want to give ourselves up..”

Was what the officer heard over the phone along with the name.

“What? Speak up please sir.”

The voice continued slightly crackly over the line.

“Yeah. We’ve been thinking about it and we want to hand ourselves in.”

There was a mental reshuffle from the policeman sat behind his desk in Bradford as the name registered. He stared into the air slightly slack-jawed for a moment with the phone pressed to his ear, knuckles whitening as he realized who was on the other end.

Right. Yes. Don’t move! I’ll send someone straight round!.”

Wellllll. That might be a bit hard.”

“It will, will it? Running off again are we sir. Oh ho ho ho.  Don’t make that mistake again my lad. Just stay put and I’ll have a unit come and collect you.”

“Ok. Er.. How long is it going to take?”

“How long. Not long at all.  For you,  we’ll have someone there in two shakes.”

“Only, well, have I got time to nip and have something to eat? I’m a bit hungry.”

“Now listen sir. This isn’t a bloody joke! You sit tight and don’t bugger off and I’ll have someone with you shortly.”

“You will? Have they got a boat?”

“A boat? A boat?? Think this is a laughing matter do you son?”

“Well no.”

“Right then just sit still and wait. Don’t make this any worse than it already is. You’re  already in a lot of trouble. Now. Where are you?”

“Well… Amsterdam.”

Let me backtrack somewhat.

I met Liam very recently and I’m not even sure how his story became part of the conversation. There was a general unhappiness on the job I was working on over people’s working hours being knocked by the powers that be. During this discussion people began swapping tales of other jobs. How bad they had been, how it had been difficult to get paid.

I have to say, Liam’s tale topped everything.

What I am about to relate to you happened. I can only hope I relay it in a way that does it and Liam justice.

Liam is a very genial, unassuming lad. You really wouldn’t look twice at him. Until you get talking to him.  Its only when you get into a conversation with  him that you see the hint of shy determination in him that hides behind a very easy going nature.

He was laboring on this site, basically lumping materials around for the trades and tidying up after they create their mess. No complaints, just cracks on with what he has to do always with a half smile that broadens as he talks.

He had begun out of the blue to relate  his own experience’s as we had all been moaning at the state of affairs on the current job – comparing hardships during our time on different  building sites..

“I was actually living in a squat at one point it was that bad.”

All eyes turned to Liam. The half smile still there.

“Christ mate. A squat? Really?”

“Yeah. Me mum wasn’t at home, she was up in Scotland. Just me and my dad. The day I turned 16 I left my old fellas house to move in with a mate. Had enough. Had to get out.”

I can  only assume on his circumstances at that point. For a 16 year old lad to leave home as soon as possible can only reflect on his living situation at his home.

“Yeah first chance. That was it. Boom. Gone.”

“What about work?”

“Odd jobs here and there.  I stayed with different mates on and off until eventually I got a job in a bingo hall.”

“Really? Good for you lad. Own place then or still sharing? How did the squat come about?”

“Like I say, I was working and earning, but my mate wasn’t paying his bills. So that was it. Evicted.”

“So what did you do?”

“We broke back  in. Got through a window each night and slept on the floor.”

“Jesus. What about heating? Water?”

“Nah. No heating, but yeah, water was still on. Just cold though. And I’m not kidding – it was a freezing winter.”

“Cold then. Christ no heating?”

“You get through it don’t you?”

That statement of the situation, the resignation that the living environment he was just in was the norm, a state of affairs to survive one day at a time. It was a bit sad really. What I mean is, for a person to be in that position and be resigned to it as part of normal life, well. Take a good look around your own home. Stripped of everything, just an empty shell. Can you imagine not having the luxury of heating? No hot water? No furniture? Sleeping on the floor?

And getting up and still trying to work in a job and survive? Get enough money together to make a difference to your existence and change those circumstances.

I have to say – credit to Liam. To still try and live a normal life in that situation, but also a little sad that it could be considered a normal existence.

Could you do it?

Anyway. Everyone has a tipping point.  The straw that broke the camels back arrived.

The flat had deteriorated with the lack of maintenance and there was a burst. The ceiling came down only adding to the living difficulties. The landlord found out they were squatting in the flat and they were evicted. Liam found himself with nowhere to stay still trying to raise enough money to sort the situation out.

He began sleeping rough in a local park, cleaning himself up at work, doing his day job then passing the time till he had to head back to the park for the night. A difficult circle.

This improved slightly when another friend offered him a bed to sleep on. Then another bombshell.

His weekly pay at the Bingo hall changed to monthly. And when payday finally arrived his wages were massively short.

“What they had done right, was anything over 30 hours was deducted and put aside as holiday pay. I had 60 hours in!”

“Didn’t you explain your situation?”

“Nah. Too much information. I was massively pissed off. Anyway I thought “Fuck it.” I’m sorting this.”

“So what happened?”

“Well I said I worked in the Bingo hall?”

“Yes?”

“Well I worked in the cash office.”

I think everyone shared a sidelong glance at this point.

“Yes?”

“Yeah. Long story short? Safe was open. Loose bag of cash and a box I knew had money in it. Under the coat and Off. Didn’t even look back.”

“Christ. I mean, you must have known they were going to come after you?”

“Well yes and no. At that point I didn’t give a fig about what was going to happen. What more could go wrong in my life really?”

He’d really caught every ones attention at this point.

“So what happened?”

“I got home – bit of a blur really – but straight into my room and emptied the bag and the box on the bed.”

“Much there?”

It was a sort of breathless question thrown in by one of the lads. All eyes fixed on Liam.

“Much there? Fuck me. There was money all over the bed!”

People started laughing, it was hard to take it seriously, this steady eyed young lad, relaying what had happened with a half smile, widening  with each hoot of laughter from the listening group. It was all told in such a matter-of-fact way.

“Christ almighty! How much?”

“Well there was around 28 fucking  grand stacked up when I managed to count it.”

28 Grand!”

“Yeah! Couldn’t believe it!”

“What did you do? Surely the police were on the way?”

“That’s what I thought. So I threw some things in a bag with the money and had it away!’

“Your kidding! Where did you go?”

“Well, first off I jumped a train to York. Then realized there were cameras everywhere. Then I remembered I had  a mate in Luton. So jumped back on the train and headed down there.”

“What? Then took cover down there?”

“No. When I showed my pal what I had he was all for partying. So he  drove us over to France through the tunnel.”

“Fuck. Me.”

“Then on to Amsterdam. Proper Party!”

“Your joking.”

“No. Really. It was in the papers and everything!’ Police were looking everywhere for me!”

“So what then?”

“Well, it never occurred to us to take any ID. So every hotel we went to wanted passports. Couldn’t get in anywhere. It hadn’t been a problem driving over – no borders these days!”

The group listening to all this had been descending into laughter as the tale unfolded.

“So all that money burning a hole and nowhere to stay? Jesus – its a home away from home!”

“Ha! Yeah!.We just kept trying places until we found somewhere that didn’t ask for ID.”

“How long were you there? What were the police doing?”

We were over there seven weeks all told. And the police were running round over here like headless chickens trying to find us.”

“What did you do?”

“Spend mate. And spend some more. I have to say, I remember the time there but its all a bit vague to be honest. We just spent every fucking penny.”

“28 grand in 7 fucking weeks ! Jesus!”

“I know!”

“You could have got a flat or something – no mither off the police and spread it out! It was like a years pay!”

“We did mean to do that. But by the end of the first week we were doing and trying everything –  we didn’t know what fucking day it was never mind organize the next year.”

The listening group was falling about itself.

“Anyway. After a couple of weeks we kept hearing bits from people at home. It was starting to sink in how serious it was.”

“Ah. Right. Give your selves up?”

“Well we tried to.”

Tried to?”

Plan A.

First of all they had gone to a local police station in an effort to hand  themselves in to the law. The first station they called into they were met by an officer  on the reception desk and greeted him with,

“Alright pal. We need  to give ourselves up.”

The officer stared at them. The policeman sat behind had stopped what he was doing and was looking on with interest.

“Give yourselves up?”

Asked the first.

“Yeah. That’s right lad. Hand ourselves in. We’re on the run. Like Bonnie and Clyde. He’s bonnie. I’ll be Clyde.”

Liams friend interrupted.

“Which one was Bonnie?”

“That was the bird.”

“Fuck off. I’m not being Bonnie. I’ll be Clyde.”

Liam sighed and turned back to the copper who was listening to their conversation along with his colleague, their heads going left and right following the exchange.

Liam sighed again and turned back to his sidekick.

“Right. Alright then. Like  Butch and Sundance.”

then adds,

“I’m Sundance. You’re Butch. He’s a fella.”

“Get in.”

Butch punches the air satisfied.

“Hand yourselves in….?”

The officer said raising his eyebrows inviting Liam to continue.

“Oh yeah. We need to go back to England. I nicked some money. I think we best go back and face the music mate.”

“Stole some money. Okay.  And How much did you take?”

“28 thousand pounds.”

The officer  stared at them for a moment then turned to his friend. There was a flurry of Dutch  between them, the side kick behind asking a question  while his compatriot on the reception nodded agreement and turning back to the two master criminals stood before him.

“Have you been visiting our Cafe’s in the city? Where you can smoke the interesting cigarettes?”

Weed

Liam confused admitted he had in fact visited those establishments. And yes, imbibed.

Heavily.

“Yes mate. Cracking places. Very impressed. Aren’t we Butch?’

“Ah. I see. You think this is a joke. You think the Dutch police are stupid. You wish to waste out time yes? I think you should go back to one of those places and slow down with what you smoke.”

“No mate. Seriously. We need to get home. What’s the best way?”

A flurry of Dutch was exchanged again with the officer on the desk nodding agreement again with his partner and turning back to Butch and Sundance.

“Swim.”

Time for plan B.

They were then forced to attempt to contact the UK police directly. Which takes us back to the conversation at the beginning.

Amsterdam! Do you think this is funny son? Do you think we’re fucking idiots?  Don’t you think your in enough trouble as it is? We know you were heading to Australia! Ha! Your mate’s have spilled the beans! They said you always wanted to go there!”

Liam looked at us and said in astonishment.

“It great isn’t it. It just goes to show how people don’t  listen to you. I always said I wanted to go to fucking Amsterdam!”

The officer in the mean time wouldn’t have any of it.

“Listen son. There’s no way your anywhere but in this country. Stop pissing about and either go to your local  cop shop or tell us where you are.”

Liam hung up and looked at his mate.

They went out and bought a camera. Then wandered all over Amsterdam over the next couple of weeks taking pictures of themselves at recognizable Dutch venues. Then, emailed the pictures back to Columbo in the UK.

columbo

The reaction was one of stunned silence. Then the wheels of justice spun into place with the boys receiving instructions to hand themselves in (again) while the UK police arranged to bring them back.

Plan C.

The next Dutch police station they visited had another two similar officers in the reception.

Liam rested his elbows on the desktop resigning himself to the coming conversation and began again.

“Hello pal. We need to hand ourselves in.”

The vacant stare, raised eyebrows  and invitation to continue from the officers.

“Yeah. Well. I stole 28 thousand pounds and need to go back to the UK and  face the police.”

The two officers exchanged long looks. Then a urgent conversation in Dutch followed.

“28? Thousand?”

“Yeah. That’s right.”

(Exchange looks again.)

“Have you boys visited our famous cafe’s yes?”

“Whoa whoa whoooooa cocker! We’ve had this conversation at the last place.”

“But, 28 thousand? Pounds?”

“Well yeah. But I’ve got to admit, its taken a right battering.”

Admitted Liam.

Another machine gun of Dutch conversation hammered out between the officers with the guy at the reception desk turning to Butch and Sundance.

“We don’t like British police here. They make – how do you say?”

(Turning and asking  his colleague)

“Ah. just so.”

(as he answered)

“As my friend says. They make too much paper work. You leave now. Stay in Amsterdam.”

He said, gesturing them to the door.

“Wha.. Stay?”

Asked Liam. He stood with his  friend  uncomprehending, mouths open.

“Yes. Your free to go. Stay.”

And I swear this is what they were told.

You’ll be good for the Dutch economy.”

Before they were pushed out the door.

There followed a couple more weeks where the lads took the Dutch at their word and spent and spent. And spent some more. Drugs and women mainly.

Oh.

And the camera they had to buy to prove they were in Holland. Seven week it took to organize their return to UK justice. Seven weeks of excessive spending. By the time the British police had got into fourth gear and organized their return, the money was all but gone.

“I spent the last of it on a bottle of water at the airport on our return.”

said Liam.

“And I had it confiscated at customs because it exceeded the fucking designated allowance.”

They returned to Blighty expecting the worst. They had liberally spent the 28 thousand. On nothing substantial really. Five star hotel, women and drugs do add up after all.

“We were picked up at the airport and pushed into a prison van, to be driven back up to Bradford.”

Liam continued.

“I have to say, we had a fantastic time with the money. Fucking fantastic. But were expecting the full force of the law to hit us. When the van pulled over in the middle of no-where and the back doors opened,  we were told to get out.”

Which they did, with some reluctance.

“Well, we thought we were in for a right fucking pasting after how stupid we’d made the police look. But the guys driving us gave us a ciggie each and began asking how the fuck we’d got away with it. It was brilliant.”

When they arrived back they were locked in a cell with another occupant.

“This guy, had murdered someone the night before. Proper murdered someone. We were shitting ourselves. But – honest to God – he was sound.”

added Liam slightly round eyed with surprise as he told us.

“Honest – he just laughed his head off when we told him what we had done.”

Yeah, cos he’s a fucking lunatic I’m thinking.

“So this guys laughing and suddenly says he’s going to put a word in with his Brief. Says he’s bang on. But, he doesn’t do Pro Bono work and can’t guarantee he’ll take the job. But – guess what?”

“He did?”

“He did! Said he’d never seen a case like it and had to take it. Just to see how it ended!”

During the preliminary hearing in court the prosecution demanded that they be refused bail. They were a flight risk. They couldn’t be trusted.

They had spent all the money!

But as their Brief argued, the lads had tried to hand themselves in several times. It wasn’t their fault they had had to spend the money to survive. It was all they had to live on. What else could they do but spend it on but a good shag and a big joint?

And after all, it had taken the British police force seven weeks to apprehend them. Even when they tried to hand themselves in after week 2…

So bail was granted but as Liam said,

“I went to stay with my mum up in Scotland. But It wasn’t ideal. I had to come back to Bradford and sleep on friends floors in the end.”

By the end of this situation he was back to square one, sleeping rough in a local park.

“I was actually looking forward to getting sent down.”

He said.

“I mean. I was sleeping rough. Again. Fucking freezing, no food – nothing. Scratching by. Being sent down was an answer to be honest. Got me a bed and food. In the warm”

He found himself passing the time sat around the park, just waiting to go to court to be sentenced.

“I was sat in this park right, smoking a joint. Only,  this copper wanders over, catches me napping so to speak. I’m thinking oh fuck – I’m in enough trouble at it is, and I’m trying to stub it out and act normal with the haze of weed  floating around me. Only this copper yeah, come’s up and pats me on the elbow and say “Good luck in court son.”…”

Its sad, this whole thing, when you think it through. Liam’s not a criminal. Not a die-hard law breaker. he was put in a situation by circumstances beyond his control. He made the wrong choice at the time but it was one under the duress of circumstances. At least tried to correct that choice and give himself up. I’ve been extremely fortunate enough to meet Liam, and, I have to say – I was impressed – at the impact this whole situation has had on the direction he wants to take now. How clearly he has defined what impact he wants to make on society himself. But more of that shortly.

“They tried to make us take the debt on board, you know? The 28 thousand. Pay it off when we got a job – after the sentence – like a mortgage. But our brief – he was a star – argued if they gave us the debt we would only turn to crime to find the money to pay it off!  And the judge agreed!”

He was quite gleeful as he described the situation. Laughing as he told it. Not out of maliciousness, not at all. But finding the humour in the ridiculousness of the whole situation. It was sheer slapstick.

“The judge warned us at the beginning, we were looking at a recommended  sentence of between 5 and 7 years. I have to say I shit myself at that point. But I had left a note when I took the cash.”

Liam had in fact left a note for his employers when he removed the money. Which he said was meant as a sarcastic note.

A “fuck you” to the man in charge.

“I wrote a note, just said “Sorry I had to take the money” with a big fuck off smiley face on it. You know? A two fingers to my bosses. Only, the judge decided that it showed remorse for what I had done. Remorse!”

He was laughing as he told us, and we laughed with him.

“When the  judge read out the sentence all I heard was 15. My arse fell out, I have to say. But what he actually said was 15 months. I couldn’t believe it! 15 months! I was out in 4 and a half!!”

Four and a half months for stealing and spending 28 thousand. What a result.

Speaking to Liam the other day, I have to admit I’ve tried to get down pat as much clear information as possible, to do the lad justice.

“So what are your plans these days lad?”

I asked him.

“Doing a foundation course for a year then Uni to do a degree, then a master’s. I want to help those people in unfortunate situations. I’ know how it feels to have no one care about you. What you need. The fact that you don’t actually matter. I want to work for the UN in war zones. Make a difference.”

And I have to say. Looking in his matter-of-fact eyes, I believe he will make an incredible difference if he gets the opportunity. See, Liam really knows what its like to sit at the bottom of the tree. To not matter to society. To be invisible.

But I had to ask him finally what happened to Butch, his side kick in Holland. And he filled in the final blank in the story.

“My mate – the lad who drove us over? He got away with community service as he wasn’t actually involved in the robbery. Hadn’t done the stealing of the money. Just helped me spend it.”

“Got off lightly really didn’t he Liam?”

“Well, not really. The thing was, he didn’t turn up for his community service  and was sent down instead.”

“That fucking idiot did more time than I did!”

Timmy’s Magic Box

magic box

Who’s there??”

I found myself actually flinching at the anonymous voice in the store room, literally clutching myself as I spun around looking in all directions trying to find the source of the sound that seemingly emanated from fresh air.

It was a breathless, asthmatic whispered question I had heard, was sure I had hear, but I couldn’t locate where the sound had come from. Jesus I must be hearing things I thought.

The small room I found myself in contained all the fixings and site equipment. This same room was also used as a lock-up for everyone’s tools at the end of the day with a large steel tool-box against one wall and surrounded by assorted shelves jammed with odds and ends. I say room, but it was just part of the larger external space that had been sectioned off by a temporary stud wall to give it a hint of security when everything was locked away each night.

I had only started on this job a couple of weeks previously, working in the center of Manchester. I had followed my normal routine of arrival which was to find somewhere to park in the city center, then walk my tools over to the job. This normally involved a painful 10-15 minute lug across town juggling whatever I needed to take with me. I would have a tool box on my shoulder rattling away against my ear, while I’d be holding a drill box in my free hand, my arm slowly extending with the suspended weight over the travelling distance.

Under the same arm, jammed against my ribs, I would have another smaller tool case held there by the weight of the drill box hanging off the end of my arm. By the time I’d reach the job I would have stopped half a dozen times or more to re-arrange every position and try to remain comfortable. Also to get some blood flowing back to my shoulder and try to stop my now, foot longer arm holding the drill box from scraping along the floor.

The arrival on site meant asking the first person you saw where the site office was. In this case I bumped into a joiner I’d worked with before.

“Hello Mike! How are you? Didn’t know you were starting on here.”

“Dave! Nice to see you. Still with Stuart?”

“For my sins! He’s upstairs running around unsupervised!”

“Better get back to him then! Christ my arms gone dead. Where can I dump this lot?”

Dave directed me to the stores first.

“Get down there first – get rid of that lot. Timmy’s the store-man – he’ll point you in the direction of the office.”

Which is what I did, working down the narrow stairs into the basement, to find somewhere I could drop the tools. Timmy, was sat perched on a stool in the small room reading a much folded newspaper through some truly magnificently sturdy looking bifocals. He had that owlish look some people have who wear really thick glasses. That looking-down-their-nose through the lenses stare, with that slightly open mouthed gape that made them seem a bit dense. That measure cadence he had when speaking didn’t help either.

glasses

He was surrounded by shelves stacked haphazardly with odds and ends.

“Hello mate. Room for this lot?”

“Hello son. Not seen your face before. New start? I’m Timmy – the Store-man”

Timmy was a sixty-something old boy who had retired and taken the job on a casual basis, all cash in hand, kept him busy and out from under his wife’s feet. He was responsible for making sure all the plant hire being used on site was signed for and came back to this small room each day. Also he took care of any deliveries that arrived and made sure they were locked away. The rest of his time involved hovering on his stool reading his daily paper that looked as though he was practicing origami with. Each time he stopped to do anything it would be slipped into his back pocket. It was usually reduced to a 4 inch square wad by the end of the day.

Now any new job you start on always involves a certain amount of trepidation. If you don’t know the employer the first two weeks meant sweating slightly, waiting to see if you actually got paid after working that week in hand. It wasn’t so bad if there were lads on there already working who you knew – that meant more often than not it must be fine. If there weren’t any familiar faces it meant that either everything was ok or, that as a new starter you were there to pick up the crap jobs they didn’t want to do. If nobody had any inclination to talk to you it tended to be another heads up. It could mean they were aware of how bad the work was that you would be asked to do, or knew you were going to have your money knocked and wouldn’t last long enough to make it worth getting to know you anyway. You would be leaving soon enough when you realized that your money had been cut. Because, if you discovered it was a cowboy employer, come pay-day, they could cut your agreed rate or just not pay you at all.

Don’t get me wrong. It still goes on. Every job I start on these days still involves that gut wrenching couple of weeks before I get my first pay cheque – especially if its a bad job from day one. The only thing that’s changed these days, is that some employers want to pay you monthly or every 2 weeks instead of weekly. It’s up to you whether or not you take that chance. Lets face it – that’s a lot of money to be owed to have worked a month for and not receive.

As it happened, I knew a number of lads on this site. So when I walked into the brew room there were a fair number of familiar faces. I didn’t have to try and establish myself with the lads on that job. But, I have to admit there was an element of slapstick running of the job. All the foremen were mates, a couple had started on the job and brought friends in to similar positions. This meant that it was a job for the boys. Men were running the job who didn’t actually know what they were doing.

This becomes painfully obvious when trying to overcome any problems and your asking for a decision on some issue. The foreman will be stood there looking at an up-side down site drawing pulling his lip mumbling,

“Mmmmm. Well, I can see that’s a problem. Yes. definitely. What do you think then…?”

And you would gently turn the drawing the right way and fold it up and just say,

“Leave it with me. I’ll sort something out ok?”

The lads running this job had come from other walks of life. Most of them nothing to do with the building trade at all. But one of their mates had told them there was nothing to it. Just point at things and let the lads sort it out. It was quite directionless at times.

Most of the guys on site I knew were all older. A good group who had all worked in the game a long time. Most partnered up over a number of years. Dave had worked with Stuart a long time, and I think it was just resigned patience from Dave that had kept them together. Dave was obviously the brains of the outfit.

“You’ll do ok on here Mike. Money’s fine – no problem. All cash too.”

I raised my eyebrows in surprise. A cash job meant the employer was cutting corners somewhere. To be honest I wasn’t going to worry about what the employer was doing – I was just relieved I was going to be paid. The only thing you had to worry about was staying safe on this job. That slapstick way of running things had almost ended in tragedy a couple of weeks prior to me starting. We were sat in another one of those rooms that had been requisitioned out of obscurity and converted into a brew area for the lads. It was down in the basement of the building, badly lit with fold out benches and tables and permanent hint of dust in the air, which filtered down through the floor above. Dave turned to me one brew time and said,

“You missed all the fun a couple of weeks back Mike.”

“Fun? Why? What went on?”

Stuart sat next to him spat some tea back out as he snorted over a snigger.

“Fun? Christ we didn’t know what was going on!”

Apparently the guys running the job had decided in their wisdom to have a mini digger lifted up onto one of the floors to aid demolition.

“Yeah, they had this thing rolling around on the 2nd floor pushing all the crap into a big pile,” continued Dave. “Only these idiots just kept on piling it up in the same spot.”

“Much there?”

“Much there? Christ it was a pile of brick and rubble almost up to the ceiling.”

“Blimey. What happened?”

“Well, we’re all sat in this shit hole down here, when all of a sudden we could hear this rumble.”

“What? Like thunder?”

“Yeah, we thought the same at first.”

“I actually said – I did didn’t I Dave? I said “Is that thunder?””

threw in Stuart wide eyed. Dave looked heaven wards – it seemed he’d had this conversation a number of times with Stuart.

“Yes you did Stu. Spotted it straight away. You often say when it starts raining, “Looks like rain,” too. You also mention when the sun is shining how hot it is or isn’t. You should be reading the fucking weather on the telly – you’re wasted here thats for sure. Only It wasn’t thunder was it?”

What it was was the mound of rubble on the 2nd floor. The old flooring joists couldn’t take the weight and had collapsed. The rubble, digger and all and had come crashing down straight through the first floor, finally coming to a rest on the ground floor – directly on top of the brew room.

“Right on top of us!”

Continued Dave,

“Couldn’t see a fucking thing! Took all the lights out – what we actually have that is – a fucking mole with a torch would get lost in here! It was real panic stations to be honest.”

“Christ! What happened?”

I asked, peering up at the ceiling above me.

“Well, luckily they had fitted all the new steel supports under the floor above the week before, so when it hit this level everything held. If It hadn’t been for that, Michael Fish our resident weather expert over there would have been as flat as the rest of us!”

The cascading debris had knocked out all the lights. The noise of the descending rubble on the floor above had been frightening enough. When the lights went out they were plunged into pitch darkness with choking dust coming through. It had been a case of lighters flickering in the darkness to find their way out into the lobby, crawling or blundering blindly against one another, and up the narrow stairs to the exit. A real claustrophobic experience.

“I had Gammon sandwiches too that day,”

threw in Stuart wistfully, staring back into the past.

“Missus made them special.”

I looked from Stuart to Dave and could see him visibly grinding his teeth staring at the sky again. I don’t know how they managed to work together for so long. I think it was the approach of retirement that kept Dave with him after all that time. I think he made the most of knowing he wouldn’t have to put up with it on a daily basis much longer.. I settled into the job but have to say it was never one of my favourites. The bumbling management didn’t make anything easier and as they were getting bonus’ for saving money this began to extend to the quality of the materials.

I had been rebuilding the roof, a flat structure with rows of peaked atriums springing out of the structure. Some were designed to take glass skylights which were situated down the center of the roof in order to stream the natural light into the building, and down onto the ground floor far below that was covered with a beautiful mosaic tiling feature. I found out how poor the materials were at this point as I fixed one of the roofing rafters.

I had stepped onto the one already fixed to nail the one I was fitting. As it was I was straddling the roof members with a 4 floor drop below straight through the atrium. I don’t know what came first, the crack of the timber or the give as it snapped. I caught myself before I went too far through. Wedged between the rafters either side with legs dangling over the drop. I’ve never had a problem with heights and noticed them even less when actually working on a project. Its only when something suddenly goes wrong that you become aware of a impending – and possibly permanent – issue. It was a wake up call and one I took seriously after I climbed off the roof and stood with trembling knees checking through the timber I was using.

The first thing someone always suggests in those situations is a cup of tea. Sweet tea too. To calm you down. But I wouldn’t have trusted my hands to hold one steady at that moment as they were shaking that badly. Upon closer inspection the timber I was using was crap. Cheap and nasty really. Who-ever had ordered it had done so with an eye on his bonus regarding what he was saving in costs if he had bought better material.

I just took more care selecting what I was using from there on in.

The final straw came for me some weeks later when the DSS raided the Job.

This was a government body in charge of social services at the time. I had been oblivious to the fact that the wage payments had been in cash so that the employer hadn’t been deducting tax from certain people. They were given a false name so that nobody could trace them. The trouble was nobody working on site knew who was on the fiddle. People weren’t discussing it with work mates so nobody was any the wiser if a mate was using an assumed name or not. This particular morning there was sudden activity below me on the job. I had almost completed the roof and tilers had followed along behind me battening and slating the roof. I had heard some shouting below and looked through a skylight to see a flurry of activity and bodies rushing around the job.

“Dave! Dave!! Whats going on??”

“Its a fucking raid! The DSS are here!!”

swat

And he rushed past looking for a way out. (Obviously Dave was a Frank Smith on the wage slips) I’ll give Frank this. For a fella nearing retirement he couldn’t have shift when pushed.

“What about Stuart?”

“Fuck Stuart! The Bastard! He climbed out a window at the back and jumped in the skip before they could seal the building off!”

It was like someone had poked an ant hill and people were spilling out all over the place. The forefront of most peoples minds was escape. It was only at this point that I realized the scale of fiddling going on. There must have been 90 per-cent of the work force scrambling about looking for an exit. Bodies were flinging themselves across the roof looking for a fire escape to get down. Seeing no joy at one end they would run past people going the other way looking for the same thing, non actually getting anywhere. Looking over the roof edge I could see there were police stationed on the street at each exit from the building. It didn’t look good these people meant business.

“Frank! I mean Dave! The newsagents!”

“What?”

“The newsagents!!”

And the penny dropped. He waved his thanks and took off. I could hear “The Newsagents!” being shouted round the job as he descended the stairs. What I had noticed from the roof was that the only entrance not blocked by the police was the doorway to the shops inside the building on the ground floor.

We walked into the site that way each morning to buy a paper, then continued through the shop into the lift lobby where the lifts would be situated. This lobby ran the length of the building and would house the ground floor flats. It was this lobby that had the lovely mosaic as a floor finish that I could look down upon from the roof. From here you could enter the stairs that took you down to the basement, up into the site or out of the exit at the rear of the building. There were only two other exits, one on the front and one at the end of the building through two now unoccupied shops.

I rushed over to the side of the building where the newsagent was. It didn’t take long for bodies to begin sliding out, each clutching a paper or some other item as they left, so the copper outside assumed they were just leaving the shop not the job. There were various nods to the officer guarding that end of the building oblivious to the evacuation going on before him. Bodies drifted off in different directions into the busy city center with that slightly urgent quick step just shy of breaking into a run.

I made my way down through the building carrying my tools with me. I wasn’t leaving them lying around as it was obvious the working day was over. On the way down through the now abandoned site, littered with helmets and tools, I met one of the foremen heading the other way directing a rather officious DSS officer around the building. I was told in no uncertain terms to go straight to the room being used to check ID’s, immediately, without deviation.

On the way down I was met by various police officers eyeing me suspiciously, stationed at key points through out the building, guiding the few that remained to one of the empty shops on the ground floor. By the time they managed to search the job there must have been 9 of us out of a work force of 40 actually on site.

And 3 of those were arrested on the spot as their false ID’s were made obvious.

The rest had slipped out through the newsagents carrying various confectionaries. We were the only legit workers on the site. I had had an inkling that some had been using different names but never in my wildest dreams had I expected it on the scale it was being used.

The DSS officers were devastated. What had been a slick operation, surrounding the building like a finely oiled machine had turned into a farce. It was a quick identity check and back out on site.

I made my way to the basement store room to lock away my tools, reflecting on the number of people that were working under different ID’s. I realized I wasn’t sure if I had been calling people by the right names. It was as I was rattling the tool box lid trying to put my gear away that I heard the voice and jumped back looking around. Then I realized – It was coming from the box.

“Jesus! Who’s In there?”

Its me! Timmy!!”

came the guarded whisper.

“Timmy?? Wtf!”

I then noticed the tools scattered around the room, placed there in an obvious rush. Timmy was another assumed name working for his cash in hand. And as soon as the raid had begun he had dragged everything out of the chest and got one of the lads to lock him inside.

Where’s Terry?”

came the whisper.

Have the DSS fucked off yet?”

Nearly done mate,”

I found I was bent down whispering back.

They’re on they’re way off site now.”

Oh thank fucking Christ for that! I think I’m running out of air!”

Really? Ah. Well don’t go getting stressed. Your going to need to stay calm and use as little as possible mate.”

Stay calm? Stay Calm? Did you say “use as little air as possible?”???”

There was a slight hysterical edge to the whispered voice. Then,

I’ll be fine. Yeah fine. Just get Terry. With the key. Fetch him down. He can let me out.”

All the while the voice was raising slightly and the breathing had gained a slightly frantic gulping quality.

Yeah. Get Terry. He can unlock the box! He’ll have me out in no time!

I was stood staring at the blank front of the tool chest trying to pick my words, then whispered back,

Well, That’s the thing Tim. Terry’s not a Terry – he’s a John. And they’re just loading John into the back of the police van…”

cuffs

And Other Stories