Every time I see them, floating and spinning in the air, caught in a ray of sunshine – dust motes – when some movement has disturbed them and lifted they spilling and spiraling in the light, my mind drops back about 10 years to a job I was working on.
It was brew time – time for a cup of tea and a sandwich. I was sat holding a brew in an empty room as people trickled in. And the sun was shining from some hidden point in the roof, picking out all these spinning paticles, floating in the air.
There was a new face trying to slide in and find somewhere to sit before anyone else noticed him.
“Lads this is Billy, New apprentice.” Leave it with them. Fair game. You can see all the eye’s sliding round to weigh up the new arrival, just deciding what wind up they’re going to use..
John just tipped his head back and looked down his nose through his bi-focals, dismissed the new face with a look, then went back to reading his paper. (Read about John in Jonny Moonshine and Jonny Moonshine Rides Again.)
We had been asked to take on board a new apprentice by the bricklaying contractor,
“No strings, I’ll pay his wage, you teach him – he’s a mate’s son – said I’d see him right.”
So no harm, make’s for a change a new face, bit of entertainment seeing if he can learn or not. See if he’s clever enough to try and adapt to his new environment, take onboard what’s thrown at him. See if he breaks.
Fresh Blood. So to speak.
His name was Billy and he was dizzy to say the least. Bit slow in fact. not sure if you were taking the mick or having a craic with him. But I’d have to say that tends to be the case with most 16 year olds. New apprentices, all a bit nervy, and quiet at first. But ALL thinking they’re going to be a joiner by a week Thursday.
“Piece of Piss mate. Can’t tell me nuthin – S’easy – I know how it works see? Wide head me. No one put’s one over on Billy boy…”
Welcome to reality Bill.
What had followed was 3 or 4 weeks indoctrination in thrilling apprentice pastimes like,
How To Sweep Up SHIT.
How To Carry Wood From Here To Wayyyyyy Over There. (And Back Again Because It’s The wrong Gear Billy!)
He Finally began to understand around the 4th week when he was doing another fabulous apprentice routine which was,
Getting The Bacon Sarnies For The Lads.
Upon his return –
“No sauce on sandwiches Billy,” (It was like a cardinal sin) “Off you fuck son and sort them out.”
This being a big job Billy complained (S’miles away! S’other side of the job, You don’t need sauce), where upon it was spelt out with Billy listening with dawning comprehension.
“Billy. You need to realize something son. You don’t contribute anything to the working of this job. Don’t You Understand? Your job is to run and fetch and carry. Bring that here take this there. That’s the set of skills you currently possess.
You, take up our, time, having to organize you. You’re progress in this job will be measured by how and where you stand when we’re working, with what tool you have in your hand, ready, just quivering with readiness, to pass the right tool over at the right time.
THAT, will show your taking note of how a job is done Billy.
THAT means your learning Billy. And THAT means you’ll be trusted to actually use your own hammer on something other than your thumb..
Now, Off you fuck and get the sauce…”
So it was a turning point for Billy. Every apprentice has one, when they either finally settle down, work and make head way with what they’re trying to learn……or they don’t. And then they spend their day getting bollocked, because really, they’re wasting everybody’s time.
So Billy settled and the weeks went by and he began to learn. And he was a nice lad Billy.
A bit wild and daft but he tried and worked hard.
But there was always Some drama, or some situation he’d get himself into over the weekend.
He was working with me one day and not overly responsive. So I’ve eventually stopped what I’m doing to really look at him and I realize he’s literally grey. So I say,
“Billy, you feeling ok?”
Yeah. well, bit rough – heavy night last night with the lads. Tried something new. Was great.”
“Oh yeah? What was it? Bit of circuit training or weights? Worn you out son? Something like that?” (Say’s a lot about how my mind works against this younger generation),
“What? Oh, no. We did some ketamine. Brilliant! Off me head! Wankered! Don’t remember a thing! Thing is though, thing is, feel a bit crap today. Bit rough. Feel slow. Breathing, a bit heavy.” ( No. Really?)
And I’m stood there having one of those WTF moments thinking “WHO, I mean WHO, takes a horse tranquilizer??”
then I remember who I’m looking at and sort of go, “Ahhhh. Yeahhhhh.”
Or when we returned to work after Christmas and we’re loading doors up to a work area. One man front and back because these doors were seriously heavy. So there I am with Billy, lumping these things onto pallet trucks, then over to where we’re working, then up stairs and…you get the picture.
Each time we get to our destination it’s a chance to get our breath, have a moment before we start the next one. And I keep looking at Billy, knowing something is out of place but just not asking, thinking, it’ll come to me shortly.
Eventually Billy takes matters into his own hands and say,
“What do you think? You’ve not said anything.”
“Well why don’t you just tell me about it Bill.” say’s I, still not clocking what he was talking about but thinking silence is the best thing here, let the lad talk, and Billy says,
“Me eyebrows! What do you think?”
And I look and suddenly realize his eyebrows are gone. (Another WTF moment)
Just two big pink spots where they used to be. And, truly, he looked like a simpleton. I mean a proper window licker. And all I can do as I realize is fold over and laugh and laugh and laugh, until it was actually painful.
“Billy, Bill what the fuck have you done?”
” Christmas party! Got wankered, on ketamine and a bit of Prosac? And just flaked out. You Know how it is.”
(No Billy, I’m sorry, I don’t)
“And me mates – the bastards – well they sort of sanded me eyebrows off with an orbital sander. Didn’t feel a thing though!! ”
(Plenty of pre- op shire horses will rest easy)
So there’s nothing else for it.
“Billy, ” I say, thinking “he’s never going to go for this one,”
Haven’t you thought about drawing some on??”
And Billy says ( I swear to god)
“Yeah! Course I did!! I’m not stupid you know!” (?) “But me mates – the bastards – Kept rubbing them off with the snow!!’
So I say,
” You want me to do some for you?’ (pleasegodpleasegodpleasesayyes)
“You know. Draw some eyebrows on for you. I could do it. Easy. ”
“Yeeeeeah. No prob.”
“Ok then.” (Ohthankyoulord)
“What sort do you want then? ” I say fumbling for my permanent ink marker pen.
“You know – happy eyebrows! Or Sad eyebrows. Or angry – yeah – angry eyebrows would look great Billy. Nobody will mess with you then Bill!”
“Yeah! That sounds top! Do it! Do what you think!!” (It’s like finding Aladin’s lantern and 3 wishes)
So I set to work on Billy. And at the end of my masterpiece – which was nigh impossible for laughing – Billy Looked like the Emperor Ming.
And then another one of the lads who had turned up to watch and had been stood trying to chew his knuckle’s, in an effort not to laugh, says,
Billy You look like a right tart.”
“Yeah Bill. A Tart mate. Too thin those eyebrows. Look like a girl. ‘Ere, give me that pen.” And he set’s to work.
In a matter of moments and heavy scribbling Billy is transformed. If Anybody ever watched a Charlie Chaplin film, they would remember his nemesis – and actor called Alfred Eric Campbell, frequently cast as The Bully. He of large stature and big bushy eyebrows.
As you can imagine it was now actually painful to draw a breath around the laughter.
And Billy’s going,
“What’s that like? They better? They are better aren’t they?
Do they look real now?” ( arrrrrrr I’m going to wee – omg I can’t get any airrrrrrrrrrrrrr).
And it was the look, Just that vacant, docile look on the boys face, as he’s looking at us waiting for an answer.
And as he wandered off to show everybody else, all I could think of was that big empty space in in Billy’s head, and dust motes floating around all sparkly…