It was 1996 and the build up for the European championships taking place in England had begun. “Its Coming Home ” was on the radio all the time along with Simply Red’s “We’re In this Together”. And in the background taking up as much listening time on the radio was Tubthumpings ” I Get Knocked Down (But I Get Up Again) ”.
And to top it off, it was turning into one of those fantastically sunny summers, when its a pleasure to get up to a lovely warm morning and go to work in that early heat and clear blue sky.
I was starting on a new job fitting out a bar in Wigan, where, it seems, everyone injects themselves with a hypodermic full of bravery every morning and come’s ready to fight the world.
“God was born in Wigan.” I often heard. (He wasn’t)
So we had Baddiel and Skinner “Coming Home” on all the time and 4 pies for a pound. That’s what else I remember about that job. You could buy 4 pies for a pound. It normally cost you a pound for one anywhere else. but this was Wigan. Pie central. They don’t call them Pie eaters for nothing.
My first day on the job, the first person I meet, is this slightly built fella, shaven head, very mild looking and slightly hesitant.
“Hello mate, looking for Tony? The agent?” I ask.
“In the back fella. I’m Jimmy.” And he offers his hand passing his brush to the other.
“Alright jimmy – I’m Mike. Nice to meet you. You the site labourer?”
“Aye. That’s right fella. Have you heard about jesus?”
And I just went,
Not, I hasten to add to insult or abuse, but I just had no time for someone I didn’t know immediately trying to recruit me to The Lords Work. (I’m a catholic, I have enough guilt as it is.)
I kid you not. And that was my introduction to jimmy. A Born Again Christian, In every sense of the word.
As I settled in to the job, it turned into one of those jobs where the Craic was fantastic. Everyone worked hard, but it was a laugh all the time. You spent your time trying to stay in front of someone else’s wind up by coming up with one first, and keeping them too preoccupied to get you back. It was like double Jeopardy, trying to anticipate the next set-up and topping it before you became the target.
It being a building site there was no mercy. And if you actually put yourself on everyone else’s radar, well you only had your self to blame and best take it on the chin and stay mum. Because if you bit, your life would not be worth living until some other unfortunate would line themselves up as a replacement.
So it was a daily battle to come up with a better wind up than someone else’s, or just pay someone back. And, if you could, form a posse and get the other’s to do the dirty work. You were better being at the back of a lynching than front and center…
It may sound cruel or mean but it was anything but. It was a very funny environment to be in and that’s why this job stick’s so firmly and fondly in my memory.
But getting back to being a target. Enter jimmy from left stage.
He started by removing the Page 3′s that had been stuck up on the wall where we had brew. Then slapping a bible down on the brew table, (If anyone would like to read it..) citing his religious beliefs. Well that’s all well and good but this wasn’t the height of political correctness we have to submit to these days. We were still allowed to have a black sense of humour and laugh at inappropriate things. Because, lets face it, sometimes it is funny when someone else falls on their arse.
So when he began taking down the site’s pride and joy (Linsey Dawn McKenzie and Donna Ewin), Jimmy Just became “Target No 1“.
But I have to say Jimmy intrigued me because he really was a nice bloke, Just you know, So focused, in his beliefs. Like he couldn’t or daren’t consider any other option’s or choices in life. Couldn’t try something in case it was too good – daren’t risk it. (Whooooah, Too much pleasure down that road, must be a sin! A temptation! That’s torn it, I’m off to hell!!)
So one day when Jimmy came over to where I was working to clean up, I finally asked him,
“Jimmy, what happened? What actual defining moment turned you towards God?”
Because the only way I could reason it was, nobody becomes Born Again without having had a revelation in their lives, some terrible moment or experience that re-aligns a persons thinking. A search for some form of stability in the life. Direction.
I always feel nervous about religious zeal, the sheer strength of belief, it always feels like there’s an indoctrination involved. But maybe that say’s more about me…
“What do you mean?”
“Well, what made you become a born again Christian Jimmy? What trauma actually happened in your life that made you feel you needed saving?”
And eventually he began to tell me.
“Well,” he started, ” I was a bad lad. I mean a BAD lad.”
“What do you mean Jim? A nice lad like you? Bad? Gerraway.”
“No fella, I was a real bag of trouble. Drinking. Doing Drugs and fighting all the time. Went off the rails. Getting mixed up with the wrong crowd. Real wrong crowd.”
“What, and then you found God?”
And he’s sort of stood there rolling the brush handle between his hands, and then says,
“It was serving 6 out of 9 years for armed robbery finally did it.”
And I’m looking at Jimmy, mild mannered Jim, real quiet fella, with hands now resting one on top of the other leaning on his brush handle, with his chin resting on top, stood looking off into the past telling me this.
And I’m all thinking is, “Fuck. A. Duck.”
It turned out jimmy, was the getaway driver. You know. A pro. leather gloves, shades kept the engine running outside whilst the real loons went in with the sawn offs and swag bag.
Only, it wasn’t Pro. It was some lads he knocked about with decided they’d get rich quick. (Rob a bank! Yeah! That’s the way. In and out with a big bag of dosh.)
Only, they nicked a ford Capri. 2 door. Pull up. Jimmy (the Get Away Driver) jumps out. lifts the seats forward so the balloons in the back can get out.
Then jumps back in and sits revving the motor as they rush into the bank to rob it.
I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had all gone dressed up – 4 Teenage Ninja Turtles would have looked fantastic.
“Ok every one!! Cowabunga!! Don’t do anything stupid and no one gets hurt!! If you’d all like to place any money or anything of value (Pizza?) in Donatello or Michelangelo’s bag and we’ll be on our way! dominos shut in ten! Get a fuckin move on!!! ”
While Leonardo is sat outside revving the arse off his Capri..
Anyway it’s not long before they all rush out and they repeat the performance in reverse.
Jimmy leaps out, seat held up – everyone squeezes in, (Everyone got they’re seat belt on? No? George? Buckle up lad. Clunk click and all that.) mirror, indicate, manouver, annnnnd off we go.
So. They’ve done it. Robbed a bank.
And now they’re racing round Wigan with sirens in the distance trying to make good they’re getaway.
And then (I take this as the defining moment) They come to a choice.
Blue lights flashing in the distant distance and they either go onto the motorway or off over the moors.
And, its fallen to Jimmy, The Getaway Driver, to decide.
Now you can imagine them thinking, ” Mmm. motorway? Or off up into the middle of no-where, up a road with hardly any turn offs, that heads up onto the moors?? Mmmm. Which way? Well the view’s ever so nice this time of day on the top’s…..”
But its got to be The Motorway. Hands down. Every time. Multiple exits. Head off anywhere before the police get near. etc etc etc.
”But the thing was,” said jimmy to me,
“What Jim?” I ask,
“The thing was fella, I hate driving on the motorway”.
“I’m just all nerves. Panting in a paper bag job see. Get panicky!”
So, off they go up onto the moors blue light’s ablaze behind and shortly, blue lights swarming towards them in the opposite direction. And it was decamp and run for it in four directions.
Course. This fooled the police immediately. Didn’t know what to do. Lads got clean away.
Only they didn’t. Police just let the dogs after then then strolled over and popped the bracelets on whilst they were getting ragged around the heather.
And there was jimmy, 6 years later having found god whilst inside. Having decided he needed this in his life. The structure. The stability it gave him. The focus it gave him to rebuild his life.. and I’m happy to say, it did.
New man, on the straight and narrow. Just a little unnerving at times..the intensity.
And I was glad to have listened to him. Felt I’d learnt something worthwhile.
But whenever a siren flew past the job all you’d hear would be –
“Jimmy! Jimmmmy!! They’re coming for you Jimmy! Run You Fucker! They’re fucking COMINNNNNG!!”
Sympathy is all well and good, but you didn’t get any in Wigan in ’96…(I Get Knocked Down..)