I spent a number of years shop fitting and bar fitting.
This type of joinery is a mainly clean and a better quality. And dry.No slogging through mud on a sites, hands numb from lumping half-frozen, wet timber to a plot your working on, tripping over everything because there’s no light to see by.
The shop fitting and bar fitting side tends to be working on night clubs, bars, cinemas, bingo halls, shop chains..a much better environment to work in. The only down side can be it tends to involve working away from home, 7 day weeks, 12 hour days or even nights.
I worked for one firm in particular for around 5 years on and off. I’d spend something like 8 months or so, working away, home every 2nd weekend, until I reached a point when I just needed to be at home. I’d just miss my wife and kids too much. Then I’d get work closer to home until that dried up then go back working away..
One job in particular I worked on, in Liverpool, in a place called Huyton. It was a new build large Bingo hall. It was basically a new empty structure, somewhere on the scale of a super market, just ready to be fitted out with bars, podiums, seats and decoration.
I started working on there with my dad and Tex, a joiner I’ve spent a large part of my working life working with on and off. We used to take turns sharing the driving and fuel in travelling to and from the job each day. Others on the job I’d worked with before were some scouse lads, Terry and Gary, 2 brothers. Terry I’d worked with on a number of jobs for the same firm and had had some real belly laugh moments with him. He had a habit when he was sharing a bit of gossip, of speaking out of the side of his mouth, like a scouse version of Popeye. His eyes would be scanning his surroundings while he was shiftily divulging his current tit bit, to make sure nobody else was near enough to hear. Adding to this was Terry’s other 2 brothers, Joe and Paul who then brought their brother-in-law George into the mix. It was really like a family gathering at that point.
Another feature on the job was the table tennis. We would organize a competition during break times. The idea was to get Bob the foreman playing who was incredibly competitive and would do almost anything to win. What Bob didn’t know was we pre planned his turn to play, then who ever was playing him would let him win so that these brew times became longer. He would drop his bat to the table on winning a match point and strut around with his arms in the air on winning. Again.
I’m sure with Queens “We are the champions” going through his head.
And it would be,
“Aww. Bollocks. You win again Bob! I don’t know how you became so good. I (Whoever was playing) just can’t compete!”
Whilst everyone else would congratulate Bob and jeer at the current loser…
“I knew you’d win again Bob! Yeah! You whupped that a loser!! Blimey, no holding you back Bob!! Like a machine!!!”
And this would go on each time he played. The only time it really got seriously competitive was when bob couldn’t take part. Then it was brutal. No mercy. People would be limbering up before a game. Press ups and sit up all over the place! There were bats getting flung down and ping-pong balls stamped on in fury! In particular, the competitiveness between the brothers was intense in the extreme. A couple of time the bats would be thrown down and the lads would be nose-to-nose squaring up over some taunt or dropped point.
“You dirty cheatin’ bastard ya!”
“Who you callin’ a cheatin bastard? Lost again and spittin ya dummy out! You always was a girl – even when you were a kid! You even threw like a girl!!”
“Who you callin a fuckin girl?? Here-” Bat thrown at other brother “- Does a fuckin girl throw like that ya twat??!!”
Then it was “Whoooooooaaaaaaaaaa!! Calm down lads! Its only a game! Lets not fall out ffs!”
“He called me a girl! Wanker!!”
“Who you callin a wanker??”
Jesus. And off they’d go again. We spent more time getting between the brothers. We had to spend time fiddling the draws so they didn’t play each other. Trouble was they were more competitive and unfortunately, better than the rest of us, so it wasn’t long before they were playing each other anyway, with the inevitable fall outs that followed.
It cost a fortune in Ping-Pong balls.
Another feature on the job was a local character known as Tony Beep Beep. An utterly pleasant lad. Aorund 20 years old when I came across him. He obviously had his own issues but was always smiling and would stand in the central reservation on the main road shouting,
And give a thumbs up to passing cars. He was like a scouse road runner. He was made up when cars beeped their horns back at him in reply.
We first noticed him while we were sat in the cabin having a brew and talk gradually died as we suddenly became aware of this young lad, nose pressed against the window, with a slightly manic grin and megawatt stare. And as everyone turned to look who it was, he suddenly stuck 2 thumbs up and went,
“Who. The fuck is that??” asked Bob the foreman.
“Beep beep mate!” Terry shouted back
“Aw ‘ey lad,” he said to Bob, “Thats just Tony Beep Beep.”
And proceeded to explain about him.
“The kids harmless. Just gets a kick out of beeping at the traffic. No worries.”
So Tony would wander onto the site car park shout “Beep beep!” a few times, give the thumbs up, then someone would take him in hand and lead him off again.
“Come on Tony lad, Can’t be wandering around on here son.”
It finally came to a head when we were coming out of the cabin to find him reversing the unknowing contracts manager into a parking spot.
“Come on mate! Come on! Beep beep! Come on! Come onnnnnnnnn-” Crunch. “Aw ‘ey mate, you’ve hit that bollard!”
And off he ran.
Alan jumped out of his car to inspect the damage then turned to watch Tony galloping off. He wasn’t happy.
“Who the fuck was that?? I thought he worked for us when he started parking me up! I was over there -” he gestured to the other side of the car park, “And he shouted me over here and started guiding me in!! Who was that??!!”
“That’s Tony beep beep Alan. On your way out give him a honk on the horn as you pass. You’ll see him in the middle of the road beeping at traffic. It’ll make his day mate….”
“Keep him off this fucking site!”
So that was the last we saw of Tony unless we passed him on the way home where he would be stood, turning either way, grinning, thumbs up and beep-beeping everyone good enough to honk their horns at him.
He was a well known character in the area. I can’t begin to tell you how saddened I was to later hear he was killed in a hit and run. He was a quite vital personality. For his obvious problems, I’m sure its a face that’s missed by many.
The other notable person on the site was Fred West the carpet layer.
Not the Fred west obviously, (Mass Murderer)but a doppleganger who was working on site. And I mean, he was a double of Fred. Which is how he earned his nickname. It wasn’t hard winding him up either. He was bad tempered most of the time and the nickname just aggravated him to new heights.
“Fred, you need to move your rolls of carpet mate.”
“Don’t call me Fred! You know I don’t like it!!”
“Come on Fred, just kidding pal!”
“DON’T CALL ME FRED!!”
So as you can imagine. Everyone called him Fred. Brew time Fred. Sugar Fred? Home time Fred..
Fred finally flipped when he unrolled a carpet to find a missing corner. It was something tiny, like a 4 foot by 2 and a half foot piece. And something that small off a roll of carpet 6m x 12m was nothing. It’d be lost in the waste.
Fred was apoplectic. Going off like a volcano.
“That’s fucking IT!!! I’m getting the police in! Called me fuckin Fred once too fuckin often!! Now you’ll be sorry! Ohhh yes! So sorry!!”
And off he marched to the site office. Where, Bob made him sit him down and cool off. Explaining what a fool he was making of himself. Inside nobody took any notice. Fred was always upset. Really, he was just lining himself up for more aggro by making a ridiculous issue.
My dad had other ideas though. He wandered over to where I was working for a quiet word.
“Tex had the carpet. ” He murmured.
“Its in the boot of the car. Cut it off first thing and stuck it in. Its for his porch on the front of the house. Going to wind him up. Pop over in ten, I’ll have him cooking by then. Just jump in and fan the flames.”
So I waited for ten minutes or so before heading over to find Tex sweating already.
“Jesus. have you heard? Freds phoned the police! What are we going to do?”
“What do you mean we? I haven’t nicked some carpet! How do you know he phoned the police anyway?
“Your dads just told me. Fred’s had a rant and shot off to see Bob in the office. Went to phone the Busies!”
And, I still can’t believe this, as he said it, we all turned to look across the site to the entrance on the opposite side of the building. And as we did, a lone copper walked in, took a good look around and walked out again.
“Ohhhhhhfuck.” moaned Tex, visibly wilting.
I looked over his head at my dad with eyebrows raised but he just shrugged helplessly and shook his head. He had no idea why a copper was here either. It was heaven sent.
“Shit Tex! They’re here for you! Christ that was quick! What you going to do?? How far can you run????”
“I don’t know!! Awwwwwshiiiit!”
And it went from there. We gradually included other people into the set up, telling Joe and George. I took them to one side and just said,
“Pop over, tell Tex the police have had you in the office over the carpet. keep him sweating.”
By this point mind it was mid afternoon and Tex really had been sweating on it most of the day. Normally he would bring a sandwich box into work, with the mantra of eating “small but often”. This involved carrying round a sandwich box that would feed an infant school, from which he would have something to eat at each break. At this point Tex had been unable to bring himself to eat anything. Going various shades as each piece of new development was brought to him by different people during the day.
Joe and George jumped on their chance with relish.
“Aw ‘ey lad! They’ve had us in the office!” began Joe.
“Yeah! And their only going to charge us! Said we were last seen near it!”
“Yeah! Said we nicked it! That’s racism against Scousers that is!”
“Your goin to have to come clean Tex!”
You could actually see Tex looking to the heavens mouthing “Thank you God” then.
“Your just going to have to take the rap lads!”
I must admit there was a moments breath-taking pause, as everyone looked at each other as they realized he was throwing Joe and George to the dogs. Then the rest of us just started laughing.
“Fuck me Tex! Your goin to let them do us?? We’re innocent though!!” Shouted George
“Yeah!! That’s racism that is!!” Threw in Joe.
Whilst I couldn’t resist,
“Whooaaa Tex! Jesus! That’s a bit raw mate! No half measures there then! Fuck ya’s all! Your going down! I love it!! You’re bolloxed boys! Tex just sold you down the river! You’ll be in the Chokey before tea-time!!!”
And it went like that till Tex finally had to admit what he was sweating over.
The week before he had been shopping in Asda and spied an electric planer. Having a good look at it he realized the price tag was loose. As were the price tags on other items. So with a bit of careful maneuvering, he swapped price tags.
Saved himself a few bob.
Where it all went wrong was as he went through the till to pay. When asked if he wanted the warranty on the new tool he replied “yes”. So the girl offered him the paper work, he filled in his name and address..
The police knocked on his front door about an hour later.
“So I can’t lads! I’m up in court next week! If I get done for this, I’ll be up shit creek without a fucking canoe, never mind a paddle!!!”
Everyone was left momentarily goggled eyed and open-mouthed in amazement, until it finally erupted in laughter at Tex’s predicament.
“Its not funny!! I’m in the shit here!!”
So while it was extremely entertaining we finally had to tell him it was a wind up.
Strangely enough he kind of deflated and slid down the wall…