As a kid, it wasn’t uncommon to find myself spending a Saturday or a Sunday, accompanying my dad to a job he was working on. He would spend the day working while my brother and I would run around a building site until we discovered a pile of sand, roll around in it, dig holes in it, and found where every cat that lived within a 3 mile radius took a shit.
“Sean, what’s this? Its like playdo! Oh. Shit.”
This, I have to add, was before the modern day health-and-safety rules that so swamp society today. But I have to say I loved it.
Working in the same trade as my dad did, I don’t think he would quite believe the changes and ridiculous amount of rules there are governing how you get through a working day now. I had to attend a recent health-and-safety induction one Monday morning upon starting on a new job and one lad hit the nail right on the head.
After being retina scanned and finger-printed, sitting through a 2 hour video showing fall’s, crushes, fires, impaling’s and other bloody and terminal endings. Being shown an assortment of coloured identification and information cards showing do’s and don’ts signs. Warnings of the implications of not wearing your protective glasses, boots, helmets, gloves, high viz vests if any of the dramatic video accidents happened to you. Rules on where to answer your phone with out getting (again) run-over or crushed or walking off a building. What permits you needed and where for. Given a written test on the above. And finally, the threat, of being excluded and black-listed from the contractors sites in the future for breaking any of the above rules or dying.
In the almost exhausted silence that followed the end of the induction, one lad put his hand up to catch George, the induction managers attention, and said,
“George, I’ve got to be honest with you fella, but I don’t think I’m going to be in this week.”
“And George slightly taken back by the new employee’s attitude said,
“Really? It’s your first day and you’re ducking the rest of the week??”
said the lad,
“This induction has really opened my eyes to the life-threatening dangers presented on a daily, hour-by-hour basis. And I have to say, I don’t think I’m going to get out of bed in the morning George.”
“You’re not even going to get out of bed??” Goggled George.
“No I don’t think I will. I don’t think I’ll risk the stairs. Because, I have to say I’m worried. Actually, if I’m being honest, very concerned, I’ll be fucking dead or sacked before I reach the bottom..”
Summed it up really.
I have unforgettable memories as a kid of different characters that I was lucky enough to come into contact with while accompanying my dad to these jobs. Because in that world back then, those distinctive people made that environment enjoyable. Unforgettable even.
There just aren’t many of those people around any more in the building trade. Because like most areas of life it’s become sanitized. Cleansed. Non confrontational. Bland.
I first met Nick one Saturday when I had gone with my dad, to “help” him at work. I say “help” in the most liberal sense. It was more a case of getting me out of the house from under my mothers feet. I must have uttered the immortal words,
And before I knew it was sat next to my dad en-route to where-ever it was he was working at the time.
So, I met Big Nick on one of these jobs as a 14 year old. He was a 6 foot odd, ginger haired and bearded, west country lad, still with that slight west country twang on the edge of his accent, who had moved up to Manchester years before while he was still a young man of 19. He had gotten his then younger girlfriend pregnant and done a runner after finding the situation nothing like he had imagined before she actually gave birth.
Why he ended up in Manchester I don’t know, but not just Manchester. He landed in Moss Side. A large black community and moved in with a much older woman and her 17 year old son.
“I honestly don’t know how I ended up moving in with her to be honest. I met her on a night out, she offered, and as a young lad being propositioned by an older woman, well, it seemed like I had landed on my feet.”
So he did. He did have to put up with the niggling, slightly younger, mixed race son with a big hair. It must have presented some image, the woman walking out with the two lads – both young enough to be her sons, one half-caste big afro’d lad and the other a gangly, bright ginger nut.
In the mean time relations between the two lads were strained to say the least. It was a case of logger heads over the attention each received off the mother. The son must have understandably resented the attention the new face in the house was receiving off his mum, while Nick resented the time she gave up for her son. It must have been like a crèche for nearly-adults. From Nicks young point of view, he was the man of the house being in a relationship with the mother. The son saw it differently though and it was a constant battle.
When I met Nick he was in his late 30’s and was probably one of the most laid back, dryly funny, self defacing men I have ever come across. The distinctive memory I have of him was of a laconic, relaxed body posture that never seemed to change regardless of the situation. This also carried into the outward nature of the man. It was like he would weigh up the pro’s and cons of exerting energy be it in a physical or emotional situation and always use only what was essentially required to maximum efficient effect.. It was these attributes and the white high-lights that had grown into the ginger beard that stick in the memory.
Nick was an incurable romantic who was never happier unless he was in the throes of an initial relationship. That point where everything is fresh and new and its all roses and chocolates. He loved that part of a new love-life.
He was married 4 times and each time was the same routine of frantic romance at the beginning, where he would flood the relationship with romantic gestures. This was unsustainable obviously, and the woman he was with would eventually be exhausted by the sheer volume of what he displayed and inevitably the romantic gestures from her gradually petered out into the normality of a everyday relationship.
By which point Nick would begin to lose interest, become disillusioned or the pressure of his constant romantic attentions would wear thin with his new wife.
A common situation presented in the brew cabin at the beginning of a new marriage, would be Nick opening up his neatly packed sandwich box and lay out his luxurious edible contents. He would discover secreted at the bottom of it all and sit twirling them on a fore-finger, a pair of his wife’s frilliest knickers.
It brightened up his brew no-end.
As the relationship went on the knickers gradually gave way to a loved up romantic note full of hearts and kisses.
As time progressed further, the note and kissed eventually spiraled down to Nick making his own shoddy wedge-like sandwich that would choke a donkey and a stale one at that. The knickers and notes fell by the way-side as each relationship deteriorated, all amid bitterness and financial demands from each wife.
“Never again!” Nick would declare. Only to meet someone new and the lure of the pure romance of the beginning of a relationship would draw him in again..
4 time’s Nick was married and each time ended badly. In between each relationship he continued to work as a joiner on sites around the north-west. My dad got on enormously well with Nick and spent a number of good times with him. In the building trade you tend to move around a lot. Jobs end and new contracts start taking you to a variety of places. Nick though, always stayed at the same company, being firmly embedded within it.
One job my dad and he worked on was down in central Manchester, a refurbishment on a beautiful listed building. On a Saturday the lads would walk over to Chorlton-street bus station for a cooked breakfast. One of the young apprentices never told anyone until they got back to the job, that while he was in the toilet a set of hands took a grip of the top of the cubicle wall and a face appeared of an older man leering down at him.
The young lad completely shook up, struggled to get his trousers up with this man watching him and obviously enjoying the situation. Apparently upon investigation this was a common occurrence by the noted pervert. The lads on site were outraged and decided to remedy the situation. Another young lad was dispatched to the toilet this time ready for the intrusion. As the same fingers crept over the cubicle wall and took a grip as the man drew himself up to look over, the young man in question took the lump hammer he had taken in with him and,
That put a stop to that particular problem.
The same site suffered from a particularly enthusiastic traffic warden. A little Hitler who relished slapping a ticket on a car given half a chance and would smile while doing so. Even more so if the unwary driver returned in time to catch her doing it and a smug little grin often accompanied the deliberate action.
Nick had noted this and a plan was set in place.
In those days plasterers used to used a steel drum, taken to a floor they were working on and filled with water. This would then be used to mix a batch of plaster where the lads were working, then moved to the next area and re-filled. The lads waited for the traffic warden to proceed along the street below, happily booking cars with cheerful glee and the smug flourish. As she approached a pre-ordained point some 8 gallons of plaster-filled water was poured from the 3rd floor onto her unsuspecting head and landed on her like a small car. I have to say it made her jump.
When she managed to get up off the floor and stagger to her feet spluttering water mind.
Long story short. Mini-volcanic eruption. Very colourful conversation and police called.
What could they do? Who poured the water? How could they prove who was responsible.
Our traffic warden disappeared shortly after to another route.
It was Nicks type of humour.
I don’t think he was ever far away from his next romantic dalliance though. I don’t think he could ever resist feeling as loved as he was at the start of each relationship and couldn’t help himself. Each marriage ended in acrimony and unhappily. more so for Nick because I think he loved being in love. I just don’t think the day-to-day normality of a relationship ever enamored itself to him. He was never happier than when he was getting love letters in his sandwich box and being met at the door by a wife who wanted to kiss him. Once this died down I think he swamped his wife with a romance that was unsustainable and unrealistic.
I think the final straw came after the final marriage and he had begun another relationship, this time with a woman who left her husband for him. He always bounced back as soon as he fell in love again. But I think this time it broke him.
In retrospect it seems quite calculated what this particular woman did to him. Not that I defend him for his actions, just that it was quite cold-hearted what she did and how she walked away.
She moved in with him and brought her two children. What she also brought was 10 grand’s worth of debt too. What did Nick do with his moment of ultimate romantic gesture? Took the debt onboard on a credit card and bought her a car.
Not long after, she moved back in with her husband, took the kids and the car and left the debt.
In an effort to cheer up the completely devastated Nick, the lads arranged a fishing trip to north Wales. An over-night trip, drinking a few beers, Fishing off a beach head by lantern-light. To get Nick in the mood they surprised him at the end of the working day just before departing with a stack of beer, pre-made food and a blow-up doll dressed in camisole and French nickers called Doris.
There were a lot of laughs as they drove off on their trip, jammed in a Granada estate, back filled with a couple of tents, fishing gear, food and beer.
And Doris sat in the middle of the back seat perma-shock all over her face.
She probably didn’t expect to be going to Wales.
They arrived and pitched the tents, finding it not the best spot, but managing to get them up for later when they finished fishing and had had enough beer. The night progressed and booze and food flowed, with them fishing off a rocky beach head, awkward in the dark but managing – to their surprise – to actually catch some fish. Scattered over a short distance as they were, with the noise of the waves in the background, conversation was shouted between them.
As it grew darker a couple of lanterns were lit to help them navigate from the edge of oily darkness that was the shore edge, to the stacked up beer and food. Each taking turns to give Doris a lucky pat on the head in passing on their way back to their casting point. Gradually, as you can imagine the laughter grew as the did the unsteady staggering as they made their way to and thro.
They were caught up in a haze of good camaraderie with each other.
What finally caught theit attention was the Whup Whup Whup in the black sky above them. Like Nick said,
“It shit us right up. Everyone staggered over the rocks, pissed up, back to where the tents were – all looking up trying to see what the hell it was.”
“Then,” he continued, “The biggest, brightest spot light landed smack on us, and this voce boomed out “Are You All OK?””
“ARE YOU ALL OK? – WHATS THAT NAKED…OH”
They had inadvertently camped up on a quite notorious point and the lanterns had been noticed out at sea. Someone had phoned Air-Sea-Rescue and a helicopter had leapt into the sky to rescue the possible ship-wrecked sailors in distress.
It had rumbled in from the sea to discover 4 grown men, blind drunk, huddled round a stack of beer and a blow up doll called Doris, who was looking more stunned by the minute.
I think the helicopter erred on the side of discretion and left them to it.
The story went round the site like wild fire on the Monday and made for an entertaining brew time, although Doris had been abandoned..
But I don’t think Nick ever got over the final embarrassment of that last relationship. Not long after, the man who never left that firm, did just that. And completely disappeared.
I really think the end of the final relationship hurt him more than he felt he could recover from and didn’t want to face so many people who were aware of what had happened in his life, so he abandoned it and left.
I have to say, Nick made me laugh more times than I can count. He was just one of those people you never forget.
Finally, I had to ask him what ever happened to the relationship he found himself in when he first came to Manchester and the sheer tension each day brought living with the son and mother.
“So, what happened in the end Nick?”
“Well, I have to say I was getting really pissed off with the shit I was getting off this young kid. Constant attitude. Listen to me! I say he was a young kid! Ha! And me being 19!! No wonder he was narked! And He had me looking down on him while he’s listening to me banging his mam of a night!”
And he went on,
“Anyway, we were giving each other stick most days. So when his mother went out one Friday night I though, “I’ll sort this Nobhead out – let him know who’s top dog in the house“”
“And did you? Did you put him in his place?”
“Well, I pulled him that night, and just said, “Come on then dickhead, Lets sort this out once and for all.”
“Anyway. I didn’t know the little bastard did karate. He knocked seven shades of shit out of me. Threw me all over the fucking flat. Absolutely battered me all over the place. I didn’t even wait for her to come home. I just packed my bag and buggered off….”
And I supposed that that, is the undying memory I have of Big Nick, the ginger joiner. Being karate – kicked all over by his girlfriends son with the big afro.