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

Pissing Up The Wrong Tree

ducks

“How was your weekend Tony?”

I was addressing the site laborer.

Each Monday I would ask the same question, fascinated to discover what had happened this weekend to have him reappear in the state he did each Monday morning. Tony was twenty-five or so, a one speed, easy going lad. Wasn’t-rushing-for-nobody-type-of-guy. Still shared a home with his parents and lived for the weekends.

He was a stocky build, surprisingly well toned  actually. But you tended to be distracted by the shaven head and missing front tooth. And as Tony wasn’t slow in smiling his easy-going smile, a real Yuk Yuk kind of grin, that always caught your attention before anything else.

I first met Tony at a job induction – something that has become a by-word on every site before entering it and actually starting to do any work. It would take anything from and hour to five to get through, sitting watching DVD’s and listening to list’s of instructions of do’s and don’ts of that particular on-site practice’s. Various people and trades sat jammed into a too-warm room, all either bored or dozing or both, trying to concentrate on the same monotonous messages that are being drummed at you. The time passed with the same comments from those in the room.

“Same old crap”

“Yeah. Bullshit. Must think we’re stupid.”

“Could be working by now.”

“Jesus. Seriously? What’s this got to do with us??”

“I know mate. Really? Would you dangle off a crane 90 foot up in the air like that?”

“Nahhhh. Wouldn’t get me 5 foot up it for a start. I’m a carpet fitter..”

At this particular induction there were five of us sat crammed around a table trying to watch an information DVD on this site’s rules. The screen is always in the middle at the end of the room, so you can’t sit facing it, and instead sit with your head turned at right angles from your body, so that by the time it’s finished you have a crick in you neck. Tony sat through the whole thing hardly saying a word, arms folded across his middle, slumped in his chair with half lidded eyes gradually closing until he napped through the majority of it.

I like liked him straight away.

After the induction we went onto site to begin working and as it turned out, Tony was our laborer, specifically starting the same day to work with us. He would load up areas for us and clear away the off-cuts of what we left behind for the skip. As the weeks progressed on this job we got to know Tony better, and all though he always worked at the same slow-to-steady speed, he’s always got done what was asked of him, and was always good natured.

The only thing with Toney though was he liked to smoke the weed.

I think this made him seem even more laconic on his daily basis. You’d be surprised how much drug use has become more apparent in daily working environments these days. Something that has grown over the years with de-classification of certain drugs. To the point of the people using them assuming that they’re legal and acceptable and can’t understand why others become upset at the open use of them. It seems its everybody else’s problem rather than the person flagrantly using them in your vicinity.

Don’t get me wrong, Tony wasn’t using them on site everyday, but he was of an evening and fairly heavily too. But talking to a user was always the same conversation.

“You ok Toney?”

“Ahh man I feel battered. Had some gear last night.”

“Jesus lad. You want to pack that crap in.”

“Ah it’s ok mate. Just relaxes me. Makes me chill man.”

And I’d be looking at this bleary eyed wreck, walking round with a faint aroma of weed, like his own personal invisible cloud, telling me how good it made him feel. When he could smoke it. During the day he’d be looking forward to getting home not just to wind down, but to smoke some gear to help him wind down..

And weekends, well. That was a 24/7 smoking weekend for him. But to him it was a normal existence. To him it was part of his life and any problems that came about during that time were never related to what he smoked or put in his system. It was just, what happened on the weekend. Its amazing when you’re listening to these exploits first hand, talking to these various people from all walks of life, what exactly some people take as a perfectly normal run-of-the-mill acceptable existence.

Anyhow a day came where he stated, that was it. He was packing the stuff in. Which he did. And I actually believe he was sincere. There was a difference in him. He just looked slightly more focused and cleaner somehow.

Only now, instead of smoking weed and drinking on a weekend, he drank most of that time and it turned out he was snorting cocaine instead. The whole weekend became a blur for him. This particular Monday morning found him looking more than the usual worse for wear.

“Alright Tone? Heavy weekend?”

“Aw man. I hit it hard this week. Feel rough as anything mate.”

“Yeah? Straight to bed when you get home then.”

“Yeah man. If I’ve got a home to go to.”

“Why What’ve have you done now? Thought you packed in smoking all that weed.”

“Yeah, I did. But I went out Friday hit the beer and was on the Charly.”

“Christ mate you must be bloody mad. What’s gone on?”

“Welllll,”

(Looking embarrassed)

“I went straight out from work with a mate on Friday.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Well, we hit the beer and coke and went through to Saturday night. Slept over at his gaff Friday then carried on Saturday day and on into Saturday night.”

“Jesus mate. Its a wonder your still upright.”

“I know mate. I still feel wankered – I’m not kidding. Any way I rolled in at me mams,  early doors – on Sunday morning. Must have been around 4 or 5. Proper tanked up.”

“So what’s gone on at your mums then?”

“Man. I got home right? Don’t know how I got through the door to be honest. Could’nt walk or see straight.”

“Christ Tony. Don’t you ever feel like a rest from living like that?”

“No mate! It’s all about the party man! Anyway – I got in the house right, and only went and moved all my mam’s ornaments round in the lounge right? She collects dogs and ducks. Hundreds of the fucking things! Anyway, I shifted them all over – and I mean all of them. Swapped them all over the gaff! Her pride and joy they are! Even moved the chairs round too – fuck knows what I was thinking!”

“Mate! You must have been in a real state!!”

“I know right? First I knew about it was my mam was dragging me out of bed next morning mate! Going fuck-ing spare! I’d only gone and left the front door wide open with the keys in the lock too!!”

“Oh my God Tone! You’ll be lucky if she lets you back in!”

“I Know mate! Wayyy to much beer and sniff! And then, then she showed me where I’d pissed alllll over the lounge. Over the floor, over the furniture. Man it was fucking everywhere!”

I have to note at this point, there was no embarrassment here. It was just a simple fact he was sharing of the events. Please. Just consider. If this was you who had staggered home in a similar state. Would you tell anyone you had methodically worked your way around your mothers front room pissing over every available surface?

I think not.

I’d have pulled my tongue out and hit it with a cricket bat first I think.

Fuck! Me! Tony. I’d kick you out myself mate! What were you thinking?? Your mum must be disgusted with you!”

And I’m looking at him, bleary eyed, looking terribly rough, and he’s obviously being sincere and sorry about what happened when he says,

“Yeah I got to agree there mate. Can’t believe it.  I mean. Seriously.”

And then he adds,

“What the fuck was I doing moving her ornaments all over the  place???”

Knock, Knock, Knocking On Someones BackDoor

pencil

I am a what was known as a time served joiner. I served a traditional apprenticeship that doesn’t exist anymore. I’ve worked in the building trade for coming on 30 years and have been involved in all areas of that industry. The reason I include this is, a number of these stories are based upon those experiences during that time. I’ve spoken to some people over the period I began writing this blog and they don’t actually seem to understand.

They’re all true stories.

All these stories, all those people and situations that I’ve written about, are folk I’ve come into contact with over the span of years I’ve been in this job. From fitting out bars and clubs, to shuttering foundations and sub structures of large industrial buildings, to manufacturing items on the bench or on site, there has always been a rich variety of characters involved in this area that I’ve wanted to remember by writing about them. Generally I change their name or the area where I worked more to protect their dignity. But on the whole, the aim of this blog is to share the ridiculous, and satirical situations that have arisen and the people involved I worked with or for.

And I found it was only as I started writing about those situations that I began remembering things that I had long forgotten, things that sprang back into my mind by pure association of each given story.

Because, as I was shocked to discover, the passage of time does funny things to your memory and incidents you could never imagine forgetting at the time, well, you do. So I decided to write them down.

Considering how my memory stands at the moment, if I go any further down this road I’ll have forgotten how to tie my own laces 10 minutes from now, never mind recall what happened 30 years ago.

This particular job that I worked on involved removing entrance doors and frames and replacing with new, in a renovation drive on a council estate. On the whole any job can be a mundane run of the mill routine. But every now and then things happen that you simply wish you couldn’t, recall.

In this instance I found myself looking down at my pencil lying in a puddle on the vinyl covered floor of this particular kitchen. The floor covering ended in a neat line across the threshold of the entrance to the outside step, bare concrete now exposed where minutes before the door-frame had sat. I’d only noticed the water after I had removed the frame and was now staring at it thinking it was a good job it was being replaced because the rain had obviously been driving in under the cill.

I had been working on this site for a coupe of months and generally it was a straight forward job. Go to the compound, prep a door and frame, have it sent out to the house in question, remove the existing door and frame and refit the new. Back to the compound and prep the door and frame for tomorrows address.

The only thing that varied was the type of house, or the attitude of the occupants that lived in them.

You would generally turn up and be met with a cheery cup of tea and be pestered every hour or so to see if you wanted a top up. After all, these people were having their house maintained and renovated for free. The sensible tenants recognized this and were welcoming and accommodating due to what they were gaining. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t expecting a rapturous welcome. Any disruption or upheaval can be an irritant when you’re trying to live your life.

But there were always those that saw you as a target for their dissatisfaction or as an opportunity to benefit from the disruption and use it to abuse the system. It wasn’t beyond some tenants to claim you had damaged wall-paper as you carried tools through the property, or to take a finger to the mastic around the newly-fitted door-frame and rub it in the carpet. All aimed at getting the council to replace the damaged area with new.

So you tended to be wary all the time.

Then there was the sheer state of some homes.

Take the middle aged lady whose house I turned up at to change her back door. Seeing the curtains still drawn, I heaved a sigh and began some prolonged knocking. With the door and frame prepped and stood up outside the house, I went back to the van and made a call to the office.

“Yeah. S’me. Same again.”

Not answering?

“Yeah. They’re waving me in with a cup of tea. That’s why I’m phoning you…”

knock a bit more.

“Knock a bit more? My arms gone numb. They’re still in bloody bed mate!”

Just a bit more

“You did let them know I was coming?”

Yeah

“Yeah?”

Yeah. Give ’em 10 minutes

“Jesus. Bollocks to that. Bell ’em. Wake ’em up for fucks sake!”

Just hang around for 5 more

“Listen. Pal. If I hang around for 2 more, I’ll be doing it on my way home.”

Okaaaay. Calling now

“Thanks. At-fucking-last. I’m sat outside the house here mate – the door’s ready to go in. Just Like I will be, in one and a half and counting..”

Okokok..

There would then follow a call from the office to the residence in question, which I would be able to hear ringing from outside the house. The ringing would stop, the curtains would twitch and I would head back to the door to knock again because now, I knew, someone was finally up.

I would then hear the drumming of feet coming down the stairs. The carrying noise of steps and echoing ringing tone when the phone rang answered early questions about the house. It would give you an clue towards of the state of the interior then and there. Initally you had begun to draw conclusions of what the resident was like just by the fact that they were still in bed. The sound those steps made as they came down the stairs would help you draw another.

Bolts would slide, locks unlock and the door would be opened a crack, and a waft of weed proceeded a skinny face, as this lady peered out, squinting against the light like it was something she was unaccustomed to. Beyond through the small gap I could see an absence of carpet, bare boards enhancing the sound of steps and giving the ringing phone that echoey sound.

“You not s’posed to be here till tomorrow! Tuesday!! They said you were coming Tues-Day!!!”

The enunciation on the word Tuesday was becoming more pronounced.

Cheeky Bastard.

“This isn’t TUES-DAYYYY you know. Its MON-DAYYYYYY. Typical council.”

(It’s going to be fucking next week at this rate I’d be thinking)

Yes love I know. Today is, Tues-Day. I think you’ve gotten your dates mixed up. Your doors being done today. Could you open the back door so I can start taking it out? Cheers I’ll just head round there..”

What followed then would be The Moment Of Trepidation.

If the house had a dog, (if they did it was unusual if it wasn’t a Staffordshire Bull Terrier) the steps around to the back of the house were taken like dead-man-walking. Slowly walking round preparing for what the back garden may look like. If the house wasn’t well looked after, the dog was usually left to its own devices at the rear. And it was like walking through a mine field of dog deposits up to the back door. Then you would have to argue that you weren’t prepared to work at the address until it was cleaned up.

The other problem at some houses was the sheer smell as you walked in to plug into a power source. As I found out at this particular venue.

The woman opened the rear door and held it open for me, drawing deeply on a cigarette that visibly shrank as she did so and ash falling from the tip to the floor. She stood with the door in hand, ciggy hanging from her lips, eyebrows arched over her glasses in obvious distaste that I had disturbed her, while I thanked her and squeezed past into the kitchen, trying to ignore the dirty lino on the floor, the overloaded cat litter tray, the stack of unwashed pots, the un-eaten take-away food and boxes left lying around the kitchen work-tops, abandoned at different stages of consumption.

Placing the transformer on the floor I bent down to plug it into the socket. This took moments so that by the time I straightened I only then had an opportunity to take a deeper breath.

Its hard to describe really what happens in those situations. I’m not saying it smelt this way but the closest I can come to what hit me then is by comparing it to almost taking a mouthful of sour milk. You know? If you’ve actually gotten to the point where you have taken a bottle of milk, removed the lid and lifted it to your lips to take a swallow. And as you almost, almost tip the milk into your mouth you feel the lumpy bits of milk tumbling around the bottle an instant before the smell pours up your nostrils.

And the only thing you can do is turn, retching in any direction, trying to distance your self from that smell, holding it as far away from your body as possible but unable to stop retching long enough to put it down while frantically trying not to spill it.

Imagine that texture in your nose, with your stomach rolling and bucking, eyes watering while still bent over double, dry heaving, unable to get out of your mind the realization of how close you came to putting that cottagey-cheesy liquid- almost -solid, in your mouth and swallowing it..

Well.

As the smell in the kitchen hit me, I managed to stumble past the woman into the garden. Bent over heaving, then trying to stand straight only for another dry retch to roll out, and have me lurching forwards. And the woman stood there, in the doorway. Oblivious to the smell now rolling out from the entrance, the open door drawing it out into the garden, while she watched me, cigarette hanging from her lip forgotten, looking at me like I was a lunatic.

“You alright lovey?”

She threw out to me.

“Yeah – urrrrrgh! Yep just giz a – UUUUUUUUUUUrrrgggggg!! – minute! Not been – uuurrrrGGHHHH! – too well last couple of – UUURRRGGGGHHHHHHHH – days.”

I offered, heaving over my knees, trying not to embarrass her over the effect the state of her house had had on me.

Only to raise my head to see her clutching the door like a shield, and sputtering over her ciggie,

“Ere! We don’t want you passing the bloody lurgy in this house you know!!”

The only other house I came across a similar situation was sometime later when I became a bit wiser to the problem. When I arrived at that address with a work mate I first took note of the direction the wind was blowing. As there were two of us working on the property, one would refit the front and the other would fit the back. The wind would blow what smell there was straight through the house to which ever side it was heading. Being first to the door I automatically claimed the rear entrance for myself, as the wind was blowing from that side. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the property at first glance, it was just that you learned from experience then made damn sure you avoided being in the same situation again given half the chance.

Today was a good day to get that right.

An old man dressed in dirty sweat shirt and filthy saggy track-suit bottoms answered the door.

old man

“‘Allo son. You ‘ere to do the doors?”

“Aye mate. Can you open the back door up and I’ll pop round that side and this lad will stay and do the front.”

“Yep, no problem lad.”

During this the odor – particularly bad I might add – had been drifting out through the door-way so that I was gradually leaning off to one side to nonchalantly, to avoid the smell. All this had been noticed by my work-mate, unloading the van, who as I turned smugly back to face, let his head tip back and shoulders slump as he looked to the heavens in resignation.

It didn’t take long to remove the rear door and frame which only exposed the filthy kitchen area and enabled the wind to blow the odour with more conviction through the house to the open front door.

Where I could hear the dry heaves of my friend.

My happiness was momentarily disrupted by the appearance of the old man who said,

“Cuppa tea son?”

I took a second look around the kitchen and hurriedly replied,

“No! No. No-thanks mate. Not long had one and the clocks ticking. Need to get done and away. You Know what these gaffers are like.”

“Yeah. Bastards the lot of ’em! Well, don’t mind if I have one me-self.”

And he turned his back on me and began rummaging through the dirty work top, covered in stuff.

I watched him as he went through jars and cupboards – everything had a greasy dirty sheen – looking for what ever he was searching for. Until he finally opened a lower cupboard, pulling the door wide enough to see in. And he leant over, that slow old man gesture, hands on knees, arse up and bending slowly. It was as he lowered his head into the cupboard and stuck his arse end out, my eyes followed his stiff movements, that he exposed everything to me.

As he leaned into the cupboard and his be-hind pointed out towards me the huge hole in the rear end of his saggy track-suit bottoms became visible. And as he went lower a pair of saggy, old-man-balls, dropped out the split, followed by the over exposure of his narrow arse cheeks, spread, spread, spreading and…well. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

Myeyes!Myeyes!MyEyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees!!!!

OhmysweetbabyJesus.

If ever, ever there could be a time to be struck blind, then that was it. I leapt away from the view sucking in deep breaths, marching round the small garden Hrumping, hands on hips, asking God what I’d done to deserve this job. And all I could hear in the back-ground was my work mate at the front door throwing out odd heaves, still dealing with the smell, while I tried to regain some composure, wishing I’d taken that fucking spot now.

As I turned back to the house the old fella leaning out of the back door with a cheery smile, two cups in hand saying,

“You sure you don’t want a nice cuppa of tea son?”

But finally, back to staring at the pencil lying in the wet patch.

Fortunately, the only way this house was similar to the other two was that it wasn’t clean.

Although it was dirty – every work surface was stacked with something in various states, plates, cups, oil cans(?) and I kid you not, car tyres – all taking up any available space so it was hard to imagine any food preparation taking place. The godsend was, it didn’t have the terrible smell that emanated from the previous two.

I’d picked the pencil up and was stood chewing it, contemplating where the rain had worked under the door-frame into the kitchen and wondering how people live this way.

I’ve had to have a day off for you to do this you know. From work!”

Was what was thrown at me as I stood there looking at the floor.

I looked into the kitchen to see a very short 5 foot nothing, block of a woman, hands on hip, a look of dissatisfaction on her jowly face.

“Oh yeah? (Chewchew) Well look at it this way love. (Chew) Your getting a brand-new back door for free! (Chewchew)Its a win-win situation when you think what it would have cost you if you had to pay for it. (Chew)Yes?(Chewchewchew)”

“Aye, well. It’s still a pain in the bloody arse. Look at the bloody mess on me floor.(!!)”

I took a long sidelong look at the kitchen, then raised my eyes back to the woman.

“Well, its happened at the right time surely? Look here.”

(Gesticulating with pencil)

“You can even see where the rain has been driving under the door frame. I’m fitting you a new door! So it’s going to solve that problem straight off!”

“No love. I doubt that’ll do any good for that problem.”

“Oh. You do?”

I asked, resting the pencil on my lip contemplating the implication and slightly offended that she was questioning my workmanship.

“Aye. I do.”

She said.

“Because that’s where the dog has a piss every morning.”

I spat the pencil at her.

Believe it or not, and this is Gods truth, it turned out the place she had taken a day off work from was the local hospital. I know this because I asked her. She worked on days on the same ward where my wife worked as a nurse.

She was a domestic.

Great Balls Of Fire

banjo

“Kevin! Get that rubbish together in the compound and burn it. Save some space in the skip.”

This instruction shouted to the site laborour. Kevin, was a 27 year old simple lad. Quite easy going, happy to help, and like I say, a bit simple.

Now I’m not saying he was stupid. No.  But there was an absence of focus. A distracted air about his personality that made you think he was never quite on the same page whenever you had a conversation with him. His mental approach to anything made you aware that very clear instructions were needed to prevent any misunderstanding.

His level of attention wasn’t brilliant either and if left alone too long you would find the concentrated brush strokes in the dust leading off, in one long, meandering sweeping line, to where you find him, nose pressed against a window steaming the glass up with each breath and staring out at the world going by with a vacant look.

He had this naivety about him and a goofy kind of grin that made him seem harmless, always leaving you expecting a kind of “Yuk Yuk” laugh to emanate any minute. He always took the mickey taking in good spirit never quite getting the joke, but laughing anyway.
Really, a pig under one arm and a banjo slung round his neck wouldn’t have looked out of place. That empty look that drew across his face like a curtain during mid conversation made you realize you were wasting your time trying to pass on a too complicated request.

There was nobody home.

The job we were working on was a car show room on the outskirts of Bolton town center and had had controversial moments from the beginning. Pat the machine fitter who repaired all the sites machinery, had called on the job to service some equipment. As he walked across the compound at the back of the job he came across a dumper that had been left, engine running, while the driver was fetching something from a container. It was a pet hate of Pats and, grumbling to himself, he leaned over the drivers seat to turn the key to switch the engine off.

As Pat leant strained towards the key, he caught his sleeve on the gear stick making the dumper jerk forward knocking him to the ground. The initial forward momentum of the dumper was enough that it ran up his leg as he fell, coming to a rest on top of it and pinning him to the ground.

“All I heard was the “Crack!” and then the pain!” said Pat.

“It was just a good job the ground was soft so that I actually sank into it somewhat. I was still lay there with a leg broken in two place mind, but the mud had save me from being crushed badly.”

It was a gas-and-air job while they reversed it off him to drag him out and ship him off to hospital. Ow.

But it happening to Pat, being as safety conscious as he was was a surprise. It kind of set the tone.

Another face at the time I remember was Austin.

He was a jet black, deeply lined Jamaican joiner, I always found difficult to put an age to. Somewhere in his late 50’s I always assumed. Austin worked on a number of the sites for this firm and was a familiar face. The secret to his success was that every time he was laid off, he just turned up on a new site the following day that the firm had running and the agent assumed he had been sent there and would put him to work… He would then disappear for a few months and go back to Jamaica until he ran out of money and would suddenly appear one Monday morning and the process would start again.

He had a bouncy relaxed way of walking, and this was reflected in his completely laid back approach to everything. He just never rushed and had one speed and approach that carried him through life and work. You never really got a laugh out of him or any extreme emotion to be honest. Just a gentle smile that always seem to linger. He hardly ever said anything, and when he did it was near impossible to understand the deep Jamaican accent. So conversation was limited – everybody knew him, but hardly anything about him. He was just always there or around. He answered most questions with a nod or a shake of the head and if there was any verbal answer you had to make damn well sure you listened carefully or you were on the other side of the conversation nodding dumbly and trying to work out how to reply.. In a way I think he was as conscious of this as much as we were and tended to be very quiet.

He drove an old – and I mean – an old, full of holes van. I had been making an effort to speak to him and get to know him, although this meant I did most of the talking and he did most of the nodding. Anyway, I was helping him load his tools into his van when I dropped his tool box in the back. The dense, unnatural solid sound that struck my ears when the box hit the van floor was completely out of place and made me look twice. As I stared hard I realized the rear end of the van had heavy plastic lining the perimeter and a piece of timber across the inside against the back doors.

What Austin had done when the holes had become too large in the back of the van floor was prepared it like a shutter.

For those of you who don’t know, a shutter on site is a pre-formed box that concrete is poured into until it goes hard then is stripped to expose the finished product. Like a column or a flight of stairs.

So, as the van gradually deteriorated Austin turn the rear into a shutter, lined it with plastic and poured 2″ of concrete into the back to form a new floor. It must have been like driving an oil tanker on the road with this slab sat in the back. He must have been floating around on his rear wheels trying to maintain traction. He was lucky any corner he took at any speed over 10 mph didn’t roll him over or put him through a shop front.

Braking to stop at traffic lights must have started as he left the previous set.

Eventually though Austin did his disappearing act and – I think -finally returned to and stayed in Jamaica. I assume this was the case because I never read about an accident involving a small van with 6 ton of concrete in the back ploughing through a set of lights, 17 cars and a retirement home and only came to a stop when the axle collapsed.

Kevin on the other hand was a walking accident waiting to happen. The only time he became animated was when he was talking about his Thai Boxing. Apparently he was quite a high graded belt which inevitably decided how far we would go winding him up. I mean, as one of the lads said, if you were going to aggravate someone who could kick your cup of tea up your fucking arse hole then you got what you deserved.

But like I said Kevin was good nature personified.

Friday was pay day and our wages were paid out in cheque form. We would then rush off to the nearest bank that would allow it and cash them. On this rainy miserable Friday, Kevin offered to drive myself and a couple of the lads into Bolton town center to cash the cheques in his pride and joy. His white Ford Capri.

capri

Not the roomiest of cars in the back but we squeezed in and headed into Bolton to collect the money. It was on the way back to the job as we were driving down a suburban street peering through the fogged windows, into the miserable weather outside, that Kevin suddenly said,

“‘Ah used ta do my paper round around ‘ere.”

“Did you Kev?”

“Aye. Weather was shit then too.”

“Bet you wore short pants then eh kev? Haha.”

“Sometimes. If weather were alright.”

“So when was this Kev? 10 – 12 years ago then?”

“Nah lad. It were last year.”

There was a pregnant pause momentarily as we looked at each other.

“What? Last year? Do you mean last year – the year before this one??”

“Aye lad.”

said Kevin concentration still fixed on the road.

Last year? How old were you Kev?”

“26.”

“You were a 26 year old paper boy? Did you have a bike??”

“Noooo. I did in in t’car.”

“You did the paper round in a fucking Ford Capri?”

“Aye lad.”

This car now?”

“Aye.”

The silence was further strung out as we stared into the past, trying to absorb the image of kevin, stop starting his Ford capri along this road, jumping out every 10 yards to run up a drive and deliver a paper.

“Mind you,” he continued, “Ah didn’t last too long.”

Really Kevin? And why was that?”

And he said,

“Ah couldn’t earn enough to pay for the petrol…”

Back on site he was generally daft on an everyday basis. The building had been clad in a corrugated tin and was some 3 stories high. Some snagging work had taken place after the initial job and rather than erect a full scaffold, an 8 foot wide, 12m high quick erect scaffold had been used to do the moving repairs.

“Kevin! Over here!”

Kevin had dropped his brush and jogged over.

“Yes Mick?” He had asked my dad who was running the job.

“See this scaffold? Its being off-hired today. They’re coming to collect it in a couple of hours. So I need to get it down. Drop it and get it ready for pick up.”

“Ok Mick.”

My dad said he had just reached the end of the building before there was and almighty crash of aluminium tubes and frames behind him. Jumping against the wall at the crescendo of noise, he turned to find the scaffold flat on the floor, running the length of the building behind him.

“Kevin! Jesus Christ Kevin! What the fuck are you doing!!??”

“Well, you said to drop it..”

You had to be quite literal when speaking to Kevin at times. He had just physically got a grip of the base of the scaffold, lifted it onto its front edge, staggered around with the top of the structure waving madly around above him, until one eye closed and tongue stuck out he had managed to line it up sufficiently to tip it over.
My dad was just lucky he was out of range of the line of fall before it hit the floor.

It could have gone anywhere to be honest.

But I have to say through it all Kevin was a lovely natured man. Nothing really ever upset him and he just laughed about everything that we threw at him. He wasn’t bothered what he did as long as he plodded through his day. So when he got the shout to burn the rubbish in the compound he plodded off to sort it out.

At the back of the car showroom was a large compound that was being used to keep the site cabins on. The site office, brew cabins and storage container were spread out back there. It was a large plot that would later be used to store the new cars coming in to be sold. But in the mean time it was still an undeveloped area ideal for burning any waste we didn’t need that didn’t have to go in the skip.

This day we came out of the main building heading over for our brew, to see Kevin in the middle of the compound just finishing off piling up rubbish to burn. As we entered the brew cabin one of the lads gave him a shout.

“Kev! Tea up mate!”

“Aye! A’ll be in inna minute. Ah’s just getting this going!”

And he turned back to light his pile.

We in the mean time go in and fill mugs and get sandwiches out sitting down around the brew table.

“What the fuck is he doing?” said one of the lads staring out of the window tea forgotten.

We all turned to look out of the window to see Kevin trying to light the fire. But the problem he had was he was attempting to light a fire in the middle of a large open compound, mid winter, in Bolton with a gale blowing through it.

Every time he struck a match, no matter how well he shielded it, it blew out before he could offer the light to the pile. The frustration was obvious to watch.

“Kevin!! Tea up lad!!!”

He just waved distractedly more focused on lighting the fire.

And then – I see it now – he had an actual light bulb moment. His posture stiffened as an idea struck him. I swear to God you could hear the “Plink” of the bulb lighting up.

It caught everybody’s attention immediately.

“Aye, aye. He’s off.” said someone as Kevin stood up, a mission in mind.

Kevin trotted off to the container and disappeared inside. He was but moments though and re-appeared holding the gallon tank of petrol we kept on site to run the petrol saw.

“This should be interesting.”

Murmured one of the lads, as around the cabin, sandwiches and brews were forgotten, held mid-air, as all eyes following Kevin.

Kevin trotted up and began to liberally shake petrol from the can onto the fire, working his way around it making sure he got enough on his prepared pile.

“He does know he’s throwing that lot into the wind doesn’t he? It’s going all over the bloody place!”

Then taking great care to place the can well away from the fire, Kevin turned back and picked up his matches. He took one out, crouched down shielding his match, and struck it.

You could hear the air being sucked out of the room as we watched him light that match.

Kevin’s hands went up like flares. He leapt to his feet waving his hands in the air then did the only thing he could do to put them out.

He slapped them on his thighs.

Instantly, his thighs were on fire, and Kevin took off around the compound thighs and hands trailing flames, possibly hoping that sheer speed would put the fire out.

Finally, he spotted the plasterers drum, a large steel barrel kept full of water for the plasterer to use to mix his plaster with. He didn’t hesitate but rushed to it and dived in head first in a move that would have warmed Jonny Weissmuller’s heart to see it. Then after some moments under water, falling back spitting dirty water every where, he began to scoop as much water over himself as possible.

It did the trick and the flames were quenched, leaving Kevin dropping onto his behind panting, wet through, holding a hand to his head and gently smoking in the chill air.

The open mouthed silence in the cabin had shattered as soon as Kevin lit himself up like Guy Fawkes. There was tea and bits of sandwiches all over the places as people had fell about howling with laughter while still attempting to keep Kevin in eye-line as he hurtled backwards and forwards around the compound trailing flames. No one could stop laughing long enough to go out and check he was alright even when he managed to finally put himself out.

He eventually staggered in dripping water everywhere, still smoking. But I have to say, the expression was still that same vacant, empty headed look he carried around all the time. It just never seemed to penetrate Kevin’s blank demeanor, regardless of how-ever dramatic or ridiculous the events were. The first thing he did when he realised everyone was laughing was smile and look around the room and say,

“What? What’s happened? What you all laughing at…?”

fire balls 1

Like he hadn’t just been running round with his balls on fire.

The Karate Kid And The Ginger.

traffic warden 1

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??”

“Well,”

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,

“I’m bored..”

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,

Bam! Bam!

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.

karate

Catching My Breath

I haven’t been writing a great deal of late as I’ve been making the most of the lighter nights (sadly on the wane) to concentrate on my cycling. So really this is just an update and excuse why the blogs have ground to a halt over the last couple of months.

These are a number of images I took when I gambled that I had enough energy in my legs to continue my ride after doing so. Usually at the top of something high. So after sucking in enough oxygen to steady my shaky legs, I did so.

Plenty of blogs in draft and on the way covering a number of memories and musings. From “Tex, The Amazing Memory Dancing Man”, “Barrow In furnace” and “The Karate Kid And The Ginger” amongst others.

All, I might add, at the loss of a good evenings cycling..

SUNDAY RIDE TRAMLINE 002

Iphone Skiaphos 084

(The Todmedon – Bacup road)

cragg vale to hebdon veiw 001

(Top of Cragg Vale)

croma and rammsbottom 003

(The Helmshore Road panoramic view L-R Rawtenstall to Edenfield)

Ramsbottom sunday24.8.14 001
(View form Helmshore Road across to Edenfield)

Tour De France 003
(View up to Holme Moss from brew stop on Tour De France day)

Tour De France 005
(Tram-Line Dave)

Tour De France 021
(Me Up on Holme Moss looking back down route Tour would come from)

Tour De France 023
(Panoramic from Holme Moss)

Christies 100km 004
(Just Finished Christies Hospital 100km sportive)

Crown Point 001
(Crown Point)

Grane Road 004
(Top of Crane Road)

Grane Road 005
(Crane road Back To Helmshore)

Grane Road 006
(Jackson Heights just off Crane Road)

The next hill’s in sight..

And Other Stories