4 days a week for fuck all!
Just for the money, sad really.
I know that, but gotta be done.
I chew stuff over grabbing five more minutes ... I'd love to get into food somehow down South. You know, just working in a café even. I'm not a bad cook neither thanks to Nan and Mum; all I have left of them now. I loved the whole vibe when I was a kid. I used to get dropped off at Nan's work, in the huge kitchens, always in awe of the foreign fat chefs with their long hats and bulging bellies, they frightened me a little; one with a single gold tooth amongst battered brown ones. But they saw it as their goal to feed me, they loved my Nan ... amongst the bustle they plonked me long glass vases of fruits and shades of off-white creams and ices and hundreds and thousands and a spoon as long as a shovel ... and hot bread, gold butter dripping, and plates of steaming meats with gravies, mini portions served just for me ... a wonderland.
Brrrrrrrrr! Six o-clock, tick-tock.
Running the snooze now.
Ciggy, take a shit, grab a peanut butter sarnie, put on me hard clothes; dusty donkey, bobble hat and hobnails and head to the stop.
* * *
-- Mark, late again.
-- Shit man, the bus was late.
-- Again? Always something. Final warning.
I nod and smile, sign in.
Yeah, go fuck yourself.
-- Mark, you're on track one today.
Shit, not the rolls!
And here I stand.
Fit it in, switch on, feed the sand trap, and watch the strain.
Follow the clock, 50 metres; off, cut, heave out, heave up, slam down.
String wrap-around, knot tie, pull, cut, wheel up on shoulder, stack.
10 hours a day.
Stops for tea, arf hour for lunch; my magic box and juice.
And just to relieve the boredom sometimes we throw a match in the bitumen; and we stand and smoke with folded arms on the corner of the smoking warehouse and watch the firetrucks arrive.
* * *
Just enough to get by but never ahead.
Enough to pay the B&B, well they say B&B but it's just a hostel really. I have a box, with a thin wonky bed and a tired mattress, a wanky wardrobe and a two-draw bedside table with a chair next to it, a sink and a painted up window. There is a kinda bench thing with a one ring stove and a cupboard to store my grub; the condiments sit on a stool.
I don't have much; work clothes and one change for casual and one for best; some books and my phone, to keep in touch! And my condiments!
Love me food; Mum used to take me to work with her, with the army of casual waitresses shipped in to hotels on the edge of town ... me sat in a corner, a terrine of roast spuds and puddings and a boat of gravy to dip into. He's just a kid, but I looked, in awe! Black bras, stocking tops, bare thighs, black skirts and white aprons, and arses and bellies and giggles of all shapes and sizes. And lewd shrieks and glimpses of free pink tits and knickers of pastel ... forget lord of the rings ... this was my forest of enchantment ... Don't know why I'm thinking about that, as if working in a bistro is gonna be like that, but you can dream.
Wherever I go I take me little blue travel bag of condiments; salt, sugar, pepper of course; various little jars of jellies and pickles, but my herbs and spices are my babies! Rosemary and thyme for my French casseroles, basil and marjoram for various pasta; garam masala, sweet noble and turmeric cover other journeys. End of another shit day, fresh veg out, chicken marinated, reggae on the phone. I chop dirty allotment mushrooms, slice some plum tomatoes, tear some leaves and disappear in a vapour bath of garlic and thyme to a backing track of roots and Toots.
* * *
They're all the same, don't matter where you are.
Could be a Blackpool back to back, an old mining village, a London estate.
Same room different shithole.
Same old mind-expanding monotonous work.
Just done three months in Wales.
Months of rolling sheathing felt, warm beer, soggy fish suppers, net porn, gristly pies and dampness. My only luxury is a decent delicatessen or farmers market or something, somewhere. I usually try and get some local veg and a little Italian sausage, or a nice cheap on the bone cut for flavor, and load it all up with a simple chicken boned stock and wine and tomatoes and condiments. Soon as I hit town I hit the hardware store for a big pan, I mean a big pan; and then I stew.
Apart from a few beers my food is my one touch with luxury, comfort...If I've got some decent grub I can get through the grind; at work and in my cells with a streamed film.
* * *
Trying to save enough for a flat deposit somewhere down the lane.
Somewhere nicer; maybe by the sea. Down South though, with the sun. Not the seaside in the North with the factory outlines and pink paper floats.
That's my plan; make my way down to the sun, move down steadily, saving on the way. Down and out through the places of once proud communities; now only nest homes of the stuck.
Miner's towns with heroin support groups.
Seafront penny arcades with skunk pushers in shell suits, and dusty kiss me quick hats.
Industrial towns wracked; larger, kebabs and fights around sleepers in boarded up pissy doorways.
I left cus there was fuck all. Fuck all going on, fuck all chance.
In my town they didn't open hipster bistros or retro shops; we had a greasy caf and poundland. And no one came to open a call centre, a warehouse; we had no start-up handouts.
There was a poor, ready-made force ... but why take work to them when you can get them to come to you?
Nothing opened, all got clamped down.
So, I left. I was lucky, nothing to hold me there. Mum's dead now, sisters married off. Dad just a shell, locked in a routine of TV re-runs, frozen dinners and cans, lottery tickets and pub on dole week.
So, I left to follow the work.
Warehouses to stack, sites to carry and factories to grind the wheels.
Early starts, long days; monotonous harvest for the very bored no chancers.
I stood on rooves in the snow chucking blocks to other chapped hands. I stood on stacker trucks handing boxes to other sliced hands.
I stood in lines in the rain to get tickets and reflexive tops and hard hats to protect against fuck all for a hundred quid.
To the sun!
* * *
-- But why?
-- Whadda ya mean why? Look, if you don't like it then fucking do one!
-- But it's fucking dangerous man!
-- So what?
-- So what? Are you fucking kidding me? Someone could get hurt.
-- Like I said if you don ...
-- Surely this is against some kinda law, guidelines, I mean Christ on a fucking bike.
-- Look man, I don't set the rules, I follow um, whatever they maybe, and I tell you guys what the fuck to do.
-- I know that but ...
-- But nothing! This is the job, you don't like it don't fucking do it, easy as!
-- That's not the point I need the work and fuck me I do the work, I just wanna do it safely like.
-- And I'm telling you this is how we do the job round here,
-- Fuck it!
I jump down the elevator shaft.
Six floors of debris. Dust and wire, split wood, metal and hard core.
We pull, we strain, we heave, we smash; we eat dust and batter our bodies.
We take a breather and smoke.
-- Man, why they throw this shit in here in the first place?
-- Well. Look at it this way if they hadn't we wouldn't have a job now would we? Think about that.
-- Shit this country's fucked!
Re-build a fucking hotel, I mean tonnes of homeless people around and loads of run down places that people exist in and what are we doing? Building a fucking posh hotel?
Started here with an agency as usual, but guys left after a few days cus the grafter gangers from London worked them to death. So, they didn't ease off they just upped the cash offer, no agency, cash in hand like.
And now with this cash flow the sun was rising up over the horizon.
But this work man, it's tough as fuck. I am making a big stew a day now, where it would usually last three. These fucks squeeze you, everything you do. Push ya to the edge. You carrying two two-metre chip boards up 12 flights, they scream one more. You stack 12 breeze blocks on a barrow, they bung on 6 more. You strain, they egg out more strain. You scrape till your shoulders cry, they ring a little more energy out of them.
I pack a lunch to sooth ... pears and a goat's Cheshire, mini salamis, a decent savoury flan or pork pie, always a frittata, and some salads of available leaves and pulses. But with this work I am supplementing my taste buds. I have piles of sandwiches ... pan fried chicken and salad and tomatoes if I can, but also cheese and pickle, and peanut butter; and I am going for a full English with the guys too, a second breakfast after my poached eggs at 6-ish; and then a greasy burger in the afternoon for fuel.
Not sure how long I can keep it up for to be honest.
I mean I love the money but standing here, body set at full volume, on top of 6 floors of shite, well. And my food bills are rising as I need more fuel.
* * *
-- Was a time when a site like this would have been closed down. Union would have been in straight away.
-- Yeah, now we have more Health and safety bodies and there's more unsafe shit than ever.
-- Yeah yeah, back in the day, fucking unions.
-- Fucking unions fucking everything up.
-- Whadda ya mean unions fucking everything up?
-- Yeah, if the unions were on this site it would be much better.
-- We wouldn't have a fucking site if the unions were here.
I take a last bite of my bacon, brie, and onion chutney sarnie and dream of the waitresses, and smile at the guys.
-- Ain't no union round here now.
* * *
-- Fucking thing moved; you feel that?
-- What you on about, shit moves all the time, it's fine.
-- No, no. This was different. Didn't you feel it?
-- Stop whining, it's fine. Look, a couple more sacks and then we'll fuck off round the bookies.
-- I don't know man, feels different.
I start hefting the bags out of the shoot and onto the floor stop. Jump up and stack.
A thunder shoots through the building. The walls shudder, Pieces break off the ceiling onto my head and then a vibration thunders up my leg into my heart, which jumps a vault of panic through my soul.
I run to the shaft.
I wave through to look.
No hard core, no wires.
-- Johnny, Johnny!
The rubble was gone and so was John.
Article © Nick Gerrard. All rights reserved.
Published on 2018-12-03
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.