Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Chapter 7

Phil was good to say I could be in the band. Don’t know why he done it; Danny wasn’t keen and really I wasn’t doing anything any use. But at least it give me a bit to look forward to. There wasn’t much else lined up for me.
I was into the music too. Not just Phil and Danny’s band but all the proper bands that was coming out then; The Damned, The Adverts, The Clash, all them. I couldn’t say how I felt, but they sounded like I felt.
I got right into the thing with the tapes. To start with I used to just record stuff off the radio; foreign stations and that. Then I unscrewed one of the cassette recorders off the tray and started carrying it round with me. I had it in me school bag and went round recording stuff without people knowing; in school, up the Careers, everywhere for a couple of weeks.
I took it with me when I went in school to take all me books back. You had to get them signed for by your form teacher. I took a short-cut through the assembly hall. There was about thirty people in there making a big drama, girls crying, boys shaking hands like old men. They give you a Bible when you left. There was people signing each other’s Bibles. I kept walking. The whole place felt like nothing to do with me.
I seen Tetley to get signed out. He was this big thick bloke who taught P.E. Danny used to say if Tetley wrote down every original thought he’d ever had he wouldn’t cover enough paper to roll a fag with.
He took the books back like he’d never seen a book before in his life. Then he tried to talk to me a bit, trying to be nice and that. He asked if I was planning to go to the College. I just went ‘Eh?’ Nobody else had asked that except me mum, and that was only because she had to tell the Family Allowance people what I was doing.
I said no, I wasn’t going up the College. Tetley had this wanky little moustache he used to suck on when he couldn’t think what to say. So he sucked on that and nodded.
I walked home. It all felt nothingy and flat. I didn’t do anything definite like Danny. He told us about it after. He could make anything into a story. He said how he went and seen Tetley, and Tetley started on about how Danny had potential but he was a bit too full of himself. So Danny turned round and said he’d rather be full of himself than full of shit. He give Tetley the finger and walked out.
Before they let you get the dole you had to have an interview up the Careers. I went there in me school trousers and a new shirt. I put a tie on once I got off the bus outside the place.
There was a kind of waiting room with a couple other people there to see the bloke. I sat reading the posters. There was one on the door saying, ‘To follow the dream, and again to follow the dream.’ What a fucking joke.
After a bit the bloke called me in. I knew him to look at. His kid used to be a year above us in school. She’d ended up working in a cake-shop. I thought, if that’s the best he can do for his own daughter, that’s me fucked.
He got behind his desk. I sat on the only spare chair. One leg was shorter than the others. He started asking me questions and making notes. Every time I leaned forward to try and look keen I nearly went flying. The new shirt was itching me neck.
He asked if I had any idea what I wanted to do. They had these cards in the school library where you could look up about different jobs. So I said to him the only thing off of them that I ever fancied.
He said, ‘A lighthouse keeper?’ Then he said, ‘You might not think it now but this is actually quite a serious thing.’
He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He asked if I had any hobbies. I said, ‘Reading.’
His pen stopped over the next box on the form. He asked what sort of thing I read. I told him detective books. He looked at me for the first time and said, ‘Anything else?’
I said, ‘No,’ and he put a line through the box.
He had a look through an index thing on his desk and pulled out a card. He told me about Conrad’s wanting a clerkstrokestoreman. I didn’t know what a builders’ merchants was. From what he was saying the job was all adding things up and talking to people. I didn’t fancy it but I heard meself saying I’d give it a go. He phoned and made an appointment for an interview that afternoon.
I come out the Careers in a daze. It was like going to the barber’s. You go in hoping for the best and come out thinking, I never asked for that, what the fuck happened there? At least with a bastard haircut you can go round in a hat for a bit. No hat was going to sort me out.
Conrad’s was on the industrial estate, between Skinners and the old dog food factory. I got there miles too early. On the wall of the dog food factory somebody had painted, ‘It’s all been done before,’ in big letters. The line of writing started out straight then drooped off like the person doing it got tired. I waited for three o’clock, looking at the graffiti and getting depressed.
I went in at five to and rung the bell on the counter. I heard someone humming, then this short fat bloke in his forties appeared. His hair was everywhere. All round his mouth there was wet biscuit crumbs. That was Bernie.
He took me in the office and fetched Potter. Potter had on this suit the colour of Toffoes and a pair of disco shoes with brass bits on. He shooed Bernie out and started the interview.
Mainly I remember me trying to sound posher and keener than I was, and not knowing where to look. Potter smoked menthol. I looked at the little green asterisks on the filter of his Consulate. Then I looked at the brass bits on his shoes. Then I looked at the sign on his desk saying, ‘You don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps.’
He told me the woman who’d been doing the invoices had left. Bernie had been covering since. He said Bernie needed help. Then he sort of laughed. Sounded like a cat sneezing.
He run through a load of questions and put the answers on a form. Once he’d finished he turned the form over and wrote ‘NUTAC’ at the top and underlined it three times. I knew what that meant. He said he’d give me a phone.
He rung later. Said I could have the job if I wanted. Potter didn’t bother sounding pleased so I didn’t either. He said, ‘The bloke we wanted turned us down. Just to let you know.’ I knew what he was letting me know.
The first day was the last time I was early. I went inside. Bernie was behind the counter checking a list off on a clipboard. He looked at me for a minute, then the penny dropped. ‘Hello. Do you want Dick?’
I said, ‘Eh?’
‘Dick Potter. Mr Potter.’ He said, ‘I’m Bernie. I’m head storeman, for my sins.’ He scratched his head. ‘I must’ve done something terrible.’ It was one of his things he said all the time.
We went through to the office. Bernie swung the door open. The glass panel in it rattled like fuck. Potter said. ‘Bernie; you keep doing that, one day that glass is going to drop out and cut some cunt’s throat.’
Potter offered me a Consulate, then looked pissed off when I took one. He sat with his eyes closed telling me what I’d be doing. ‘Mornings you’ll serve on the counter so Bernie’s freed up to load the wagon with Ken. Afternoons you’ll do the invoices. Bernie’ll show you how to do that.’ He opened his eyes and said to Bernie. ‘Don’t go into the Shirley business. Might give him ideas.’
Potter stood up like he was getting out of bed and said, ‘Steve the rep’s not here yet but I’ll introduce you to the others.’ He took me up the yard. I met Ken. Potter said, ‘This is Christy, Ken. New bloke. So don’t go mistaking him for a customer and offering to split a bag of cement for him.’ Ken smiled but as we walked away I looked over me shoulder and seen him giving it the five finger shuffle to Potter’s back.
We seen Ron in the sawmill then we come back down and Potter sorted me out some overalls. I felt a cunt. You had to wear a shirt and tie and overalls; talk about getting shot by both sides. They might as well have give you a hat with ‘loser’ written on it. The overalls was a dark blue jacket and trousers. Made you look like someone out of ‘Porridge’ off the telly.
Potter took me back to Bernie behind the counter. Before he went back to the office he said, ‘Remember, there’s some places you mustn’t let Bernie touch you. Okay?’
I stood there. Then he dug me in the ribs and said, ‘Fuck me, sonner; wake up. Only joking.’
I followed Bernie round all morning. All I learnt the first day was that all Conrad’s stock was covered in dust and some of it was covered in oil as well. Plus I learnt that builders and chippies smell dry and plastery, but plumbers have got a metally smell like the taste of blood in your mouth.
Bernie introduced me to the regulars when they come in and I’d stand there not knowing how I was supposed to be, matey or arselicking or what. The third thing I learnt was, all the customers thought Bernie was a twat. Howie come in for a shower trap. He asked him how it was going. Bernie said, ‘Struggling on. Struggling off again. Getting up, going to work.’
When Bernie went to get the trap, Howie goes to me, ‘Prick’s still living with his mum.’
About eleven Bernie went to the bog. He always called it seeing a friend off to the coast. While he was gone a bloke come in and asked for thirty inch eights. Brass. I just stood and looked at him.
He said, ‘Screws mate. Shelf to the left.’
He come round and found them for me in the end. Once he’d gone I had a look through the boxes of screws. Half of them had been there that long they were priced up in old money.
When Bernie come back he made mugs of tea. There was all big black thumbprints round the rim. We stood and drank them round by the roofing felt.
After dinner he took me in the kennel, this shed inside the loading bay, and showed me how to do the invoices. There was piles of them where he’d got behind. You had to look the prices up on this big list then look up people’s discounts from this box of cards. I asked him what Potter was on about with the Shirley business. He wouldn’t say.
After a while I took me watch off and put it in me pocket. It was the only way I could stop looking at it. When it felt like it must be hometime I took it out and looked. It was only quarter to four. Another hour and three quarters to go.
When I got home I lay on me bed and put on ‘Career Opportunities’ by The Clash, as loud as it’d go. I listened to Joe Strummer garbling out all this list of rubbish jobs; bus driver, ambulance man, chicken inspector. They all sounded better than anything that was down for me.
Don’t know why work come as so much of a shock to me. Wasn’t like Mum never talked about it. She did stock control up the box factory. I used to put the tea on for when she got in. I’d dish up and she’d sit complaining about things at the factory.
I had a bit of a moan to Phil about it up the shed. He just said, ‘That’s what work’s like if you’re ordinary.’
I wanted to say something but I didn’t know what. Phil handed me a fag and said, ‘You’re just ordinary Christy.’
I heard Danny mumble something. Sounded like, ‘Just a pity you’re not fucking normal.’

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