So I did a gig last night that was really badly organised, not my type of audience, was graft from start to finish and didn’t pay nearly well enough, but as they say, “beats working for a living.” If only you knew…
I am from a working class background. Prior to entering working life as an apprentice printer I was pretty much forced to attend Boys Brigade meetings every Friday evening while my mates were out playing chap door run and setting off fireworks. The reason I was made to do this from about age 8-16 was my mum insisted it would help me find a job. She was actually right. Not everything in the BBs was bad but there were certain things that my then blossoming “problem with authority streak” found pretty hard to stomach. The captain of our squadron of around 60 teenage boys was obsessed with winning a thing called the drill cup. A competition in which BB squadrons from all over Scotland did formation marching to prove how brilliantly potentiated young Nazis they’d make. So marching up and down in formation every week for an hour was standard. Yee fucking Ha! It wasn’t so much this I had the problem with but the lengths this insane BB captain was willing to go to win the bloody thing. There was a very fat lad in our group who had a tendency to waddle when marching that didn’t meet the standards required of our glorious Capitan. So every week he was made to sit on his own at the side while the rest of us marched for an hour. Dreadful I know. You can imagine the humiliation the poor guy went through. Had he went nuts with a shotgun one week I would’ve been totally on his side. I heard later in life that the Capitan who subjected this young man to this weekly torture went on to have a massive nervous breakdown. I was delighted.
So I reach 16. Much to my chagrin my dreams of being a drama student are now thoroughly suppressed and the path of hard realities of my working class destiny have been well and truly drummed into my skull. You can romanticise all you like about Billy Elliot but had he grown up in my town someone would have broken his fucking legs.
I got an apprenticeship as a printer. Not a bad achievement as a month before the careers advice officer at school had been determined to get me on a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) These were essentially forced labour for dole money with no prospects of employment at the end. Myself and my fellow factory fodder were so amazed at said careers chap enthusiasm for these schemes that we were convinced the government were paying him a small bonus for every teenage scalp claimed.
Printing isn’t a bad job but I was in a very specialised line of it. Essentially this meant I’d be highly but very specifically trained and finding similar work elsewhere would’ve meant leaving the country. Essentially my fate was to spend the next 50 years in the same factory. Fuck that!
Day one at work was interesting. The first man I was introduced to (for to me that is what they were as I was a boy) grabbed me bent me over a table and pretended to bum me. Awesome I thought…this is going to be just like school. Also much to my amazement I discovered that all apprentices taken on over the past five years had been in the Boys Brigade. Which I now realise was kind of like a junior Masons.
I wasn’t a bad printer and prided myself in my high level of output. Factory work like anywhere is littered with bad politics but that suited my ever-growing problem with authority. Eventually this was put to a decent cause. There’s a lot of bad chemicals associated with that job. Above all our printing presses was a ventilation system for removing the cancerous ozone that the ink drying system produced. Ozone smells like see air. If you can smell it at work this is a bad thing. Our particular ventilation system had been built not by experts in this area but by the factory engineers who were employed mainly for general repair. Bit’s of it were genuinely held together by Sellotape. Needless to say the start of everyday at my work smelled like a day trip to Blackpool.
So after much argument, harassing my union rep and coughing fits the management finally rescinded their cancer master plan and proper ventilation engineers were brought in. They were horrified at what they saw.
So the day comes to start installing this life saving equipment. What happened next may leave you stunned at our managements general disregard for human life and safety. Then again if you worked in a factory in the 80s…probably not.
To install the ventilation a scaffolding had to be built right over my printing press. This meant men were to work directly above a large piece of moving machinery. As the guys were setting up I reassured the workmen the machine would be stopped while they worked above it. That’s when a spotted a certain disconcerted look come on their faces. “Actually mate we’ve had to reassure your boss we’re willing to work above the press while it runs. ” One of them tells me. “Are you fucking mad.” Or something along those lines I replied. Eventually I find out that their boss has reassured our boss it’s ok to work like this and it’s on that condition their contract has been secured. Please understand if they or anything should have come off that scaffold into about 4 tons of moving bits the results would have been deadly.
“Not a problem I reassure them.” And once they were up on the scaffold I nonchalantly dropped a spanner into a bit of the press where not too much damage would be done. Back this up with a story about how it had fallen off the scaffold and disaster was subversively averted.
Knowing what I now know about life for working folks nothing about this story amazes me. But I am happy in the knowledge that some of the guys I used to know still work there. I hope they appreciate that clean air.
PS Oh…and yes we did win the drill cup.