“I remember working for George Wimpey up in Blackheath; we’d finished and waiting for our wages... a piece of glass floated down, and of all the places it had to land was in the back of this bloke’s neck.”
– Regular, Tony –
When I first started working it was two pounds, 14 and nine pence for 48 and a half hours a week. It was good training and all the rest, but bloody hard when you’re young... you’ve just left school at 15; to go from leaving school to 48 and a half hours a week. Bang. No bloody gap at all. I left school on the Friday; started work on the Monday. As most people did. I mean the first job I ever did was pulling wood through a planing machine. It was coming out and I was stacking it on a trolley. And that’s all I did for weeks and weeks and weeks. It was just a learning curve, as they’d say these days.
Ahhh, some fingers disappeared… especially in the spindle machine. The guards were a bit basic; people took risks because they got in the way nine times out of ten. This might sound stupid and strange, but the surface machine with the blades whizzing around – you’re always tempted to put your fingers in; it draws you. I can’t remember anyone doing it, but I have seen people taking their fingers off by carelessness... but it does draws you. The worst accident I ever seen was when we were working for Tarmac Construction down in Old Hill. We were subcontracted to a carpenter, and he’d gone bust and it was 14 or 16 of us, and they asked us to come in on a Saturday morning and they’d sort things out for us, which they did, but while we were waiting for that, there were some chaps on the scaffolding on the 12th or 14th storey and one chap fell off and bounced down between the scaffolding and brickwork, and died.
I remember working for George Wimpey up in Blackheath, and we’d finished and waiting for our wages and there was this chap on a mixer talking to some bloke, and some labourers cleaning up; they threw some glass out of, again, a 12 or 14 storey height, and it picked up on the wind and this piece of glass drifted on the wind, and went straight into the back of this bloke’s neck. Honest truth. They took him to hospital with the piece of glass in and they said if they’d pulled the glass out he’d have died like. A piece of glass floated down, and of all the places it had to land was in the back of this bloke’s neck.
I remember somebody telling me – I didn’t see this – but on the building trade they used to have those thunderboxes, you know... the toilets. They were on one job and there was this little stream running down there, so they put two timbers across the stream and they plonked the thunderbox on top of the timbers like so when folks used it, it would wash it away like. So Monday morning was fatal because everyone wanted to get on there. One morning some bloke went in there, and I don’t think they liked him a lot, so they went up stream a bit and lit about twenty empty cement bags, and it floated down when he was on the loo – and this massive scream came out apparently, and the door flew open: you could imagine that, couldn’t you. Jesus Christ, what on earth’s going on here?
One of my favourite jokes was told to me by Jim at The Peacock, one Sunday afternoon. It was about an Irish merchant seaman that was out of work, like....
He was reading the paper looking to see what odd jobs were about, and he spots: seaman wanted for three months for this voyage. So he gets down to the docks, and he gets in the queue. He’s got all his paperwork with him. He comes up to the captain’s desk, and the captain looks at him, and says: name? He said, Murphy sir. And he says: have you been to sea before Murphy? Yes sir, I sailed the seven seas I did. And I’ve got all the paperwork here to prove it. So he gives him all his papers like – and the captain’s looking at all these papers… looking at the papers; looking at Murphy; looking at the papers. He says: go on Murphy, we’ll give you a chance. Thank you captain, thank you captain, he said. And he was collecting up his papers and behind him was this big Swedish bloke. And the captain says: name? He said: Erickson... Sign here… And Erickson walked by and Murphy said: excuse me captain… why was it though that you wanted to know whether I’d been to sea before, and wanted me to show me papers, but you said to that bloke there: just sign here. He said: he’s got a very honest face. Oh I see, he said. Anyway they set sail about three weeks later and they’d been out to sea for about three weeks when they hit this gigantic storm. The boat was going up and down like this. And the only bloke on deck was this Erickson, mopping the decks down. When all of a sudden a gigantic wave came and swept him overboard. Now Murphy happened to see this. He rushes down to the captain’s office. Knocks on the door. Yes Murphy, what is it? He said... you know that Erickson, with the honest face...? He’s just fucked off with your mop.
I’ve had some miles out of that one, I can tell you.