Monday, December 10, 2012


The workshop is round the back of the farmhouse, amongst a ramshackle collection of outhouses and lean-tos. There’s someone to wave us in at the gate, though, a gigantic figure in dirty orange overalls, a  jumper and combat jacket, fluorescent vest, and to top the whole ensemble off, a face boiled red by exposure to the elements. On top of his head is a heavy knitted beanie, squashed down on a mass of wild hair and beard. He looks like a lion press-ganged into working for the council.
‘Round you come,’ he growls. ‘Watch your left there. To me. To me.’
I jump out, straight into a puddle.
‘Mind that,’ he says.
‘So who’ve we come to see?’
‘This way, fella. It’s the damndest thing. I wasn’t even supposed to be working today. Lucky I was or who knows what might have happened. Through here. Mind your head – although you should be all right.’
He leads us into a low-ceilinged building crammed full of machinery – machinery with chains and levers, machinery with blocks and beds and wheels to move them; machinery with great screws and plates to press and raise and separate; machinery that’s been stripped down to sad arrays of wires and switching gear and PCBs; and then stacked precariously in every available space, plastic crates of bits, plugs and sockets, valves, and screws, and brackets, and fixings of every shape and size. There’s scarcely room amongst it all to make your way through to the office at the back – office, in that it has a desk, a computer and shelves of files and directories. They’ve nominally marked out the space by building two breeze-block walls right and left with a curtain of plastic sheeting taped to hang across the opening from the ceiling. There are no heaters that I can see, certainly none working. The air is brutally chill, our breath misting in front of us. It feels more like a cold store than a workshop, despite the insulation of so much stuff, tumbling up incoherently to the pressed asbestos sheets of the roof, where the husks of countless dead spiders hang with their legs frozen in the tucked-up position.  
Malcolm is sitting on a swivel chair at the desk. He’s dressed like his friend, layers of old clothes, great winter boots and socks, a beanie hat. His face looks even redder than his friend, though, clean shaven, lacking that vital layer of animal hair as proof against the cold. The end of Malcolm’s nose is particularly raw, and even in this poor light you can see that it’s been abraded by some violent action.
Lion Man tells us he came in and found Malcolm face down on the floor having a seizure. It lasted a couple of minutes, but he seemed to come round fairly quickly. He told him to lie where he was, but Malcolm ignored him and got himself up again.
‘I’m fine. Honestly. I’m fine.’
He rolls himself a cigarette, scattering tobacco across the papers on the desk as his hands shake.
We ask him a few questions and start to figure out what may have happened – but suddenly his phone goes.
‘Do you mind if I... hello? Yep. Yeah. Okay....’
He turns on the chair, puts the cigarette in his mouth, finds a pen, and starts taking notes.
‘Yep. Three point one? You sure, mate? I think you’ll find that’s usually a point two. Yep. Uh-huh. With the trip? On a nine-fifty? Okay. Let me just check that for you...’
He draws diagrams, makes notes, the ash from his fag drifting down onto his hands.
Lion Man sighs and folds his arms.
‘I keep telling him he’s got to slow down but he won’t listen. He’s driven. Absolutely driven. He was here till three yesterday.’
‘In the afternoon?’
Lion Man snorts.
‘Of the AM variety,’ he says. ‘And that’s not unusual. We’ve got orders to fill, deadlines coming out of our ears. It’s tough, you know. Times is a-hard. You can’t afford to sit around and cry about it. Make hay while the sun shines.’ He glances back through the workshop to the yard outside. It’s just started to rain again.
‘Well – you know what I mean.’
We both look back at Malcolm. I catch his eye as he swivels round on the chair to pull down a directory from one of the shelves. He nods and smiles weakly, then puts the directory on the desk and – crooking the phone between his cheek and his shoulder - starts to thumb through it.
‘The nine-eighty, you say? O-kay. Let me just get a price on that for you...’


jacksofbuxton said...

Hardy types the farming brigade Spence.

Lost an arm in the thresher?No problem,I'll crack on with the lambing and stick my arm back on later with some blu tack.

JuliesMum said...

"Brutally chill" - I really like that. That adjective (adverb?) really is working hard. As usual, got the dialog down to a tee - I realised I'd automatically supplied the other side of that phone conversation.

Spence Kennedy said...

Jacks - Incredibly hardy. Not only was it freezing in there, and not only had he been working all-hours, but he'd had a fit, hurt himself, put himself back in the chair and carried on trading. If there's one business on the face of the planet that deserves to succeed, it's his!

JM - OMG it was cold. No wonder he collapsed. When we (eventually) checked him over, all his obs were fine - so we guessed what may have happened was that he fainted in the chair, and then had a hypoxic fit when he didn't end up on the floor quick enough. We suggested he came with us to the hospital for further tests. Can you guess what his answer was...? :0/

Anonymous said...

For 78 years my paternal grandparents were farmers. A couple of years ago my grandfather came into the kitchen with an 8inch carpenters grip nail penetrating his arm by 5inches between the ulna and radius. He then proceeded to grip the nail with his teeth and pull it out himself before shoving his arm in my direction and telling me to "put a plaster on that, don't wana get shyte in it"
You write fantastically as always :) Verity

Spence Kennedy said...

Blimey, Verity! How did he manage that? Nail gun? Euch.

Like I say, farmers are a tough breed. In the summer holidays I used to work on the roses, first as a patcher, then as a budder. There were some amazing characters around the farm there. This one guy, Ely, he was in his eighties and still hoeing! (Which sounds wrong these days, but you prob know what I mean). No stopping him. He did everything very slowly (incl. eating his sandwiches, because he only had a couple of teeth left, and they were mainly for show), but he got the job done.