By Mark Burrow
- 780 reads
When Harry saw Dickie on the floor of the warehouse, he thought he was
dead. Then he saw the chest rising, falling, ever so slightly. Dickie
was in the land of the living, or thereabouts. The heat had caused him
to faint. Dickie had dropped the cardboard box he was carrying and
bottles of washing up liquid had broken loose from the box. A lid on a
bottle was knocked off and the goo, perfumed and green, oozed outwards.
Harry was surprised it wasn't bubbling and boiling. The warehouse was
Russell, thought Harry, should be here. But the manager was poncing
about at another store when he should've been on the top floor of the
warehouse, seeing the state Dickie was in.
Jason was next to Harry. He said, 'Dickie's getting on&;#8230;This
job ain't right for him anymore.'
'What do you know?' said Harry. Jason didn't shave yet. He had these
wisps of hair sprouting from the chin: bum fluff. He had spots too. A
swollen red beauty at the tip of his greasy nose. There were clusters
of yellow flakes in the corners of his eyes where he didn't wash
properly in the mornings. Jason was seventeen, eighteen at a push.
Earning a bit of money for the first time and thinking he was the be
all and end all. The pubescent, baldy bollocks prick was full of it.
Harry listened to Jason say: 'Even I find the job knackering and I'm
not half Dickie's age. I mean, he's as old as you, H, and you don't do
any work 'cos you're the foreman.'
Harry told himself to count to ten. He got to three and said, 'It's not
Dickie's fucking age.'
'What is it then?'
'I know it's the heat.'
'You know it's the heat?'
'Yeah, it's the heat I know but he's too old to hack it, ain't
'You're a fucking idiot, you know that, son? A prize fucking idiot. The
heat's a diabolical liberty however old you are. See yer tee-shirt,' he
said, gripping the polyester. 'That's wringing wet, Jay, through to the
skin. There's sweat and there's sweat and this is sweat. You know what
I mean, son?' He let go of the tee-shirt.
'I know it's sweat. I'm the one sweating.'
'You know, you know. Arrr, what's the use? I think yer all deserve what
you get half the time. I'm standing, standing mind you, and I wanna
pass out, let alone slave and sweat me bollocks off up here for eight
hours a day.'
'It's not right. But it's life, Harry.'
'Life? Life! What do you know about life
'Shite arse,' said Jason.
'Arrrr, fuck yer,' said Harry, hearing a female voice on the
supermarket's tannoy calling for a first aider to go immediately to the
top floor of the warehouse.
Although it pained Harry to admit it to himself, Jay was right,
partially. Dickie, the old cunt, was well passed his sell by date. Too
passed it to work as a warehouseman. But what was he gunna do, though:
retire? That'd be like putting a gun to his head. You had to
sympathise. Had to. Harry never liked Dickie much. He didn't dislike
him either. He was just&;#8230;Well&;#8230;. Rabitting on about
his garden&;#8230;. Dickie's garden drove the lads
mental&;#8230;No-one gave a toss about the garden and the
neighbour's cat and the herons which attacked his fish in the garden.
And then there was National Service: Harry couldn't stick the army.
Whereas Dickie talked as if marching and getting a bollocking off of
some jumped up poof with a 'tache gave him a purpose. The army! Fuck
off! Queen and country had given Harry a pain in the arsehole,
literally. He got piles while in West Germany&;#8230;. And something
a little nastier besides from a lassie in Maylasia. It was too bloody
cold over there. In Germany, that is. Not Maylasia. Fucking Maylasia
was too fucking hot. A bit like this warehouse. No, he wasn't on
Dickie's wavelength. Dickie was a bore. But you had to have sympathy
with the bloke. Some blokes didn't know how not to work. The job kept
them busy and so they never knew when to jack it in and call it a day.
For most blokes, when work ended, the spark goes, and that's it, before
you know it you're watching someone being buried.
Harry felt for the bloke. He himself was retiring on Friday and
crapping it. Petrified at never having to set an alarm for bloody work
in the morning ever again&;#8230;. Ever&;#8230;(although he
always woke before the alarm went off at six). Potentially, retirement
was like digging your own grave. Maggie, his wife, was the one who
suggested they buy themselves a cottage in Devon. Their families, some
of them, the ones left, lived down there still. Maggie was spot-on to
suggest a clean break. It was important to set yerself new goals, for
the pair of them to keep their minds occupied. Busy. They had talked
about leaving London for forty years. It was an evil city. The crime.
The overcrowding. Poison. And Devon, the countryside, was scenic,
There were doubts, though. Tiny voices of dissent in his head. He just
had to keep telling them to fuck right off.
Moving was the right thing to do.
Having heard the announcement for a first aider on the tannoy, two of
the lads who worked on the middle floor, Carlton and Jules, came up the
'Hey,' said Carlton to Harry, 'what's going on?'
'Guess,' said Harry.
They saw Dickie on the floor.
'Oh, this aint right. The heat, it's burning us up.' said
'We're frying,' said Jules.
Carlton got on his knees. He cradled Dickie's head. Asking Jason to
fetch a cup of water.
'Tell me I'm not imagining things,' said Harry, 'but didn't Russell say
he was going to sort this out?'
'Yep,' said Jules.
Carlton kissed his teeth. 'Two years and the Big Chief said the same
thing. Two years.' Carlton started laughing. 'This fucking place. A man
has to die before anyone takes notice.'
'And even then,' said Jules.
'That's right,' said Carlton, 'you're not wrong. Not wrong. No. Even
then nothing'll be done.'
Harry promised them he would speak to Russell.
The manager was out for most of the day at the new superstore in
Shepperton. Harry saw him after the half three tea break. They arranged
to meet at four.
'What do you want me to say?' said Russell.
They were in Russell's office. There was space for a desk and a chair,
another chair against a wall by the door, and a filing cabinet which
the door banged into when opened. Harry explained about Dickie
fainting, and the temperature in the warehouse. 'You told us,' he said,
'you'd try and do something about the heat.'
'I know I did and I did just that,' said Russell.
'And what was that?'
'We got water coolers on each floor of the warehouse.'
'I think it needs a bit more effort. Dickie was a goner.'
'I know. You keep saying.'
'The younger ones are finding it tough too.'
'Maybe their expectations are too high.'
'They're entitled to expect some safety.'
'Leave it out. They get safety. I've done Dickie a favour by not
showing him the door sooner and now I'm getting it thrown back in my
'Come on, all I'm asking is for basics. There's no air conditioning up
there, no windows even.'
'My hands are tied.'
'No they're not.'
'Yeah, they are.'
'You could do more.'
'Don't be na?ve.'
'I'm not being na?ve.'
'Yeah, you are, you're being na?ve.'
'I'm not being fucking na?ve.'
'Yeah, you are. Completely. Do you want me to install windows in the
warehouse? Is that with or without flower boxes? What about a patio for
their tea breaks? No, I know, a beer garden for the lads when they feel
a bit parched and need a break.'
'You're missing the point.'
'You could do more.'
'More? It's a warehouse.'
'You know what I'm getting at.'
'Yeah, me, Harry, you're having a dig at me. At how I run things when
you're about to retire after god knows how many years. We, that's you
and me, know what this building is like to work in. During the summer
we sweat like whores and in the winter we freeze our balls off. I don't
know where they got the architect from but the cunt did everything on
the cheap and should've been strung up, not paid. The roof leaks. There
are rats. The place is so huge you need Inspector fucking Morse to keep
track of all the thieving that goes on here. But it's a case of like it
or lump it.'
'The architect was probably told to do it on the cheap. It's the
directors that should be strung up, not him.'
'And Dickie, what happens next?'
'Personnel. I'll have to file a report. It's up to personnel
'Dickie has the best sick record of all our staff.'
'I never said he wasn't a good worker.'
'So that's it?'
'Harry, if I went to my boss and asked for money to do up the warehouse
he'd think I'd gone soft in the head.'
'Very professional of you, Russ.'
'Yeah, it is. Only a mug would spend their budget on what you're
'Why say you would?'
'Because you're mug enough to believe I would, that's why.'
'Cheers. Thanks for that.'
'You had it coming.'
'I wouldn't have said it otherwise.'
'Those management courses have brought you on bundles.'
'I won't be lifting boxes at your age, that much I can thank the
Harry left the office. He heard Russell shout, 'Take it to the union
rep, Harry. He's in tomorrow at ten. I'm sure he'll be able to help you
The union rep. Now there was a man if ever there was one.
'Fuck yer,' said Harry. 'I will do too, don't think I won't.'
Charlie Jones pushed his tray along the waist high rack towards the
selection of breakfast food in the canteen. 'Aye, aye,' he said to the
canteen girls serving the food, 'what's all this, then?'
One of the women waved an American flag at him. 'It's the 4th of July,'
'Hence the outfits,' he said, 'Very nice, I must say.'
One of the older women did a twirl. They all wore Stars and Stripes
pinafores and had miniature Uncle Sam hats on their heads with the
elastic round their chins.
'You sexy ladies. I'd've worn me Stetson had I known.'
'Ooo, you cowboy, you.'
Charlie made a pistol with his fingers, aiming at a woman and clacking
his tongue. 'Maybe next time,' he said. They smiled. Recognising him
only as a face who was seen now and then, a friendly
face&;#8230;..for management. 'I'll have a couple of bacon rashers,
an egg, two sausages, the plum toms, beans&;#8230;.annnnnd a slice
of fried bread, thank you very much, ladies.' He paid for his
breakfast, getting a can of Diet Pepsi from the vending machine. He
used to be the union rep for the canteen staff, until they were taken
over, outsourced to another firm. He sat at the table and cut into his
food. Steadily, as he read his copy of The Sun, the canteen filled with
workers. Charlie read the match report about Arsenal - his team - and
how they had lost to Man U the previous night. He'd watched it on Sky
in his local and he wasn't impressed. The worst of it was the Gunners
didn't look like scoring. The Mancs were all over them.
Charlie dunked his fried bread into a dollop of brown sauce on the rim
of his plate and took a bite. Of all the supermarket canteens, this was
the one. Their breakfasts were the nuts, although, he had to admit, the
breakfasts weren't as good since the canteen was taken over by the
contractors. The portions were definitely smaller, and the food wasn't
as clean tasting. Nevertheless, once every two months he would visit
and the best part in coming to Colliers Wood was the fry up. The rest
was plain business. The chats with departmental managers and his
obligatory thirty minutes sat in the canteen. During this half hour
staff were free to speak to him about difficulties in the work place.
The catch being none of the staff knew he was there for them. He wasn't
allowed to announce he was from the union. If he did, security had the
authority to evict him from the premises. So, for the thirty minutes
when he was supposed to be "there" to listen to problems from the rank
and file, he ate his breakfast and read the paper.
Charlie cut a sausage and smeared the pork in the bean sauce. He was
looking at the T.V. guide. Seeing if there was anything decent on the
'Are you Charlie Jones?'
He coughed a sausage onto the plate, spluttering. He looked at the half
chewed piece of sausage and then at the guy standing before him. 'Yes,'
he said. 'I'm Charlie.'
'The union representative?'
Harry introduced himself. Asked if he could sit down.
'Sure, yeah, go ahead,' said Charlie, folding the tabloid.
Harry pulled out a tobacco tin. 'Do you mind if I&;#8230;' He held
the tin up to Charlie.
'By all means,' said Charlie.
Harry removed a paper for his roll up. 'I have a problem,' said
'And what's that?'
'I need you to clarify an issue for me.'
'I can but try.'
'Yeah&;#8230;.try. I doubt you'll be able to do much but I wanted to
Charlie encouraged Harry to tell him about the issue. As Harry talked,
Charlie swigged his can of Diet Pepsi, listening about how hot the
warehouse was and some geezer had passed out and Russ had promised to
put air-conditioning or windows in the warehouse (obviously, Russ was
on a piss take) and Russ hadn't been good to the promise. No measures
were taken for the summer heat. The warehousemen walked about in wet
tee-shirts (that'd be alright if there were some girls in the
warehouse). That the men were on their last legs (they always were) and
the geezer who fainted was going to get the elbow. Sacked. And the man
was a model employee (at 56, yeah, right).
Harry lit his roll up and looked at Charlie. 'That's all there is,'
'I see,' said Charlie, 'I can see why you wanted to come to me.'
'Can yer now.'
'Yes, it must be difficult in that&;#8230;.environment.'
'Stop the Billy bullshitting.'
'Don't be like that.'
'Yeah, I will be like that.'
'There's no need.'
'That's right. There isn't. So cut the performance and be honest for
once. Come on union man, officially, I want to know: what are the
rules? What can they do to get themselves changes for the
'Okay, I'll tell you what they can do. Both versions. First, the
unofficial. Unofficially they can't do a thing.'
'The promise by Russ wasn't in writing and he couldn't make the changes
to the warehouse even if he wanted to, although he doesn't so it's 'bye
the 'bye. The one who fainted, like you said, is getting on, so he
shouldn't be in the job anyway.'
Harry tamped the cigarette into a foil ashtray and said: 'What about
'Officially, they can fill in and submit a form - I forget which one -
to personnel about substandard working conditions.'
'And I bet that'll go all the way into a filing cabinet
'Not necessarily. Steps may be taken.'
'I bet. Small ones, like.'
'But,' continued Charlie, 'if actions are taken they may not
necessarily be favourable to the staff who filed the report, if you get
'Right. Keep mouths zipped, or else. Very Stalinesque.'
'You're free to put in the report, I never said you weren't.'
Harry was standing. 'I know what you've said.'
'Sorry I couldn't be more helpful.'
'Well, at least you're upfront. So cheers for that. Although you're
fucking worse than useless and how you sleep at night I don't
'I'm sorry you feel that way.'
'Course you are. Enjoy your breakfast.'
Charlie watched as the old tosser, wearing blue trousers and blue
tee-shirt, a pen behind an ear, walked from the canteen.
He forked a mouthful of sausage and bacon and beans into his
The beans were stone cold.
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