Posts Tagged ‘decay’

The road from lamghom avenue new cover - smallIt was a time of strangeness, one in which curious alliances were formed. People you normally steered clear of suddenly appeared in a new light. The section leader, Stavros, was one of them – a bombastic middle manager, suddenly, and to his dismay, charged with potting the lot of us. Fred Arbuckle was another, a bluntly spoken, pipe smoking detail-draughtsman with forty odd years of service. This was a man who had become painfully obsolete since they’d chucked his drawing board away and replaced it with a computer workstation, a device he struggled manfully and daily to master.

He’d been eavesdropping on my conversation with Stavros, hovering in the background as if he’d something to say that would have to wait until Stavros was out of range. I caught him looking over my shoulder later on.

“What’s up then Mike?” he said.

“Not much, Fred.”

“On lifeboat duty for old brown nose are you?”

“Stavros? Oh, he’s all right – there’s no real harm in him.”

“Suppose not – or he’d have made it to the boardroom years ago, eh? “

“So what can I do for you, Fred? “

“Well, me and a couple of lads, we’re planning a raid at dinner time – you with us?”

“A raid?”

“Sneakin in ‘t shed.”

The shed was a vast factory complex across the road from the office. It had served as Derby’s centre for production since 1910, but had lain empty since the early nineties and was now fenced off, pending demolition. And from what we’d just been told the offices were about to follow not long after.

“What do you want to go in there for?”

“One last look around. A bit of nostalgia, like.”

“Gets you nowhere, nostalgia. Nostalgia is useless.”

He shrugged as if to say it was okay, that it didn’t matter, but I had the feeling he’d been relying on me and I’d let him down. And anyway, who was I to talk, dredging up the past as I’d been doing?

“Go on then. Give me a nudge when you’re ready.”

Fred was in his sixties now. He’d walked to Derby’s every day since he was sixteen, a journey of a couple of miles, rain or shine. So far as anyone could work out he’d never had a day off sick and never had a holiday longer than a week at a time. The routine of work was the backbone of his life, and a few jokers in the office reckoned he’d be dead within six months of the place closing.

It was when walking past the shed he’d spotted a gap in the mesh fence where he told me a bloke could probably wriggle though without too much indignity. It was also off the main road and out of sight of the security cameras. At the appointed hour, I followed him through this gap. There was no one else. They’d all chickened out, he said, though I suspect now he hadn’t actually asked anyone else. The main entrance was securely boarded, but we remembered a door around the back which led onto the machine shop via a dingy cellar. It was locked but, with alarming expertise, Fred drew a crowbar out from under his overcoat and had it open in seconds.

There was light enough to see inside, though the windows were grimy and hung with cobwebs. There were workbenches and papers scattered everywhere, but amid the chaos of dereliction there lay curious islands of order. By the wall, a kettle was plugged into a socket, and a little ring of expectant mugs sat there, having waited all these years for someone brew up, not realizing the power had been cut and humans made extinct.

Fred seemed not to notice the poetry of it, and we pressed on, groping in the half light until we came out onto the machine shop. It was empty, all the decent machines having been shipped out and sold, the knackered ones dragged off screaming to the scrap man. All that remained now was a vast, echoing cavern of a place. Fred seemed to be looking for something, some specific location as he paced intensely around the oil-stained floor.

“Here,” he said, and then he handed me a camera. “Take us me picture, will ‘t?”


“Right here! I worked on a turret-lathe on this spot for twenty years. It was the first job I had when I came out me time.”

I looked around. Part of the roof had caved in and the place was hollow and cold. It felt like we were standing in the remains of a dinosaur, but Fred was seeing something else, feeling something else. It was the noise, the sense of something going on, a powerhouse, hot machines, hot metal. I remembered it too. It had been ugly and dirty, and a frightening place for a teenager, but I could not deny I’d also felt a tremendous sense of involvement in something big, something important.

I took his picture while he posed – an heroic pose, I thought, one foot up on a bucket like he’d just shot a lion. Then I laughed. “Fred in his shed, eh?”

On the way out I asked him for the camera again and I took a picture of the kettle with its cups. I expected some manly abuse, but he just waited.

“Things move on, eh Mike?”

Did they, I wondered? Was it a process of moving on, or merely one of falling apart, like in nature, a process of flowering, followed by inevitable decay? It was a kind of moving on, I suppose. But knowing that that didn’t help when you realized you were living the end game. I looked at him and I sensed he was afraid. We both were.

We build a shell around us as we grow, the older we are the thicker the shell, but deep inside, we’re all the same, all of us still children blinking wide-eyed at the world and wanting someone to take us by the hand, someone who will show us the way and tell us what it’s all about.

“You’ll be all right with your redundancy, Fred. Forty years! You’ll be a millionaire. I’ve another twenty-five to work,… somewhere.”

He laughed. “That’s right,” he said. “A fuckin’ millionaire.” But his voice rang hollow.

We’re never aware of living through change – only later, when we look back. But suddenly then, I glimpsed the enormity of the change sweeping the likes of me and Fred along, a great tidal wave. Me? I had a chance. I’d find other work, once I got my head around whatever was haunting me. But Fred? At sixty, you might say it shouldn’t have made much difference to him. You might also say he was overdue a rest and retirement to his cabbage patch. But not all the Fred’s have cabbage patches. They have routines. They have walks to work, and the company of other men.

A snippet from my story, The Road from Langholm Avenue. Get it free from Smashwords.

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great hill dec 2014 sm

Above the town a patch of green,
Shoulders aside the black brick line,
Holding up the sky.
All sour grass and brambles,
And the russet crumbs,
Of dried fern,
Dotted with the pastel shades,
Of plastic,
Wrapping up
The still moist remains
Of long preserved dog turd.

And like impacted wisdom teeth,
Gone green with age,
Shy outcroppings of grit-stone
Rise from mud.
Their weathered flanks are raw
With the scratchings of passing blades,
Etched deep now by the acid
Of three hundred years
Of rain.
Quiet as ghosts, patient as death,
This patch of green,
Looks down upon the sprawl of man.
And waits its turn again.

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