Monday, 25 November 2013

5 - London and Thereabouts

It was when I fell asleep standing up that I first understood how hectic London was.
I was coming home from work one afternoon and as I waited for the pedestrian light to change I lent against a handy wall.
Some minutes…, actually, I don’t know how long later, but the roar of released traffic woke me.
The scene had changed in millimetric detail, different cars, other people, and I realised that so tired was I that I had dozed against the wall.
And if I was, then it was no surprise really.
Not only was I living in London, but I was teaching now at one of the hardest schools I have ever experienced.
But all that is ahead.
When we left things I had moved into the terraced house of my friend Don in Lewisham, south east London, and was staring longingly at a Sydney Cityrail ticket I had found in my pocket, which promised to take to Bondi for $2.50.
With a sigh I put it away and went about my preparations for getting a job as a teacher in the metropolis.
To do this I had to sign up with a firm called Timeplan.
This was an agency responsible for finding substitute teachers to prop up the ailing English education system.
You can imagine the sorts of schools that needed the services of Timeplan, obviously any school that an UK teacher wouldn’t touch with a four hundred foot pole.
Even the name, Timeplan, is redolent of a prison sentence, and that is largely what they handed out.
However, I had ended my Asian travels early, and so when I contacted Timeplan they said that the new term doesn’t start for another three weeks, and so to get back to them closer to the time, and they will set me up with a placement.
I was a bit anxious about this, as I was already learning what it cost to live in London, and I would have preferred to get going straight away.
But it wasn’t to be, so I put down the phone and contemplated other options.
When Matt came home from work I asked him what he thought, and he said “Why not try a pub? They always need more workers.”
What he didn’t add, and as I was about to find out, was that Britain then, maybe still, has no minimum wage, and that’s why pubs always need more people.
However, since my preferred work as masseur to the Swedish nude silicon implanted volleyball team was unlikely, at least in the near term, I went out to try a few hostelries in the local area.
Over a long time in the country I came to understand that there are only three things that the English do well.
One is TV shows, the next is the post office, and finally pubs.
However, almost typically of me, the first pub I tried, had to be about the worst in Britain.
I can’t remember what it was called, or if it even had a name above the door, but it was a few blocks from my digs, on the way into Lewisham high street.
It’s not surprising that I didn’t know its name, as my recollection was that at first I wasn’t sure it was a pub at all.
I opened the door timidly and thought I was in someone’s living room.
The carpet was filthy, barely visible in fact, and there was a motley assortment of broken down furniture spread about with various middle-aged men, lounging about, beer guts on tables, drinking pints out of filthy glassware.
One of these barely mobile wrecks turned toward me and said, well, I can’t remember exactly, but it certainly wasn’t “How can I be of assistance, sir?”
I think he said, “What do you want?”, which was something else I was to learn later, that this passed for the very pinnacle of English customer service.
I responded, after some serious thought about whether I wanted to work in such a place, “Do you have any work going?”
To which he gave a deep laugh, gestured at his customers and said, “Nah, sorry, mate, most of this lot just help themselves.”
But he was a kindly soul, and was prepared to help me, he continued on, “If you want some work, go down to the town and try The Plough, they have lots of stuff going on.”
I thanked him for his help and then left with alacrity before the hordes of insect life that I was sure infested the place transferred their attention to me.
I headed down to Lewisham and there on the corner of the high street was The Plough, and it was vastly different establishment.
The sign that announced its name was a vast neon thing, with a “ye olde” horse and plough drawn floridly across it.
It looked more like an alien spaceship that had chosen the dark streets of Lewisham to land, than an olde world English pub, but I could see it was a bright and glitzy place, for the young things to strut their stuff in.
So I entered with a bit more confidence than previously, walked up to the bar and spoke with a large man who was serving behind the counter.
G’day”, I said, “Would you guys have any work going?”
Without missing a beat he replied, “Yeah, interviews tomorrow at two o’clock.
Just come in then.”
I rocked back slightly, talk about good timing.
I quizzed him a little further, turned out that they had run an ad in the local paper that week, announcing interviews in person at the pub on the morrow, and I had lucked in.
So I thanked the barman, and left.
I returned the next day at the appointed time and took my seat at one of the tables in the bar.
Soon another large man, and as I was to learn, getting larger with every meal, came in and sat down at another table.
He took out a pad and pen, then looked about, his eye fell on me, the only one there, and he said, “you here for the job?”.
I nodded and he gestured me over.
I’ll just digress here to discuss a movie with Steve McQueen, Pappillion.
Steve plays a man convicted of murder in Paris and is sentenced to life on Devil’s Island, the aptly named, horrendously brutal prison camp off the coast of French Guinana.
As the prisoners are marched into camp to begin their servitude they are given a perfunctory medical test by the camp doctor.
As Steve’s turn comes he steps up and says, “Is there any way to fail this test?”
And somewhat like that, was my interview at the pub.
I can’t recall in detail what was said, but it was along the lines of “Do you know what that is?” (He pointed to a pint.)
I said “Yes”.
Then he asked, “Have you worked in a pub before?”
I replied “Yes” to that as well, and that was it, he concluded the ‘interview’, and told me to give my name and phone number to the large man I had spoken to the day before.
He turned out to be the assistant manager, name of Simon.
I did so, then Simon brought out a roster of sorts, and told me to come in on the coming Saturday for my first shift.
I left the pub well satisfied and had some unique thoughts, viz: if everything was this easy, my life in Britain would be a breeze.
So I spent the rest of the week doing some tourist things, Trafalgar Square, the Cutty Sark, and savouring London, the city that had stood at the heart of the empire that had ultimately spawned me in a far flung corner of it.
But then I did something that was to lead to one of the most painful nights of my life.
Don, who had found me my digs in his house, had returned from Shropshire, and with his return the football team that he (Don), Matt, up until then my only flatmate, and Pete, our other roomie, still away, played for (Kent University Old Boys) was reactivated for the coming season.
With players still away, Don asked me to fill in and I happily obliged.
The game was due for Saturday afternoon, some hours before my shift in the pub was to start, so I had plenty of time to play and get back.
So I bought some boots and went out and had a kickabout with the lads.
It went Ok, but about an hour in there was in incident in our penalty area.
Don was keeping goal, and a high ball came over, I was just going to jump up and head it away, when Don called, “’Keeper!”
This means he wanted to catch the ball.
I hunkered down slightly and left him to it, Don though, with his eyes focussed on the ball didn’t see me in his path, and as he leapt to catch it, his knee came up and collected me full force on the right side of my rib cage.
Truth be told, it didn’t hurt at the time as I was running hot from the game, so I rubbed it a few times and then went on with the match.
Afterward we showered and headed back to Lewisham and as each minute from the game passed, the pain in my ribs increased.
It was my first experience of rib damage, and I can assure you it is acute.
You can’t really understand unless you’ve had it yourself, but the essential problem is one of movement.
If you break a bone in your arm or leg, you go to the hospital and it’s set in a cast.
Once that is done, the pains tops because the bone is immobilised.
However, ribs cannot be immobilised, and each breath causes you pain.
And so by the time my shift at the pub was due to start I was having to walk like a man with a crystal goblet balanced precariously on the top of my head.
I got to the pub and took my place behind the bar.
I met, very briefly, some of the other staff, but then quickly the Saturday night rush began and I had no more time to think.
However, I strongly suspect I am even today minorly remembered in that pub due to the strange way I was behaving on that first night.
The rush meant I had to move around the bar with as much speed as I could muster, and the pain was a constant hot beat on my right side.
Thus, a customer would come up to the bar, I would go to serve them, and they would shout their order through the roar.
Then the pain would hit and my face would become the grimmest of skull-like death grimaces as I rode the pain.
So the customers began to think I was angry at them, as if they had deeply offended me by simply asking for ‘three pints of lager’.
However, I got through my shift then wended my way back to the house and tumbled into my long looked for bed.
It goes without saying that the next morning I was in considerable pain.
That night’s sleep, being jerked awake whenever my ribs sang out was another in the long line of nights of disturbed sleep I had been having since Asia, and I really needed one of those lifts they use at the hospital to save nurses’ backs to get out of bed.
However I managed it and as the week went by the pain receded.
Thursday came and I went back for my next stint, Thursday through Saturday, at the pub.
The most salient point of those three nights was when Saturday came and Millwall was playing at home.
Millwall was the local professional team, and match over and the fans poured into the Plough.
So just a bit about soccer supporters in Britain, and, as I was to learn, thankfully much later, Millwall supporters in particular.
Due mainly to the fact that Britain is a rotten place to live, certainly in the cities.
The only real social option is going to the pub.
The other great outlet is watching your local soccer team, and these two pastimes collide on Saturday evening after the game.
Often the rage and frustration of every day life spills over into angry feelings at the game, particularly when, as ever, your team loses because the referee was biased.
Various teams’ supporters claim that they are the toughest, but in the end, the title goes to Millwall.
And they, god help me, were my local team.
Anyway, the pub filled up with Millwall supporters, already well-oiled from the game, and the testosterone level of the pub filled to overflowing.
One of the other barman was a Millwall supporter himself, a nice lad, and as the White-shirted soccer fans began to arrive, he came over to me and said, “If this kicks off while I’m out there collecting glasses, will you come to help?”
I was a little taken aback, but while not ever welcoming a fight, wasn’t prepared to see my barman friend set upon, so I said I would.
However, things passed off peacefully enough, I think Millwall had won, which always helps, and even these barely sentient dregs of ‘souff landin’ knew not to destroy their own pub.
But later on, Mike, my friend from Shropshire, was telling me a few stories, which I’m glad I didn’t know on that Saturday night.
Millwall fans are known as ‘bushwackers’.
The reason is because their home ground at the time was the aptly named Cold Blow Lane ground in New Cross, just a few stations up the line from Lewisham, and the ground is a long way, ten blocks or so, from New Cross station.
So supporters from the away team have to leave the station and make their way, as of some intrepid African explorer of old, through the back streets of New Cross to the ground.
The Millwall supporters would therefore hide in the back yards of the tenement houses and when they saw some opposition fans coming, they would jump out and attack, or ‘buskwhack’ them.
Mike himself experienced this unnerving process.
He was from Liverpool, but due to uni in the south and moving around a bit as a boy, hadn’t a full scouse accent.
However some of his friends did and one day they went to see Liverpool play Millwall at Cold Blow, and after the game they were walking home when they chanced upon some Millwall supporters.
One of these said to Mike’s friend, “What’s the time mate?”
He didn’t have any requirement for same, he simply wanted someone from Mike’s group to answer, then he would hear the Liverpool accent and they would attack.
Mike, with his non-descript accent answered, but this didn’t satisfy them, and eventually one of his mates said something, I can’t recall what, but that was enough. The Millwall supporters attacked, and one of them brought out a Stanley knife and slashed Mike’s friend down his back from shoulder-blade to hip.
Blood gushed and Mike and his friends had to gather up their injured pal and race him to the nearest hospital where he received nearly a hundred stitches.
So as you can see, I’m bloody glad I didn’t know that story that night in the pub.
A fist fight I could acquit myself reasonably well, but clearly some of these soccer fans would have had weapons on them and if it had kicked off, blood would have certainly flowed.
Anyway, the night passed peacefully and on Tuesday of the next week, I went in to pick up my pay, and here things turned comical.
I got my pay packet, in cash, inside an envelope with the various tax and other deductions on the front.
I opened it and there was 14 quid in there.
I held the envelope upside down and checked it against the light while shaking it to see where the rest had got to.
But no, that was it.
I kind of cringe here, but I went up to Simon the assistant manager, and said, “ there’s been a mistake with my pay, I think?”
Simon said, “Oh, sorry, what’s the problem?”
“Ah, there seems to be some missing.”
Simon took my envelope and examined the arithmetic on the front, then he turned to me and said, “No, this is right, I think the problem is because you’re a foreigner, you have to pay a higher tax rate.”
He then showed me the form from the tax department which they use to work out the pays, and sadly he was right.
I thanked him for his time and then walked home.
As I ambled my thoughts were a little tumultuous, but not overly confused.
I wasn’t going back there again.
14 quid for four nights work, sod that for a game of soldiers.
To put it into context, my monthly rail pass cost ₤32, so if I kept that up I’d have to work a month of weekends in the pub just to catch the train.
I can’t remember if I called back and said I was quitting, or if I just never showed up again, but I think it was the latter.
Anyway, it didn’t really matter because the new school year was finally upon us, and that meant I could finally start work as a teacher.
As I was to learn, my pay as a teacher was to be ₤350, of which I would get to keep ₤250, for five days work, or ₤9 an hour, the pub barely registering above ₤3 an hour.
So for financial reasons I was desperate for the school year to start, and as I think back to that time, me and a few other penniless southern hemisphere teachers must have been the only people the length and breadth of the British Isles who actually wanted school to start.
Certainly, as ever, the kids didn’t.
And I’ll just digress here to take in a Ginger Meggs cartoon that sums things up nicely.
For those who don’t remember, Ginger Meggs was an animated strip that appeared in the Herald every Sunday.
The main character was a red-headed scamp who hated school.
The comic I was thinking of went like this.
Ginger comes running up to his boon companion, Benny, during the school holidays, out of breath and with momentous news.
“Benny, Benny!”, he shouts.
Benny replies, “What is it Ginge?”
And Ginger goes “I just went down to the school to break the windows of the staff room, and I discovered that THE TEACHERS ARE ON HOLIDAYS TOO!!!!”
Ginger thought teachers only lived to persecute him, and the idea that they had holidays was just out of his comprehension.
And as I was about to discover, it was even money who out of the students and teachers at my first school hated the end of the holidays more.
The school was called Eastlea Community School and was situated in West Ham, down the end of the central line in the very heart of East London.
Few geograhic areas of  London, or the entire UK for that matter, were as financially strapped.
I was walking into the Lion’s den all right.
But more of that in the future.
My first task was to physically get there, and being London, where even moving six blocks was a major logistic exercise, crossing the river and going down east, was not easy.
I got up at six, showered, shaved and got dressed in my teaching clothes.
I got my rain gear, which would not have disgraced Edmund Hilary’s expedition to the top of Everest, clad myself in it, then walked out the door.
A light drizzle fell upon me on this grey (Is there any other kind?) London morn.
I walked ten minutes down to the main road, Loampit Vale, and began my first wait of the journey.
Eventually a bus came and I got on it.
Once on board, I went to take my outer layer of rain gear off, so as not to wet the other passengers.
However, so crowded was the bus, that I realised that taking of my raincoat would shed droplets all over those near me, and so abandoned the idea and stood dripping in the aisle.
Ten minutes later the bus had inched it’s way down to New Cross station, so I disembarked and went down to the platform.
New Cross was a terminus, and so I was able to get on the empty train and wait for it to leave.
Eventually it did, and I travelled five stops north to Whitechapel station.
There I changed train for the Central line tube.
I caught that down to the East end, twenty minutes or so, and got off at West Ham.
Then I walked ten minutes to the school.
The whole trip took an hour, but the constant changing, meant there was no real time to relax.
I mention this, because if there was no time to relax on the journey, there was deffo not a shaved second to relax once I entered the school grounds.
Eastlea was populated by students who just didn’t care, and teachers who, while dedicated, had long ago run out of the energy needed to keep a lid on the place.
Some of the households that fed students into the school had three generations of unemployed living there.
Grandad had worked on the docks, but any maritime facility on the Thames had long since closed down, and he had finished his working life on the dole.
Then dad and mom had entered the work force, with no real industry to sustain them, and had therefore in their turn, spent most of their working life at home watching Oprah.
And now the next generation was at Eastlea school, and none of them valued education at all.
Many students views of being unemployed were distorted by their parents’ activities, to the student, being unemployed simply meant that you got up when you liked, watched TV all day, then went down the boozer on dole day.
What a great life!
So with this attitude from most of the students, from day one life in the classroom was hard.
And I might add, as logic dictates, what sort of school needs a substitute teacher on opening day? A school that is so shitty that no local teacher would go anywhere near it.
The only thing the students, well, certainly the boys, cared about was soccer, either playing it, or watching their local team, West Ham, when they could afford a ticket.
Their only goal in life was to be a professional soccer player, and thus education was seen as a complete waste of time, time they could have spent more usefully on the soccer pitch.
Indeed once I’d settled in I learned that the only, ultimate sanction on their behaviour was to see the P.E teacher, Grant, and ban them from playing soccer for the school team.
So on my first day started by attending a meeting of all the staff, then we broke into groups and were given our home room classes, (I was allocated a year 8 group), then we broke further into our subjects areas, and I was given my classes for the term by the head of science.
I had one class in each year, seven through eleven.
And the battle of wills between me and my various groups began.
First up was home room and I entered my room to mark the roll, and was confronted by all the students sitting on the desks, with their feet on the chairs.
Stifling a muttered paraphrasing of Basil Fawlty, (“Don’t you people even know how to use furniture?”), I told them all to sit in a chair, they did so grudgingly, and I marked the roll.
This request, “everyone in a chair, please” then became a perpetual refrain with my home room group, they sat on the desks as a form of protest, and were still doing it a term (ten weeks) later.
That done, I then went across to my science lab, and began sorting out my actual teaching for the term.
My year eight science were first up, and as I watched them cavort in the corridor outside my room, my heart sank.
Cavort is a ludicrously jocular term for the behaviour that was going on.
I might add, there were three classrooms in that corridor, and each class had a year eight class outside it.
So there were some 80-90 students all corralled in there, and the behaviour was a cross between a Tyson fight, World Championship Wrestling, one of those reality TV shows and Cirque de Soleil.
I remember standing there looking at them all and thinking, “How in god’s name am I gonna control this lot?”
So I got out my machete and hacked my way through the thicket to the door of my lab, then told them to line up and stop talking.
Well I might as well have said “everybody give me ten quid”, that would have been equally likely to have been successful.
After a few moments I gave up on that idea, and decided to just get them into the room, and where I would only have my class to deal with.
So I unlocked the door and told them to go in.
NB: Every door at Eastlea Community School, from the tuckshop to the little hutch where the garbage bins were stored were locked with triple strength titanium locks, such was the need for security.
NBB: While I was there, a very enterprising thief broke into the computer room and stole all the RAM chips from the school computers.
This was a brilliant crime as the thirty or so chips fitted easily into the thief’s pockets, left no trace of ransacking as the plastic coat of the computer was put back in place and were worth twenty quid each.
So I unlocked the door, and felt as some dam building engineer must have upon opening the sluice gates for the first time.
Like a pacific ocean tsunami, my class burst through the door.
They scattered immediately into the age old seating patterns, tough boys up the back, with the prettiest girls near them, while the nerds and well-behaved students found a place closer to the front.
Once they had done this they began to climb on the desks and sit with their feet on the lab stools.
So my first job (again) was to get everyone in a chair.
Once this was done, and I more or less got them to stop talking (Talking? Forget that, they were yelling like they were trying to reach China without a microphone).
I took the roll.
Never in the history of humanity, with the possible exception of the forged Hitler diaries, has there been a document with less veracity than that roll.
To explain: I had already learned a few tricks in my short teaching career, and most important of these was never to ask any student their name unless you already knew it.
A common way to do this was to look at the name on the exercise book on their desk, then ask.
If they gave a name at variance to that on the book you knew if this student was a troublemaker, or at least a smartarse.
But this morning in the East end of London, even this was denied me, because I came across something new to me.
None of these students carried bags, and none had books.
This was a facer.
So I did something that no teacher should ever do, particularly on the first day of school.
I left the classroom to confer with the head of science, a nice young woman named Rebecca.
And just another tip here for new teachers.
One way you can tell if your school is badly behaved is if the staff are generally young.
Young teachers indicate that anyone who has done a bit of time has taken one look at the place and moved on to more peaceful pastures.
Rebecca was in her early thirties and had just had her first child, so to be already the head of science at a relatively young age was a pretty good indicator of a bad school.
I raced up to her office, and in a somewhat panicky tone said, “None of these students have books or pens, what do I do?”
She replied, “Oh, you have to give them to them each lesson, then get them back at the end. Else they take them away and throw them out.”
My eyebrows went up, this was new.
“Why do they throw them out?”, I asked her.
“Well, if they throw them away, they can come in next time and say that they have lost their book, so can’t do any work.”
‘OH, great’, I thought to myself.
“So where do I get the books to give them?”
She turned to her desk and opened a draw, “They’re in the supply room.”
She gave me the requisite key and then told me where this room was.
I raced down there, got thirty or so books, and a matching amount of pens, then raced back to my classroom.
Somewhat to my surprise it wasn’t on fire, and so I gave out the books and then asked the students to put their name on the front.
Even then, this (to me) seemingly innocuous instruction raised problems.
Most of the class did so, but already some of the tougher kids had learned a few tricks of their own.
Toward the back two boys sat, and even now, just writing their names down here brings back storms of rushing hormones throughout my endocrine system.
Billy Moore and Billy Williams were their names.
They shouldn’t have been in a classroom, prison maybe, or perhaps a zoo.
Both sat defiantly on their stools and when I got around to them gave me the same line, “I can’t read or write.”
This was difficult, if this were genuinely the case, then I couldn’t make a big deal of it.
So I made an annotation next to their names on the roll and moved on.
Later I was to discover that of course they could read and write fine, but had already discovered, in one year, that if they said they couldn’t, they could sit around the classroom and do nothing for their whole school careers.
My recollection is that for that first lesson all I achieved was to get the students who orbited within good behaviour bounds to write their names on their books.
Then came the noise that would soon signal blessed relief for me, the bell announcing the end of the lesson.
I grabbed their books and pens like a man doing a trolley dash round Safeway, and they left with no semblance of order.
I went and sat at my teacher’s bench with relief.
What I needed, after only 50 minutes of teaching was a six month stress leave of absence on a beach in Acapulco, but just as I was wondering if I could get some sleep in the little storeroom adjoining the lab, a riot started outside, and I checked my timetable and with a lurching, sinking heart realised that my next class was here.
It was 9.50am and already I was exhausted as if I hadn’t slept for a year.
This class was my year 11 group, there were only 15 of them (there were thirty in the first class), but they came with a whole new set of problems.
Before I go into that, a quick bit of housekeeping on school structure.
In Australia students study in junior school till year ten when they do the School Certificate, then they may leave if they choose.
Those students who choose to stay, go on to years 11 and 12, and do the Higher School Certificate, or HSC.
In England, junior school goes up to year 11, the students then do the GCSE, General School Certificate of Education.
Those who are uni bound go to a different institution, a senior school or college and do their ‘A’ levels.
So this year 11 group was ‘studying’ (Ha!) for the GCSE.
Well that’s what they were supposed to be doing but again, the lack of care for education was writ large.
They stampeded into the room, punching and kicking each other and the furniture, ignored me, and then scattered themselves around the room like they were lounging at roman feast.
I stared open-mouthed in consternation, what was I going to do here?
My year eight group had been riotous, but at least I was bigger than them, this lot were every bit as rambunctious, and two, at least, were taller than me, and I’m not small.
I draw a veil over that fifty minutes, not because I ma trying to keep anything hidden, but simply because I had no recollection of the entire lesson.
But it was chaotic I do know that.
The reason I can say this with certainty is that as soon as that lesson was over, it was time for morning recess, playlunch as it was called ever-so-whimsically when I was at primary school.
Here that adjournment had nothing to do with ‘play’, it was simply a chance to get the fighting done without any teachers stopping it.
I left my room and went back to Rebecca.
“Who’s head of year 11?”, I asked without preamble.
“Nigel”, she replied.
“Which department is he?”
“English”, she responded.
I left without a word and hot-footed it across the play…, sorry, the fightground, to another building, then up the stairs to the English staffroom.
I entered like an action hero, swinging through the door like a more than agile monkey, one arm gripping the door post, my body airborne in haste.
The various staff members were at their desks, coffee on desk, “Nigel?”, I asked.
I black-bearded man of mid forties turned to me, “Yes?”.
I skidded to a halt in front of his desk, and began, again, without preamble.
I’d been in the school less than two hours and already I knew not to waste time with chit-chat, things had to be done urgently of classrooms would burn.
“I’ve just had year 11 science, and I can’t control them, can you help me with that?”
Nigel replied, “Who was in that group?”
I cast my mind back, “Um, a few of them, but Steve Garrad and John Wellcombe, are the two that concern me.”
As soon as I said these names, the other staff members began chuckling to themselves.
I stared somewhat wildly about me, this was no laughing matter, to me anyway.
However Nigel knew what he was about, he nodded and said, “Yes, those two can be difficult.”
He went on reassuringly, “What I can do if you like is get them to come to me for your next four lessons, then if they behave they can return on a sheet.”
I let out a sigh of relief.
Firstly, I was spared them for the rest of the week, they would sit in Nigel’s room with work to go with instead of coming to science and secondly, a ‘sheet’ meant that I would have Nigel monitoring their behaviour remotely.
A ‘sheet’ refers to a Behaviour Sheet.
Any troublesome student carried this with them to each class, and the teacher of that class fills it in, grading their behaviour for that lesson.
At the end of the designated sheet-carrying period, usually a week or a fortnight, the head of year, in this case Nigel, checks their marks and if the student’s marks are say, seven out of ten for the period, or whatever is previously agreed with the child’s parents, then the student is off the sheet and goes back into class as a normal student.
It sounds pretty pathetic when written here, but it actually works quite well, with the student often becoming quite keen to get good marks.
The trouble is that it doesn’t work for real hard cases, as I was to discover, but Nigel seemed confident that it would work for these two students.
I might add, did you notice that second student’s name, Wellcombe? It is pronounced as ‘welcome’, but I can assure his presence in my classroom was anything but.
With my time spent with Nigel during that recess, and of immense value it was for sure, but I came out with no time to have a coffee myself, I looked at my watch and saw it was already 11.15, end of recess, and so I raced back across the Fightclub, as I was already starting to think of the playground, just in time to welcome my third class of the morning, year seven.
This was a blessed relief, all classes should be year sevens.
My oft repeated aphorism is that all school students should be shipped off to forced labour camps for years 8 through 11, and I stick by that.
These years sevens were, firstly, all smaller than me, and to my unholy surprise and relief, some in the class were intelligent students who actually wanted to do some work.
Being late back from my unscheduled meeting with Nigel, I hadn’t got their books out, so once again had to race off to get the supply room key off Rebecca.
I went down once more and got their books, handed them out, and spent the only enjoyable thirty minutes of the day with them.
They left and it was lunchtime.
I went across to the little shop run by a motherly cockney woman and had a meal.
I wolfed it down quite quickly and then raced back to the science block.
I re-checked my timetable and saw, with a kind of unknowing horror, that my next group was year ten.
I was already learning that the lesson straight after lunch was the worst for behaviour.
The kids have spent lunch time eating shit food like crisps and drinking coke and worse, energy drinks.
Then they play soccer and fight for the rest of the time.
Then when they are as high as kites, the bell rings and they are sent back into the prison of school for the next lesson.
At Eastlea, the school day was two lessons in the morning, then recess, then third period, then lunch, then fourth period, finally fifth, then it was time to go home.
Thus, at the end of any period which had a break following, you could keep the kids in, and this was a sanction that worked, as they were missing their break.
But since first period and fourth were ‘only’ followed by another lesson, you couldn’t keep kids in as they were only missing another class, plus you usually had a class of your own, and thus couldn’t deal with them at that time anyway.
So fourth period, straight after lunch, became an unholy triptych of stress for any teacher, new or otherwise, at Eastlea.
If you were lucky, your best behaved classes would be scheduled for this post-prandial lesson, but on this first day I was well out of luck.
Year ten came in and a bloody rodeo it was an’ all.
Once again I paraphrase Basil Fawlty by saying at the end of that lesson I was sorely tempted to go out and see if the roof was still on.
They left and once more the shouting in the corridor grew to a deafening level and year nine arrived.
Another shouting match came and went and finally, blessedly, my first day at Eastlea came to a close.
I checked my timetable for the next day, then packed up and repeated my five step journey in reverse until I stepped across the door at Lewisham near 5.30pm.
I felt that I had lived a thousand life times in that day.
To say I was exhausted barely hints at the total dissolution of body and mind I was undergoing.
My flatmates Don, Matt and Pete got home a little later, usually about seven pm, so I had the house to myself.
I went in and sat on the couch, I switched on the TV and turned to the highlights show and began watching a soccer match.
I thought about making a cup of tea but even that pick me up would have been hopelessly underpowered, mainlining cocaine would have been about the only thing that could have changed my energy depletion.
The next thing I knew was Don’s facing leaning over me and his hand gently shaking me by the shoulder.
I had dozed off sitting upright on the couch into a dreamless sleep that had lasted a solid hour and had not even been relieved by the sounds of the lads coming home, opening the door and coming inside.
They later told me that they saw the top of my head over the back of the couch apparently watching the soccer highlights, and had spoken to me for a minute or two, while they moved about the place, until noticing that I wasn’t responding, had come round to the front of the couch and seen I was out like a light.
NB: Some time later they said that this silence was the most sensible reply they ever got out of me.
And so my first day at Eastlea Community School ended, not with a bang or a whimper, but with an exhausted sleep that couldn’t have been beaten by general anaesthetic.
I went about the evening, making dinner, eating it, watching more soccer, then we all went off to bed around ten.
As I fell asleep, the nightmares came to me like fast moving storms boiling over the horizon.
And the worst nightmare of all?
I had to go back there tomorrow.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Destruction of Lasseter's Road - 3

When Franco Veletta hove to a stop at the top of Wills’s drive he at first thought that Wills wasn’t home, the house was completely dark and silent.
But then he saw the car parked in the driveway, and became a little confused.
Franco had not had much interaction with Wills, mainly the three or four times he had come to complain about the noise, so a dark silent house was a new one on him.
In his experience everyone within hearing distance of Wills’s house knew when he was home.
The house would be lit like it was guiding aircraft in to land, and the music would blare out like Guns’n’Roses were playing live.
So this silent mausoleum threw Franco for a moment.
When he had heard the popping of the gas earlier he had made up his mind to go and investigate, so he had grabbed his torch, walked down to the house and told Delia he was going up to see what was up, and hopefully, to find out what the smell was.
Delia had responded, “I hear, I hear, dinner is ready, be back soon.”
And Franco had clumped off up the road.
It was half a kilometre or so to Wills’s place and Franco had soon crested the rise upon which Wills’s driveway lay, and then had stood and stared.
The smell was indeed worse here, and so whatever was causing it was centred on Wills’s house, but then Veletta had expected that.
Anything less than pleasant for the other residents of Lasseter’s road usually emanated from Wills, and in the case of this smell, the word was exact.
But now all was dark.
Franco stood there irresolute.
He was a good neighbour and though he desperately wanted to find out what this smell was, and fix it as soon as, it seemed clear to him that for the first time ever Wills had decided to go to bed early, possibly exhausted from the excesses of the night before.
So he had just turned away to walk back home with a mental note to come back in the morning, when he heard, faintly through the stillness of the Lasseter’s Road night, a groan, then a pause, then a loud swearing.
He turned back, switched on his torch and then began approaching the house.

Wills had woken up for the second time that day, suffering from the after effects of an explosion.
It was pitch black inside his laundry and he at first wasn’t sure he had opened his eyes.
He tried to think frantically what had happened, but the best he could do was recall trying to have a shower, he followed the steps through the fragments of memory and finally came to the blue flash that had enveloped him.
One thing he did already know was that he was in even worse pain than when he had woken that morning.
Then, he only had a bad hangover, and a smell to match.
But now he was immediately conscious of a searing pain from the front of his face.
But if he thought things couldn’t get any worse this day, he was once again mistaken.
He put his hands down on the floor to sit up, and broken glass from the shattered bulb pierced his palms, and he gave a shriek and then began swearing loudly.
It was this volley of expletives that Franco had heard at the top of the drive.
Wills snatched his hands back from the floor and dragged himself worm-like backwards, then using the wall as a brace, clambered into a sitting position.
He was just wondering what to do next, when he heard a voice outside.
“Are you there, Mr Wills?,” said Franco from outside the laundry, waving his torch toward the wall of the house.
Wills grabbed the lifeline gratefully, “Yeah, I’m in here, can you see the door?”
Franco followed his torch beam around the corner of the car port and saw the door to Wills’s laundry.
He opened it and shone his torch inside.
The beam fell upon Wills and even Franco Veletta, who had seen a few sites in his time, struggled to bring to mind anything to compare with this.
Wills lay slumped against the wall, now hairless on the head, his lower half covered in…, well, Franco wasn’t sure, but he was certainly dirty, his head was a severe and angry red with burn blisters already surfacing, and from his hands blood dripped onto the floor.
Franco suddenly remembered where he seen this before, in church, in pictures of Jesus after his crucifixion, with blood dripping from the crown of thorns and his from his hands, where the stigmata bled.
But any resemblance to the son of god was physical only, mentally, Veletta would have struggled to name any other human on this planet who less reminded him of Jesus Christ.
He stared in surprise for a few moments, then said, “Are you all right?”
Wills struggled to utter, the short answer was that he had never felt less all right in his life, but it wasn’t time for that.
“I’ve cut myself, can you see what’s on the floor?”
Franco played his light on the concrete floor of the laundry and the sprinkled glass glinted in its passage.
“It’s broken glass.”
Wills saw the glass, and using the beam of Veletta’s light, struggled to his feet.
With Franco’s help he navigated around the glass, and together they walked across the deck area, and went inside.
Wills flicked a light switch, but no light appeared.
“Fuck”, said Wills, “is there a blackout?”, he asked Veletta.
“Not when I left, Delia was in the kitchen with the light on”, said Veletta.
“Shit”, swore Wills again.
So together, with Veletta leading the way with his torch, they went back outside and found the fuse box.
To Wills’s considerable relief the main fuse switch was in the ‘off’ position, they switched it on, and Wills saw the lights come on and heard the fridge begin humming.
They went to go back inside, but with the deck area now bathed in light, Franco got his first view of the contents of Wills’s septic tank, spread evenly around.
His first thought was to ask Wills what had happened, but even that crucial desire was overlaid by his concern for Wills now that he saw him whole.
“Mr Wills”, said Veletta, “you don’t look so good, maybe you should go down to the hospital.”
To say Wills didn’t look good was certainly accurate, wildly understated in fact, Franco struggled to think of anyone, or anything, that looked worse.
But already Wills had other motives in mind.
He had had the worst day a human could have, he was now in pain, and still stinking like a septic tank.
He still had no hot water, so still couldn’t even have a shower, but he wasn’t going to hospital, he was going to have a fucking drink, lots of fucking drinks, until the ravages of the day were washed away on a warm tide of alcohol-fuelled ambrosia.
So he replied, “Nah, I’m OK, I’ll go down in the morning and see them then, but now I just want to wash this off and then go to bed.”
Veletta’s eyes saucered in surprise, “Are you sure, you really look like you could do with some treatment.”
“No, I’ll be fine”, said Wills.
All he wanted now was Veletta out of the house so he could launch into a bottle of bourbon.
Veletta continued to eye him with concern, but realizing there was something in the set of Wills’s shoulders that screamed “fixture on the couch”, turned to go.
“OK”, said Veletta, “if you’re sure.”
Wills nodded and Veletta made to leave.
It was only when he was about to cross the threshold that he recalled the reason for his visit and turned back, “By the way, what is that smell?”
Wills jerked around in his seat and said the lines he was already becoming practised in, “I don’t really know, something happened to my septic tank, probably at the party.”
Veletta stared again.
Talk about the blinding obvious, he couldn’t think what else apart from a large septic tank, the town sewerage plant maybe, could make life so unbearable for kilometres around.
He waited for Wills to go on, but he had said his piece.
Veletta however wasn’t satisfied, “are you going to do something about it?”
Wills didn’t need this.
“Yeah, yeah, tomorrow I’m going to clean it all up.”
Veletta’s eyes narrowed, “Really, what are you going to do?”
Wills, realizing that Veletta wanted an answer, prevaricated hastily.
“Um, I’m getting some guys I work with to come out and we’re gonna shovel it into a truck to take away.”
Veletta nodded, “OK, well be sure you do, it’s making it hard to live, that smell.”
Wills nodded ingratiatingly, “Yeah, yeah, no problem, tomorrow, I’ll get onto it.”
Veletta nodded again, slowly, and with infinite menace, “OK, well, that would be great”, then added, “would you like me to come up and help?”
Wills screamed inside, he was having as much trouble dragging himself out of this conversation as he had trying to talk the coppers out of breath testing him.
“Er”, said Wills slowly, hastily coming up with an answer so that Veletta wouldn’t be up here supervising and making Wills actually do some work, “No, I’m not sure when they are gonna get here, so I’ll look after it.”
Veletta’s stare now began to resemble that of a cobra with a particularly tasty mouse in its sights.
“Well, I’m happy to help, why don’t you call me when they get here and I’ll come up.”
Wills leapt on this lifeline and said, “ah, sure, yeah, OK, yeah, that’ll be good, I’ll call up when they arrive and you can come up.”
Wills tried to turn away when Veletta went on, “do you have my number?”
Wills screamed inside again, “Um, I’m…, er, hang on.”
He got his phone out and punched the contacts menu, he observed the screen a moment, “Ah, no, I don’t seem to have it, what is it?”
Veletta gave him his number and Wills, while trying not to get any of the blood dripping from his hands on his already filthy phone punched the number in.
“OK”, he said, “all good, I’ll give you a call when they get here tomorrow and we’ll clean it all up.”
Veletta nodded for the final time, “OK, Mr Wills, I look forward to it.”
And so finally, and with internal rejoicing from Wills, Veletta left.
He listened to his footsteps clumping up the driveway and then dived into the fridge and poured himself a large glass of neat bourbon.
At last, nearly ten hours after he had hoped, he could finally have a drink, a lot of drinks.
But first things first, he thought to himself, he better deal with this glass in his hands, and the raging burning on his face.
He took his glass of bourbon and went to the bathroom cabinet.
He opened it and tried to find something to use.
He scrabbled among the various tubes but couldn’t find anything that said “Burn cream”.
The best was some suntan cream, so he got it out and smeared it across his head.
The pain diminished slightly and making a mental note to go to the chemist on the morrow to get something better.
He then began searching for some tweezers to deal with the glass, but like all single men who drink heavily, he never spent any money on anything much apart from immediate food requirements, television and more alcohol.
Eventually he returned to the living room with a pair of nail scissors, and using the ends of the blade, began the painstaking process of picking glass from his hands.
A process that was made harder to do well as the bourbon went down, but easier, as it made feeling for more glass less painful as the night went on.
Eventually he had dealt with the glass, more or less, and four hours later staggered fully drunk into his noisome bedroom and slept decidedly face up.
It is nearly impossible to believe a man who woke up Sunday covered in the blast contents of a septic tank, could feel worse when he woke up the next day, but Wills did.
He had drunk neat bourbon till nearly midnight.
Considering that he regularly drank from 11 in the morning till late in the evening, he had a lot of tolerance, but even so the rigours of the day had taken it out of him “short” four hour session was needed to get him to passing out stage on the Sunday night.
But now he was rediscovering the problem of burying your problems in a bottle, to wit: eventually you have wake up and deal with said problems, and with a raging hangover to boot.
His hands were still painful, though most of the glass was gone, his face and scalp were re-aflame with pain after the cream had worn off, he STILL hadn’t had a shower and the filth of the septic blast still clung to his clothing.
And now it was Monday, and apart from the issues at home, he would soon be taking calls from various clients and employees on the few jobs he was “supervising”.
The lure of the bourbon bottle was already there at 9am Monday and he was sorely tempted, but then with rage and frustration he remembered that he now had a drink driving charge to add to his woes, and couldn’t afford an eye-opener on this day when he sorely, sorely, needed one.
He made some coffee and tried to think.
However, it only took a sip of coffee to send him to the toilet, he went in and sat down.
Catharsis complete, he hit the flush button automatically, and heard nothing.
He looked down and there was no water in the toilet.
With the septic tank out of commission there would be no water in the line to the toilet.
He washed his hands, carefully, to not jag any remaining fragments of glass with the soap cake, and that reminded him he still hadn’t had a shower.
He then turned to the shower, turned it on, and remembered why he had been blown backwards in the laundry, no hot water.
He went down to the laundry and opened a window.
He took his lighter and played it at the mouth of the pilot light tube.
Nothing, he stopped clicking his lighter and listened.
Of course, the gas had been leaking from the cylinder since the septic blast Sunday morning, now it was 24 hours later and the cylinder was long since depleted.
With further tooth grinding he massaged his forehead and tried to think what to do.
In the end he went back upstairs and had a cold shower, which felt good on his head, but shivery everywhere else.
He scrubbed frantically as his hands allowed at the muck and got out as quickly as possible.
He returned to his kitchen and laid out his plans.
Being Wills, this meant seeing to his needs first, and so dealing with the smell definitely last.
He had to:
Replace the gas cylinder so he had hot water.
Clean the inside of the house.
Replace the septic tank so he could flush his toilets.
Call a lawyer about the drink driving charge.
Get a quote to panel beat his car: subsection, clean the filth off his car before he took it to the panel beaters.
He groaned at the work in store for his immediate future.
Well, first things first, hot water.
He was about to dial when the phone rang in his hand.
He saw from the screen it was a concreter who worked for him, he wanted to ignore it, but the ringing phone exerted its spell.
He punched answer and the concreter’s voice came through, “Hey WIllsy, I don’t like the look of the formwork for this slab.”
The concreter, Terry, was supervising the pour of a slab at a house in town Wills was the supervising builder on.
He groaned internally, Terry was probably right, Wills had planned to do it himself, but in the end had told one of his inexperienced labourers to do it, while he went home and started early on his drinking.
He could do without this at this hour of a Monday, but he brought his mind to bear as best as possible.
“Well, Josh told me it was fine when he left on Friday.”
Their was a hesitation at the other end, then Terry spoke, “Oh, Ok, well the truck’s on it’s way, do you want to come down and check it before he gets here to pour?”
No, Wills definitely didn’t want to do that.
“Nah, it’ll be right. Just tell the guy to pour it in, I’m sure Josh would have said if there was any problem.”
Actually, no.
No worker on Earth will tell the boss about a problem on Friday, that may lead to said worker having to work late on said Friday.
Josh, the labourer, had slapped the formwork down and then driven off to be in the pub by 4.30.
Terry then replied, “Ok, well if you’re sure, I’ll tell him to pour.”
“Yeah, thanks Terry” said Wills and disconnected.
He then turned his mind back to the more immediate shit, literally, he had to deal with at his place.
He called the gas company to learn that his account was already considerably overdrawn, and they would not deliver a new gas cylinder till the outstanding balance was paid.
So Wills got out his laptop and paid his bill.
The gas company then agreed to deliver, but he would have to wait till tomorrow.
He then called a company that installs septic tanks, that he had worked with on various builds, and asked them the price of a new one.
$5,000 was the coast of the tank, $2000 or thereabouts for installation.
“Shit”, said Wills internally, and rather accurately.
He tried wheedling the price down a bit, “Mates rates”, as he hoped to float with them, but the company was used to doing things with Wills and weren’t going to wait six months for payment, so they flatly refused to budge on price.
Wills agreed with bad grace, and made a date for them to come out and size up the job, which was next week at the earliest.
Then a call from a different build came through with another problem and Wills tried, but failed abysmally, to bring his mind to bear on it.
This time it was fencing contractor, he had followed the plans Wills had given him, drawn up by the landscape designer, but had discovered some pipes where he was supposed to put in a concrete footing for the fence.
What did Wills want him to do?
Wills failed abysmally to cope with thinking about the issue and told him he would call back.

He did have one good idea though, he called a cleaning company to come out and clean the house.
They agreed over the phone, and the supervisor said he’d come out and have a look, but that wouldn’t be till later in the week at the earliest.
Wills was just putting the phone down and trying to think when it rang in his hand.
He checked the screen and recognising the number as another work call, made the decision to ignore work for the rest of the day.
So the day proceeded with Wills ignoring work calls and watching his bank balance starting to drain out.
He didn’t even get to thinking about cleaning up the outside of the house where the septic tank debris still lay.
But then Veletta came up again on Monday night and asked why Wills hadn’t called him to clean up.
Wills lied that it hadn’t been necessary as the mess would be cleaned up when the new septic tank arrived.
Veletta had once again gone away with bad grace, but with the assurance that the new tank would be here this week (another lie) and the smell would be gone.
Wills had a lot of vain hopes that week, mostly that he would wake up and discover he had dreamt the lot, but his dwindling bank balance and the never changing smell kept it all too real.
He called his lawyer and told him about the DUI charge, and when he read the police document his lawyer gave it his opinion that $3,000 was the likely fine with a twelve month driving restriction, in which he had to be 0.000 at any given breath test.
Wills had lost it badly and then had yelled, “Fucken forget that, you’re supposed to get me off, not agree with the fucken cops.”
Wills’s lawyer had responded with the simple fact that he could only get him off if there were mitigating circumstances, “Was he driving someone to hospital, for instance?”
“No”, Wills had mumbled, and his lawyer had said, “Well then I’m afraid there’s very little I can do.”
So Wills had then rung off with bad grace.
The lawyer, stung by Wills’s rudeness had put down the phone and sent him a $330 bill for the phone call.
At night he got drunker than ever and by Thursday his trips to town were furtive in the extreme.
He didn’t want anyone from his various jobs seeing him, as they would want him to do something, or at least make a decision, and he just wasn’t up to it.
Also, he didn’t really want anyone seeing him visually, due to his now bald, burnt head.
He therefore only went to town to the bottle shop to keep his supplies of bourbon up and he ate mostly delivered pizza.
The empty bottles began piling up, in, and then just anywhere near, his recycling bin, at a fearful rate, slightly hidden from view by the pizza boxes, that he likewise threw in the general direction of the bins.
So the week passed and he flushed his toilet with a bucket of water, adding to the smell each day as the waster gurgled down the pipe to the septic tank area.
He ignored work calls, but knew that each call ignored meant that problems were growing in size out on the builds.
Friday came and Wills’s mind, believe or not, turned toward having a party, but the thought died as quickly as it was born.
He didn’t want to call any of the young labourers and get them to round up the young women he found so alluring, as they were all connected with various jobs he was meant to be supervising, and he still didn’t feel like dealing with any work issues, and anyway, no one in their right mind would want to party in that smell.
So instead he planned to drink all weekend on his own.
But on the Friday Veletta came back, and was unprepared to brook any further delay.
“Mr Wills”, said Veletta, “why have you not started cleaning up this mess?”
Wills, unable to come up with anything convincing, had shifted on both feet, and so Veletta had said, “OK, we start now, I get my sons to come out and we begin.”
So Wills had to spend Friday afternoon, and the first part of the weekend assisting Veletta and his sons raking up sewage debris and bits of concrete and depositing them in a skip that Veletta had ordered, but made clear that Wills was paying for.
Sunday at lunch time the skip was full and so Veletta relented and walked home to a Sunday lunch with his family.

So Wills hit the bottle Sunday at lunch and by Sunday night was sitting on his couch looking like a human representation of the painting, “The Scream”.
Monday came and the skip company took the skip full of stinking concrete to the local tip, and gave him a bill of $300 for the skip and $500 to dump the heavy load.
The outside area was cleaner, but the smell was still present.
At lunchtime the cleaning company supervisor came and inspected the house.
He asked “what happened here?” in an unknown echo of Sergeant O’Driscoll’s question on that fateful Sunday and Wills gave his now-practised answer, about his septic tank releasing it’s contents during the party.
The supervisor had looked with the usual saucer eyes, and then continued his inspection of the house.
Eventually he quoted Wills 30 hours at $200 an hour.
He really didn’t want this job.
Now it was Wills’s turn to look saucer-eyed.
“SIX GRAND?!”, he screamed.
The supervisor gave a laconic nod and said, “Yes, Looks like it.”
He went on, “Of course, if you want to get some other quotes…”, he trailed off.
Wills bit down on his tongue.
Every cleaning company that sized up this job would charge a lot.
The alternative was doing it himself, and he wasn’t, definitely wasn’t, doing it himself.
So he agreed to that as well, and the supervisor left with the promise that they would be here tomorrow.
Tuesday, the septic tank boss arrived and surveyed the scene.
Veletta and his family, with Wills as an unwilling accomplice, had removed most of the concrete lumps from the septic blast, but the sand bed where the tank had been was hardly in pristine condition.
So then the septic tank company said they would have to add another $2,000 to bring in a bobcat and re-lay the sandy bed to take a new tank.
Wills, screamed internally again, the quote was now up to $9,000.
For the briefest of moments Wills considered dropping the whole idea, but knew as a builder, used to dealing with council by-laws that he couldn’t eternally go on sending the flushes from his toilets down the pipes to the open air.
Even if the council didn’t know, his neighbours, Veletta for one, would be on to them quick-smart.
So he agreed to the price.
The septic supervisor then said, “can you pay the price of the tank now, please before we bring it out here?”
His tone made it clear that it wasn’t a request.
So Wills had taken him back inside and the supervisor had watched while Wills had paid $5,000 for the tank online.
Then with a “we’ll come out with the bobcat as soon as the money clears”.
He got in his car and drove away.
As he left the cleaners arrived, “MORE MONEY”, screamed Wills inside his head.
The cleaners, obviously warned by the supervisor what to expect, were dressed in top-to-toe biohazard suits.
Although Wills was glad to have them start, he now had to vacate to the deck outside while they worked their various machines.
He wanted to use the time recreating his life, drinking on the deck while others did some work, so he started checking in with his various jobs.
He called the concreter Terry and asked about the formwork-concrete pour, then strongly wished he hadn’t.
Terry answered it on the first ring and launched in, “Where the fuck you been WIllsy? The formwork collapsed and there’s set concrete all over the fucken place. You better get down there and have a look”, Terry said with some vehemence.
“Shit”, said Wills, “Is it bad?”
“Oh, yeah”, said Terry, with, to Wills’s ears, undisguised relish, the whole things’ fucked. If you’d answered the phone on the day, you might have been able to do something, but it’s set now. The owner’s not gonna be happy.”
Wills tried to think, “Can you sort it out? Do something to get it back?”
”Nah, sorry mate, I’m already on another job, tried to call ya, but now it’s up to you.”
“Shit, Ok, thanks anyway,” said Wills and put the phone down.
He massaged his head.
This was a major fucking disaster.
A truckload of set concrete spilled everywhere.
He tried to call Josh, the labourer who had done the shoddy formwork, to at least have someone to yell at, but not surprisingly, he didn’t answer.
He clicked disconnect again and once more the phone rang in his hand.
It was a tiler.
“Hey Willsy,” said the tiler, “did you put that fence in up on Saddler’s?”
This was Saddler’s parade, the job where the fencing contractor had called from earlier in the week.
“Yeah”, replied Wills with infinite caution, “well I got Chipwell to do it, why?”
“'cos there’s no water in the house, I tried to make up a mix and got nothin’ from the tap, and the backyard is spongy as hell, I’d say they broke a pipe when they were doin’ the fence.”
“Fuck”, said Wills.
Another disaster.
He grappled again with hungover mind with a real time problem.
“Can you switch the water off? I’ll get down there as soon as I can.”
The tiler replied, “yeah, I can do that, you call me when the water’s back on? Then I’ll come back and do the tiles.”
“Yeah, yeah”, said Wills, and rang off.
He called a plumber and told him what had happened, and got him to go round to the house and find the broken pipe, or just to find out what had happened.
The plumber agreed to do it, but would have to charge an emergency call out fee.
Wills tore his free hand over his still tender scalp and once more screamed, ‘MORE MONEY’ in his head.
Wills desperately wanted to switch off his phone, but now he had to wait for the plumber to call back.
Some hours later the plumber called with the bad news.
“Yeah, looks like when the put in the fence footing they didn’t cushion the pipe with sand, so the concrete set hard on top of it and then cracked the pipe.”
“Oh, jesus”, said Wills, “can you fix it?”
“Well, I can” he said, “but I can’t do it till next week, and I’ll have to dig up the footing and remove part of the fence to get at the pipes. You want me to go ahead?”
Wills sighed internally, “Yeah, I guess so, but can you do it any earlier?”
“Not really”, said the plumber, “got jobs booked up the ying-yang, could do it now, but have to charge extra.”
“No”, said Wills, “Just have to put the guys who need water on hold.”
They made a plan for the pipe fix and Wills put down the phone.
As long as the water was off at the house, things weren’t critical, just that the job would now be delayed as the tiler, and any other tradie who wanted to use water in their work wouldn’t be able to get things done till the plumber had fixed the pipes.
Wills then got in his car and drove around to inspect the concrete disaster.
And it was, the corner of the formwork had given way and the wet cement had cascaded across the lawn.
Not only was the lawn damaged, but the entire slab, sloping neatly down to the corner that had given way, would now have to be dug up and re-laid.
The owner would, to put it mildly, not be happy.
He drove home via the bottle shop and drank heavily as usual.
The cleaners worked through Wednesday, while Wills tried to get hold of someone to jackhammer up the concrete.
Eventually he found a friend of an acquaintance of a friend who worked demolition.
He agreed to the job, but told Wills he couldn’t do it till the Saturday, as he had his work to do through the week.
Wills agreed again, and feeling he had “accomplished” something, waited till the cleaners left, then drank heavily.
Thursday the cleaners arrived in tandem with the bobcat driver.
They jockeyed for position in the driveway, to get all their vehicles in, and then the ‘cat driver rolled his machine down and began the smoothing process of the sand base for the new septic.
That done in an efficient couple of hours, he drove away, calling his boss as he did so to say they could bring in the tank.
The truck with the tank came on Friday and it backed down the drive and then the complex process of laying the tank began.
Wills watched, while the cleaners worked inside and by Friday evening he was in the somewhat relaxed position of having a new septic tank, all connected, and a relatively clean house.
So his drinking on the Friday night had a joyful component to it for the first time since his septic tank had blown.
Additionally, it was now two weeks since that fateful Sunday morning, and the weather had been dry, so the remaining septic dank waste that had been scattered around his garden and across the lawn, had dried out and the smell was finally diminishing.
So one would have thought that Saturday was day of optimism for Wills, but he should have known.
At six am the phone rang, he answered it without thinking from the mists of sleep, and heard the voice of the owner of the property where the disastrous concrete spill had occurred.
If Wills was half asleep when he answered the phone, he was firing on all cylinders within a few milliseconds as the owner screamed down the phone.
Starting with describing the scene that met his eyes when he had gone round to inspect the renovations, he then touched on Wills not telling him about it, included his displeasure at seeing no one at work there fixing it, and ended up by sacking Wills and indicating in the strongest of terms that his solicitor would be in touch to find out how Wills would be paying for the fix up.
He then added some expletive laden comments about Wills’s mode of life in which the words ‘drunk’, ‘arsehole’ and ‘bastard’ featured prominently, and then fired him and rang off before Wills had uttered a word.
Wills, ashen and shaken, knew he wouldn’t get back to sleep, so went down to his living room for an emergency bourbon.
He drank it down with shaking hand then had another.
Having started this Saturday as he had so many others, though a damn site earlier than usual, he continued with the medicinal process.
As the bourbon went down he began to calm down a bit and say internally, “That’s not so bad, didn’t want that fucking job anyway.”
Which was true enough, really Wills didn’t want any job, but it was his money source.
With all he had to pay, combined with what had already gone out of his bank account, he needed to get back to work and get some dollars rolling in.
And now with the house clean and the septic tank installed he had a bit of clear air to sort his other jobs out and start to get back on track.
At lunchtime he had enough bourbon on board to brave looking at his bank account, and it wasn’t pretty.
The skip, and the dumping fee, the cleaners, the new septic tank, the DUI fine, the lawyers bill, the upcoming legal wrangle over the concrete spill, the were all factored by Wills.
Though low in money he would be all right though, provided he kept things moving this week.
“I’ll drink to that”, he said to himself and had just poured a new glass to celebrate when the phone rang and he got fired once more.
This time it was the owner of the property with the cracked piped under the fence.
The call actually started out not too badly.
“Hey Willsy, Anthony here, I just wanted to check with you, I thought the tiling was going to be done at my place this week?”
Wills’s drunken mind lurched into approximate gear, “Uh, yeah, we had a little problem, the fencer cracked some pipes up the yard, so there was no water, so he couldn’t do it.”
“Oh”, said Anthony, “have you fixed the pipes?”
“Uh, no”, said Wills, “um, I called the plumber, but he can’t do it till next week.”
Anthony replied, “couldn’t you fix it?”
Wills replied, “well yeah, but I’ve been busy.”
“I see”, he paused for a moment, “so what exactly am I paying you for?” said Anthony.
Now it was Wills’s turn to hesitate, “um…,” he trailed off.
It was a good question now that he came to think about it.
He sought for an answer frantically, “well, I’m supervising the tradies who are doing the jobs needed.”
“Oh”, said Anthony, “these cracked pipes seem like something pretty urgent. Couldn’t you ‘supervise’ them to get on with it quicker.”
Wills replied, “well I did try to get him to do it last week, but he was already booked up, he said he would have to charge extra to do it then.”
Anthony went on remorselessly, “So what you’re basically telling me is that I’m paying you to supervise people to do jobs, and then they don’t do them and you do nothing and still charge me? Am I reading that right?”
Wills could feel this situation sliding, he battled for control of both his drunken mind and the conversation, “Oh, no, um, I have good relationship with the various workers, they would only work for me really.”
“I see”, said Anthony, “though in this case it seems that they aren’t, or not when we need the job done.”
“Well, there’s no need to panic, he said he would do it this week, I’m sure it will be done on time.”
“But you see Willsy, I would consider cracked pipes and no water stopping everyone else on the job doing their work, tantamount to, if not an actual emergency, and therefore would consider that not only should the plumber have done the job last week, but whoever cracked the pipes, should be paying for it. Would you agree with that?”
Wills, tried to prevaricate, “Well Chipwell’s did it, so they’re certainly responsible for the damage.”
“Oh good”, said Anthony, “so they’ve agreed to pay for it then?”
Wills once more felt madness rushing in at him from all sides.
“Ah, well, er, not as such, they, well, I haven’t spoken with them yet.”
Anthony continued his demolition, “You’re not suggesting ‘I’ am going to be paying for it are you?”
“No, no, definitely not, I’ll speak with them on Monday about it.”
“I see”, said Anthony, “I would have thought you would have spoken with them first, before you called the plumber. Then I would have thought you would have called me and told me about the delay to my build.”
Wills pictured Anthony in his mind, when they had been introduced by a former client of Wills, his first impression was that he was a soft touch and he would be able to get away with murder.
He, Anthony, did something in a glass tower in the nearest capital, PR, or was it MR, something like that, either way, he didn’t expect him to be as hard as this.
But he was being led down a maze of logic that couldn’t, as far as Wills could see, end well.
Anthony went on, “What’s more, now that I think about it, why aren’t you out there now? The weather’s fine you could fix it yourself, and earn some of the money I’m paying you.”
Wills mentally leapt on this ‘lifeline’, then said, “Um, sure, I’ll get right on it, I’ll do it now, things have cleared a bit for me now.”
“OK”, said Anthony, “I’m pleased to hear it. Call me when it’s done, won’t you?”
“Sure” said Wills, then rang off.
Fuck, what could he do now?
Oh, well, he couldn’t drive anywhere now due to the already heroic portions of alcohol he had on board, and so he made a mental note to do it tomorrow, then opened another bottle of bourbon.
He thought he had ‘dealt’ with the situation and could again be said to be getting things back on track but come five o’clock Saturday afternoon the phone rang again.
With a terrified lurch he saw it was Anthony again, he made a quick decision not to answer and then sat on the couch waiting till the ringing had stopped.
Some minutes later the phone beeped and he saw that he had a voicemail, he knew he should ignore it, but then some demon prodded him to get it over with.
He punched it up and put the phone to his ear, Anthony’s voice came through loud and clear, “Hey Willsy, I went out to my place this afternoon (Wills swore to himself), and you weren’t there, nor was there any sign of you being there. So I’ll save you the trouble of ever going there again, consider yourself fired, I’m getting another builder in to take over, and you’ll be hearing from my solicitor about fees you have incurred.”
Wills put the phone down stunned.
Sacked twice in one day.
He was now broker than he could remember, and with little or no work to get him through.
Though a man who had made an art form out of self-deception, he knew better than anyone that in the small world of Litmus Bay, once the word got out that he had been fired from the supervising builder role on two jobs, his chances of getting any future work were zero.
He poured himself a fresh glass and tried frantically to think.