Bishops Cleeve, the dormitory village to Smiths Industries, population enough for a town but amenities only sufficient for a small village. Overgrown housing estates twitching around and over what was once a cute little village before Smiths arrived. Smiths Industries, a well planned slack of grey flat-roofed concrete sheds on the edge of the Cotswolds. One of them, the Machine shop, CH1, a fat slab of retarded maleness, filled with noise, the smell of coolant and industrious green and blue besmocked men whose every third syllable was prefixed with ‘fukin’, no matter even if it was mid-word – this was where I was variously employed for eleven years on capstan lathes, drills, deburr bench, grinders and polishing bench as a setter-operator. Drudge, enlivened only by friendships, camaraderie and a good wage – without a doubt I am a product of that environment, as much as the precision ‘foreigners’ and the odd aerospace trinket that came out of that site.
A deep dark Gloucestershire winter mid-week morning in the 1970s, xmas had gone and now we looked forward to the Summer, but this was just like the day before. A jab in sleepy ribs and that awful panic as the realisation swept through my second wakening – the alarm had already gone off, but was switched off whilst still in that nowhere-land between dream and reality. In hindsight I can only suppose that my truly sensible self had convinced my utterly gullible brain to snuggle down in the covers and put off that mad dash in the freezing cold of an unheated house from unclothed to overdressed – but now it was urgent. A rebellious minute of remaining still followed where I vainly tried to persuade myself it was Saturday, before frantic movement, a two-fingers at the world and Smiths Industries.
Without breakfast, sleep still in my eyes, but warmly wrapped up, I leapt into the saddle of my bicycle and set off on the short, but potentially lethal, ride to Smiths. No lights, brakes that needed attention, tyres with just enough of a hint of air-pressure and tread to keep the wheel rims from the tarmac, and with James Taylor in my head – Going to Carolina in my mind – now there’s a thought. Chain slipping, gut-wrenching, stupidly dangerous moments later I am extremely lucky to be pushing the front wheel into a slot in the bike shed behind the canteen. My main concern now is to get clocked-in before 7.30 otherwise this mad rush was for nothing. From the silhouetted steamy mingled-breath of the shed, where rude greetings are being exchanged between familiar shapes as they come to recognise each other, and dodging the incoming, I stride out for the backdoor of the machine shop, wind moves in my empty belly and I fart loudly and rhythmically as I take the next four steps, adjusting my hips to feel the benefit and satisfaction of a multi-toned belter. It’s louder than I wanted it to be, I turn to see if anyone is close – two older guys are right behind me and they confuse my checking glance with an accusing one. Their initial guilty looks instantly replaced with indignant repudiation.
I think of this event often, never tire of its baseness, and always laugh out loud.