Thursday, April 28, 2005

A Nice Day Out

Sometime in late June or early July I was relieved of my duties in the best job I ever had, working the night shift in the Car Park at Stansted Airport.

I can only assume some regular member of staff came back from holiday. I’d been a very good car park attendant up to that point. Cashed up properly and everything. I don’t think anyone had actually noticed me sleeping on the job.

No problem. There’s always another job when you’re 22. Which I needed because we only had a couple of weeks to go and I was worried I might not have enough money to make the trip.

So I asked around. First stop the M11 road-building project up at Start Hill. Obvious choice, really. Everyone else had done it, loads of money if you put in the overtime, and I could even get a lift with Delta Charles. We’ll call him Delta Charles in here because he has at least two other names and I don’t want to place an already confused passenger manifest under any more strain than is necessary. For further information on how the M11 was built, please see the parallel blog. Frankly, the fact that those guys helped construct several of the bridges does not fill me with enormous confidence in our motorway infrastructure.

Delta took me down the site in the morning, in his little Fiat 500, and introduced me to a foreman. Delta drove off, in the company Land Rover, to do his chainman thing. Whatever that was. The foreman took one look at my hair and decided I wasn’t going to be a lot of use to the motorway-building profession. He handed me a broom, pointed to a distant nissen hut, and told me to sweep it.

I swept it. For a whole day. By five o’clock it was the best-swept hut in the history of public works. Not that anyone would have noticed because nobody came to see how well I’d done, or ask how I was getting along, or even tell me where to get a cup of tea. At five past five Delta Charles re-appeared in the company Land Rover, and I left the hut, placing the broom neatly by the door. We drove home in the Fiat 500 – and I never went back.

To hell with the money. I’d been treated like crap because I looked a bit odd.

So I asked around again. This time I went somewhere were everybody looked a bit odd: the grass-cutting gang run by Tylers on behalf of Uttlesford District Council.

The foreman of the Tylers gang was a skinny Irishman with a nervous disposition called Niall. He was probably nervous because he was on some sort of piece work and had somehow got himself lumbered with a gang that included four odd-looking hippies who were only there for a few days more and kept talking about what they were going to do when they got to Istanbul.

The odd-looking hippies in question were Stu, Mark F, Paul, and now me. I don’t remember anyone else being in the gang but I can’t believe Niall would have suffered his job with just us for company. It took considerable expertise to operate a lawn-mowing gang. You had to know how long it took you to get from one village green to the next, and how long each green would take to cut. You had to know which mowers were in the Transit and which in the flatbed truck, and you had to know how to fix them all. You had to know exactly which type of mower was appropriate for which type of vegetation. And you had to know exactly which type of hippy was appropriate for which type of mower.

In my case, it was almost always wrong mower, wrong grass, wrong operative, bang. They never let me near the ride-on machines. Probably wise.

And I was only there for a week or two. I can date this to early July, and not just because it was hot. On the 19th we all gave up our jobs, and on the 20th we went to Knebworth in Bertha.

Here’s the programme:

The Festivities Posted by Hello

I know. Doesn’t give much away, does it? This was long, long before Virgin and Coca-Cola felt the need to get involved in these things.

Here, on the other hand, is the line-up:

- Tim Buckley

- The Sensational Alex Harvey Band

- John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra

- Van Morrison

- The Doobie Brothers

- The Allman Brothers

(I know what I’m doing with these point sizes, by the way)

In point of fact they could have included Gary Glitter and the Bay City Rollers: we’d probably still have gone. Because we were going on Bertha's inaugural ride.

Actually that's not strictly true. Bertha had been out before. Yaya and Simon had driven her up the M1 to deliver some furniture to Simon’s sister’s house or something. I’d write about this but neither of them remembers a thing about it.

In any case, it couldn’t be an inaugural ride till Bertha was fully furbished. No way, no sirree. This was the best damn freak-wagon in the British Isles, she was going to be publicly unveiled at the summer’s best damn gig - and everyone was invited.

- My brother Mitt came. I think with his girlfriend Penny. Passengers of privilege, because they’d painted the two-foot high sun mandalas on the sides of the bus (amphetamines may have played a part in the high production quality of said mandalas, but all artists have to suffer for their work).

- Mike Benton came. I know this because Mitt remembers him being there. It could be true.

- Yanni Flood-Page came.

- Andy came. Just back from York, I suspect.

- Me and Paul and Mark F and Stu came. Dammit, this was our bus.

- Actually it wasn’t. It was Yaya’s. Not just on the bus, but at the wheel.

Then there were the others. Not on the bus, but joining us in the arena.

- Libby and Liney came.

- Simon came. Probably with Martin, possibly without a ticket. The story goes that he paid Steve Yates to drive him to Knebworth even though he didn’t want to come; then they broke through the fencing just like you were supposed to do at rock festivals.

- Pat came. Probably with Andy Bunny, also from the LCP. These two were going to be my new flatmates when we got back to college. We were organised like that. Just hadn’t found a flat.

- Now I come to think of it, Dave Walking and Flash and Stewart Craig from Victory Square were there too. And Viv and Oz. And lord who else besides.

Christ, there were hundreds of us.

And the stereo blaring, all the way from Stortford to Stevenage. Where, quite properly, I imagine we turned it down a bit sharpish…


Anonymous yaya said...

Simon and I worked on the M11 project as well.
Our, from what I remember, well paid job consisted of managing the traffic lights at Start hill. Basically, we had to stop and go the traffic along the A120 to let monstrous earth moving machines across.

They stopped for nothing.

We were so bored that Simon at first decided that we should bet on the colour of the next car to come along but this was quickly changed to how many strikes of a hammer it took to fully embed a six inch nail into a piece of 4 x 2. Funny the things you remember. Funny the way friendships are formed.

Neither of us got rich.

The other over-riding memory of working there was that my french mum used to make me the most fantastic packed lunches. Meat loaf, salads, pate and gherkins, olives etc etc. This I had to eat under the mocking glare of gruel eating paddys. Simon loved it.

As for the trip to Simon's sister, I do remember that we broke down on the M1 but by the time the AA arrived we were so stoned and the cab so full of smoke we wouldn't let the man in. We made it though. All the way to Birmingham.....(which was a good omen)

Anyhow I don't remember a thing about the journey to Knebworth either so it must have been good.But I do remember the day so that must have been even better.

Other things were happening that day also which would have a major impact on my life. Oh sweet anticipation!

7:32 pm  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

You BROKE DOWN????!!!!!

Two weeks before Bertha left for Istanbul you BROKE DOWN???

I didn't know this...

8:38 pm  
Blogger broomhilda said...

This is an interesting development. I love the look of shock that I imagine is on Mark's face...

8:42 pm  
Anonymous caroline morphess said...

Yeah, me too Broomhilda, and I wonder to what it is that Yaya alludes?

Mark, why is Van the Man in such small letters?

Lovely post.

8:47 pm  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

No no no. He's in middle sized letters. In fact I've just adjusted the point size to make it clearer. Please note that all critical observations over the next couple of posts are strictly the subjective opinion of the author. But I was there, and I'm right...

8:52 pm  
Blogger Ms Mac said...

Tim Buckley, is he not Jeff Buckley's Dad?

Also, if Gary Glitter and the Bay City Rollers were in the lineup, I'd have been there for sure!

6:09 am  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

Yup, Ms Mac, he is indeed. I'll recommend the best tracks to download in my very next post. Or maybe the one after that. Or the one after that. Never can tell how this thing is going to turn out...

7:50 am  

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