I used to drive a truck for a local builder’s merchants, little seven and a half tonner, all you needed was a car license. I had gaffer who used to get Gross and net mixed up. I often drove over loaded. I lived quite close to the yard, a five minute jog (did it often enough) yet I was always late. My gaffer would rail on at me about how Simon lived a 45 minute drive away but was always on time. My explanation that if Simon was 5 minutes late getting up he had a chance to shave a few minutes of the commute whereas if I woke up 5 minutes late I was late. Nothing I could do. Quite rightly, he told me to fuck off!
I used to love the tarmac run. Bit of an early start but I could take the truck home empty the night before then be down at the tarmac place first thing, line up with the real trucks sniffing in that seductive smell. I used to lay down on the path by fresh tarmac as a kid sniffing it in. I still like the smell though I’m told it’s not healthy for you.
I used to love the brick yard run for the special order pallets of obscure bricks some cock sure DIYer would request too. Picking up a pallet or two involved a cross town ride that went almost past the bottom of my granddad’s street. That’s a lie. Every time I went to the brick yard I called in on the old boy. We weren’t real close but I loved him dearly, he’d been great with me when I was younger but a fight at my sister’s Christening split that side of the family in two.
He was a bit of a card. The bath always seemed full of home brew; he had 23 clocks in his living room; he had twice as many pocket watches. At own dad’s funeral he gave me a pocket watch, tears in his eyes, and said, ‘It was going to be your dad’s. It’s yours now’. It had a swastika engraved on the back which is fucking odd when you consider he was reserved occupation and spent the war years in Northern Ireland! He cut the cuffs off all his shirts yet, like a lot of his generation, always wore a suit, even when we took him to the coast. He set fire to his hedge rather than trim it causing his neighbours to call the fire brigade in an attempt to save their own hedge.
This particular afternoon he knew I was coming and he’d set up camp under the apple tree in his back yard, two chairs and an upturned bucket with two pots of tea balanced on top. I parked up up front and walked through to the back. Despite the schism in our family our love was apparent but his pride and my loyalty to my own dad, his eldest son (who’d knocked fuck out of his brother on our lawn at the fateful christening after my uncle slapped his Mrs for telling us he’d bought a new suit for the occasion – despite been on the dole) meant things went unsaid and visit were infrequent save for these stolen moments on the clock. I loved him and I still do and I’d change everything if I had the chance to but there you go. Time goes forward and we all make mistakes and pride is unhealthy at times. I’ll never buy a suit for a christening I can tell you. I’ll never slap my Mrs either but that’s another story.
He called me up the garden, said ‘How do,’ and then motioned for me to sit. He always looked me up and down. I guess when you see a six footer and recall feeding him a bottle as a baby you do things like that. He handed me my tea then whispered to me, ‘Ask for a banana.’
‘Ask for a banana son.’
He sat back in his chair and, at the top of his voice asked, ‘You want an apple lad?’ He pulled a face as if to say, go on.
‘I’d rather have a banana.’
‘What’s that lad?’
“I’d rather have a banana.’
With that he stood up, reached into the apple tree where I spotted two bananas balanced over a branch and said, ‘Well I guess I’ll have one too, ‘ and made a great show of taking the two bananas down. I was a bit puzzled to say the least.
As we ate our bananas and drank our tea a beautiful smile appeared on his face, I can see him now, short back and sides, the look of my old man, of me, but tougher than the two of us, younger, easier lives (he was one of 12 or 13, I forget), a hard face but criss-crossed with laughter lines, you might call them wrinkles but all the men in our family, as dysfunctional as we are have laughed loads, and a spark of light dancing in his old watery blue grey eyes.
‘I hate that nosey bitch next door, ‘ he whispered through gritted teeth.