I don't seen Tony Falshaw for years, then all of a sudden he's everywhere I look. Turns out he's got divorced and moved into a flat somewhere the other side of the railway bridge. Tells me about having both his hips done. He's not a lot older than me and it makes me shudder to think. Says that they don't even knock you out when they do it and that afterwards you encounter loads of new challenges in life. Like going for a shit in comfort.
Their Dale's not up to much, he says. "Can't do owt with 'em these days, can you?" There’s nothing resilient in him. Resigned. Beaten. Then Tony says “What's your lad doing?"
I tell him Jack's got an apprenticeship at Mathers Engineering down Shawside. Like a lot of people, he reacts as if I've told him Jack's got into Oxford University. Forty years ago there'd have been two dozen of them down at Mathers. And another thirty or more each going to the docks, the pits, on the sites. Not now. Not ever again.
Tony says "He'll know Steve Barker then?" He looks at me like it's something important.
"I think he sees him here and there, but he’s not shop floor." Tony waits for what seems like two hours and then says
“They make a lot of stuff for the American military at Mathers, don’t they? Top end stuff.”
I hadn't got a clue. I was just starting to get used to Jack coming in knackered every night with a faceful of soot and eating his tea like he'd never seen food before and hearing stories between mouthfuls, of burrs and drilling and drawings, and canteen tea like witch piss and magazines in the bogs and blokes called Eddie and Smackers and Mr Fresh. Just assumed the metal he’d been polishing and shearing and cutting, was bits for gearboxes and pipelines and industry. And maybe rotors and casings and blades. But not military ones.