T-Cut by Zack Wilson

I could tell that something bad was going to happen almost as soon as I pulled up outside the open warehouse door. There was just such a look of idiocy about them all in there, the over-bright yellow lights far too yellow in an October blue evening.

There were a couple of balloons floating around amongst the vast metal shelving units that the three lass in royal blue boilersuits kept tapping around to each other. They looked like they were meant to be otherwise engaged in tasks around the place, tidying the place up at that time most likely, but they kept moving around to tap these pink balloons to each other, grinning like wanking gorillas and whooping and yelping.

I stopped the engine of the truck and got out, asking the bloke who looked oldest what was going on. I’d waited for two minutes in the cab, watching the three of them, but no one had shown any curiosity towards me at all. Now, they stood watching me in a little line, vacant smiles in place.

“I’ve come for the pallets,” I told the oldest, baldest one out of the three, the one who was standing in the middle.

“Oh, in the corner,” he grinned, and waved his left arm like a drunk on a bike trying to tell me where he was going. Then he turned and disco danced towards some pallets which were untidily heaped behind one of the shelving units, in a grimy corner of the warehouse just out of the thick yellow light.

One of his mates lopped up alongside him, clapping as they both began to sing a version of Heatwave’s ‘Boogie Nights’, with some Bee Gees style high notes thrown in. The third stood laughing, his man breasts quaking above his flabby belly. He was a short man with a long torso, and his face shook nearly as much as his chest, his short spiky hair, stuck with gel, sitting strangely still.

“Could you get them over to the truck on a forklift for me then, please lads?” I asked, concerned. At least the question stopped the singing and dancing and that.

“Yeah, no problemo, your dudeness,” the oldest one says, giggling. There was a party going on here for which I hadn’t turned up in time.

“Good,” I replied, “I’ll go and back the truck up a bit to make things easier.” I went outside and reversed the vehicle so it was right up against the open door. When I came back inside the oldest idiot pointed with a flourish to the back of the building, where the third man, a little scrawny fella with short brown fuzz for hair and a heavily freckled face, was hand lifting the pallets into a stack on the forks of a forklift truck.

I headed back there to help but I soon realised I wasn’t needed. The kid wanted to do all the work himself. A thin lad with not much to his physique, he seemed quite strong as he hefted the pallets with some abandon onto the stack. I watched him for a little while.

“That stack’s too high now,” I told him, “it’s big enough. Take them over and we’ll make two trips.”

“No. It isn’t,” he replied, and threw another two pallets on top, whistling ostentatiously. “Now I will drive them to your truck,” he announced, making the sound of a farty trumpet fanfare with vibrating lips. He got the forklift going and I followed him wordlessly, back towards the door and my truck.

I noticed a black Audi sports car pull up outside and park by my truck. No one else seemed to have seen it. By now, they were all singing a Bee Gees song and clapping the forklift driver along on his way. He started swerving it around in little S bends, as though he was driving through a chicane, the wheels squeaking.

“You see!” he interrupted his singing, “no problem with this stack matey!”

I heard the door on the Audi crunch and open and then slam shut. I saw a middle-aged chap in casual suit climb out, the smile on his face switching to a look of anguish. I followed his eyes and then backed quickly away as the forklift swerved in front of the Audi and came to a jarring stop. The stack of pallets swayed in disaster film slow-motion, then the top one fell onto the bonnet of the Audi, denting it, then sliding down its length, leaving long white scratches in the black paint. Then another fell slowly, creating another dent, more scratches. Then a third, but that just hit the gravel of the yard and broke at its corner.

The owner of the car barked, “What are you doing, Stoat!”

I gulped back a laugh at the kid’s nickname.

“It’s alright gaffer,” Stoat stuttered, “a bit of T-Cut’ll sort that out.”

The gaffer rubbed his bald head in anger. His mouth opened and closed, and then he marched into the warehouse, pointing at the oldest of the three and making an emphatic gesture which suggested they both move to the back of the building quickly.

I shook my head and rubbed both my eyes with my flat, dirty palm, rubbing downwards until I could feel the edges of my eye sockets redden. I sighed and resigned myself to a long wait. Someone else needed those pallets.

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Escape by Zack Wilson

I was walking home to Hillsborough through Malin Bridge, glad of the early finish because I hated wearing a tie.

There was a lot of traffic on Holme Lane, where the tram lines run in front of the gardenless terraced houses. It was getting towards rush hour, but it seemed worse than usual, as though there’d been an accident or something. As I passed the Cash Converter on the corner of one of the side streets I realised that there was a yellow Streetforce van that was aggravating things.

It was parked on the pavement, but its side protruded into the road. There were two blokes working from it on the patch of damp, heavily littered grass that sits between the advertising billboard and the strange pay-to-use sci-fi cubicle toilet, incongruous on the pavement. One of them had a proper dark blue Streetforce uniform on and a face I actually recognised from the poster adverts the council had put up round town with photos of Streetforce staff holding sweeping brushes and suchlike, captioned with ‘I’m helping to keep Sheffield clean’ or some other bollocks that did nothing to reassure me. He was ordering a colleague around the damp grass. The colleague was wearing scruffy clothes and a hi-viz vest with ‘trainee’ stencilled on it. He looked too old to be a ‘trainee’. He had a comedy bald head fringed with ratty, brown neck length hair and the complexion of a preserved corpse. Most probably one of those dole monkeys on a training course, I thought. He could barely work the litter picker anyway and his boss was looking red-faced and angry as he glanced worriedly at the traffic that was moving slowly around and past his van.

The cars had to swerve out into the middle of the road to avoid the van. Not too much, but to keep the traffic flowing everyone had to use courtesy and concentration. The motorists seemed capable of this for once. What did I care, I was a pedestrian.

It was the snap wagon I found interesting. One of those portable burger bars was being towed through the traffic with its serving hatch open. It was already an ugly white vehicle clogging things up with oversized oblong edges, but with the serving hatch open it looked awkward and dangerous too.

It was a good job the hatch was on the side of the snap wagon facing the kerb, otherwise it would have removed the roof of every car passing in the opposite direction.

The driver of the van towing the thing didn’t seem to realise. As he passed me, then paused in traffic so that I overtook him, then passed me again as the traffic restarted, I could see him engaged in enthusiastic and hilarious conversation with a youthful, buck-toothed passenger who seemed to be rapt by the exaggerated comedy of the driver’s monologue, only moving to shake his shoulders with occasional laughter. They seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The woman sat in the car behind wasn’t. Driving a green-grey Micra, she looked busy and intense. Her hair was dyed a purplish shade of red, her face was pretty and bespectacled and pale, blushing circles on her cheeks betraying an anxiety that I could sense was verging on hysterical as she waved her hand around in a vain attempt to catch the van driver’s attention. Continue reading

Never Cross a Picket Line by Zack Wilson

I found myself manning a picket line this week. Not a picket line outside a mine or crumbling mill, but outside one of the many office buildings of Sheffield City Council.

My comrades weren’t donkey jacketed steel workers, clustered round a burning brazier, seeking warmth under rain soaked flat caps. They were administration clerks and social workers. At other sites they were librarians and street cleaners, teaching assistants and care home workers, those of us who work in the unfashionable and generally poorly rewarded jobs in the public sector. ‘Municipal’ workers is probably the American term. In other words, the people who help to make the streets safer and cleaner, who look after children, care for the elderly, cut the grass in the park, provide counselling and guidance for the desperate or marginalised, who help to keep things running smoothly in the community. The people who you don’t notice until they’re not there.

Not violent, militant or dangerous extremists then, but decent working people whose reward for helping local councils in England and Wales make £1 billion of so called ‘efficiency savings’ last year is an offer of a 2.45% pay increase.

When you take into account the fact that the rate of inflation in the UK currently stands at 4.3% then you can see it’s a pathetically inadequate offer. When you also take into account that food prices are up 9%, energy bills 15% and petrol (gasoline) up 22% then you can see it’s not merely inadequate but actually insulting. The insult becomes unbearable when you realise that these workers are some of the lowest paid people in the United Kingdom, many earning under £15,000 per year.

Which is why picket lines sprang up all over the UK. From Belfast to Norwich, Newcastle-on-Tyne to Portsmouth, Unison members were making their voices heard. Continue reading