If you didn’t want something to reach foreman Harold’s ears... tell nobody... and definitely not Denny. Denny had made his career being Harold’s mate, his charge-hand. Wherever Harold had a job, Denny was charge-hand. Whenever Harold wanted to investigate goings-on on-site, Denny started sniffing. When Denny started sniffing, we smelt a rat.
Things ‘going-on’ included the disappearance of a pile of bricks... some timber.... evidence of behind-the-shed shagging... But any local scoundrel could be responsible.
I secretly thought why not lock stuff in the shed? But that would give me more sweeping up.
Tea breaks were lively affairs. It was a case of start to finish jabbering. Harold claimed the lion’s share of the jabbering if for no other reason than enabling him to get his 100 plus expletives aired, but there were conversational Cha Wars from a couple of the others.
Harold sat opposite the hut door, while his trusty charge-hand Denny Larwood invariably sat on his left. A seating pecking order existed. I sat by the teapot, ready to serve seconds.
I only spoke when asked something. A goodly bunch, the only ones I didn’t trust were the silent ones...
Whilst tea-making, washing up and sweeping, at which I excelled, enabled me three hours a day of having it easy, I didn’t play diligent housewife all day long. First there was digging and earth moving via heavy old wheelbarrows - testing for one with the smooth, unscarred hands that come from reading and writing. Even dumper truck driving involved loading the truck in the first place.
So as time went on my muscles grew. Four weeks in I couldn’t fully stretch my arms any more. It felt so good I would take on anyone! I was now a proper labourer.
Being the site wrestling champion was really good for Johnny. Being the site woos was better for me because it meant that provided my teamaking remained up to scratch, I was given the easy jobs, like dumper truck driver. I had status. I was a university student. Supposed to be intelligent.
The men tested me with smartarsed trick riddles, which I knew well, but got wrong so they could feel good about themselves. Then they asked about all the student orgies we students engaged in. I tutted and sighed... “But I restrict myself to one a week!”
Honour completely restored!
If you want to stay alive, you have to get on with the natives. One such joining the building site was Johnny. Johnny liked to wrestle.
Johnny had just left school. He was 15 whereas I was much more mature at 19 and a university student, “S’posedta be intelligent!” First thing every morning he wanted to “rassle”. So we ‘rassled’. He always won and his honour was established, possibly because I conceded defeat remarkably quickly. He felt good and we were best mates for the rest of the day... until tomorrow’s rassle.
I was pleased it made him feel good.
The best job on the site was teamaking and sweeping up. In between, I actually had to do some real work, mostly digging and shifting stuff, because you had to be specially trained to be a hod-carrier, carrying bricks up a ladder to supply the ‘brickies’. Mixing mortar for them in the cement mixer was fun, and I was allowed to do that.
The very best fun though was shifting bricks using the dumper truck. These tricky truckies have the steering on the back wheels. Invaluable training for getting cars into tight spaces!
As Harold would say “fucking brillifuckingant!”
The foreman Harold was strict, but nonetheless one of the kindest men you could meet... and the most foulmouthed.
Eight of us huddled in the hut for tea breaks were on the receiving end of Harold’s wisdom on the state of the nation, politics, religion etc. His language was as legendary as my teamaking. The F and C-words punctuated his diatribes, the former adjectivally, the latter describing various noteworthy people.
One tea break I counted 121 such words from Harold, often splitting words to fit them in, occasionally twice!
The best such was “susfuckingtifafuckingcate”, describing his expiring MOT certificate.
Tea break was exactly 15 minutes. One at 11.00, one at 3pm. Harold’s rules. He was building site foreman.
I was a woosy university student on vacation and Harold clearly recognised my talent... for tea-making. Half an hour before tea breaks and also lunch he asked “Are you gotta make the tea Nuvul?”
And off I went. Tea must be ready on time. My teamaking became legendary!
After 15 minutes Harold announced authoritatively, “Right! Back to work!” adding “Are you gotta sweep the hut Nuvul?” My meticulous washing up and hut-sweeping always took 30 minutes.
What a job!