Father’s Day – Bladerunner, Summer Holidays and Suicidal Sheep
So, it’s Father’s Day once again. That’s a photo of me and my dad back in the day. Yeah, yeah, I know. He’s smoking a cigarette right next to me. You have to bear in mind that this photo was taken in 1977. Only vegans and yoga teachers gave a fuck about that sort of thing back then. He did look after me, I promise.
He didn’t have a lot of choice at times, to be fair. This is because my mum was frequently “bad with her nerves”. This is a euphemism used in Newcastle back in the 1970s and it meant “spends quite a lot of time in mental hospitals”.
Whenever my mum was “bad with her nerves”, I would be looked after by my “Aunties”. You know, the “Aunties” who are not actually blood relations, they’re just your mum’s mates. I was mainly looked after by my “Auntie Velma” and my “Auntie Thelma”. No, seriously. Velma and Thelma. Velma Logan and Thelma Scott. We all lived in the same street so it was like a big sort of extended family.
When my mum was on one of her little trips away, my dad would wake me up before he went to work and I would get dressed and head over to Velma’s or Thelma’s. Usually Thelma’s. I’d get fed and I’d mess about with their kids before heading off to school.
One year though – the year that the photograph with my dad was taken- one of my mum’s trips away coincided with the summer holidays. For some reason I don’t recall, Velma and Thelma weren’t available, so I spent my days with “Auntie Molly”. She lived a bit further away, in the houses next to the Ritz Bingo Hall in the centre of Forest Hall.
Molly was old. In her 70s I think. She couldn’t think of much to say to an eight year old boy, so she just constantly fed me. My god, the woman could cook. I sat and read the books and annuals I’d carried down with me and ate like I was a French Dauphin. Like I say, there was very little conversation, but in a quiet way I had a whale of a time.
But Molly was in her 70s and after a couple of weeks she fell ill and couldn’t look after me anymore. Either that or she couldn’t afford me eating her out of house and home. I had run out of “Aunties”. There was only one action left. My dad would have to look after me full time.
So, he took some time off work and he attended to my every need. Did he fuck. With typical male logic, he just took me to work with him every day. Can you imagine anything more boring? All day at work with your dad? Well, I can tell you this now. It wasn’t boring. It was fucking awesome.
My dad didn’t work in an office. He worked for a local company called Tremble Demolition. A fantastic name for a demolition company. Very apt and almost onomatopoeic. Sounds like it was conjured up by some cocaine fuelled focus group. In fact, it was a family company and the family name was Tremble. I was a bit disappointed when I found that out to be honest.
Remember this song by Nizlopi? The JCB Song.
This resonated with me very powerfully when it came out. When my dad took me to work, my name wasn’t Luke and I wasn’t five and I didn’t think my dad was Bruce Lee. My dad did actually drive me round in his JCB though. And his lorry. And his crane. It was like I’d died and gone to Little Boy Heaven.
Every morning we would turn up to the Tremble Demolition yard and my dad would pick up whatever he needed for the day from the stores. The storeman ended up taking a bit of a shine to me and would give me a little present each morning. All of these presents were just items from the store room, so they were a little odd as presents go. A hi-vis vest. A hard hat. And one of those aluminium and gauze masks that you wear when you’re spray painting something. I put them all on one day and I looked like some sort of junior Village People tribute act.
The storeman also gave me a couple of massively powerful magnets. Way more powerful than anything my school friends had. And finally- my personal favourite.- a big fish eye lens in a circular metal frame. On a sunny summer day, this thing could vaporize an ant in less than a second. The only way I could have been happier is if he’s given me a packet of bangers and a flick knife.
Some of the time we stayed in the yard. My dad often left me in the charge of his workmate Joe. He was the crane operator. My dad only drove the crane – with me in it- to wherever Joe needed it to be. Joe, however, let me have a go on the controls. I was so excited I nearly pissed my pants.
When we weren’t in the yard, we went out on the road. One day we went out with a convoy of lorries and vans to the ICI chemical works in Billingham. Joe and my dad had to pick something up from there and they took me with them. They didn’t really have to do that. There were any number of men in the convoy who could have looked after me while they were gone. But they took me anyway.
Just before we arrived at the ICI chemical works, my dad told me I had to hide. My dad was driving the van and Joe was in the passenger seat. I curled up in the footwell next to Joe’s feet and they covered me with a blanket.
The van pulled up at the security gate. I heard Joe wind the window down and after a few seconds a voice said:
“What’s under that blanket?”
“Oh”, said Joe, “that’s a dog. Just bought it. Present for my daughter.”
“A dog?” said the voice suspiciously. “Let’s hear it bark then.”
Joe gave me a little nudge with his foot. I was very tempted to just say “Woof woof”, but I didn’t. I did my best impression of a dog barking. I was pretty good at impressions when I was a kid.
“Oh, okay then” said the voice. “Be careful though.”
Once we were in, I peeped my head from under the blanket. I could see a tiny bit of the van door window. I saw pipes and gantries and steam hissing out from random bits of them. It looked like something out of Blade Runner. All post-apocalyptic and industrial.
The security guard wasn’t fooled for a moment, obviously. But he’d let us in anyway. I giggled myself to sleep that night.
We didn’t always go to industrial wastelands though. One day, we went into the wilds of Northumberland. Somewhere near Otterburn. We were picking up some sort of earth mover and transporting it back to Newcastle on a low loader. It proved a bit problematic, but my dad and Joe sorted it out with a lot of grunting and groaning and head scratching. Joe had brought his son along for the ride that day.
We were sitting having our packed lunches and nearby there was a section of a crane jib. Like a gigantic box girder made of Meccano. A sturdy oblong steel cage but open at both ends. In the middle of this steel cage was a sheep. For our entire dinner break, it didn’t move an inch.
I asked my dad why this was. This is what he said:
“Michael” he said, “sheep are very, very stupid. That sheep can’t figure out how to escape.”
I couldn’t wrap my head around this. The sheep was scared of course because it was in a cage. But that cage was open at both ends. It wasn’t exactly Hampton Court Maze.
“It’ll figure it out eventually though, won’t it dad?” I said.
“Nope”, he said “Unless someone rescues it, it’ll just stay there until it dies of thirst. Better sort it out now before another sheep follows it in there. Then there’ll be two dead sheep”.
And with that, my dad poured the dregs of tea from his thermos flask cup and headed over to the section of crane jib. He crawled in behind the stricken sheep and repeatedly smacked it on the arse. The startled animal shot straight out the other end and then stopped a few yards away and started grazing like nothing had happened.
We headed back to the yard and when I got home, my mum was back. Everything was normal again. Like nothing had happened.
I’m 48 years old. My dad is no longer with us. But I can still remember all the sights and sounds and smells of that summer. The sight of the ICI Blader Runner landscape. The sound of that sheep freaking out as its life was being saved. And the smell of Swarfega as me and my dad washed the dirt of work off us at the end of the day. If you are a dad being pampered this Father’s Day, bear in mind that you are forming memories in your children’s minds that will last the rest of their lives. Try to make them good ones. And if you’re a smoker, don’t smoke in front of your kids. As happy as many of my 70s memories are, that really is a bad thing.
Copyright Michael Grimes 2017