Yes, we Brits can be wimps. An inch or two of snow and snow stops everything. “The Beast From the East” headlines warn us for weeks of impending snow-and-ice doom and our resident media fear-mongers in smart suits and ivory towers continue to invent news rather than report it win out once more.
One of the neat things is that much work can be accomplished from a laptop in front of a warm fire these days; handy for some. All I need to do is persuade others that my workbench in the living room or kitchen will not create too much mess.
George rolled up on his black sit-up-and-beg bike as I rode in on my newer self-built Triumph I made from parts salvaged from the local rubbish dump. Well wrapped up I heard his hob nails tickety tick on the cobbles as he crossed the yard towards me. “Don’t leave your bike there or Jack’ll have you!” I moved it over next to his and we walked through the latch gate together, clocked in at the machine, and walked over to the bench. Everyone was crowded round in a circle having the usual chat and a smoke but talking about nothing important. Throwing out jokes and mocking anyone within reach was part and parcel of the whole. It was cold and the snow had built to a few inches overnight. My job was to light the boiler and keep it fully stoked throughout the day. The boiler, a vintage behemoth, was down in a brick and concrete pit four feet lower than the outside ground level. In the bottom was 4″ of water. We generated enough shavings from the machines for me to load it all day to fuel the central heating in the workshop. On average days that meant stoking every hour or so. On days like this it was a full time job.
Loading the wheelbarrow constantly was no problem. Dumping it in the pit was another thing. The only way to get the shavings into the boiler was to be down there in the shavings at the same time with barely a two foot space to stock from. If the radiator temperature dropped someone ran out to catch me by the ear and whisk me inside to feel how cold the radiators were. I didn’t feel the cold because I was working so hard keeping up with the hauling and stoking. Normally we used coke. Much longer lasting. The bosses liked the free fuel idea.
These days were too busy for me to fuss but I really missed the making at the bench and George was ever chivvying me to, “Get a move on and get in here!” The problems came when it came to brew time. How to leave the boiler work to brew for 10 to 12 men who all had a different preference on tea types, strengths, sweetness and so on. I had to go to each bench, get their twists of tea from the bags and boxes, put it in their individual mugs and cans and then deliver each man’s back to him within a few degrees of being boiling hot. Woe betide me if either the radiators cooled or the tea wasn’t hot!
On the way with a tray load of tea, crossing the yard from the boiler room, the pathway was as slick as could be and I was steadying myself as best I could… I was also ten minutes late! A definite no no! Suddenly a hail of snowballs came lobbing me from over the timber piles, knocking my head and the tea tray. I went down with hot tea all over me. The hot tea was the least of my problems. Being doubly late and without tea was an unfixable issue. The other apprentices scurried in through the latch gate like a pile of rats down a drain pipe. I panicked. You can’t tell tales and you can’t be late or without the goods. But inside, unbeknownst to me, the others were collared and cornered inside. The men reconciled my problem and let me off the hook. The apprentices were sent to brew and I was returned to boiler duties. The snow melted above the boiler room and came down on the heads of two apprentices as the passed under the eaves. Just was seen to be done.