It is the early seventies, I should be at school. Getting work was easy then, you had a couple of weeks before they wondered where your paperwork was…
It is nearly the end of my shift and it has been a long stressy day. I was told off by the bloke on the guillotine earlier, almost had my hands off at the wrists apparently. He is a grumpy bastard, never smiles and has no time for youngsters like me, keeps moaning about my long hair, he thinks I should wear a hair net because my hair is always in my face. Fucking old git.
“A bit of overtime?” The balding Irish foreman taps me on the back asks. He matches the ink colours from one print run to the next, by eye and texture; I cannot even begin to know how he does that. I like him; he is a cheerful version of my dad.
My mum expects me home around 6pm, we don’t have a home phone and since me mum called the lady upstairs a feckin’ witch she won’t let us use her phone anymore. I’m still scared enough of her to make sure she knows where I am and what I’m doing. I need to get home, let her know I will be working all night. Explaining to the boss what I need to do to get the overtime gets a few laughs in the office. I run home, it’s maybe three or four miles, when you are young, you can run fast, like being chased by the old bill fast.
I’m soon back at work for the already too long shift, I have bag of crispy bits from the chip shop and a bounty, I feel dead posh when I eat a bounty. There are two of us in this big old Victorian print works, Justin and me. Justin is a long haired bespectacled tripped out hippy, a fat John Lennon springs to mind and he’s about ten years older than me, always has a rolled lit fag in his mouth. The long Svecia screen-printing machine is ready to go when I arrive, Justin is sitting atop it cross-legged, smoking and reading the NME. Tonight we are finishing a Charlie Rich LP, it is having a gloss put on, also doing a David Bowie album called ‘Diamond Dogs’, it’s having its final colour done, don’t know what happened earlier but by the loading dock near the bogs there is a skip and it’s brimming with this album. Someone somewhere fucked up. Also by the bogs there is a full size David Bowie stand up cut out figure from the Aladdin Sane album, it has been defiled with goofy teeth and large genitals, the foreman’s name is prominent and little notes have been scribbled all over it.
Everyone has clocked out and there is just me and Justin left, we spend about an hour of preparation and I am lining up pallet loads of the unfinished album covers ready to go in the machines. David Bowie is first, it is done quickly and I pull the loaded pallets one by one out of the auto stacker thingy at the rear of the machine, the next load goes in. We notice how cold it is with the extractors on and Justin turns them off, we shut the big iron framed Victorian windows, this old building is fucking freezing. Bowie’s album is done and I deliberately position the full pallets around the guillotine so the miserable bastard cannot get to it in the morning.
The varnishing of Charlie Rich’s LP ‘Behind Closed Doors’ is next, its one in the morning and still fucking cold and I’m now wearing the miserable guillotine gits bobble hat. I’m helping spread the varnish onto the silk screen from large tins, my head is already spinning and I’m reminded of my Zoff plaster remover sniffing phase way back when a couple of weeks ago.
I was woken by the Irish foreman giving me the kiss of life. He smelt of old spice and tasted of old Holborn tobacco. Apparently, I was not breathing, three or four hours have disappeared from my memory and once it was established I was ‘alright’ the miserable guillotine bloke wrenched his bobble hat from my head and called me a stupid little cunt. Justin was barely conscious and was being given a fag and a right good talking to for turning the extractors off by the boss. A cup of tea and a headache later I was on my way home, had to make my own way home mind and fell asleep on the steps of the church half way down Cable Street, probably still semi-conscious from oxygen deprivation, got home in the afternoon and me mum told me off. I dared not tell her what happened; she would have been up there punching heads. I left soon after that, got a job in a Jewish wholesaler above the undercover in Petticoat Lane allocating and packing woman’s dresses. I can still do a mean knot and have searched for David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs vinyl LP cover printed by Augustus Martin for years, not found one. Yet.
I wished I’d had thanked you grumpy guillotine operator, I can’t remember your name, I now know you did your best to take me under your wing to train me, I wasn’t and never paid any attention, I was within an eighth of an inch of losing both hands, you nearly broke your hand slamming the stop button. I cried in the toilets shortly after because I knew that was an unwanted reality that came too close. I don’t even think you were ever that grumpy. I have paid close attention to everything I do ever since; it’s just one day, but one that is still silk-screened into my aged, know-better mind.