Thursday, 6 December 2012

Right Hand Man.

Back in the 80's I worked as a labourer in a sawmill. It was an old building filled with dust and rats and ancient machines with minimal safety guards that had somehow slipped under the radar of Health and Safety officers.

It was a small company owned by a Victorian style mill owner who looked like Baron Greenback from Dangermouse.
Underneath the mill there were a maze of dark dungeon like cellars filled with old rusting machinery and heaps of sawdust that fell from the band saws and industrial planers on the shop floor.  Whenever I went down there rats would scurry off into the darkness.

What we laughingly called a canteen was also down in the cellar, a small room with an old fashioned, free standing, wood burning stove which was the only heat source in the building. During our breaks we would sit around this on boxes or a couple of old car seats that had been ripped out of an old Morris Marina, drinking strong loose leaf tea made by Tommy.

He was a Glaswegian who had come down to Yorkshire 20 years ago although instead of his accent mellowing it had become so Scottish that none of us knew what the hell he was saying half the time, it sounded like grunting in a Scottish accent.

In the middle of winter in 1985 we were gathered around the stove, chatting, smoking and occasionally spitting a mouthful of tea on the stove just to hear it sizzle when the metal sliding door clanged open and Mark came stomping back from the toilet with a copy of The Sun in his hand.
"Shut the door" everyone shouted at once as the icy air followed him in.
"Alright, simmer down", he said as he pulled the door closed behind him.

"Bloody hell, that's taken the edge off, you can't beat Linda Lusardi on page three".
One of the machine operators called Rob looked at him and shook his head.
"Every bloody morning breaktime you go to the bogs to draw one off, it's embarassing".
"Yeah", I added, "can't you wait to get home before you start dragging yourself around the room"?

Mark just laughed and tossed the newspaper towards us.

"Fuck off, I don't want to read it now, it's probably got spunk all over it" I said

"The sports pages should still be safe but better read it quick before it soaks through".

We finished our break and made our way back to the shop floor.
Rob turned to Mark and said:
"Boss wants that stack of 2 x 6 nearest the gates loading up and bringng down to The Pig".

Mark gave a thumbs up and walked out to the timber yard where he climbed up into the cab of the huge side loading fork lift truck he drove, starting the diesel engine.

Rob started to prepare The Pig. This was the oldest machine in the mill, a planer 15ft long, 5ft high and so old that it still ran on leather belts. Inside it were two large steel drums that rotated at high speed which Rob now fitted razor sharp cutting blades to and calibrated them to the desired length.

A large metal hood fitted over the drums with a fan inside that would draw the majority of the wood shavings up and out of the machine and along a steel pipe to a container outside. Often when someone was walking past they would throw a handful of loose wood chippings into the machine just to hear the sound of them rattle away up the pipe.

While Rob was prepping the machine I guided Mark's side loader down the concrete ramp that led from the timber yard into the saw mill until he was able to lift the stack of two hundred 20ft rough cut planks down next to The Pig.

Rob didn't hang around and started up the machine, beginning to feed the planks through the planer.
I waited on the other side to grab the newly planed planks, now as smooth as glass and heaved them onto wooden battens that I had placed on the floor, making sure they were placed neatly so the stack wouldn't become unstable as it grew.

Mark stood back and leaned against the side loader, rolling a cigarette. Conversation was impossible due to the noise of machinery and both Rob and I wore ear protectors.

Mark finished rolling his cig and stuck it unlit between his lips then pulled his gloves on.

We were all given yellow safety gloves to wear, yellow wool reinforced with plastic webbing but most of us didn't wear them, taking pride in how hard and calloused our hands became. They couldn't save your hands from splinters as these would pierce right through the gloves.

With Mark being outside in the yard in winter most of the time he needed them. Just as he was about to climb back on the loader he tossed a handful of sawdust that had collected near his loader pedals at The Pig. There was a loud THWACK and his right arm shot up into the air so he looked like a school kid trying to get the teachers attention.

He looked at me and I could see him mouth the words "Fucking Hell. That was close".

He looked over at Rob who had become very still and was looking up at Mark's hand.
I could see there was a line of red dots across Rob's face and realised it was blood.

I followed his gaze and could see that Marks glove was no longer yellow but bright red, the fabric shredded and hanging down his wrist. I tried to speak but nothing would come out.

Rob calmly hit the emergency stop button on the Pig and walked towads Mark, "Best keep your hand in the air and I wouldn't look at it if I were you" he said.

Mark immediately lowered his hand and looked at the mess. There were a series of deep slashes across all of his fingers except the middle one. This was gone from the second  knuckle and blood pumped from the stump in little squirts.

Rob ran for the first aid box and yelled for someone to call an ambulance. I didn't know what to do so reached over to try and staunch the flow of blood by clamping my hand over it.

"Don't fucking squeeze it you stupid twat" he screamed then sat down hard on the ground, holding his wrist and staring mesmerised at the wreck of his hand as the colour drained from his face.

"What am I going to do" he began to whisper over and over as shock began to take hold.

Rob who had returned with the first aid box knelt down next to him and said gently:

"You're going to be wanking with your left hand for a while".


Pat Hatt said...

Wow that would suck, I worked at a sawmill too, hated it.

Miranda Hardy said...

Ouch! That wood suck! Get it - wood. Still, a funny line at the end, even though the situation wasn't too funny.

bobo said...


that last line though... sometimes you can't help but joke. better than the alternative.

YeamieWaffles said...

This does not sound like it was a pleasant experience in the slightest man, I don't envy you having to work there, everything about it from the incident at the end to your boss looking like the evil guy from Danger Mouse it does not sound great to me, thank goodness those days are gone.

Anita said...

Fun story! Did it really happen?!

Janie Junebug said...

I'm glad I wasn't there.


Jimmy Fungus said...

When I began reading this, I was afraid it was going to end with someone losing a limb or something like that. But now I see this is just a thinly veiled piece of anti-wanking propaganda. Nice try, Tony. Nice try.

Kızlık zarı said...

thanks for sharing this
really appreciating for that
Kızlık zarı

The Angry Lurker said...

Funny and sad if true!

Estetik said...

Great information you have shared, i learn a lot of things from your post which is very helpful for my future knowledge.

Bushman said...

Morbidly funny yes! I love the picture as well. The begining of the story sounds like the begining of the old tales from the darkside I believe it was a Stephen King short about the textile mill with the giant rats. That was where the story took place in my mind. Thanks for sharing!

Azara said...

Yikes! Amazing last line - you know how to tell a story!

Tony Van Helsing said...

Pat: I actually enjoyed it there.

Miranda: Good pun.

Bobo: Laughter is the best.

Yeamie: those days are still around in some countries.

Anita: Yes, it's true.

Janie: Why, it was great. Blood everywhere.

Jimmy I would never be anti-wanking.

Kizlik: Anytime.

Lurker: It's true.

Estitek: Glad to help your future knowledge.

Azara: Thank you.

Bart said...

lmfao rob is touch as fuck. i like this character. and as for my 2 blogs i do it for the money

Tony Van Helsing said...

Bart: You get money? How does this happen?

Al Penwasser said...

Wow!!! The story both started and ended with a whack off.
Seriously, (shocking, I know), that place must have been one helluva fire trap with all that sawdust laying around.

Al Penwasser said...

By the way, I don't mind wanking.
As Woody Allen said, "It's sex with someone I love."
Funny that his name is "Woody."

Nicki Elson said...

Ooh, glad to know that at least he got in one final tryst with righty. You set a vivid atmosphere here.

Best line: "Mark immediately lowered his hand looked at the mess."

Kelly Polark said...

Sounds like a dangerous job! How did the hand heal? Could he work in that job again?

And sometimes a little humor can lighten a very heavy moment.

Well told, Tony!

Bart said...

sell adspace with google adsense, u mean u blog without knowing about this?