Is there life on Mars?

Sending a fucking rocket to Mars; what’s all that about? The latest American red-planet exploration fad is quite interesting, apparently two little burrowing robots called ‘Spirit’ and ‘Opportunity’. There was coverage of the whole Mars landing thing everywhere in the media at the time. About a year before the American effort, the Brits had tried sending up a laptop wrapped in Bacofoil, but they reckon the battery went flat or something.

Apparently they were going to use one of those new-fangled ‘camera-phones’ to send pictures of the Martian surface back to the earth. No wonder they said it was going to be expensive; when I got my first camera phone I sent a picture of my full-mooned arse to Vodafone customer services in Reading, and that cost me over a quid! The high-resolution image of a Martian’s buttocks beamed to NASA must have cost an absolute fortune. Then again, the French tried some sort of space mission a few years back, the Ariane project, which failed after two attempts due to ‘rocket propulsion issues’. Perhaps the milk bottle fell over.

Whichever one of these things that did manage to send photos managed to provide predictably tedious images of red sand and orange sky everywhere, like an infant’s fridge-door effort or a ‘masterpiece’ by Mark Rothko, if you can tell the difference. But here’s a thing. Anyone knows that these Mars probe thingies are sabotaged as soon as they land; the Martians either take a lump-hammer to them or drop an old space-suit over the lens. A couple of the little green fuckers then rig up one of those old-fashioned painted canvas cinema backdrops. When they are ready, they whip the ragged space suit away, and all that the NASA mission control can see is a great big Rothko-esque orange landscape.

The Martians are actually sitting behind the canvas screen on deck chairs, drinking full strength Martian lager and smoking some vicious extra-terrestrial ganja; sticking the vees up to the little probe as they fall about laughing. Every so many hours, they turn off the lights that they have rigged up, making us think that it is the Martian night, as they dance naked in front the camera.

If you ask me it’s all a waste of money.

Haulage Company Horrors

The featured photo was taken by my father (Arthur) on his Voigtlander camera I think in about 1968 or thereabouts.

As part of the digitisation of all my photo archive I came across a fair few strips of Kodak Panatomic X  that I’d found in my grandmother’s loft when clearing her house. I do remember that my father had a passing interest in photography. I also recall my mother telling me a story that when I was about five years old my father had been arrested for conspiracy in an incident involving the ‘roughing up’ of some bloke who owed money to one of his mates.

A handgun was apparently involved, and my father narrowly escaped a firearms charge because his father (my paternal grandfather – a smashing bloke and my role model) persuaded the cops that Arthur was a ‘good lad’ with a career as a metallurgist in front of him and that a custodial sentence would wreck his chances of a professional life.

I don’t know the full details, but my father avoided the charge. However, one of his friends, Billy, who was the incident ringleader, went to jail for a couple of years. During that time, Arthur kept in touch with Billy and visited him in prison. During one of those visits, Billy needed ‘some sort of favour’ and in return told my dad that a key to a certain cupboard somewhere would give him access to an expensive Voigtlander camera, which Arthur could keep if he ‘ran an errand’.

I’ve no idea what the errand was to this day, suffice to say that there was a little-known side to my dad’s early years of neo-criminality, which endeared him to me a little when I found out.

It explains why he and my mother Pat used to drill into me from an early age:

‘NEVER speak to coppers. Just give ‘em your name and address and keep quiet apart from that’

Quite unintentionally, I followed partially in my father’s footsteps in my early career. He had gained an HGV licence in his twenties as a way of always earning money if things were tight; I did the same thing when I passed my HGV test in 1990, aged 27.

As a result, I still knew and worked with the some of the ‘shadier’ haulage companies in Derby when I managed an employment agency in that city from 1988-1992, supplying HGV temporary drivers to the logistics industry.  I won’t name the company here, because I think the proprietor may still be alive (if not long since retired) but I think the business was taken over by equally dodgy people and the business name retained. But both my father and I had dealings with them. And I value my kneecaps too much.

For the avoidance of doubt, the company in question was NOT Sid Cooke’s as pictured. He was apparently, within the context of 1960’s haulage businesses, quite a decent and honest bloke.

One can often identify dodgy enterprises from the amount of ‘catastrophic fires’ (known in the trade as ‘insurance lightning’) that they suffer in their business lifetimes. This one had the rather skewed misfortune of no fewer than three arson attacks during its existence. Some people are just unlucky, especially so soon after topping up their insurance cover levels.

I soon found out how dubious my father’s previous employer and my businesses’ client was, when I phoned the proprietor to discuss the payment of a couple of thousand pounds worth of outstanding invoices. I started off using the ‘old mates network’ chat up thing:

“Hi, (Mister X) it’s Tom Hill from Mayday Personnel on the Strand, Derby. We’ve sent you a fair few drivers over the last few months and there are some outstanding invoices to the tune of X thousand pounds. We really need remittance of these before we can send you any more staff… By the way my Dad used to drive for you in the early 1970’s… Arthur Hill, you might remember…”

The usual excuses followed: our drivers were useless / they had cost him a fortune in mistakes /  business was bad / recession / bank loan on the edge / diesel costs / not getting paid by his own debtors / his mum’s budgie died…. Evasion ‘ad nauseum’.

I then said: “Well then Mr X, I tell you what. I’m sure we can come to an arrangement. Why don’t I drop in to see you for a meeting with all the outstanding invoice copies; we can go through them together, and then any real problematic stuff we can negotiate. Nobody wants court action and bailiffs, why don’t we just sort this out over a cuppa or two and I’ll come away with a cheque, at an advantageous price to you, and you then being on a clean slate?”

In truth, there was no way I was ever going to supply the crook again, but I just wanted some money rather than nothing. I remember his reply vividly:

“Well, Tom,  I’ll tell you what… If you come down here with your fucking invoices, I’ll set the fucking dog on you. So fuck you, and your Dad.”  Clunk. The phone hung up. I’d been to his premises once before, to drop off a driver in an emergency; and that creature wasn’t so much a dog, as the embodiment of Satan with about six sets of gleaming teeth. The animal was kept permanently on a chain around the yard. It had a bad attitude towards visitors; especially those carrying a briefcase full of invoices.

In the end we got about half what was owed to us through the small claims court. It got quite ugly. I’ve avoided him and his criminal mates to this day.

#haulagebusiness #logistics #voigtlander #panX #kodakphotography #filmphotography #crooksand lorries

Don’t trust relatives or hotel managers

I met a previous long term ex-partner, Linda, in 2002; she had a sheltered upbringing in many ways and really hadn’t experienced much of the world before she met me. I had only known her a few weeks until she encountered a baptism of fire in terms of learning about my rather odd family.

It’s a long story, but the short bit is that she was something of a diamond in the rough who had grown up in a concrete-clad council estate in the expired mining village of Moira, near Ashby De La Zouch, Leicestershire. The story of how we met, her working on the checkout in her local Tesco, was so romantic and at once opportunistic, that I wrote about in in a Guardian column in March 2007:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2006/jun/24/familyandrelationships1

The cognoscenti amongst you may recall a marvellous C4 series called ‘Shameless’ – set in an horrific archetypal sink estate, not unlike the one where Lin lived with her two teenaged children. For Linda, mum lived next door but three, sister next door but one. It was that sort of place. The parallels between Moira village and that dark TV sitcom ‘Shameless’ were spooky. In the first season of the series there was a character called ‘Steve’ played by the genius actor James McAvoy. Steve was an educated, middle class medical student who had fallen for a rough Diamante girl from the wrong side of the tracks (played by Anne-Marie Duff).

He stayed with her most of the time, then went native. That was me with her. I didn’t go native though. It was the other way around. She tried to get all posh.

The first month or three of our relationship were intense. She was a bit swept away by my ‘international sales’ job, the rented yuppie cottage, a garage containing several motorcycles and my stuffed wallet. Is that a wad of cash in the pocket of your leather motorcycle jeans, or are you just pleased to see me? Both.

There’s no way to get around this – she was a very pleasant person and everything, but the attraction for me was completely physical. I won’t go into details, but I lost about half a stone in the first couple of weeks we were together.

In that first flush of romance / lust, I booked a surprise break for us in The Lake District. This was only a few weeks after we had met. The Wasdale Head Inn is located next to the head of Wastwater, claimed to be the deepest lake in Cumbria, and surrounded by haunting darkened scree slopes that plunge into the dark depths, it’s a magical place. So that’s where you take a new woman whom you really want to impress.

The problem was that my father, Arthur, with whom I never really had a happy relationship, happened to be flying in from Australia that same week. I hadn’t seen him in a few years, so I felt obliged to offer hospitality – from a mixed sense of duty and genuine affection. That last bit for a couple of hours. He phoned me about two weeks before his arrival to say he was flying in from Oz.

“GOOSE!” (that was his nickname for me since I can remember) “Can you pick me up from Heathrow on {X Date}?”

“Ah! No, sorry I’ve booked me and the new girlfriend into The Wasdale Head Hotel around that time – but as soon as we’re back in Derby obviously we’ll all get together…”

“Oh, no problem, I’ve got lots of UK friends who can sort something…”

Unfortunately, my (now late) father had this very irritating social faux-pas habit of turning up announced at any social gathering, usually to which he wasn’t invited, at any possible occasion. He thought people found it entertaining. They usually didn’t.

Spectacularly, he didn’t disappoint when I took my new lover to a cosy country inn room with its own log burner, fluffy pillows and a view over the lake and fells to die for. On arrival, we checked in and she was impressed at the incredible location and the ambience. I ordered fizz. We showered (whilst drinking said fizz), dressed up all posh and went down to the resident’s lounge for pre-dinner drinks.

Imagine our surprise when, on entering the intimate, pleasant residents’ bar – who was sitting at my reserved table but – my father!  I could have punched the cunt on the nose. I should have too. But I didn’t:

“Oh, my God, what a surprise” etc…

In short, the romantic two-night dinner B&B break was totally torpedoed by my father. He told all his eccentric stories and regaled us all night with what he’s been doing in Australia. The romance lost its ardour (literally) for the rest of that weekend while he was around the hotel.

As soon as I returned home, the following week, I phoned the hotel management in a rage:

“My father knew that I was going to be at your hotel around that time, but someone must have told him the exact dates of my stay…”

It turned out that Arthur had phoned the Wasdale Head Inn, as a complete stranger, asked whether a Tom Hill had booked and therefore could he reserve a room for the same dates.  I’m sure he said: ‘It’s my son and it’s a surprise’. I contend that the hotel employee was deeply unprofessional to give out my booking details to someone over the phone, without checking with me first.

It’s a tricky one – the hotel could not possibly know that I didn’t have a great relationship with my father. They probably assumed I’d enjoy the surprise. Anyway, I asked the hotel manager for recompense. He apologised for the incident but refused any refund.

By way of compromise, I then emailed a low-resolution copy of the photo featured above, suggesting ‘how about I let you use this picture that I took in 1995, you can have it for all your marketing purposes and whatever, for as long as you want to use it. I’ll send you a proper scan and a hard copy.

The gist of the reply:

“… Great photo … sorry about that misunderstanding with your dad, how about we use the picture in exchange for a two-night DB&B deal, to be booked off season?”

So, the photo was worth real money in the end.

For a fistful of tenners…

From 1992 to 2000 I was employed at Derby University in the photography department of the Art School, initially as the storeman, looking after all the cameras, lenses, lights, tripods and all the stuff that students need to progress towards the world of the cognoscenti.

I worked from behind a hatch in a wall, doling out knackered cameras and studio lights.

In order to augment my modest income I would offer my photographic services at evenings and weekends; for students, friends and relatives of students or, simply, anyone else. The University studio was open until about eight at night and I finished work at five in the afternoon. In those three-hour moonlighting sessions, over a few years, I produced everything from Christmas cards for the local bowling club, via baby portraits, to product pictures of hard drives for my brother’s computer business.

One day, I was standing at my little hatch, during a rare natural lull in the queue, when there were no student ‘customers’ present. Very suddenly, an extremely attractive young woman, completely unfamiliar to me, stuck her head, almost aggressively, through my aperture. From her heavily accented English dialogue, it was obvious that she was from around Poland or Eastern Europe. She was quite shouty in her initial approach.

“YOU ARE TOM THE PHOTOGRAPHER  – YES?!”

I felt almost assaulted. But my assailant was properly gorgeous, and she was, after all, asking for me by name.

“Yes. That’s me. I think. How can I help?”

I was a little bit, like most blokes in their early 30’s, suddenly thinking with my appendage. In fact, had she said: “I want you to photograph 500 of my relatives tomorrow afternoon, for which I can pay you five pounds…”  I probably would have agreed. I was too busy spluttering like an overwhelmed child and trying not to make it so obvious that I was unable to take my eyes away from her chest area.

“I WANT PHOTOGRAPHS FOR MY MODELLING PORTFOLIO SO I CAN JOIN AN AGENCY. MY FRIEND JANE IS ON THIS COURSE, SHE TELLS ME YOU ARE THE TOP MAN FOR THE JOB. ”

“Oh, OK. I can do that. I get off for lunch in an hour or so, why don’t we have a cuppa downstairs in the refectory and then talk about it?”

So, over the next three months or so, I spent several weekends photographing Magda, in the studio and at the Green Lane site with its classic balustrades as a backdrop, her hiring a variety of evening dresses and other outfits.  We also produced a great set of snaps at the stables of the picturesque Elvaston Castle, about six miles outside Derby.

We became quite friendly within the context of the few weeks we worked together. It got a bit flirty. I was married but going through a semi-permanent difficult patch. I knew that my spouse was equally flirting around colleagues at her work; she was a bit of a high-flier in a large industrial conglomerate. Everything in the marriage was a little ‘fluid’ at the time.

Magda didn’t seem to have a regular partner around, and when we were together it seemed, to me, all a bit confusing. I was about 10 years older than her, but we would sometimes catch each other’s eyes in ‘that way’ if we were within close proximity, and a couple of times if our faces were less than a foot apart, there were those ‘do we snog now?’ moments.

It all came to a bit of a head (unfortunately not literally) when I completed all the prints for her portfolio collection. She asked me to bring them around to her flat in a ‘student let’ area of Derby one Saturday morning.

I knocked on the door. A couple of minutes later she answered. I saw her outline getting closer through the frosted glass. Clearly having just woken up, she was wearing a long t-shirt thing, looking alluringly dishevelled, flawless legs going up to her neck.  I bumbled a hello and offered a large fat envelope full of fibre-based prints.

She put the kettle on and made us tea, then sat next to me cross-legged on the living room carpet, a lotus position type thing. I sat on a cushion. After opening the envelope, she neatly laid all the prints out in a grid pattern on the living room carpet.

“THESE ARE WONDERFUL! YOU ARE WONDERFUL! “

She leaned in and kissed me less than briefly on the lips, like a slightly lingering closed-mouthed ‘well – make your move if you’re ever going to’… but *did* it mean that?  Was it just a slightly affectionate ‘you know we would fuck each other to death now if you weren’t married and 10 years older than me,  but this little taster is all you’re ever going to get…’?

I have always had this safety-catch thing with first-time dates and such situations. I have been through my fair share of flings and tumbles, but I have this important thing about NOT being a predator. If there’s a sniff of a potential ‘he took advantage of me’ I back off.  In this instance, being alone in a student bedsit, with a half-dressed woman, my junior by at least a decade, and I’m unsure if she wants me to jump on her or bugger off home, I default for moral and cautionary legal reasons to the latter.

Anyway, there’s a comedic end to the story.

After I dropped off all the prints in that envelope and returned home with a clear conscience, there was still the matter of payment outstanding. It was a couple of hundred quid. She phoned me at work and said she had given up the flat as it was too expensive, so she was now staying with her Polish uncle in Littleover village. A relatively posh part of town. She suggested me meeting her for a coffee in town and picking up the cash.

“No”, I said, fearing more of those cross-table lip-proximity uncertainties.

“I’ll just come to your uncle’s house and collect the dosh”.

“OK” she said “I will make you tea. My uncle will be fine with this…”

So it was a few days later that I pulled my souped-up old Vauxhall Cavalier 130 Sri onto a posh driveway on Horwood Avenue. In its day the Cavalier Sri was no slouch, the sporty end of fat photographers’ saloon cars.

Whenever I arrive in a driveway or property with a dead end, instinct always tells me to turn around and face the exit before parking the car, you never know if you might need to leave in a hurry. My foresight on this occasion probably saved me at least a broken nose and over £200.

Magda came running out of the house on bare feet as soon as I had pulled the car on the drive. She had a jiffy envelope in her hand; I noticed she was wearing a very plain dress that didn’t at all accentuate her figure.

“HEER IS YOUR MONEY” she shouted, as she threw the envelope through the open passenger window  onto the car seat. “YOU MUST GO NOW, QUEEK! MY ONCLE KNOWS I HAVE SHOWN YOU MY BOTTOM – HE SAY HE WILL FOCKING KEEL YOU!!”

I saw a very large bloke, whom I assumed to be the ‘oncle’, pulling his boots on in the porch. In fact, he was about the same size as the porch. Seeing discretion as the better part of valour, I shouted “OK. No worries!” I floored the accelerator pedal and left the block-paved driveway in a plume of white smoke and melted rubber tyre tracks.

We never contacted each other again.

When the priest went fishing…

The local priest is walking around the tiny harbour of Courtmeath. He happens upon one of his parishioners, Michael Flaherty, a fisherman mending his nets on the quayside.

“How’s it going, Michael?”

“Good, father, very good…”

“So how’s the fishing?”

“Not too bad. Say, father, you seem troubled. It might do you good to come out on our boat one day – fresh sea air and fishing – good for the soul. Would y’like to join us tomorrow?”

“That would be fine Michael. What time?”

“We sail at 7am with the rising tide, father.”

“I’ll be here in the morning…”

The priest arrives as arranged. The small fishing boat sets sail. All is fine, but after a couple of hours the priest seems bored. Michael suggests that the priest tries his hand at a little game fishing to relieve the tedium. The priest casts a rod with some bait, and after only a few minutes, finds himself wrestling with a huge Albacore.

Michael and his men help the priest to land the four-foot fish into the bottom of the boat and finally, they all fall down, exhausted. The unfortunate creature is despatched and Michael the skipper stands back, exclaiming:

“WHOA! Look at the size of that FUCKER!!”

The priest almost has a heart attack, he’s never heard such terrible foul language.

“How can you use such profanity, Michael?!”

To get himself out of a hole, Michael thinks quickly and responds:

“Sorry, father; but that’s the correct name of this particular fish. It’s called a ‘fucker’ around these parts; in fact a ‘North Atlantic Fucker’.

“What a marvellous fucker that is!” exclaims the priest.

“Well, please keep the fucker with our compliments, father.”

“Thank you – I’ll take the fucker home for dinner tomorrow night!”

On arrival back on shore that afternoon, the priest puts the fish into a large sack and carries it to the parochial house. He walks through the door into the kitchen and slams the catch on the huge oak table. He calls his cook, his butler and the housekeeper. They all rush to attend, standing around in anticipation.

“Now then, staff.” Exclaims the priest. “You see this great big fucker?! – We’re going to have a special dinner tomorrow night with an extra special guest.” He points to the cook and says: “You’re going to cook this fucker” – then addresses the butler and housekeeper saying, “and you two are going to present the fucker, silver service!”

On hearing this, the staff buckle at the knees and almost faint with the abusive language. The butler replies:

“Oh, father!! We’ve never heard such disgusting language! How can you utter such words in this house?”

“It’s OK” replies the priest. “This is the proper name for this fish, it is a North Atlantic Fucker. I caught the fucker just this morning.”

“Oh!” replies the butler, clearly relieved. “In that case, father, we’ll present the fucker to the highest standard possible…”

“Prepare dinner for eight people tomorrow evening, please, and this fucker will be the star of the show…” says the priest.

As it happens, the Pope was visiting in the area that week (!), so the priest phones the local Bishop and requests the pleasure of his eminence and entourage tomorrow evening for a very special dinner. The request is granted.

At around 6pm the Pope and his team arrive at the Courtmeath parochial house. The Bishop and several Cardinals are in attendance, in full regalia.

The soup course is served and eaten; small talk is made. A few minutes later, the huge baked Albacore is carried to the table under a huge fish kettle by the butler and the housekeeper. The chef follows in attendance, standing slightly aside. The butler then pulls the cover from the fish theatrically, revealing its majesty, and the priest suddenly stands up.

“Now then!” he exclaims “You all see this FUCKER?  I caught the fucker, [points at chef] he cooked the FUCKER, [points at housekeepers] they served the FUCKER, and you lot – you’re all going to eat the FUCKER!!”

At this point, two Cardinals pass out. The Bishop has a seizure. The Pope is left sitting at the table, the marvellous fish directly in front of him. The pope then leans to one side and takes his briefcase from under the table. He opens it. First, he sprinkles a gramme or two of cocaine onto a small cosmetic mirror and chops it into a couple of lines with a credit card. Then he takes a loose joint of finest Skunk from one of the briefcase pockets and sparks it up with a Zippo.

He then takes a bottle of Jack Daniels’s from the case, pours it into a shot glass and inhales the joint deeply. He pauses to think for a moment, then exhales the smoke through his nostrils. Passing the spliff to the priest, he nods and says:

“D’you know what?  You cunts seem alright! Roll us another one of these and get that fucker plated up…”

The Cunning Linguist and a Consignment of Caterpillars…

The only spurious connection between the featured image (which I like just because of the attitude of the kid with the specs) the cunning linguist and a consignment of caterpillars is the city of Bristol. I took this photo in the crowd at the Ashton Court Hot Air Balloon Festival, which takes place annually on the outskirts of the city.

In 1987 I lived in Bishopston in Bristol for just over a year or so, it was terrific – I had three jobs, warehouseman / forklift driver, double glazing telesales and barman in two pubs. This amusing incident involves the warehouse where I worked as a temporary labourer, driving forklifts (no licence required back then) and stacking boxes for a company called Kiddicraft.

Kiddicraft’s distribution centre was on the North Bristol Industrial Estate at Filton; the place is about 500 metres off the M5 so is very well located for large warehouses owned by companies servicing Bristol and the further Southwest of the UK. The company manufactured, assembled and sold children’s toys – the sort of crap you’d expect to see at the Early Learning Centre.

One such product was the ‘Clatterpillar’ (note the introduction of the extra L). They were very popular, manufactured in France, then brought by road-haulage to Bristol for distribution around the UK.

A Clatterpillar

My shifts at the Kiddicraft warehouse were usually from 6am until 2pm. One afternoon, the only forklift drivers were me and another bloke, however, unfortunately, by horrible coincidence, BOTH forklift trucks broke down that same afternoon. I was asked to work overtime, and I agreed, but I had to be at the Telesales double glazing office for 5pm. We called out the forklift service engineers, who promised to be there by later that evening.  But it might be tomorrow morning if they didn’t have the spares…

Also by coincidence, that same day, a delivery of hundreds of boxes of Clatterpillars was due to arrive from France on a huge tri-axle trailer articulated lorry, but the French haulage company was a brand-new contractor, whose vehicles and drivers had never visited Bristol, nor Kiddicraft, ever before.

The French driver, who spoke not a word of English, turned up at about 3pm.

A French Person

He parked his 40-foot lorry in the delivery yard and walked in, flourishing his delivery notes, expecting one or more forklifts to become immediately busy attacking his lorry like hyenas on a freshly killed wildebeest. He was, of course, immediately disappointed. By walking the driver over to the inert forklift trucks parked in a corner, the warehouse supervisor used sign language and lots of shoulder shrugging to make the driver aware of the problem. It didn’t really help. The driver was most unhappy and agitatedly gesticulated to the effect that all the staff should therefore strip down the pallets and offload the boxes by hand.

That was a lot of work, but the common-sense thing to do. Had I been the supervisor, I would have suggested the same thing. The Englishman, however, suddenly appeared to think that he was negotiating a ‘parlay’ with one of Napoleon’s generals at Waterloo, and dug his heels in. Why do English people shout at non-English people when the latter don’t speak any English?

“YOU’LL HAVE TO WAIT MATE! WE CAN’T HANDBALL THAT LOT OFF! HEALTH AND SAFETY PAL, MY GUYS AREN’T INSURED TO BE CLIMBING ALL OVER TRAILERS!!…”

The driver then responded in marvellously Gallic fashion by going back outside and reversing his trailer so that it simply blocked the entrance gate to the entire depot. He strode back across the yard, theatrically pocketed the vehicle keys into his jeans, sat down in the drivers’ waiting room, crossed his arms and just stared at the wall. Stalemate. Nobody was going anywhere, in or out, that afternoon.

I speak almost fluent French, but for a bit of fun I wanted to see how the situation would deconstruct. I was waiting for my moment to become Henry Kissinger and save the day as a broker of peace. I was also secretly hoping to impress one of the box-packing women who worked alongside us, a biker chick of about my age with a remarkable resemblance to Chrissie Hynde from the Pretenders. Obviously, she was desperately in lust with me, she just didn’t know it yet.

The warehouse boss went up to see the factory general manager. Let’s call him Derek. Could he break the impasseDerek came down from his mezzanine portacabin with his jacket off, tie loosened, and top button of his shirt undone. I imagine he’d rolled his sleeves up to attempt some projection of socialist camaraderie with the driver.

Derek went into the drivers’ room; a small ‘partition’ in a corner of the warehouse, containing a few plastic chairs and a coffee machine. I watched through the windows from about fifty feet away. Much gesticulation, shaking of heads and all sort of alpha-male stuff was going on. Clearly negotiations by Derek weren’t going to plan.

Virtually everyone in the factory hated Derek. He was a joyless man, interested only in squeezing every last iota of labour from his workforce, and if he could make the process even more miserable for them, he would. I’m not saying the guy was a tight-fisted old bastard, but he would turn off his car radio every time he passed under a motorway bridge. He was one of those bosses where things got done despite his presence, but where more got done by sheer goodwill and humour when he wasn’t there.

Gordon – AKA Derek Smith

He was also fond of wearing those absurd powder-blue shirts with a white collar – he liked to think he was the Gordon Ghekko of Filton; the burger van is for wimps.

Derek was, in short, a cunt.

Eventually I decided to show my hand and offer to help translate. I tentatively approached Derek. I can’t remember his real name, but it went like this:

“Mr Smith, I can speak French. Can I help?”

“Who are you?!” snapped Derek

“I’m Tom, one of the agency lads from Pertemps. I can speak French OK, I wonder if I can help?

“Oh! OK, that might work.” Derek was clearly taken aback. I don’t suppose that senior management envisage many forkies who read ‘Vol De Nuit’ in its original script as their bedtime literature.

“Ok” said Derek – tell this guy that we can definitely offload him by 7am tomorrow, that we can pay him any expenses, he can either sleep in his cab or we’ll put him up at a B&B in Filton, but he has to shift that fucking wagon right now and it’s simply illegal to offload it by hand. Can you tell him that?”

“Yeah easy!” I replied. But I had to have my bit of fun at Derek’s expense first. I just couldn’t resist.

“First of all, I should introduce the two of you, the French are very much into politeness and formality when they first meet someone, that’s probably why he is so wound up. I’ll introduce you, apologise for the problem, explain that you’re the top boss here, and then put your idea to him. OK?”

“Yeah, whatever…”

I introduced myself briefly to the lorry driver. Then, having winked surreptitiously at him, I introduced Derek in my best, most formal French:

“Je presente Monsieur Derek Smith, il est le patron général de l’entreprise. Vraiment, il est con ce mec! Mais, partout, souhaitez-vous serrer sa main? Il a une proposition à votre avantage…

{English: Here is Derek Smith, he is the overall boss of the company. The bloke is a complete cunt! However, would you like to shake hands, he has a proposal to your advantage…}

The driver immediately stood up, warmed to my best efforts and even went along with the joke. Cordially pumping Derek’s hands in a convivial greeting he replied:

Ah ! Vous etes vraiment le plus gros con de tout l’endroit. Fantastique! Comment puis-je aider?”

{Ahh! You really are the biggest cunt in the whole place. Fantastic! How may I help?}

As he was being roundly insulted, Derek was continually smiling and nodding as if to happily confirm his overall cuntishness quotient.

Within five minutes, the cunning linguist had restored the entente cordiale, and within hours, the consignment of Clatterpillars had been safely offloaded.

Sadly, of course, the only two people who got the joke were me and the driver, but it was a priceless moment.

Chrissie Hynde didn’t get it either, she probably just thought I was some sort of smartarse and walked off without giving me a second look.

Her loss.