16/09/2021

Casual Work

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I need to backtrack a tad because I pursued a plethora of Saturday and holiday jobs. Being a fireman my father had become adept at finding part-time jobs. At the time he had a brigade work pattern that went three days, leave, three nights, leave – with a periodic leave every twelve days. Few nights involved a ‘shout’ so seldom intruded on his capability to work elsewhere at least four days each week, and he usually did. As a PSV and HGV driver, he offered various driving services including moving rental cars to where they were needed, driving funeral cars and pall-bearing, furniture-bumping; he also erected tents and Dexion shelving…

Snooker Table

Playing snooker was de rigueur at that time in the Fire Service. At one point the brigade tried to come up with a more active down-time pastime and briefly volley ball became popular. However, competitiveness sparked a whole raft of injuries that increased sick leave – so the sport had to be banned by the Bristol Fire Brigade.  

ASIDE: When I first ran exhibitions in London many of the temporary security team were firemen. They could handle the long periods of inactivity yet would instantly get up to speed to meet any unexpected crises. They could also be assumed to be honest as they wouldn’t want to risk their real job. Later the rules changed and security guards needed to be licensed by the Security Industry Association (SIA). As a result the quality of guards plummeted!

Through school and college I had ready-access to a series of weekend and holiday jobs.

Sunbathing, peeping and fleas

At fourteen (1962) I was a (roof) tiler’s mate for the summer. I was never particularly comfortable with heights but that summer saw me running up ladders to load new roofs, usually with up to ten roof tiles balanced atop an old bus conductor’s cap, padded with rags. It’s not anything like riding a bike and there is no way I could dream of doing that today.

The beauty of a loaded roof

One day, after a short rain shower, I was a tad overconfident and very unlucky. We, or rather the tiler, had felted and battened a roof on a new estate development and I was loading it with tiles. My foot slipped off a wet batten and my full leg disappeared down through the roof felt into the cavity. Worse, my leg became firmly wedged between the batten, a rafter and the purlin of this newly constructed roof. After a number of attempts, the only way I could be freed was by cutting through the new purlin. As you might imagine I was none too popular on that site after that. For instance, they even stopped me racing around on the dumper truck as one part of my punishment.

Rooftop view

Retiling existing homes had benefits and disadvantages. Early on that summer I was left on the roof of a terraced house to chip off the concrete that held the lead in place down two party-walls. I filled a sack with the debris and went back to the ladder. As I hooked my leg over the ladder it slipped and fell to the ground leaving me stranded. During the hour or so I waited on the tiler’s return I became aware of bird fleas living on the roof that took a liking to me – that was certainly one way of learning to tie off the top of a ladder!

Benefits? Remember I was a growing fourteen-year-old and soon realised that women and girls would often strip off in their upstairs rooms never thinking an impressionable adolescent was across the street on a roof – although in retrospect perhaps some of them did?

One other tip I learned early on was to take an inflatable lilo with me where roofs had a double-gable end. It created a saddle in the middle, perfect on a sunny day for sunbathing without anyone knowing you were up there. Of course, this was no good if you were getting paid by the job and not the hours worked.

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