The Apprentice ( but not as you may know it)

First shift           


Pipe Depot on nightshift.


Raymond well established pipe marker.

George the driver.

Rodney on his first night on the job.

They arrive at the floodlit  pipe depot in a Toyota van and all three get out.

“Rodney do you know anything about what goes on here?”  asked Raymond

“Well it’s where …. you keep the pipes.”

“That’s true Rodney, but that’s a very small part of it. We’ve got 25 men involved on each shift. We find and mark the pipes for the cranes to come and take to the fabrication shop.

“What do you see here Rodney?”

“Loads of pipes.”

“Rodney, if I said D12/5 to you would it mean anything?”

Rodney shrugs.

“Rodney, the whole pipe yard is marked in quadrants. A, B, C and D. “Raymond signals to the differing areas as he points out the quadrants. “Then rows, then places in the row. Do you understand what D 12/5 means now?

“Yes.” Rodney responds nodding confidently.

“As this is your first night we’ll start you of with three areas of the work.”

“I think your being a bit soft with him Raymond.” George interceded.

“Aye maybe so, let see how he gets on with the first three.”

“Are you okay with starting with three Rodney?”

Rodney nods totally lost.

Raymond continued, “we’ll start with accuracy then speed of operation followed by stage one of PST.”

“George have you got the measuring gear. “

George appeared with the tape measure, a white paint marker and a black rubber skirt about two feet in length with Velcro fastening at the waist.

“Rodney this measuring skirt is yours. We must measure the diameter of so many of these pipes that we’ve found it quicker to measure up from your feet onto the skirt. That way we can use the skirt as a measure as you stand at the pipe end instead of having to continually get the tape out. You need to have the skirt resting on your hips each time you wear it so that the measurements stay accurate. Just put it on and we’ll get you marked up. “

“You’ll be alright as long as you don’t lose weight.” George joked, winking at Raymond. “Remember when Eck Dougall had the cancer it kept falling down.”

“Don’t look so shocked Rodney boy. He recovered,” Raymond reassured.

The skirt sat mid-calf.

They spent a bit of time finding a flat piece of earth for Rodney to stand on then measured eighteen inches which hit just above the bottom of the skirt then in three-inch intervals up to 30 inches just below the waist marking each point with a line of white paint.

“Looks good “complimented Raymond, what do you think George.

George turns and sticks his head back into the cabin of the van trying to supress his laughter.

“Rodney there are five sizes of pipe in the yard there. I want you to use the measuring skirt and find one of each going from smallest diameter to largest. Sorry Rodney, I should have checked do you know what diameter means.”

“I’m not stupid you know, I’ve got a maths O grade “he replied sternly.

Raymond bit his bottom lip.

Rodney returns.

“Spot on, correct on everyone, 100% on accuracy,” beamed Raymond.

Rodney allowed himself   a smile at his success.

“But what’s he like with speed?” George interrupted, slightly crushing the glory of the moment.

“Calm down George, give the lad a chance, let him enjoy his bit of success.”

“Ignore him Rodney, “he continued, “I want you to find the six pipes listed on this paper. At the end of each correct pipe there will be a small card. When you’ve found all six bring them back to me. “

“You forgot the challenge,” interrupted George again.

“Oh, aye the challenge. You may not be interested Rodney but the quickest anyone has done this is three minutes forty seconds. How old are you again?”


“Do you do any sports?”


“He may have a chance, young, fit, what do you think George?”

“I think he could and I could use the stopwatch on the phone.”

“What do think Rodney?”

“Aye I’ll go for it! “he announces cockily.

Rodney runs fiercely but is restricted to short tight steps by the measuring skirt.

 He is unaware of the tears rolling down George and Raymond’s cheeks at the sight.

“Three minutes forty-five seconds, close. Thinking on it you’d have done better without the measuring skirt.”

“Aye probably would have beaten it then,” Rodney concurs, puffed and sweating.

“I reckon you were right Raymond,” George interjected,” three areas will be enough for one night.”

“Aye you’re right George we’ll finish with PST then we can go back to the rest of the men.”

George and Raymond glanced at each other awaiting the inevitable.

“So, what’s PST?”

“No worries Rodney. It’s Pipe Safety Training. Sometimes you go up and check for quality inspection stamps inside the pipes. Most pipes are stamped on the outside.  It’s only Japanese steel that tends to have them at the mid-point inside the pipe and that’s only the thirty inchers, easy for a slim lad like yourself to scramble up. It’s rare we have stuff from the Japs.  Just the same it’s also good to know what to do if you have problems when you’re inside. A second man always stands at the pipe end.

I’ll wait at the pipe end, here take this torch, the pin hammer and a magnifying glass. George will knock on the outside of the pipe, so you know roughly where halfway is. There is no stamp in the pipe so don’t worry about that. It’s more for you to familiarise yourself with being up a pipe. Have you got a watch?”

Rodney nodded apprehensively.

“After five minutes pretend it is an emergency, turn of the torch, start banging the hammer on the side of the pipe and repeatedly shout SOS as loud as you can as you make your way back to the pipe end”

After a while the echoed SOS’s accompanied by hammering moved towards the pipe exit. As he reached the end he was dazzled by many Toyota headlights. All the pipe markers on shift stood in a group, Raymond at the fore holding a piece of paper.

“Rodney, this certificate is to confirm you’ve passed your induction.”

There was a burst of laughter and round of applause.

Rodney didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but felt okay being here.

Don Russell

Hint fiction

Hint Fiction Don Russell  10/11/17

Hint Fiction is a story of 25 words or fewer which suggests a larger more complex story


John pulled his aged haversack from the trunk. The sun blessed his back as he locked up. The road was calling to scratch his feet.


The hurricane snarled and roared above as we cowered powerless. The wall ripped like newspaper. Wind pushing our breath back into our lungs.

Soldier’s Return

The cottage remained, holding my history. My father stood, his pipes shrilled the glen as they welcomed my tired body home. We shared tears.

Late Delivery

The postman’s shadow brushed passed the window. The letterbox clicked. I recognised the writing. Birthday was yesterday. But I knew he wouldn’t forget.

Second Coming

It’s getting messy down below. I think I may need to leave Dad up here alone looking after the office for a while again.


European Union

The rising morning sun was sneaking between the gaps of the medieval houses as I walked the narrow pathways of the Tuscan hill town. I had wandered from the busy the Plaizza Della Cisterna. I came upon a small courtyard, it felt private, silent, peaceful. I felt intrusive. The high buildings surrounding protected it .Even the sun was limited to shards piercing between the houses settling only on the stone monument at the centre. Planned like that or nature’s decision?

The monument was squared by double tiered wide shallow steps, grey, hard, but warming by the mid morning. I rested comfortably on them. My back was against the wall of the flower bed that rose from them. Ferocity did not engage so early even in summer. The heat was still just soothing. Large shrubs filled the flower bed, ivy bordering and stretching   over the base of the fountain that sat at the centre of the monument. Its gentle flow whispered into the old stone basin. I was drawn to be at one with nature and reached to touch. My fingers, surprised, enjoyed the clean coldness, my sleeve held the relaxing fragrance of lavender as my hand returning had caused my arm to brush against the shrubs. Contentment, being at peace with the world.

The sense of quiet was suddenly broken, sparrows chatter addressed the courtyard, dashing, shaking, flecking sunned sparkles of water as they bathed in the coolness. Their voices joined by the sound of innocence. The pleading call of an unseen child, high and pure, full of urgency shrilled.


“ Nonna!”

The large shrubs allowed privacy despite the proximity of the voice. I peered between them. Standing, a bent desert spoon in one hand and a worm in the other, a small girl kicking her sandaled foot against the wall awaiting acknowledgement. There was Nonna, or grandad sitting passively, lost momentarily sucking on the last of his cigarette, gently exhaling, the smoke playing around his nostrils.

He turned to respond to the her, she gazed upwards attentive understanding his response in a language which I did not. Together they moved along the wall to the corner where I had first seen her. Nonna was holding the worm now, she was busy digging unsuccessfully into the soil. They swapped and after a few spoonfuls and a nod of readiness she placed the worm into the soil and taking the spoon back from her Nonna carefully covered it.

Nonna bent forward, his rough cotton shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows its whiteness exaggerating the deep tan of his sinewed lower arms as he lifted her to him. He dusted her fringe to the side and gently kissed her fore head and she snuggled into his loose neck.

Turning he was surprised, briefly, by my presence.

“Nonna, “I ventured placing a hand on my chest.

He looked down at his gift, his reply a knowing smile.

Don Russell