The Cycle

Tuesdays I saw him. He picked me up from school, his baggy blue dungarees wash faded and work stained from the garage and worn powdered blue at the knees.  The scent of diesel from them as I hugged his thigh. On sunny Tuesdays we sauntered neglectful of time along the canal path. When there was no else about he’d throw stones across the width of the canal. Once he hit a woman on a bike at the other side. We never told anyone.

The bibbed pocket at the front of his dungarees held his cigarettes and a silver Colibri lighter. When he smoked, half the tip seemed to slide through his lips, the smoke would be lost then it would float back out around the bottom of his nostrils. He also kept his spectacles, one of the arms was stuck with Elastoplast and there on Tuesdays Blackjacks.

It was a ritual, Tuesday. We never went into his house first we went into the back garden. My school bag and his lunch box were left on the door step.

We stopped at the pear tree, the muscles on his arms, his fore-arms steeled, as he lifted me high to grab those ready for picking before we headed to the greenhouse.

The standpipe in the greenhouse was too tight for me, he’d lean to help. The smell of his cigarettes and beer mixed with the aroma of tomatoes hung in here. Watering cans sat in the corner. The large galvanised one dwarfed the shiny brass one which had my name painted in white upon it.

After the plants in and out of the greenhouse had been watered we’d walk in silence round the vegetable plot. Sometimes he’d hold my hand , the veins on the back of his raised, or we’d  pull a bit of dead growth or newly sprouted weeds from here or there.  When the garden tasks were finished we’d get our things from the doorstep and go into the kitchen.

I usually had eight blackjacks, four for a penny, old money. He’d remove them  with everything else  from the pocket of his dungaree bib before slipping the shoulder straps allowing him to  take of his shirt.  He left his white singlet vest on and a had wash in the kitchen sink. On the top of his right shoulder there was a tattoo. Not a cross, but a crucifix, Christ was upon it. He was a noisy washer. Each handful of water hitting his face was accompanied by shooshing from his mouth, a sound like one may make coming in from the wind and rain. Finished,dried ,he’d go and change. He mostly wore a maroon woollen waistcoat fawn at the edges that my mother had knitted. I would eat my Blackjacks while he was doing all this.

My thoughts were interrupted by a small voice and a tug on my sleeve.

“ Grandad its empty“

I took the little old  brass watering can he offered me and replenished and returned it to him.

“Thank you Grandad. Grandad why do the veins on the back of your hands stick out ?

Don Russell                             30/01/2019

This is a true one. I hope it helps somebody.


After listening to actor David Harewood on the BBC this morning I remember how:

In the mid 1990’s I found myself in such a place. Overwhelmed by all around, unable to concentrate on work, full of irrational worries, physically and mentally exhausted but unable to sleep, short tempered unpredictable behaviours towards my family and finally morbid thoughts about ending it all. I stood looking at rafters where I could hang myself, realised what I was thinking was perhaps not so horrid then as quickly that it was hideous.

The thing that prevented it all ending was taking that first step of telling someone. In this case my wife. I was fortunate to have a loving family around who cared about me and good professionals who understood my situation. I needed it because an acceptance of mental illness, in my case clinical depression added another pressure for me at that time internally as viewing myself as a failure. Weak, unable to cope.

I could reflect on all the things that happened since then, but I just want to say.

Don’t be afraid to tell someone you are afraid, they can see if your leg is broken …………………but not your brain.


Don Russell   14/05/2018

Crofton Court


The move to the agency last year from the security of a permanent job had been a success. No more sleepless nights worrying about things over which he had no control. The mortgage was paid, Ann was gone. An amicable divorce emotionally and financially.  At 55, single again, comfortably solvent he decided his health came first. Work with the agency was steady and optional. His stress levels had dropped. Gordon was enjoying life again.

His phone pinged!  Text from the agency.

Sleepover, Crofton Court residential drug rehab, this evening at eight. Double time. Sort out the paperwork in the week. Interested?

Sunday evening, he imagined coming home early Monday settling for a lazy day whilst the world was careering into a new week. It appealed yes, he was interested. The money would also be handy.

The building appeared generally uncared for. In the soft evening breeze, the last of sun on the lofty perimeter wall highlighted areas where mortar had long disappeared. Heavily rusted hinges held thick wooden gates, their bottom quarters covered in grass and weeds suggesting they’d long been unable to serve their purpose. Above the front door of the substantial building the faded wooden sign, that creaked as it swung, confirmed this was Crofton Court.

The doorbell button felt loose and broken, he was therefore surprised by the sudden response. The  appearance of the woman that contradicted his opinion about the bell. A tight jeaned figure in a baggy jumper, possibly mid-thirties, strong black hair pulled back in a pony tail and friendly blue eyes.

“Can I help you?” A hint of an Irish lilt.

“Hi, I’m Gordon, I’m from the agency, for the sleepover.”

“Oh yes come in. I’m Mary, by the way,” she replied, proffering her hand.


Over a coffee Mary explained that the unit had been open for ten years. Built in the 1890’s originally as a large family home it was bequeathed to an order of nuns for use as a convent in the 1920’s. When TB was rife many of the nuns trained to be nurses and it was turned into Crofton Hospital for children smitten with the illness. The nuns also provided spiritual and emotional support to the families as well as the medical support to their patients. There were lots of concerns about how contagious TB was at the time, so diagnosis sadily often meant little or no further contact with families for the children. The nuns became like surrogate parents to the poor souls as they spent their final days otherwise isolated. The place closed in the 1950’s.

“That’s the past, it was empty for many years before we bought it and we’ve done up the top two floors. We still have work to do on the ground floor where the staff quarters are. There were ten individual rooms, five on each of the two floors. We turned them into 8 en-suites. We only finished the final one a couple of months ago and we’re due to start work on the ground floor soon.”

“Usually this is when I’d introduce you to the residents but they’re on the way back from a weekend in Cornwall and I’ve just had word to say the van has broken down. Gordon you’ve struck lucky, a quiet night I would imagine,” she smiled teasing.

“It’s after nine now so if you fancy another coffee to keep me company a while that would be helpful.  As you’re on a sleeping nightshift the night’s your own unless there is any crisis which is unlikely. So you’ll be undisturbed. The sleeping room is number two, bottom of the corridor on the right. Oh! And you need to be up for seven to help me set up breakfast assuming the residents get home.

Feeling obliged, Gordon participated in a drink before going to bed.

Just after ten he closed the door, the room was hushed, an oasis of peace after the bombardment of information from a friendly but very chatty Mary. The room had a monastic feel, intricate bulky cornice surrounded the high brown stained and white ceiling. What he imagined to be the original dark wooden panels from the floor upwards encased the room and tweaked his mild tendency to claustrophobia. In the far corner there was a chunky old-fashioned sink with grotesque taps. However, the water warmed quickly, and he felt refreshed as he washed his face. The towel smelt stale, returning it to the rail by the sink he used his own from the bag on the bed.

He slipped of his shoes, experience had taught him, that no matter how unexpected, situations did arise, so he remained dressed in his joggers and sweater. Pillows tucked behind him he to settled into his book. He was distracted from it becoming aware of the large white, possibly marble, crucifix looming high on the wall facing his bed end. A stark feature against the dark unrenovated panelling. He found himself drawn by it, staring up trying to ascertain how specific the facial features of the Christ upon were.

Immersed by an atmosphere of lethargy emanating from his surroundings, a gentle intoxication encouraging a slow, silent undressing from the world, a yearning to be never again disturbed. The quilt took on a luxurious comforting aura of physical softness, withdrawing any inclination to pull it back even if he had strength to remove it, he drifted to sleep.

Something gently brushed his brow. He raised his hand only to have it grasped by a child’s. A voice breathed across his face.

“I love you George I’m going to miss you so much, don’t be afraid because I am taking you to good place son, God is waiting to take you in his arms.”

Initially confused by the intensity of his dream he found himself intoxicated again by the same earlier atmosphere and settled to sleep.

A warm breath caressed his cheek, it felt like a small child’s head nestled between his throat and shoulder. It whispered a weak message.

“I don’t want to go, it’s not my time yet, save me, save me,” a boy’s voice pleaded, fading with each repetition.

Startled by the vividness, his hand searched. Nothing. All was peaceful apart from occasional distant aged creaks from old floors. Sleep returned.

This time his hand was being pulled urgently, “hold me, hold me don’t let her take me “a child’s soft sob, wet lips spread saliva on his neck, the pleading voice now but a faint utterance. All went quiet and his hand was released, he put on the light he, the action ensuring to him he was awake. But then the light went out.

In the darkness there was weight on his chest pinning him to the bed. A piercing light beamed from the crucifix, the figure of a nun astride him forcing her hand over his mouth. It smelt of incense. He twisted and pushed frantically as his breath began to drain.  His heart was thumping as he fought for his life and then.

His phone alarm woke him. It was six thirty. It was Monday and the birds were warming their throats for the dawn chorus. He felt like someone had taken his brain out slapped it around and put in back in whilst it was still shaking. He struggled to get his bearings.

Mary was already up, he could smell coffee.

“Gordon, you look terrible.” she continued as she poured him a coffee. “I’m going to take a guess that something unsavoury happened during the night.”

Gordon began to explain. Mary stopped him.

“Listen, room two was the death room when this was the TB hospital. It meant patients didn’t have to be carried downstairs when dead in sight of others. Most of the staff sleep in there and are completely unaffected. A couple myself being one have experienced what I think you may be going to tell me.

“Grab your coffee, we’ve a little time before breakfast, come along to the office with me. When we were refurbishing we found a small hidden closet in each of the rooms. All but one was empty and in that one we found a chest with the belongings for a Sister Vincent. John the other member who had the experience have named her perhaps a little cruelly the Sister of Death.”

Mary lifted the small chest from the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet, opened it and removed a black leather diary. Then read the following entry for 13th October 1933.

George Patience aged seven was moved to room two late in the afternoon. George is deteriorating rapidly. Father God there was so much pain in that room, the child was clinging to what? There was no future here, time for him to give up his space to end his struggle to come to you. I softly smothered him with his pillow, so little fight. A glorious rest for him. I will tell the parents in the morning it was a peaceful death and that he passed in his sleep. Father forgive me, I know he like many has gone before their time, rebuke me not for him for arriving early.

“That is the last entry in the diary, we found it with earlier diaries also containing numerous entries recording similar acts. Other personal things, a ring, a crucifix, rosary beads, birth certificate and a death certificate dated 14th Oct 1933. Age at death 72, the cause of death was given as exhaustion. It seems unlikely that anyone ever read the entries or if they did decide to slip them away in the closet. Cover up in today’s terminology

“We think the room hold’s unsettled spirits gone before God planned that they will never be at peace and a repentant Sister Vincent still wrestles to comfort them as a justification of her sins.  George would appear to have been the last of the line and perhaps comes back to speak for all the lost souls.

“Does that kind of explain what was happening to you in the night?”

Gordon nodded his head whilst re-assuring himself this was the first and last sleepover at Crofton Court.


Don Russell     1/5/2018








Lost Love


The cold was creeping into my knees, tugging my great coat over them I shuddered contently at the returning warmth. Not too long now. I washed the last mouthful of my chicken Balti pie down with the remains of the Bovril.

A pie and Bovril sat waiting in Row J seat 29, hopefully, but inevitably hopelessly. It was more a symbol of respect and remembrance of all the rowdy Saturdays that went before. In the early days cold didn’t matter, pre match no pies but piling into pints in the Garrison Tavern. The slight inconvenience of battling through the crowded Spion Kop before the match had reached half time to relieve our selves.

The crowd roared as the action began. A young boy in the  row in front was struggling to see even after swapping seats with his father. I knew J29 would not be needed today and tapped the man on the shoulder. I cleared the seat and the boy smiled gratefully as he took the place. A much better view and an unexpected pie and Bovril.


I stood hollow. Johnny, Johnny Brown I miss the spontaneous moments of unembarrassed hugs of joy we shared. For some stupid reason a small voice reminded me it would have been his turn to buy the pies.

Don Russell    07/03/2018


The Long and the Short when we were not so Tall !

Brian MacLeod, suddenly at Winchester on 16th Feb 2018, aged 63. Loving husband of Carrie, father to Mary and Graham. Brother to Peter and Kevin. Originally from Bruar. Funeral arrangements to follow.

Most Fridays I read the Bruar Courier on line, particularly the death notifications. Almost half a century has passed since this place, where I was born, was my home. Despite the years names of the deceased occasionally bring back thoughts of my childhood and teens there. Brian Macleod was one that resonated strongly with my past. The mention of brothers Peter and Kevin confirmed it was the right Brian. Sometimes a name remains entangled in your memory for life.

Brian Macleod and me. The summer of 1965. Holidays. We were eleven, our days were spent playing football with others on the rough ground behind our houses. At the start of the holidays we’d cut the bushes back expanding the size of the pitch and for the next eight weeks most days we’d play from early morning til dusk apart from going in for dinner.

A few of us had left primary school at the end of the term. It was a strange feeling that final day, the first time I remember something having a last time. After the holidays we would be moving to secondary schools. Some were going to the one on the west of the river, others like Brian and I were headed east across the river to the Academy. Normally the move to secondary school was accompanied with the replacement of short school trousers for long ones. A rite of passage.

Brian had been an acquaintance, we were in the same class and sometimes we’d walk home from school together, but you couldn’t say we were mates. He lived in the block further down the road and during summer we’d play one block against the other or mixed teams. I gradually got to know him. One evening after the rest had gone and following a game of one against one we sat on the grass.  Our backs were against the two large boulders found in the undergrowth and dragged into place as goalposts at the beginning of summer. Suddenly he asked?

“Are you wearing long trousers to the Academy?”

“Nah, my father says I can have them when I’m twelve, so I’ll have to wait til November. “

“Either am I,” he continued. “My sister said you get hit across the back of your legs with rulers and people say you’re in the wrong school that the primary school is further up the road if you go in short trousers.”

I wasn’t too upset for Brian, just relieved to be honest that I suddenly realised I wasn’t going to be the sole wearer of shorts on my first day. But we kind of shared our worry without saying so.

In those moments we became friends, an allegiance cemented in facing a similar adversity. We hatched a plan to see if we could get our parents to change their minds. Brian came to my house and told my mother that his mother had just been out and bought him long trousers. Then we went to his house and I told his mother that my mother had just bought long trousers for me.

Later that evening my mother had weakened a little and mentioned to my father about Brian’s visit.  He was immovable, I would get them in November when I was twelve. I sensed that Brian’s visit had converted my mam, but my father was being harder work.

Tuesdays my mother went to town, this was the last Tuesday of the holidays, school started on the Thursday. As she reached the door I gave it a last shot, reminding her of Brian’s visit. She didn’t say no. Hope prevailed. The bus was early and with me holding her up at the door she missed it and had to wait half an hour for the next one. It was now in the lap of the God’s. I went and played football.

She’d returned by the time I came in for dinner. I looked around for any evidence of the trousers. Nothing to be seen.  I asked the question.

She answered.

“I was speaking to Mrs Macleod when I got to the bus stop. She told me her Brian is going to the Academy in shorts, so you wouldn’t be on your own. She also told about your visit to her. A bit like Brian’s visit to me, “she smiled knowingly.

Caught and devastated I accepted defeat but initially I felt fate had played its hand. Would it have been different if she hadn’t met Brian’s mother at the bus stop? If she hadn’t missed the earlier bus? Had I caused my own downfall?

Thursday morning arrived. Dressed in a new blazer, shirt, tie and short trousers I left the house. I felt there was a huge gap between my shorts and socks. Reaching the bus stop my heart sank and hit my stomach. Brian bloody Macleod was standing there wearing long trousers.


RIP Brian.

Don Russell    17/3/2018

Holiday Notes

Kalami Bay

Kalami is a small village in the north east corner of Corfu which sits beside one of the most beautiful bays in the Ionian Sea.

In the early evening we sat amongst the now sparsely occupied loungers enjoying the orange skied sunset, the gentle swish of the ebb tide and the sudden realisation that the pulsing sound of the cicadas in the trees behind us had left for the day. We enjoyed silent company at the start of our holiday.

The peace was interrupted by a couple, middle aged, like to ourselves, George and Brenda from Harrogate. I’d never met anyone from Harrogate before or since. Uninvited they deposited themselves on loungers either side of us. Our eyes spoke. However, it was much better than we expected they were keen to share what they’d found. The secret beach. Giving us directions and reassuring us we would enjoy it they left, off to pack for home tomorrow. We thanked them sincerely. The thought of a quiet beach interested us.

The following morning, we set off to search. It was on the road north towards Kassiopi. At the bottom at the start of the steep climb at the end of the village stood the White House. Once the home of the Durrell family and where Lawrence Durrell wrote his book Prospero’s Cell with the idea that Shakespeare may have had Corfu in mind when he wrote of the enchanted island in the Tempest. Durrell describes the building aptly in its text and I quote,

“White House set like a dice on a rock already venerable with the scars of wind and water.”

It was now a restaurant and where we sat later that evening on the boarded water front enjoying meals of freshly caught fish complimented with glasses of anise flavoured ouzo as the waves lapped below us.

Halfway up the hill on the left, as described, was an entrance little more than a tunnel, thick with the foliage of olive trees. As we walked, there was a sense of the surreal, the mix the heavy scent of olives, the call of the cicadas, the earth covered with black netting in preparation for forthcoming harvesting. Heads bowed low to get through the overhanging branches. Then we broke into the light and ahead a long rough rocky path bordering the allotments, plants laden with shiny aubergines, and yellow and red tomatoes. As instructed we took a left through a tree lined path which suddenly burst open onto a panoramic view of an isolated bay. The secret beach.

We’d smiled. It had been worth it. Not a soul to be seen. We found a comfy place on the edge of the bay where rocks lay like slabs warm and ready to accept towels. Settling with our books we were grateful to George and Brenda.

The heat rose as the morning moved towards noon we decided to find somewhere more sheltered. Suddenly the quiet of the bay erupted. The air was filled with laughing and screeching as a group of naked young men and women headed for the water. They frolicked and dived, petting and teasing oblivious or unconcerned about our presence.

Later as we left the we noticed the “private naturist beach “sign we’d missed on arriving, meaningless in Greek but not  in smaller writing in English below. Had George and Brenda known about this?


Don Russell 24/02/2018



He’d felt it was more often reported that they were found in the garage. He could understand despite the perceived position of desperation there was still a compassionate consideration by the victim for the victims. That by occurring in a less prominent place in the property it may help with any healing process for those left behind.

Personally, he’d never viewed it as a position of desperation. It was just something that happened. Started by the changing of a bulb at half time on a Saturday afternoon. Mary and April, mother and daughter, shopping. He was settled on the couch physically, emotionally work kept intruding on the football updates worrying him irrationally. Early January the light was fading, the bulb in the ceiling had blown earlier. He’d promised her he’d replace it. Using the break in play he nipped through the kitchen to the integral garage.

It began with a flicker of a thought, a fusion, garage roof girders and the old towing rope lying in the corner. He dismissed it, collected a bulb from the curver box under the bench. His hand refused to turn the switch of until he had another glance. Reminding him he’d had the thought.

Sleep evaded him, early on Sunday morning he was up, put on the percolator. Waiting he was drawn from the kitchen, the thought beginning to manifest as a deed.  In the corner of the garage handling the old tow rope, familiarising himself with the feel, the pattern of the thinner ropes which entwined to strengthen the whole. It felt comfortable, he returned it to its place reassured it was safe there in full view. His secret and his secret place when no one else was around. His mind felt abused, his brain battered, under the pressure of daily life. But all was not lost. He’d found somewhere he had control, where he could design an escape. Not that he would ever need it he strongly reminded himself, but the thought felt okay. Just handy to have around.

The process continued. The visits requiring greater input for sufficient gratification. Addiction came to mind with a little extra fix. He’d been lucky once, caught grasping the roof girders, he’d managed to deflect it as pull ups. The added excitement of deception. It became a game. He’d had the rope over the girder by now but there was no rush, the phrase “slowly slowly catchy monkey” seemed to offer comfort at this lethargic approach. The further he went the stronger he felt. He was defeating the things that were oppressing him. The total secrecy only enhanced his feeling of power. It also reduced the pressure.


He was insulating himself from the atrocity he was constructing by befriending it. The noose had been assembled and dismantled fearlessly on several occasions. He’d tried it for size. If you didn’t fear death, there was nothing greater to worry about. It felt okay round his neck.

Saturday afternoon, full time, Mary and April, mother and daughter, shopping. He rose from the couch. The equipment, girder, rope, noose and finally the upturned curver box. As he pulled the box from under the bench the bulb blew in the garage. Suddenly in the dark a feeling of loneliness mixed with the enormity of what he’d been about to do filled the moment.

Then joyful voices chorused, “ we’re home.”

His fear returned, and he quickly made for the kitchen.


Don Russell    29/01/2018


A Reflection On Charles Street

Charles Street was in the poor area of town. However, that did not prevent the householders from having pride about where they lived. Most of the gardens were well laid out and tidy. The men who lived here were those who laboured with their bodies not with their minds. The garden was a restful place, a place of freshness and light away from the stale gloom of the factories.  It was also the ideal avenue for social contact, discussion and conversation, common subjects, safe subjects like the garden, weather, sport. Personal feelings were hemmed in, no venturing into anything emotional other than perhaps a shared word of condolence for the bereavement or poor luck of third party.

The street bustled with childhood, laughing, crying, shoving, racing, bloodied noses and knees. A safety net as adults quietly oversaw, protecting their own and others. The gentle intrusion, to caution any child was accepted to reinforce the unwritten laws of fairness and honesty upheld by most.

Cars were at a minimum and drivers were courteous to those in the street. Bert the milkman and his horse were always surrounded at holiday times by children bearing gifts of old bread. The best milkman ever. The best milkman with a weakness for the beer, lifted for being drunk in charge of a milk float. He was a likeable devil, loved by all, saved from sacking by his popularity. The dairy provided him with Job the horse and a cart to enable them to keep him on. The rumour was the manager had joked that the horse’s name reflected what they continually needed to have with Bert, but it was lost on him.

Sometimes on sunny evenings, dads would bring out a couple of galvanised dustbins that became wickets. We’d play evens against odds, house numbers. Nan Bartram would appear, a girth that allowed her to accommodate three or four pairs of young arms at once. Keen to sample the goodies stored in the pockets at the front of her floral tabard. The children attended to she’d rest against the Wright’s wall and with a nub of a chubby red marking pencil, old man Bartram was a carpenter, and some random shaped piece of cardboard would proceed to keep the score. I remember once it was a bit of a cornflake box.

Us, often gasping, panting children keen to impress with our skilful throwing and catching, speeding down the street after the elusive rubber ball. The glance to our own for that essential wink, nod or smile of approval and encouragement at our performance. That silent action that shouted inside you. You’re loved!  There was a prize, the victors were bought drinks by the losers, but all partook. The Four Bells outdoor would have an unexpected flurry of trade. Bumper jugs of mild and bitter for the adults and dandelion and burdock for the children.

I remember people shouting, adults and children, genuine joyful goodnights as we disappeared from the arena that was our street into our own worlds. Snuggling down in bed the light still defeating the curtains, feeling it was good to be a child in the world. Now I wonder was it really like that?


Don Russell    09/01/18

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