So its July 1977 and the young JerryChicken has been gainfully employed as a surveyor/estimator (depending on which letter I was signing) for these past three years now, I’m twenty years old, the company I work for has already seen two complete changes in all staff from the boss down to the cleaner and I am already the second longest serving member of staff – and the company don’t have much work on.
Mike Melling, the new boss who was inserted into the job from our head office in Bristol and who sounds at all times like a Disney film pirate, walks into my office one day and asks the innocuous question “We’re a bit quiet at the moment, ooh arrr lad that we are, how do you feel about going to help out in Newcastle for two weeks ?”
It was a fair question, the Newcastle office had just opened and had picked up loads of new house refurbishment contracts in the North East, they were very busy, we were very quiet, they were advertising for someone to do the same job as I did in Leeds, they didn’t need someone to do my job in Leeds for a short while, they would pay all of my expenses for two weeks, I’d stay in a nice hotel in Jesmond and be fed and watered, what could possibly go wrong ?
Little did I know then but saying those simple words, “aye alright then” would completely change my whole life, forever, and I mean, FOREVER, this was me standing at a major crossroads in life and I had no idea at the time.
It was a hot summer that year, I had a Mk1 Ford Escort van provided, with petrol, it was knackered but that meant that I didn’t have to care about damage as I drove it across building sites, or fields on the way home from pubs some nights, with the aid of an AtoZ (remember AtoZ map books kiddies ?) and with the very idea of a satnav being something from a sci-fi movie I navigated my way around Newcastle by means of stopping every 500 yards to check the streetmap again or turn the page to find the continuation of the route, sometimes I spent hours just driving from one building site to the next only to find that I’d only travelled about three miles, and I spent months and months just trying to get a basic understanding of the language that these people were speaking.
Let me add here that Newcastle upon Tyne was a more remote settlement than it is now, these days its a very cosmopolitan city (well, compared to 1977 it is), everyone goes there for their stag and hen party and so the populace has been infiltrated with lots of different accents and has diluted the native Geordie – back in 1977 you were considered unusual if you had a Durham accent so when I turned up on building sites with my ” Aye up ‘ows tha doing love?” it would cause workmen to gather around and stare at me, then look at each other in puzzlement and say “Na, ah divvent kna wor ee said man, must be from Ashin’ton man”.
But wait a minute, I said “months and months” just then didn’t I – but why did I end up driving those streets for months and months when I was only sent there for two weeks ?
During my second week in exile the boss of the Newcastle branch called me into his office, told me to sit down, told me he had bad news for me, told me that that very morning some of the directors from Bristol had flown up to Leeds unannounced and had made the entire workforce redundant, cleared out the desks and locked the doors behind them all within the hour – they’d just rung to tell him.
I sat there for a few moments
“So what do I have to do then ?” I asked
“They never said bonny lad” he replied, he was from Benwell, they speak like that in Benwell.
“Have they sacked me too ?”
“Whey like ah said bonny lad, they nivver said anything aboot youz”, they speak like that in Benwell
I was still on the payroll of the Leeds office, my van belonged to the Leeds office, my hotel and beer bills were being paid for by the Leeds office, it was unthinkable to believe that if the Leeds office no longer existed then the head office would continue to keep me on the books, pay my wage and fund me to travel to Newcastle and stay there all week, not to mention the beer bills.
But we agreed that for as long as we could still get away with it then I would continue to travel up to Newcastle every Monday and submit my expenses for each weeks stay and as long as they kept paying the bills and my wage then I still had a job, the Newcastle boss stopped advertising for someone to carry out my role and we shook on the deal, I never had a contract of employment and never knew when some astute accountant in Bristol would suddenly do a double take and shout out “Hang on, we’ve still got someone on the Leeds books here…” but they never did – for eight years they kept paying my bills and for eight years I traveled the A1 until the A1 and I grew very familiar and I could manage to catch some sleep in the back of the van while the van drove itself to Newcastle.
For eight years I worked from the Newcastle office and as far as we knew, for eight years the Newcastle office never got charged for me, I took up residence in The Queens at Whitley Bay and lived the Life of Larry (whoever he is) until one day, one day, the girl who would eventually be legally super-glued to my bank account (its legal, I’ve checked, several times) and entitled to claim half of my very soul should we ever part – walked into the office, and my life would change forever – AGAIN.