169. Backbone

I’m making plates, listening to the soft wheeze of hidden pneumatics within the digital plate machine and the chug of jogging rollers, watching the end of the plate processor to see the long metal sheet emerge, trembling, hot from the dryer. Four plates for each side of the sheet, front and back, so eight plates in all. Each plate named for the ink – cyan magenta yellow black.
I’m working with Roy Diamond. Weasel usually works with Roy Diamond but Weasel can’t today because Weasel is dead. He died a few weeks ago, cancer, and since then they’ve been trying to take on a new plate maker.
The problem is, the new plate maker would have to work with Roy Diamond, and Roy Diamond is an utter, utter cunt.
I take the plate that slides from the machine and hold it up to the yellow light, check the surface for blemishes, make sure of the code and the colour. The strip lighting overhead is coated in heavy yellow plastic, as are the windows. It blocks ultra violet and protects the light sensitive plates, but it feels like you’ve spent the day submerged under a sea of diabetic piss. I’m working with Roy Diamond because no other fucker will and my boss doesn’t like me. Roy Diamond tried to push me around to start with but I told him to go fuck himself and he’s calmed down a bit.
He’s still a cunt though.
“You finished staring at that plate or are you going to ask it for a fuck, Luci?” he says for the seventh or eighth time.
“Fuck off, Roy.” I sigh. I put the plate with the rest of the set, tape the set together and write on the code and quantity with a fat felt tip pen.
“Is that the right code?” Roy Diamond is looking over my shoulder. His breath smells like peppermints and dogshit.
“Yes it’s the right code. Why the fuck would I put any other code on it?”
“Hmm.” Roy Diamond struts away to check his own plates.
I’ll tell you the kind of bloke that Roy Diamond is.
Roy Diamond boasts that his feet are on the bedroom carpet the very second his alarm goes off at 5.00am precisely, regardless of his shift or if it’s the weekend. He sets the timer on the cooker the night before for five fifteen, and by five twenty five, as he enters the kitchen, the three rashers of bacon he laid out on the grill the night before are done to perfection and ready to place between the two slices of white bread that are on the kitchen counter in a ziplock bag.
Roy Diamond ran a marathon every fifth birthday for twenty five years except for his sixtieth when the doctor said he couldn’t run because of a dicky knee and he took a fortnight off with depression and when he came back he refused to acknowledge the word ‘marathon’. He won’t even eat a Snickers.
Roy Diamond looks EXACTLY like the kind of bloke down the pub who drinks on his own and will tell you that he used to be in the Special Forces but he’s not allowed to talk about it because of the Official Secrets Act even though the only military service he’s ever seen was taking part in a Remembrance Day parade wearing a beret he bought off Leeds Market.
Roy Diamond is straight backed and impossibly vain, even though he is sixty two. He attempts to flirt with the girls from wages but just sounds rapey and once they have left the room he stares after them with a murderous glare, muttering.
Roy Diamond drives a Rover. He has only ever driven a Rover and they must always have a walnut dashboard.
Roy Diamond whistles. He is a whistler. He whistles to draw attention to himself, attention he does not deserve.
I watch another plate coming out of the machine and I listen to Roy Diamond whistle ‘Rule Britannia’.
They’ve interviewed a few plate makers now, some of them quite promising, but an afternoon tryout of platemaking with Roy Diamond made sure they never came back for a second interview. The only person who seems to be able to stick it is me, although I struggle. I’m not even a plate maker by trade. I’m just helping out until they find someone who can stand being in the same room as Roy fucking Diamond.
There’s a thick old ledger of completed jobs on the side, a huge thing going back years. There’s a stack of them, patiently filled in with the details of each job, the quantity of plates and the date completed. I write up the job I’ve just finished. The first three lines of the opposite page are written in perfect copperplate script. He might have been a barmy fucker, but Weasel really did have beautiful handwriting.
I say to myself, “He should have been a sign writer…”
“Who should?” Roy Diamond has crept up behind me to check I’m filling in the ledger correctly. I’ve seen him dabbing with the Tippex after I’ve written in the ledger before now, obviously not up to his high standards.
I say, “Weasel. He had great hand writing. It was a skill. I reckon he should have been a sign writer.”
“Bollocks,” sneers Roy Diamond. “Weasel didn’t have an ounce of talent in his scrawny body.”
This pisses me off. I like a bit of coffin humour as much as the next bloke, probably more, but we’d just watched Weasel dying over the past year, struggling in to work as he grew thinner and thinner, the company refusing to offer the slightest help to him. They even docked his wage on the last day he ever worked because he’d gone home sick due to the chemotherapy.
I say, “That’s a shitty thing to say, Roy. A shitty thing to say. The poor fucker’s hardly cold and you’re already bad mouthing him. Why not pick on the living, at least they can defend themselves. Better still, just give your gob a rest, you poisonous cunt.”
I walk away, angry, and line up another job on the computer console to output.
I can hear Roy Diamond laughing. “Touchy, aren’t you? I was only making an observation. That’s the problem with folk nowadays. You can’t say anything without offending someone or other. It wasn’t like that in my day. People had backbone in my day! you said what you thought and that was that!”
Roy Diamond rocks backwards and forwards on his heels, hands clasped behind his back, oozing smugness. “You know who I blame?” he continues. “Lady Di. This country was a wonderful place before she went and got herself killed with that dirty Arab. She was a trollop, but  all it takes to reduce this once great country to a blubbering mess is to have a princess die under tragic circumstances. Since then we’ve had nothing but outpourings of emotion. What happened to the Great British Stiff Upper Lip? What happened to backbone?”
I suddenly feel tired. I can’t be bothered. “Oh, do fuck off, Roy.”
I carry on working, trying to ignore him, but he follows me around the room.
“I was only saying this to my son the other day,” he continues. “I said to him, ‘You’ve got to get over it,’ I said. ‘Show a bit of backbone, it’s time to move on.’ But would he listen? No! Did he heck! He just carries on crying. I blame his mother, personally. Mollycoddled. If I’d had my way those lads would have had a bloody good thrashing for the slightest thing and they’d have grown up to be proper men, like me!”
I stop what I’m doing. I say, “Wait a minute, what are you going on about? What’s this about your son? Why the Hell have you brought him into this?”
Roy Diamond rolls his eyes. “Haven’t you been listening? I’m saying that your generation are weak! My own bloody son included! You allow your emotions to get the better of you!”
I say, “Yeah, but I didn’t catch what it was your son was upset about.”
“His wife, of course!”
“What about his fucking wife??”
“Didn’t I tell you about it?”
“Oh, right. Well, what happened was they’d been out for a walk one Sunday, and on the way back they’d popped into the pub. They had a couple of pints, apparently, then shared a bottle of wine. Back home they had a couple more glasses, and while my son watched a bit of telly his wife went up for a bath. Well, my lad nodded off on the couch and when he woke up it had gone dark. No sign of the wife. So he goes upstairs and that’s when he found her.”
Roy Diamond takes off his glasses and polishes them with his tie. He whistles a snatch of the theme from Last of the Summer Wine. The plate machine sends another plate trundling down the conveyor.
I say, “Found her? What do you mean, found her?”
He puts his glasses back on and blinks at me, grinning, like I’m an idiot who needs every little detail explaining. “Dead, of course! Silly cow had gone and forgotten to put any cold water in the bath, because she’d had a few, you see. She’d filled it right up to the top with scalding water and just hopped in. She was a big lass, though. Heavy. I’ve never seen the attraction myself but some men like ‘em like that. So she’d jumped in and the shock of the hot water made her slip. She fell right in and couldn’t get out. Eventually had a heart attack. Killed her. Eventually.”
I open and close my mouth a few times. I try to say something. Roy Diamond grins at me like he’s told a joke.
I manage to speak. “Wait, you say, ‘Eventually had a heart attack’. You mean…”
“Oh, the burns were terrible! The water cooked her, basically. She died, and sat in scalding water for a good hour. Obviously the water cooled but… well… you get the picture.”
I say, “I do. Jesus. Just… just… Jesus…”
Roy Diamond potters about in the yellow light of the room, gathering plates, taping them together. “The police got involved, obviously. They arrested my lad, you know. Thought he’d done her in! Ha ha! If they’d known my lad they’d know he doesn’t have it in him. Weak, you see. Not like me. After a while they realised it was an accident. Misadventure, the coroner’s report said. The thing is, he couldn’t get over it. It can’t have been very pleasant walking into a bathroom and finding her like that, I’ll grant you, but you can’t keep going on about it, can you? I mean, life goes on! So I said to him, ‘David,’ I said, ‘It’s been a year now and it’s time to pull yourself together! I’m tired of hearing about it! You’ve got to move on, go back to work and stop dwelling on things. Maybe get yourself a nice girlfriend!’ Like I said, no backbone…”
I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I say, “you didn’t say that to him, did you? Tell me you didn’t really say that to him.”
Roy Diamond barks a sort of laugh. “I bloody did and I’d say it to him now if he was here! He needed telling and I bloody told him! Probably did him the world of good. Probably.”
“What did he say when you said it?”
Roy shrugs. “Nothing. He just left. Crying.” Roy Diamond tuts, shaking his head.
“And afterwards?”
“I don’t know. I’ve not seen the soft bugger since. The wife keeps trying to get me to call him but I’ve said to her that he knows where I am when he decides to apologise.”
I shake my head. “What about his brother? You said ‘lads’ earlier, so I presume he’s got a brother?”
“Oh, him? not seen the eldest in years. A falling out. He knows where I am when he decides to apologise.”
Roy Diamond carries on working and I watch him carefully.
It suddenly dawns on me that he isn’t actually a cunt, or a wanker, or any other of those names that have been pinned on him over the years.
I realise that Roy Diamond is a full blown sociopath. He wanders around whistling in the piss-light, grating the nerves of his fellow members of society, but he isn’t actually a member of society. He is something else, something cold and cruel and without a heart. He whistles as he describes his daughter in law being cooked to death in a bath. He laughs when he describes his son’s display of emotion at her death as ‘weak’.
He likes to drive a Rover with a walnut dashboard.
I see more plates coming out of the machine. I can’t seem to move, I just stare at them. Roy Diamond smiles at me. He says, “Are you just going to stare at that plate or are you going to ask it for a fuck, Luci?”
I look into his eyes and there is nothing there. They are like two discs of cheap glass.
I suddenly feel freezing cold. I say, “Fuck that.”
I leave the room.
The studio is quiet and the light is white and the people in there are your average, common or garden cunts, wankers and arseholes. I feel relieved to be around them.
Soulless Boss says, “I thought you were making plates?”
I shake my head. “Fuck that,” I repeat.
Soulless Boss takes a good look at me sighs. “Fair enough. I can’t stand him either. He freaks me out.”
I sit down and stare at a blank screen.

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6 Responses to 169. Backbone

  1. Blue Baby says:

    Please tell me that’s mostly a product of your very fine imagination xxx

  2. TBT says:

    Bleak as ever Luci but brilliant none the less. I seem to have waited an eternity for this.

  3. D says:

    Excellent, loved it. Feel like i need to meet him now, one meets so few true socio paths in ones lifetime, I have a little scale. None of that were I work, just your average middle class cock wombles, all tuperware, salad and banality.

    Hope your keeping well


  4. Ian says:

    An as usual brilliant description of a slice of “English” life from somewhere that seems so absurdly familiar…. I do hope some of these short stories, tales or scenes in time find you the adulation you deserve, Luci. Top work.

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