Hackney Saga 2

Despite all the efforts I had put into making the WIS (Wenlock Barn Improvement Scheme) work, whilst I was in hospital that week my old area boss Joe Terry succeeded in scuppering the continuation of the scheme set up under the Government’s new initiatives. I truly believe the Government was right to require Hackney to bring their worst estate a far better service but despite my best intentions, I was removed. What he said or did, I never found out, but the reality was – I was reassigned back to my old position of Foreman plumber but in central Hackney in a small depot that was clearly an old horse stable mews called Kenmure Road depot. Now Alec Dymock was my immediate boss who I had known many years before when we were both working a normal 35 hour week but also agreed to cover any emergency calls that may have arisen out of hours. We were known as the ‘call out plumbers’ – where seven of us would cover the whole Borough once every seven weeks on a rota, from 6pm through to 8am the next morning. Alec was very laid back so long as no problems landed back to him and we (the six of us) were in awe as to how he managed to claim (and get away with) sometimes 130 or 140 hours on the weeks that he was the on call plumber.
Although I was the Foreman Plumber of course I shared an office with the “General Trades Foreman” a strange man named Johnny South who told me that I should understand where some men’s interests were in drinking, gambling, or smoking, his pleasure was chasing and succeeding in seducing women. Over the weeks that became very evident when any young woman visited our even phoned our office to request a repair and he would immediately drop into sickly sweet soft spoken predator. His charge hand another John had a reputation of being a hard man having served sixteen weeks on remand where he and three others had staged an armed robbery. Apparently the police could not gather enough evidence to take John to Court so they had to let him go. But when I asked John how he managed to afford a smart two seat sports car with a fold down top he became very evasive saying he was left some money by a relative.
At that time Hackney had just acquired “The Mission Hall” in Mare Street almost opposite the Town Hall. John (the charge hand) was given the task of clearing the whole building out of what was removable, and put in a team of labourers to fill two 16 yard skips left on the pavement outside the building double entrance doors. Danny, one of the labourers was not a villain but he was sensationally thick and I heard later the other three labourers had convinced Danny that they would do his share of the humping of rubbish down to the skips, if he were to steal anything else they could sell and split between them. John and I were in the office when the call came through that water was gushing out of the building. John and I took my van as I had kitted it out with basic tools and materials. When we arrived up on the top floor Danny had chopped through the 1 inch lead rising main that fed the cold water storage tanks. John was ready to bail out and let the police deal with the matter but I said no I could fix the problem but I would need some help. I knew I had my street keys on the van, which was not strictly legal as the MWB (Metropolitan Water Board) took a dim view of anyone turning off their valves buried under the pavements. Needless to say I found the right control valve and in a matter of minutes my box key had shut the main down. Back at the van I collected a short length of 1 inch copper pipe a 1 inch stopcock and my bag of lead tools. When I got back to the room I showed John how to cut through the lead clips that held the pipe that had once run from the room below through the floor joists right up and through the ceiling to the storage tanks. Fortunately Danny had chosen a spot about four feet up from the floor and so I managed to cut through the rest of the lead pipe and ease it out and away from the corner. John looked at me as though he thought I had gone mad when I told him to use the axe that Danny had used to pry up one of the floorboards and to chop the board into sever long slithers of wood about 2 foot long but thin enough that I could ram five or six of them down a short piece of my copper pipe and into the lead pipe I had now cut off cleanly. With my boxwood “turn-pin” I had formed a cup of sufficient size and depth to take the copper pipe but first I needed to meticulously clean the end of the copper ready for tinning it with tinman’s solder. That done and with about six to eight inched of split wood jutting beyond the copper pipe I gently shaved the cup I had formed on the lead and immediately smother the bright oxidised lead in tallow. I pushed the copper with its protruding sticks into the lead pipe and tapped the two together until I was satisfied that I had a firm bond between the two pipes. That done, I got my old paraffin lamp going and within a minute or so I had pumped it up to the right temperature. A stick of plumbers solder later I had wiped a perfect “Taff joint” and with water still laying in puddles scooped some up to chuck over the joint to cool it. Removed the wood splinters carefully so that none fell through and then fitted the stopcock. John was relieved but saying how he would skin Danny alive the next morning. I drove back to the depot about 6pm to drop John off and then went home.

The next morning both John the charge hand and Jonny South had meanness set behind their eyes. Clearly they intended to sack Danny, which I was opposed too, as Danny’s Dad was a friend of mine who was the Foreman roofer on the Borough and I had worked with many times in the past. I think Danny must have told his Dad what had happened the day before and Jack (Danny’s Dad) casually announced that Danny was sick and would not be in today.
The two mean bastards didn’t want to say anything to upset Jack, so kept their thoughts to themselves, but just as the atmosphere was beginning to normalise one of the carpenters “Bruce Magor” came into the office to request more work. Bruce was very articulate and a well-read man, I believe he had started university but for what ever reason decided to drop out. Jonny South knew that he was intellectually not in the same league as Bruce and John the charge hand was totally uncertain of what he could say before Bruce would use the full force of the grievance procedure. Instead they both referred to an empty flat where the chipboard floor in the living room was squeaking, Bruce had supposedly dealt with this problem a week or two before. They told him he could not have any more work until he fixed the floor in (they then said the address). They then went on to say they would go to the address in a few hours to make sure the problem was cured. I just guessed that this was just meanness and frustration coming out because of the Danny incident the day before. I followed Bruce out saying I was going to check up on my lads. Instead I spoke to Bruce as he sat in his three wheeler car and asked him what was the problem with the floor? He explained that it was a concrete floor with just 2 x 1 inch battens laid on top and then 8 x 4 foot chipboard sheets laid on top of the battens as result as any ones weight went onto a sheet it rubbed against the other next to it. I said I could tell him how to cure it If the previous tenant had left any carpet down (which outgoing tenants often did). Bruce explained that there was indeed carpet in the room but he didn’t try to take it up as it was very dusty. I told him to pull one side of the carpet into the middle – sling some water over the woodchip boards then replace the carpet back and do the same with the other side. Explaining that as the water seeped into the woodchip it would swell and stop the squeaking. The next day Bruce eloquently described how both Johns had come to the address as he was putting his tools away and tried every way to detect even the slightest squeak. Of course they couldn’t and Bruce made the dramatic announcement that he had done nothing different today than he did on his previous visit and if they dared to ask him back for the same thing again he would know and prove they were singling him out.
(Mike)

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