Ray Doyle is the narrator of my debut novel, 'Stumbles and Half Slips'. In a new series of short pieces, I'll be giving him some new tales to tell, mainly about being at work. Along the way, you may well pick up some new details about his life...
I knew that the job was going to go to shit when the zip broke on the jacket that they'd given me. This only happened a week or so after I'd started, and I somehow knew then that it was not going to last.
Not that the job was anything special. Anything special at all, actually. It was meant to be security, but all we were doing in fact was car park attending. We were all working for an independent scrap metal merchant, who seemed to think he was a bigger businessman than he actually was. This was somewhere on the edge of the East Midlands, where it becomes the west, Burton I think.
There were two of us, and what we had to do, in a series of bizarrely organised shifts, was to stand at the gates to the company 'car park'. We had two deckchairs to sit on, which didn't really strike me as giving off the right impression. I hadn't asked about this, but Sean, the other bloke, did. The boss - some fella who's name I forget right now, this was back in 1993, 94 possibly, a long time back, but I do remember his jacket and trousers never seemed to come from the same suit -he just said that it was something he was working on.
The deck chairs didn't really bother me. Things like that never really do. It felt quite good to be sitting in a deck chair by what passed for a car park. It was actually one of those areas of what look like waste ground, turned into a temporary car park. The surface consisted of several different shades and kinds of gravel, washed with a thin grey sludge of rain, tiny pebbles and what could have been ashes. Puddles of varying depths, breadths and colours of water dotted the expanse like the spots on a damp dalmatian.
The weather did bother me though. This was autumn, about October, and the weather was not kind. I had a very nice jacket though.
What we had to do was basically stop every vehicle who came to the gate in the fence and take some details. All we did was ask their name and what they wanted. Then we'd tell where to park in the great space of the car park, which was never full, and often entirely empty. It was big enough to play five-a-side football in, but we never had enough people for a game.
Once we had taken the details we would completely forget them. There was no procedure for writing anything down, and no reception desk to take the details too, from our outpost by the gate. Instead, the visitors would just drive over to the space we'd indicated and park there. Then walk over the dirt and water to the small, single storey brick building that contained the two offices. The actual scrap yard was about two hundred metres away, down the road. When visitors wanted that, we would point at it for them.
But it was the jacket that made the job for me. It was one of those top quality hiking jackets, something that was still relatively rare back then. It was like the parka I'd worn at primary school, only cool looking, with layers and zips that made me impregnable to the cold. I loved that jacket. There was no company logo on it either.
Which was why I'd actually cried when the zip broke. It just seemed so typical. This was not long after my step-father had tried to kill me in a drunken rage, and then cried like a child the next day as he said sorry over the phone.
I was staying with a friend in his flat. I had few things to call my own. This coat, although on loan, was one of them. Something that defined me in this short period. But the zip broke when night when I was taking it off. I told the boss the next day but he said that there was nothing he could do.
Sitting at the deck chairs with Sean was still okay though. But later that in the day the boss returned and told us he didn't need us any more. He took the coats off us and we had to walk home. Sean told me that the agency that had got him the work was crap, and I agreed. I didn't know what agency he was with.
I still think of that coat though. It was the best I'd ever owned, until the zip broke.
To find out more about Ray Doyle and his life as a van driver, buy 'Stumbles and Half Slips' from Epic Rites Press.