Get Your Laughing Tackle Around this
“Do you know anything about digging trenches?” “Not a thing, old chap.” Looking at me significantly, the foreman told me to show Roger where to hang his coat and what needed doing. We walked out onto the top of the arches beneath, what we were told was, the largest private wine cellar in London. Earlier, we had helped move the wine to other parts of the house, frightening the butler by occasionally pretending to drop one. Our job today was to start digging trenches for drains and other services for the two, three-storey townhouses we were building. The foundation was to be a cantilevered concrete slab built to act like a bridge that would support the houses without putting any pressure on the old Victorian brick arches below.
We dug a hole in the road to reveal the old clay sewer pipe that had been installed in London’s streets in the 1850s after “The Great Stink”. While we worked, Roger and I talked about our childhoods. And on our breaks, we would sit on the edge of the trench and smoke cigarettes.
As the days passed, I got to know Roger well enough to ask him once more about his present family circumstances, since he had been initially reluctant to talk about them. We were digging a series of pits that would eventually house the ends of the steel cables that would be tightened to raise the concrete slab. Roger was telling me how his mother had a job at Buckingham Palace, when the foreman asked me to come to the office.
Looking rather troubled, he asked me how well I knew Roger. I told him that he was a neighbor and I hardly knew him at all. “We will have to see how he gets on without you for awhile,” he said, looking at a plan on his desk. “I’m sending you to Down Street. There’s a temple of some sort that needs building above the swimming pool. Here’s the drawing.” He handed me the plan. “You will probably be gone for a week.”
I returned a week later. “Oh great, you’re back!” the foreman said, picking up his mug of tea. “Your mate Roger will have to go. I’m sorry.”
“He’s just a neighbor, don’t worry about it,” I said, although I was thinking I did quite like Roger after all.
“He spends too long smoking and sitting around doing nothing.”
I went back to trench digging and said nothing to Roger about what the foreman had just said. But when Roger put down his spade and started to roll a cigarette, I casually suggested, “Don’t let the foreman see you taking too many breaks.”
“But we’ve finished the job,” Roger said, sitting on the edge of the trench.
“Find something else to do, or just look busy at least.”
After lunch, the electricity was to be turned off for a couple of days while new cables were installed. A small petrol generator would be set up so we could boil the kettle and run a light in the tea hut. Roger and I had the job of setting it up and putting petrol in it. Roger bent over and started to pull at the cord. He pulled at it over and over again, but nothing happened. Once the motor feebly spluttered and then did nothing, but Roger kept pulling at the cord. The foreman came out of his office. Carpenters and other workers gathered round. The policeman from the embassy across the road came over and stood with his hand on his gun as if to shoot the damn thing should it not yield to the beating Roger was giving it.
“Give up lad, you’ll give yourself a hernia,” someone said.
“I’ll have a go!” I said and bent to take the pull cord out of Roger’s hand.
“It’s probably flooded by now,” the foreman said, just as I gave it one almighty pull.
My hand shot upwards. My elbow, traveling through the air as fast as a cannon ball, hit Roger square in the face. The assembled crowd gasped as Roger crumpled to the ground like a burst balloon. He was on his back lying across a pile of rock and dirt, blood running from his mouth and nose.
“I think you’ve killed him,” remarked the policeman.
To be continued…