Get Your Laugh­ing Tackle Around this

The Victoria Standard - - Obituaries - GEORGE SMITH

“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…

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