The following is an excerpt from the novel Under the Bridge to be published Jan 2021 Micheal is on the night shift at Standard No 2 plant in Speke, Liverpool. 1975
Michael checked the clock. One minute to ten: just enough time to put his sandwiches, flask and newspaper away, and get to his workstation.
Blaaaaaaah. The klaxon sounded, and he stepped up. His workstation was part of a short line with steel guide rails between him and his oppo. He nodded to Ted. They would face each other for the next ten hours of the shift, and usually spoke no more than a couple of sentences.
Ted was a nice guy. He liked this job because it was indoors, unlike building sites or the docks. Michael knew what it was like to be out in all weathers. When he’d first left Jack Power without a trade, he was consigned to the physically arduous tasks of the labourer: mixing and hauling cement, bricks, timber. Everything that needed moving up, down, or around half-built muddy sites. As he entered his fifties, this was stable, warm, regular, but soul-destroying work.
A Faustian pact meant hours spent inside the factory were traded for the financial ability to live outside. Except Faust chose to enter his deal with the devil. Michael and his workmates had no choice or control. It was work or the steady decline of poverty.
On permanent nights, he had little contact with the world during a normal week. For some workers, this was a bonus—a garden, dog, football, and a few pints were all they needed. They had largely given up on life as participants. They became providers and spectators, paying with their own lives became their main contribution to family life. Every night Michael worked opposite Ted, he could see his own future and hated it. But the factory didn’t care if you hated, resented, or simply endured—it demanded its price.
The spot-welding gun hung next to him. The counter-balanced weight, meant he could handle and move the gun around the chassis that would come sliding down the rails. The steel panels fell into the jig, which closed to hold it in place. They had two minutes to swing the huge gun around the chassis, lining up the elements to apply electrically generated heat to weld the parts together. When the trigger was pulled, the two arms of the gun closed, and the resulting electrical charge melted the metal forming the weld. Michael and Ted began to swing the guns around the chassis with just enough time to complete the thirteen welds before the jig popped open, and the panel slid onto the next station.
A ten-hour shift from 10:00 pm until 8:00 am would be broken by a forty-minute break to eat sandwiches halfway through. A ten-minute tea break was allowed in the first part of the shift, and then the same during the second half. If the toilet was required in between these times, although it was frowned on, it was allowed. Workers would raise their hand as they worked, trying to catch the attention of the foreman. The chargehand would then assign the floater to replace them for the few minutes allowed to get to the bathroom and back.
As soon as he took his place at the workstation, Michael tried to empty his mind, allowing his body to act out the motions required. He needed to be alert enough to find the locations for the weld and manipulate the gun, but he knew he could do it in a state of semi- or near-consciousness by concentrating on his physical movements, building a rhythm so that every movement was part of a choreographed sequence. Step up. Raise the gun. Lower and twist. Fire. Swing up. Fire. Up again. Fire. Twist round arch. Fire. Move up. Fire. Move up. Fire. Round right and down. Fire.
The whole sequence repeated hour after hour. Conversation broke the rhythm, bringing him back to real-time, real space, so it was avoided. Here, the clock dominated everything. He didn’t want to be here. He wanted to be in a place where time didn’t exist, just the movement.