My story ‘The Erection Specialists’ was published in The Honest Ulsterman on 22nd September 2020 – and if you are interested you can read it here.
It is entirely fictional, but based loosely (very loosely!) on my experiences putting up marquees across Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
Putting up Marquees was a very hard – but a very unusual – job. Firstly, it was physically very demanding. I remember on my first day I was given a tub of metal assembly pins and told to lift them up onto a truck. It was only a height of about 4 feet – but I couldn’t do it (both the bucket was very heavy and I was very weak). The hours were long. We regularly wracked up 80 -100 hours a week. On more than one day I worked 7 a.m to midnight and was back up again at 7.
But it was also a very interesting job.
It was exclusively male. And it was, as most construction jobs are, at least moderately dangerous and so there was very little tolerance for people who couldn’t do the work. This meant the learning curve was steep and, in truth, probably encouraged at times a culture of macho bullying. And the sites I worked on were replete with a huge array of characters; teenage fathers, men on the run from things, immigrants working every hour of the day to send money back home, students looking for summer work, students who had started as summer labourers but never left, travellers, cynical old foremen who were ok once they realised you weren’t going to quit or kill someone, spiteful and bullying foremen, a monstrously huge and strong and almost platinum-blonde man from Devon called The Polar Bear, two deeply-racist (and almost certainly fugitive) Afrikaners who just sort of appeared one day and then left shortly after and just as mysteriously…
And the money was good. Even more so because most of us had no time to spend it. So you often had a group of people working far away from home and with cash in their pocket and need of release. Destructive levels of drinking and comically-bad hangovers ensued with a predictable regularity.
But there was also humour. Great, quick-witted gales of humour. And an inventiveness of language and real moments of kindness and decency and philosophy.
I put up Marquees for about a year in total. And this year was just one between the ages of 15 and 25 where I worked at a huge range of increasingly outlandish jobs – glass collector, clothes shop assistant, forester, kitchen porter, ice-cream parlour, scratch-card seller, tent erector, landscape gardener, fruit harvester, travelling fun-fair hand, cotton presser, banana humper, fast-food lackey – as I made my way through the world.
I intend to write about my experience of working all these jobs someday, but I’m still working out how. I think ‘The Erection Specialists’ is probably my first foray. And The English Arts Council have now very kindly given me a grant to develop it into to a longer work, possibly a ‘choose your own adventure’ poetry collection, which I’m going start on in January 2021.
I don’t know how this will work yet. I don’t know if it will work yet. But I’m going to record my experience of the project on this blog and see what comes out the other end.
So, if you are interested, check in from time to time and see how’s it going.