I read recently that Weasel is moving house. You can catch up with his latest exploits at his blog.
His entry prompted me to consider my former career as a removal man. They were simpler times before the permeation of cell phones and internet.
Our job was simply to empty location A,
Pack the van (it was always a van, never a truck or even a lorry)
Transport 'effects' (never furniture or stuff) to location B
and fill location B with effects from van.
Of course there were often variations on a theme such as packing and wrapping, drop offs and detours, the occasional forgotten item or lost set of keys, issues of storage or tea spilt over important written directions.
I could tell you any number of lenghty Bowles-esque anecdotes, all long winded and vague involving the many and varied trials and tribulations of carrying furniture, moving pianos and the Russian mafia.
I worked for 5 summers for the self proclaimed Grand old man of East Anglian removals, "Hadley & Ottaway". They were based in a tiny yard in the middle of Norwich, a city that still retains something of it's medieval past despite the better efforts of the Luftwaffe and 1960's planning. It was within one of the remaining 14th century courtyards that our greasy, oily vans used to rev up each morning with scant regard for the ageing surroundings. We used to store our gear in an old victorian elevator and the bathroom was easily 250 years old. The company itself was maybe 80 years old and was run by a bespoke gentleman by the name of Turner. There was often talk of moving the entire operation out to a purpose built warehouse style venue on the outskirts of the city. The word among the 'boys' (those of us who lifted stuff) and the 'drivers' (guess) was that as long as Turner could stave off the costly move to more efficient facilities we were staying put. The irony of this was lost on no one.
Turner worked us hard but, it must be said, paid us fairly well. We would often leave the yard very early in the morning, move someone who was very rich indeed, be tipped heavily and return back at the yard late at night. It was ideal work for a student trying to break down the overdraft during the three months of summer break.
In 1996 I spent one summer working for a company in Bath, in the west of England. If H&O had been all pre dawn starts and late finishes "Workman" was a much more sedate expereince and one that taught me a few things about the world of work. I had been a student for 4 years and was about to start my teaching career. At workmans I was able to roll into the yard at sometime just before 8am and get my job sheet from Len, the co-owner of the company. Len and his brother John kept their paperwork on a spike. They wore those green docker style trousers and polo shirts often covered in grime, dust and a bit of sweat (Len and John were far better off than their appearances belied but unlike Mr Turner were not afraid to muck infrom time to time). Len would tell you who you were with and where you were going.
Workman was often local work. Len had friends in the local council and had sucessfully bid for a number of contracts for government moves (compared with Mr Turner who had a number of friends in John Major's cabinet and would frequently mutter darkly about the prospect of a Labour government).
This meant that we would often spend time in the middle of Bath moving filing cabinets from the housing benefit office to the DMV across the street.
We would also moving council house tenants from one property to another, sometimes against their will. No heavy tipping with Workman but you never had to start early and we were distraught if we had to work beyond 5.30pm.
It was certainly physical work but not always in the ways that many assume. Lots of climbing stairs, walking into vans and yes, obviously , carrying stuff. The thing is this, Each and every removal man has to live to lift another day and no one wants to injure someone or get injured. After about half an hour on the job you soon realise that you are not paid enough to be a hero. If something is too heavy, get help. There was also a certain code amongst movers. You always stand aside when someone is carrying something, no matter how small or large that item might be. You never return to the van empty handed. You would soon get found out and theres nothing worse in such an environment than being a lazy bastard or a whinger.
There was alot of banal conversation, stupid jokes and sweat. Music, sport, food and sex were the staples of conversation, along with the job in hand or when the next tea, smoke or food break would be or who had just been given the big run to France or Wales. Pianos I have known was also a favored topic.
I enjoyed it, it was fairly stress free and it definately kept me fit. I was able to make one phonecall early each summer and was pretty much guaranteed employment until the end of September. Working for H&O I was able to travel the length and breadth of the UK and saw the insides of some rather spectacular buildings (Houses of Parliament, some wierd stately homes, Auction houses) and bum cigarettes off members of the uber rich.
Working for Len and John I was able to see the insides of Bath council offices and on one occaison spend the afternoon sunbathing and swimming in the English Channel as we waited for the keys to a property to be delivered. I was also able to bum cigarettes off Corky and Dave.
I have compiled a few short anecdotes. You will need to vote for the one that looks fascinating and possibly hilarious. If there is any interest I will publish in a week or two.
1. Wally, his guns and his daughters.
2. Slumper and the table.
3. Sending Slumper to Paris.
4. Dennis Waterman's washing machine.