At sixteen I quit the paper round. A tip-off from one of my sisters, a Saturday Girl at the butcher’s in the Arndale, told me there was a job going at their factory in Garforth.1 Whilst it wasn’t a huge wrench to leave the media career (all my personal and professional goals in that role had been achieved) I remember feeling strangely and suddenly depressed when the newsagent said ‘congratulations’ on the new job. As this was before The Smiths had released anything, I had no way of processing the feeling.
Saturdays up at 6 – no particular hardship after the round2 – and onto the Raleigh Stratos, pimped with a too-highly-pitched horn and a flip-down stand, which I’d sawed off just too short, so the bike would slowly keel over like something shot with a dart on the Masai Mara. With drop handlebars turned backwards and up, as was the modern way, down the mad mile to Garforth I rode, and onwards to its industrial arse, where the company’s two vans were already loading up with hot beige destined for Crossgates.
My Saturday Boy responsibilities at the butcher’s factory were many – but memorably, one: scraping the oven trays and feeding them into the washing drum; a carousel of scalding jets and murderous wire brushes, with flimsy walls that buckled and sucked and wanted me in. All the while at my back by the factory’s rear doors, crazed starlings raided the waiting trays, each one a platter of scorched delicious morsels. Which is to say, I guessed they were delicious, obviously…
And, two: my ‘tell us an interesting fact about yourself’ fact ever since, and the thing I will eventually wind up repeating in a care home – putting jelly into the pork pies.
I was rigged with a cylindrical tank on my back, a tube coming off it and a gun on its end. The pork pies I placed in racks before me and with my nozzle end I’d poke one hole in a top crust and into a second hole I’d pump my hot animal juice (yes, that’s what I said) until it came bubbling out the first hole and shot up my sleeve. And then I’d release the squeeze and move onto the next.
What made up that jelly, it was never my place to ask; although pretty much anything that wasn’t lopped straight off the swinging hunks in the cold room appeared to be created from the granular contents of large paper sacks and particular measures of water. Let’s just say there was no sweet smiling old dear in an amusing apron, stirring a pan on a stove.
I got five quid flat for these Saturday stints; half-past six ‘til one. As showers weren’t terribly de rigueur in Leeds back then (and I considered myself pretty well steam cleaned), after cycling back home and a lunch of lifted sausage rolls, I’d leg it straight down to Woolworth’s to blow my wages on singles and spend the rest of the day making tapes. The Cure’s The Walk, Siouxsie’s Dear Prudence, Rock Steady Crew and Song To The Siren… all these the musical spoils of my Pork Life.
I left that Saturday job by giving it to someone else – actually just arranged for a mate to replace me, and he started turning up when I didn’t. A neat employment model. Nobody noticed. Maybe the starlings thought of me sometimes, steaming, strangely depressed, slyly eyeing their scran.
1. I’ll leave out the family name on the off-chance they’re still trading in earnest.
2. Generally no hardship, 6 A.M., but just occasionally the Baby Ben alarm would meet with a trainee’s hangover from a Friday night’s Skol or a Trophy Electric (modernly distinct from the handpull), drunk skulking in corners in Headingley pubs.
© Copyright, Steve Mitchell and Fisher Lane, 2012.