Archive for February, 2013
Strange as though it may seem this is a true story. My grandfather, affectionately known as Poppa had a dark secret in his past. I accidentally came across this in a history of the Port and found Pud, my grandfather’s alter ego. Many things fell into place after this.
Saturday 12 May.
To demolish the old fishermen’s sheds to make way for the railway turnabout (what is the actual name for this?) was going to be a nice little earner though Pud. He estimated that, given everything went smoothly he could have the job done in three weeks with three men and the $10,000 would be split between the four of them. They would get $1,000 each and he would pocket $7,000, and, the sale of the scrap wood, iron and fittings would probably net him a further $4,000. Very nice, very tidy. He would finally be looked up to by his strict Calvinistic wife who thought she had married far beneath herself. He had started out as a shipwright in Ireland and migrated to this beautiful country but times had been hard. He had bought an acre block of land and thought that an orchard would be the ideal income earner to supplement what he could get working in the shipyards where work was sporadic. The orchard had failed, eventually beaten by poor choice of trees and lack of knowledge on how to care for them. People in the port were mostly self sufficient in vegetables and nearly every one had an apple, plum and pear tree so Pud’s crop died on the ground. His wife was too proud or snooty to make the windfalls into jam or relish which could have been sold for profit. Pud then moved to delivering coal in a horse drawn cart and that made a good living until the combination of his wives pride and a new carrying firm that used motorized transport, put paid to any hopes of secure future in household fuels. But Pud thought that he was onto something here. He had a line on something that everyone needed and whats more needed year after year. Pulling down old buildings and putting new ones up in their place would always we something that every community needed if they were going ahead and the port was certainly going ahead. The recent installation of a railway line from the nearby city linked the port with the rich hinterlands and exports of fruit, coal, dairy and sheep products. More storage space would be needed eventually but the pressing immediate need was a turnaround on the site of the old blacksmiths shop so that heavy engines could be simply turned around to haul empty wagons back to the city rather than having to traverse a costly and lengthy rail loop. Pud was talking to his friend Johnny who Pud had formed a relationship of sorts through his various business ventures. Johnny, Like Pud, was an immigrant who had come to make good in his new country. He had started off as a grocer in the port but had quickly realized that given even growth the prime commodity would be space. Johnny had bought a number of old fishing sheds that circled the port and hoped to make money from selling them as demolition projects when bigger and more modern buildings were called for. He also had a motley collection of boats that served as the port tug, the pilot boat, and a ferry to an adjoining seaside village. This was of much concern to some residents as they saw them as an accident waiting to happen and there were community moves to purchase vessels in keeping with the port new prosperity. They were further angered and hindered in these efforts by Johnny’s meteorite rise to political power. He had been deputy mayor for the past year and if the voters turned out as they had in the last election he was looking at being mayor in the next elections. He appealed to the largely immigrant population in the area and his blend of simple thinking, and business cunning had captured many peoples imagination. He was also a generous man as long as the generosity had some outcome, which would further increase his own personal fortune.
‘You know Frank “ Johnny started off, using Puds formal name. Pud knew of his nickname but hated it as he hated his middle name of Scott. Any mention of either of them could send him into hours of apolexy. Johnny knew and honored this.
‘You know Frank- OI reckon you could make more money out of this than you had figured. Why pay these guys for days of work when you could pull the whole thing down in an instant and just have them clear up the rubble. Save yourself – orr hh – reckon you could save yourself – given that it all works out – I reckon you could save yourself fifteen hundred in wages and bring the whole thing in a day or two earlier. If you were smart you could negotiate something with the railways so that you get a bonus if you do it in three days’.
Pud , who was not skilled in the ways of the world as Johnny was answered ‘ Fifteen hundred dollars ehhh? – negotiate a clause about finishing early? Hmmmmm . How will that work John?’
Johnnny had other motives. He was absolutely gutted by the decision of the railways to use the blacksmith’s shop for its site. His shed nearby was the perfect site but the local manager of the railways was one of Johnny’s detractors and, in Johnny’s opinion, he had deliberately used this other site to get at Johnny. Johnny wanted to sabotage the project and he was not above using his old friend (Johnny rationalized this that Pud was a silly, simple, man who would never come to anything in the port and therefore was no threat to Johnny and his ambitions.
‘Well it works this way.’
Johnny proceeded to outline his cunning plan to the gullible Pud.
Wednesday 23 May
Pud attached the last shackle to the wire loop and expertly screwed the pin home and slipped the loop so that it could run free. He stood back and surveyed the scene before him. The blacksmith’s shop stood before him. Surrounding it was an enormous wire hawser, nearly as thick as a mans forearm. This, in turn, was hitched to a steam locomotive which, at this very, moment, was building up a head of steam.
Pud thought through the exercise. Workers ready to clean up the debris, hawser in place-securely shackled and wired, engine ready – what else remained? Pud scanned his brain but nothing fell into place. He gave the signal to the locomotive driver who Pud had paid handsomely with a crisp $100 note – more than a months wages, to keep his mouth shut and most of all not to tell his employers who were away in their distant city office and only visited the port when something was to be opened or a politician was visiting.
The locomotives wheels initially skidded on the tracks as the twelve hundred horsepower of the mighty engine transferred power to driving the train back down the tracks to the city. She gradually gained speed and by one hundred feet the cable started to tighten and the timbers of the old shop started to shriek in protest. All to quickly windows popped from their frames, timbers splintered as the strain broke them free from nails and glue, roofing iron popped, and the building gradually lost its shape and fell to the ground. Pud was delighted and as he looked at the site the building was filled with the accumulated dust and grime of years as the chimney and then the roof finally caved in. There was an accompanying smell, which was very unpleasant, but he couldn’t place it at first but there wads no mistaking the fountains of water, which now sprouted from the site. Puds first thought was there must be an underground stream beneath the building. He had not seen any plans of the site as he wanted to get the project over as fast as possible. The locomotive had now come to a stop and thew driver was running back down the tracks frantically waving his arms and yelling something to Pud.
, Weather and glass’ – What did he mean weather and glass. It’s a bit late to worry about rain now thought Pud but he thought that maybe something else was wrong. The driver was within talking distance now and his reddened face and waving arms conveyed more than a little alarm to Pud.
‘ DID YOU CUT THE WATER AND GAS????’
My fondest memories of Poppa are of me, scrunched down in front of his dilapidated Morris chair, the seat stuffed full of old newspapers to make it habitable, listening to the Children’s hour at nine o’clock in the morning, in the school holidays as his pipe smoke drifted out the opened window to the exciting jungle of his back yard. Poppa never worked again. His career was effectively over after he was sued for the expenses of clearing up the mess that he had created. Johnny went on to become one of the most flamboyant and unliked mayors of the port. He ruled with a total disregard to the wishes and political ambitions of the local business community but retained enough favor with the population that he was returned term after term. He finally died peacefully in his living room and was discovered by my father as he visited to take him for his weekly drive.
I should have known that Frank was a disaster waiting to happen when Cornelius, the builder, said that he was one of his drinking buddies who had subcontracted before and always did an excellent job but wanted payment “under the table”. Under the table usually meant about ½ to ¾ the costs of a job and my budget was running tight. I reluctantly agreed. Frank was to replumb the extension, manufacture and fit the new kitchenware, and install the new toilet and bathroom.
“Piece of piss”, exclaimed Frank on looking at the job. He was a big, untidy man. Red-faced, broken veins, big, clumsy hands that I would have thought more suitably matched to a butcher than a Master plumber. He drove a late model pickup with all his credentials listed on the side but both the pickup and Frank reeked of better days.
Oh yes! Frank was Frank Lesley 0- Master Plumber and president of the Master Plumbers Guild. Whatever that meant. I pictured hooded figures meeting in floodlit display rooms with sinks, and kitchen fittings.
So Frank started working for us, or Cornelius, or himself. Some days it was hard to tell. He flitted in at 7.30 am, 10 am, sometimes 3.00pm, sometimes you wouldn’t see him for several days and things started happening that defined Frank and his work ethic. I arrived home on what must have been the second week of the project and walked to what had been the old bathroom area to find, to my horror, bare floors, an enormous hole in the floor with pipes and wires emerging from the cavity like broken teeth prior to root canals and crowns. A new bath shell was propped up against the hallway still resplendent in its factory wrappings. No sign of Frank. Cornelius hung about the extension looking furtively in my direction.
“What in the hell is going on?” I asked. (it seemed all my communications with Cornelius now took the form of desperate questions, usually about Frank).
“He says that his job is done. It’s the carpenters’ job to fit the bath and toilet. He just plumbs them up.”
I dialled Frank’s number on my cellular and repeated my request and was met with the same response. Cornelius slunk away and I noticed that an hour later the space had been professionally finished and the bath was in-situ.
I arrived home the next day tom find Frank just leaving the premises.
“She’s all ready to go” he announced proudly as he threw his motley tools into a big leather holdall and hurriedly left the premises.
“I’ll just turn the Toby on as I leave” he announced, looking back at me.
“An hour later I started preparations for the evening meal in the makeshift area that we now called our kitchen. Cor (as we now called Cornelius) had jerry rigged a sink on an old back door and laid out two planks with a hand basin to function as a crude sink. Did I mention that the sink that Frank was to design and install (two tubs and drain and tap placement to match the plumbing which Frank seemed to have completed?) had arrived and the sinks were at the wrong end and the tap fittings were so mismatched they were just a joke. And a joke Frank made of it.
“We will just run a plastic pipe from here to here” he announced throwing is big arms around the untidy space.
“Why do you want two sinks anyway? My missus only has one.”
I picture Mrs Frank – a meek, submissive woman with hunched shoulder, always looking over those hunched shoulders to keep an eye on Frank and secretly wishing for a better life.
Funny how perceptions sometimes are way wide of the mark. I happened to see Mrs Frank, and Miss Frank (his daughter) at a social function and she was the exact opposite of Frank. Well heeled, mannered, soft voiced. The daughter was almost beautiful and the three of them looked an odd family. As though Frank was the cancerous growth that had come to live with the previously happily functioning pair.
Anyway, back to the sound of running water (this was to be a theme in my/our relationship with Frank and his “master plumbing”)
He descended into the cellar and, to my horror, discovered that Frank had installed a swimming pool. Well not purposefully. The whole cellar was a swirling pool of clay infused. I rushed to the Toby and turned the supply off. Cellular again.
Frank arrived half an hour later. No apologies.
“Gee you seem to have a good job. What do you do?” He eyed the water and I could see his mind running through some Frank- like checklist which was probably now more about avoiding litigation than any sensible explanation as to what had happened.
Turned out that Frank had been more interested in some new scheme to make money that did not involve getting dirty or getting up at 7.00 am and always being at someone’s beck and call, had forgotten to actually piece together any of his various pipes and when the water was turned on it was like the Tivoli Fountain than a fully functioning plumbing installation.
I told him my occupation (I am a psychologist)/
“Hell I reckon I could do that. You seem to have pretty good hours and that sports car looks pretty good. I see you have some nice stuff. I’ve noticed the flat screen TV’s, the stereo, the boys toys.
I had visions of Frank wandering through my house, pulling open drawers, sniffing panties. I immediately started a relaxation exercise but Frank just would not go away.
His voice broke through my attempt at calmness.
“I have got lots of ideas of how to get out of this game and make some real money. Love to run some of them past you some time. Here’s one. I had this friend who knew someone important, you know, someone in showbiz, who had a huge mansion that he/she was making money from by eco-tourism. He wanted to stock his natural, eco-friendly pond with all sorts of life, exotic and non-exotic, and he asked my friend if he could help. Well, my friend – let’s call him Cabel – decided that the best piece of wildlife he could supply would be pukekos.”
“But aren’t Pukekos protected?” I asked.
Frank looked at me as though I was one of those little green men who had landed at Roswell.
“Anyway my friend caught a shit load of pukekos and sold to them to this guy – guess how much for?”
I stared at Frank blankly my growing incredulity matched by, yet again’ the sound of running water in the background.
“$250 each. He made enough to finance two overseas holidays for him and the missus”
Needless to say our ‘ travails’ with Frank did not stop with his departure from the building site. We always wondered why, when it rained, our spouting overflowed. Turns out that Frank had no idea of downpipe placement or the concepts of runs. He just nailed (and I mean nailed- some six inch nails just split the wooden facia) the spouting together, did not glue joints and the water just had nowhere else to go but over the edges of the spouting.
Then today I notice water bubbling up outside the newly installed kitchen. I suspected this was another Frank moment. Ever tried to get a plumber for an ‘emergency’? They are worse than GP’s who stopped doing home emergency visits just after man emerged from caves. I spent the next two days watching anxiously as water levels rose and the sound of running water (by Day 2 this was akin to an out of control Niagara Falls in the bathroom as the sound of a water leak was amplified through the mixer in the shower stall (which also broke after six months use). Finally the plumber arrives. Young, looks like he has just been weaned. Turns out that Frank had not installed new plumbing from street to new kitchen but has “spliced” into the old water system which was a complex rural supply arrangement. This left a whole, active water supply which had finally given up the ghost and now had exploded, flooding the property. The young (and thoroughly professional) plumber looked at me apologetically and explained what had happened.
“Probably not the worst I’ve seen but it definitely makes the record book”
And that says it all.
I started bglogging a few years back in what was then an attempt to connect with people to read my stories as, like most writers, I was frustrated at the long time between getting published.
If you read this blog you will have noticed that activity has slowed considerbaly. This is not because I have stopped writing but I have not had the desired effect of arousing interst in my writing.
I will be returning to writing and publishing more stories beacuse I have found that it has had the effect of keeping me writing something every day.