A Back Hander

A Memory of Barnsley

I was a chain lad when the M1 was being constructed. I was working for Amy's, the asphalt company. Amongst other things I was to make cups of tea and also collect thousands of pounds in wages for the work force. My boss who's name I canot recall, told me of some special people coming and that I had to get the china tea-set out and simply make tea and pour it out. When they arrived; some twenty management, I was courteous in every detail with much politness. I've always known how to make a good cup of tea and never use tea bags. Anyway, the big boss was so pleased in me being so polite and as he said 'having the best cup of tea made for him', he simply looked over to my boss and asked him how much my wages were. On telling him that I was earning around £27 a week, he told my boss to up my wages to £60 per week. Amy's treated me well and would include me in the perks of having a dinner within a restaurant or in a pub, it was a great firm to work for. Another company was the main contractor who laid down the road surface and also built the bridges around the West Riding of Yorkshire and of course the whole of the motorways. One evening, my boss and I and the staff went out to wine and dine. It was around 17.30 when all of us were just getting into our meal when a distraught workman came crashing through the door. He had run more than two miles and was breaking out in tears, where finally he managed to shout out that the bridge which he and his fellow workers had been working on had collapsed. Men that were working on top of the bridge were either floating down the river or that they were trapped underneath hundreds of tonnes of concrete structure - he asked for help. Obviously fire crew and ambulance were called to the scene. When we got there and looked down the shear banking, there was no way that either of us could do anything! There was a man on the far side of the river; we could see him and hear him pleading for help, his torso was underneath a concrete support that had well and truly trapped him. I'd see him lift his head out of the water and gasp for air and then go under as the power of the water had pushed him back down. That bridge, some four miles from Wakefield was built without sinking the pylons deep enough. There was a layer of sandy soil which was washed away thus the pylons sank and all the bridge collapsed. That wasn't the only bridge that was to collapse which the company had built. Now prior to all this happening, some days before the tragedy, I was down by myself on the motorway which was between Haugh and Darton. There I was marking out profiles for the ashpalt machines to put down the ashphalt, when I noticed that there were two men, both of them were somewhat well dressed and therefore managment. One was from the inspection team of the clerk of works and the other was one of the contractor's foreman. I overheard a conversation where the clerk of works from the surveying department had said that he had gone down a five mile stretch of the motorway and had noticed that there were no expansion gaps within the concrete curbs. There were four curbs that had been laid down with concrete and each curb was above five miles long without an expansion gap. When the clerk of works told the foreman that he was going to have to make out an order for all the concrete curbs to be ripped up, the foreman made a gesture and said that surely not and that he was sure that some amicable arrangement could be met; with this he made a gesture with his hand and patted his back pocket (money talked that day!) The following morning there was a man with a bolster chissel making what looked like a groove within the concrete. The groove was a quarter of an inch wide by about a sixteenth of an inch deep. That is to say, there was no expansion gap but something that appeared to be an expansion gap and to make it look like a genuine expansion gap there was some grey mastic squirted from a mastic gun which may have fooled many. Every few hundred yards the same thing was carried out. Every time I go along that stretch of road it always brings back that memory.
The other memory was that I was to meet up with a young girl called Judith, she was beautiful. We went to Barnsley bowling alley and also had good times. But one day in the summer, I was to get to work long before the staff arrived and I was to collect the money from registered mail. As the postman came I heard a voice shouting me! I looked through the haze of sunlight and still did not make out who it was that was standing at the bus stop. It was a tall young girl dressed in school uniform - I got the shock of my life, it was Judith! Five weeks I had been courting her, and when I told her that I never knew she was only a school girl she jumped in and said to me what difference did it make? In my case none whatsoever, nothing shorter than a kiss ever transpired. Her mam and dad saw no wrong in us being together - for it was they who got us together in the first place. Alas, I finished with her even though I loved her - she was just 13 and I was 19.

A memory shared by Roland Mitchell , on Mar 15th, 2012.

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