When I was working picking tomatoes, there was a kid who worked there called Disco. When his underage girlfriend dumped him, he drove back to the pig farm where he lived and beat a pig to death with a shovel. When I was at the cheese factory. there was a guy who went to a fight club in Ebb Vale every week. He was learning to play the bagpipes and had a previous conviction for mashing a bag of hot chips into someone’s face. There was a guy at the Jobcentre – very well liked – who got cancer. He was off work and after a couple of weeks the head of our department sent round an email to let us all know that there’d been a mistake – it wasn’t cancer, thankfully. They were doing further tests. The next week he came into the office. It was cancer, after all. He looked terrible, so much weight lost, panda eyes and sunken cheeks. It was awkward – people interacted with him awkwardly, it was almost as though they’d already started getting over him and didn’t know what to say to him. I worked with a builder who brought his relatively new girlfriend along to a festival – she’d never been to one before because she’d heard so many horror stories about them. On the first night, he got mashed on a cocktail of lager, wee,cocaine and shrooms and had explosive diarrhoea in his sleep, pebble dashing the interior of the tent and his horrified girlfriend, When I went to go for a piss in the early morning half light she was sitting hunched outside her desecrated tent looking like an extra from Threads. Most of the time he was fun to work with. I’d mooch round to his place at about half eight and we’d sit and have a spliff and a cup of tea and watch Little House on the Prairie, slouched on his sofa with our dirty boots and scabbed knuckles. We’d go off to whatever job we were fucking up that week and I’d smash things up and carry things around for what could be twelve hours or could be two. Sometimes he’d just get so pissed off with everything that he’d throw his tools around and kick something and then we’d go to the pub for the day. You never knew. The jobs always overran and went over budget and we never seemed to leave many totally happy customers in our wake. The worst job we did was building a garage on someone’s back lawn in winter. Within a day or two our constant trudging had turned the whole area into a swamp of sucking, freezing mud. The ground, which we dug with spades because he didn’t want to pay for a digger, was full of rocks and roots. We had a delivery of blocks out on the road and I had to carry them all round and stack them by the swamp. Everything was covered with ice, the skin on my fingertips was already sore and shrivelled by the cold and within a few hours of carrying the rough, heavy blocks, they were just raw flesh. They’d scab up a little bit overnight but then the scabs would be rubbed off again within minutes once I started work. It started to snow and was dark by half three and we’d slither around, tripping over the inaccurately placed lines, pig sick and getting on each others’ nerves. He fell out with the guy we were working for who just got sick of our endless pissing about outside his kitchen window. There was talk there might be a fight. We went to the pub and I drank far too much on top of some cocodamol and was shouting about he could have a fight if he wanted one, I’d got family in this town, I’d got connections, I did’t know who this wanker thought he was. Then I went home and blacked out and woke up at 7am in the dark with half a burger on my face. Up and ready for work. There’s characters everywhere you work – the people make the experience. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to deal with a smashed litre bottle of steaming beetroot, red hot and vivid, broken glass everywhere and more beetroot rattling down the line, or pissing about in an office, writing nonsense for the now sadly defunct Teletext – so long as the person standing next to you isn’t some wanker, then work’s not too bad.