I had an existential crisis in Nottingham in the middle of a sweltering summer. We were building wheelchair access ramps outside a bank in a crumbling high street beneath peeling towerblocks. I didn’t want to be there. I was working with and for a mate and we’d kind of come to the end of our mateship. The whole venture had been such a hideous prospect that I had initially pretended to be ill and had stayed at home getting stoned and hiding my phone under a cushion and left him to go on his own, but my girlfriend (with whom I was in an uncomfortably faltering relationship) shamed me into going and drove me up there the next day to drop me off like a naughty boy who’d run away from school.
The whole thing began in shame and despair. I had no money, because we’d not worked for months and he’d urinated in the spare bed, the one I usually slept in, at my girlfriend’s house when I let him stay over. He hadn’t told me about it and then I didn’t tell her about it and the back room had begun to smell of piss. I hoped the problem might just sort itself out. I hoped it would, because I was only sleeping in my girlfriend’s bed because she was away visiting someone dying and I’d taken it upon myself in her absence to allow him to take my bed for the night. Not only had I not told her the piss sodden bed, I hadn’t mentioned it to him, either. I’d just been too surprised initially and then too cowardly subsequently. I just slept on the floor next to the increasingly acrid insult and hoped that maybe the smell would fade in time. He may not even have known – he was certainly horribly drunk when he did it, and only slightly less horribly drunk when he’d driven off the next day. But I did, and I was simmering with torturous, beta male resentment. Having to work for this man – who had once, pretty much, saved my life – was no less humiliating to me than if he’d made me wear a dress and suck his cock in the high street. I had to ask to borrow money for food – I was at his ill tempered, foul mouthed command while we were sharing a room and each other’s weary, away from home farts in a Premier Inn at night, and drilling up a pavement with barely suppressed psychotic anger during the day.
We built the first ramp at the back of the bank first – I can’t remember how long it took us because I’ve just about managed to erase some of the specifics from my mind, but it took about twice as long as it should have done and everything was a disaster. Supplies weren’t delivered and we had nothing to do during too many days but find a pub and drink – and I had to ask to borrow money to do so,
Anyway, it was a disaster. We’d been very close at one point – I started working for him after Kate died, after I’d deserted my post at the cheese factory, and he was perfect company – drunk, belligerent, smart, funny and didn’t give a shit what anyone thought. Those great attributes in a friend are bitter barbs after he’s pissed in the bed you have to sleep in.
When we moved round to make a total hash of the ramp at the front of the bank we were surrounded by steel shutters to protect the crackheads and the scared, abandoned old folk from flying debris. It was the hottest summer in years and our clothes would be heavy with sweat, rubbing our skin raw, within half an hour of starting. All I could think of was the bed that mocked my cowardice and about how I was having to borrow so much to eat and get drunk enough to not kill myself on every other day that by the time he finally paid me, I was going to end up owing him money. I was also conducting a sexually charged conversation via txt message with some woman who had a few issues – me being one of them – and a gay bloke in Worksop, which just made me even more depressed. By the end of it all we were just throwing the fucking thing together even more recklessly than we’d started, just to get the fucking thing finished and get the fuck out of Dodge. On the last day, a couple of feet away from me in our little metal box on the sweltering high street he pulled down his jeans and had a shit in a bucket. I stood and stared at the flaking paint on the steel wall, holding my breath and trying not to hear his curry and lager stinking turds hitting the rubber, and thought I had just taken another degrading step down the one way ladder of impotent humiliation which is my life.