I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Google-third 3

THE WORK ETHIC – Part three

THE FOLLOWING day, with no other repairs booked, they pushed the Chimaera into the workshop, Myfi unhitched the bonnet and they moved the winch cradle over the front end of the car. His role would be to watch, learn and hand over tools before the engine was lifted out. But in the way of things an elderly women, in tears, walked painfully into the workshop and announced she’d locked herself out of her Suzuki Swift, a mile and a half away.

“At least it’s a newish car for once,” said Myfi. “This sort of thing is to be expected. I’ll probably end up doing most of the TVR work in the evening.”

He looked at a list he’d compiled. “If you’re happy I could step in here. The convertible hood is torn in a couple of places. It’s just a suggestion but how’d it be if I removed the frame and took it to a specialist in Gloucester. Ordered a new hood. The point is it’s no big job, doesn’t require your skills at any point.”

Myfi was escorting her new customer to the aged tow-truck. She turned and looked him up and down as if measuring him for a suit. “Go large on WD40,” she said. “Sod’s Law says the rusted bolt you shear is always the one-off.”

That evening he was able to support the gearbox as it was detached from the engine and he transferred it single-handed to the jig. “Your aim being to make yourself indispensable?” Myfi said, amused.

“I’m starting with the donkey work. If I watch carefully I may be able to help you when things get trickier.”

An hour later he went out and brought them both fish and chips.

Most of the work that week was done in the evenings. Late on Friday, after a Chinese takeaway, Myfi lit a cigarette and sat down on her stool. “You seem to be working to an agenda.”

“Does that worry you? More important – I should have asked earlier – does having me around worry you? A feller?”

“What would you do if I said yes?” she asked, interested.

“Write you another cheque for five hundred. Give you my email address. Go back home.”

“That’s sort of noble. Given the way your ex has treated you.”

“Noble? You’re saving me from evenings watching telly.”

Saturday was spent on a stream of small jobs for customers who simply turned up. Bodge jobs: a window jammed up permanently for someone who didn’t care to pay to have the winder re-engaged; a broken seat-frame re-welded. With Myfi installing a set of re-tread tyres, he removed a defunct battery crusted with white deposits from a Hillman Avenger, put in a new battery and insisted on charging £12.50 for labour – to the tune of much Welsh argument. When they finally closed the doors and Myfi moved to switch on the lights over the Chimaera, he waved his hand. “That’s enough for today. If you’re up for it I’ll buy you a steak at the Harvester.  You don’t have to if it’s a social step too far but there is something you need to see at my B&B.”

“I thought you slept out in a tent.”

The pair of them crowded into the small bathroom. “Feel the rad,” he said.

“Cold,” said Myfi.

“Feel it down at the bottom.”

“Barely tepid.”

“Yet the system’s been switched on for a couple of hours.”

Now he opened the door of the cistern cupboard. “What’s that buzzing noise?” asked Myfi.

“You tell me.”

Myfi squatted down, felt the various pipes but clearly only as an aid to thought. “The pump’s not pumping,” she said.

“But there was a tiny bit of heat in the rad.”

“Conduction flow, up from the boiler.”

“Let's say convection. And the buzzing?” he asked.

“These kind of pumps don’t have blades as such, a sort of enclosed vane. I’d say the vane’s come off.”

“Solution?”

“A new pump.”

“A long job, then? The pump being part of the whole system.”

“You mean draining? Surely not in this day and age.” Myfi looked closer. “This is the pump. I’d expect to find – Yup, here they are. – a couple of isolating valves. Close them down. Stick a pan under to catch the few drips. Change the pump.”

“Apart from convection, ten out of ten.” He smiled. "It proves we're sort of related."

Myfi stood up; they were only a foot apart. He said, “How about the Harvester.”

“Give me an hour and a half. Swarfega and I have a lot of work to do.”

He got there quarter of an hour early and spent the time wondering what tone to adopt. Decided that hinting at greater closeness would be a mistake. Better the brisk exchanges that prevailed in the workshop: a sort of meritocracy based on his money and her skills. He hoped like Hell that straying away from car repairs wouldn’t overface her.

Jeans emphasised her derrière, already observed and appreciated, but that was where display ended. The thick towelling blouse was quite loose and reduced the contours of her breasts to mere suggestion. Not that he should be considering such matters.

The brown sheen had finally disappeared from her face, leaving behind a pale complexion that wasn’t entirely surprising given the subterranean atmosphere of the workshop. She asked for a shandy with the possibility of a glass of red to follow.

“A hard day yet you seem pretty fit” he said. “Certainly muscular.”

“I used to swim before opening the shop. But that made for a very long day. The work itself is exercise.”

He wished she’d ordered something stronger than a shandy, a drink that would relax her and encourage a flowing conversation. It seemed important not to be asking questions.

“With plumbing it’s often a matter of contortion. Working in confined spaces. It doesn’t feel healthy but I suppose it better than sitting at a computer. Or standing talking to sixth-formers about Hayek.”

“That’s right.” Her face now animated. “I keep forgetting there was a life before plumbing. Wasn’t that a ballsy decision?”

He laughed. “I don’t know about ballsy; it was forced upon me. They closed the school, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher and economics is one of those marginal subjects that’s likely to be cut when times are hard. It was amazing really, what friends I had saw plumbing as a social step down. A class thing. I saw it as a new world: ditching theory in favour of real work with an end-product. A practical, varying, self-reliant world with – let’s not mince words – better job security. The only drawback was the length of time it might take to qualify but I had some ideas about that. For one thing I was good at passing exams, even those based on manual skills. For another, teaching had given me administrative experience: handling bumf, understanding the law, writing applications, the sort of work born-in-the-wool plumbers are often weak at. During my apprenticeship I was able to trade that for more advanced training, fast-tracked to squeeze in the experience.”

She’d been watching him with what he realised was admiration. Subtly their standing with each other had reversed. She said, “The world on a string, eh? I can see things in that light now, the way things are organised, but as a teenager it was all from the inside. Hands first then brain. Slow progress, often not in the way I needed to go.”

She leant forward. “Not that I’m complaining. It was all a magical mystery tour and what I learned stuck. The knowledge was solid. And I remember the exact moment I knew I’d made the right choice. An electrical fault, they’re always the trickiest; and this was long before laptops did diagnosis for you. A tiny short-circuit, but where? My boss had worked half the morning and still couldn’t track it down. He was on the verge of putting in a new alternator on the off-chance; but it’s a good job he took his lunch-break then because a new alternator wouldn’t have done him any good. I took over and I had it in ten minutes. A bolt in the starter motor had been over-tightened, causing a crack that propagated to the insulation.”

From then on the going was easy. Time after time she broke off from her steak to tell of some other triumph, the meat cooling, ignored in her eagerness. One glass of red became three as he filled in the rare cracks with his own achievements, able to slip in questions here and there without any suggestion of an interrogation. Seeing a two dimensional sketch turn into three dimensions.

“You know,” she said, laughing breathily, “I’ve gone a whole week without ever calling you by name.”

“It’s a British failing.”

“Yes, but I know your name. It’s on your front pocket. Arnie, you’re Arnie.”

A finger alongside his nose, he laughed back. “Nice of you to say that. And you say it well. But it was dreamed up to hide my real name. A poofter’s name, someone once told me, and I’ve never liked it ever again.”

“Oh, you must tell me. You must, you must.” And it was as if she were demanding anything he cared to imagine.

“I can’t. You don’t know what it’s like to have a name like that. Yours is so beautiful. It should always be said in full, Myfanwy. See, I’m even saying it the Welsh way.”

Both drew back as dessert was served, a fruit salad for Myfi, bread and butter pudding for the man presently nameless. Would he like cream? Would she like ground ginger? Coffee afterwards? No. Tea? A digestif?  Keen to catch the tail of her good-humour he waited impatiently, then turned to face her.

Only to see someone else.  Shockingly, the mood had gone. Her mouth, previously open in laughter, had slackened into accusation. Her eyes hard and unfriendly. “No more sweet talk,” she said tautly. “Just answer me the one question that matters. What are you doing in this town? Why did you pick on me – specifically me? No more about cars, or marriages breaking up. I want the truth.”

The suddenness of it left him breathless but not for long. Drink had made him decisive, possibly reckless. “I needed something to latch on to.”

“What does that mean?”

“Someone to be with. Who recognised my world. Talked my language.”

“You mean someone to - ” Not daring to cover her mouth he nevertheless brought his hand close, very close, and that final, hideously predictable word remained unspoken.

He said, “Please, please not that. Not because it’s not true. Years ahead it could be. Or perhaps never. But now it has no force. If you like, it isn’t a priority.”

“So what is the priority?”

“The things that happened this week. Those usual humdrum things: work and more of it. You continuously, me just a little. Work that would be a mystery to anyone else. Work which resumes tomorrow, Sunday. When the heads come off that V8 and you start finding out what it’s worth. Inspecting, measuring, comparing.”

He stopped. “Because you will, won’t you?”

She stared, saying nothing.

“Oh there are other projects. The injection system, the brakes. The clutch! – we’ve never talked about the clutch. But the engine is at the heart, isn’t it? A V8, two banks of four – you and me. Bound by work: our language, our heart-beat. Not that you need telling. You recognise it by instinct, you’ve responded, I’ve watched you. Close by.”

She stammered. “It sounds... quite mad.”

“No Myfanwy, it’s history that’s mad. And cruel. Repeating itself.”

“And there’s trust.”

“There is indeed. Forget dessert. You’re knackered, I suspect you spend a lot of your time knackered. I’ll pay the bill and walk you home.”

At the entrance to her tiny flat he said, “Tomorrow, when we break for coffee, I’ll tell you my name. My real name.”

Her smile was ghostly. “A poofter name – it can’t be that.”

“You’d better believe it.” He said, moved by the irony.

HAVING encouraged her to have a quick breakfast on Sunday he’d asked for her keys so that he could open up the workshop. This left him waiting. He switched on the light over the Chimaera and sat on the stool she used on the few occasions when standing up over a car wasn’t necessary. Time passed, then more time. Church bells rang and he stopped looking at his wristwatch. For the first time he was assailed with doubt. At work she was decisive, even as that other wounded self she had taken the fight to him. He tried not to imagine how it would be if she didn’t arrive, tried to concentrate on the work she was capable of. Superstitiously he looked away from the open door and when finally she touched him on the shoulder from behind he was reluctant to believe the delay could have affected him so much.

“Sorry I’m late. I didn’t wash my overalls last night,” she said. "Sheesh, must have been different, shittier oil. Two long washes this morning and the stains are still there. See my arse."

He said nothing, still believing the worst. Reluctant to turn and face her. Heard chinking as she sorted through the spanner drawer.

“First the left cam cover. We’ll gap the clearances and write them down, they may tell us something when we’re into the cylinders. You can do the gapping. Find yourself the feeler gauges.”

He started to get up and was astonished his legs trembled so much.

“Now who’s knackered?” But she said it gently.
Starts at Part one

17 comments:

The Crow said...

You're such a good writer. Well done.

mikeM said...

Read straight through this morning, sorted through part 3 again this afternoon. It hasn't fallen into place for me yet.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Great story but maybe a bit too much of the techy talk for those of us (or maybe just me) who are not cognoscenti. I do see the point of it in establishing the build-up of these two characters' relationship but, in my view, it could do with some pruning. Nevertheless a really good story.

Sir Hugh said...

A good story with a lot of detail that stands in its own right contributing to the interest. I am not comparing you with Le Carré but when I read his stuff the plot is almost secondary to that kind of well observed detail.

The TVR was a good choice - renowned for its unreliability. It might have been interesting to have another semi classic car for him to compare with and giving reasons for his final choice. I wondered why the gearbox was placed on a jig rather than a stand.

mikeM said...

I guess I would feel some terror too if I'd lifted someones shop keys, but too terrified to allow himself to recognize her presence? Seems a little overblown, or perhaps hints at a psychological disorder. I'm thinking too that she only went 9.9/10 on the radiator test, that it was convection more than conduction.

Roderick Robinson said...

All: I really am grateful for all responses, any response. Putting it together in this clumsy way - to meet the exigencies of Blogger - I really felt it would be a test of stamina too far for everyone. As you may know, my earlier short stories were deliberately limited to 1000 words and I learned a lot from this restriction - especially what one can leave out. Good or bad, a lot of me went into this and the length seemed to dictate itself. There are several intertwining themes but the one that matters is work and attitudes to work.

Crow: Thanks for the e-mail I'll reply to that in full shortly.

MikeM - comment 1: Sorry about that. I really tried not to be obscure (of course you may be saying - politely - that it's crap anyway) but the irrational behaviour of both people (two instances in her case, one in his), unlike the discussion about the car, does require an inferential view of the story's facts.

Natalie: We've been here before, you and I. It was a problem for you in Gorgon Times and now, not surprisingly, here in The Work Ethic. Both the novel and story are about work and attititudes to work, not a popular subject - that's why I'm tempted to write about it. Work is an abstraction and needs to be written about in material detail, detail that will tell a story within in the wider story. I'm not saying I succeeded, I'm never that optimistic, but the "techy talk" does contain a progression (an envisaged progression to be precise) and to cut it out would reduce the two people to a couple of separate sexual relationships that, ultimately, are no different from a million other tales.

As I've said before many writers live cut-off lives and are frequently reduced to writing about the only thing they know anything about - writing. Since I, as a putative writer myself, find such accounts suffocatingly dull God knows how people who really work for a living - plumbers, car mechanics - react to them. It seems a reasonable aim to tell stories that plumbers and car mechanics might like to read. There are dangers, as the comments by Sir Hugh and MikeM show, but I can live with them since they are errors of fact and can easily be rectified.

If you find this dull and unambitious may I refer you to Anna Karenina. There are of course the two lovers, but far more absorbing is Tolstoy's parallel story of Levin who worries about the best way of running his farm. Often he communicates his worries in what you may be tempted to call "techy talk". Boiled down the story of the lovers could be said to be: girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl is sad. But you cannot boil down Levin's story.

Roderick Robinson said...

Re-comment continued.

Sir Hugh: The ideal is to have the detail tell the story, as opposed to being forced to interpolate passages of plot summary. I haven't managed this though in one of my most ambitious stories, The Algorithm, I got slightly closer, and - as the title suggests - in a much more forbidding technical area. Of course one runs the risk of turning off readers with no interest in technology, but it's my belief they are well served in books by Ian McEwan.

Without Googling it's my impression that jigs are used to hold workpieces that are due to be machined, drilled or whatever. In this instance the intention would be simply to to disassemble the gearbox and it's unlikely Myfi was into fabrication shop work. However, a simple device which held a gearbox so that access was possible from all angles, might just qualify as a jig. Stand sounds just a little too general.

MikeM - part 2. An error on my part. I'd meant to say Myfi had handed over the key willingly because old Mr Innominate would get to the workshop first. I'll correct this.

Well Myfi is certainly pyschologically disordered - on two separate occasions. And with justification (eg, "two on one"). I had thought his behaviour might be attributable to delayed shock, previously pushed to one side. I may change this.

Convection not conduction. Now there's a man who know his plumbing and may, therefore, feel that The Work Ethic is something of a once-over-lightly.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Robbie, yes we've been here before but you're jumping to the wrong conclusion: I don't at all find the story dull and unambitious. I did say it's a great story. My comment about too much techy talk was not saying you should eliminate the technology, the work-talk, and reduce the story to banal, boring man-meets-woman. I simply meant that perhaps there was a bit too much of the tech dialogue. This was my attempt at an objective editorial approach. The fact that I know nothing about cars, have never heard of TVR or seen a Chimera has nothing to do with it. I do appreciate technology, am a geek as far as computers are concerned and can DIY all sorts of things with the best of DIY-ers. Plumbing is something I would have been good at, if I'd had the sense to take it up as an art-supporting trade.

Roderick Robinson said...

Natalie: I feel a bit like Mozart in the movie, Amadeus. Remember where Emperor Joseph II says:

"My dear young man, don't take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It's quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that's all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect."

But what notes? And what techie-talk? Don't forget that the techie-talk has a further function, it shows that Myfi and Nameless Man can be regarded as peers.

Here's what I said to someone else:

It is not enough to say that Myfi is good at her job, it must be established (ideally) by what she does or (somewhat less effectively) by what she says. Thus, the para which summarises what needs to be done to the Chimaera aims at establishing her strategic abilities as a mechanic and - in the slightly slangy way this is expressed - shows this is day-to-day stuff for her.

The techie talk also tries to create a basis the reader can appreciate when the guy talks about having met a sort of technoid soulmate who was not to be found in the wife who has just dumped him.


But he who finds himself explaining that a piece of fiction he's written means this and that is on a hiding to nothing. The story should explain itself and clearly it doesn't. I'm going to have to leave it at that. However I do appreciate your interest and I agree wholeheartedly with your final sentiment: all of us would have been far better off had we decided to become plumbers.

MikeM: Last section of story re-written; I hope not so overblown. Convection was not only correct and was incorporated; it encouraged a small but useful amplification. Thanks for that.

Sir Hugh said...

Just Google "engine/gearbox stands", and you will see what I mean. They are made to be adjustable to accommodate different unit sizes.

As far as I understand a jig is a framework pre-made to realign the object being repaired or made to the exact correct size that it needs to be. An example would be jig for a chassis that had been twisted - the jig would be used to get it back to shape.

I forgot to mention one of your details which I enjoyed having been a victim many times:
“With plumbing it’s often a matter of contortion. Working in confined spaces".

mikeM said...

I've read it all again... a much better story read fully awake, and I think better with the revisions you've made. Still not sure I could fully put it together without the Q+A of these comments. Unless M (I have no idea how her name is pronounced, I may google that)was so smashed she didn't even remember giving him the shop key, she was certain to show up, or wait hoping he'd return the key. That whole construct left me so baffled that I tried desperately to read for deep meaning in her comment "I didn't wash my overalls last night." And of course two questions are left for the reader to ponder on into eternity: What is the poofter name, and was the Chimaera a 4.0 or a 4.0HC?

The Crow said...

WAIT! What's his real name?!

Roderick Robinson said...

MikeM: What I'm grateful for is that despite the story's obscurity, foreignness and uncertainty you persist. I am sure that had our roles been reversed I would have dropped out long ago, saying no one deserves this amount of attention. You have every right (taking your previous track record into account as well) to say: I should be paid for this.

Let me absolve you from further duty; you have work to do and I'm keeping you from it. Please go out and make a fortune in the land of opportunity.

There is a limit to how much an author can explain and still remain credible as an author. The dirtiness of M's overalls/boiler suit has been established, the fact that she starts work each each day with clean overalls/boiler suit also established.. Unnamed man has noticed this. She only drank three glasses of wine; intoxication could well be attributed to her being freed to talk about her triumphs; a hangover might be attributed to a recognition of her mood swing (for the second if not the third time - a pathological condition which he recognises together with the reason: history being cruel).

One might assume a long wash to clean oil-stained clothing. How long's a long wash. Perhaps not long enough. So I've added an extra sentence. But it's pure Band Aid. For you this story hasn't worked and you've every right to say so. Reduce it to a few scenes that may (God, I hope so) have caught your eye; discard the rest. Turn to Tolstoy (I might say turn to Raymond Carver as I did a week of two ago given his huge reputation. Alas, I like you in this instance, was disappointed).

The poofter name - see re-comment to Crow below.

Crow: People are funny about their own names. I was ashamed of my middle name (begins with N) and managed to hold out telling anyone at school over several years. On leaving school and, technically, becoming an adult I was able to drop it. Though of course it was required for government/formal forms, etc. It's on my driving licence and I shudder to see it.

The funny thing at school is the longer I held out the wilder the suggestions became: Nebuchadnezzar was one. No one ever got it, simply because (I suppose) to other people it was entirely unexceptional.

As an aside I decided to incorporate my strangeness in this story. But purely as an unexplained aside. I'd got gearboxes and other important stuff to deal with.

The name is Neil. Let that be your sop for Cerberus. It's as poofter-ish as any other. But, flawed though this story is, I won't incorporate it. If I did I'd never read this story (of which I am inordinately proud) again.

Ellena said...

I read the story three times and after looking a few words up such as 'phut', 'whinge', 'knackered' I was still annoyed about not being sure if I understood everything. I kept asking myself what I missed. Could 'Knackered' be his name? Yes, silly me.
Anyway, the three times read was not an ordeal. There was a lot of interesting detail to be found but it troubled the story not to say the waters for me.

Roderick Robinson said...

Ellena: Phut is almost onomatopaeic, more or less an invented word, more often spoken than written. On its own it is meaningless; "to go phut" means to come to an end in a feeble way. Whinge, a great word, means to complain (probably ineffectually) in a whining voice. Knackered - tired to the point of collapse.

I'm glad you found the detail interesting. The aim was - wherever possible - to tell the story through detail. Also to attempt to make the detail interesting in itself. As you can see from the comments I only had limited success with this.

The unnamed town exists although I have altered it somewhat; it does not, for instance, have a viaduct. Throughout the story there is a Welsh flavour to things - Myfanwy, loveliest of names, is Welsh. I live near to the border with Wales.

mikeM said...

I mistook knackered to mean drunk - akin to the "snockered" we used as boys. And I think your hero was more snockered than knackered on Sunday morning - drunk in love. And really, another N word? With poofterish connotations? Mr. Armstrong's little sortee didn't dispel that notion?

Roderick Robinson said...

MikeM: I saw him knackered through emotional stress. As to the N-name I doubt that anyone else would find it strange or undesirable. It's just that kids - or kid's thoughts - tend to be different.