Harriet met up with Sarah at her ‘Stor-It’ box to tidy up her hastily placed tools and timber. She had walked there but found Sarah had already arrived in her car and had parked in the customer parking area. Sarah was standing by her car tapping on her phone, but put it away when she saw Harriet approaching. Together they walked into the reception area and signed in before walking back out and around to one of the external roller shuttered doors with a two meter tall 41 painted on it in bright yellow paint. Sarah also rented number forty next door but it was really one open space behind both doors.
Sarah unlocked the removable locking bolts and pushed the shutter up. It was only a few days ago that Harriet’s friends dropped off what felt like most of her life in here. Harriet looked into the darkness as Sarah went to turn the lights on. Is that all I am worth? Some timber, a few tools, boxes of books…
The rest of the space contained stacks of brown and green Robin Day polyprop chairs, display cabinets, conference equipment, and stage lighting and screens. All stuff useful for those infrequent events held at the Theraton community centre.
It was only fair for Harriet to reduce the footprint of her stuff so that it wasn’t in Sarah’s way. On the day of the move it was all very quickly dropped off in a pile to get the job done quickly. Robbie had another job to go to with his van and Harriet was reluctant to take up too much of his time, though he insisted he didn’t mind. I must remember to get in touch and thank Robbie for all his help.
It was going to be a while before it she could use any of her tools and timber anyway so it would be fine to stack the wood and place her tools and smaller bits and pieces on top. Harriet looked at the boxes of books and decided to take them with her back to Adam and Amanda’s while she had access to Sarah’s car.
“So have you heard any more about your workshop and when you’ll get to start moving stuff in then?” Sarah asked Harriet. “There’s no rush, it can stay in the unit a long as you need, and it isn’t in my way now.”
“Oh, it won’t be a while yet I think.” Harriet sighed. “The landlord wants to sort out a few bits of repairs and get the contract made up. I don’t think he thought about it properly when he suggested it and apparently peppercorn rents are complicated, or something. I suppose he needs to make sure that we are both legally protected on both sides in case something goes wrong.”
“That makes sense. Do you trust him? It is an unusual thing to have, I can’t see what he gains from it to be honest.”
“I don’t either, but if he wants some work doing, in lieu of rent then that is like having a paying client that covers the rental cost anyway. I suppose the risk is that it doesn’t tally, or I can’t do enough of his work, or there is too much and I can’t do anything else… I will still need to earn some money on top of having the workshop, just to live on, if nothing else. Also I don’t know what happens when I have done everything, if I will have to find rent money I can’t afford.”
“Yes, I can imagine it must be legally awkward and it will need to be right for both of you. If you want I can ask our solicitors to look at the contract for you.
Has he said what he wants you do for him, exactly?”
Harriet blushed a little as Marie’s cutting remarks about ‘personal service’ came back to her. “Yes, yes he has It’s nothing bad, or wrong…” Harriet added quickly. “And I am sure he is genuine about it…”
“I am glad to hear, but also I am sure that you wouldn’t have accepted if it was bad, no matter how desperate things were getting. But there is always the element of ‘too good to be true’ if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, no, you’re right, it does sound that way but I wouldn’t have accepted if I didn’t feel sure.” As Harriet said those words she did also wonder how true that really was. Would she have walked away from Marie anyway? Yes probably, eventually. Would she have taken any option on any workshop? Well, cost would have stopped her but unknown ‘arrangements’ in lieu of rent? She was thankful she didn’t need to test that now. “It is just that there is a garden at the back of the workshop and he had a railway in it. Not a real railway, well, I suppose it is real but really small. Like the ones you see in parks sometimes, that children ride on. He wants to rebuild it and wants me to help in doing that.”
“Oh, I know what you mean, I wonder how long that’s been there? I’ve lived in Theraton all my life and never heard of a miniature railway. Do you know much about railways? I’ve never known you to have any interest in train spotting or anything.”
“No, nothing. I haven’t even a clue. Great North Rail second class down to the coast as about as much railway as I know. But he will be doing the railways stuff, he just wants me to build the little buildings and some of the other stuff in his plans. I suppose it will be like making little houses and bridges, that sort of thing, maybe. Don’t know the details yet.”
“Well hopefully that is all it is and all stuff you can manage. But if it ever become too much, or if he asks for anything you don’t like the sound of, you know what I mean, then just tell us. You don’t have to put up with rubbish people and we have your back and we’re going to keep you safe. It’s what friends are for, real friends.”
Harriet felt reassured, it had been so long since she had felt loved from so many warm and caring friends, all in one go. But, despite the pain she still felt, she was happy, and relieved, and she felt safe in that knowledge and in the future she saw before her.
Harriet’s boxes of books were loaded into Sarah’s car and they headed back into town.
That weekend, Daisy did a thing she never imagined herself doing. She was shopping for steel toe cap boots and work gloves.
Where does one buy stuff like that? She wondered. The high street shoe shops were no use, though the car accessory shop did suggest the local DIY shed and builders merchants. It would be like stepping into the technical college all over again. She wasn’t sure if she was really imagining that there would would be a counter, and an elderly chap in a brown overall and flat cap serving middle aged men using a secret code of girders and concrete mixers…
Daisy walked cautiously into the DIY shed and looked around her. Though the layout of aisles and shelves looked familiar the bare concrete block walls and galvanised metal racking lacked the clean lines and corporate colour schemes of grocery stores and served to make Daisy feel more lost and out of her depth. It is just an industrial sized supermarket, nothing to be intimidated by… People pushed heavy duty trolleys around. People who looked not unlike herself. It was both strange and oddly familiar at the same time. Reassured at the sight of elderly people and younger couples with toddlers in tow, all just ‘shopping’ Daisy took a deep breath and strode forth, carrying an oversized plastic shopping basket that also had wheels and an extending handle, heading past the garden centre section and café.
As Daisy wonder around she realised she had no idea there were so many types of bricks, or shapes of bits of wood, or varieties of whatever it is that comes in bags… And pipes! Lots and lots of pipes! But where do they keep the shoes?
“Excuse me…” Daisy stopped a chap in the store’s overalls to ask, and save herself walking miles up and down aisles. “Do you sell steel toe boots and gloves, please?”
“Aisle seventeen, power tools.” He said, and walked on with barely a glance.
Daisy thought she could have been asking for laundry liquid at the supermarket. So aisle seventeen it was, and off she went. Simple, it really wasn’t that much different to grocery shopping, really…
* * *
“What’s the matter with these places?” Daisy was expressing her frustrations to the recycling team the following Monday. “All this time modelling clothes, shoes, gloves, hats, and so on and I never realised no one thinks to make steel toe boots and gloves that fit women! Grrrr, it is so annoying! What do they expect people to wear when they are working?”
“Tell me about it!” Ann and Linda said in unison.
“I wear size five with two pairs of thick socks, and they’re still a bit loose some days.” Linda continued. “Can’t do anything about the gloves…”
“Can’t do anything in them either sometimes.” Ann added. “They either fall off when you pick something up, or you can’t sort the recycling properly cos your fingers don’t reach the ends. Phil orders the small sizes in especially, but we have to keep them locked away or they get used by the nature trail volunteers for the visiting children, and then we can’t do our job properly.”
“And they cost more! You’d think that being smaller they would be cheaper, but no, ‘economies of scale’. Not enough women buying PPE so manufactures don’t make as many of them. We don’t buy them because they don’t make them!” sighed Linda. “Anyway, you don’t have to buy your own, it is all provided here, like, for your own safety!” she laughed.
“Looking forward to your first round?” Steve returned to grab another swig of tea after getting Beryl, the electric truck, out of her lock up and checking she was charged and everything was ready to go. “It’s an easy round to start you on, a short run this morning, then meet up with the trikes to off load them and then back to base for lunch. Same again the afternoon, but different area.”
“Sure. Are we off now? I might need to stuff some newspaper or something in the toes of my boots first.”
Daisy followed Steve out to Beryl and had a close look at the little yellow truck for the first time. “Hello Beryl! You’re quite a sweet little truck!”
Beryl’s cab had a large square windscreen over two small headlights and had the overall impression of an inquisitive, but hard working donkey. A couple of bar magnets had been placed over the headlights, giving Beryl some eyebrows, and were adjusted to represent how Beryl might be feeling that day! Today was raised eyebrows in surprise!
Steve showed Daisy how the storage boxes and bags were arranged in Beryl’s pick up bed. They were mostly old builders bulk bags suspended from wooden beams over Beryl’s pick up bed. Steve said he would show Daisy what went where once they were on the round.
They then set off into town with Beryl quietly humming along at 15 miles per hour for the morning’s round.
Later, back at the recycling compound Steve showed Daisy how and where the collected recycling was stored in the individual skips. The segregated glass bottles were tipped in to two big open skips, the plastic bottles went into a covered skip, the paper and card bags were hoisted up and emptied into their respective containers, and the cans went into ‘ferrous’ and ‘non ferrous’ metals skips. Daisy was quickly learning the difference in materials that similar looking things were made from.
Daisy flopped into Beryl’s passenger seat as they brought the little yellow truck back to the centre for a lunch time charge. “Oh my poor feet!” she wailed. “And we still have the afternoon to get through.”
Daisy was really beginning to appreciate that level of physical work. It wasn’t that she had never spent a long time on her feet, modelling could often be like that, and in uncomfortable shoes too, but she could always pause, sit, change shoes, adjust her posture, and rest her bones. Aside from the ride into town in Beryl, the very very slow electric truck, she was on her feet, in ill fitting boots, lifting and carrying and sorting, over and over. That aspect she didn’t mind so much, it just something to get used to, but she needed boots that fitted. She also ‘needed’ to know why ordinary intelligent people couldn’t tell the difference between recycling and land fill rubbish, recycling and food waste, recycling and…
“Dog poo of all things! What the heck is that about?!”
“Who knows.” Steve replied. He knew it was a rhetorical question, a frustration they all shared once in a while, though thankfully not often. “That’s a first for me too. But maybe it was something else, I didn’t look close enough to check. Sorry about that though, it isn’t usually like that, usually it will be half a jar of something mouldy, or broken plastic toys. Might have just been a passing dog walker who couldn’t find a bush to hang it on.”
Aside from the dog poo bag, the round had been fine and conventional. Daisy collected boxes from outside each house, took it back to Beryl, and then sorted the paper, cardboard, bottles, jars, cans, all into separate sacks on the back of the little yellow truck before returning the box and collecting the next one. She was fascinated by the range of things people recycled, what newspapers and magazines they read, where they bought their groceries, what new toy or household gadget had been delivered, the house where someone called Max was six years old recently. There was a lot of potential social history there. A weekly snapshot of residential life hidden in their waste.
Part way through the round they met Linda on her bike, and Ann and Tom on their trikes. They transferred their collections into the back of Beryl, and shared a laugh and a moan about the round so far. It was a bigger round for the trikes on Mondays and off loading part way made it easier on them. Beryl, on the other hand didn’t even notice the extra weight.
“So what do you do for lunch?” Daisy asked.
“Whatever you want really. Ann usually brings in a pack of instant noodles and microwaves it in some stock. Linda often has a packed lunch of something left over from her dinner last night. We can pop over to Ellen’s, the bakery.”
“OK, that I’ll do. I feel like I can eat a horse. Oh, most of you are veggie, or vegan! Are you all ok with me eating a ‘horse’?”
“Maybe not actual horse, though Linda has when she was in France. Tom has eaten guinea pigs. The centre is veggie for catering but only Izzy is a vegan. There’s no problem with carnivores, but no animal food waste goes in the compost bin, not that we waste much food anyway. The recycling team eat everything if it is left unattended for long enough. So put your name on it if you don’t want to share it, or lose it.”
They walked up to Ellen’s and bought bacon butties, and Daisy also picked up a pack of ‘yesterbake’ cakes and doughnuts for the team to share.
As they returned to the centre they could hear the clatter of bottles and cans as Ann, Tom and Linda were emptying their trike loads into the recycling skips.
Steve dashed into the brew room.
“Best get the kettle on for the team, they’ll be gasping.”