by Andrew Foote
Six months of growing my hair out paid off as there were faces on the train that I recognised. I ignored them and nothing was said, although there might've been flashes of curiosity.
I let us in through the front door, picked up the post and went through to the kitchen. The house was just as we'd left it so I made us some coffee and settled down to open the collection of junk mail of which there were stacks of the stuff.
Callum walked the house and declaring it untouched since our last visit, sat down beside me.
"Doesn't it feel weird being back here Ed?"
"Nah not really. I have good memories as well as bad so it's not too difficult.
Can I leave you to sort through this crap? Anything in brown or white envelopes or anything with a hand written address keep, otherwise rip the rest up and bin it. I need to check the garage."
As was the house, the garage was untouched including my mother's little Vauxhall Astra.
There was also garden equipment such as a petrol lawn mower and a brand-spanking new cultivator which I remembered my father buying so he could landscape the garden but…… things turned sour before he had a chance to do anything.
Hedge cutters, shears and other bits and pieces hung on the wall but it meant nothing to me, except that the sensation of walking back in time was odd.
I locked up and went back into the house.
Callum was still ploughing his way through the post but looked up at me as I wandered in.
"Everything check out?"
"Yeah. Nothing's changed.
Do any of the guys have a drivers licence?"
"I think Pip does what with his Dad being a cabby but you'd have to check with him.
Why do you ask?"
"My mother's car. It's still in the garage and if memory serves, it still has a current test certificate. It's like fuck-all use to me, so if anyone can use it then fine."
"Why don't you sell it and raise some cash?"
"I don't think many people are going to get too excited over a twelve year old Astra with a tiny engine. No, if Pip could use it then great. It'd be something less to worry about."
"You've got a kind heart, did you know that?"
"Not me! I'm just being practical. It'll be a year before I'm old enough to drive and by then that car will be past its sell-by date so why not give it away whilst it still has a useful life."
Are you going to call Pip and tell him?"
"In the morning. My first priority is food so I'm going to see what's in the freezer and put something together."
We had become so used to bedding down early, we were ready for sleep by around nine-thirty.
Things got a bit touchy-feely but instead of rejecting Callum, I found his tender touches erotic but he held back from actually doing 'stuff'.
This made me want him more but he was being patient, not trying to pressure me and yes, it made me realise that I wasn't averse to going that bit further with him.
He did things to my insides when he looked at me, I sometimes had to turn away in order that he wouldn't see me blush and very often, if we were holding hands which we did a lot, I'd get an erection.
There were moments when I'd try to imagine what my life might be like if he disappeared from it. I'd get by, yeah I would now, but I reckoned I'd most likely turn myself in to the authorities without his friendship.
Callum was my support, my backbone and my reason to live.
I loved him.
No doubt about it.
The next morning was all about organising things like getting a house clearance company to get shot of most of the furniture, another phone call to Pip regarding the car to which he said he'd make it to the house that afternoon, then another call to the hospital to check on my mother.
No real change there, just a steady decline not helped by her withdrawal from her drug habit, so most of the time she remained under sedation.
I felt as if I should be upset about this,, but as it was, she was probably well out of it, in the right place and being cared for by the right people.
Callum wanted to know if I'd had any thoughts about trying to contact my father.
Actually I hadn't given it much thought. I ought to but then I didn't want him to go interfering in my life. No doubt he'd be very critical about my circumstances and try to convince me to go and live with him, go back to fulltime education and whatever else, but things had moved on, and his attitude I really didn't need.
Pip arrived and following mugs of tea, he set about giving the car the once-over.
I had found all the documentation such as a valid test certificate and road tax, both of which were current for the next nine months.
The insurance stated that with the owner's consent, anyone who held a UK drivers licence and hadn't been convicted of a motoring offence in the last five years was entitled to drive, so that was something else we didn't have to worry about.
The car didn't take much to get it started, bloody good little machines these Vauxhall's, so after a trip around town and a fuel fill, Pip declared himself as my official driver.
The window people arrived and repaired my bedroom window, so I ramped up the heating to finally dry the place out.
Pip stayed overnight as the house clearance people were due the next day and his help would be gratefully accepted with the added bonus of a ride back to the squat once they'd left.
He also told us that Bubba had been taken on by Ronny as a short order cook which would give him a small but steady income, British Waterways had all but left next door so in a few days we would be able to move in.
The clearance went well and I actually got paid for some of the better items, but after they'd left, the place looked soulless and barren.
Time to go and think about what to do with the place but first, do some of the odd jobs like repairing the fence that backed on to the playing field, trim back the grass that was about to overtake the place and generally make the outside look like somebody cared about it.
All the time we'd been doing this, I never once caught sight of our neighbours and I wondered if they'd caught on to what had gone on during Mum and Vincent's time spent there.
Their rows had been violent, the noise, despite the house being set in its own grounds must have been heard but still, with all the activity, Callum, Pip plus me and a few others being around, they never so much as enquired.
I locked up and Pip drove us back to Digbeth and our squat.
"Where are you planning on keeping it Pip? Can't hardly keep it on the road can you?"
"No, that's just asking for trouble, so I'd thought about asking Ronny if I could keep it in his yard then once we've got access to the old B.W. yard next to us, keep it there."
"Tax, insurance? They've also go to be taken into consideration?"
"Easy done Ed.
There's that Chinese restaurant, the Indian and the Bangladeshi place. I reckon that if I handled it right, I might get work doing take-away deliveries and if any of the kids need a lift, charge them a couple of quid and job's a good-un."
"Thought it all through then?"
"Yeah well you have to living on the streets. See an opportunity to make some cash and grab it.
That's how we manage to survive Ed."
"I've a lot to learn. I must think of ways to earn something 'cos I'm not being very productive as things stand."
Most of the kids can make it past reading the headlines, count the money in their pockets and write a letter? That's all because of you and the time you spent with all of us, me included so what's that if not productive?
The generator, the new fireplace, this car and…… and…… just the fact that most of us are still here like a real community must tell you summat?
For maybe the first time that most of them can remember, they're happy, settled, warm and amongst friends.
This has to be your biggest contribution ever!
When was the last time you heard about any of them getting arrested? Not for months right?
You've made them look beyond petty theft, prostituting themselves or whatever so now they see that there can be a different way!"
"Not all my doing Pip."
"Okay, maybe not but you planted an idea in their heads, gave them hope, showed them love and spent shit-loads of time with them teaching them how to read and write, do sums and so on, and the end result is, they began helping themselves instead of doing fuck-all.
"Okay already but I'd still like to contribute something, you know, financially?"
"It's not just cash though, nice as it is.
The car for starters.
You gave it to me but I would rather look upon it as a shared resource, something that could be used for the benefit of all of us.
Then there's the old generator.
It was your idea to try and coax it back to life so now we have electricity, cheap electricity to boot.
You found the second fireplace so now we can cook indoors rather than freezing our bits off and doing it outside and then there's one other thing.
Ronny came to see what Bubba was doing with all the leftovers. He tried the stockpot and loved it and that's how come he offered him a job.
All these things are more valuable than money Ed. We're now operating as a unit, a cohesive group of kids working together rather than ships passing in the night, there are things happening, things you don't know about."
"Two of the boys were doing a recci of the scrapyard and found an automatic washing machine so under the cover of darkness, they nicked it thinking that the stainless steel drum and the copper windings off the motor could raise some cash but when they stripped it down, the only problem with it was a snapped drive belt so finding a similar machine, they took the belt, refitted it to theirs, so now, once BW have buggered off finally, we have laundry facilities and the luxury of clean clothes!"
"They'll be stealing a tumble drier next!"
"Yeah they most likely would if they could find one but it doesn't really matter.
We've seen the worst of the winter, the weather will be improving from here on in so things can dry outside."
The days that followed saw a flurry of activity next door as the Waterways people did a final tidy-up before they left.
Most of the gear they loaded onto a barge – we kept a low profile but watched from a distance, interested, not in what they were taking but what they weren't taking such as two very large plastic water barrels, a couple of wheelbarrows, pickaxes and shovels, bags of cement, builders bags full of sand and pea gravel and a huge selection of builders planks.
One man was checking off a list as the loading progressed, so I assumed that anything that didn't appear on the inventory got left behind no matter if it was serviceable or not, but then one morning the barge had gone.
They had left, finally giving us the run of the place.
Bubba came back one lunchtime and complete with keys, we made our first exploratory visit inside the building.
The interior had been well maintained. The walls were painted with white-wash as were the ceilings, the floor had been coated with floor paint but otherwise they'd left nothing except a large cardboard box in which we found lightbulbs, hundreds of the things and all brand new.
"Why didn't they take these Ed?"
"Fucked if I know Pip, but my Dad used to moan on about how accountants like an uncomplicated life. They have a list of what they know was here and anything that didn't appear on it would mess up their books if it was taken. Maybe as these lightbulbs weren't shown as on stock, it was less of a hassle just to leave them behind."
"Good for us though. Lightbulbs are expensive."
A tour of the other rooms told much the same story – the place had been stripped clean.
We managed to identify what keys fitted which locks. The front door, the yard gates, the door that gave access to the dock and an outbuilding which yielded a few more surprises.
Aside from loads of space to garage the Astra, there were unopened cans of engine oil, hand tools such as a socket set, spanners, screwdrivers, a large workbench complete with vice, two fifty metre extension cables and a petrol cement mixer, which although looked as if it had seen better times, might well be serviceable.
A door at the rear of the building had been padlocked shut but failing to find a key that fitted it, what was behind that door would remain a mystery for the time being.
Back in the main building, some of the lads had found the door which we thought would lead to the stairs to the first floor.
This had also been padlocked and again not being able to find the key meant a visit to Ronny later.
We found another door which when we opened it, all we found was a brick wall.
We assumed (correctly), this gave access to our squat so armed with lump hammers and builder's chisels found in amongst the selection of tools in the outbuilding, we made a start on opening it up.
We worked on this for most of the day with some of the boys barrowing the old bricks and stacking them into neat piles on the dock for reuse when Ronny bricked up the hole in the wall.
We uncovered two further fireplaces, one very similar to our original one next door and another which had a furnace set into it although its purpose wasn't immediately obvious.
Mid evening saw Bubba return from his stint at Ronny's café.
He told us that the keys needed to gain access to the first floor and the space at the end of the outbuilding couldn't be found, however Ronny would get his hands on a bolt cutter for us to use.
This he delivered the following day so we tackled the padlocks that secured the door to the first floor rather than further exploring the outbuilding.
We had wondered what we'd find up there, probably nothing of interest, most likely empty but it wasn't. Far from it.
"What the fuck is this kit Ed?"
"I haven't got a clue. It's an engineering workshop of sorts but I've no idea what half of this stuff is used for." I pointed to a couple of machines. "Those are lathes for turning metal, that's a power saw and that thing there is a milling machine. I know cos we had something like them at school but they were modern whereas these are seriously old.
As for that beast…… oh and that thing over there? Don't ask cos I really don't know."
We began to search through cupboard and drawers uncovering all manner of things such as cutting bits for the lathes, what we assumed were cutters for the milling machine together with saw blades and hand tools but then Tiny made another discovery.
"Hey. Take a gander at this. It looks like a catalogue or something but it's faded and I can't make it out."
It was falling apart, damp and rotten so we carefully placed it on one of the work benches before studying it.
"Don't try turning the pages or it'll get fucked for sure. There are ways of preserving this sort of thing so for now, just try to make out what it says on the front cover."
Bit by bit we managed to make out what was printed.
Myton Bolts and Rivets Limited.
28 – 32 Bishops Wharf Lane
Suppliers of fastenings to boat-building yards and similar industries.
"Well if nothing else, that gives us something to research."
"How do we do that Ed?"
"Visit libraries and museums. There will be records of this company somewhere, what they did, when they started and when and why they shut up shop but first we ought to tell Ronny. He does own this stuff after all."
"Sorry boys, but for the life of me I can't get excited about it.
It looks to me as if it was mothballed decades ago and aside from the interest factor, this junk won't be worth anything other than its scrap value so if you want to have a dig around, then you carry on.
It does answer one question though.
I wondered what the purpose of the second engine was. It doesn't have an alternator strapped to it like the one next door, it had been used as a belt driven power chain, presumably to drive the shafts that power this stuff.
Like I said. – Interesting, but Birmingham was the engineering hub of the country from the early nineteenth Century until the mid-twentieth Century and so there are probably dozens of old and forgotten workshops dotted around the city."
"But we do have your permission to find out more?"
"You go ahead, but if you're thinking about getting this lot up and running then please be careful. Everything looks as if it's driven from that main shaft up there, and then there are slipped belts with tensioners to each individual machine. Those belts are probably shot to bits and if they spit? Well you might get very badly injured."
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