Celtic Illumination, part 148, Snowball, Napoleon and me
I understand that to be a good and effective leader you should have experienced some tough times, taken some hard decisions. I can now see that the double top secret cabal who were organising my life so that I would turn out to be the greatest Master Candle Maker, the greatest High Chief of the Clan O Neil and, the greatest ever King of Ireland were aiming to produce a special person. Ireland would need the strongest King, ever, in its history to step forward and lead its people out of the mess they have wallowed in for years. But to create such a leader, my experiences would not be tough or hard, they would be seriously extreme.
I decided not to tell Irene everything about my time in Ireland and stored the incident in the back of my mind. I wasn’t trying to hide from it, or ignore it; I just didn’t know how to handle it. It didn’t take long to settle back into the routine of things. I saw an opportunity where I could make some decent money at a spare time job so applied for it. The local abattoir needed a night cleaner on a part time basis. I went for the interview and was pleased to find that there were no fixed days but that I would be required to work four hours in the evening, when available, cleaning the gut room.
I was given the job there and then and was taken away to be issued with rubber boots and overalls, a hard hat, gloves and goggles. I was even given a locker and couldn’t believe my luck. I turned up for work the first evening and, having kitted myself out, reported to the night supervisor. He took me to the gut room, which is where the intestines were separated from the other organs, cleaned, salted and stored for use as sausage skins.
I was given some stiff brooms and a steam hose and told that I had four hours. I set about the place and gave it a good clean. The next night I arrived and was making my way to the gut room when I was told that I had to report to the night manager. I went along wondering what sort of trouble I had got myself into now. The night manager informed me that the other cleaners were complaining about me. Seems that the gut room had never been so clean and my efforts had put the other cleaners to shame, could I slow down a bit and not be so efficient.
I started to settle in to the abattoir and got to know the other fellows. They were quite, well, very relaxed and often smelled and acted as if they had spent a good few hours in the local pub before reporting for work. One fellow I got friendly with was Peter, another cleaner. I remember one night creeping up behind him as he was about to slide a pitchfork under a heap of sheep heads when I bleated out loud. He almost died of fright. All the guts and bits and pieces, that were of no monetary value, were scooped up into large metal tubs which would be taken outside and dumped into a much larger metal container.
One evening Peter asked me for help as he had raised a metal bin with his fork lift and the metal tub had slipped off one of the forks and was about to fall in to the main container. I went outside and immediately sized up the situation. I got a piece of rope and climbed up on top of the large container. The one thing I hadn’t taken in to account, and why should I have even considered it as I had never been standing on top of one of these huge containers before, but it was very slippery.
I slipped, reached out to the tub to steady myself, but it came off the forks completely and sank into the mess below. The large container had metal flaps which would be closed, when the thing was in transit, so what I was standing on was covered in fat and blood and God knows what else. Like with the plastic bag and snow relationship I discovered that the co efficient of friction between my arse and a slippery surface is zero, or close to it. There was no way of stopping myself as I slowly slid forward and down, waist deep, into that days collection of offal and guts and heads and hooves and blood.
I can still feel the dampness soak through my overalls and into my clothes underneath and I honestly do not think that I could describe the smell or the way the air tasted. I could hear Peter laughing his head off outside and calling for the others to come and have a look. It would appear that I had now been initiated into life at the abattoir and was allowed to leave early that evening to get home and spend the next five days sitting in a bath scrubbing myself clean. Of course as initiations go it wasn’t that subtle. I doubt if any of them would have survived a mountain rescue initiation.
My work was so good that they invited me to come and work a shift or two each week in the gut room. I accepted and began my first full shift. I know that there is an old saying claiming that the only part of a pig you cannot eat is its squeak. That is perhaps true, but at this abattoir there were one or two other small pieces that were not used. I soon discovered that these were thrown about the abattoir, for fun, especially at the new boy.
I was amazed at the way the cows were slaughtered. From the size of the beast and the rapidity with which it was processed stunned me. I could have watched them for hours but was instead required to work. My first job was to stand at the bottom of a slide. In the next room the pigs were slaughtered then opened and their entrails were pushed along and came down a stainless steel slide to me. I had to cut the stomach off and then slide the remaining entrails along. I would then slice the stomach open, empty it and wash it and then throw that into a large tub. I understood that these went to be processed into dog food.
The pigs anus was removed with four stabs of a knife so that you ended up with a small, diamond shaped, lump of flesh. This was the main item thrown about the abattoir, so as I would be working away with my stomachs, lumps of flesh would come hurtling towards me. If they didn’t hit me they would slap against the white tiled wall in front of me and ooze their way to the floor. At least now I was getting to understand what I was cleaning in the evenings. I shall never forget the look of amusement, from my fellow workers, on my first lunch break when I opened my lunch box to discover that all my scran had been removed and replaced with a number of diamond shaped pieces of flesh. Oh they were so funny.
I wasn’t allowed as much free time as I should have enjoyed, for I loved watching the animals as they waited, wondering if they knew, or could sense, what lay in store for them at the end of the tunnel they were being forced into. I was taken out one day and given a pitch fork. I was shown a room which as there was straw on the floor, looked like an animal holding cell. There were a number of steel tubs full of liver and some had tipped over. I was asked to get some new tubs and using the pitchfork clear up the spilled livers. Standing knee deep in raw liver was a most effective exercise, for budding vegetarians, as I have never eaten liver since and when I think about it feel very much like the character Monty from the film Withnail and I, who says, “As a youth I used to weep in butcher’s shops.”
So, the money was good, I was able to buy meat in the abattoir shop, with staff discount thank you very much; the work was so simple a failed fast jet pilot could have done it. With hindsight I can see why the future king of Ireland should be made to understand a massive, and somewhat contentious, part of the food production process. But I expect they also wanted me to work with dumb beasts and try to understand them more. I did and I do but I still have trouble with the Norfolk accent. They had clocking in and out machines and the supervisors were on the ball most of the time, especially when they were sober, but the one thing they failed to notice, was that I arrived for each shift in my civvie clothes and left wearing a brand new pair of overalls.