On an early December day shift a strange thing happened.
It wasn’t that we ran out of wire; these things happen. Not even that when I ran to tell the young workmate responsible and we were already heading back to set things right another workmate approached us yelling about the matter. He’d been recently jilted. Nor that when they kept on shouting I tried to reconcile the conflict. I often do, against my better judgement.
The strange thing was that when the older guy turned and began shouting at me to shut up and mind my own business, I shouted back at him to shut up and mind his own business. Well, in a sense the wires were a business of all three of us. The point is that I’m a natural coward. An here I was, taking somebody else’s part against somebody else bullying him.
What followed was something I’d often read about but never experienced first-hand: the bully did shut up. We went on with our work; I didn’t even need to go and have a fag. Sure, the scene did keep replaying in my mind, but all in all I was surprised how little it troubled me. (The silent ‘Thanks!’ from the young guy may have helped.)
I later pondered about it and decided that however out of character I acted, I did the right thing, come what may*. As in ’89, when I joined the Strike, convinced that its potential success would make life worse for me but better for my friends . . . Maybe that’s what helped me do it. Like back then, I don’t see before me any future worth worrying about, so I can afford this kind desperate courage . . .
* What came was that one workmate stopped talking to me while another sort of began giving me preferential treatment. And incidentally, another odd aspect of the case is that the ‘attacker’ is much closer to me in age (41) and a gay (not that I’m known there to be one), while the young (28) one is not only straight but also, as far as I’m concerned, altogether unsightly.