How a life of crime became a really boring business
Sunday 12 December 1993
'In the fruit farm?'
'No - too near.'
'On the hill?'
'Too . . . exposed.'
This, for us, was the point of crime - how else, as an adolescent, could you have conversations like this? We felt serious, in control. We were 13. I had never said 'too exposed' and pursed my lips and looked seriously at the ground before. Never in my life. This was great; it was like being in a war comic. Neither of us was leading the other on, exactly, but we couldn't have done this alone. What - stealing the lead, hiding it, getting all the gear together, lighting the fire? On your own? It wouldn't have made any sense.
I put the stolen lead back in the ditch. Then I put the torn-off section in a plastic bag. I felt no guilt whatsoever. Looking back on it, we didn't want to do these bad things for personal gain, exactly. What we wanted was something subtly different - we wanted to be boys who did bad things. We identified with criminals, not because criminals were prosperous, but because criminals seemed to have interesting lives. They were permanently evading capture, for instance - a perfect hedge against boredom. And they always had great things to say to each other. When you commit crimes with somebody, it definitely improves your relationship.
'What about the little wood?'
'Not quite. Just up from that.'
We hadn't worked everything out. But nearly. We had the matches, the lead, the cooking pan. We also had the mould, which was the important thing. We walked through the wood, hefting our heavy loads, self-conscious, pretending to be lost in our new roles. The next step was to build a fire. Then we would put the lead in the cooking pan, and hope it melted properly. We weren't even sure the lead would melt.
We did not feel guilty, but we were nervous. What if it didn't work? That was almost unthinkable; if the lead didn't melt, we would have no reason to go on stealing it. And for me, stealing the lead - all that clambering around on roofs - was the most exciting bit. I really didn't want to stop doing that.
The lead had been an accidental discovery. We'd been climbing on the roofs of some old farm buildings, enjoying ourselves a fair amount, but nothing special, and we'd been pulling the slates off the roof so that we could throw them, frisbee-like, into the trees below. This was good fun for a little while. But what next? The experience started to pall. After a bit, we had revealed a large expanse of material underneath the tiles. We poked at it a bit, unmoved. Then we saw a seam where one sheet was joined to another, and pulled it up. This stuff had strange qualities - it was heavy, bendy.
'It bloody is, too]'
'Well, that's obvious.'
We fiddled with it for a while. Then we climbed down and did something else.
A few days later, though, we were looking through a fishing magazine - the Angler's Mail or the Angling Times - and we noticed an ad for moulds for home-made fishing weights. They were hinged metal blocks with hollow centres. You poured molten lead into them, and waited for it to dry. Then you pulled the halves apart, and a weight fell out. You were supposed to make them out of old, knackered weights which had been knocked out of shape on rocks and the sides of piers.
For us, it opened up a fantastic possibility, because we could get unlimited quantities of lead. We could, we realised, go into business, making weights and selling them on piers, jetties, breakwaters. We could make hundreds. So we sent off for a mould to make a 5 oz Surf Bomb. A fortnight later, it arrived in the post. We had, of course, stolen the lead in advance.
So this was the moment. We lit the fire, took out the lead, tore it into strips, put it in the pan. At first, the strips of lead just sat there in the bottom of the pan. And then . . . triumph] They started to melt. They began to go runny and shiny at the edges, then they turned from dark grey, stiff things into molten silver stuff the consistency of custard. Absolutely amazed, I tipped it into the spout at the top of the mould. We were beside ourselves; we waited for the mould to cool down, and opened it. Yes] We had a perfect surf bomb, smooth at the edges, shinier than ordinary weights - it was fresher - and worth 20p in the shops. It felt superb. We looked at it, lying in the grass, and laughed and laughed.
We did go into business. We made hundreds of weights. We got good at knowing the optimum amount of lead to put in the pan, and the right size for the fire, and the best piers to sell the weights on, and the right amount to charge (a third of the retail price if people weren't desperate; more if they looked like they really needed weights).
But the lead didn't get used up very fast. We had masses. We did a few more small heists, and one big one, staggering off one night with a sheet the size of a carpet. Soon we realised that what we had was going to last us for ever.
We made the weights for one summer. After that, we couldn't be bothered any more. I think it was because the whole thing had become routine; it felt like work. You got up, you built your fire, you poured the lead into the moulds. The next day, you went to the pier. You sold a few weights. It got so it felt like legitimate business.-
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