"Oh I'm not interested in any of that," I told Fred, sanctimoniously. "I'm just glad to be working again, that's all."
Which was true. It was a question of job first, sense of humour second as far as I was concerned.
This answer must have impressed Fred, for later on it was reported to me that Fred had told someone, "That new bloke - he's all right you know: he's a proper working lad."
But it wasn't long, I'm sorry to say, before I became incensed by Victor's conservatism and started bitching about him along with everybody else. The main gripe about Victor was that he drove too slowly between dustbins. Whereas we loaders wanted to whip round and get home early, driving his dustcart was Victor's life, and he liked to string it out as long as possible. This conflict of ideals led to much bitterness although Victor himself, who was a small man, with immense reserves of obstinacy to draw on, and a longer perspective, pretended not to notice our discontent.
I stuck it for about three years. But latterly it got to the stage where I was lying awake at night and making plans to kill him. Elaborate plans to begin with, then less so, until finally I settled on simply dragging him out of the cab, throwing him in the crusher and pleading diminished responsibility. I'd come to hate Victor so much it would have been well worth going to prison for, no question.
Of course, coward that I am, I did no such thing. I put in for a transfer instead, and was put on the grass-cutting team. Looking back on it now, I'm glad I didn't kill him. But at the time I felt the compromise involved in not killing him had somehow changed the course of my life as completely as killing him would have done. My not killing Victor, I felt, was the beginning of old age.
The strimmers they gave us to cut the grass with were powerful "professional" strimmers which sent the debris flying in a wide arc. All day long I moved slowly across the council's verges and play areas, the centre of a small, sweet-smelling holocaust.
The thing I never really got the hang of was how to strim round a dog turd without some of it flying up into my face and mouth. Within a week I was a connoisseur of the various flavours: whether Pedigree Chum, Winalot, tripe or cheap stuff made with fish meal.
I could have sheltered behind one of the plastic visors that the council provided, but they steamed up quickly, and besides, after it's happened a few times, having dog shit in your mouth isn't the end of the world. And at the time I felt that a mouthful of it now and then was no more than I deserved for my pusillanimity.
All that was 10 years ago.
Last Wednesday, I was just about to shove a supermarket trolley back in the stack when the trolley man offered to take it and do it for me. It was Victor. He was wearing a white shirt and a black bow tie. I'd heard that he'd retired, but I didn't know he was doing this.
"You're looking very smart Victor," I said. It was the first time I had spoken to him since I stepped off his dustcart for the last time a decade ago.
"I had to do something," he explained. "I couldn't just sit at home, doing nothing." Then he said, "We were different generations - that was the trouble, boy."
I looked at him. His long hair was a lot whiter than I remembered it. Then I realised that after a 10-year gap in our conversation he was coming straight to the point and offering me some sort of an apology. He was right: that was all our problem was - my youth vs his age.
As we stood there in the car park, a supermarket trolley between us, I remembered how in spite of my hatred of him, he could make me laugh - for essentially Victor was a comedian. And then I thought, surely anyone who can't forgive a comedian is a fool. So I smiled, and offered him my hand.Reuse content