Memories Are Made Of This

If you read this blog for insight into the Baltics, please ignore this blog post and move onto the next one. I’m going to indulge myself for a few paragraphs.

Valentine’s Day (the ‘Saint’ prefix appears to have gone AWOL) is one of those festivals, like Halloween, that always feels a bit forced. It’s not an A-list day, it’s low B- and possibly C-list as far as fiestas go, but like a minor celebrity it likes to dress up in plenty of tasteless ‘bling’ and swan around as if it’s Hollywood.

I have a general aversion to inflatable hearts and saucy cards, plus a disdain for the way Valentine’s Day likes to make the giving of flowers into a melodramatic act when – as everyone in the Baltics will testify – this civilised gesture should be an almost daily event.

Thus I took a curious pleasure in the entirely inappropriate memories summoned up as I sat pondering the special love song soundtrack during my Valentine’s Day meal.

Bryan Adams’ gut-wrenching Everything I Do (I Do It For You) is one of the most disingenous and self-regarding ditties ever penned. To do something for another person is laudable indeed, but to declaim for a good seven minutes plus about how selfless you are strikes me as the height of bad manners and vulgarity.

So it’s appropriate that to me, the song conjures up my time working night shift in a metalworking factory on the outskirts of Norwich. Between the hours of 10pm and 9am I was employed to cut 20-foot-long strips of steel into 6-inch-lengths using an hydraulic guillotine. It was monotonous in the extreme and by the time midnight came around you were already wondering if it might be worth severing a finger or two to relieve the boredom.

Every now and again a Geordie with the most profane mouth I’d ever heard (prior to meeting drunken Russkies) would regale me with stories of how he’d defrauded ever major shipping company in Newcastle, while over in the corner a past-it pensioner farted loudly to signal the completion of a satisfactory weld.

I started smoking horrible Embassy cigarettes simply because everyone else did, all the time, and figured it would be marginally less nauseating to inhale my own first-hand fumes rather than everyone else’s second-hand smoke. Plus it helped mask the acrid smell of smouldering steel joints.

At least four times a night Bryan Adams boasted of his selfless devotion from the radio blaring in the corner.

The other reason I associate the song by the gravelly Canadian with this period is Gary, a former army corporal who retained the modest moustache that is that rank’s privilege and who served as foreman. He led by example. I saw his timesheet once and it showed he had put in 104 hours of heavy-duty welding in a single week. When we broke to eat our food at around 3am he would take a photo of his wife and kids, prop it against the sandwich box and stare at it as he chewed.

Everything I do, I do it for you – indeed. When the universally loathed boss tried to short-change the workers Gary showed up with a shotgun, pointed it at the boss’ head and said he’d blow his brains out unless he paid up. He paid up.

Next on the Valentine’s Day jukebox was Love Is In The Air, which I associate with sitting on my grandfather’s toilet in a County Durham mining town. I must have been around eight years old. My somewhat barmy grandad was always one for  sudden but usually short-lived enthusiasms ranging from horse and cart ownership to cowboy clubs to painting his car with Hammerite to prevent rust.

As I sat on his upstairs loo I saw that he had invested in a combined toilet-roll-holder-and-radio which he had already covered with a thick layer of gloopy yellow paint that clogged up the speaker. I clicked it on and the first song I heard, albeit slightly muffled, was Love Is In The Air. I laughed a schoolboy’s laugh and made a joke about something else much less fragrant being in the air, which I was rather proud of.

I wonder why toilet roll holder radios never caught on. If I had one now I would rarely leave the smallest room in the house.

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