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Painting a wall amidst the destruction.

I used to work in catering, this was years ago when I was young carefree and stupid, before I became older, not so carefree but still completely stupid. There was a story that did the rounds of a chef that went potty. There was a country style pub in one of the towns where I lived with a huge restaurant that became incredibly busy, I mean this place was packed from opening to closing every day of the week. It was simple food but with big portions and at a reasonable price. The pub extended to take in more grounds and opened a big outside area too. The problem was that they ran off the same existing kitchen.

The restaurant became busier but the chefs and kitchen staff worked from the same small space. I don’t know if you have ever worked commercial kitchens but they are hot, frantic and full of red faced people shouting a lot. The chefs hate the waiting staff, the waiting staff hate the kitchen staff and combined they hate the greedy selfish wankers moaning about their chips being soggy.

The head chef was reputed to be the highest paid in this area, and this was a country pub as opposed to some of the five star eateries where you get a stick of asparagus served with a drizzle of vomit.

The story goes the head chef was becoming increasingly stressed. From the moment he walked into work, to the moment he left he was busy, busy as hell. The pressure must have been enormous. Everything hinged in his abilities to organise, control and deliver a great service.

The pressure became too much. He snapped and one day, on a Saturday during peak times, he picked up a broom and started sweeping the floor. At first no one paid any attention, he was the head chef and could sweep up a bit of mess if he wanted. Except he carried on sweeping and he didn’t shout at anyone. Now this was strange, the head chef always shouted at everyone but now he was being quiet and just sweeping the floor with a sort of absent look on his face. Kitchens have to be kept clean, that is a given. But during the busiest period? There are kitchen porters to do that, there are staff way down the pecking order who have that job.

After a short period of time it became noticed that Chef wasn’t doing what he should be doing, but such was his persona that not one person could say anything to him. So he carried on sweeping the floor amidst the explosion of chaos that surrounded him.

Years later and I was in law enforcement. There was an incident one night, a very large fight that resulted in several serious injuries. Weapons involved, knives and sticks, multiple people arrested, witnesses everywhere, victims being taken to hospital. The first attending officers did their best to control the scene until more units arrived. With an incident like this there are several things that need to be done quickly. The offenders have to be apprehended and transported to custody. The victims have to be checked and medical aid offered where necessary. The scenes of the injuries have to be sealed off for forensic exam. The witnesses have to be secured, names, addresses and initial accounts. There is a theory called the Golden Hour. Essentially some boffin somewhere got paid a fortune by saying that if we (the police) do everything in the first hour then we stand a far greater prospect of a successful investigation.

Witnesses, within the first hour, are more likely to still feel horrified and be willing to provide details. Give them long enough and they’ll think themselves out of assisting. Scenes should be controlled immediately to prevent contamination. Offenders should be located as soon as possible to preserve the best evidence and so on.

Now everyone has a bad story about the police but generally they are very good at things like this. In fact, the bigger the incident, the better the police are at dealing with it. This was a big job and the first sergeant on the scene was newly promoted. The sergeant had about four years service and was on a fast-track promotion scheme. Surprisingly, this was the first large scale incident they had dealt with, and suddenly, he was the person in charge. There was no other old sweat skipper to calmly tell everyone what they should be doing. He was the skipper. He was the alpha, the Officer in Charge.

But the pressure was too much. Too many things that needed doing and not enough officers. Do you control the scene before you get the witnesses? Do you go for the offenders before you have an arrest team? What about the weapons that had been seen? Do you look for them now or later? There’s blood everywhere, people screaming in pain with injuries. The control room want updates, how many ambulances do we need, do we need road closures putting on, the duty Detective Inspector wants an update, how bad is it? How many victims, are any of the injuries life-threatening?

You get the picture I’m sure. The sergeant started looking for the weapons. He commenced a foot search. Looking for a weapon was a simple task. You walked about and looked down at the ground. Easy. It was simple and ordered. A black and white job. His radio was blaring, officers were running up and asking questions but he was busy, he was searching for the weapons.

More years later and I’m standing in the middle of a house that is pretty much falling apart. The damp company are ripping walls apart, tearing shit up, smoking, farting and drinking coffee. My kitchen has a big hole in the floor. The one working sink upstairs has a leak. The shower is also leaking. There is a thick dust hanging in the air. We’ve all got colds, coughs, headaches. The dogs are miserable.

So I painted a wall in the garden. Well I say garden but it’s more a courtyard. Concrete ground with big fences and walls either side, perfect for dogs. I went to the garden centre and spent far too much money buying two trees in big pots, brought them home and then painted a sodding wall. With a tin of white masonry paint, a big masonry paint brush and I painted that wall. I painted the shit out of that wall. I put my back to the house and lathered paint all over that wall. In fact, that wall had never, ever been subjected to such a painting before. It was painted.

The wall was the least important task. The wall wasn’t even in that bad condition, it was just a bit faded and patchy. It wasn’t the wall that was the important thing. It was the painting. It was a simple task. Black and white. Paint brush in the tin, dip the end, lift it up and slap it on the wall.

Is there a lesson here? Fucked if I know. Maybe there are times when the mind becomes too over-wrought with the tasks at hand. There are too many things that need doing so we revert to doing the most simple. The mind shuts down. It knows there are other things more important than this but it doesn’t care. It blots out the bad shit and tells you this wall is the important thing now.

The head chef picked a broom up. The floor was dirty so he swept it. The new sergeant started looking for weapons and I painted a wall.

So now I have a clean and freshly painted a wall and a tree to put beside it.


Take care

RR Haywood.


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