Id been a budding guitarist for almost 15 years, but for my job I was a pre-cast concrete erector. Id done this job for nearly 4 years and had been on many different sites and jobs. But none of them would stick in my mind as much as the job on the 28th November 2002.
We had to go to Dundee, so that meant leaving early that Thursday morning. I picked the lads up Stevie, Shanker and Johnny at about 3.30am. It was a horrible, cold, dark winters morning. My breath bellowed out of mouth like steam from a boiling kettle. So I turned the heaters up full in the van. It soon warmed up in there; we started to feel like we were in Barbados, not an old transit van on the way up to freezing Bonny Scotland.
The journey was a typical long, tiring one. The mist hovered around the road like massive viaduct tunnel. At some stages of the journey it looked like we were just driving through a thick, grey rain cloud. We arrived on site at 8.00am, and before we could work we had to get our safety induction. After the induction we read our method statement and went to look at the job. “Great!” shouted Stevie, “Only ten slabs to put in. We’ll be away early today lads”. He was standing there crouched over rubbing his hands together resembling the look of Fagan from Charles Dickens story “Oliver Twist”.
Stevie and me started to place the slabs into position. While Shanker and Johnny jumped on the back of the wagon to sling them up to us. The slabs were ten metres long and one metre in width and weighed two tones. We placed them on top of a wall at each end to make the floor. One by one they went into position lifting a different slab off the wagon by crane each time. The cranes boom stood tall in the sky like a giant giraffe, lifting the slabs as though they were as light as a feather. It didn’t take long until all the slabs were in so Stevie sent us for a break before we put the stairs in.
We had about half an hour for our break in the small canteen then went back on the job.
“Site managers been round, we’ve got to put some damp proofing under them three slabs” said Stevie
“How we going to do that” I said, as the slabs were tight against each other and there was no way to sling the chains of the crane around them.
“Shanker and me will just raise them with the steal bar’s” he replied. The bars were just like a jemmy but thicker and longer, capable of pushing the slabs but not really made for lifting them, but that’s how he wanted it.
I jumped down onto the scaffold and stood at the end of the slab Stevie and Shanker stayed on top.
“Right are you ready with the dampfroofing,” Stevie yelled.
The damproofing for those who don’t know is a paper-thin sheet of black polythene about 8 inches wide.
“Yeah, I’m ready” I replied. So they got a bar on each side of the slab and lifted the end of the slab up. The slab just lifted about 30mm but that was more than enough to slide the damproofing under the slab. We then moved on to the next slab, same again lifting the end of the slab about 30 mm and then onto the third and final slab.
” There you go job done,” I said. Stevie looked over the edge where I was standing, took a look at the damproofing and decided that it had to go further in underneath the middle slab. So he and Shanker got back on the slab and raised the end again.
“Push it under Bazz!” Stevie yelled,
“I cant” I replied, “Its stuck because the slabs at either side have got it stuck tight” I tried to explain.
“GO ON PUSH IT FURTHER!” He growled at me. I then tried to push the damproofing in further and then I heard it “Shit”, instinct just made me pull my hands back as fast as I could when I heard the crush of the slab onto the wall. A deep, empty but solid thud like an out of tune church bell. I then started to feel a strange sensation at the tip of my fingers. Like they were there and if as though they’d been hit with a hammer. I cupped my left hand with the right one and took a look at my fingers. What I saw next was the most terrifying thing that could have happened to me.
The blood just poured down my hand and arm like a river rushing towards its mouth, the ends of my fingers where just a sight of hanging flesh and splintered bone. The pain was intense the worst I have ever suffered, my head span round I couldn’t focus, it felt like I was there but I was watching it all on film. The guy who was driving the crane sat me down and tried to clean me up. Stevie ran to get the site first aid personnel.
They seemed to be taking ages so the crane driver told Shanker and Johnny to drive me to hospital. So we jumped in the van and headed for the nearest hospital in the centre of Dundee.
When I arrived at hospital I was seen straight away. I kept trying to make a joke of everything because I knew deep down inside I would not be playing my guitar again. You see it wasn’t the losing of the fingertips. It was losing the ability of playing my guitar. They kept me in over night to give me surgery on what was left on my fingers. The worst thing about that was I was alone in Dundee and my family felt so helpless in Newcastle. I returned home on the Friday afternoon, still feeling sickly from the operation and in a lot of pain. My family were all there to greet me on my return. My mother just grabbed me and held me in the way only a mother can. She made me know that I was home and safe.
As a result of the accident I was off work for 8 months and I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to do with my life. It was then I decided to go back into education and study to become a nurse and better my life because there was no way I was putting myself in danger on construction site’s again. After all it was what I wanted to do after I left the Army but just didn’t have the will to do it then. I suppose all that time off give me the time to plan my strategy, and the guts to do it.
Looking back I suppose we could have done it differently. Though I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Maybe it was just my time or there is a great plan were all just part of. I know I’ll never play guitar again like I used to and I doubt I’ll ever put slabs in again but maybe just maybe I’ll get out of life exactly what I want.