One of the unparalleled aspects of working at ‘Gunnies’ was the absolute diversity of the place. I don’t just mean the multitude of nationalities, I also mean the colourful, larger than life personalities, the people who always smiled, the different attitudes to work and the spirited determination displayed by so many. The workplace employed over a thousand people, all from different backgrounds and countries around the globe. The working population were split into several groups, separated by the colour of their hairnets. Red indicated management or people who were selected to be leaders of different departments or production lines. Yellow or orange (I can’t remember) were quality control and the blue hairnet denoted cannon fodder (Send him/her over the top, their replaceable), which I was one of. In reality, and in my humble opinion, many of the blue ‘Hats’ knew more and were better at working out a problem than some of the red hats. For instance, on my very first night, I was paired with a young chap called Joe, a large, intelligent, instantly likeable and popular bloke who knew the machine he was working on better than most of the engineers. Joe taught me the finer points of the automatic slicing machine, but with a sense of humour and a big bright smile that indicated to me that he thought I wouldn’t last the week (Neither did I) I remember during the first few weeks of getting trained up by Joe that I learnt how to operate the machine slowly but surely. We would go on our breaks together and we both smoked marijuana (Joke). We both went down to the smoke shelter together and shared cigarettes when the other one didn’t have any. Joe’s aunty Karen also worked there, but mostly as admin. Karen was a lovely woman who car-shared with Joe and was always ready for a laugh with a naughty smile.
One night, not 3 weeks into starting work there, one of my shoes went missing, that’s right, just ONE ! Obviously, someone was messing about. It was 6.am in the morning, at the end of the night shift, and I couldn’t find one of my shoes. (I did’t find it funny because I was tired, there was snow on the ground and some idiot thought is was funny to take one shoe) At the time I didn’t own a car, so I was constantly catching the bus to and from work. There was I, with one shoe on and one shoe off, with no choice but to wrap a plastic bag around my shoeless foot and hope my toes didn’t fall off with frostbite! However, my friend Joe offered to give me a lift home, which considering he lived in Barnsley, miles and miles in the opposite direction, was very kind of him. So, give me a lift he did, and when I walked into my house, my very understanding wife asked me where my other trainer was but obviously wanted to laugh at the plastic covered foot. I was and always will appreciate the lift Joe and Karen gave me that night, It illustrated to me what kind, genuine people they were and still are. Joe’s best friend at work was Brian, who had taught Joe how to work the slicing machine. He was very funny and full of hilarious, sarcastic one-liners. He would take the ‘mick’ out of everyone but was very good at his job, very popular and liked a beer or three. In fact, and this is very random, I noticed the outline of his trouser monster once whilst we were in the canteen (No wonder he was popular) The line leaders, wearing red hats were all shapes, sizes and genders. On line one was Junior, a bronzed Brazilian who seemed to be in direct competition with Adam, who ran line six, the golden boy of Gunnies (Sorry Adam). Junior had a voice that was so deep that at first I thought he was talking like that to impress the ladies, but in fact it was his natural voice. Adam was very efficient and always hit and surpassed the numbers they expected of him. He was and is a lovely chap, and is now living his dream over in New Zealand with his soon to be wife (I think) and 2 or 3 children (I can’t remember how many) Scott was Adams servicer, and Scott was one of the most knowledgeable people I have every known. He was very quick at his job and everybody liked him because of his zany, infectious sense of humour. Tom took over from Junior after he left to go back home to Brazil with his wife. Tom was a tall, good looking chap with a cheeky, mischievous sense of humour but (Sorry Tommy baby) wasn’t the greatest at running the line! In fact, even before he started running the line, when he was servicing for Junior, he wasn’t the best! (Sorry again) However, Tom was understanding! I say that because of the innocent mistake I made when I was asked to clean line one down after they had finished producing on it for the night. They had large metal receptacles, dispensers shaped like upside-down cones that held egg mayonnaise. During the process of cleaning the line down I unfortunately threw not one but two buckets of cleaning fluid into the dispenser, believing and trusting that it had been emptied by Tom before I started cleaning things down! I looked into the dispenser to check that it was clean and was met by the sight of 4 kilos of egg floating in cleaning liquid. I called Tom over to the line and invited him to look inside the dispenser, which he did! The expression on his face was very comical. He looked at me with a look of confusion and said “F*”k” followed by “Why?” I explained the situation to him whilst I let out a few giggles and watched him go over and tell Junior what had happened. I watched Junior take in the information from Tom, who was smiling. Junior looked at me like I was an alien, shake his head and say something to Tom, who then walked back over to me and asked me to get rid of the evidence without being seen! In my defence, Tom should have emptied the bloody thing before I had started to clean the line down.
Then there was a little red netted guy from Morocco or Algeria (Can’t remember) and not to put to fine a point on it, he was regarded as a ‘bell-end’ who couldn’t be trusted. (In my personal experience, the popular opinion was right!) Then there was the Polish or Lithuanian (Again, I can’t remember) Amazonian warrior princess Zeena, who would often be heard shouting across the factory floor “Where’s by fu$%ng Brie?” when things weren’t going to plan. Another little lady who was arguably louder than Zeena was Dominika, a pocket Polish dynamo, a red hat who helped to run one of the sushi lines and blessed with a voice could actually be heard in Newcastle!
Alex, another Brazilian, was I think, part of the management team who ran the department were I worked, and he was very funny. Alex’s favourite trick was to initially shake your hand but then, whilst still holding your hand, move it down to his groin to brush and press against his penis. Then there was Mick, an ex army type who acted like he was a Sargent major, shouting at almost every opportunity at the red hats who were running the lines. (Some more than others) I didn’t really get to know him but always heard him shouting at some poor victim! Then there was Hilton, affectionately known as Paris. He rubbed quite a few people up the wrong way because he wanted everything done yesterday and had a way of communicating what he wanted by almost cuddling up to you and seductively whispering into your ear in a menacing (I’m going to kill you and your family) manner. Then there was Matt, who was/is a large man with a heart of gold. Matt unfairly got it in the neck from Mick and Paris to different degrees when he first started working as a red hat. I remember after I had finished doing my job I would jump onto his line at every opportunity because I like the way he ran the line. (No shouting, no fuss, just very efficient with a sense of humour) The department manager was a lovely lady by the name of Maxine. She was very understanding and reasonable, the type of manager who was approachable and genuine. Maxine “Batted for the other side” (No offence intended) and all I can say is, lucky other side. Last but by no means least was Marshy, a red hat who, like Alex, helped to make sure the lines were run efficiently. Marshy (Chris) jumped on line whenever he could to help out if there wasn’t enough people to get the sandwich orders out. Marshy had/has a very sharp, clever sense of humour that endeared him to everyone on the factory floor. He was always calculated, logical and generous when he helped out on line, mixed well and was liked by everyone. Marshy got along particularly well with Joe, Brian, Matt and a guy from Pakistan called Riaz, who consistently caused Marshy to fall about laughing with his unique pronunciation of words and sense of humour. “Lady shoes” was a phrase coined by Riaz, which swept through the lines like wildfire and became a popular ‘Put-down’ or gentle insult aimed at those who Riaz knew could take a joke. Some of the very best laughs we shared on the night shift happened a during the last 6 or 12 months we worked together before most of us were made redundant, but I’ll leave those laughs for another day.