On Mondays my cohort attends college. The building is made of slick modern metal and glass, and built on the site of the battle of Orgreave.
The Economist magazine described its construction as “a promising attempt… to tackle an ancient and ridiculous class divide” by getting Boeing and Rolls Royce to invest in working-class children’s education. Over the road is the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, hosting buildings dedicated to factory automation and nuclear research.
My class is twelve men and three women, aged 17-30. Our Health and Safety Trainer is a 30-40 year old Brummy called “P”. As he enters the room he sighs.
Me “Bad weekend?”
P shakes his head “You have no idea – stuck inside all weekend, can’t get out because the Missus is breastfeeding. ‘I’m bored!’ she says, but we can’t do anything – and of course I’m not allowed to go out! And she’s complaining though it was her idea to have kids –”
He starts talking to the lads at the far end of the class about all the films he’s missed because of his six-month-old daughter. J, W and M are all about twenty; their chats are a combination of one-liners and put-downs that tread a fine line between hilarious and maddening. Later, J starts with:
“Corbyn’s literally a fucking nutcase.”
M “But that Boris isn’t great either. I dunno who I’d vote for but I wouldn’t vote for him.”
J “I mean £10 per hour would be pretty good...”
I miss some of the chat but it’s about pay, cars, savings and holidays. P then says with teacher’s authority:
“You’re not paid much now, but in a few years time you’ll be earning good money. More than I get here. Your salary – it won’t be a problem.”
J “Thing is we’re kind of in the middle us. We’re not working class and we’re not middle class. Neither party’s for us.”
P “I’m torn, I used to be a Labour voter, but Corbyn –”
J “Terrorist sympathiser.”
P “I mean he’s anti-military, got no fucking clue.”
J “And all these promises Labour are making; how are they going to pay for them? Tax big companies so they all leave – that’ll do it.”
P “And the thing about this NHS stuff – Labour were the ones who started privatising it in the first place! Just google ‘Labour 2003’, just do it.”
J “What about you P?”
P “I really don’t know. I’m not gonna vote Tory. If Corbyn wasn’t there it’d be Labour. I just don’t know.”
I’ve finished my work and am looking at Acorn’s voter registration campaign page. Of course P peers over my shoulder.
“You’re registering to vote?”
Me “No, this is a campaign to get people to vote who wouldn’t normally. Marginalised communities, that sort of thing.”
P “I was gonna say, you don’t seem like the sort of person...” he peers at the photos of people at street stalls.
“I think people should have an IQ test before they’re allowed to vote,” he says to me – conspiratorially.
I don’t respond, and he moves on
J and M have accidentally told P his nickname — “Al” from Toy Story 3. They do a few rounds of the Toy Story jingle, then P starts talking about his weight – by deflecting.
“I used to have a colleague who sued her workplace.”
“Yeah she got shit for it though. Thing is, she was a fat bitch; I mean really, twice the size of me. And she wore these precarious, really unsuitable heels for work. Not just bad for her teaching job, but not good for her weight.”
M “So what happened then?”
P “The school didn’t have a lift to the top floor and she had to climb two storeys in these stupid shoes. One day – and it was because of the shoes, it was obvious – she had a fall, and sued the school on the basis they ‘hadn’t informed her about the kind of footwear that would be suitable.’ But then they got her – they made her life hell, made her walk all over the grounds to do lunch duty...”
Our class is finishing assignments about the health and safety responsibilities of employers and consequences of failing to obey the law. Here is P, explaining why suing your employer will come back to bite you – and that you’ll probably deserve it.
My friend G says to me “My girlfriend had a colleague she used to tell me about in the office – she didn’t seem to do any work, she just ate all day.”
Me, grimacing, “That’s not something you do when you’re happy, is it? She probably has an eating disorder.”
Over the noise, P says again “She was a fat bitch. I hated her, she was horrible to me.”
● Emma Rickman is an engineering apprentice at a Combined Heat and Power plant in Sheffield.