Diary of an engineer: Nest of vipers

Submitted by AWL on 16 March, 2021 - 4:28 Author: Emma Rickman
Engineering plant

Work is depressingly slow. The fewer jobs there are, the more lethargic we become. L keeps suggesting: “We’ll do that tomorrow — spread it out. Our problem today was that we started too early, that’s why the morning’s dragging.”

A trip to the control room turns into a drink in the control room, then long discussions that become increasingly awful to listen to. I offer to make a round of drinks and A says says to N — “It’s International Women’s Day, you should offer to make drinks.”

N doesn’t offer. Instead everyone goes silent and looks at me, as if they expect me to make a speech. I feel cornered, and look for the quickest way out.

“It is International Women’s Day,” I reply, “but I’m still going to make this round. Coffee one?” and retreat to the kitchen.

Another day, Sarah Everard’s body is found and the internet is full of sexual abuse testimonials. A friend of mine writes about being assaulted as a teenager: “One of the guys grabbed me, shoved me against a wall and squeezed my breast so hard it bruised.” This sentence sticks with me all day like a gagging reflex.

Of course women’s safety comes up for discussion in the control room, whether I want it or not. N makes a flyaway comment: “I know a lot of women are saying they get harassed a lot, and I shouldn’t laugh, but I noticed this twitter post saying ‘95% of women have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetimes’, and the first comment — I shouldn’t laugh — the first comment was ‘Let’s make it 100% lads, we’re slacking!’” N giggles.

Another day S and M are talking about marriage and S starts doing an impression of his wife.

S: “We’re in bed and she’s going [puppeting with his hand] do this, what about that, neh neh — so I do this, I get right close to her ear to whisper something to her, and I go ‘fuck off!’”

Roaring laughter.

S :“That’ll do it. I mean, she’ll keep her legs crossed for a few months — but it was worth it!”

Another day two older shift-leaders sit shouting at BBC News.

V: “Meghan Markle is a fucking liar! This is absolute madness!”

D: “I said — when her and Harry announced their engagement — I said she’d cause trouble. I said this doesn’t look good. And now she’s got the whole USA laughing at us!”

V: “I wonder what they’re going to say, when all the Commonwealth countries start defending the Queen? Won’t that be a little bit contradictory….? Just a tad…?”

A weather presenter comes on, a young man with a blonde quiff and a pink jacket.

V: “I don’t think my missus would let me out wearing that.”

N: “Don’t think he has a missus.”

V: “Exactly. I mean God...”

N: “LGBTQIABC what!?”

• Emma Rickman is an apprentice engineer at a Combined Heat and Power plant

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