Red, blue and talking

Submitted by AWL on 6 April, 2021 - 4:55 Author: Emma Rickman
Engineering plant

The maintenance engineers are all back in the building, on normal hours. It’s fantastic being able to have breakfast at home, and commuting in at seven instead of five. The days seem indulgently short, and my free evenings are long and sunny.

I’m with the electricians, so the week is filled with small jobs — changing light fittings, replacing a flow sensor, installing security cameras in the workshop, and deep-cleaning it the next day. We’re not used to working in teams; we communicate badly and make stupid errors. J sends the wrong calibration certificate to a manager; A routes the camera cables the wrong way; I confuse a jigsaw with a grinder — but we backtrack and make it work.

P, who I’ve not seen for six months, has bipolar. His mood is high, and he has his mind set on workshop improvement projects that no-one wants to do. He pursues each electrician and fitter individually, trying to persuade us to cut a hole in the wall and install a fan. When that fails, he tries convincing us as a group, which turns into a joke at his expense. Towards the end of the week his mood starts to come down, and he gives up on the fan.

P seeks me out in the workshop and we chat about the Me Too movement. He says his daughters have been in abusive relationships and Sarah Everard’s murder affected his family very deeply. He felt desperate to do something, so he made connections with some software engineers and is designing an app to link “safe people” together by GPS tracking. From what I can gather, he wants to encourage women to share our location with families, friends, “good” strangers, and the police at all times.

But arguing with P when he’s high is like trying to nail jelly to the wall. I explain that it was the police that killed Everard, then broke up the vigil; that GPS tracking is an invasion of privacy; that suggesting more policing of women is degrading and misleading. P agrees completely — and so do his daughters! We need a culture change in society, men need to educate each other, we need men to stop abusing women. But P still thinks that his GPS app will bring “the good people” together and create a more equal culture, he doesn’t see the contradiction.

P: “So do you want to be on the whatsapp group for this? If you agree with the principles of it?”

Me: “I don’t agree with the principles of it. I’m not on board with it.”

P: “But you could see how it develops? We really need — it’s really valuable — to have criticisms like this, it helps us make it work right.”

P starts talking about his daughters and the BLM demonstrations. He says he went on the streets during the miners’ strike, but has been really scared of crowds during the pandemic. He becomes tearful:

P: “I can’t go to a demo and stand there — I just can’t do that — but I need to do something about this, and this is what I do, I build and develop things with technical engineering people.”

Me: “I know you do — you’re brilliant at it. And you’re a really decent person P, of course you want to help.”

We put some chill hop on, and talk about his bi-polar.

P: “There are red people — like my wife,” he smiles “who bring me up, make me hyper — she’s like a bundle of energy and positivity. But red people can make me too high, and then I crash down hard. The blue people — people like you — listen to me and calm me down. So I’ve got to seek you out sometimes to level me out, because I know I can talk to you.”

Me: “Thanks P, that’s really sweet of you. I’m glad I can help — talking to you helps me a lot too.”

P: “Thanks pal.”

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

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