Musings‎ > ‎

4. The boss

The Boss is a man with more than encyclopaedic knowledge of all things metal.  Not only is he familiar with any nut or bolt that’s ever been made, and knows the composition and properties of all types of iron, steel, aluminium and so forth; he also knows implicitly how all of these things fit together, and can instantly produce intricate drawings of stress patterns and other factors integral to putting together any metal object.  He knows things that we mere mortals cannot even guess at.

Mind you, he’s not a theoretician.  He’s a very practical man, who’s probably at his happiest when he can hands-on manipulate a huge and complex piece of machinery, sitting peacefully in the middle of it, content in the knowledge that every single piece of it is functioning smoothly – probably because he has taken care of all its maintenance himself.

On occasion, when we have had some minor mechanical problem, we have gone to The Boss, and tried to explain what has befallen us.  We give lots of details about what has happened, and Alf listens in a quiet almost-benign manner.  Soon he cuts our explanation short, and says “yes, but when you turn the widget-wadget, what happens?”  We are taken by surprise, for not only have we not done this, we don’t even know what the ‘widget-wadget’ is, and we certainly would be in deadly fear of trying to turn it.  So we are reduced to saying a thoughtful “don’t know.”  Whereupon Alf replies quietly “well, we’d better go and have a look at it then” and we are immediately reduced to a state of fervent relief.  It’s not that The Boss will ‘go and have a look’ instantly: it could be after several hours, or several days, and he may need to be reminded several times.  After all, he must surely have many more complex and vexing things on his mind that just coming to turn our widget-wadget to see what happens.  Perhaps we should try to turn it ourselves, but this would entail having to ask Alf what it is, and where it is, and which way it should turn, and we are too awed to do that.

When Alf finally arrives, he says “so, is it ready for me?”  Instant butterflies in the stomach again, because we don’t know how we should have prepared ‘it’ for him.  He mumbles something to himself, which we think probably includes the word “useless”, but then within 30 seconds he kneels down, reaches underneath one of our pieces of machinery, grunts with some unseen exertion, and stands up again.

“It’s what I thought” he says. “Your widget-wadget is stuck.  When was the last time you greased it?  I’ll have to order you a new thingummyjig, and it’s probably better if I replace the widget-wadget as well.  You do know how to grease it, don’t you?”

Perceiving that I have to say something, I stumble over saying “not sure”, and receive a tolerant nod and a calm outline of what I should do in the future.

All in all, if Alf says we need a new widget-wadget, we do not hesitate for even a second.  If he says so, we need it, and we’re grateful that he has said what we must do.  He’s The Boss.

Once, I was even luckier.  There was Alf, crouched in the middle of a large machine, his hands nowhere to be seen but obviously busy with some inexplicable task.  Don’t know why, but I stopped to watch what he was doing.  When he looked up and saw me, he said “Don’t just stand there doing nothing.  Pass me the wallompbanger from my tool box.”  With a degree of trepidation, I pulled out the most obscure looking tool I could see and held it up.  “No,” he said, “not the big one, there should be a smaller one in there somewhere.”  I dug around and triumphantly found something similar but smaller.  “That’s it,” he said, with just the hint of a mischievous smile on his lips, “good man, we’ll make something useful out of you yet!”  It was enough to make me want to go and put on a pair of overalls and big stout boots, and strut around firm in the knowledge of what a wallompbanger looks like!

See, The Boss doesn’t give praise easily, so when he does, it’s quite special and makes you want to do even better.  The Boss does not specialize in very long conversations either: he seems more intent on moving on to the next task at hand, and not so keen to just stand around talking.  Mind you, he’s not a man who is often stuck for words.

In fact, there’s only one time when we have seen him left speechless.

It was during the busiest time of year, when there were many small jobs to be done, and people had to wait to get some attention.  Alf had taken to trying to do several jobs at once, a bit here, a bit there, and some people were getting impatient to have their own work completed.  One of those was a lady, whose boat was started but not finished: this was a lady who was not going to accept being put off easily.  She had tried charm, she had tried being stern, she had tried logic.

This morning, Alf was lying on his back underneath a boat which had been craned onshore for some urgent repairs to prevent it sinking.  He was surrounded by tools, hammers, saws, grinders, welding equipment.  His hat was pulled well forward over his face as protection against the dirty pieces of metal which were showering down upon him.  Of course he was well protected also by his overalls, gloves, goggles.  The boat’s owners and several onlookers were gathered around, with enough respect for what Alf was doing that nobody was talking: everybody was just watching intently.

The lady approached jauntily, gaily, clad carefully in blouse and shall-we-say comely shorts.  Picking her way nimbly over pieces of steel and tools until she stood astride Alf, she planted her feet firmly either side of him, hands on hips, looking down at him.  He looked up at her.  The onlookers switched their attention from Alf to the lady.

“Alf” she said “Alf, I am quite a bit miffed with you.  I see you have abandoned me again to go to work on another boat, while I am still waiting.”  Then, lowering her voice just a hair, to represent perhaps a more conspiratorial tone, she said “Alf, when are you going to see to my bottom?”

Alf stared upwards transfixed, mouth open, silent.

©2010 Michael Marriott