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Shovelling the Big Rocks – Salt and Vinegar Optional
by Mike Hickman



I move the big rocks now, and yet the man in the paper hat and the apron with the sweat stains almost the exact size and shape of small continents will call me what he is going to call me when I order the Friday night chippy tea.

What’s more – what’s worse – I am going to let him, too.

The usual queue of builders straggles out onto the street. I feel self-conscious in the shirt and tie and the too tight suit. Burtons. 99 quid. A bargain that almost looked like it was made to measure, back when I was given the promotion. Things are getting a bit discomforting in the waistband department now, though, and the waistcoat has been split up the back to deal with the unsightly tummy bulge. But I’m still a damn sight more presentable than the blokes in the tracksuits in front of me. Not a one of them, I venture, has ever seen the inside of a gym. Get too close, look down, and I’m in danger of falling into sweaty arse crack. It’s a badge of pride, it seems, to have half your backside on display at all times. I imagine a David Attenborough natural history documentary, as I’m prone to do whilst standing by the door, glasses steaming up from the fryer, and dreading the moment when I’m at the head of the queue and the man in the paper hat calls me what he’s going to call me.

I’m 32, for crying out loud. 32. I move the big rocks now in the office, since the promotion. I’ve got an office and my name on the door – okay, Blu-tacked right now in case I don’t last, like the last chap didn’t last, but my name is there under “Chief Executive”, and that ought to give me some status. And yet paper hat and sweat stains will still say it, his scoop poised over the chips. He’ll say it and I will let him.

But David Attenborough, though. He’d have a field day with this lot..

Here, in their natural habitat of the run-down town centre chippy, we see before us the hairless cue ball heads of the Worker Drones on the Friday night chip run. Notice the low-slung brows and the ripples of flesh running up the backs of their heads. Notice the tattoos across the knuckles – one a hilariously misspelled “anarchy”. Unless, of course, this creature is a particular fan of the anchovy, which he won’t be, of course, or else why would he be queueing up for his Friday night cod? Another there with an unconventional spelling of “mother” across the back of his neck, where others have gone for the more traditional tattoo of their own names. Presumably in case they get lost. Still, to spell mother with only the one correct letter takes real skill. Almost as much skill as he is putting into rearranging his genitals down the front of his saggy pants.

Hear the drones grunt and watch them scratch. And then wonder about the bloke in the suit shuffling on the spot and staring at his cheap shoes as if embarrassed to be seen amongst them. Wonder which of them is the most remarkable in this setting.”

Actually, no, Mr Attenborough, don’t go wondering that. It’s obvious who belongs here and who doesn’t. It’s obvious that there’s something awry with my presence here, but this is now the Friday night tradition. The Great British chippy tea. Now that I get to call the shots when it comes to dinners – now that I’m the big man moving the big rocks – I get to come in here, whenever I like, and order the big rocks.

Seriously, the pea fritters in this place are the size of small moons. That was probably what attracted me. Neil at work – him of the train shoes and the office shoes (hark at him!) – called it an “event chippy” because of the size of the pea fritters, and my God he’s right. Moving big rocks at work pretty much demands old paper hat there shovelling some planetoid pea fritters into my chip paper. I’m 32. They’ve ordered my name plate for the door. The house is now in my name. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

I shuffle ahead in the queue and I can see the grease and the boils on paper hat up there. He glances up at me under those forest-thick eyebrows of his. I see the gleam even through the steam.

He’ll do it. He’ll say it. I’ll get to the front and I’ll open my mouth, ready to get the order out quickly so he doesn’t get the chance, and he’ll cut right over me with it, anyway. All because I’m not like these other brutes. All because I’ve not got the name of my favourite football team tattooed across my forehead.

I move the big rocks. I am the big man now. I get to order the big pea fritters without him saying it.

The grunting man mountain in front of me moves aside with his paper-wrapped dinner. He’s still got one hand down the front of his trackies as if he expects to find dessert down there.

I step up to the counter boldly, face set firm in the glare from the bug zapper on the wall.

Paper hat and apron smiles with chapped lips.

“What’ll it be, young man?” he asks, as he always does.

And I draw myself up to my full five foot three and I square my shoulders and I tell him, “I’ll have a small chips, battered sausage and two pea fritters, please, sir, if you don’t mind?”

And, of course, he doesn’t mind at all. Not even when I mutter the usual obscenities at the queue of idiots on my way out of the shop.

Because he’s the guy with the big rocks.

And that’s really why I come here.



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