I was sitting out the back with my neighbour Jimbo the other night, relaxing by the light from a pile of old tyres we were burning.
Jesus, said Jimbo, this is the life.
Indeed it is, I agreed. Slosh another gallon of diesel on that fire there.
Right, says Jimbo. I’ll just throw on some of the plastic guttering we took off that old lady’s house.
Good idea, said I. And while you’re at it, make a start on that big pile of electric cable. Fling it on the fire there. Good man.
We sat back again, relaxing in the quiet of the evening as the flames roared above our heads. The huge plume of oily smoke spread out across the town like a beautiful black communion dress and I was suddenly struck by the sheer wonder of Nature.
Jimbo!, I ejaculated.
Jimbo, isn’t it a shame we can’t do this in the daytime any more? The people should see that lovely cloud.
Ah no, said Jimbo. All the old ways are gone now. Well do I remember our traditions from my father’s time, and his father before him and his father before him and his father before him and his father before him and his father before him and his father before him and his father before him and his father before him and his father before him and his father before him and his father before him and his father before him and his father before him and his father before him and his father before him and his father before him and his fa –
All right!!, I screamed wistfully.
Ah, they were great days, Jimbo went on. When we needed to get rid of a big pile of stuff, all the men of the village would get together, and they’d load it all up on the back of a wagon. Or ten wagons. Or thirteen. Or seventeen. Or thirty-four. Or a hundred and eighty-two or –
Well, by God, I muttered.
It’s true, he went on.
I remember it well, I said.
And do you remember, Jimbo said, his face brightening, becoming younger before my eyes as he delved fondly back in time, do you remember the way we’d go down to the canal?
Indeed I do.
And we’d fuck the whole lot in!
Ah, great days, I agreed.
Jimbo went quiet for a long time. He seemed to have something in his eye. Without speaking , he reached for an old television and threw it on the fire, sending a golden plume of beautiful sparks singing into the night sky.
Bock, do you remember my old Dad?
Old Billy the Aardvark? Of course I do.
Yeah. Billy the Aardvark. Of course we never called him that. To us he was always Dad.
Jimbo, why did they call him the Aardvark?
Because he used to eat ant-hills, but that’s a different story. Oh, how well I remember Dad as he stood on the banks of the canal, and by Jesus could that man work! He could do the work of five men. It was wonderful to watch him as he threw cookers, washing machines, old couches, mattresses into the canal. As fast as we threw them off the wagons, he’d catch them and toss them into the water.
He was a craftsman, I said.
An artist, agreed Jimbo. And all the time talking to us kids. There was thirty seven of us in the family.
Really? Talking as he worked?
Jimbo nodded. Yeah. He’d be down there among the reeds, knee-deep in canal water. Dad! we’d shout down to him. Are you all right there? And Dad’s voice would answer from the darkness, It’s like a jungle. Sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under. Huh?, we’d say. U-Huh! he’d answer. U-Huh? U-Huh!
By Jesus, I said. And all the time, heaving furniture into the canal?
Non-fucking-stop, said Jimbo. But he was careful, my old man. He didn’t want to fall in cos he couldn’t swim, so when we all crowded around him, he’d he’d make us stand back. Don’t push me, he’d shout, cos I’m close to the edge. I’m tryin’ not to lose my head! Uh-Huh!
Uh-Huh, we’d reply.
Ah, I said. The old ways. All lost now.
True, said Jimbo. We took care of the environment by cleaning up after ourselves. These days? Like my old man used to say, these days, broken glass everywhere. People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t care.