Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"I love scrap..."

"I love scrap..." so spaketh scrap baron Arthur Foggan in the excellent Michael Palin's Ripping Yarn "Golden Gordon".

A news report on local TV last night spaketh of how thieves are targetting electricity sub stations for their copper cable and parts, despite many of the sub stations being live at 136,000 volts at the time, an alert police officer mentioned that there was a "significant risk of death" in these acts of vandalism and theft - no shit sherlock, I'll sleep in my bed safe to night knowing that such enlightened officers are out there protecting me and my loved ones.

With my background in electrical contracting I am of course not totally unaware of the market in scrap copper - our electricians used to love doing local authority rewiring schemes as when you have a whole housing estate full of soon to be ripped out electrical cables you are talking about tons and tons of copper wire - and the company didn't see one little scrap of the stuff.

Its was a common sight to visit these refurb sites to see one of your apprentice electricians walking across to some nearby wasteground with bundles and bundles of old cables, to be dumped on a bonfire so that the pvc insulation could be burned off to reveal the precious metal beneath and on most of the major sites that we worked on our electricians would actually force down the price of copper on the commodity markets with the amount of the stuff that they weighed in to nearby scrap merchants.

A few years later when I'd left the electrical industry and joined my fathers company flogging time recording instruments I discovered another scrap metal - brass.

My dad and my grandad had made a living since the 1920's selling the big wooden cased, wind-up timeclocks to industry all over Yorkshire, huge industrial timepieces made up almost entirely of brass. By the time I joined the company these relics of a bygone era were already being scrapped in their hundreds and my dad made a tidy few pounds in refurbishing them for household use - idiots who didn't mind their home lives being ruined by the constant clicking, ticking and clunking would pay him substantial amounts of money (cash) for a refurbished timeclock and after he'd put the mechanisms through our ultrasonic cleaning tanks, in his parlance they'd "shine like shit on a blanket".

But the brass inside them was worth money too, and it nearly caused big trouble for us once.

Kirkstall Forge used to be one of the city's major employer, not suprisingly it was a forge where huge industrial axles were stamped out of molten metal, there had been a forge on the site for hundreds of years and it was built alongside the River Aire for want of water power - by the time I grew aquainted with the site it was ahuge industrial complex on both banks of the river with its own private bridge to link both parts of the factory.

They had a couple of dozen of the old wood cased clocks that my grandfather had flogged them fifty years previously and when the day came to replace them we did so with a nice lucrative order for some boring anonymous metal boxes made in Germany, the wood cased cloks were all removed to a storeroom as no-one had mentioned what they wanted to do with them.

The clerks who worked in the timekeeping office knew what they wanted to do with the old clocks though and conspiring with my dads business partner Michael they kept them carefully under lock and key for a few months until they decided it was safe to start breaking them up for the scrap brass value.

Four of them were in on the scheme and they decided that a satrurday would be the best time to break up the clocks as only a few shifts worked at the weekend and more importantly none of the senior management would be on site.

All went well for a few hours until the conspiring foursome hit upon the first problem - what to do with the wooden cases when the mechanisms had been removed - twenty-odd empty cases were damning evidence of their theft and couldn't be hidden from peering management eyes forever, they could burn them but it would take time, and a huge bonfire in the factory carpark would draw attention to their scheming, it was not a viable solution.

The solution came after a few moments of deep thought and a mug of tea - the river.

They carried the huge, highly polished and distinctive glass fronted clock cases out onto the bridge and dropped them one by one into the river - problem solved, the first dozen were gone and they returned to the storeroomto continue with their subterfuge.

Suddenly there was a knock on the door of the storeroom and a loud voice demanding that they unlock it and reveal themselves - sheepishly they did so to find a security officer standing there - caught red-handed they simply explained that they were going to donate the scrap brass the the company kiddies christmas party fund, words which stuck in the craw of all of them, they were hailed as generous benefactors and received thanks from the board of directors for their initiative and thoughfulness.

And later they discovered how they had been rumbled - by the River Aire.

When they dumped the clock cases in the river no-one had bothered to watch them for a few minutes to see if they'd sink, they didn't, they floated.

And they floated gently down the wide, mucky River Aire, drifting slowly through the Kirkstall Forge complex until they passed ever so gracefully in front of the glass fronted boardroom where, unbeknown to the conspirers, there was a full meeting of the board of directors underway, Saturday being the only quiet day that they could all fully focus on the business in hand.

You can only imagine the look of puzzlement on the faces of the GKN Axles Kirkstall Forge higher enchelon management team as they gazed out of their picture windows at all of their timeclocks floating gently by...

No comments: