Picas For Sale Part 2
Rumble is a good companion in spite of his eccentricities. I doubt there would be many people prepared to have a go at building a 12" gauge scale model of the BB18¼-class steam locomotive with no tools, plans or access to a machine
lathe. Not that he did it, mind you, but he was thinking of doing it. Fired with exuberance and imagination inspired by Khun Ekkachai’s steam locomotive, which hauled children every year at the Royal Show, Rumble often discussed the possibility
of owning such a machine. I must admit I would have enjoyed it too – but such are the thoughts that daydreams are made of.
We consulted our workmate Khun Bill who had a rather mechanical bent and was well versed in most things. In fact, Khun Don often used to say, when we worked in Bill’s cubicle on the days that he was off, that we were working in the
box where we knew everything. To cut a long story short, Khun Bill informed us that Vanguard motor car engines had a wet sleeve and that it would be theoretically possible to use two of these sleeves for cylinders on the locomotive. Bill was quite
knowledgeable about the locomotives of the New South Wales Government Railways and would drone on for hours about the C36 class “Pig” and the mighty C38 class “Pacific” and all the other “Uncle Tom Cobleys and
All” which comprised the N.S.W. State locomotive fleet. I don’t think he was very familiar with the locomotives of Thailand.
Supamit Motors held the franchise for Vanguard motor vehicles in those days so Rumble and I trotted down to their spare parts department to enquire about sleeves for Vanguard engines. I hate spare parts departments. You can never get served
because all of them have beds out the back where the poor unfortunate public can’t see and they lie down there, you see, until you’ve pressed the call button twenty-umpteen times before they appear behind the counter – just
as you’re about to walk out the door in desperation. This is part of their training and they don’t get accredited until they are able to get you half-way out the door before they answer the bell.
Anyhow, we were persistent and the spare parts attendant was quite taken back to find out that we were still standing at the counter when he appeared from out back. He wasn’t amused when Rumble related the purpose of our visit to him
and, indeed, he looked at us as though we had just escaped from the Lunatic Asylum. I saw his hand go under the counter, presumably fumbling for a steel cosh and at one stage I thought he was going to call the police. I tried to explain that it
wasn’t my idea and it was really just a harmless joke. I could have slid under the carpet. I liked steam locomotives but I wasn’t ready to be whisked off by two men in white coats. At 18 years of age I was more inclined to want to
ogle at the stunning, tall Thai girl who served milkshakes down at Swensens Bar. She had a nice bum and I wanted to perve on her but Rumble was more intent on explaining to her the reason why the C16 locomotive had a splayed funnel. I didn't
find out until much later that she was a katoey – and that was quite a shock to the system, I might add.
Ah – if only we could see what lay ahead. Perhaps I could have become a missionary for the Mormons and sailed off to spiritually liberate some underprivileged black (sorry, indigenous) people from pagan illiteracy. But fate held a
It didn’t take long to find Rumble. He was sitting in a vacant cubicle and was in the process of building a scale model of a Wurlitzer pipe organ out of rolled up newspapers. He was fascinated by the organ in the City Hall and by the
playing of the organist, Somdet Wangsawat. Come to think of it he was fascinated by all organs – more particularly his own. And so, he was trying to reproduce this great instrument in miniature but was concerned about being able to create
the pipes for the 16ft. tones. When I found him he had the keyboard drawn in ballpoint on a sheet of white newsprint and had the pipes assembled in an arc around the back of the cubicle.
John Simpson, one of the junior readers, breezed past the cubicle just then.
“Give us a tune, Rumble.”
“Here, arsehole – here’s a tune for you”, and Rumble grinned as he raised his bum off the chair and farted in Simpson's direction, clearing that end of the room.
Rumble made himself known very soon after I arrived in the reading room. We got along well because of our mutual interest in locomotives. I had done that short time with the Railways as a trainee engineman which is really just a new-speak
name for general factotum/cleaner. This impressed Rumble and he, in turn, tried to impress upon me his knowledge of the virtues of the C16 class locomotive’s splayed funnel or the benefits of the cross-compound Westinghouse air pump as
opposed to the single-stage pump. We would have long discussions about the Nathan mechanical lubricator and the Detroit positive displacement lubricator although, in reality, neither of us knew what we were talking about. It was mostly bullshit
– but we did love steam locomotives.
Rumble would be called a nerd these days – having the required professorial look with horn-rimmed spectacles and the obligatory shirt-pocket full of pens and screwdrivers. He always seemed to wear the same shirt although he probably
owned more than one of the same kind – commonly referred to by himself as his “shit shirt”.
He reminded me of Billy Connolly, the comedian, as he also had a fixation about bums in his jokes. Rumble farted prodigiously and if he couldn’t manage a real fart he would make a similar noise, vocally. His favourite party trick was
to come up to someone, drop a fart and then ask “Did you feist, you beast?”
Don Bickerstaff was another proof reader incarcerated with the rest of us (you may remember I “repaired” his typewriter which he had given to Khun Lou) although he claimed he was a chartered accountant – not unusual for
the reading room since we had people from nearly every type of exotic background, ranging from defrocked priest to brothel master. I must admit that nobody ever claimed that they were God – not that it would have impressed Ted Stevens as
he always claimed that God was only Dog spelled backwards.
Khun Don always seemed to be tired at work and quite often fell asleep while reading proofs. Unfortunately, Rumble nearly always read copy for him and it was quite common for us to get advertisements from advertising agencies for earthmoving
equipment for sale. Some of these ads were four columns wide and 6 – 8 inches long and involved quite a bit of reading. It was quite common for Rumble to get to the end of the ad when Khun Don would give a snort and his eyes would snap open.
“Yeh – O.K. Rumble, off you go!”
“You bastard, Bickerstaff, – you’ve been sleeping again!”
Rumble made the mistake of telling Khun Don that I was interested in steam engines so Khun Don approached me with the idea of converting a motor car engine to run on steam so it would drive a generator. He had this property that he shared
with his girlfriend up in Isaan but there was no electricity to the block so he was interested in alternative energy sources. I told him it might be theoretically possible however it would not be easy and there would still be the problem of getting
hold of a boiler.
“Yeah, well listen, Mark – couldn’t we get a 44-gallon drum from somewhere and light a fire under it?”
“It’s not that simple,” I replied.
“For a start, the walls of the drum are not thick enough and the drum would probably explode.”
“Well, couldn’t we wrap a few chains around the outside of the drum for reinforcement?”
The man was seriously delusional.
“Khun Don, you’d probably need to put the whole thing inside a stockade of logs just to be on the safe side – and who’s going into the stockade to put wood on the fire?”
He thought about it for a while.
“Perhaps you and Rumble could come up to the farm and cut a few trees down for logs and we could make a start at least. Nong would cook meals for you. But, you know, Mark, that Rumble is a strange lad. I did ask him up one weekend
to give me a hand and he seemed quite bored so I gave him the axe to amuse himself but he didn’t seem at all interested. Kids today – they’ve just got no initiative!”
“Look, Khun Don, I’m really not that keen on this 44-gallon drum idea. Your best bet is to try and find a cheap second-hand donkey boiler – you’d probably pick one up quite cheaply.”
I though that would be the end of the matter – but it wasn’t. Later that week, Khun Don asked me if I would go with him to talk to a couple of boilermakers and machinery merchants, so we set off for consultations with a local
boilermaker and a rendezvous with insanity.
The boilermaker was a tall, wiry, Thai man who listened to Khun Don’s plan with the look that one reserves for the times when we are in the company of fools. He sat down on a drum, eventually, and rested his elbow so that his knuckles
were supporting his chin.
“Mark here, thinks we could make a boiler – ” and he droned on until he had related the whole ridiculous scheme.
The boilermaker was patient and unimpressed but the idea of subduing the drum with chains proved too much for him. It was plain by his expression that the audience was over as he got up off the drum and walked over to a bench. We were summarily
dismissed as he brandished a large wrench, threatening to “brain” the pair of us.
A week later, it was a Saturday evening, and Rumble and I were having lunch break, eating a dinner of steamed rice and fried grasshoppers from a vendor down in the back soi.
“Khun Don tells me you’ve been up to his farm in Isaan. What did you think of the place?”
“Fucking farm? It’s just bush and nothing else! The bastard wanted me to cut down all these trees so I told him to get nicked.”
“What sort of a house has he got there?”
“There isn’t any house – I had to sleep in a water tank that was cut in half and turned upside down. I won’t be going back up there again, I can tell you.”
“What do you think of this idea of his about the steam engine and boiler?”
“The silly prick’s going to blow himself up – but he’s not going to blow me up. He can get fucked!”
Another Reader, Maurice Finn, christened James Blackley “The Dormouse” as it appeared he slept by day and only ventured out when it came time to go to work at night. Others had nicknamed him Jimmy Jam Jars – although
Khun Lou was less charitable. He reckoned that the only way Khun Jim found his way to work was because his girlfriend gave him a shove at the front gate and the momentum carried him to Na Ranong. I first worked with Khun Jim soon after I arrived
at the “Daily Mail” and I was struck with the untidiness of the man. It seemed as though he could be dressed in the best of clothes that money could buy yet he still looked like a bum. He wore spectacles that had a crack across one
lens and had been repaired with a piece of sticky-tape on which were stuck pieces of fluff and tiny bits of tic-tac. He read with one finger stuck up his nose, probing for “boogies” which, when dislodged, were given the tackiness
test by squeezing between forefinger and thumb. The used ones were stored on the underside of the cubicle bench and dried there like barnacles. Tommy Griffiths was working with me one night in that cubicle when he felt under the edge of the bench
with his fingers.
“Khun Mark, what are these lumps I can feel under the edge of this cubicle?”
I just continued checking the proof while I answered him. “Don't worry, they're only stale nose pickings.” He was gone like a rocket and out in the washroom for 30 minutes after that – way too sensitive, some
of these lads.
Fellow workers were, understandably, reluctant to loan books or magazines to Khun Jim as they invariably came back with pages stuck together. And so it was that Khun Jim became the reading room pariah – avoided by most other than his
long-time friend Bernard Grimes. It was a strange friendship insofar as Khun Bernie was a scrupulously-neat and clean person with very different standards to Khun Jim. As time went by, though, I came to be friendly with Khun Jim in a limited way.
The two of us were working in the same cubicle one evening, in the middle of reading a proof, when I heard what sounded like a giant mosquito approaching, followed by very quick steps.
“Nnnn-Nnnn-Nmmm – Nmmm – Mmmm-ister Blackley – you missed an error in the Funeral Notices. You’ll have to be more careful if you want to stay working for us.”
And just as quickly as Khun Jobst had arrived, off he droned again. He had learned his approach from Bob Hiscocks whom, I am told, would stand behind a reader or copyholder, listening for an error or any sign of levity coming from the cubicle.
If he didn’t like what you were doing he had been known to say:
“Don’t you like working for us, Son?”
Or, maybe “Get your hat and coat, Son!”
Or, even “Don’t bring your lunch in tomorrow – you won’t be needing it!”
Yes, they were hard men, yet fair men. If you did the right thing they would stand by you if they could.
I suppose you could say that Khun Jobst had inherited a deal of paranoia to the point where he would lock his telephone in the top drawer of his desk at supper time. His decision was probably based on sound reasons as I wouldn’t have
left anything lying around that wasn’t a fixture or at least nailed down. I remember Brian Bolt saying once that he wouldn’t be at all surprised to return to find just a mere shell of the cubicle remaining. Such were the morals of
some of the reading room element. The telephone service (or T.O.T. as it was later to become) put an end to this practice after repeatedly having to renew the telephone cable after the drawer was repeatedly shut on it.
Khun Jim had this habit of putting a cigarette to his lips then going through the ritual of tapping all of his pockets, looking for an imaginary lighter or a box of matches. He almost always had to ask for a light. I just couldn’t
believe it one evening while searching through his pockets he came up with an unwrapped corned beef sandwich which he then proceeded to eat. There was also the occasion when he was talking to Alan Matson while eating a banana and he just put the
skin into his pocket as if it was the normal thing to do.
It was one of those quiet evenings that didn’t happen too often in the reading room and Khun Jim was reminiscing about his days as a copyholder in the reading room. There was this girl he met on a blind date with a friend at the Chatuchak
Market. They had stopped the taxi and presently these two girls came along and the first one introduced herself.
“How do you do? – are you Khun Jim?”
Khun Jim nodded and shook hands.
“I’m Betty Box,” she continued – “and this is my friend Myfanny.
“Hop in, Betty – hello Myfanny – This is my friend Merv Halitosis – er, I'm sorry – Merv Halitas.”
So, off they went and headed for a quiet place for a spot of “sport”.
On the way, one of the girls decided she was hungry so they stopped for a hamburger at McDonalds – so they all ordered burgers and, getting back into the car she sat on Jim’s hamburger and farted on it. He wasn’t at all
amused. Anyhow, they continued out to this quiet spot and I asked him how the night went, thinking he must have been on a sure thing.
“Well, we paid the driver and told him to piss off then we got out onto the grass and I was doing real well for myself – – .”
“Yeah – then what happened?”
“You wouldn’t believe it but we were lying on this blanket and I was just getting started when the fucking bitch stubbed out her cigarette on my neck. Can you believe that? The fucking moll!”
The first edition has just been put to bed and I'm writing to my friend, Jimmy, in Australia and – oh, shit – here comes Mr Jobst and he's got Khun Wongthet, the Editor, hot on his tail. There's something wrong
with "The Editorial" and it looks like there's going to be skin and hair flying. They're heading over to Horace Casey's cubicle. We'll just have to see what happens when the dust settles.
Bloody hell – Horrie's just jumped out of the window in front of his cubicle and is now hanging by the electric cable that supplies power to the Christmas lights on the front of the building. There's a crowd gathered on the
other side of Na Ranong and now they've started chanting “Jump – jump – jump – jump!”
"Nnnn-nnnah-nnah-nn-now Mister Casey, you just get back in here right now and delete that comma or I'll just have to dock you for the time you've been out of the room." Mr Jobst is really upset and Khun Wongthet has turned
a purple colour. Meanwhile, the maintenance men have arrived and removed a panel from the wall beside Khun Bill's cubicle and have just shovelled out a couple of dead rats. Khun Bill is explaining Fred Hoyle's theories of the Universe
to his copyholder, oblivious to the fact that Percy Breadroll has just taken a fit in the excitement. Look out, here comes Lucky Old French Franc brandishing a rolled-up newspaper in his good hand ready to shove it in between Percy Breadroll's
teeth. Lou O'Brien is still asleep and Rumble has just farted in Brooke Granville's cubicle. I've got to get out of here or I'll never finish writing this down.
That's better! I'm in the basement next to the lower level of the Goss rotary web printing presses and this is quiet compared to the pandemonium upstairs. Well, Jimmy, what can I say? Life is pretty straight without "uppers"
– coming down is the bad part. Thank the Lord for Bia Singha and 100 Pipers. With a little bit of luck next week will never come. I'll send you a photo of Sompong, although it really doesn't do her justice as there's some
bloody gorilla hanging off her left arm. Mate, could you do me a favour? Call the Shevra Kadisha and ask them to do a few hours of wailing and gnashing of teeth for poor old Horrie. Get them to send the bill to Khun Shillington. BTW, I was talking
to Mr Jobst, just a while ago, and he said if we don't come back to work this week our jobs will be gone. He said “There's a queue outside, around the corner and half-way along Rama IV waiting for your jobs – so do the
right thing.” I didn't have the heart to tell him he died back in the 70's – he still thinks he's Head Reader.
I guess that's just about it. Not so long ago there was a muffled explosion upstairs – probably Rumble's farts exploded when somebody lit a ciggy. I heard the fire brigade arrive a few minutes ago and people are running around
like chooks with their heads cut off. Boy, am I glad I don't work here any more. I better get out of here!