In the Sweep of the Bay Sample

by Cath Barton

2009

When they put up the statue in 1999, they advertised for someone to look after it. I’ve been a street sweeper all my life, got all the qualifications, so I knew I had a good chance. It’s a part-time job, which suits me fine. Some folk say the Brits are lazy, but it’s not true up here. Good workers, the men of Lancashire, always have been. But there comes a time when you want to spend a bit more of the day with your feet up. Over seventy years of age – no, I don’t look it, I know, people are always saying – it’s reasonable, don’t you think? But there’s only me at home now and looking at the four walls all day drives you up them. So I’m glad of the job. Bit of extra on top of my pension comes in handy, too. I have holidays in places I never dreamt I’d go. Canada I went to last year. Those Rocky Mountains, wow! Though our Lakeland Fells are just as beautiful, in my opinion, just not quite as high, and they’re right in my line of vision every day, out there on the other side of the bay. Marvellous.

When people look at me and say, How could you do that job? I tell them about my view. I meet people from all over the world. This statue I look after, it’s the most photographed sight in the world, straight up! You google it if you don’t believe me. Folk come from New Zealand. They’ve got big mountains there where they filmed Lord of the Rings, but according to what I understand they played about with them, man-ip-u-lated them into something they’re not for those films. They wouldn’t have had to do that if they’d chosen our mountains here in England. Anyway, as I was saying, people come from the four corners. I’ve had people from Fiji, Shangri-la, Timbuktu, you name it.

Amazing! That’s what they all say about our Eric here. That he is amazing and that the statue is just like him. It’s what brings them so far. After all, they’ve all got statues where they come from. He is, I will grant you, slightly bigger than life-size, but so realistic. The posture! On one leg, dancing like he did with Ern at the end of their TV shows. Marvellous. The bloke that made it, he’s a genius. Got our Eric to a tee, what a fellow. Course, you might not know this so I’ll tell you, he wasn’t born with the name Morecambe. No sir. Born here though and took the name of the town. Straight up. Bet you didn’t know that, not everyone does. I enjoy a little chat with folk, breaks up the day. Offer to take their photograph too. They often appreciate that. Gives them a souvenir of their day out. That can mean a lot to folk, especially when they’re older.

Sometimes I come along and find that one of the ruddy gulls has shat on his head! Honestly – they don’t care. Steal chips off old ladies they do. And off children, those great beaks they have frighten the little bastards. But to do their business on Eric’s head, sacrilege I call it. I have some special stuff I use to keep Eric spick and span for his visitors. That gets it off. Council issue, you can’t get it in the shops, works a treat. That’s my first job every morning. Give Mr M’s head a good wipedown with my special stuff. I work down from there. All the way down to his shoes. Rub-a-dub-dub with the shoe-shine cloth and he’s done.

Then I sweep the steps. One thing that people do – can you believe this? – they only drop their chewing gum on the steps! I ask you. What a mess, and a person could slip. I use the special Council stuff on that too. Cleanest steps in Lancashire though I say so myself. People appreciate it. And they do like a chat, if they understand English that is, not all of them do. But there’s lots of folk only too glad to pass the time of day. Chaps on their own specially. Often lost their wives, like me. Some say how nice it would be to find a little job like this where they live. Mornings only. Home in time for lunch, though I treat myself in a café on Fridays. Fish I have.

There are that many people I meet, that many stories I hear, I could write a book. People think my job is menial, sweeping steps sounds like it is, don’t it? – but there is a lot more to it than that. You have to be, how shall I put it, you have to be sensitive to people. Know when they want to talk and when they want to be left alone. I don’t rush in.

There was this couple, in their late sixties, I suppose they were. And a bit awkward with one another, like people get when they’ve been busy with jobs and family responsibilities and then, hey presto, retirement strikes, they’re together all day and every day and they find they have to get to know each other all over again and it’s not so easy. They didn’t live far away, these two, came on the bus they told me, had their lunch in the place I like. Good fish there, lovely and fresh. There was something about them, I couldn’t say what it was. Like a shadow they both had behind them. Hark at me, talking like some kind of ologist! But you know, straight up, my heart went out to the pair of them and it felt like me taking their picture wasn’t just run of the mill but something that mattered. It stayed with me, that feeling I got from them. Not that I suppose for one minute they’re the only ones like that. Goodness knows happiness is not divvied up fairly in this life, is it? Though there was another couple that same day, earlier on, the exact opposite. Two chaps, gay couple they looked like, one of them a foreigner. I can’t be doing with people that start up with comments about either gays or foreigners. The good Lord put us all together on the earth, is what I say. They wanted to give me money to take their photo. As if, I said to them. It is my pleasure, I said.

Must have been about five years ago I reckon, if my memory serves me right. And today, this happens. First, there’s the sad woman again, on her own, and her eyes are red and I know her hubby’s gone and that, in spite of everything, she’s missing him. She doesn’t come up to me, she skirts around and goes a little way off and stands and looks out over the bay. I remember them doing that together. It could break my heart, what life and death does to folk. I don’t think I’ll see her again. People often follow quickly, when they’ve been together a long time. However it’s been for them.

Then, not long after, the foreign bloke. And he comes straight up to me, big smile on his face, and says, Hello, how are you? Holds out his hand to shake mine and offers me a fag. I’ve given up, but how nice is that? Thank you, but no thank you I say, you’re a gent, and he laughs and says not many people say that. I ask him where he’s from and he says Italy and he’s working in the Midland Hotel. And I ask what happened to his friend and he says, You’ve got a good memory, he lives in London but he comes up here for Strictly in Blackpool, funnily enough that’s next weekend, he says, and he tells me his friend Sandra has got tickets for him and his new boyfriend to go and see it. I say I’ve never watched but I’m going to take a look now. Look out for me on the TV, he says as he goes off. Nice fella. People are something else; they open your eyes to things you’ve not thought of, they really do.

So strange, seeing those people again, on the same day. Some people say there’s no such thing as coincidence. I don’t know. I’m just an ordinary chap.