My father once met a man he used to help with homework. Who had inherited a paper mill. And my father asked him, in the course of the conversation, near a shopping centre car park — why?
Why he not only employed east Europeans but actively flew to these countries promoting the firm to employment services, offering potential recruits assistance with relocation, six months in one of his apartments. Why he explained that while wages might not be as attractive as a big city, the affordability meant they could accrue a pot of savings, a nest egg. All with the benefit of small town living, miles from the urban mix which you might not be accustomed to.
Why did he do that when so many locals, including my father’s own grandson, who had recently left education and was looking for a reason to rise from his bed, were routinely unemployed and open to misdirection?
Slowly, that former classmate sunk a hand across his chin and uttered my father’s name. And he started telling him about a register. A tall book used to document human resource issues, such as absenteeism.
If I open that book at any page I won’t see a single Lithuanian, he explained. It’s all locals. One hour AWOL. Had to drop Ash at the clinic. Jingles needs a vet. Our Nan’s fell again, bruised herself. Eleven on a payday, right when the Cambridge opens. You could sync a fucking Fitbit to Nan’s blue arse. It’s a history of half-excuses and hangovers, talk back and cheek. They’re a crock, the man looked him right in the eyes to confirm, without any hint of a smile. In fact, a laugh was forming, and it fell out freely. Locals are a crock.
Father studied the mini roundabout, pressing at the key which would eventually open his car door, and a despondency fell about him. His grandson was a crock. Locals, every one of them, a crock. British workers were neither up to it nor into it. Unappreciative of the chance to get one foot on a career trajectory. Soft lads and stroppy madams. Muckers, game boys and bud-monsters, lathered up and laughing over snooker tables.
They have families, he shrugged to his friend. Responsibility. They’re people people. The defence began to weaken and trail away when he realised that the connections he was describing, within the workplace, almost amount to baggage. Lithuanians. Alienated. Agile. Severed and therefore keen.
Back in the car, from the silence of the driver’s seat, he watched the businessman, his old school friend, disappearing gradually into a sea of shoppers. As he searched for the seat belt, he was thinking, concluding. Give another kid sweets to do your homework. And be bloody ruthless.