Life is very quiet in our household as the weather is so cold and we had a heavy frost this morning. There was black ice on the Lane as Ray walked Louis and he came back looking shaken and that was just Louis.
I have interviewed ray today to start a article about Asbestos as it is the story of our lives and how this all started.
A day in the life of a shipwright Apprentice in contact with Asbestos.
A typical day for me as a 4th year 19 years old at that time would run along these lines.
My dad would shake me around 6 am. I would struggle to get out of bed in the cold. In those days we had no central heating.
A wash in the sink while he made a pot of tea.. His way of making tea was to put 2 or 3 heaped handfuls of tea in the pot. ( No Teabags )
It was so strong and black.
Toast was done under the grill most times it would be burnt on one side. Trying to spread butter that was solid was not easy. It usually ended up as a solid lump on a plate under the grill. If we were not quick enough it soon melted into a puddle of yellow water. Which when cold again was not nice. But with that out the way and while the butter was still soft a sandwich was made. Next it was get dressed and go into the yard to take my bike round the back alley. Setting of down the hill into the high street pedalling hard at 6.30am when half awake was not good.
But arriving at my clocking station at about a minute to 7am was not usual for me. Clocking on and then making my way on board ship to start the day. This meant making my way through a snake bed of hissing spitting noisy compressed air pipes strewn haphazard along the decks. Kicking aside rubbish strewn about everywhere. Unfortunately a lot of this rubbish was Asbestos.
Eventually arriving at the area that you were working on at that time. By now the 7 am start hooter had sounded and all the trades were starting up for the day. I would hang my coat up on any projection that was handy. Step into my overalls and start myself. The noise from a multitude of iron caulkers demolishing decks and bulkheads was horrendous. The constant need to shield your eyes from welder’s flash was always present. The last thing you wanted was a flash because it was agony. In this example my job was to fit a series of bunks in a petty officers mess. This entailed measuring up for a framework to support the bunks. Going ashore to sort materials. Liasing with the acetylene burner to cut my materials. Arranging for the pieces to be slung ashore when I could find a slinger. He was the man responsible for directing the crane driver when slinging items aboard. When this was done and my material was onboard. I would go up top and find it and carry it back to my job and commence assembling it. This would entail putting it in place and spot welding it ready for the welders to complete. We were only allowed to spot weld to position but not to fully complete a weld (Demarcation and all that.)
Whilst all this normal activity was going on, on a daily basis. There would be several gangs of caulker’s busy chipping away at the overhead deck and bulkheads. Removing pipes and all manner of things spilling Asbestos freely everywhere. This then lays on the decks until a cleaner comes along and sweeps it up into piles. These same piles are like the ones you walk through when you come aboard and kick about and walk through every day to reach the area that you have to work in. The caulkers chipping away this asbestos from overhead pipe work creates a dust that is unavoidable. It settles on the decks and your clothes left hanging up at the start of the day it settles into your hair and on your overalls and skin as you work in its vicinity. Basically it’s a cloud of dust throughout the ship. All this dust is constantly on the move fanned by the miles and miles of leaky compressed air lines fanning this dust. Once on board avoiding asbestos dust is impossible. We had no face masks or ear defenders.
When its time for a break the hooter blows and we stop work. Make tea and get out a sandwich. The act of eating a sandwich in this environment is impossible to avoid the dust cloud settling on your cheese and tomato. It also settles on the top of your tea. There is no escape from it. The trouble is it is just dust that most days you are not aware of it because it is there every day all day. That’s it you don’t even notice it. OK you may end up coughing when it’s particularly heavy but well its only dust isn’t it.
Just ignore it because the hooter sounds again break over and back into it again, not that you ever left it because the airlines don’t switch off at break times so the cloud is always being blown about.
This process continues until going home time. The hooter sounds for the end of the day. Now we can slip out of our overalls and slip on our coats again which by now have been hanging in the asbestos dust laden air all day, ready to take it home with us. So that unwittingly expose the rest of our family to the hazards of asbestos.
At the end of the day at no time does your Chargehand advise you to take care and warn you of the dangers of working in proximity of Asbestos.
No one in authority takes that upon himself. And so this lays down the legacy for our future and our family that Mesothelioma is a distinct possibility for us 30 or 40 years down the line
This is why Mavis who washed my clothes has Terminal mesothelioma. Thank you British government.