there’s a hole in the ladder, a fence we can climb

So, my second somewhat-physical short-notice cash-in-hand job was as much an unmitigated success as my first one was an unmitigated disaster! I’m getting to know the regulars at the Gateway now, none of whom have anything nice to say about C (it is a bit worrying – and a bit tragic, really – how universally despised my boss seems to be; admittedly he’s not paying me properly, but he doesn’t seem that bad a bloke overall). One of these regulars is a lady I’ll call J, with two young daughters who come round in the evenings to buy enormous piles of ice cream, and who, when the conversation turned to me not earning much, asked if I’d be interested in doing some odd jobs for her and her friends. (She is also able to give me lifts to and from Emerald! Hurrah!)

She called saying that her friend V had a gardening job, and was I available; I said well, I have the evening shift, but the morning free, when do you want me? She said how about 6am; I was keen to make a good impression, so agreed, even if it did mean fifteen hours of work in one day, and she picked me up outside the Gateway (in an air-conditioned car! the luxury!)

V is a bloke in his forties or fifties who appears to own or run: a hardware business, a sawmill, a cement works, numerous real estate concerns and, like everyone else around here, a large herd of cattle. Given that I’ve met several people in Alpha who seem to run three or four businesses, this shocked me less than it should. He also appears to have built basically everything on his large (primary) estate with his own hands, including most of the house I met him in (a lovely little compound featuring a cage full of parrots, huge rainwater tanks, and an under-construction barbecue porch. As well as about four other barbies. The stereotypes are true). Next to Chez V was a considerably less attractive house, run-down and empty-eyed, which he’s doing up with the intention of selling. My job was to clear its overgrown porch and the long grass all around it, using an enormous old petrol mower that screamed and coughed out huge clouds of white smoke, then load the resulting piles of hay and dead leaves, as well as the dried-up ruins of a banana tree behind, onto a trailer and haul them away to a dumpsite a few kilometres away.

“Of course, you’ll need something to pull the trailer. Ever driven a motorbike before?”
“…I’m afraid I haven’t, no.”
“Oh, you’ll be fine, mate, it’s not hard. Right, here we are…”
“Ah. Four wheels. Good. Difficult to tip over.” It was with enormous relief that I learned “motorbike” embraces “quad” in Oz.
“That’s the spirit! This button starts it, that there’s the throttle, the pedal here – see, it goes up and down – is gears, and if you need to reverse pull this all the way back. Right, I’ll leave you to it.”

This continues the theme of being left unsupervised with unfamiliar and potentially lethal equipment, but amazingly, I picked it up just fine, and didn’t crash into anything. There was a terrific feeling of speed and solitude as I roared down the dusty earth road towards the dump; though I probably wasn’t actually going that fast (not that the thing was fitted with a speedo), I think felt speed is doubled by the lack of a windscreen. The dump was a weird place, a desolate ash-black landscape surrounded by burnt trees, and home to a wrecked car and scatters of strange old flotsam and jetsam.

After a couple of hours of weed-whacking, V invited me in for tea and muffins, and we had a nice old chat. He asked if I was available for more work, and I said definitely; pay is a third as good again as the Gateway, and the work is far more interesting and satisfying (plus, quad bikes, and no oppressive feeling of being watched; being mostly unsupervised is actually the best way to get me to work as hard as I can). He has loads of stuff to do maintaining the place, and listed half a dozen interesting jobs and machine-themed things I’d love to learn how to do. I spent the next hour vigorously pruning one of the huge pink bougainvilleas outside his office, and finished at 12, returning home for a shower, lunch, a thankfully slow evening shift at the Gateway, and some very well-earned sleep.

This is very heartening: I have a second income to earn on my days off (or even alongside my shifts if I’m feeling masochistic, though I definitely won’t be repeating that day), and a safety net to fall back on if anything goes wrong at the Gateway. If it all goes well and I get along with V, I might even try to quit the Gateway and go over to his full-time; there are only so many hours in the week, and I’d rather spend them on his work at his rates. I’m going round tomorrow at 9, before my evening shift, to see how exhausting that sort of work pattern will be.

However, the Gateway is becoming less oppressive; G came up to Alpha for a change, and she’s much easier to deal with than C (although the bit where she described me helping Coworker J with her tribunal stuff as “a way to pass the time, stave off boredom” was taking the piss a bit; I’m still doing it, because Coworker J is an utter sweetheart and makes me cookies, but it’s something I’d want money for if G asked me rather than me volunteering) After some negotiation, I’ve been able to move out of the shoebox and into the room next door, which is considerably larger, has a carpet floor rather than lino (so doesn’t constantly feel dusty) and a single normal window rather than being lined with the odd glass slats (so is significantly less porous to dust and insects). It’s also a bit warmer in the mornings, being on the east wall, and I’ll need to procure an extension lead to get a fan set up properly, but none of that’s unbearable.

Hell, maybe they’ll even start paying me properly soon…


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