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The summer before I went to university I worked in a factory. We made Christmas crackers for cats among other things. The cat would open one to find two ping-pong balls, a box of biscuits and a packet of meat the size of a disposable shampoo sachet.

Most of the time, though, I worked in a huge warehouse transferring twenty-kilo sacks of instant mash from one pallet to another. A delivery truck would bring them every morning, and our supervisor would forklift them in and we’d begin.

Once we’d finished we’d shrinkwrap the pallets and the supervisor would forklift them back over to the other side of the warehouse, where they’d be picked up and transported nobody knew where, probably so the sacks of mash could be transferred to another pallet in another warehouse.

The supervisor was a guy called Dave. He had thin black hair, carefully combed, and wore holey t-shirts and tough, bright blue trousers. He had a tattoo on his right forearm of an anchor with mum written somewhere on it, and while he watched us work he talked about sex and pretty much nothing else.

He was early-thirties, married with a daughter, and his mother worked in the factory too. She was in her fifties, but looked seventy. Her face was drawn and haggard and her teeth looked desperate to be replaced by dentures. Every lunch break she’d bring Dave his packed-lunch in an old ice-cream carton and Dave would kiss her, tell her that he loved her, and say that’s my mum that is.

Once she’d gone he’d shake his head and tell us how she’d spent the last weekend pissed out of her tree again. Every Saturday morning she went to the supermarket, bought two bottles of vodka and spent the rest of the day putting them away. When Dave came round in the afternoon with his daughter, she was usually well on her way, and his little baby shouldn’t have to see her like that, should she, but what could you do, she’d been doing it for years.

Then he’d go back to talking about sex.

He said he knew he was married, but, you know, he had needs, he dabbled, played away from home, had a few cheeky fucks here and there. He’d banged Sandra, the factory secretary, against one of the pallets of instant mash a few months back and she kept coming back for more. At the staff Christmas party, he’d done Lisa – she was on the cat Christmas crackers line – and he said she’d had the biggest fanny he’d ever seen. He’d even had to get his fingers in to make sure she got a good stuffing, know what I mean.

One day Sandra came down to the warehouse while we were shrinkwrapping a pallet, and the two of them disappeared for ten minutes. It was just before one and we were about to go on lunch break when Dave’s mum appeared with her ancient ice cream carton. She asked where Dave was and we all shrugged and said we didn’t know.

A minute later he appeared from behind a pallet followed by Sandra, and Dave’s mum shoved the ice cream carton into my hands saying something like, you give it to the bastard, then turned and left.

The following week Dave’s supervisor started to come down to the warehouse five, six times a day instead of his usual one. He was a small, wiry man with dark skin and rabbit teeth, and you knew by looking at him that he was all muscle and that he could use it. Everyone said he’d been in the SAS, but Dave said that was bollocks, he was just an ex-copper, that was all, and he could have him easy, he wasn’t as strong as everyone made out. We asked Dave why he was taking such an interest in us, but Dave just shrugged and got back to talking about sex.

That week Dave’s mum didn’t come down with his ice cream box lunch and he said that weekend had been worse than ever. By the time he got to hers with his daughter early Saturday afternoon, she had already passed out in front of the telly. Sandra didn’t come down that week either, and on the Friday Dave’s supervisor told us that there were no more pallets of mash being delivered and that we all had to go back up to the cat Christmas crackers line, Dave too.

The next Monday we went into work to find Dave wasn’t there. Nor was his mother. None of us wanted to ask his supervisor where he was – he scowled when you asked if you could go to the toilet – so we asked other people on the line who knew them better, but no one knew a thing.

Eventually, Lisa, Dave’s favourite Christmas cracker maker, told everyone to shut up talking about Dave, he’s not the be-all-and-end-all of this place, you know. She was right. The following week the pallets came back and Dave didn’t. I worked there for another month then left.

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15 thoughts on “Ancient Ice Cream Carton

  1. fascinating. I never liked working in factories. So many rough people around, big talk, sex, and stuff I didn’t want to know. I loved your story. I am glad you no longer work there

  2. Loved it!
    Possible because you write so well and possibly because I did a stint in a factory over the school holidays at the end of year 11, in the 1960s. Terrifying and fascinating all at the same time. A meat packing plant, my dad got me the job. Serious money for a holiday job packing hams for Christmas but it cured me of the ‘I don’t want to go to school anymore’. School looked mighty good after six weeks of that. Fabulous memory though and you brought it all back.
    Thank you.
    Terry

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