Import/Export by Roy

Most people hate their jobs. Not me. I love it. I love it because it’s shit. I go in. I ride a forklift truck around. I go home. No stress. Mostly nights. Suits me. I’m not much a day person anyway. People are always asking me whether I get sick of it. The monotony. The shit money. Getting the bus there and back everyday. I go on my bike sometimes. It’s a bastard of a ride. I love it. Genuinely. Monotony appeals to me. Routine and structure are vital. I know what I know. Why make any changes? These people who are always trying to find themselves. Bootle Yoga heads. Garston vegans. Norris Green Buddhists. Primal screaming on the beach. Really? What’s the point?

I suppose we all have to make little changes. They happen naturally. One change I had to make, was that I had to stop going to jail. I’d been in 11 times before I was 30. Mainly shoplifting. Couple of fraud charges. One for ABH. All nonsense really. I liked jail. The certainty of it. I knew what was happening next. Kept myself to myself. Some Geordie tried to bully me in Durham but a Scouser strangled him to death. Don’t think it was linked. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a horrible place. Most people there don’t belong there. Not because they’re innocent of the crimes. They’re mentally ill. Severely, in most cases. They just get worse in there. Fuckin frightening the amount of those poor cunts who’ve been nonced. Used to get loads opening up to me, probably because I didn’t say much and they thought I was a good listener. It served it’s purpose for me. I’m never going back.

One thing that does bug me about the job is the people. Jail taught me to just avoid people. I have a skill – a talent – of just being able to blend in. Not get noticed. Done me the world of good in the shovel. People tended to leave alone me as well. Doesn’t happen at work. All manner of cunts want to talk to you about about all manner of things. Things I don’t care about. Every fucker has got an opinion on everything. If they knew all they claimed to know, why are they working with me...a self proclaimed know nothing. 

The journey in is a corker. All the way down Queens Drive from Walton to Speke. Takes over an hour at rush hour. Just means more time listening to podcasts on the bus. I sacked the bike off due to my bad shoulder. I can hardly move it without wincing. I just load up on painkillers. I hate going the doctors. No sitting in A and E for hours either. Another good tip from jail. Pregablin. Best painkillers going. Underwatery, melty, floaty gear. Lovely. Buses are chilled. No stress. Traffic jams are boss. School kids jump on and off at various stops along the way. I’ve actually written to the head of two of those schools. Complementing the pupils on their exemplary behaviour. A couple of girls helped pay the fare of a lad who was a bit worse for wear one morning and was trying to bunk on. Holly Lodge High School. Fair play to them. Made me wonder why they did it? Genuinely good humans, probably. I imagined a whole story that one of their parents was a drug addict and that they’d grew up with their nan. I knew a few from our school like that. Another time, some fella started giving the driver loads for being Polish (turned out he was Latvian) and not taking a twenty-pound note at 8am. There was a bit of stand off. The usual ‘Fuck off back to your own country’ caper, until some kid got up, butted the fella and volleyed him back out the door. He was only about 13. His mate, who he was sitting next to, looked Romanian. They high fived each other as the aspiring hardcase sat back down. The passengers were stunned into silence, so I said “Go ‘ead lad, is right!”. A couple of arl women clapped. A lad in a 90s Barcelona tracky shouted “Respect lad, respect”. Again, I imagined our heroes back story. Maybe him and his Romanian mate live together. They adopted him or something. Fuck knows. Whatever. The bus is brilliant. I omitted the violence out of that letter, just said that he stuck up for his mate and displayed a great sense of morality. Broadgreen Comp, they were from.

Admittedly, I do complain a lot, so it’s only fair to give credit where it’s due. Any excuse to write a letter really. I got into writing when I was at HMP Thorn Cross. Not poems. Just mad little stories that passed a few hours. A fella called Russ came in and taught us. From Hull. He was fuckin sound. It stuck with me, that group. He gave us this book called Bathwater, said his mate wrote it. It was heavy. I couldn’t put it down though. Showed us these funny poems by a fella called Dean. Watched a video of him shouting them out on a beach somewhere. Fuckin funny.  They just sounded like normal people. They’re not arsed. Said I’d track Russ down if I managed to stay out for two years. Only a month to go. He might not remember me. I’ll write to him anyway.

I’m always early. Can’t stand lateness. People think it’s ok to be late. I think it’s since mobile phones came on the scene. They can just message someone now and tell them that they’re running late. It’s a pisstake. Just leave earlier. I always have a ciggy before going in. Just a ritual thing. I don’t really smoke. It’s a right mixture of people here. Young scals. Arl fellas who’ve been here years. Women like your Aunty. If your Aunty loves whizz. Polish lids. Love a can, them lads. Fuckin sound. I like watching them, just not talking to them.

Every shift, without fail, some whopper from Fazakerley greets me by slapping me on my shoulder. I don’t want him to see how painful it is. I feel like chinning him. Don’t know whether he’s deliberately winding me up or what. It’s obvious I’ve got a bad shoulder. He’s fuckin at it. I know he is. One night, Alan the Cockney notices.

“Are you alright Si?”

“Yeah, why?”

“You seem in a bad way with your shoulder.”

“I’d be alright if that prick stopped winding me up. I swear down Alan, I’ll fuckin twat him one of these days. My probation finishes in a month. Let’s see how he responds when I put it on his toes.”

“You’re better than that, Si.”

“Better than him, I know. You’ll all see about it soon. Got it all planned out, Al. He’s fucking getting it.”

Alan then hits me with one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard. Something, that if I’d known years ago, I wouldn’t have got myself in anywhere near as much trouble.

“Si, it’s not him you have to see to. It’s your shoulder. Get it seen to. Bit of physio. It’ll be good as gold. So will you, if you realise the root of most of your problems are internal. Stop giving people licence to dictate how you feel. Get your shoulder seen to. And while your there, anything else that you’re blaming other people for”

“Fuckin ell, Al. I need you to back me up here.”

“Yeah, I’m doing exactly that.”

I got my shoulder seen to. Cockney Alan was right. That prick – who I’ve since learned, isn’t actually a prick – kept his shoulder greeting up. It didn’t bother me. Why would it?

I’m not gonna go meditating on Crosby beach, like, but y’know...

About the Author

Roy (PJ Smith) was born in North Liverpool. His deft, articulate and startlingly observed stories veer from the comic to the calamitous in a breath, cutting to the quick of the broad swathe of people and personalities that comprise his native city, from struggling parents to small-time criminals, pent-up white-collar workers to drinkers long lost to the ale. Roy’s eye is as keen as it is generous, presenting, in the great tradition of English realism, the real lives of people up against it in all sorts of ways, muddling through, trying to make the best of it. His first publication, Algorithm Party, came out on Rough Trade Editions in 2020.

Roy performs live and is resident at Liverpool’s La Violette Società. He appears on BBC Radio 6 Music, Soho Radio and lends a vocal narrative to the title track of Paul Heaton’s “Manchester Calling” album. In 2021 he is touring as the support act for Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott. He collects discarded handwritten notes, loves Portuguese custard tarts and aspires to live in The Barbican.

Website: Violetterecords.com & Pbjmanagement.co.uk

Twitter: @badwool9

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