Without a job my summer was over before it had started. The overdraft had run dry and the student loan wasn’t due for months.
At the time my mate was working for a local maintenance firm, titivating communal gardens on new estates and blocks of flats. From what he'd told me it sounded alright, so I got in touch and asked him if there was any work going. I didn’t hold my breath.
A week or so later my phone rang. It was the bloke who ran the maintenance firm, he said he'd give me a job until I went back to uni, I’d be paid in cash every Friday. Felt a bit too good to be true? I’d never even used a Flymo.
I spent the first few weeks working with the owner and another lad and my mate was right, it was decent enough work. Then, one Friday, as we were gathered around at the lock-up having finished for the week the owner announced there would be a few changes in the coming week. I would be working in a different van, with “Terry”.
As this was announced I noticed a collection of wry smiles amongst the other lads. Puzzled, I took my mate to one side and asked what this "Terry" was like? He smirked and said, "ohh, Sergeant Slaughter...you're in for a treat."
Not really knowing what to think, other than why a WWF wrestler was now working as a gardener in the North West, I forgot about it until the Sunday evening when I received a fairly unfriendly text message from a number I didn't recognise...
"Will pick u up at 7:30. Terry."
Sat in the front room on the Monday morning I was interrupted between mouthfuls of Shreddies by the sound of a very loud horn. I looked out the window to see a white van parked outside the house, its driver sat upright, staring straight ahead down the road and was chewing, vigorously. So, this must be Terry I thought. Little did I know but I was about to meet one of life's true characters.
I got in the van and met Sarg who shook my outstretched hand, mumbled hello then took the chewing gum from his mouth and placed it on the dashboard heater before putting the van into gear and away we went. Sarg was mid-fifties, short in stature with neatly parted, gelled fair hair and a moustache.
I enquired how long he'd been cutting grass for and was told he'd been "in the game for 30 years" which, by my calculations, meant he'd probably had a few other jobs along the way. I soon learnt that alongside trimming hedges and tending to shrubbery Sarg had been "a sniper in the army" and "a goalkeeper for a semi professional football team". Impressed by my new boss' past, although slightly dubious of some of it (he could have been a 5 ft 8" keeper, couldn't he?), I started to ask him about his time serving for Queen and Country. Sarg became visibly animated, recounting tales of long range shooting which would have put Vasily Zaytsev to shame.
Sarg had a thirst for knowledge and loved to keep abreast with what was going on in the world. Although his version of current affairs were found in the pages of his beloved Daily Sport, which was delivered to his house each morning, as he proudly told me.
As a 19 year old I was naturally overjoyed at the prospect of having a small library of "Sports" available for some smutty lunchtime reading. Unfortunately Sarg wasn't keen on sharing, and any attempts to reach up to the parcel shelf for one of his immaculately folded rags resulted in being told where to go. But Sarg did eventually get his comeuppance for being so tight with his mucky newspapers - he had to suffer the indignity of picking up around 50 copies from the van floor after he slammed on the brakes too hard in the outside lane of the M6 causing his library of red tops to fly off his shelf of filth. He didn’t say a word for the rest of the day.
Not content with just having a look through some soft porn each day in his paper, Sarg also liked to pick up top shelf magazines and a dirty video or two on our travels. They weren't for him though, oh no. They were for his mate who he told me was, and I quote, "deaf, dumb and blind". I politely asked what was the point of buying them for his mate if he was unable to see or hear what was going on? Sarg explained that his mate could watch them if they were "slowed down". Sarg watched the videos first though, not out of enjoyment but as a quality control measure ensuring there weren't any “dark skinned” people as his mate couldn't see "them"...I simply didn't know how to react to this, laugh or cry? I felt like I was in a Brass Eye sketch. If it was a lie, then he had a very "fertile" imagination.
Sarg wasn't too keen on doing the job he was paid for. This meant he'd tout for business around new housing estates, cutting back gardens for a tenner and even offered to install a water feature in an elderly chap's garden. And when Sarg did fire up his mower he did it on the slowest setting possible. I didn’t mind Sarg’s attitude to work, he was entitled to take it easy, what with that glittering military career behind him.
Sarg ensured we took extended lunch-time breaks taking in some of the North-West's best supermarket car parks. I'd sit in the van whilst he went into the shop emerging an hour and half later sunglasses on smoking a Sterling with a carrier bag of action films and a box of cakes. He never shared. We’d then talk about what level he was up to on Call of Duty or go over the facts of the Dr Crippens murder trial for the 800th time. We had plenty of other "stop offs" during the day, we were regulars at his mother’s house (he'd go in, I'd sit in the van). Sarg also liked to have regular toilet trips, or “going for a wet” as he so eloquently liked to put it, this meant yet more trips to supermarkets or retail parks in Lancashire’s glamour spots.
I heard Sarg had moved on soon after I’d left that summer, under something of a cloud. Who knows, maybe he’s gone to the U.S and is cashing in as a Sergeant Slaughter double touring on a WWF tribute tour around the deep south.
I’d thoroughly enjoyed my summer with Sergeant Slaughter, one of the funniest people I’ve ever met with the best nickname going. I’d learnt what it took to be content with life, all you need is fags, porn, supermarket car parks and X+Y on repeat.