My role was to help the receivers close up the business which had been trading in scrap metal. Nowadays the term ‘scrap metal’ has been replaced with ‘recycled metal’ in an attempt to sanitise and make environmentally friendly what is a dirty business at the very sharp end of the economy. As well as recovering outstanding debts owed to the business we also had to dispose of the assets such as cars, computer equipment, trucks and stock. The latter was the most valuable item on the balance sheet.
One morning a bull of a man who seemed to be six foot tall and four foot wide with hands as big as shovels with fingers like well filled sausages.
‘Where’s your man?’ he asked ‘You know the bankruptcy bloke?’.
Luckily the ‘bankruptcy bloke’, Simon, was standing next to me in the reception area.
‘I guess that’s me’ Simon offered with his best impression of Clark Kent.
‘Bloody pleased to meet you. I’m Johnny Briggs….I’ll buy the stock.’
‘Great, that’s great’ Simon said as he extracted his hand from Johnny’s ‘We have got rather a lot and can only release it against cash or banker’s drafts’.
‘No problem mate. Just wanted to introduce meself. I’ll be back tomorrow. Five grand alright? I’ll take copper alright?’ Johnny asked.
‘Five thousand, banker’s draft and copper. Sure, we’ll see you tomorrow Mt Briggs’ Simon answered.
St Peter met him at the gates and asked what he did on earth?
‘Johnny mate, Johnny……none of this formal stuff….see ya tomorrow’.
We both blinked and Johnny was gone. We didn’t even see how he had got had got to the yard. For a bull of a man he moved as fleetly as a gazelle.
Back in the office we started to make some enquiries about Johnny Briggs. This was in the pre-internet days so it all had to be done by phone and personal contacts to find out if he was real. No one had heard of him so we thought nothing more of him and did not expect him to turn up the next day.
I was a scrap metal merchant.
The next morning a lorry pulled into the yard driven by Johnny. All our doubts had been destroyed. Simon went to meet him and came back upstairs with a banker’s draft for five thousand pounds. He made a couple of calls to the bank to verify the draft. Just like Johnny had turned out, it was genuine. The copper was loaded, Johnny drove off and Simon came back upstairs.
We don’t get many of those up here. Let me go and check. I’ll be back in five minutes.
‘He’s coming back tomorrow with a draft for ten thousand. He’s offered to clear the warehouse and yard’.
And so Johnny did. For several days he would turn up once or sometimes twice a day in his lorry with a banker’s draft, we would load the lorry with copper, bronze, tin and lead until the warehouse was empty. He even bought some bins from us that were about a cubic metre in size and painted bright red which were used for collecting turnings from metal workshops.
One day Simon had been called away and gave me the job of looking after Johnny. As regular as clockwork he arrived and gave me the banker’s draft for ten thousand pounds.
While the lorry was being loaded I went back to Johnny.
‘Simon has asked me to give you this letter Mr Briggs’ I said.
‘Johnny mate, Johnny, none of this mister business. What’s it say? He asked.
It’s addressed to you’ I replied.
‘I know but I can’t read or write. Can work out numbers and percentages in my head and fings but words…..no chance’ he replied ‘in fact mate, you’re educated and all that and that’s what’s probably stopping you from making money like I do. You spend too long finking about fings and then it’s gone….the chance to make a profit. You know those bins you had? I paid you’re Simon twenty five pounds each for them and sold them for a hundred’.
I read the letter to him and as our business was finished but the lorry was still being loaded we chatted. He told me that not being able to read or write wasn’t too much of a problem as it was numbers that decided if you were successful in business or not. Anything to do with words he would get his wife to sort out but numbers were his big natural ‘fing’. The lorry was ready to go. Johnny got up to leave and shook my hand. Although his hands were big and he obviously had to work with them they were soft and warm.
‘Cheers mate, see you tomorrow’ and off he drove.
That night driving home I went past a factory on the same industrial estate that we were on. In the yard behind a fence was a stack of bright red bins about a cubic metre in size. Johnny had bought them from us, put them on the lorry, drove less than a mile and sold them. Perhaps he was right about thinking about ‘fings’ too much.
St Peter came back five minutes later and the gates were gone.