A VIKING IN MY DUSTBIN. (49) Muck, Money and Mortgages

In the background, as those first hopeless days ticked by, was the prospect of working full time for my new father-in-law Jack. Except my mum, (bearing in mind that if I ran over my mum with a motor mower she’d tell the neighbours that I did it really brilliantly well), everybody in the joint family said it would be the thing to do whilst we got on our feet. ‘Art’ and ‘Design’ weren’t seen in those days as promising good job prospects in the working-class circles I came from. They thought it was my ‘arty phase’ and soon I’d come to my senses, like getting over a nosebleed or the flu. That was the general consensus.

Jack had no sons, he had three daughters, my wife Sue being the eldest, so the prospect of a son-in-law coming in to the business was promising to him, even an arty wimp like me.
To Sue it made a lot of sense, a job with a reasonably fat wad of mucky cash to bring home at the end of the week seemed like a good idea especially with the baby on the way. And if I went to work for her dad there’d definitely be a future in muck and money for me and for our new family.
My father-in-law was a scrap metal dealer. He was the son of a scrap metal dealer and the business tough as it was, was it was in his blood; in fact if he stood out in the rain for too long he rusted. But unlike his father, who’d operated his business from a small yard by the canal and went round the town with a hand cart, Jack was a genuine entrepreneur and in his own way a genius.
He’d had no formal education but he was wordly and read avidly, consuming books by the pile-full, and he was no-body’s fool, which was just as well. The world he worked in was a tough hard world, a masculine world, sack full of petty crooks, shady deals and characters arriving in the middle of the night with van-loads of knocked-off stuff.
Jack himself, shaped by his physically hard working life appeared to me as a cross between Bluto and Popeye. He wasn’t so physically large, but he was a big man, if you know what I mean. He was a man of few words, fearless and hard, real hard, but hard gets powerful when it’s smart too and he was smart. He was one jump ahead of most of the people he came across in his working day, though you’d never guess it just by looking at him, what you wouldn’t see below the grit and the grime was that he was always thinking.
An aspect of his genius was in seeing opportunities where no one else could see them! He drummed this into me, “Lad” he’d say, “as one door closes another door opens”. It was that attitude that brought about his big self-made opportunity, unfortunately I had no idea what he was talking about and went to the kitchen door to test his theory.

In the late sixties, around the time I’d met his eldest daughter Sue, he’d discovered dumps (tips) in the area used by metal foundries in Leeds and Hunslet to offload their foundry waste.
The foundries sent huge truck-loads to the dump every day. The loads consisted of giant lumps of ‘skull’ as it’s called, because they’re shaped by the round bottomed smelting pot they originated in, and looked like the skulls of giants.
Weighing tons and made of solidified ash and smelted iron something I imagined like a cross between a meteor and the spewings of a volcano, the products of fantastic heat. These were mixed with huge amounts of loose ash and smaller splashes of metal, left over from the steel making process.
Nothing of value to the untutored eye, and not worth the trouble or cost of recovery to a large foundry producing millions of tons of steel a year, but potentially worth a fortune to the small operator who managed to get the virgin metal out of it, in loads big enough to sell the grade ‘A’ steel back into the system. Talk about recycling.
No one else had seen this opportunity, it took a man with a vision, someone who truly understood that ‘where there’s muck there’s brass” to see the Eldorado in the dump. That was my father in law; that was Jack.

A VIKING IN MY DUSTBIN. (49) Muck, Money and Mortgages

John Sunderland

New York, United States

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Tempted by muck and brass

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