Elegy for Brimsdown Plating – 1936 to 2003
Nineteen forty-six was a strange time.
My father, Clive, discarded by the Navy,
designed machines to transform
the manic energy of AC to dull DC
for the company that made electroplating plant.
Bill would hang by one hand
from pipes trailing across the roof,
tighten joints with Stilsons in the other.
He’d wire brush his hands in hot caustic cleaner,
rinse in the acid pickle. They were like leather.
Sometimes he’d heat a bolt in an intense blue flame
hold it out for inspection and, of course, burnt fingers.
When I was nine he taught me how to use a hammer,
Hold the handle firmly but loosely
then throw the head at the nail.
Years later I met the Chairman,
a large man in a wheelchair,
his wife slim in grey silk.
We called him Captain.
A Picasso, a Titian hung in his house.
I’d walk down stairs into beautiful eyes,
wanting to stroke her tempestuous hair.
In his garden, two galleries of marine paintings
and, in his home, a ghost who played chess,
one move each, each day.
The nineteen eighties, Roy worked in the paint shop.
Tattooed brawny arms, a limp
from a crash as a motorcycle stunt rider.
At one time he was married, had thirteen children.
Hi Tone, he would greet me in a gentle voice.
Dressed in transparent blouse, white bra
rah-rah mini-skirt, he was an exotic figure
posing before a grubby booth, spray gun in rough hand.
He was pleased, people came to see him,
was joyful when, in anger, someone shouted
Roy, you’re an ugly cow!
I remember his passion,
magazines with photos of men like him,
proud of their chemical breasts.
He saved twelve thousand pounds
for the operation – I want to become a lesbian.
It was autumn.
I never saw him again, was away when
in spring he came to the factory, deflated,
regretting what he’d done.
Soon after he died, alone in his flat.
He became Samantha but is still Roy to me.
I never met Samantha.
Florence was as strong as two men,
always dressed in blazer, grey flannels,
black hair to her shoulders,
a cigarette hanging from her lips.
I’m not sure I heard her speak.
In plastic apron and Wellington boots,
she trudged, all day, from tank to tank,
lifting twenty pound jigs
in and out of zinc cyanide solution.
Army lorries ran on the stub-axles she processed.
Electroplating bewitched me.
Iron-ugly shapes made beautiful with smooth galvanise,
transformed with bright copper, shining nickel,
vivified with chromium.
The platers had hard hands,
nimble fingers to wrap and knot copper wire
around thumb-thick cathode bars.
Wire, laden with shaped and turned steel and brass
now hanging as the tentacles of
jellyfish drifting in warm oceans.
The plating shop floor flowed
with water from weir rinses,
had tanks bursting with black art.
The nickel vat, a hot, liquid emerald,
that bubbled with air agitation,
this was David’s bath.
He created beauty by day,
brilliant nickel on the flowing-shaped
mouthpieces for French horn, trombone,
then covering them in glittering gold.
At night it was him that shone.
He became a peacock
with black cloak and butterfly brooch.
How I miss air laden with
the heavy sweetness of zinc brightener,
grey-white jelly spooned out by guess
I would embrace the hot-blood
smell of cyanide spiced with
steam, hydrochloric acid,
hold still, listen for the sound of hydrogen
fizzing and popping at cathodes.
It was the reek of alchemy.
Long cages held cannon balls of zinc.
In the solution by day, at night
they hung outside the tanks like
tenders around a cumbersome scow.
Stalactites of nickel were wrapped
in cotton bags to trap the pricks of dust.
Thick black plates of carbon were anodes for gold.
Silver used heavy argent sheets
etched with patterns of leaves and flowers
as they dissolved. Cleaned and wrapped in blue cloths
they were locked away, in our cream and brown safe,
with the small tub of gold cyanide.
The company had to close.
there is no place for it today.
© Anthony Fisher October 2007