During the summer between my leaving school and going to the Junior Army, I worked for a guy called Pete Boris.
It was 1983, I’d finished my exams and I needed money for the summer. I had naively asked at the job centre for a place in the Youth Opportunity Programme (the forerunner of the YTS) but was turned down as I already had a contract with the army and wasn’t eligible.
So, as a favour to my dad, Pete took me on.
An easy going guy, Pete Palczykiewicz, (hence the nickname, “Boris”) was a painter and decorator who lived at the end of our road. I babysitted their two little girls now and then and our two families were friendly but didn’t live in each other’s pockets.
Every weekday morning of that glorious summer, I’d walk down to Pete’s, get in his Ford Transit, (I think it was, memory’s fading here) and we’d scoot off to the jobs he’d lined up.
Working with him was a life changing experience for me as Pete really was the first “grown up” to talk to me like a bloke. Up until that point I had always been considered, (and had considered myself to be) a boy… which I was. However Pete spoke to me like a mate, as did all the other characters he introduced me to over the summer.
Now I realise that this may not sound like a big thing, but to me it really was. My father was very old fashioned in respect to who had the say in the family. His word was law and this shadow of authority cast a dark smudge over our interaction with each other. We get on great now and I understand entirely why he was so strict and short tempered in those days, (Five days of night shift and then Saturday mornings overtime as well. Being a shift worker myself, I know how that drains the soul) but at that time I obviously couldn’t. There was a gulf between us that only time would ever fill and the few times I went out with my Dad, or worked with him alone, it was always a Father/Son relationship where I did what I was told. Our banter was stilted, wary and neither of us knew how far to go and it would stay that way for a long time to come.
Of course, it was different with Pete; we talked about everything and nothing. Unencumbered by the strictures of a shared past, our chitchat spanned the whole spectrum of interests and topics. I could swear in front of him and he didn’t bat an eyelid. He told me about going out with his mates, fighting and getting drunk when he was younger, and all the things that a good dad generally steers clear of but a mate relishes in relating.
We spent a lot of time putting the world to right during our tea breaks and dinner. Ever polite, Pete would listen to my laughably immature take on life and either nod if he agreed or raise his eyebrows and smile if he thought I was talking twaddle, which I generally was. It’s a mark of how at ease I was in his company that I could pontificate on anything out loud; as up to that point in life my opinions had always been met with a Captain Mannering-esque, “Stupid boy!”
For my efforts Pete paid me fifteen pounds a week and bought dinner every day. I’ll never forget my first pay packet. We were at the house of the headmaster of my old school, the one I had left two weeks earlier. I was just finishing off painting a wall outside when he slipped me my wage with a smile and asked, “Same again next week?”
It felt great being asked if I was coming again and not being told to be there.
When we arrived back home my Mam was waiting for me in the garden.
“Just been paid” I announced, feeling like the man I had been treated as all week.
“What are you going to do with it?” My Mam beamed, just as pleased as I was. The pride in that question still makes me smile now.
I’ve always said that the summer of ’83 was the best in my life. There were others of course, but that summer, standing as I was on the cusp of a future gilded by a horizon of untold promise, sticks in my mind as being almost magical. I explored new freedoms, made friendships that were doomed to wither in the first days of autumn but seemed unbreakable at the time and changed my perception of me to an unthinkable degree.
I didn’t grow up but I did grow, and Peter was part of it as much as my mates and girlfriends at the time.
Sadly, Pete passed away last week.
You only ever think of people when they’re gone and even though he was only a major part of my life for a couple of weeks, it’s the timing of those weeks that hold the weight.
I would never have gone to Pete to say, “Hey mate, you know what? You were one of the first people to actually treat me like a man.”
He’d have probably looked doubtfully at me and given me a, “You what?” to boot. He wasn’t the type of bloke to say those sorts of touchy/feely things to.
However, you were Pete and I’ll never forget it mate.
RIP Peter Palczykiewicz