Jeff Torrington (1996) The Devil’s Carousel

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After the success of Jeff Torrington’s Swing Hammer Swing!,  The Devil’s Carousel is his follow-up novel. Only it isn’t. It’s not a success and it’s not a novel. The Devil’s Carousel is a collection of short stories, versions of which are listed and have appeared elsewhere, such as ‘The Poacher’ in the Glasgow Herald, ‘The Sink’ in BBC publications, ‘The Fade’ in the Scottia Bar Writers prize. The setting in each story comes from the same place, Centaur Car Co in Glasgow and the dinosaurs that roamed the planet when workers used to make things. Think of Linwood as a place where they used to make cars and I don’t suppose you’ll go far wrong. It’s an Us and Them world; management and workers. The end of a line when the opening bars of the song ‘You won’t get me I’m part of the Union’ meant something. A time when fax operators in the plant where ‘finkle fingers’ and high-tech whizz kids in the plant. A sequencer who sent telexes and worked in the MAD squad and not on the Widow, ‘a nickname from the main assembly track’.  The play on words is familiar from Swing Hammer Swing. Thus, here in the opening page, you’ve got ‘Starting’, and you’ve got much the same story of booze and derring-do, with not much derring and with stoppages and the threat of strike action, even less do.

                Shoes in hand, each boozy breath cautiously drawn, mindful of the notorious creaking seventh tread, Steve Lake tipsy-toed up the dark staircase. His stealth paid off, he made it to the bedroom landing without disturbing the snoozing trio. It was an accomplishment that even the most experienced cat burglar would have applauded, but he was only too aware of what proverbially follows pride.

Joining together each chapter is, ostensibly, reproduction of a samizdat Centaur Car Co publication called Kikbak, A Laffing Anarkist Publikayshun. Issue 97, for example, offers a poem. ‘The Coming of the Centaurs’ ‘Where cars stand now/There once grazed cows/And ‘hairy engines’ / Pulled the plough/ As close to heaven/ As the Lord allows/ That was Chimeford/ Before the Centaurs came.’

I didn’t bother reading any other ‘Kikbak’ publication, but I did finish the book. Characters such as Tombstone Telfer who believed that smiling caused cancer didn’t make me smile. There was recognition of an industrial past long gone, but in Swing Hammer Swing we have the real thing, this is cardboard tatters full of punch-hole japes, by larger-than-life men, in the wrong place, in the wrong space, and clocking out was more of a relief than a hand job. Job done. This is the second time I’ve read this book. I couldn’t remember it.  I won’t be back.

 

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