The Jolly Buffer

It was an odd building. Nestled in between rather innocuous premises built from the same red brick. They had all seen better days and were showing their age. The mortar was falling away from the brickwork and seriously needed re-pointing. The bricks themselves were also showing their age. Grimy in places from accumulated pollution, they were stained from soot black to tobacco brown. In places where the brick had succumbed to the freeze thaw of repeated severe winters, fired clay of red could be seen. Flames flicking from dying embers.

It was an odd building, because inside it was a haphazard warren of rooms and half-floors. Wooden ladders connected the various floors which were staggered so that first floor started three quarters of the way up the previous, jutting bizarrely off to the side. The second floor over the ground. three quarters of the way above the first. and so on, up five or six floors.

It was a long thin building and each floor had its own function. The ground floor housed the offices. Here, the workers scrutinised the ledgers and pattern books. The first, housed the smiths. Taking the patterns, and fashioning the components that were needed to make the final products. The next floor was filled with people soldering these components together, the next, finishers, filing and smoothing the objects sent up from the floor below.

On the top floor workers boxed the final products. Tankards, goblets and all manner of intricate tableware produced by some of the finest silversmiths in the country. Putting them in lavish boxes to be sent out to some of the most upmarket emporiums in the world.

The floor below this was a vision of hell. Noisy, dirty, a permanent haze hung in the air. Above the constant noise of the whirring machinery one could hear some of the foulest language ever heard.

This was the buffing shop.

If you’ve ever polished metal you’d know just how much of a filthy, disgusting job this was.
Some of the machinery pre-dated the Second World War. A series of shafts and cogs were suspended from the ceiling from which pulleys and belts descended to huge buffing wheels where the first stage of the polishing process would begin. Various compounds were employed to smooth out the metal, eradicate the marks left by the files. The first compounds were extremely abrasive, mixed with various oils to lubricate the process. As the objects were pressed to the spinning mops these compounds would be thrown all over the room and the operators. Friction would heat the objects until they were nearly impossible to hold, but the knarred hands of the workers were more than a match after years of practice.

As you moved down the line the machinery and compounds became more refined. The objects began to shine. The lustre of the metal shining through the grime. By the time the objects reached the final machine they were gleaming a pure white. The light reflecting of their surfaces.

The buffing girls worked hard and played hard. It was a dirty, disgusting job. They were scary. Crude. Their language foul, but it was the only way to get through a shift.

Every time I see people shocked by the tattoos, piercing and make up of those on the Roller Derby circuit I think to myself. You’re scared of them? You should get yourself down to a buffing shop. Those women will tear you to pieces.


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