Passing stranger

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The other day I visited a printing works. From a professional point of view it was fascinating to learn how the process works and why we prepare documents and magazines for print the way we do, while from a personal point of view, the presses themselves were simply magnificent pieces of engineering. Thrumming away like huge, boxy, metallic caterpillars, sucking in reams of paper at one end, running them through a row of chimney-like stacks, each one with thick, creamy, brightly-coloured ink oozing into the top, and spitting out stacks of prints at a rate of thousands per hour. There is a lovely, chemical smell of machines and oily ink, glue and paper.

The man who showed me round was one of the sales staff. He was fairly short, bespectacled, probably in his late forties or early fifties, and quite quietly spoken for someone in his line of work. He seemed faintly eccentric, and during the morning he did a short talk about the different types and grades of paper, in the course of which he seemed genuinely excited about the workings of a paper mill. Later on, while giving me and another guy a lift to the station, he told us he’d ‘been to see a group’ the night before. The group turned out to be Beady Eye, which was not quite what we were expecting.

As we were walking from one building to another, he said:

‘I haven’t been here in a while. I work out of the office and I missed the last print seminar because I had a stroke seven weeks ago.’ He tugged at his collar to indicate a fresh, red scar running up the side of his neck to the level of his jaw line.

Turned out he’d collapsed on his way to the shop to buy a pint of milk. A cyclist had seen him go down, stopped, and, immediately recognising that he’d had a stroke, called the ambulance. A very short time after it hit, he was on an operating table, and four weeks later he was back at work, with no ill effects at all.

‘I never saw the cyclist. I tried to get his details from the hospital to say thank you, but there weren’t any. I even got in touch with the ambulance crew and he didn’t give his name or number. Every Thursday night since I got out of hospital, I wait on the street just where it happened and I stop the cyclists as they go past to see if it was them, but it never is.’

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