The Old War Horse

I have been a master printer for thirty years and the room-size print machine still enthrals me a little as the roll of paper clacks and clucks its way through the rollers, hits the cutter and perfect oblong sheets fall into exact heaps on a waiting pallet. Thirty years of experience and I’m now responsible for quality control and trimming since the company laid-off all the agency staff.  My AZ1600 is designated to prints leaflets 18 hours a day in two shifts.  Gone are the M&S books we used to print or the one-off coffee table books for the likes of National Geographic or the National Trust.  Then printing a few hundred pages to be made up into a book took some real skill.  Now, it’s all tedious Buy One Get One Free shampoo leaflets or arty-farty mail-shots from some marketing department somewhere.  Of course they’re all fast turn-around and we’ll run up to five different jobs in one shift sometimes.   No skill required.

The mechanical throbbing noise of the new Polish machines and the endless problems we get with them just adds to the tedium and stress.  I’ve lost count of the number of almost-snipped fingers I’ve had from adjusting the ink rollers or the digital plates.  The bloody air nozzle that blows chalk between every sheet to stop set off got clogged up three times this week and all my foreman could do was complain about delays costing the company money.  The old German machines we had worked like clockwork and were a lot quieter, but it seems they’re too expensive for the type of work we do now, so we ended up with six AZ1600s.  It seems to me that cheaper isn’t always best, as I’ve tried to tell them many times.

My trainee Tim does the trimming for me right now.  Days gone by we used to have at least a dozen trainees around the place but not anymore. Tim’s been with me for about three months but he’s due to rotate to the folding machines next month so God only knows what’s going to happen then.  The foreman assures me that the company is in touch with the local Job Centre, so not to worry.  Yeah right.  At least Tim is studying print at college, some snotty-nosed 18 year-old kid on unemployment benefit who hasn’t a clue, fills me with dread.  The trimming machines are lethal in the wrong hands (one bloke lost a hand last year) so it’ll be even more stressful with someone completely inexperienced.  I remember the first job Tim did alone, he managed to cut 500,000 leaflets on the wrong edge and we had to reprint.  The boss went mad then.

The Union’s no use of course, we used to be strong and could throw our weight around with management, but those days are long gone, especially with the likes of Kindle and the Internet invading our territory.   That’s why we’ve only got leaflet work, the market’s changed.   I would go if I hadn’t got so much invested in the company pension.

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Categories: Just Stories

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