When I started the Gigging Years series of posts, it was to focus on the gigs I’d been to and the stories that went with them. However, having introduced my friend Zim in those tales, I’ve been reminded of a few others involving him, but not the music. The recent Hearts and Minds and… Wheelchairs post was one such tale.

I first met Zim at primary school, but we bonded more when we were raised to the heady heights of the local comprehensive in 1974. Leaving school in 1979, we both went our separate ways in terms of careers. I stumbled into the word of financial services and he went into engineering. Quite a few of my friends did, taking up apprenticeships with local engineering companies. These were proper apprenticeships, of course, not the convoluted hybrids cobbled together by government departments these days. But I digress… 

For the record, the chances of me following an apprenticeship seemed remote bearing in mind that I struggle to hammer a nail into a piece of wood.

In spite of this diversion in our paths, Zim and I kept in touch – we just didn’t talk about my lack of practical skills.   

With the shattering of my heart (first love is always the hardest to get over in my – sadly extensive – experience), our friendship took on a more intense feel – probably fuelled by the fact that we could now legally go into pubs and buy alcohol. When it came to the consumption of alcohol, I seemed to go in fits and starts. There would be periods when I’d barely drink at all for months, followed by similar lengths of time when I would be out most nights and not be satisfied until I was almost falling-down drunk. A quirk of that latter situation is that, the more you drink on a regular basis, the higher your tolerance level rises, which means you need to drink more to reach your objective. And, particularly when you were due at work the next morning, that often meant that you ran out of time.

It must have been on such an evening that Zim started telling me about his desire to steal a railway signal.

I think I’ve mentioned it elsewhere, but Zim was a trainspotter, which isn’t the most glamorous image you can conjure up about anyone. Nevertheless, his passion for trains led him to become a brilliant photographer and to travel the length and breadth of the country, so there are advantages in every situation.

The engineering firm he worked at (I think he’d served his apprenticeship by this time and was now fully qualified and destined for greater things) was based close to a disused railway line, and his office looked out on a stretch of the track about half a mile away. It seemed that, in his idle moments, he’d looked out of the window and spotted a redundant signal at the top of a post and, over a period of time, fantasised about going up there one night and taking it for himself.

By the time I’d heard him relate this, I think it was getting close to 11pm – chucking out time in pubs in the 1980s. I can only put my response to his tale down to the fine balance I’d attained in consuming alcohol that evening.

“Why don’t we go and do it then?” I suggested – or words to that effect.

And I was even aware that I was drunk enough to think this was a great idea, but not so drunk I couldn’t actually follow through on it.

By closing time, we were walking back to Zim’s house. He was still living with his parents then, so we had to be discreet when we got there. But we managed to put together the tools we thought we’d need and, by midnight, carrying a bag that made us look suspiciously like we were geared up for cat burglary, we were walking along the disused track…