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The Gritterman

The Gritterman

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The Telegraph values your comments but kindly requests all posts are on topic, constructive and respectful. Please review our In his own lifetime, Bill’s work became obsolete, rather like the Gritterman’s job in the story. “Got a letter from the council: Dear Sir... your services are no longer required,” the Gritterman recounts, adding: “I read somewhere that there’s a tarmac now that can de-ice itself. I’m not sure I want to live in a world where the B2116 doesn’t need gritting.” He recalls how, on his sixth birthday, he was permitted by his grandad to sound the whistle on a traction engine, a type of steam engine once used to move heavy loads on roads and to plough fields. “At the time, I wasn’t aware it was such a sweet gesture on grandad’s part, to let me pull that whistle. But I was the first person to do it, on an engine he had been restoring for longer than I’d been alive.” On the Maccabees’ first album, Weeks wrote a song, Good Old Bill, about his grandfather’s death. Listening to it now, the chorus line, “The engine won’t start without him”, seems to take on a new significance. Weeks explains the inspiration for the song: “My grandad left one of his traction engines to a steam museum in Cornwall. In his final years, he’d go and visit it and help with the upkeep, that sort of thing. On the day he died, my grandmother got a phone call. It was the museum. For the first time, the engine he’d donated wouldn’t start.” Grandad would make his own bolts because no one else made them big enough. There were constantly these enormous greasy cogs on the kitchen table, even though he had a workshop in his shed. It was chaos in there, and it was incredibly cool. I remember it smelt like an engine, of grease. Everything you touched never came off you.”

verifyErrors }}{{ message }}{{ /verifyErrors }}{{ An evening of rapt faces young and old as Orlando Weeks sings a new kind of song – The Gritterman, Union Chapel, reviewOrlando Weeks: ‘We had a difficult time making the last Maccabees album, but the reason for the split is our thing’

The book – a touching Raymond Briggs-like story about an old man from a rural, working class neighbourhood, who is being forced by the council to retire from his job – might seem a surprising career move. But the public-school educated son of a public affairs consultant studied illustration at Brighton University, and was previously unable to figure out a way to combine his love of drawing and painting with his music career: “It’s something I’m annoyed I didn’t think of doing sooner.” A kind of Raymond Briggs for the millennial generation – The Maccabees, incidentally, covered Walking in the Air – The Gritterman offers a vignette of English life that speaks directly to our national sense of obligation and stoicism. Dislocation, too. It’s the story of an elderly widower who goes out alone at Christmas time to grit snowy roads – that is, until he learns from the council that his “services are no longer required”. So what would his grandad think of the book? “I expect he would ask me: where is the manual where you learned to do this? He would find it odd that you just kind of do it, with your fingers crossed. But I know he would have respected how I feel about my work. And I think he would have been proud of me, and hoped that I was happy. He was a very kind man.” Weeks says the project was partly inspired by the similarity between his own circumstances and his father’s retirement. “I didn’t see my dad retire and think: right, I’m going to write an illustrated book. But I think it definitely played a part, along with beginning to question my own purpose and where my passions lie; thinking about how I fill my time, and seeing how he does. It’s very difficult, if you’ve invested in what you do, to allow yourself the freedom of not doing it any more, of not working all the hours that God sends.”

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