‘Roughneck, Soft Hands’ - Whitby, 2012. Photograph by Jillian Dingwall.
‘Roughneck, Soft Hands’ - Whitby, 2012. Photograph by Jillian Dingwall.

I took this photo when I was working on the rigs as a geologist. The subject of the photo is a large, mostly monosyllabic, roughneck who only ever spoke to talk about his pet dog, imaginatively named “Fluffy”. He was basically a Geordie version of Lennie Small. Heavy handed and strong, but a quiet, simple soul. ¶ Working on the rigs involves extensive wear and tear, this applies to your face, your character, as well as your clothes. One day, a hole in my jeans had gotten a bit out of control, and being the only female on the rig, it was important that I remedied this as a matter of urgency. God forbid I flash these guys my undercarriage. ¶ I found a rusty sewing kit in a drawer, but being a generally useless human, I didn’t know how to sew. I bemoaned this to the crew up on the drill floor, expecting no help, but to my surprise, Lennie piped up with “Well, I can sew a patch on it for you if you like?” ¶ After a split second of stunned silence, everyone burst out laughing. But he persisted, “Nah, I can, me. I sewed a glasses-case for me dad not too long ago, honest!” ¶ So, as the sound of gasping laughter subsided, Lennie dug out an old rag from the drill floor to use as a patch, and I handed him the sewing kit. He sat himself down in that chair and gracefully threaded the tiny needle’s eye with his gargantuan, comedy sausage-fingers. He did a stunning job, despite barely being able to squeeze his arm inside the leg of my jeans. When it was finished it looked like it had been sewn professionally for a shop floor. He was very proud, and I found myself surprisingly emotional. I bought him a raw steak and wrapped it in pink wrapping paper as a thank you gift. I've never seen anyone so happy. ¶ This photo reminds me of such a wonderful, funny, crazy chapter in my life — and it’s also a reminder that beauty can be found in the most unlikely of places. I’d like to say it taught me to think twice before I judge people, but it didn’t. I’m still a judgemental asshole.

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