IN THE HUT
(A one-act monologue play)
By Mattie Lennon
SET; A small security hut on right side of stage. With a “window” opening at the front and a door opening at the right. A middle-aged Bus Inspector, in uniform is seated in the hut, his head and shoulders visible through the “window” opening. He is holding a two-way radio in his hand.
There is a backdrop on which is projected a picture of a modern office-block which metamorphoses into an image of the old Theatre Royal and back again, at the appropriate time.
BUS INSPECTOR; Bus Control to all drivers. Exercise caution as you are approaching Galloping Green, I’m told there’s fog on the road there.
(DISGUISED MALE VOICE ON RADIO): Is that on the way into town or the way out?
BUS INSPECTOR (leaving down handset): Smart-ass. I’m supposed to stand out there on the road doing this job, you know. In all weathers. It’s just that I’m well got with the head security man, here at Hawkin’s House (a Corkman) and he lets me use this hut. One of my superiors, a “Customer Service Manager” came in and caught me here one day. I was eatin’ a sandwich and he reported me to my Divisional Manager. ‘Said I was drinking tea. Just shows you the way he was fed as a young lad when he doesn’t know the difference between two slices of bread and a cup of tea. I was only in here for three minutes when he caught me. So I nicknamed him “the three-minute man”. I passed on the sobriquet to my subordinates, without elaboration or explanation. And it took on the desired connotation.
That’s nearly a month ago and I haven’t seen him since. But he could appear anytime. He might be here this morning. He’s like that. Goes underground for ages and then suddenly re-appears. Like a dose of syphilis that wasn’t caught in time. You won’t see him if it’s raining though. There are four species that don’t like getting wet; asses, cats, corner-boys and Customer Service Managers..
But I was telling you about Hawkins House here. It’s the headquarters of the Department of Health and Education. It was built on the site of the old Theatre Royal. (Pointing towards backdrop which metamorphoses into image of the old Theatre Royal as he speaks)
There once stood one of the finest Theatres in the whole of Ireland, the Royal. With a splendid look from the outside and an interior to match. With smartly dressed ushers standing at the doors in their wine coloured uniforms. Many renowned world stars of screen and stage appeared there over the years. One that springs to mind was a famous cowboy “Roy Rogers” and his horse called “Trigger.“ Bill Hailey and the Comets, of the “ one two three o’clock four o clock rock” fame.
You could go to an afternoon matinee that consisted of a variety show followed by a movie, and the same show was performed again that evening. One of the highlights of the variety show was the famous Tommy Dando who was an organist who would appear coming up through the floor at the side of the stage playing this gigantic Whurtzler organ much to the delight of the audience who would join in a sing -song with the words on a backdrop on the stage, no digital in those days.
The Royal was famous for its artistes. There was Noel Purcell, Mickser Reid, a dwarf (there was some smart spakes about Mickser’s anatomy, I’m telling you).And of course the Royalties; a troupe of about thirty dancers also known as Tiller Girls. They were mini skirted before it was fashionable (The mini-shirt, not the dancing).
They weren’t allowed to sit down between acts. They had to stand against a padded rail. So that they wouldn’t pucker their costumes. Some of them would be well puckered after the show, says you. Oh big changes.
A beautiful building was demolished to build this monstrosity (pointing to backdrop which slowly changes back to image of office-block). When I first came to Dublin the Theatre Royal was in full swing. I first came to the city to work on the buildings. The money wasn’t great but the proceeds from the sale of scrap lead and anything else weighing less than a ton that wasn’t nailed down helped.
FIRST MALE VOICE OVER RADIO; Fourth Ballinteer to control. Over.
INSPECTOR; Receiving you. Over.
FIRST MALE VOICE ON RADIO; I’m running late and the fifth car is in front of me. Will I transfer my load on to him and turn? Over.
INSPECTOR; Hold on. Over. Control to five forty-eight A. Over.
SECOND MALE VOICE ON RADIO; Receiving you. Over.
INSPECTOR; The car ahead of you is behind you . Will you take his passengers. Over.
SECOND VOICE ON RADIO; OK.Over.
INSPECTOR; Back to fourth Ballinteer.
FIRST MALE VOICE ON RADIO; Receiving you. Over.
INSPECTOR; Transfer your load and cross over. Over. (Leaving down handset) Your time is not your own in this job. Where was I. . . Oh, yes, I was telling you about when I worked in the construction industry. Well I used to socialise with a number of Bus Conductors in Ranelagh and they always appeared to have money. And I was soon to learn what “making the rent” meant in busman’s parlance. It meant forgetting to issue a ticket for the fare tendered. And according to my informants it was a lucrative and widespread practice on certain routes. And stories of pelvic activities with female passengers cropped up too frequently to be all imaginings. At the time I was working for a mild mannered building contractor named Peter Ewing. He paid the rate (or slightly above it) and working conditions were good but I applied for a job on the buses. There was a television ad running at the time “wanted, two men to crew this Dublin bus”. I was called into CIE’s head office for an interview and came up with a suitable pack of lies in response to the question “why do you want to work for CIE?”.
Next came the exam. This consisted of doing sums and writing an essay. I thought I could manage the essay but I would nearly have to open my trousers to count to twenty-one.
However my lack of mathematical prowess in the latter was more than compensated for by my dubious talent for reading upside down, sideways, or at any obtuse angle that presented itself. I sometimes tell people that I acquired this ability when I worked in a printer’s. This is a lie . . . it is a natural defect which, coupled with good sight, enabled me to cog from the fellow beside me, behind me or anywhere in the vicinity.
My essay, “Why I want to be a Bus Conductor” was a not-quite Kavanaghesque account of snagging turnips in the frost, loading dung, picking stones and cutting thistles. And how, when the building trade would slow down, I didn’t want to go back to such menial agricultural tasks. If this document is extant today it would embarrass me (and that is not easily done).
I passed the exam and when the Doctor, at the cursory, “medical” checked my lungs and counted my testicles I was in.
After a week in the training school and a further week with a conductor I was let loose on the travelling public, with a bag and ticket machine. The minimum fare at the time was sixpence and a significant proportion of the travelling public were conscientious about the conservation of paper. On certain routes you would be offered five pence or even four pence with the immortal words “go ahead” or the less laconic would say “ spare the paper”.
The drawback to this profitable and challenging exercise was that, if an Inspector boarded, you could be “booked” and end up in the Manager’s office accused of “making the rent”.
A small percentage (and only a small percentage) of rent-makers was sacked. I survived. “Top Cat” was one of the most feared Cigiri. If “Top Cat” found anything wrong on a bus he would alight in the best of humour; humming a catchy tune. But if everything was ship-shape it was a grumpy and unsociable “Top Cat” that got off.
The detection rate for rent-making was kept to a minimum by drivers “giving the Billy”. A bus coming in the opposite direction would flash the lights and give a coded signal to indicate where the Inspector was and who exactly it was. This information was then relayed to the rent-maker by his own driver who would flash the saloon-lights and/or rattle the gear lever and slam the cab door.
When OPO, (one Person Operation) came into force it didn’t stop “rent-making” but it increased the detection rate. One driver, who had been caught a number of times, eventually had his employment terminated. At his dismissal the Garage Manager, sarcastically, remarked, “Well thank you for bringing back the bus anyway”. “Oh, no” says your man, “Thank you for the loan of it”.
I eventually qualified as a driver. And then it was my turn to rattle the gear-lever etc. and warn drivers coming in the opposite direction in the appropriate manner. Each conductor had a pack of Emergency
Tickets, for use in the event of a malfunction of the ticket machine. One old Inspector referring to one particular route said, “Every fucking ticket given out on this road is an emergency ticket”.
Conductors from certain garages would hold a “rent-makers ball”. This was an annual get-together the venue for which would be kept secret from “outsiders”. The story may be an urban legend but it was said that on one such event a neighbour asked his wife, “what’s the noise from Mooney’s”? When told “They are holding a rent-makers ball” he is alleged to have said” Well. I wish to fuck they’d let it go”.
When I was a conductor I was too busy trying to supplement my wages to chat up any commuting female who might be agreeable to gentle vibrations administered at regular intervals to the lower abdomen. Many of my colleagues expended a lot of energy through horizontal jogging. And one in particular described the phenomena of getting the occasional cailin ag iompar as, “an occupational hazard”.
T.E. Hulme said that the steel staircase of the emergency exit at Piccadilly Circus was the most uncomfortable place in which he had ever copulated. He mustn’t ever attempted to hide the baldy-miner on the back seat of a Bombardier bus.
There was a driver on the Seventy-six route who was renowned for his wit or in the parlance of the day “he had words at will”. (It was he who said, when female drivers came into the job, that the cab should now be called “the box-office”.) One day going through Fettercairn he was taking a lot of stick from a mother with two kids. When he could take no more he asked, “Are they twins Missus?”. The enraged mother snapped,
“how the fuck would they be twins, when one of them is eight an’ the other one is five; are ye stupi’ or wha’?” “No” says the driver, “It’s just that I didn’t think anyone would ride you twice”.
Many clinical, transport terms, became double entendres. “Transferring your load “ and “pulling out on time” took on ambiguous meanings.
And of course many bus-men had nicknames. One conductor, was called BBC. It started out as Big Bum because of his elaborate posterior and was then abbreviated. To BB. And since C was the initial letter of his surname it was a natural progression to BBC. But wait ‘till I tell you. Didn’t his son join the Company so we had BBC1 and BBC2.
Two-Fifty was an Inspector who got the title because he had been given five pounds ,to give to a conductor, by a passenger who had been re-united with her lost property. But he decide that 50% would be adequate reward for the conductor and he held on to the other two pounds fifty. I suppose you could say it was to cover administration costs.
In the early days of Telefis Eireann, a man in Marino had left his T.V aerial down on the road while he tried to establish where Kippure was. Pressure from the wheels of a No. 24 bus driven, by Tom Murray, ensured that there would be no Tolka Row in that house for a while. The less than pleased DIY man pursued Tom to the terminus and informed him; “You are after breaking my television aerial”. Tom’s expletively prefaced truism; “…buses don’t fly” earned him the immortal nickname “The Jet” Murray.
Then there was “The Rat” who it was said enjoyed his nickname. By the time I was promoted he had been pulled up to a higher rung of the ladder. He was one of my bosses. We weren’t on each other’s Christmas-card lists. I had a very ornate cup and saucer which had been given to me by a female who had “seen me swimming.” One day when I returned, after ea rest-day, only the saucer remained. It didn’t take me long to ascertain that “the Rat” had thrown it in the skip on the grounds that it wasn’t washed. When I told an old conductor about it he said, “The Rat is got very hygienic when you consider that his father used to piss in the cabs of the buses.” This ***** conductor was a man of rural Irish background whose regional accent and sentence structures I was very interested in. He told me the following story, “I mind one mornin’ on the North Circular Road, an Inspector accused a conductor , in front of witnesses, of makin’ the rint. The conductor followed a passenger down the road and she
could prove that he wasn’t fiddlin’.
The conductor hired a solicitor and set the wheels turnin’ to bring the inspector to court. Accordin’ to accounts the conductor was brought into Head Office and promised promotion if he dropped the charges , which he did an’ got the cap an’ d’ ye know what I’m goin’ to tell ye he turned out to be as big a bollocks as the fellow that accused him in the first place.”
As I say he had the turn of phrase. One morning a rumor was circulating in the canteen that a Galway manager and a Mayo driver were contemplating going to a remote corner of the garage yard to sort out a dispute through fisticuffs On this occasion his comment was, ”It’s shockin’ quare surely but shur aren’t they oul hot-header westerns. Who’d mind them.”
FEMALE VOICE ON RADIO; Four-one- five- five to control. Over.
INSPECTOR; Receiving you, over.
FEMALE VOICE ON RADIO; I have a major problem. My near-side Indicator is only working intermittently, over.
INSPECTOR; I’ll get you a change of bus at the outer terminus, over. (Leaving down handset) I should have told her that it’s only meant to work intermittently. She’s always the same. She called me here one day to report that a male passenger was shouting, “masturbate”, “masturbate”. She was looking for an instruction as to what she should do. I gave her the only instruction that I could think of; “Chuck him off at the next stop”.
I remember when I was driving I was working with a Clippie who was vertically challenged and she couldn’t reach the handle to change the scroll. (Do you remember the metal box that conductors carried the Ticket –machine in?) Anyway, says I to her, “Why don’t you stand on your box?”, “If I could do that “ says she “I’d be in a bleedin’ circus”.
After I spent six years driving the powers that were decided that poacher makes the best Gamekeeper and they promoted me. Being a people-pleasing sort of bastard, booking drivers and conductors was not really my style.
As an Inspector you would be sent out to do “dirty checks”. This involved hiding in the most obscure places on routes in an attempt to catch drivers, or more often conductors, off-side.
Ambitious men who saw themselves as going places loved this.
When first I came out an old, level headed, Inspector gave me a bit of advice pertaining to avoidance of tasks which one found unpalatable,
“ No matter what you’re sent to do make a bollocks of it and ten you won’t be sent again”.
One evening, having checked a number sixty five bus full of mountainy people, in various stages of civilization, returning to their homes, I sat down on a vacant seat. In the seat opposite me were an elderly man and a pretty young girl. The man was eating an ice-cream cornet with rather delicious looking topping and he looked very ill-at-ease and uncomfortable. He was constantly crossing and un-crossing his legs and shifting in his seat. The young lady, in an obvious attempt to put him at his ease, looked at the topping on his ice-cream, asked, “ Crushed nuts?” “No” says yer man “I think it’s a touch of arthritis”.
Wait ‘til I tell you about the time I was driving the staff-car behind a bus when I observed a “pavement hostess” who was on her way to work and she was in a state of undress upstairs while changing into her street clothes
I called the driver on this yoke (indicating the handset). And told him to pull in at the next stop. As I boarded the bus and told the driver about the situation upstairs and that I was going upstairs to investigate I was overheard by a visually impaired male passenger. He wore very thick glasses but obviously had a acute auricular sense by way of compensation. As I mounted the stairs he jumped from his seat, hurriedly wiped his spectacles with a handkerchief shouting, “wait for me”, wait for me”
When I arrived in Donnybrook garage. I didn’t ask who was the most intelligent person in the garage but if I had the reply would have been concise, “ Conductor Paddy Finnegan, the Poet.”
Paddy was born “between two years” either in the dying moments of 1942 or just after midnight on New-year’s day 1942 in Dereen, Kilkerrin, County Galway.. Like everywhere else in rural Ireland clocks weren’t all that accurate in the area at the time.
While a pupil at the National School in Kilkerrin a teacher convinced his father, Michael, that Paddy had academic potential. He got a Scholarship to St Jarleths College, Tuam, in 1956 and continued his formal education in UCD. It wasn’t long before I heard him described as ,” . . . a writers’ writer, a warrior with words. The Fionn Mac Cumhaill of verse. “
Paddy had a fantastic knowledge of the English language, was fluent in all dialects of Gailge and had a good grasp of Greek and Latin. His versatility was increased in the year he spent in Wolverhampton as one of “the men who built Britain”. He became an expert on how to fry steak on the head of a shovel. He joined the Irish Civil Service in 1962 but office work wasn’t for Paddy. Apart from being on a higher mental plane than most of his colleagues he was an open- air man. During his stint there I’m sure Sigersun Clifford’s line often went around in his head, “They chained my bones to an office stool and my soul to a clock’s cold hands. “ He joined Dublin City Services, CIE as a bus conductor in 1971. As a conductor he could reply to any criticism from an irate passenger; in several languages if necessary.
During this period Paddy and a few of his fellow intellectuals would assemble in a city centre flat which was known a Dail Oiche. It was a later edition of “The catacombs” as described by Anthony Cronin in Dead as Doornails. With such a collection of intelligentsia you can imagine (or can you?) the topics under discussion. He lived for many years in Lower Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh. If ever a house deserved a Blue Plaque its Paddy’s former residence.
I once asked his brother James if there were poets in their ancestry. He said no, that their father was a farmer but, in the words of Seamus Heaney, “By God, the old man could handle a spade.”
Paddy brought out a collection of his poetry, sadly now out of print, titled Dactyl Distillations. I know dear erudite audience that you know the meaning of dactyl but I had to look it up. It is, “A foot of poetic meter in quantitave verse.”
On one famous occasion a large number of busmen “went sick” in order to attend a major sporting event on our neighbouring island. The sudden epidemic raised the suspicion of management. With the result that inspectors were sent to all air and sea ports to await their return. Discipilery action was taken for malingering but nobody was sacked. Paddy Finnegan’s take on it was, “There is no such thing as malingering in this job, because you’d have to be sick to apply for it in the first place.”
He was inspired by everyday events. His Post from Parnassus was inspired by the annual Saint Patrick’s Day commemoration of Patrick Kavanagh on the banks of the Grand Canal.
I’ll read it for you now;
Post From Parnassus
(after Patrick Kavanagh)
by Paddy Finnegan
Here by my seat the old ghosts meet.
Here, the place where the old menagerie
Relentlessly soldiers on
Remembering the old green dragon, me,
On the feast of the Apostle of Ireland.
He is interrupted when several voices come on the radio in quick succession;
“The three minute man is in D’olier Street”.
“Five fourteen to Hawkins Street, enemy approaching”.
“Three minute man approaching”.
“First Ballinteer to control, get out of that hut, three-minuteman, the egg-timer, in vicinity. . .”.
He hurriedly comes out of hut and stands centre stage holding the radio aloft. When he emerges he is seen to be wearing turned-down Wellingtons. He continues reading the poem furtively glancing in all directions
Ye greeny, greying catechumens
Will cease to stage this ceremony
Only on the command of Sergeant Death.
Then break not the heart of poet past
Nor that of preening poet present:
But know, ye prodigies of prosody
That multitudes in times to be
Will listen to my lays
And look askance
While cods forever fake
Their own importance.
He puts special emphasis on the last line.
It was 1959. The National Council for The Blind of Ireland gave my visually impaired mother a wireless. It was our first radio. At the time my contemporaries were clued in to the highlights of Radio Luxemburg and the Light Programme. But, always one to live in the past, I had a preference for the folk programmes on Radio Eireann. My adrenalin was really let loose by the prologue to one in particular…