Saturday, September 30, 2017

Summer Jobs

Summer Jobs

To put it in context, I was born in 1951 to a middle middle-class family who moved into a new suburban estate in western Dublin in early 1953 called Churchtown. My memory was that there was always work for those who sought it. 

Maybe we were just fortunate. A mile or less up the road lay the Hughes Brothers Dairy. My earliest memories - perhaps mistaken -  are of horses hooves on the roads pulling milk carts. Anyway, by the time I got to the advanced age of eight or nine they had progressed to electrically propelled carts. My very first job involved accompanying the milk man on  a Saturday to help collect money as we went from house to house. After six months internship  I was allowed to drive the milk cart which had a top speed of four miles an hour. My little chest puffed with pride especially if I was allowed drive the float up our own road, Landscape Park. I think I got paid sixpence which was perhaps twice my pocket money allowance at the time  and was capable of buying enough sweets to rot my teeth. I'm sure other children on the toad were forbidden from taking this work by their well-meaning mothers. My own mother's attitude to life could be summed up in her admonition, which she repeated ad nauseam ( and my mother could certainly repeat herself) was  'if they invite you, always say 'yes''.'

I had to wait a further two years until I was nine to get my first summer job. My good friend Paul Mc got me a lovely little sinecure in Spawell, Templeogue. A couple of farseeing  local dairy farmers started a modest pitch and putt operation in their fields. This modest enterprise  graduated over time into a major complex involving a driving range and one of the first super pubs and restaurants. My job entailed my cycling the forty or so minutes journey to what was a gap in the hedge and spend the mornings handing out clubs, balls and tees from a tiny makeshift tin hut. We also sold chocolate and minerals. A bonus of the job was that unlike the Ryanair staff of today we were allowed a bottle of Fanta orange to stave off the thirst. The pay was again  sixpence a day which allowed me buy enough sweets to rot my teeth fillings which were spreading at an alarming rate. 

My next four summer jobs were unpaid which in modern terms could hardly be regarded as progress but I loved them. They were spent in Connemara helping on the farm where I stayed to absorb the native spoken  Irish. I learned to unsuccessfully milk cows and deliver calves, cut grass with a scythe, plant - or as they called it - sew potatoes on the stoney Galway soil, and most frequently foot (arrange) turf on the bog to allow it to dry. I can still recall the sweet yet putrid smell of the turf as it was calved from the bog with the 'slean' (is this an English word?!) - a giant blade like spade that the locals could handle like Harley St. surgeons. The turf was handled and re handled perhaps six or seven times in a back breaking routine of turning it to dry and creating ever greater stooks (word-spell doesn't like this word, actually neither did I). 

It meant drinking endless cups of tea made from black bog water. Strong cups of tea with three heaped spoons of sugar and fresh milk from the cow that morning. And best of all, doorsteps  of bread cut with a penknife freshly cooked that morning in the turf fired range, smothered in butter churned only last week by the lady of the house who packed quite a punch in her sinewy arms that had reared ten children for emigration. 

We, her summer Irish students, were the children she couldn't hold onto living as she did  on a marginal, unsustainable  west of Ireland  farm. She invested her love and maternal instincts into her little summer charges with a mixture of soft sentiment and steely determination.  

Then came my big break. Aged sixteen years and ten months I headed to Paris for three months  in early June 1968. Our pilot proudly announced as we touched down in Beauvais airport that we were the first civil flight to land following the student riots locally dubbed les manifestations de Mai. I can tell my Gallic readers that the riots meandered into June because my earliest memories were of sitting up in bed listening to the gentle poofs of tear gas exploding and walking streets without cobbles that summer. 

My job paid me £12 a month delivered  in French francs. My summer job entailed helping out in the HQ of the de la Salle brothers in Rue de Sevres. France was definitely foreign  in the sixties. It took me ten minutes on my first morning to deduce that the round bowls I imagined for a non existent cereal were in fact used for the most delicious coffee mixed with warm milk. Then followed hours of cleaning tables, washing and drying dishes, cleaning the corridors, and the toilets - the stand up kind - where shit flew everywhere. 

Thursday's saw us rise at five and travel to the food market in Les Halles. The afternoons were free after serving and clearing up after lunch. I was interviewed at least a dozen times that summer by plain clothes detectives while I innocently listened to the Tour de France on my tiny transistor radio. Fortunately I waited until I was safely into my sixties to develop an interest in politics.  On Sundays the procurator would bring me on cultural visits to Fontainebleau and Chartres and Versailles. My companions resented his long lingering  hugs and bad breath born of garlic and constant sweets. I just thought in my innocence that was the way all French men behaved. 

From 1969 to 1976 I embarked on a very different kind of unpaid work - my speciality. I studied/worked for a Mexican order in Dublin Salamanca and Rome. The work was mostly a lot of fun. I served at various times as a sacristan, receptionist, farmer (yes, potatoes again), recruiter, youth club founder, study Centre organizer in Ireland and Spain and finally, the job that led to my eyes opening about the Order and its strange Founder, archivist of the vast photo collection in Rome. There were lots of part time jobs including impersonating UCD students in Madrid, getting insurance for cars that had been driven uninsured for some years. All in the line of duty. 

On my return to Dublin from the Legionaries of Christ in the sweltering 
Summer of '76 I confounded my father who told me there was no work to be had by getting a summer job within 24 hours. Hughes Brothers dairy had morphed into HB ice cream and were working three shifts a day to produce ice-cream for our nearest neighbors in England (we never referred to the U.K. Until perhaps the nineties). Working in the freezer section meant my many fillings contracted and complained as did my ingrown toe nails. I was paid overtime which allowed me expand my wardrobe which had consisted of the clothes I stood in when I alighted the plane in late July. I was the only person in Europe that day wearing an Aran Sweater. 

During my eighteen month sojourn in the Diocesan Seminary in Clonliffe I managed two Christmas jobs and one summer job. Christmas 1976 saw me working as a security man in Dublin City Centre for Roche's Stores. Lacking curiosity, then as now, I left it to the last working day to enquire how I had got the job when only a month earlier I had been told there was no work available. 'Oh you didn't know? The previous lad was knifed by a shoplifter'.  Ignorance is bliss. 

Summer '77 was spent working on the MV Leinster - the ferry between Dublin and Liverpool. 

My final part time job was at Christmas 1977 working in the sorting post office in Sheriff Street - the biggest in Dublin . In a different life on a different planet many years later I was to fund a development and regeneration of the post office and indeed part of the lands on Leopardstown Road where I had spent five years in the Seminary. 
That's why I believe life is a series of concentric circles. 

I left my job as temporary post man and spent the Christmas holidays weighing my future. I was looking at quitting my second clerical career after eight and a half years with nothing to show for it. 

My class mates had fruitfully spent the intervening  years and now had university degrees to show for it, and careers and houses snd mortgages and wives and mustaches.    

I sailed into lay life with a smattering of French, Spanish and Italian, philosophy, liturgy and theology. None of which were used, formally at least, in later life. I didn't have a degree, not even a diploma. 

It must have been my summer jobs  that saved me and landed my first 'real' job. As admin assistant in a German oil exploration company. An obvious and logical career development.    

PS thank you Eddie G for putting me on the unexpected career of accountancy. I never thanked you. Indeed I never thanked so many others on the winding road I call my career and cache of summer jobs.  

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