Monday, January 3, 2011

Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

If peradventure, Reader, it has been thy lot to waste the golden years of thy life -- thy shining youth -- in the irksome confinement of an office; to have thy prison days prolonged through middle age down to decrepitude and silver hairs, without hope of release or respite; to have lived to forget that there are such things as holidays, or to remember them but as the prerogatives of childhood; then, and then only, will you be able to appreciate my deliverance. (Charles Lamb.)

Why did I start with that? It has something got to do with the fact that by the time you read the February Irish Eyes I will be a superannuated man. On 31st January I will be retiring from Dublin Bus after almost thirty seven years.

What is retirement all about? Many years ago Maeve Binchy wrote that women retire much more positively than men. She says, “The job c’est moi mentality has destroyed the lives of many men who should have had a perfectly happy 20 years or more after their retirement date but who instead believe that they have been somehow cast adrift when they still have a lot to contribute.”

I have no idea how I will feel on that last day at work. One of my bosses frightened the living daylights out of me when he said, “Despite how talented and successful you are in this company, there is some danger that you will not be as happy and satisfied as you hope to be in retirement.” It was no surprise to me that this man didn’t agree with Brendan Francis, who said, “Most people perform essentially meaningless work. When they retire that truth is borne upon them.”

I’m being given all sorts of tips and a family member has given me a book, by Ernie J. Zelinski, How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free. The happy and free I go along with but I’m a bit long in the tooth for wild. A colleague has pointed out that I’ll be able to do nothing without any fear of being caught doing it and I’m bombarded with quotations from the erudite on the subject. William Cowper said,

    Absence of occupation is not rest,
    A mind quite vacant is a mind distressed.

Then of course John W. Raper pointed out that there is no pleasure in having nothing to do: the fun is having lots to do and not doing it and Laurence J. Peter said that the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. It’s a confusing business, this retiring. I’m thinking of writing a memoir. Encouraged by Honore de Balzac’s observation that when one has no particular talent for anything, one takes to the pen.

Recently I have been thinking about my early years on the buses. In 1974 there was a television ad running along the lines of, “wanted, two men to crew this Dublin bus”. I applies and 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 Kavanesque 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. Six years as a Conductor and I became a Driver. After a further six years I was promoted to the grade of Inspector. That was 1986 and for me it was “final placement syndrome”; I haven’t gone any further.

Will I call in the see the lads in the control room now and again? That passage from Lamb’s Superannuated Man keeps going around in my head,

“To dissipate this awkward feeling, I have been fain to go among them once or twice since; to visit my old desk-fellows -- my co-brethren of the quill -- that I had left below in the state militant. Not all the kindness with which they received me could quite restore to me that pleasant familiarity, which I had heretofore enjoyed among them. We cracked some of our old jokes, but methought they went off but faintly. My old desk; the peg there I hung my hat, were appropriated to another. I knew it must be, but I could not take it kindly.”
How will my retirement go? I’ll keep you posted. Will I once again be quoting Lamb? “I am Retired Leisure. I am to be met with in trim gardens. I am already come to be known by my vacant face and careless gesture, perambulating at no fixed pace, nor with any settled purpose. I walk about; not to and from. They tell me, a certain cum dignitate air, that has been buried so long with my other good parts, has begun to shoot forth in my person. I grow into gentility perceptibly. When I take up a newspaper, it is to read the state of the opera. Opus operatum est. I have done all that I came into this world to do. I have worked task work, and have the rest of the day to myself.” And . . . I have to finish How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free before I retire; I’m damned if I’m going to read it on my own time.
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In picture below, Mattie identifies himself as 'the one on the left.'

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