Sunday, May 1, 2011

Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

A few months ago I told you that I had edited a collection of transport-workers' writings, It Happens Between Stops.

I gave the readers a little sample of the contents and a number of people have emailed me asking for more.

Well here goes:


By Declan Gowran.

You know what they say about men with big feet? They have to get their shoes specially made by the cobbler. Made to measure from toes to heels to insteps to ankles with the appropriate allowances made for the type of sock to be worn. This factor of course would also depend on the seasons and whether the wearer’s feet were prone to sweating. Style might also enter the equation; but at the time that I’m going to talk about, the good old- fashioned leather brogues were the boots to be seen in. These brogues were all leather tops, soles and heels with indented patterns and overlapping strips that suggested a sturdy bulkiness that would suit the cobbles of the farmyard or the polished floor of the Ceili House.

The only trouble was it was expensive to have your own shoes made especially if you happened to be a bus driver back in the Hungry Sixties.

During the Sixties the first OMO buses were introduced. These were One Man Operated and came with a premium of an extra 20% over and above the basic wages of the day. Some new routes like Coolock started off as single-deck OMO operated services while others like the North Wall were developed. Because of the extra wages involved the more senior of the drivers were to be found manning these OMO routes on a marked-in basis while others might work a rest-day as an OMO if they had undergone the training.

About this time a driver in Clontarf called Footsie found himself working on the North Wall. Footsie was aptly named because this guy had massive clogs for feet. Footsie was big in other ways too. He was a particularly big hit with the ladies who were attracted by his dexterity around the dance floor. He would literally sweep them off their feet by standing them up on his huge insteps as he glided round the floor. They were equally impressed on the walk home afterwards particularly if there was any lovers’ lane handy on the route where Footsie might demonstrate some other of his big attributes.

Footsie used to have his boots specially made. This was an expensive business so much so that Footsie could only afford to have one pair of brogues to be made at one time. These boots were always black so that they would match his uniform. As a consequence most of his civvies were in darker colours to go with the boots. It was always Footsie’s dream and ambition to have a pair of brown brogues so that he could expand his wardrobe. If only he could afford the extra pair. It may have been one reason why he worked OMO.

Just after Christmas one year Footsie was working the last North Wall. He had a fair load on for the B&I Boat as many of the emigrant workers and navvies were heading back to Blighty after spending the Christmas with their families. After pulling into Clontarf Garage and parking the bus Footsie, while making his cursory last check for lost property, discovered a big hunk of a country lad crouched into the corner of the back seat dead asleep to the world and obviously a bit worse for wear from the drink. Cradled on his lap in his arms was his bag of belongings. The bag rose and fell like a gentle tide with his steady breathing.

“Wake-up son!” Footsie called out as he shook the young lad. “You’ve arrived whether you like it or not!”

The young lad, startled by Footsie’s massive shake, blurted out:

“Have we landed then…show me the way to the London train…”

“'Tis a long way from London ye are son, more nearer to Tipperary in fact!”

“Wha! Where am I? Where’s this?”

Footsie calmly explained as the young lad got unsteadily to his feet.

“Ah no!” The young lad sighed: “ Wha’ time is it? If I miss that boat McAlpine’ll have me life! Please ye got to help me! Get me to the boat on time! I’ll give ye anything! Name yer price! Pleaaaase!”

Footsie looked him up and down. He felt sorry for the poor bugger. Then he noticed the young lad’s feet or more properly the lovely spanking brand new brown leather brogues that the young lad was wearing.

“Here!” Footsie commanded: “ Ger up and stand beside me for a minute…”

“As I thought.” Footsie grinned with satisfaction: “Sure I’ll get you to the boat, son, but just on one condition.”

Footsie pulled the bus out of the garage and drove hell bent for rubber to catch the B&I Boat for the young navvy. They made it with minutes to spare before the gangplank was raised.

“I’m mightily obliged to you, sir!” The young lad said gratefully before parting.

“Sure it’s nothing son,” Footsie replied, feeling a little guilty: “So 'tis alright about the shoes then….”

“No bother!” The young lad said sincerely: “Think of them as a belated Christmas present!”

The young lad boarded the boat; but nobody seemed to notice that he walked up the gangplank in his stocking feet.

When Footsie got home he couldn’t wait to try on his new Christmas brogues:

“Just as I thought,” He smiled with satisfaction: “Made to measure! A perfect fit!”

For more information on
It Happens Between Stops

Click on Mattie Lennon for bio and list of other works published by
Pencil Stubs Online.

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