Summer Fairs in Ireland

I was about 8 years of age. The various stalls in the field next to the racecourse were doing a roaring trade. A bit bored, curious, I wandered around to the back of a tent and pushed back a flap to peak in. Immediately there was a stinging slap across my earhole and a mouthful of unintelligible words from the gypsy woman. Crying, I ran to tell my Dad. ‘Well, you must have deserved it so,’ was his comment.

ballabuidhe1

Ballabuidhe 2014

The Ballabuidhe (Bal-a-bwee) Races have been held from at least 1615 when King James I granted a charter to Randal Og Hurley to hold Ballabuidhe Fair in Dunmanway, west Cork in Ireland. The 414th edition has just ended and the pubs are counting their takings. For in every fair and festival to be held in Ireland during the summer, horses and drinking are the main distinguishing features. By day there is music, dancing, beauty competitions. Then there is horse trading, especially among the travelling community. Exiles from all over the world come back for the Gathering. And the bars serve non-stop with no one appearing to bother with licence restrictions and all that. No need even for the traditional ‘lock-in’ when the Gardai cruise past after closing time to make sure that the pubs ‘appear’ closed.

ballabuidhe2

Ballabuidhe (skibbereeneagle.ie)

After Ballabuidhe the travellers and their horses might head westwards to Killorglin and Puck Fair. Their charter dates from 1613. There the only difference is that a wild goat is crowned King Puck and presides over the messy festivities.

puckfair1

Puck Fair (irishamerica.com)

And all over Ireland there are horse racing festivals held once a year. Tralee, Dingle, Galway. The travellers will happily follow the crowds. Maam Cross in wild Connemara mixes horse trading with that of sheep and cattle all year round.

puckfair2

Puck Fair (irishcentral.com)

Ireland may be a more prosperous and outward looking nation these days but you don’t have to look hard to find life as it has been lived over the centuries.

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Whatever became of Ginger Lou?

The Channel Islands were occupied by Nazi invaders between July 1940 and May 1945. During that time there was inevitable fraternisation between the often charming and handsome German soldiers and local women. Only the women could attest to their motives, though physical attraction and love would often have been present. Some though tended to side with their German lovers and against their neighbours, maybe to obtain extra rations or other favours. The women were known as Jerry bags, and the worst of these in Jersey was Alexandrine Baudains, or Ginger Lou.

Ginger Lou

Pic credit theislandwiki.org

Mistress of a high-ranking German officer she identified herself completely with the ‘Master Race’. She would drive around in a chauffeur-driven car, flaunting her favoured status. Given the opportunity she would denounce or ‘shop’ anyone to the Nazis for minor acts of defiance or resistance. If she saw a queue outside a shop she might go in and buy all of the precious rationed goods, leaving the queue to disperse.
When the Channel Islands were liberated in May 1945, she lay low, fearing reprisals. She was wise to do as, when she ventured out for a spot of fresh air, she was set upon in Seaton Place by a crowd, mainly women. She was saved from being lynched from a lamp post by members of the British Army and she and her son were taken into police custody for their own safety. There they remained for 11 months until a journalist discovered their whereabouts.

A Doctor's Occupation

Old wounds were opened and the pair were ejected from prison to be taken in by the Little Sisters of the Poor. From there they were packed onto a boat for England with instructions never to return.

I wonder what became of them?

Sources – Doctor John Lewis, Roy McLoughlin, theislandwiki.org

Oscar Wilde & Lillie Langtry

I’m presently doing a bit of tour guiding at Jersey’s Mont Orgueil (Gorey Castle). In the interests of engaging with a group I’ll often ask them ‘Who was Jersey’s most famous man?’ ‘Bergerac’ is the usual answer. (Correct answer, subjective or not, is George Carteret who at least has a connection with the castle.)

Most famous woman? A few guess Lillie Langtry, and this time they’d be correct. I’ve blogged about the Jersey Lily before. I recently read about Lillie’s friendship with Oscar Wilde, and in particular Wilde’s infatuation with her, and his poems dedicated to her.

Oscar Wilde Lillie Langtry

Wilde right centre with top hat, the Lily in white next to him. Pic credit Jerripedia.

WHERE hast thou been since round the walls of Troy
The sons of God fought in that great emprise?
Why dost thou walk our common earth again?
Hast thou forgotten that impassioned boy,
His purple galley, and his Tyrian men,
And treacherous Aphrodite’s mocking eyes?
For surely it was thou, who, like a star
Hung in the silver silence of the night,
Didst lure the Old World’s chivalry and might
Into the clamorous crimson waves of war!
(from The New Helen)

Celebrated in London’s high society, Lillie was introduced to Wilde in 1877. She was 24 and he was a year younger. They became friends and associates and remained so for many years.

I remember we used to meet
By an ivied seat,
And you warbled each pretty word
With the air of a bird
(From To L.L.)

The indications are that the flamboyant Wilde was far more attracted physically to Mrs Langtry than the other way around. However, in later life, Lillie was said to always have a place laid at dinner in honour of him. (Did they ever sleep together? We can always ponder.)

And your eyes, they were green and grey
Like an April day,
But lit into amethyst
When I stooped and kissed
(From To L.L.)

Wilde wrote the classically-styled The New Helen in Lillie’s honour in 1879, and later, another entitled To L.L. The latter is rarely listed in a list of Wilde’s poetry. I’m not surprised, in fact it might have been wrongly attributed, but personally I like it better.

You were always afraid of a shower,
Just like a flower:
I remember you started and ran
When the rain began
(From To L.L.)

Tick and Bash – Part 5 (final)

I was back on the Rock. It was December 2009 and everything was surreal and unsettling. It felt as if Jersey had moved on and had left me behind. I rented a crappy room in First Tower and applied for income support for the very first (and last) time.
Jersey hadn’t escaped the recession. Work was hard to come by. I was well aware that I was in a low place mentally so made sure to stay on an even keel. On 21st December, the shortest day, I said to myself that this was as low as I would get. My running helped no end. I started writing, and I promised myself that I’d return to Ireland the next summer in much better shape than when I had left. (Which I did.)

Darkness into Light fineartamerica.com

Darkness into Light (fineartamerica.com)

Then I struck lucky and a past casual meeting set me up for a job with a small legal office, Hanson Renouf. I was to stay there for over seven years. Of course I brought considerable law office experience with me and I think I repaid them for giving me that break. It was a happy time in a busy office as the Island climbed out of the recession and business expanded. And, without exception, it was a great team there in Hill Street and it was a good time.

Divorce lawyer

Sadly the good times weren’t to last. A so-called merger took place and it was plain that some of us Hanson Renouf crowd were surplus to requirements. I decided to jump ship. Sadly I jumped at a good offer to re-join the finance industry – would I never learn? Three months in an open-plan office at Vantage Group with its factions, politics and dreary work were enough. Not their fault, all mine.

And so to Unitas Containers in mid-2016. And I’ve had a happy three years in a small finance department accounting for various group companies involved in the container management and leasing business worldwide.

Retirement2.jpg

But this afternoon I switched off the computer for the last time. Time’s caught up. And in writing this summary of my working career I realise that I’ve been lucky to come across

  • Only one dickhead
  • Only one bullshitter
  • A few people that I could never get on with, and vice versa
  • Many good people just doing their best in life – you can’t do any more
  • A few very good lifetime friends

I still wish I’d gone in for PE teaching 😃

Tick and Bash – Part 4

My early weeks living in Dublin were relaxed. My previous acquaintances with the city mainly involved high-tailing it out of there down the country to Cork or Kerry. This time I meant to embrace Dublin and get to know it. Besides, this was generally where the work for accountancy professionals was.

I took a nice though overpriced apartment near to Trinity College and got my first contract (for contracting was how I meant to proceed). It was great, working at one of Dublin’s many language schools. It was an insight into a different type of organisation and how it ticks. My job was to make some sense of some strange historic accounting, but also to analyse the schools’ activities and suggest budgetary improvements. That gig came to an end after a few months and it was immediately onto the next.

samuel becket bridge

Samuel Beckett Bridge over the Liffey – I saw it installed during my time in Dublin

Meanwhile I was having a great time in Dublin, seeing the sights, drinking the Guinness and picking up my athletics coaching again at Crusaders A.C. I’ll remember the kids and my other friends at Crusaders for ever.

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Irishtown Stadium, home of Crusaders AC

And what an enlightening year I spent at the HQ of the Irish Red Cross in Merrion Square. The books were hopelessly confused and I was assisting a financial consultant in sorting them out, producing overdue financial statements and updating the processes. But far more interesting was observing the workings of the organisation. The relationship between Head Office and the branches, between Head Office and the Board of Directors, between paid staff and volunteers. And some of the ‘creative’ accounting and archaic corporate governance that was taking place exploded into the public realm soon afterwards. But there were some lovely people at Merrion Square whom I remember fondly.

irish red cross building

The Irish Red Cross HQ, Merrion Square

But meanwhile the worldwide recession had bitten deeply in Ireland. After my contract at the Red Cross was up, I struggled. Every business struggled, many thousands were out of work and things were only getting worse. There were no more contracts. Every job vacancy was overwhelmed with applications.

As a last throw of the dice I bought into a gym franchise in Waterford – a real change of direction. It quickly failed – people had no money for gym memberships.

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St Finbarr’s Cathedral in Cork City, my spiritual home

My resources dwindling I went to stay with friends in Cork whilst job hunting. It was no use. In the final days of 2009, two years after I’d left for good, I bought a ticket back to Jersey.

Tick and Bash – Part 3

1983 and I’m Company Accountant at Pallot Glass, a family-owned glass, glazing and window replacement outfit. A new world and I loved it for the 12 years I was there. And I was in charge of all two of the staff which I inherited, together with a dog (Plonk) who seemed to be the doorstop to the Accounts Department, blocking all who tried to enter.
Desktop accounting was still in its infancy, but we managed the transition from Kalamazoo cards to a nice, little accounting system. And proper 5-inch floppy disks for backing up. And I self-taught myself the daily, monthly and annual routines that go with commercial accounting.

pallot glass
In time we opened (and eventually closed) outlets in Guernsey and the UK so my dread of flying was severely tested. I became Finance Director of our little group of companies.
But it was the lads that made it all so enjoyable. In the factory were a bunch of mainly Scottish tradesmen, time-served, hard working and hard playing. On the vans were another bunch who would drive off in pairs each morning on various jobs around the island. There was a natural stand-off between the lads and the office staff, but we needed one another and managed a rapport of sorts.

glaziers
Their weekly wages were mostly gone by Tuesday and they’d come looking for a ‘sub’ to get them through the week. If you were kind-hearted and lent one of them a tenner then the rest would be queuing up outside. If you played hardball then they’d try again next day.
The stories were legion – I might write a book one day. One Monday morning there was a work experience lad waiting downstairs. The Works Director saw him and bundled him onto a van which was just leaving on a job. A week later the Works Director asked the young lad how he was getting on. The lad replied ‘Loving it, but I was hoping to be trained in Sales.’ There was a minor sensation when a GIRL was taken on as a window fitter. That lasted two weeks until she declared herself pregnant.
Twelve great years. I’d be there now but I was now married with a mortgage. One or two of our big contracts were stretching the company financially. I left for the safer pastures of the Jersey finance industry. (Pallot Glass happily trade to this day, still family-owned.)

Three years at Theodore Goddard & Co, a medium-sized trust company, deserves no more than a paragraph. It should have warned me off the finance industry for good. It’s a living death. But, through contacts, I got my next move.

Ten years at Bois & Bois, a small legal office. I’d found a new niche. Looking after the books, observing the strict legal accounting rules, reporting to the partners. Conveyancing (property transactions) which go through Jersey’s Royal Court each Friday was the climax of every week. And in Jersey, property deals can be very large indeed. It was crucial that the funds were in place to complete the transaction at Court and, if acting for the purchaser, that they were paid out the following Tuesday. Many close shaves we had.

lawyers office
Ten good years, good bosses, lovely colleagues. But for many months now I’d been planning to finish up my working days in Ireland, a country with which I have a great affinity. All the indicators were right, the Celtic Tiger was roaring. I was no longer married with a mortgage. In the last days of 2007 I said my goodbyes (and there were many) and I was on my way.

Tick and Bash – Part 2

Work came to a halt in the Commercial Department of Turquands Barton Mayhew & Co. We gathered round in expectation. A few buttons pressed and our new-fangled facsimile machine, with its own dedicated telephone line, sprang into life with a series of hums and buzzes. We were faxing a document to New York and it was the wonder of the age. At the NYC end an identical machine was deciphering and printing the document. It took about six minutes. We gazed in awe.

fax macine

Wonder of the age

Not so many years later the fax machine is more or less redundant, overtaken by even more wondrous technology.

The late 70s in Jersey were certainly different from now. The holidaymakers still arrived in their hordes, the sun seemed to shine continuously, the alcohol was cheap and plentiful, there were nightly shows and entertainment all over the Island. Most of us were still youngish and we hung out and partied lots. The idea of ‘going home’ after a couple of years got sort-of forgotten as careers progressed and love blossomed, faded, and grew again.Jersey town centre

Work consisted of looking after portfolios of private clients, both Jersey-based and others. Much of it was familiar – churning out sets of accounts, but there was also administration and correspondence. Increased telephone work meant that I quickly learnt to moderate my thick Brummie accent so as to be understood.

One day a couple of oil barons from Calgary or somewhere turned up unannounced, boots, Stetsons and everything. That same day they had almost completed a reverse takeover of one of our smaller listed companies for one of their ventures. It wouldn’t have happened in Birmingham!
dollars
Those were the days of unregulated financial dealings. Clients (not necessarily TBM clients) would jet in, withdraw thousands from their offshore accounts, stick the money in envelopes and mail them to mysterious places. Funds arrived from strange sources and were merrily banked, no questions asked. Guys walked the streets with heavy briefcases, swapping Kruggerands for cash, and vice versa. There would be regular days out to Sark (the fourth largest Channel Island) for meetings of sham directors to be held and minutes signed there at the harbour. This malarkey was to change quickly and radically in the years that followed with the Channel Islands now at the forefront of financial regulation.kruggerands

Good times, good friends. But after six years, in 1983, I took an opportunity to take my first venture into life outside a professional office.

Tick and Bash – Part 1

£650 per annum. Or was it £450? I couldn’t quite make out the hand-written figure. Whatever, I was delighted. I was offered a start as an articled clerk in the small practice of Ernest T Kerr & Co, Chartered Accountants who had an office in Cornwall Street, Birmingham city centre. It was early 1972.

So for four years I learnt my trade, in particular the arcane science of double-entry bookkeeping. I half believed my early instruction from a fellow clerk that Debit was nearest the window, Credit nearest the door. After six weeks it all sort of fell into place. Once I understood that Debit could be either an expense or an asset, Credit a line of income or a liability, I was flying.

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Actual photo of me, 1974

Virtually all our work was preparation of accounts from incomplete records – collating all the client’s paperwork into Profit & Loss Account and Balance Sheet. Finished a job? OK, the next job’s in that box over there. Barry’s Garage was a classic. Every single document or piece of paper Barry would file on a huge metal spike. There were years of them. Produce a set of accounts for Barry’s Garage and you could do anything in life thereafter.

barry's garrage

So we’d sit in the clerks’ office, four or five of us, high above Birmingham’s streets. Me, Pete, Arthur, John, Colin. Mr Farley and Mr Nock were the partners with their own offices. Mr Ricketts, an older accountant, also had his own office. It was the job of one of the clerks to sharpen Mr Ricketts’ pencils every morning. Presiding over all was Miss Pilley. No personal telephone calls and if you needed a new pencil you had to present the stub of the old one to her.

No computers of course. Technology amounted to a shared adding machine. It was quicker and easier to learn to cast rows of figures in one’s head, unless you needed a tally roll as a back up for your working papers. If there was a power cut (regular at one time) then out came the candles and you would work on without a pause.

candles

OK, found ’em

Along one wall sat the arcane Private Ledgers of clients, lockable with tiny keys. These would contain entries not deemed suitable for general viewing – Capital Accounts, Reserve Accounts, Drawings etc. All the entries beautifully made by clerks who had gone before us, dating back decades. I’m afraid our motley crew couldn’t live up to their standards.

And there were road trips out to the larger clients. There were factories out in the Black Country, part of a landscape that has now largely disappeared. Acres of belching smoke adding to the morning mist as you coughed your way into work. There was a shop in Wolverhampton High Street where we ticked and scribbled happily in the shop window. A foundry where the blokes worked in Hades-like conditions. They worked in pairs on piecework and shared the wage. But one big, silent guy worked alone, earning as much as the pairs did. You’d keep out of his way.

factories

And us articled clerks were studying to become Chartered Accountants, mostly in our own time through correspondence courses. Our comrades in the bigger firms were sent off for weeks on end to Caer Rhun Hall in North Wales to be hot-housed. But after work we’d head for the Reference Library and study, maybe testing each other on case law and stuff.

auditing standards

And, when the library closed, we’d head for the pub. One Thursday evening in 1974 we decided to skip the pub. That night the IRA blew up one of our favourite spots, the Tavern in the Town.

My four years were up. I left Ernest T Kerr & Co who have now become a footnote in history. I spent a year with the firm of John W Hinks & Co of Smethwick. And somehow I scraped through my Final exam at the second time of asking. The world is your oyster, they said. They were recruiting hard for young (therefore cheap) professionals in the Channel Islands. In June 1977 I was headed for Jersey.

The Sight

What a lovely piece of flash fiction by my author friend Pamela Wight.

roughwighting

spirit, muse, life, deathTHEN

The longer Gertie watches her mother, the more confused she is. Gertie is 6 and never knew that her mom has tears.

“Why are you crying? Gertie asks.

“Your grandmother died today,” her mom answers.

Gertie closes her eyes. Nanny is right there beside them. When she opens her eyes again, a soft yellow light grows and surrounds her mom.

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Counting Down to Retirement

27 days and I’ll be free.

It was in the summer of ’71 that I rocked up at the staff entrance of Eagle Star Insurance in Birmingham to start my first job. I lasted six weeks.

Eagle Star

Whatever happened to them?

Still, it was long enough for me to earn enough to buy my first single (Suspicious Minds – Elvis) and first album (Sounds of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel). My one abiding memory of Eagle Star was of the woman who signed in the staff, drawing a red line at 9.03am to heap shame on those arriving a few minutes late. I was often to be found below that line.

Suspicious Minds

Whatever happened to him?

Strangely, those six weeks have long since been airbrushed from my c.v. Did they even happen?

So I’ll have been gainfully employed for 48 years, which I guess is par for the course. I can’t particularly afford to retire, but in that respect I’ll be in no better position next year or the year after. So I’m getting out at the right time, and for the right reasons. As a professional accountant I’ve long since lost interest in keeping up to date technically. The young kids coming through are light years ahead in that regard. And neither am I as sharp and accurate as I was. I could battle on for a while yet, but I no longer enjoy flogging into work every day.

Plans ahead? Yes, some vague ideas, but I aim to kick back for a little while at least and enjoy the sensation of not being under work pressure. Certainly I’ll find plenty to do – my neglected writing for one, various bits of voluntary activity on the other. (Jersey has a huge population of volunteers, particularly amongst the retired classes.) At the moment, for example, I’m enjoying doing a bit of tour guiding for Jersey Heritage, showing visitors around the fabulous Mont Orgueil. It seems I might have been repressing an inclination to take to the stage.

Mont Orgueil2

Mont Orgueil, 800 years and counting.

As my 27 days tick away I may reflect in this somewhat stuttering blog on my work career.