Celtic Illumination, part 52, a turban, the missing link and a Zephyr
Well, we had managed to fly into London Heathrow without having to pay a penny for the privilege. Looking back now I can understand that the double top secret cabal that was organising my training to become the leading Master Candle Maker in the world must have made a mistake and that is why no money changed hands. However, there we were, so we wandered over to a line of busses to begin our adventure properly.
We walked to the lead bus that sat at the head of the queue. There was an Indian fellow sitting behind the wheel. We knew this because he was wearing a turban and we had never seen one in real life before. The door of the bus was closed. The driver opened it.
“What do you want?” said, one very annoyed Indian.
“We want to get on your bus please mister,” said one of us.
“I’m not leaving for ten more minutes,” said the driver, who promptly closed the door again and continued to read his newspaper.
This was new to us. In Ireland we would have been encouraged to get on the bus, sit down and then in ten minutes come forward and pay the fare, but this was London, England, a different country. Keeping to his word, ten minutes later the driver put his newspaper away and opened the door. He indicated that we should get on.
“Where to?” he asked
“The Uxbridge Road,” said Finbar, he was more qualified to speak as that is where his brother lived.
“Whereabouts on the Uxbridge road?” asked the driver.
“Oh, just drop us somewhere around the middle and we’ll walk,” said Finbar, who was not just qualified to speak, but clever too.
“But the Uxbridge road is eleven miles long!” said the driver with the turban who must have been sick of these stupid bloody foreigners.
“Ah!” we said, because the pair of us were stumped.
“How about I drop you at Uxbridge tube station and you can get directions from there?” asked the driver, and we agreed that this could be the best plan of action.
We waited a while but no one else got on the bus and then we set off. Finbar and I actually still expected to get stopped somewhere before we left the airport grounds and have to pay the air fare but it never happened.
We got off at the tube station and managed to find out that the street where Finbar’s brother lived was only about fifteen minutes away. We were tempted to get a taxi. There was one in Warrenpoint but I don’t think anyone ever used it, unlike today where there are plenty of taxis in Warrenpoint ferrying the great unwashed home after a night on the stout. We decided to walk.
This was London 1974. Flower power was well past its heyday but life was still pretty colourful and we were there to enjoy. Finbar’s brother, as did the other fellows who lived in their shared house, wore flared jeans, loose Thai dyed tea shirts, coloured John Lennon glasses, called everyone man, worshipped music and smoked the plants that were growing all around the house.
We liked music but these guys were freaky. The one I remember most was Jimmy the Link. I think he may have been given this name for he might have been the proverbial missing link. He was a carpenter by trade but had waist length, straight, blond hair. He, when we were out and about, wore a black velvet jacket, blue denim shirt and jeans. He looked like any normal hippy but really stood out when he opened his mouth to speak for not only did he have a thick Irish accent, like the rest of us, but he had a stammer and stutter that would murder you to listen to.
Within two days, Finbar and I had jobs and digs. We managed to get a job in an asbestos factory on Iver Lane in Uxbridge and we secured digs in a house that was next door to the factory. We paid ten pounds a week to share a bedroom and have one bath a week, each. As students we didn’t have to pay tax, so bring on the summer.
Finbar and I fell into a routine. We would catch the first tube train into Uxbridge in the morning. We would still be in our best finery from the night before. We would buy two fresh loaves of bread from the bakery in Uxbridge and a pack of butter and we would eat this as we walked toward our workplace and digs. We would be with our fellow workmates who were on their way to work, so Finbar and I would nip into our digs, change into our working clothes and reappear to continue on to work.
It was a very interesting experience for us. We were meeting all sorts of people. Three Ugandans worked there and we couldn’t understand why they would arrive at work in a huge Ford Zephyr, wearing three piece suits and carrying brief cases. They would come in and change into boiler suits and spend their day, like the rest of us, on the shop floor. We learned that they had told all their neighbours that they were managers and were pretending to be so.
There was the obligatory Irishman, the Scot, and a variety of English people. On our first day Finbar and I were called into the blade shop. This is where a man sharpened the blades from the saws that we used to cut huge sheets of asbestos into manageable sizes. He told us that we would have to pay him fifty pence a week to join his union. That was very close to the cost of one pint of beer, so Finbar and I refused. He informed us that we would not be able to work there. We joined our first union.
The union met every so often and Cyril, who was the shop steward, would have to read out the minutes of the meeting to the workforce. The first time he did this Finbar and I cracked up as he had great difficulty reading words made up of more than five letters. After the next meeting he made Finbar read out the minutes.
Of course as the French say ‘plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.’ Pay day every week would see us all aim for the nearest pub, which was The Malt Shovel, just across the road from the factory. We were still paid in cash so the drink flowed freely. One chap, a huge Pakistani, joined us one day and was disgusted at how much rent Finbar and I were paying. He suggested that we should move in with him. He lived alone in a three bedroom house and would only charge us five pounds a week each in rent. It was a tempting offer, but as he added that we wouldn’t have to pay any rent if we slept with him, I made a mental note to make sure that my legs would remain covered at all times, even when I was having a bath, once a week.