Saturday, October 04, 2014

Working on the Railway

Well, this Paddy wasn't exactly working on the railway. They don't have one in Jersey. But he did end up working for British Railways, in St. Helier, in 1961. They ran the ferries.

I was still at school. I had just done my Inter Cert and Summer holidays were looming. A job was arranged with a bank in Jersey. I think it was Barclay's. And that was fine and dandy.

When I arrived in Jersey, the man who was supposed to have arranged the job told me there wasn't one. Shock of my life. So I told him he'd brought me all this way; I had no where to go (which was only partly true); and there had better be a job.

So he fixed me up with a public counter job with British Railways in St. Helier.

I was dealing with parcels and with day trippers to France.

I have recorded one of my linguistic adventures here. And that was nothing to do with the local patois (otherwise known as Jèrriais) but with the Queen's own English which I thought I knew inside out even if I didn't always speak proper.

As far as the day trippers were concerned, the British and the French had organised a nifty system. UK visitors to Jersey came for the weather and the touch of Frenchness on the island. Despite is proximity to the French coast it was still British, a Crown Dependency, and they would not have needed to bring their passports. So how to organise a day trip to France? Well, in place of a passport, I issued them one day only ID cards. The card was in triplicate [and needed a photo for each section ?]. I kept one section, they handed up a section on entering France and the final one on leaving that country. The French authorities matched their two portions each evening and if there was not a corresponding exit section for each entry one, then the hunt was on. If there was any possibility that they had left and that section had not been handed up or had gone missing, then we had a corresponding section with which the authorities could hunt them down on the island. I almost felt like I had entered the diplomatic and the secret service all in the one go.

The British Railways Agent in Jersey (ie the boss of the Jersey operation) was a man called R.D.Roberts. His next assignment, which was fast approaching, was to become the Agent in Dublin. When he heard where I was from (or maybe that's why I got the job) he asked if I could come up to his office a few days after work and brief him on Ireland and Dublin. That worked out OK, but he had one question which absolutely floored me. Would he have to learn Irish to speak to the dockers? I reassured him on that one but it was very interesting. It told me two things. First that Ireland's propaganda regarding the status and practice of the Irish language had spread far and wide. And second, that he did intend to speak with the dockers and was prepared to knuckle down to learning some Irish if that was what was required. I don't know how things worked out for him in Dublin as I never saw him after I left Jersey.

Another thing that stays with me is wrapping up the books at the end of the day. Anyone who has worked in a shop or at a counter knows that reconciling the day's takings with the day's activity can be a curse and there is always some little niggle of an error. But that is not what stayed with me. These was the days of pounds, shillings, pence, and bits of pence (£ you). Well my way of adding up a cash column, and I'm sure nearly everyone else's, was to do the bits first (ha'pennies and farthings) and carry the pennies into the next column, then do the pennies and carry the shillings and finally do the shillings and carry the pounds into the final column while adding that up. I would style that vertical adding. This guy just added up whole terms: first row £sd + next row £sd and so on and then just wrote down one final answer. Never saw anything like it before or since. Horizontal adding to beat the band.

Anyway, that was this Paddy's experience of British Railways in Jersey.


Colin O'Driscoll said...

Hello Póló,

I worked for them in Jersey during two Summer holidays when I was at school. It was great fun, apart from getting up at 5 a.m sometimes to be at the docks in time for the arrival of the overnight ferry.
I'm not sure that the French ever were really too bothered about who was coming over from Jersey for a short visit - the two sections of the the 72 hour cards that were kept by the French didn't even have a photo on them. On time I went over on my passport and the very bored gendarme at St. Malo didn't even want me to open it. Not the same attitude these days unfortunately.
'British Rail Jersey' was being sold off and in my second job it had already become Sealing UK Ltd. What happened to it after that I really don't know - I lost track of the people who had been working there and it may have gone out of business or was taken over by another ferry company.

Póló said...

Hi Colin

Fancy that. You too.

On reflection you might be right about the photo. I'll see if my failing memory clears up on that.

I remember I had this big pin machine which I think punched the date through the three cards. I thought it went through photos as well but now that I think of it that would have been three bits of card and three photos and I don't remember it being that thick.

I have a photo of my guichet with the pin machine somewhere. Must fish it out.