On the Buses in Kent

Perhaps other Newry exiles in England and abroad have had early experiences of work similar to my own, which follow. 

Or could anyone else possibly have been as stupid as me?

None of this seemed funny at the time but I shall leave you to judge.

We were pretty desperate for work then in the early 60s and were prepared to travel to England in search of it.  

I think the rumour of available work first arrived through local connections in particular districts: in any case, by the time I first ventured ‘abroad’ it was guaranteed that good, well-paid work was easily obtained. 

My first venture into Kent was in the company of a couple of school-mates from the Abbey A Level class. It was essential that the ‘job’ would help house us too in the first instance, for we had no place to stay – and little cash left over after we had paid our fare.

And so I found myself standing alone (funny that, I cannot remember where my mates had gone or whether they were separately catered for in the employment field) in the Inspector’s Office of the East Thanet Autobus Company in the Isle of Thanet near Margate. I had arrived only hours before and barely knew what county I was in, let alone the immediate neighbourhood.  

The questions came thick and fast and in a strange accent I had difficulty in comprehending. If this was England, I thought, why could they not talk without an accent, the way I did? But I didn’t think it was my place to criticise.

Did I have any questions? 

I indicated my desperate need for immediate work and accommodation and I distinctly saw a grin spread over his face and he winked at his secretary at a nearby desk. She rose and backed towards the door with her hands behind her back. I distinctly heard a lock click!

I should have suspected from that moment but I was raised to respect my elders. 

He was coming towards me now carrying a box-shaped metal object hanging from a leather strap.    Before I knew it, the object was hanging round my shoulders. 

With that he mimed a circular clockwise motion at belly-height with his right hand. And what would happen then? A ticket for the customer would come out ? I ventured, warily. 

‘Exactly!’ he crowed triumphantly. ‘You’re a natural-born bus conductor!’

I doubted it – but now he was hanging a leather pouch round my other shoulder. Your cash bag, he explained, with a suspicious grin.

Do you know what this is? he was asking now, reaching out a plastic-covered card with a grid and spreadsheet-like pattern on its face?

No, I did not.

This little beauty will keep you right! he concluded triumphantly. It tells you where you are, and the fare between any two points.

Boy! Was I glad to hear that?

He unlocked the office door and pushed me out.

‘That’s your bus there, Number 29, with the engine ticking over.

Hurry along now. The driver is waiting for you.’

‘But … but… but ..’

‘You don’t want the job?’ he asked, incredulously.

I wove my precarious way carefully across the diesel-smoke-filled depot towards my very first job in pagan England.



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