Belfast 1951 to ’60 in order, Characters 3.

DAN and other Chauffeurs Dan was a Chainman, someone on a survey team who is essential, but bottom of the pecking order. He runs the errands, stand in water, snow, burning sun, holding whatever he is asked to hold without complaint. Dan was sandy haired, short, tough and generally smiling. He dressed like a country squire, with a hound’s tooth, vented jacket, fawn trousers, punched brogues and a flat cap which would have graced most saddling enclosures. In fact he looked so smart there was a story going the rounds that the Chief Engineer, who was descending the stairs to meet an influential guest, was totally ignored by the guest as he rushed past to shake Sam’s hand and to say how glad he was to meet him. This did not endear Dan to Authority, but it did to us.

We, Dan, another engineer and his chainman and I, were surveying a large housing site at the back of Larne, in Country Antrim, preparatory to designing the roads and sewers, and it was raining heavily. We took shelter in the empty barns belonging to a farm which formed part of the site. We sat about, ate our lunch early so we could work through, once the rain stopped, we had a desultory conversation and then Dan introduced the subject of hypnotism as applied to chickens.

He said he could place a chicken with its beak on a chalk line and it would not move off the line even if you walked right up to the bird and what was more he had ten shillings which said he could do it. Ten bob was ten bob, so we tried to get him to demonstrate without a wager but without success. In the end we pooled, we knew he could do it, Dan never made a bet unless he had a more than an even chance of winning, but we were curious to see how he did it

The first thing he did was to draw a straight line on the concrete floor in chalk. Next he went in search of a chicken, we had seen some roaming round the place. When he came back he had hold of one by the body with the wings clamped below his hands, and its beak facing away from him. His next act was to swing the chicken round and round in a wide flat circle at waist height and then, shifting his grip so he had the chicken clamped in the palm of one hand and the other holding its head with his forefinger firmly along the line of the top of the beak, he put the beak on the line, set the chicken’s feet across the line and held the bird like that for about ten to fifteen seconds. When he straightened, the bird remained and we walked round it, looked at it, and until he took it off the line, there it remained.

In the Navy I had Bert, a country boy from near Ballymena as a driver supplied by the Admiralty, when I was based at The Thompson Dock in Belfast Shipyard. – at the time the largest dry dock in Europe. Using the pool cars, he would drive as I had no licence. I noticed that, in heavy traffic, Bert had a habit of rubbing his knee with his left hand, as if frustrated. He also had another habit, less acceptable and more embaracing. At times of stress he liked to expectorate through the driver’s window, which he mostly kept open, but there were occasions when he forgot it was closed.

Beside most dry docks were huge heaps of steel chains with links the size of a hand, used as ballast when testing the sea-worthiness of lifeboats and other purposes. On one occasion Bert was driving at his usual racing speed to deliver me beside an empty Thompson Dock – he braked but was on spilled oil and we just skated on and on to the edge of the dock, fortunately crashing into a bunch of the chains, otherwise this would never have been written – Hairy to say the least.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *