1950- , Civil Engineering, The Runway Job 4

I learned never to say right when it could be misconstrued.
It was early morning and I needed to examine the surface water system of the old runway. The chainman and his sidekick had been struggling to get an old manhole cover off and once again I forgot what had been drilled into me in my Naval days, never volunteer. I was in a hurry so I went to help them. We managed to get the cover clear off the hole and then I thought I had done all that was required of me, so I said ‘Right!’ meaning I was letting go and they were in control. Of course, like all slapstick comedies, they let go too and this huge, cast iron disc weighing nearly a hundred weight and a half fell on my foot. Instead of severing the toe, it only broke it, I was wearing dispatch rider’s boots instead of the standard wellie.
I learned to keep my own council and not gripe except to the shaving mirror. I was fuming. I had been working almost all the hours God gave me just to keep up. Now second in command I was responsible for staff discipline, checking not only the work but the accuracy on site, forward planning, ordering materials, in fact every damn thing – you name it, I did it.
Why was I fuming? The boss was walking round with his hands in his pockets, looking out of windows, humming to himself, anything apparently but working. I was incensed.
One day he turned from looking out the window and addressed me.
“You think, because I walk round with my hands in my pocket I’m a lazy bugger who should be shot.” I was tempted to agree but waited.
“If I start getting too close to the job I won’t see the whole perspective and I won’t see the obvious, I’ll be too involved with the pettifogging problems.” I was sceptical but could see his point.
He was right, of course, as I found out years later when I too went round with my hands in my pockets picking holes which, from my perspective, seemed to be obvious, yet which seemed to those caught on the hop to be close to necromancy.
I learned of the problems of labour relations. We had to build up a big workforce and as we were a Government Department we were walking on eggs all the time. Politicians were looking over our collective shoulder and, to our complete amazement, asking questions in Westminster – no less, . In one case we had inadvertently taken on a Free State worker while there were men still on the dole in Northern Ireland. This was brought up on the Floor of the House with predictable consequences. Theory, it seems is more important than practice but our General Foreman had other ideas
It was our his practice to telephone the Labour Exchange to send us a batch of hopefuls – most were hopeful they wouldn’t suit – and then line them up in a hangar. He would address them along these lines; “This is pick and shovel, the hours are so and so, the pay is so much and those who don’t want to work step forward and we’ll sign the form.” The majority stepped forward, proving our point.
Signing the form was the easy way out for us, it said that at far as we were concerned the man was unfit for the work in question. The problem was that if we had played it by the book, signed all of them on, we would have had a mountain of paperwork within days with malingerers, wasters and the downright bloody minded who would then have to be sacked, with reasons given, and we would still be back to the handful who wanted to work.

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