The Vagaries of Engineering

Sleight of hand. In one place I worked the boss had the theory that everyone made at least one mistake in anything he did. Give the boss a sheaf of drawings to check and approve, he would look at every one of them until he found a mistake, which was not blatant. It could take hours. It was sometime before I was let into the secret of how to combat this, even if it might prove that one was less than perfect – it was the intentional mistake. Subtly, one put one in, not too blatantly and not too difficult to find. Then everyone was satisfied.

The Dolman And The Fairy Tree. Nearly all the sites we developed in those days, were green field sites and almost all were farms which had been in families for generations. Ireland is a country with more than its fair share of myth and legend. Articles, which might have mystical connotations, or could be connected in any way with necromancy, are given a wide berth when it comes to disruption. On one site there was a dolman in the middle of the field. For days the contractor responsible for the site could get no work done on that part of the job because a road was proposed where the dolman stood. The contractor told the Housing Engineer that there was not a man on his payroll who would shift it, could the road not be diverted? The answer to that was an unequivocal ‘No!’ – even if for no other reason than the ridicule he would receive back in the office in Belfast. Stalemate! Then up spoke an Englishman labouring on the site. He would shift it, and he did, on his own. Whether true or inevitably made up to prove a point we never knew, but the story goes, that when the man returned to England he took ill and never worked again.

We always had the same trouble with Fairy Trees, those stumpy hawthorns one finds leading a lonely life somewhere in a field, which have survived because no one has had the temerity to dig them out and make ploughing or hay-cutting so much easier.

Scotch & Turkeys It was Christmas, I worked for the Admiralty and I was deputy on a construction site, we were buying stone by the thousand tons rather than the lorry load. Conforming to convention, two days before we were to pack up, at the end of the day, out of the darkness came a car loaded with good cheer – the contractor who supplied the stone – and he was there that night, to show his appreciation in a material sense. No matter what was stated on our contract of employment, we applauded. There was a turkey and a bottle of Irish whiskey for each man in the office. I told the boss. “Hand it back..’ he said, ‘Say a polite thanks, but no thanks,” was the order and that was how it finished. The whole lot went back where it came from, Next day was that silly day when everyone turns up to work, nothing is done, and near lunch time tongues are hanging out for the ‘heavy’ which is standing, row on row, on the boss’s table, waiting for the twelve o’clock kick off. When all our glasses had been charged, the obligatory ‘thank you for all the good work’ had been said, the boss raised the matter of the turkeys. He had been liberal with the Scotch. “About the turkeys and Irish,” he said while lifting a wash-leather pouch from an inner pocket. “I received this, from the same source, it is etched with my name.” He held in his hand a beautiful gold cigarette case. “This is something I have always coveted, but it too has to go back, engraved name or not.” I like a man who is even handed, even if he would like to cut off his own hand – perhaps especially so.

Categorized as General

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