Eamonn McCann is 78 today. On announcing his retirement from public service recently, he was showered with an extravagant exuberance of plaudits; it is time to provide some counterpoint to all this laudation and his birthday strikes me as being the opportune moment.
As first year students, we had worked a summer holiday at two separate pea factories in Lincolnshire. It was poorly paid work and hard labour. The following year, 1962, we got jobs as conductors with the Southern Vectis Bus Company in the Isle of Wight (IOW) . In many ways, it was appealing employment; it was unionised and a closed shop – when Beeching closed the island’s rail network, the workforce migrated to the bus service and took their union membership (NUR) with them; the Island was a holiday area with plentiful sunshine and beaches; students comprised a sizeable proportion of the workforce and the craic was good.
In the first couple of weeks after training, McCann managed to mislay his ticket machine, clippers, uniform jacket and money bag. For the most part, these were dismissed by his supervisors , the inspectors, as youthful carelessness. The regular driving force were often dismissive of the students’ mistakes with a shrug about the waste of education.
Younger readers will have no experience of conductors , as one -man-operated vehicles have been the norm in most places since the eighties . In the sixties, the conductor was the manager of the vehicle, responsible for time-keeping , collection of fares and the safe transport of passengers. The bell was the official communication with the driver – two rings to go and one to stop.
Eamonn’s problems reached their nadir when he was paired with driver, Oskar Kullander. Once, they were having a brief stopover and a cup of tea in Shanklin Depot; Oskar glanced at his watch and said, ” alright, Eamonn, will we go then“. “Aye, OK,” replies the man and follows Oskar out but immediately nipped in to the next door toilet. On emerging, he found that the Number 16 bus and Oskar had both gone. He made his way to the Inspector’s Office to report the incident. Charlie Smith was on duty and he was wearying of McCann’s problems;
“What is it this time, McCann?“
“I’ve sort of lost a bus...”
“Good fxxk, Eamonn, you’ve lost nearly everything we give you – but a bus, a great , big, bloody 52 seater. Well, that just about beats everything!”
The spare driver took McCann to the first compulsory stop in the old Village where they found six foot -six Oscar, standing on the platform of the bus, scratching his head and saying, “I heard a bell, Eamonn”.
“You couldn’t have since I wasn’t even on the bus!“
In his report of the incident , McCann decreed that Oskar should be considered for transfer to duties, other than driving, since he appeared to have developed ringing bell syndrome.
Happy Birthday. Eamonn.