Tuesday, 20 June 2006

The Turf Depot

Returning to the Turf Depot, here's a different view of it above. To see a bigger photo click on this one.

Here we see it from the opposite end from the last photo. To help us get our bearings here, the photographer would be standing with his back to The 27 Steps. Slightly to the left (out of picture) would be the back of our old flat as seen in another, earlier photo. This picture looks like it was taken in the early morning or else shorly after a delivery of turf, because normally that weighing scale you can see was just inside the door, and so was the pile of turf. While the turf was lying outside like this, people hoped it wouldn't rain because wet turf was nearly impossible to burn. I remember how my parents used to make little piles of wet turf either side of the fireplace in an attempt to get it dry. If they made little piles of turf sods on the hobs either side of a blazing fire I used to sit there staring at the drying sods because they'd scorch and the tiny loose hairy bits used to catch fire and this used to remind me of the Christmas lights downtown. Funny the things that stick in your mind.

As can be seen in the photo that little girl is waiting for her turf to be weighed. She has a small baby walker (we called them go cars) and it was on this little car that she'd have struggled home with her 8 stone sack of turf. Sometimes, if there was a decent man working the scales and you didn't have a sack (a sack was compulsory) he'd tip the scales so that your turf allowance filled whatever mode of transport you happened to have. In this case the little girl has that small baby car which was never designed to carry 8 stones of weight, so as you can imagine baby cars didn't last very long from being used to carry home the turf. I've seen big expensive baby prams (prambulators) being used and the weight of the turf causing the wheels to buckle, and whoever was pushing it would wind up pushing and pulling in turns just to get that precious turf home safely.

But the turf was also a springboard to another money making little job. I've already mentioned that the standard payment for delivering a bag of turf was 1 shilling. Well as you couldn't carry much turf in a baby pram we made box carts so that we could carry more at one time, thereby saving on trips and increasing our earnings. These carts were made of wood and a pair of old pram wheels, or any kind of wheels we could get our hands on. The body of the cart was a simple wooden box, often made up of old orange or apple crates with two shafts for handles. These boxcarts were in great demand and if we could get enough scrap wood and some old wheels and made up some boxcars we could sell them. The going rate was whatever the market would take. On average this was between a half crown (two shillings and sixpence) and 4 shillings. So making boxcars was a good little earner. Of course they didn't carry any guarantee and if the cart happened to collapse while someone was taking home or delivering some bags of turf... tough luck. In that case we, (the manufacturers) either went into hiding for awhile or else we simply legged it and hoped we weren't caught. Ah well, some you win, some you lose. But we were diligent in making these carts so they seldom collapsed.... maintaining our good names as boxcar builders.

But in Summer it was a different story with the boxcars. Then they became chariots and the chariot races around Summerhill, and Gardiner and Sean McDermott Streets were legendary. The race in Ben Hur never even came close to the excitement of these races. A kid would stand between the shafts of the boxcar (the chariot!) and a piece of rope was strung over his shoulders, around his neck and back to someone sitting in the boxcar who was the driver. The driver had one important piece of equipment -- a whip! And that whip was used too!! Though I can't remember it ever really hurting. On race day the chariots would line up. The starter would harangue the drivers to get the carts into a proper line.... no cheating allowed... at least until after the race had started. Then he's signal the off and away we'd go! The ankles of innocent pedestrians were in dire peril while this race was in progress because the drivers threw all caution to the wind in the excitement of the race... and not a few of the cart wheels had spokes sticking out at all angles, so being a pedestrian on a race day was a perilous business. After the off no holds were barred. There weren't any rules! You could trip any kid between the shafts if you could manage to do that. Or if there happened to be a bit of turf or coal, or even a few stones in the body of the boxcar then these made good throwing weapons to be used against other charioteers. There was no prize for winning except the right to brag about how well you done in the race. And you got a lot of mileage out of these bragging sessions, and naturally as each story was told it was gilded slightly until by the time it had been told a few times the race became an epic, and the winning team were heroes held in awe by their pals.

Next time I want to talk a bit about the time a man (a moneylender) made my mother cry and how we, my friends Paddy, Seanie, Jimmy and myself avenged her. And the lane in the photo above was where it happened.

But as I say, that's a story for next time... and coming up too a story about the junction of Parnell Street, Summerhill, Gardiner Street and Middle Gardiner Street... known to the older folk at that time as The Four Corners of Hell.

Drop in again soon.... some good stories coming up.

Thursday, 1 June 2006

Marie's memories.

"Well, let me start by saying I don’t feel very comfortable looking at the back of the flat in Gardiner Street. I don’t know why that is but it just makes me feel a bit sick or something like that. Looking at the front is not too bad why that is I don’t know, maybe because when I look at the front you didn't see as many poor people as in the back.

In the front all types of people walked up and down the street rich and poor but the back seems to have a lot to say for itself.... when you looked out our back window you would see all the people in a queue for the turf. Kids as young as 4 or 5 going for the turf and the old people all waiting to get their turf to get a fire going. I remember one time going there I think it was with me Granny and she had me rushing with her to the turf depot she said if we did not get there soon all the turf would be gone and we would have no fire and we would be cold.

Thinking back it was very depressing place and the people did not look much better and then having to push that pram back with the turf. God it was awful but it made us strong in heart and mind. I remember thinking to myself will it always be like this if so then I would be better off dead and I was only a kid thinking like that. But that was in the winter.... god the winter was bitter cold!

But when the summer came that was great. Ma and Da would take us out somewhere maybe to Sandymount beach. Ma loved that beach she always talked about it I remember one time in the summer Ma, Da and me were walking down Summerhill I think it was in 'Jon's' (shop) Ma got me a paper umbrella and when I came out of the shop I put it up to keep the sun off my head. I thought I was like one of the ladies in the films and as we walked along a big man pushed past us and my umbrella got torn. Well did I cry! I cried my eyes out and the man just kept on walking. Ma was near to tears because I was crying so much, Da said, "Ccome on I will get you something else." I'm still waiting for the something else sure they did not have much money.

But come Sunday we always got that coconut cake for tea it was great when Ma would slice it up and shared it around us all, even the crumbs were lovely. I can still taste it now ah that was the good times when Da was working when he was lucky to get a job.

Now about the marble. I think it was a blue one and Tony and myself were playing at the table with marbles and I said to Tony, "I dare you to swallow that". Of course he said "No" so I made him swallow it! Mam and Da did not notice what I was doing because they where talking and us kids were playing. Little did they know that their little girl was up to mischief but the funny part was to come when I told them Tony swallowed the marble! The next I knew was Da's friend standing in the room with a knife down his belt Tony looked at me and we both thought the man was going to cut open Tony to find the marble, but no Tony was taken off to the hospital we are still waiting for that marble to come out of Tony's belly but that was fun.

I used to make Tony do some bad things. Like we would go over to my Aunt Bridie in Summerhill and she was out of hospital at the time she had TB and she had to take a lot of tablets. When Tony and me seen the tablets we thought they looked nice... we thought they were sweets. But there was one tablet I thought looked the best. Now we were always told not to touch anything in that drawer so to cut a long story short I said to Tony, "You eat one of them pink sweets and if you eat it then I will eat one too." So he did and I waited to see what he thought of it then I ate one and it was nice and nothing happened to us. So every time we went over to Bridie's we had a pink sweet when no one was looking the taste was lovely..yes I was a little devil........ "



Well that was a great sharing of memories from Marie. I played no part in helping either Tony or Marie with these memories, I wanted to see what they'd come up with without any prompting from me, and I'm glad I did. I include their memories of Gardiner Street just as they wrote them, all I did was run it through a spell checker. I was laughing as I read how Marie nearly poisoned me poor little brother. She was (and is) a holy terror.

I'm glad Marie introduced us to the Turf Depot. As you can gather from what she says it was a miserable place. Back then, during Winter, men on the dole and old-age pensioners were given a voucher once a week. The voucher entitled you to collect, at your own expense, an 8 stone bag of turf to be used as fuel for your fire. If times were really hard you could sell the voucher for 1 shilling, and there was always someone who would buy it. A shilling would be worth close to 5 Euros now -- I've compared things I could buy back then for a shilling to how much they'd cost now.

I'll have a lot to say about the turf and the depots in a later post. For now I'll just try to explain the picture above. The picture was taken on a snowy day sometime in the late 50's or early 60's. If we looked out of the back window that you saw in an earlier photo, and looked slightly to the left we were looking down on the roof of the depot. The picture was taken from the lane beside our flat in Gardiner Street, looking towards the back of Rutland Street School. If that smallish block of flats weren't there you'd be able to see the school. To the left you can see the backs of the houses along Summerhill, and that slope that you can see is The 27 Steps leading from Summerhill to The Diamond. To the right and slightly out of picture is The Diamond and if you could look to the right you would also see the back of Nannie's street (Sean McDermott Street). The pram was those kids transport for lugging home the 8 stone sack of turf.

Marie also made mention of Jon's. This was a shop on Summerhill. Jon's was one of those shops that seemed to sell everything. You could buy sweets, toys and even some cheap jewellery which was grand as I used to buy my present there for Ma on Mother's Day. Jon's also played a part in my rather short-lived career as a criminal.

But you don't want to hear all that now... enjoy Marie's memories first.

Do drop back... there's a lot of stories, sad and funny yet to be told. This could go on for a very long time, so I hope you dear reader have lots of patience.

Soon. And thanks again Marie.