Monday, June 19, 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.