by The Rambler13/04/01
"Twenty-fourth of May The Queen's birthday.
" If we don't get a holiday we'll all run way
THAT juvenile jingle immediately sprang to mind when I heard the announcement about Bill Clinton's forthcoming visit to Queen's, on 24th May.
'Empire Day' it became when the Sovereign's realm was an empire, so big that the sun never set on it. Changed times!
'Empire Day' was a public holiday when I joined the civil service but, of course, Victoria, whose birthday had originally been celebrated on 24th May, was long since dead.
George the Fifth was on the throne, but not for long. Soon came the 'close down' of the BBC radio programme with respectful silence, except for the `tolling' (like a bell) of the sombre announcement 'The King's life is moving slowly towards its close.' (John Snagg I think).
It became somewhat monotonous and wearing after 24 hours or so, and was never repeated not even for the demise of George the Sixth. (Of course he died more unexpectedly, while the present Queen was in Kenya or some other distant realm).
The death of George V, circa December 1935, presaged the drama of Edward VIIIth's abdication and his dramatic valedictory statement, as he eventually boarded a ship as plain 'The Windsor' and became a voluntary exile.
I heard it all - especially his confession that he could not face life without 'the lady he loved,' Mrs. Simpson.
When George V died, the blinds of the office were immediately pulled down, they were the old-fashioned roller blinds but we carried on working until the day of the funeral when we got a holiday.
But back to the Empire, and the important trade benefit. Empire goods enjoyed preferential import duties when Britain had a free hand. 'Imperial presence' was the official term
There was no EFTA (European Free Trade Area, EEC or any of those inhibitions). Empire goods got preference
To boost empire (now commonwealth) trade, strong promotion was organised
There was an annual 'Empire week', and empire goods displays with prizes for the best dressed shop windows
With World Trade now controlled by GATT, and Britain a member of the EU, this country hardly has a word to say nowadays as regards import duties and quotas
Gone are the days such as in 1932 when Britain slapped import duties on Free State goods after DeValera defaulted in the matter of paying over land purchase annuities and Dev retaliated
Those were the days when crossing the border was a problem, with customs men and women prying everywhere
Now only animal health regulations continue in force. Sadly, at the moment, those are very much in the news with international unease over who disinfects containers thoroughly and who doesn't
Here is a tail piece (Not a sheep or lamb's tail let me assure you)
At one time, I kept the UK book from which Ulster manufacturers got up-to-date global tariff information
Quite a book I can assure readers, with every country and every category of manufacture listed and identifiable. I did not get my salary for nothing
When time came to import a car into the Free State temporarily on a bond as the law required, I requisitioned the forms from HM and Eire Customs, with whom I liaised daily, filled them up methodically, and set off for the Lifford border
I already had a Free State shopkeeper, near the border, who was prepared to sign the bond
I'll never forget the disgust registered by the Free State Customs man when I presented my 'apple-pie' forms
Those are no b- use," he grunted, as he rumpled them up and dumped them in a bin
"Here, take those over to that guy in the hut." The guy had a duncher cap on him, a brazier, and occupied a kind of watchman's shelter
Over I went with my handful of blank forms. A few terse questions, make of vehicle, registered number, chassis number, owner's name and address, etc and a lot of indecipherable squiggles on other sections of forms. "Here sign there."
"That will be two bob. Take those back to yer man."
Back to 'yer man'. "Who is signing for you? Jimmy Devine? Right take them over to him and get him to sign. He knows what to do."
Back to the customs man with Jimmy's signature, a few bumps of an official rubber stamp - a signature and a gruff direction. "Right here's your pass book. Away you go!"
Customs clearance completed at the Camel's Hump, circa 1944, and another green civil servant educated!