Big thank you from

Pre War Civil Service antics.

by THE RAMBLER - Part Two - 19/07/02

I didn't know anything about cricket when I was translated from life on the farm to a desk in a Belfast office, but Ruric Harwood, a renowned cricketer from Waringstown, who was a senior clerk in the same office, soon gave me a demonstration of catching, at which he was an expert.

As I have already explained, we had no canteen. Instead, the cleaner, an ex-serviceman called McCoubrey used to brew a cuppa in the heating chamber and retail it at 'two D' (two old pence) a cup. Weather permitting, we strolled outside into a small quadrangle. There, Ruric took on all challengers in the art of catching cups (or mugs). One was permitted to sling a vessel at him from any angle, high or low, and he undertook to replace any breakages. I never saw him drop one!

He had the art of scooping up a flying object at ground level perfected. Occasionally, outside working hours of course, (and in the absence of Mr Irwin), he demonstrated the flying 'cup' diversion indoors.


I can still see his agile fist sliding along the lino floor with an intact drinking vessel being gleefully tossed in the air, and caught a second time, (the batsman's menace on the green).

Another lesson which 'rookies' were given by ex-service colleagues, was how to march, in step, along York Street and Royal Avenue towards 'the junction' (of High Street and Castle Street).

We learnt that different regiments had different marches, slow for the 'Skins' and quick for the 'Ulster Rifles', (or maybe it was he other way round):

There was no tolerance for country dandering. And, oh boy! was there rivalry between the various groups.

We had at least one ex-Sgt Major, but there was no barrack-square bellowing on Royal Avenue.

Incidentally, our office was close to the Co-Op where there ' was an upstairs restaurant with an orchestra playing - the famous Orphesus.

That was a treat compared with the boil- er room. On pay day, we patronised it. A pound event a heck of a long way pre-war -240 old pence maybe ten lunches, or at, least six or eight.

My musical pal, Fred, often recalls the antics of the organ grinder who entertained us at Frederick Street, or tried to. Bill Irwin had other ideas and the poor fellow had hardly got going until Strathdee, our messenger, was out to hunt him, at Irwin's command.


Harwood did courier between our office and the buroo at Corporation Street (who paid what
what we authorised). He kept bribing the organ grinder. "But sure they'll only chase me, Mister!" "Well can't you till give us a tune till they do?" (Ruric kept the fun going).

He even brought in a clockwork mouse and sent the lassies in the Registry up the walls (literally). Never missed a bar.

Don't let me convey the impression that assessing was all play. On the contrary, we had work-sheets to keep and output was closely monitored.

Coming straight from college we schoolboy entrants easily outstripped our ex-service colleagues. That caused them anxiety, and, eventually, to a 'near-strike' crisis:

Head Office applied too much pressure. Happily for HQ the staff weren't organised. But a stalwart called Joe Patton was working at it, and gradually we were all roped in to a staff association and the powers-that-be no longer got their own way.

A decade later, I ended up on the Executive, and later still, I became The Chairman. The Whitley Council, which emerged, had teeth. And we needed it. But that is history.

Ulster Star