Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Celtic Roots Craic 68 – 'R'aper blades and the 'glass hammer'

Tilley lamp (as sold in Redmond Jefferson's store)

A wee bit a’ history here. When I was about 15, or 16, I used to work in the summer holidays in a hardware shop in the centre of Lisburn – called Redmond Jefferson. Redmond is from the same Teutonic root as Raymond – i.e. Raedmund, meaning ‘mighty and wise protector’ – but that’s just by the way!

Actually, a year and a half ago I found myself in Poland – in a town called Mikolow – pronounced Mikov – not far from Krakow. We were involved in a small building project in a poor area of town, and some of the local men came out to help us. I was mostly cutting up wood with a circular saw and one of the locals joined me to help hold the wood steady. We had no common language – I’d learned only a couple of words of Polish and he knew no English. 

After a few hours of repeating ‘dobre’, meaning good, ‘dziekuje’thank you, and ‘tak’, meaning yes, I got one of our Polish friends to translate for me and asked my helpful friend what his name was – it was Rajmund – spelled with a ‘j’ and a ‘u’ – then I told him my name was the same and he was delighted!

Anyway, I used to work for this firm called Redmond Jefferson. They supplied just about everything you could imagine in the building and agricultural line. A farmer would come in and ask for ‘r'aper blades’ – which were sharpened metal triangles which formed the teeth on a reaping machine. 

There was quite a dodgy store room on the second floor, where the floor was weak and sloped towards the middle and you had to walk carefully around the edges of it. This was where they kept rare items such as glass globes for Tilley lamps, carefully wrapped up in newspaper dated 1931! No it wasn’t the most up-to-date hardware store!

In the hardware shop I learned all about plumbing fittings such as male or female 1/2” bends, or tees, or a half-round ‘bastard’ file – that’s what it’s called! I even learned to cut glass, when the normal glass-cutter was on holiday. You had to lean a large sheet of glass on the edge of the bench, then let it drop flat onto the bench, which worked because the air underneath created a cushion and the glass didn’t break.

One of the jobs I hated most was being asked to go for a stone of lime – this had to be scooped into a paper bag by leaning into a metal bin and you ended up breathing in the lime dust – not pleasant. 

On one occasion a customer asked for an 8ft by 4ft sheet of steel, which was leaning against the wall in the yard. I carefully pulled it upright and leaned it against my back, before carrying it to the customer’s trailer a few yards away. When I went into the office to find out the price of this metal sheet I discovered it weighed 2-3 hundredweight (that’s about 150 kgs!). After that I didn’t volunteer to carry any more sheets of steel on my own!

The other employees were quite adept at disappearing for long periods – skivin’ off, it’s called – and I would often end up trying to serve two customers at once at opposite ends of the shop. Of course, when you were the new lad the older hands had to try to ‘take a hand out of you’ by sending you off to another hardware store to borrow such non-existent items as a ‘glass hammer’, or for  the ‘long weight’. I never actually fell for any of these fool’s errands, but it never stopped them from trying. 

One of the regular questions they’d ask was, ‘Is yer da an Orangeman?’ As my father was not a member of any Orange Lodge, I said, ‘No.’ What they really meant was, ‘Are you a Protestant?’ – so, of course they then assumed I was Roman Catholic. Took me a while to work that one out!

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