Television was somewhat different in Ireland in the ’70s.
Basically there were two channels – RTE 1 and Network 2 [now RTE 2]. If you had a television set you could receive both with just a coat hanger stuck in the aerial socket.
However there were four other channels – BBC 1, BBC 2, UTV and Channel 4 which everyone wanted to watch, but to do so you needed a massive fuck-off aerial on the roof. The Dublin skyline was dominated with these ugly yokes, some reaching up to fifty feet and more. Even then reception was crap.
The solution was Piped Television. Officially it was Cable Television but everyone referred to it as The Pipe [or in the Dublin vernacular, Da Poipe]. The idea was to build a massive lattice tower anything up to 200 feet high, stick an array of aerials on the top and then distribute the signals via coaxial cables tacked to everyone’s eaves. Because of some daft regulation, each tower could only serve 500 homes, so an estate of 1000 houses would need two of those monstrous towers.
Now I cannot exaggerate the excitement the erection of a “pipe tower” would cause. Immediately the office would be flooded with calls from people wanting to know if and when they were getting The Pipe. Usually the process would take a few months before houses were actually connected but for some strange reason the sales staff were ordered to tell people that they’d have it within two weeks. That was the start of the problems!
While the tower was being erected a team would canvass the area to find out who exactly wanted the service [nearly everyone] and whether they minded having cables run past their house. There were some who stated that there was no fucking way they were going to tolerate any cables anywhere near their properties, for religious reasons or just because they were bloody minded. The latter were known as Stoppers in the trade.
The next part of the process was where I stepped in. I was given all the canvass sheets and had to find ordnance maps for the area. If the ordnance maps were out of date I’d have to track down the builder to get plans from them. Not an easy task.
Having gotten the plans my next step was to physically survey the area on foot. Basically it was a case of discovering all the details that weren’t on the maps such as the height and shape of buildings, and any obstacles in the way of cabling. This part of the process was relatively simple except for one thing – the residents had been wound up to fever pitch at the prospect of getting “da telly” and were on the lookout for any stranger in their estate, as we were now well within the two weeks promised by the sales staff. So I was frequently accosted by people wanting to know if I was The Pipe Man and when the fuck where they getting The Pipe as promised. Of course I became very adept at lying and would invent various reasons for my presence, usually that I was from Ordnance Survey or was a architectural student. Either way I’d tell ’em I had fuck all to do with Da Telly or Da Poipe and to stop annoying me.
I would then design the system, deciding what cables went where, what equipment was required for each property and where amplifiers and power supplies were to be mounted. I would then pass the plans and bills of material over to the contractors to actually start installing everything.
As far as I was concerned, that was the calm before the storm.
To be continued [as they say]