I went for my interview in RTE.
It was a very informal affair, more of a chat than an interview. I discovered what Relays was – cable television, which I had never heard of. We covered such grounds as what the work entailed [he was quite vague about that] and what I should wear [my scruffiest corner of my wardrobe]. As I was leaving I remembered an important question – what were the working hours? Ah! says he, quarter past nine to half five but don’t worry about that: turn up around ten and you’ll find the lads in the canteen.
Work in Relays was almost the complete opposite to what I had experienced in Pye. I was rarely in the office and spent my time on the road around Dublin. I had been given a Volkswagen Beetle [with a large RTE logo on the doors] and a ladder and spent my days slinging ladders against houses and working on the cable equipment. No more clocking on or off, and loads of fresh air. At times, too much fresh air when it was cold or raining. Timekeeping was non-existent as we generally started around ten, collecting work sheets and equipment at the office and then heading out on the road. We finished the day when the job was done and not before.
The work was dirty and dangerous. Dirty because slinging aluminium ladders around turns your hands black, not to mention wading around muddy places and dangerous because we worked at the tops of ladders often around live power cables and also a lot of work on railway lines. Health and Safety were foreign concepts.
Cable television was in great demand at the time. It offered customers reasonably decent reception of six channels – RTE 1 and 2, BBC 1 and 2, UTV and Channel 4. Initially it was fours channels as RTE 2 and Channel 4 came after I started working there. Now people could start buying colour televisions and they began appearing in houses everywhere. The sight of an RTE vehicle would send people into a frenzy and I was frequently mobbed by people demanding to know when they were getting “The Pipe” as it was generally known.
After a year or so I had to go for another interview. I had been employed on a “casual” basis and I was to be made permanent. By law this meant I had to be interviewed for my own job which had been advertised in the papers. I remember turning up for the interview and having to wait. There was another bloke waiting wearing his best suit and tie and he gave me a very smug smirk as I was in dirty shirt and jeans [having just come off the road]. He reckoned I hadn’t a chance. He didn’t get the job and I did. I was now permanent [and pensionable] and couldn’t be sacked unless a) I got a prison sentence for something, b) got a staff member pregnant or c) got caught without a television licence.
My job changed then. I was given the job of planner. They had some fancy title for it but my job was to get ordinance maps and then design the layout of the cable system. First I would have to survey the estate [or wherever] then draw up the plans. They were then printed off and given to the contractors who installed the system to my specifications. They would then hand it back to me for commissioning. Lots of indoor and outdoor work and a roaring chance to fiddle travel and subsistence allowances.
I loved the job as I was now working on my original love — remember how I wanted to be a Cartographer?
Planning a cable system involved enormous amounts of tedious calculations. I would fill A4 sheets of paper with long columns of calculations. In the mid eighties I bought myself a Sinclair Spectrum home computer. I realised I could programme it to do my calculations for me. The program worked and I expanded it to do all sorts of fancy stuff. All I had to do was feed in information from the maps and it would virtually design the system for me. I could do a week’s work in a couple of hours. I kept this little secret to myself which meant I had tons of free time to myself and the family [as by now Herself had appeared on the scene as had Daughter]. To all intents and purposes I had the perfect job.
There were however storm clouds appearing on the horizon.