I was working in a textile printing firm in Portadown when a friend told me that there was a job going in the Department of Enjoyment, better known as the D.O.E.. It was the D.O.E. water department and they were looking for people to work alongside fitters and electricians. I mentioned earlier that it was always embarrassing for me to fill in application forms for employment as I had no qualifications or exams passed to write down.
On this occasion my family friend told me to turn up at a location for an interview with the plant manager, I had never met the man before but he seemed very keen to give me the job. I am sure I had to fill in some documentation but I cannot remember doing it. My official title was an electrician’s helper. The man I was to work with was around my own age, he was a very friendly intelligent man and during the next four years we would become good friends.
There is nothing special in becoming good friends with someone except this man was a Roman Catholic and before my conversion to Christ I had no time for Roman Catholics. The truth is I had no bitterness or hatred towards this man whatsoever. The old had gone and the new was still working inside me, he came from a countryside background and had not been exposed to the things that were happening in the towns between rival factions.
We would sometimes talk about our different experiences and beliefs but we would never argue or become contentious towards one another. During our conversation one day he asked me could I drive, he seemed a little surprised when I answered no. He asked me if I would like to learn and I said I would but the driving lessons were quite expensive and I had no car of my own. He was driving a relatively new car and offered to let me learn in his car.
He lived not far from Armagh and he got me the forms for my provincial driving licence, I got the L plates and away we went. On one occasion I overheard another man on the plant where we were based tell him that he was not right in the head letting me learn to drive in his nearly new car but he persisted with me until he was issued with a works van and I learned to drive in that.
We really had a great time working together, I cannot share some of the things we got up to during those four years as to the best of my knowledge he is now the boss over the electrical and maintenance department in a different location. If by chance he should ever read this he will know some of the things we got up to and the friendship that grew between a Catholic and a Protestant.
During those four years I can only remember two occasions when things got a little tense between us. The first occasion was at Christmas time when the men from the plant would gather in the Ashburn Hotel for their festive drink. When he invited me along I refused to go and for some reason he felt aggrieved, I had not previously shared anything with him about the domestic violence that I witnessed while growing up and the fact that alcohol was to blame as far as I was concerned. He had no idea how much I detested it.
He did not want to take no for an answer and was insisting that there was no harm in taking a drink, this began to irritate me to the point where I asked him if he had ever seen his father choking his mother and beating her black and blue. He snapped back at me that he never had and seemed genuinely offended that I would suggest such a thing for his father to do. My reply was short and to the point. I told him that if he had witnessed his father doing to his mother what my father did to my mother he would perhaps see alcohol in a different light. His persistence came to an end.
The other occasion where a little tension arose was when one day he asked me to completely clean out and tidy the van while he sat and did nothing to help. I don’t know why this really bothered me because he would ask me to dig trenches for cables and track walls for electrical wires and I never once had an issue doing it but for some reason this annoyed me. I have always tried to be a conscientious worker and I got stuck into this van. Everything came out of it one way or another; any delicate stuff was set out the rest was thrown out with attitude. When it was emptied and swept clean I felt it would only be right to wash it out, I will not lie because what I did was not really to purify the van but in a totally childish way get my own back for him making me clean the van.
I got some very potent bleach and applied it to the inside of the van without diluting it down. There is an old Scottish saying when it comes to trying to describe something that is not easily described, “Its better felt than telt”. On this occasion it was a case of, “It is better smelt than telt”. I put all the stuff back in as quickly as I could because I could hardly breathe inside the van, in fact it was probably dangerous to do so. I popped my head into the maintenance building and told him it was done and then I disappeared. I had timed my work so that it would be finished at quitting time.
I went home with a real sense of achievement and a one up attitude but it was not too long until I went on a guilt trip for what I had done, it was childish and possibly dangerous. I was not really looking forward to seeing my friend, or possibly my former friend the next morning. I was always in the maintenance building before him and was waiting nervously for his arrival, I heard the van door close and in he came.
His eyes locked on to me like an Exocet missile ready to take out its target and he called me names that I had not been called for a while and then he smiled at me. He then told me how he had to drive home from Lurgan to the other side of Armagh with all the windows down and how he was almost choked with fumes and frozen at the same time. He did ask me why I did what I did but I could not give him a sensible answer. The reality in life is that sometimes something or someone gets under our skin and we may react in ways and do things that do not make sense. I think I grew up a little bit more after that experience.
After four years I had to leave the Department of Enjoyment as a certain lady prime minister introduced cut backs and spending in government agencies. When I was leaving my Roman Catholic friend presented me with a beautiful family bible from the workers on the plant.
We sometimes hear people talk about swings and roundabouts; I left the D.O.E. on Friday and started back in the textile factory that I had previously worked in on the Monday. I had seen my old job advertised in the paper just before I was about to finish in the D.O.E. and went over to Portadown to get an application form. I met the printing manager and asked him for an application form and he asked me if I could start as soon as my other job finished. No form to fill in, no visit to the unemployment agency, no running about trying to get work. I thank God for his faithfulness and provision for my life both then and now.
Some people have been very kindly contacting me through our church web site to encourage me to keep writing my story, thank you. My intention is to keep writing until there is nothing more to write. Hopefully that will be a while.