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Belfast in the Grand Oul' Times

by Peter McAuley


Reg, Sorry I will not be able to make it on 1 June for the anniversary hooley. Perhaps I will raise a glass in quiet contemplation to friends and colleagues past (probably in the Kitchen Bar, seems as an appropriate spot as any).

Anyway the realisation that it has been 10 years, has spurred me to make a start on my 17 years with HMSO Belfast. No doubt there will be further reminiscences in the future covering other memories. Perhaps I should start with my recruitment and my times in Supply Division, Belfast (1979-1985).

Letís begin with where it all started. January 1979 (my A-level year), having realised I was not likely to set the academic world on fire; I decided it was time to set myself up for some gainful employment. So in March of that year I found myself called to Belfast for interview for a clerical officerís post with the Imperial Civil Service. The interview was to be held in Windsor House, which someone conveniently blew up the morning of my interview (perhaps a sign of times to come). Having picked my way through the debris I was able to ascertain that the interviews had been moved to Olivetree House.

Upon completion of the interview I was given three options of where I would like to be placed if successful. Option 1: Inland Revenue (hazardous for your health). Option 2: Ministry of Defence (even more hazardous for your health in 70ís Belfast). Option 3: HMSO (first thought, is it a boat?). After it had been explained I opted for HMSO as the lesser of the three evils. So it came to pass that on 22 October 1979 I reported to Chichester House (latterly to become IDB House) in Belfast to start my career with HMSO. I reported to Maureen Kane in Personnel Services and Finance (PS&F). It was here I met another new start Judy Moralee (Prentice). Judy was assigned to PS&F where Maureen and a youthful Jeannie Eastwood held court and I was dispatched to Supplies.

In those days Supplies was divided into two sections. There was Supply 1 which dealt with stock items and forms. Then there was Supply 2 which dealt with special items, office machinery and repairs (OMTS). My job was to process the stock order forms (SC101s) for all Northern Ireland Departments. These were edited and sent to our warehouse in Newtownards for filling on a daily basis. I was also responsible for surplus and deficiency reporting and for replenishing our warehouse stocks, mainly from Manchester but occasionally from Alperton (mill paper if I recall). In later years these requests were input onto a temperamental computer (the wind up, wind down variety).

My colleagues in S1 were Elizabeth Hood (who had the misfortune of training me) and Marjorie McAllister. There was a vacant post which was eventually filled by John OíPrey and later on by Margaret Kerr. The redoubtable Cathy Carnduff (Iíll just have small vermouth) was the EO. Across the room in S2 Jim Hocking was the EO (seconded to sunny Belfast from Norwich). His staff included Ruby Walker, Phil Gormley, Joanne Rogan and Daphne Donnan. Doug Biscombe (ex MOD and a real gent) was the then HEO who oversaw Supplies.

Next door to us were our print colleagues (PP). They included such notaries as Tony Lindsay, Antrim Glenn, Norman Armstrong, Dan Connor, John Straghan, Walter Roberts, Brian Watt, Maura Fitzpatrick (who enlisted me into the ranks of the CPSA), Larry Gould and Alex McCartney (who tragically died at a relatively young age). Brian Brown was the HTO in charge of print.

There was a reprographic section headed up by Michael Blair (HMSOís answer to Josef Locke). He was aided and abetted by Sheila Herron (who mothered us all), Margaret Linden and my old partner in crime Roy Dubois (still editor of Belfast Gazette). Many a happy afternoon was spent with him and Mrs Fitzpatrick in the Ulster Tavern and Kitchen Bar. No doubt Mr McCrum and Mr Walker will have some hazy memories of such spots (I am sure there is an article in there somewhere about the pubs of Belfast, Norwich etc).

There was a reprographic finishing section that had such characters as Ray Megahey (Belfastís own Santa Claus), Lofty (canít remember his second name) and Noel Gunn who now works for Central Print Unit in the Stormont Estate. It also had a selection of beautiful young ladies; I seem to remember a Patricia and Maureen in particular. The Bookshop Accounts had the two Margaretís, Anderson and Gill. The latter tragically died at an early age. In the Bookshop itself, there was Tommy Roberts, Ted Rainey, Charlie McGrillen, Billy Stevenson and eventually Dan Lavery (now Mr tSO Ireland). Then there were the three typists Sylvia, Alice and Gabrielle.

The warehouse in Newtownards was looked over by Tommy Pentland and Willie Watson. Terry Scott was in charge of OMTS. Warehouse staff included such luminaries as Davy McKee, Paddy Toner and Ronnie Spence (an early day Mr Bling).

In charge of the motley crew that was HMSO Belfast, was Bob Barnard (Director) and Phil Collins his deputy. They were ably supported by their PS Carmel Turley (McGeown).

Well that was the class of 79 (as best as I can remember). There are many other memories such as my days in Bookshop Accounts and Publishing. Also my times with CPSA and my visits to Norwich, the other regions and the characters I have met. These can wait for another day. In the meantime, happy anniversary.

Peter McAuley
HMSO Belfast: October 1979 to December 1996

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