Updated: Apr 22, 2022
I'm sorry I never knew your full name!
Paddy looked after the park in front of where I lived. One glorious summer when I was a teenager I had a job working with Paddy. He taught me so much about what he would describe as 'figuring'!
Excerpt from True Tales - My book of notable experiences!
I had never spoken with Paddy; I had seen him driving the tractor but never been introduced to him. On the day I walked in Golders Hill Park and asked if they had any summer jobs, Paddy had been off. The supervisor had hired me on the spot. I looked tall, strong, and since I lived right by the Heath, I was one employee that he could probably expect to arrive on time!
It was not that Paddy was not punctual, he just had his own rhythm, and if, for instance, his jalopy would not start, then Paddy's job on the Heath would have to wait until the problem with his vehicle was solved. Paddy drove a Reliant Robin, which despite the name, was not that reliable. The car was made of fiberglass and had a tiny engine and three wheels. This meant that legally the vehicle was classified as a motorbike. The road tax was only £16, as opposed to £40 per annum for a car. It also delivered a 70 mpg fuel economy, which back in 1973 was phenomenal. The little secret that Paddy kept was that he had never actually passed his driving test for a car. He knew how to drive a tractor; he had learned as a boy back in Derry, or Londonderry as King James had forced his ancestors to call it after they stole the land in the 1600s. Back in 1975, Paddy could get away with this; it was not so much that he was deceiving anyone; they had just never asked to see his license.
I walked into the yard past the Reliant that looked as if it were about to topple over. It was parked on a very slanted area beside the path. Paddy was seated in the hut's shadows, a tin mug of tea in his hands, and his eyes almost closed. At first, I thought that Paddy might be asleep until I reached the door, and Paddy said.
"Sit yourself down. I am just finishing my tea and contemplating what we need to get done today."
The sunlight from the door brilliantly lit the wisps of steam that rose from Paddy's mug as if it were a magical brew.
"If you want a tea, there's another mug on the shelf by the 'lectric kettle, you can use the teabag that I saved beside it. There's at least another good cup in it."
I hardly ever drank tea, but I thought it would be best to join Paddy in this ritual.
"So, the supervisor tells me that you live in one of the grand houses that look out on this land."
"I do. My parents live at number 67 Hampstead Way, just at the end of that path."
I pointed to the path that crosses the front of the yard. Anxious to prove that I could handle manual work, I added.
"Last summer, I rode my bike past here every day on my way down to Camden Town and the road sweeping depot in Arlington Road, next to that pub called The Locomotive."
"I know exactly where you mean, right across the road from the hostel."
I left it there, not wanting to pry into Paddy's past and why he should be familiar with the working man's hostel, feeling a little self-conscious that to relate a location by the nearest pub was a cliché that could offend my new colleague. As if reading his mind, Paddy says.
"I don't touch the tipple any longer. My doctor says it's not good for my diabetes, and the missus says she wants a few more years out of me, so I had better listen to what the nice man says."
Paddy and I then sat in silence for what may have been ten minutes. It could have been more; it could have been less. Stepping into life with Paddy was crossing into a different world. Things happened in their 'good time'; if a task took longer, then so be it. It was a different way of seeing the world, but it made sense. How could a job be done quicker if it took longer than expected? So that might mean the cricket pitches' grass was cut a day or two later; it did not matter. Grass grew relatively slowly.
Paddy was a big man, at least six foot three, and one of those people who seemed to carry their bulk as if it weighed less than others. Paddy was really very strong. I once saw him lift a tree that that fallen across the path as if he had some sort of super-human strength. Paddy's solutions were always preceded by plenty of 'figuring'. Paddy had just looked at the problem for a good five minutes before he just stepped forward and grabbed the trunk. He did not lift it, but he rolled it so that a limb of the tree that was standing straight up toppled to one side, gravity assisting Paddy better than any line or tool. The trunk twisted and broke away from the stump. The whole move happened so quickly and deftly that it looked like a magic trick, a sleight of hand. Paddy stepped back with a satisfied smile and said.
"Now the heavy lifting is out of the way, let's get the tractor, and we can drag it away."