18. A Letter From Oz
I received the following email from Bill Sullivan who lives in Kalgoorlie, Australia...
"The Trolley Buses - and other stories.
Kenny Gattiss is the owner of The Tiger, in Normanby. He’s my sister’s son, so I’m his uncle. All very unsurprising, except that we are about the same age, and we were, and still are, great friends. Lifetime friends.
I left England in 1974 when I was about thirty-one years old. I emigrated to Australia. If the truth be known, I probably left it, England that is, in 1963 when I joined the army. Life has been full of contradictions. I couldn’t wait to get away from Grangetown and South Bank, but I remember them both with great affection to this day.
Kenny is married to Ann and they have four fabulous children, Ann (the name runs in the family. Kenny’s sister is an Anne too) Allan, David and Martin. (Guess what one of the names of his first grandchild is?)
I wish I had nine lives. If I had I would have dedicated one to writing Kenny’s story. But I don’t want to deceive anyone. I know but a fraction of his story.
I was reminded of two of his stories when I looked at the TRTB section of this website. At one point in his much-varied career Kenny had got a job on the trolley busses. The first event threatened his new found career: the second event ended it.
Kenny was the bus conductor on this particular journey between North Ormesby and the Bull-Ring in Grangetown. Passing Cargo Fleet he knew that he needed to go to the toilet. The conductors and drivers had an arranged code with the bell. One to stop, two to go, three or four rings I think were for emergency and that the conductor is dismounting the vehicle. (Something like that.)
The story became confused after Kenny pressed one to stop the bus at the depot, and then a disputed number of rings to signal that he was getting off. That is not an unusual event as the buses passed the depot. As the bus slowed down, Kenny hopped off and raced into the depot toilet, had a pee, and then raced out again, only to see the trolley bus disappearing over the bridge into South Bank. (Ahhh for a Mobile phone.) Here he made a fatal error of judgement. Instead of calling for assistance back in the depot, he flagged down a red United bus, telling the driver, “Follow that trolley bus.” Unfortunately the story leaked out, much to the chagrin of TRTB, and the great delight of United management.
The disgrace was still almost pungent, when Kenny committed his final faux pas. He was on the petrol or diesel bus (whichever they were) one day, doing school bus duties. Perhaps banished to that duty in disgrace, who knows? Unfortunately for Kenny, he lets his heart rule his head. The inspector flagged the driver down and got on to check the kid’s tickets. The nominal charge was a penny, I think.
“Tickets please.” He called. As he progressed through the rows of seats he was met with a common response. “Haven’t got one mister.” “Haven’t got one mister.” The inspector went back to Kenny for an explanation. Fatally, for his TRTB career that is, Kenny replied. “You don’t think I’m going to take the pennies off the kiddies do you?”
I do hope you will forgive a little poetic licence in the above, but it is substantially true. Kenny became famous, to me anyway, for such escapades. Kenny once said to me when talking about Wilf Mannion, that, “He got better every year.” Then after a pregnant pause he would add, “After he retired.” As I said, Kenny owns ‘The Tiger’ in Normanby and he has sat and talked and shared a beer with Wilf, who is something of a hero to Kenny, so no disrespect was intended, but we love to embellish. “We’, being Slaggy Islanders or Cardboard City offspring.
One final note. (For now.) Pete Betts wrote an absolutely fabulous song that to me epitomises the people from Grangetown and South Bank, and I would hotly dispute that there are any meaningful differences. I wouldn’t dispute the rivalry though.
Pete’s song is ‘They don’t write them like that anymore.” Vin Garbutt does the definitive version of that song. I’ve sang since I was in St Mary’s primary school, and I’ve played guitar since I was about thirteen, but as long as my backside points south, I could never do the song as well as Vin, but I try and I put my heart and soul into it. The song deserves nothing less.
What has all this got to do with Kenny? Well Pete and Vin are friends of Kenny. Part of Pete’s song goes:
It's half past one in the morning, dad's started yawning,
He's got to be working by six,
A bored audience is watching while Kenny is botching,
And messing up easy card tricks,
Folk Music is so called because it is part of Folklore, so there are numerous versions of the lyrics to the song, but Kenny generously paid for me to go back to England to be with him for New Year’s Eve 2000, and as he knew that Vin was my absolute idol, he asked Vin and Pete and their families around for a New Year’s Eve party. Vin and Pete sang the song for me. The above are substantially the lyrics they sang. As for me. Well, I think it was Vin’s lovely wife that got the tissues for me.
Sorry, one more final note. I’ve just looked up Vin’s website, only to find that he has been ill and is still unable to work. Hopefully this ‘National Treasure’ will soon get well. He is dearly loved here in Australia and around the world.
Tuesday, 17 May 2005"