Cable guy

First, the declaration of self-interest: the author is a friend, a fellow writers’ group member, a personal inspiration in how to persist with the pen.

‘Tony’ – Michael Thurlow to me – was a cable guy and this chronicle offers us an insight into the lives of Everyman. The Marlay Man, a memoir of three decades in the cable TV business, takes us on a journey of repairing cable television connections and the accompanying adventures, in a most personal, comedic way.

From the story of a toaster and a trip switch, to the curious and numerous incidents of Gardaí stopping him for advice about how to connect to Channel 4 to watch horse racing, the cable guy has seen it all.

He was summonsed to court for obstructing Gardaí while in pursuit of a felon. He tells about the ‘Tenters’ of the Liberties, the disadvantaged, the affluent and sometimes the dangerous along his routes in Dublin. His rounds also brought opportunities to provide service and sympathy to the elderly in Dublin’s leaflier suburbs, where insights into human loneliness are moving. It’s all told visually, wryly and with atmosphere.

Humour punctuates many of the incidents. A colleague of Tony’s and Gardaí call to doors in Neilstown, Clondalkin about crimes of self-connecting to cable TV. A lady opens her door.

‘Wha?’ she says.

‘I have to tell you, madam, that you are in contravention of the 1990 Communications and Wireless Telegraphy Act,’ says the chief inspector.

‘Whahhh?’ she repeats.

Tony’s colleague tells her she’s tapped into the pipe illegally. The woman looks around at them and peers out at the driver in the car. ‘Is dar all?’ she drawls, ‘Jaysus, I tor it was something fuckin’ serious.’ She closes the door, then reopens it. ‘Yis fuckin woke me up for dat?!’

The cable guy’s career spans many companies, as one was taken over by another (Premier, Dublin Cablesystems, Cablelink, Chorus-NTL), and the evolution of technology throughout. We don’t think of the wires and the frequency waves that bring pictures to our TVs but the cable guy studied, learnt and adapted to change throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s.

The primary trunk network, for example, was a super conducting network that Eircom installed (probably in the mid-80s) on part of their network. In consequence, all systems were joined together so everyone could watch the same high quality signal through a central processing centre. Signal could be sent across low-loss cable to hubs, which could insert community TV for distribution. Local aerials were removed. We never think of such developments and how they change our forms of entertainment.

Each chapter is introduced with the events of that year, a captivating way of bringing us back to the major political, social and cultural events of Ireland and the world. It places the episodes in a time tangibly, reminding us of events we might not have thought of for years.

Not only did ‘Tony’ repair television connections but he moved to different parts of the company, with humorous consequences such as his stint in customer service. His involvement with the trade union brought the fraught, the fiesty and the victorious episodes. Before TV, he earned his crust in bars, a flour mill and selling encyclopaedias. It’s all told here.

The cable TV repair world is portrayed as boozy, full of camaraderie, empathetic for those Tony and colleagues served, coming into contact as they did with the full gamut of life. The chronicle is compelling, hilarious and insightful, characterising and re-creating a Dublin we don’t seem to find so often now. This book is of equal character to the lives it brings alive in it pages.

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