Firin’ on the Eight [poem by John O’Brien, 1954]

[Editor: This poem by John O’Brien was published in The Parish of St Mel’s and Other Verses, 1954.]

Firin’ on the Eight

He has his poky workshop at the far end of the town,
A shabby sort of pocket thing that’s frail and tumbledown;
’Twill hold a one-twelve wheel-base, but if it measures more
The lamps are hard up to the wall- — he cannot shut the door.
On the vacant block beside him are wrecked cars on the dump,
With thistles growing through the wheels and spiders in the sump;
And over all’s the shingle, with the obvious written clear:
“Spare parts for every make of car. Chas Butson, Engineer”.

You never see a job about except the old affair,
He drives for hire round the town in chronic disrepair.
She’s had it, truly had it — still, she earns the bite and sup,
And while she waits outside the door the bonnet’s always up,
While swallowed to the pockets, liquidated to his rear,
And tinkering with her innards is Chas Butson, Engineer.
An artist he in overalls with grease upon the same
So wastefully abundant you could tell the maker’s name.
Withal he is a cheery soul and grins at passers-by,
Blacked out with grime and engine-oil save teeth and whites of eye;
As to the curt but friendly-meant, “How’s things,” he answers “Great —
Everything’s in order, son, and firing on the eight.

“Firin’ on the eight of them, hittin’ on the lot,
Never let the other fellow know she’s not too hot.
Don’t squeal about your troubles, always keep them out of sight
Beneath the little bonnet, son, and clip the bonnet tight.
There’s no one interested, no one wants to hear you moan
About your private aches and pains — they want to tell their own.
You got to get your ups and downs, you got to hump the load,
The same as what you’ve got to face your punctures on the road;
You’ve got to get your issue, and you’ll get it, don’t forget,
So get them all together, get it over, then you’re set.
That’s common sense, now ain’t it? — Wipe the whole thing off the slate,
Maintain your rubber healthy and keep firin’ on the eight.

“Firin’ on the eight of them and sparking fair and square,
A sticking piston now and then is neither here nor there;
You got to get your bother, that is fate, so there you are,
There’s something wrong with every man and every motor-car.
And that don’t go for common jobs the likes of me and you —
The jokers in the pricey class they get their troubles too;
They get them or they think they do: a nut that won’t behave,
A knock they only think they hear which drives them to the grave,
A songbird in the body work which gets across their souls.
Ask the cove that drives the Cadillac, the guy that runs the Rolls —
There’s something wrong with all of ’em, they’re only human, see,
And they can do their big end in the same as you and me.
Then what’s the use of fretting for a knock you can’t locate,
So while you hang together, son, keep firing on the eight.

“Firin’ on the eight of ’em, ticking over nice,
A spot of bother now and then is always worth the price;
It keeps you sort of used to having everything go wrong,
And don’t you just appreciate the break that comes along.
Here’s me aboard the old ’un with snooty sort of fare
When phut she goes, shuts up, konks out ten miles from anywhere.
I’m tinkering here and tinkering there and tinkering out of luck
And listening to the silly cove inquiring am I stuck,
And giving out his crook advice: it’s hard to take, but, see,
I never go the language more’n ’solutely necessary —
You can’t get booked for thinking things ’twould never do to speak.
You feel inclined to scrap the junk and push it in the creek
With snooty underneath it, then you fluke upon the spot;
You never know just what you did, but bang! she’s on the lot,
Firin’ on the eight again, she’s only got the four,
But eight it sounds more classy when you’re talking motor-lore.

“So firin’ on the eight she is and just touching forty-five
And pulling like a thirty horse, she’s fun to be alive;
You never felt your heart so gay, your spirits half as bright,
The scenery is crack-jack and everything is right,
Half throttle out across the flats and coasting down the drop,
The boot shoved through the floorboard and she takes her hills on top.
You never knew her run so sweet-no, never, s’elp me bob —
With all she’s got stuck into it and singing on the job.
‘She’s runnin’ nice,’ you tell the bloke, but all he does is grunt —
He ain’t got the remotest of what’s going on in front.

“Yes, half these coves who drive around they don’t know what is what,
Three thousand sparks a minute, son, delivered on the dot.
Them’s figures, ain’t they? Spare me days, you don’t know where you are:
It’s split split seconds split again that times a motor-car.
To blokes like them it’s nuts and bolts and gears that make the whole;
Not on your life, for I maintain a motor’s got a soul.
She’s got a soul, too right she has, and, what is evident,
She’s got the box of tricks they call a woman’s temperament;
She’s got the lot, and listen, boy, if I’d a singer’s tongue
I’d sing the song of motor-car which no one yet has sung —
I’d pep it up a coupla thou, hone polished on the note
With orchestra of moving parts that makes the motor mote.
See what I mean? Wha’s that? — You’re afraid you’re running late;
I’m busy too meself. So long! But keep her on the eight.”



Published in:
John O’Brien. The Parish of St Mel’s and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1954

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