sorry for the long post but you might enjoy this story.
Apprentice Tony (Učedník Tóna)
It was a year following the war in September 1946 when, into the printshop – the den of 'masters of the black arts' arrived as an apprentice, one, Antonín švejda.
As he had a long Christian name we shortened it to Tony. He didn't mind and so it stuck. Tony's life was no bed of roses. He came from a poor Tábor family and even though he was keen they had no money for further schooling. However, as he excelled in grammar and the Czech language the owner of the print shop accepted him as an apprentice. And thus, there were three of us doing our apprenticeship. The oldest, Jarda made it known at every opportunity that he was the senior and us rookies had to take his orders. In addition, the accountant, who was not only the co-owner of the shop, but had served five years in the French Foreign Legion, ordered us around as if we were some kind of peasants in distant Africa. Tony trained to be a pressman and Jarda and I 'lorded' in the typesetting department. The hard part was that we both came from villages 10 and 14 km from town. From spring to fall it was fine to cycle to town but in winter months the old bus had trouble getting through the deep snow and we often overnighted in a small room in Tábor. (there is a picture of Frank and the guys in their rented room. Behind them is a window. Frank said they often watched a woman across the alley get changed – in her window. 'She never closed the blinds – She must have known we were all watching'! Petr) Our evenings we spent in various ways. Sometimes it was movies, other times the pub or a dance hall. Once, Tony even went to a séance to which the accountant had invited him. He didn't go too many times though – at one sitting he got scared out of his wits and never went again. Tony was a lad of many talents. As we started our training in '46 – after the war there was no money for further studies - we devoted our free time to activities in various sports and young men's associations that re-appeared in those years such as Sokol and Junák. Tony played volleyball and was skilled at table tennis, cycling and even gymnastics. He trained intensively in boxing which was very much in vogue and excelled in it. But he was unlucky with the girls that used to hang out with us and so spent his time in young folk activities such as singing or dancing. He played the guitar well and knew the many 'tramp' songs popular at the time.
He was also, rather unfortunate. While quite skilled in the print trade – bad luck often followed him. For instance his master had him print some posters. Tony's responsibility was to check the first proof and make any needed corrections. Since the master was not in the shop at the time, as we worked, we traded dirty jokes and I, by mistake, typeset: instead of 'PRESALE OF TICKETS' - 'ARSEHOLE OF TICKETS'
(this looks quite similar in Czech PREDPRODEJ vstupenek– PREDPRDEL vstupenek). Tony read it but didn't catch it. He turned on the press and printed a full run of 300 pieces which he then took to the bindery department. One cannot fully describe the subsequent uproar as the boss stormed in the pressroom and proceeded to beat Tony with the spoiled posters. I got flack as well, of course, and it had to be re-printed at our expense – 3 months wages – plus we had to do a number of hours unpaid overtime.
On another occasion he was carrying a form full of handset type for a news page. This was the start of a local newspaper run. As he put it into the chase in the press, a string holding the type caught the corner of the press and ALL the type fell into and under the press! The worst thing though, it was monotype of individually set characters. Even though we all helped Tony out – it took us the whole night to reset the page.
(Frank later told me the that older pressman who had Frank under his wing stayed behind and helped him despite missing his beloved soccer team play – for which Frank felt very guilty – Petr).
The biggest problem Tony had was his overalls. He was proud of them, as they were from the American army and he liked to swagger around in them. For a long time he fastened the shoulder strap part on only one side as the other was missing its button. This lasted about a week. While standing over the press and spreading the ink over the rollers, he typically turned on the press so the ink would spread throughout. As the rollers were quite long he often had to lean over to reach. While leaning over the running press, his remaining button suddenly flew off the shoulder strap – which whipped over his head, got caught in the rollers and started getting wound up in the press. Before Tony could react, a good chunk of his overalls ripped off and went in the rollers and proceeded to get inked up. After turning the press off, Tony stood there, terrified, wearing only bits of his overalls with his varicoloured underwear showing. After that, he only wore pants and a shirt.
At the request of his boss, (since his parents kept chickens) Tony often brought, on his bicycle, a little basket of chicken manure to a villa, outside of town, of one prominent minister, whose wife cultivated roses of all possible shades. This was fine on a bicycle – since before any passerby could realize where the awful stink was coming from – Tony was long gone. Once when his bike was broken however, Tony decided to deliver his basket of chicken droppings to the minister's wife by bus. I don't have to add, that Tony performed this errand happily, as the minister's wife was quite generous and Tony earned extra money to add to his rather meagre apprentice salary. But, it is one thing to carry chicken droppings by bike and another by bus. Even though he tried to cover the basket with a raincoat and hide it under the seat, moments after boarding the bus it was total pandemonium. The stench rolled progressively through the bus and it wasn't long before the passengers figured out where it was coming from. The angry driver kicked Tony, with his basket, off the bus without even refunding his ticket. It goes without saying that it took some time to air out the bus completely. And so, Tony had to trudge 5 kilometres to the minister's villa. Despite that unfortunate ordeal, he continued to make his regular delivery but only on bicycle, later on a Jawa Robot motorcycle.
Tony always had a sure thing going and his persuasive powers were astonishing.
On one occasion he managed to convince us to try to print counterfeit tickets to a hockey game between the Czechs and a visiting Canadian team in a nearby town. We bought some genuine tickets, back row of course, as well as a few standing only tickets. I don't remember the cost but they were expensive. Then we convinced a friend who was a reproduction photographer/diemaker to make us some 'cuts'. The rest we did ourselves. Since it was usually one of the apprentices' responsibility to clean up the shop we all stayed after work to help, and took this opportunity to secretly print up our counterfeit tickets. When we finished, each day we put the key to the print room in the drawer of the owner's desk –and the key to his office to the landlady. As our phenomenal work neared completion, our attempt nearly came to a catastrophic end. We printed nearly 30 tickets, almost indistinguishable from the originals. We were understandably proud of our craft. It wasn't about making money from the sale of the counterfeit tickets, we took a craftsman's pride in our accomplishment. This fraternity of apprentices was able to create something and do it well. I believe, that none of us, either from fear or from moral certitude was actually capable of using or selling even one fake ticket. It was purely for reasons of the craftsman's pride. When we were nearly finished the print run, one of the owners of the printshop suddenly walked in on our enterprise. Instantly we froze on the spot! Only Tony remained blissfully unaware as he had his back to him and was running the press. The boss at first tapped his shoulder to which Tony answered without even looking, 'Hang on, you Idiot, just a bit longer and it's done'. Only after a second and more substantial tap on his shoulder did he turn around and also freeze. What followed, could have been for us, a complete and utter disaster. Nearly three months before completing our apprenticeships we could have been thrown out. It was, only after the intervention of the other owner of the print shop – that for some reason we were allowed to complete our training. Only he could relate to the youthful enthusiasm, egotism and pride of craft. It was however, for us a life lesson.
Tony was capable of repaying any practical joke. So it occurred with the bathroom key incident. The key hung on the door of the typesetting room and was available for those urgent calls of nature. In as much as Tony liked to drink various teas while working, so he often needed to 'go'. One pressman, took the opportunity to play a prank, when Tony hopped from one foot to the other impatiently waiting for the press to finish its run so he could run off and do his duty, the pressman took the key and hid it. Tony ran helplessly around the shop but no one had the key or knew where it was. Finally, in desperation, he ran outside the print shop and down the street where he relieved himself behind a tall building in a garden. Naturally, he directed all energy to find out who was behind the prank. He didn't have to wait, things didn't stay secret in the print shop for long. And so, patiently, he waited for the opportunity to get his revenge. That chance presented itself when said pressman also impatiently hopped from foot to foot while hurrying to finish his run so he could go to the WC. Tony however, beat him to the key long before and covered it in indelible printers ink. The pressman grabbed the key and ran off quickly to the bathroom. It is hard to imagine the cursing and swearing that followed upon his return. Not only were his hands covered with printers ink, which can only be cleaned with turpentine, but so were his private parts, as he had been in such a hurry! The two never spoke again to the day the pressman left the shop.
After his training, Tony continued to work in the printshop for some time and later went to Prague. Then, for nearly forty years, I didn't hear anything of him. Only once, as I worked in a newspaper office, a colleague told me that Tony was thrown out of the printshop for organizing the printing of flyers protesting the occupation by the Soviet army. He finally managed to escape, in 1971, on a holiday with his family when he failed to return to Czechoslovakia. He went to Canada where he had an aunt in Winnipeg.
Every so often, I would think of Tony, until one day in the mid – 1990's he appeared at my doorstep with his wife. Of course, the talking was endless, as our fates had somewhat intertwined. Today, Tony is the owner of a prosperous printing company in Canada but never forgets his homeland, which he frequently loves to return to and visit.
Taken From the Book Smugglers and Poachers by Frantisek Kadoch, story Apprentice Tony (Ucednik Tona) Translated from Czech by Frank's son Petr
The character is loosely based on Frank and some elements are made up by Kadoch for dramatic reasons.
The chicken droppings on the bus for instance. He did deliver them but never on the bus.
Also it wasn't Frank's idea to print the hockey tickets, they did use them and didn't get caught either.
Finally the flyers that were printed protesting the Soviet invasion and occupation in 1968 while Frank ran the printshop at the Tabor Army base weren't Frank's idea either. Some people came in and had it done – Frank had official approval to print them but later got in trouble for it anyway. He quit his army position in protest after the Soviet invasion and had he stayed only another couple of months would have received a hefty bonus for his long term service.
He then applied and was interviewed for directorship in a graphic arts trade school. The interviewers tried to weed out dissidents and so asked the important question – how did he feel about the recent Soviet intervention (the 1968 invasion) – Frank kept to his principles and answered that the country had been dominated by foreigners for 300 years and just as the Germans came in with tanks and guns so did the Russians -it was just another occupation. Some of the directors were outraged, but afterwards still offered him the position as he was the only one in the region that was qualified.
He chose to turn it down and in 1971, Frank and Zdena gave everything up and left for Canada with their sons Petr and Zdenek via a holiday trip to Yugoslavia. The Czech government sentenced them, for leaving illegally, in absentia to 18 and 16 months in jail respectively. Even after the fall of Communism they received no compensation for all their property that was seized and auctioned off by the government. In Winnipeg they started from nothing, got established and moved to Vancouver in 1979. By 1983 Frank switched jobs from Marine Printers to Vancouver Credit Union printshop where after 6 months he was laid off, because someone came back from leave. At age 51 he started a printshop which has grown and is still running 25 years later.
Frank passed away June 13, 2008 at the age of 75, from heart failure just a month shy of his 76th birthday. He had gone from a poor childhood, literally going to school barefoot, and a childhood in the war years as the Germans closed the schools. He learned his trade as well as many other skills such as machining and designing foilstamping press attachments which still run to this day. The quintessential self-made man, he did things his own way. He was a strong, talented man of charm, intelligence and humour and will be greatly missed by Zdena, his life-partner of 57 years, family and friends.
Petr July 2008