Austin Moore reading Entrepreneur

Austin Moore here, Ballymun Writers’ Group. We hear so much about buzz-words these days it's very hard to know what people are talking about. So this little tale might give you some sort of an idea of what I mean.

Entrepreneur: In other words

by Austin Moore

Little Billy was in great form these days and he’d settled into his new class with great gusto. He was as happy as the day was long and his parents were delighted to see him in such great form. His new teacher was young, pretty and very jolly and she seemed to know everything. He was very impressed. Mrs Maura Byrne, his mature former teacher was kind, firm but fair and she was now the principle teacher. She was of the old school and believed that if children could have a clear understanding of the English language and a good foundation in basic maths on leaving primary school then the world would open up before them and their education could last a lifetime. It was as simple as that.

The new classroom was bright and equipped with the latest technology and you could learn by playing. Billy thought this was really cool and he was enjoying every moment of it. Miss O’Shea was a wiz with her high-tech gadgets and she even had her own iPhone. Billy was so impressed she was the greatest and could no wrong. She told them lots and lots of interesting things and the days passed very quickly. Billy was no longer labelled a dreamer, he hung on her every word she had his full attention at all times.

She played word games with the children each day and would print a single word on the board and ask if anyone knew what it meant. This exercise got the children talking and expressing their ideas and had the effect of opening their minds to all sorts of views about a single word.

One morning when the children returned to the classroom after break the new word was on the board. Miss O’Shea was smiling and said, ‘We have an interesting word today can anyone tell us what it means?’ No hands shot up there was no response. No one seemed to know what the word “entrepreneur” meant. ‘We’ll think about it for a moment and sure if we can’t come up with an answer today we can try again tomorrow ok?’ After a little while there was a hesitant movement at the back of the class. ‘Ah yes William have you something to tell us?’  It was William Thomas Flaherty a boy who never got involved and rarely said anything. ‘Me Da is one of those’ he said.
‘O that’s very interesting William’ said Miss O’Shea, ‘and now can you tell us the meaning of the word?’
‘I don’t know’ he answered, ‘Me Da deals in cars, we have a big shed in the trees behind the house and he brings cars in at night and sends them back out in big container trucks, and when everyone asks him what he does for a living he tells them that he is a self-made man or an entrepreneur and then he laughs’.  Nell had an OMG moment in her head but smiled broadly and said, ‘Well now I think we are getting somewhere with this new word. We can leave it on the board and look at it again tomorrow and perhaps children you can ask your parents this evening if they know the answer to the question.’

Little Billy raced home, he could not get home quick enough to ask his Mammy if she knew the answer. ‘I am not quite sure but all sorts of business people and chancers call themselves entrepreneurs. I think it’s a cover name for various undercover activities good or bad but if you ask the right questions you might get the right answers. We’ll ask your dad when he comes home from work. He is sure to know the answer, he knows everything.’

Billy waited and watched impatiently for his dad to come home and pounced on him as he came in through the kitchen door. ‘Entrepreneur, entrepreneur, entrepreneur!’ shouted Billy.  Billy’s Dad stopped short and stared at him in disbelief. Then recovering his wits he asked, ‘What have I done? Did I rob a bank? Did I win some money on the horses? Did my pals have a whip-round for me? Or give me a dig out? I don’t think so. I have to work very hard for every penny. Now what’s all this about anyway?’
‘What is the meaning of the word entrepreneur? Miss O’Shea wants to know.’ ‘Well, if Miss O’Shea wants to know sure we’ll have to find the answer won’t we? But I’ll have to eat my dinner first and fuel up my old brain and then we can set to work on this difficult question.’

His dinner over, Billy’s dad sat down in his favourite armchair with the evening paper and promptly fell asleep. Just as Billy was about to waken his dad, his mother stopped him and said, ‘let him rest for a while and his dinner will work wonders on his brain and then he should be able to find the right answer to the question.’
‘Can I stay up until we find the answer?’
‘We’ll see, but we may not be able to get the full answer tonight’ his mother said.

A short time later the newspaper slipped down onto the floor and poor Dad came back to life and was now wide awake and ready to take on the world. ‘Entrepreneur, well now that’s a gas one. As far as I know it can mean anything, it depends on who’s asking and why they are asking. Some people would have you believe that they can do miracles and produce thousands of jobs out of nowhere and make millions of pounds out of nothing but that can’t be true because that’s impossible. If you ask ordinary decent people what they do for a living you are likely to get a straight simple answer. Other people sometimes are less forthcoming and hide behind various titles to mask what they really do in life. We are looking for a simple answer to the question for Miss O’Shea and we haven’t found one yet and it’s time for bed. Granny and Grandad will be here at the weekend and you can ask them what they think the answer might be. Your Grandad knows everything, in fact you might say he knows more than everything if that were possible.’

Billy was less than happy going to school the next day with no real answer for Miss O’Shea and he worried that his parents might appear to be stupid but he was not alone as two or three other children were in the same boat. The vast majority of the children boasted about all their relations who were in fact super entrepreneurs and they made all sorts of impossible claims on how well their relations had done. At least Billy was not the only one who had no answer to the question so he gathered together with his few fellow travellers for support. If two heads are better than one then surely four heads are better than two.

Miss O’Shea had to calm the class down as the children were all trying to shout one another down. ‘Ciúnas, ciúnas, ciúnas anois’ she said, ‘and we will all have a chance to explain our understanding of the word one at a time.’ Starting with the most vocal and then moving on until all had their say except Billy and his supporters. There were all sorts of outlandish and hilarious explanations with each child trying to out-do the other but in the end it appeared that no one had come up with clear definition for the word. William Flaherty at the back of the class put up his hand ‘Yes William do you have something to add to our discussion?’
‘Yes miss. Me Da told me last night that he was definitely an entrepreneur and that was that and that was to be the end of the matter and furthermore he would burst anyone who said otherwise.’ Miss O‘Shea had another OMG moment and thought to herself that maybe this word game could be dangerous. However, it was stimulating for the children and the risk appeared to be minimal.

Billy and his supporters said nothing, keeping their counsel until asked for an opinion. ‘Have you lot got nothing to say?’  All eyes honed in on the little group as Miss O’Shea approached them. Tom, Jane and Mary looked to Billy for an answer. ‘All we have are a few ideas but we don’t have any clear answer and we are going to try again over the weekend.’
‘This word is proving almost impossible to define. That’s why it’s so much in common use. We may end up having to ask the experts’ Miss O’Shea laughed. Expert, now that’s another much abused word, but we’ll leave that for another time.

Billy’s grandparents Mags and Jonny arrived for the weekend in their big old banger of an estate car. They were always welcome and the children always looked forward to seeing them. The whole family went to mass on the Saturday evening so that they could set out early on the Sunday morning and make a full long day of it in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains. Granny Mags had prepared a wonderful picnic as usual Billy was looking forward to the day and he made sure that he would be in their car.

Out of the city, Jonny relaxed and was chatting to Billy, ‘I hear you have a smashing new teacher what’s she like?’
‘She’s brill’ said Billy, ‘and she knows everything’.
‘Is that so now, I bet she doesn’t know what the word entrepreneur means,’ said Grandad.
Billy gasped his eyes nearly popped out of his head. ‘How did you know that?’ Billy looked hard at his Grandad and then he said, ‘I bet you don’t know either.’
‘Well I do and I don’t. It’s a funny sort of a word that can mean almost anything. It could be a fancy way of telling a lie, pretending to be something that you are not.’
‘They start up big companies and get loads of jobs for people and make loads of money don’t they’ said Billy.
‘I believe that most of the people who do that sort of thing would never describe themselves in that way. Think of Henry Ford and many others like him’ said Grandad. ‘It seems to me that it’s just another buzz-word that means nothing in particular but sure we can look it up when we get home. Now let’s enjoy the lovely day and smashing views’

They stopped on the top of the Featherbed Mountain for a tea break in the bog. The views were stunning and it seemed that no one lived there. The vast expanse of bog and heather made a brilliant work of art with the bright blue skies in the sunlight. The huge high cloud formations added a touch of magic, it was a day to remember. The children enjoyed all sorts of goodies that Granny had packed for them and played their games as the adults relaxed and chatted in the sunshine until it was time to move on.

Happily back in his grandparents’ car Billy enjoyed looking around the mountains as they climbed the twisty bog road that seemed to go on for ever. His thoughts returned to the word and he said, ‘Hey Grandad, what about that word?’
‘Well now I was wondering how long it would be before you brought that up again.’ Grandad was laughing now. ‘Look, we should always remember that certain words are just words that come and go like the weather. They are what you might call in-words and they remain in until a new word arrives on the scene and then they slip away unnoticed. When I was a young lad like you, there was a war on and people had very little of anything. Everything, even food was rationed. Only a half an ounce of tea was allowed per person each week. The smart-alecs knowing that the war would create shortages had hoarded all sorts of goods. They bought up goods that were in short supply and held them until the people were forced to pay huge prices for goods that they really could not afford but they needed. The smart-alecs would be called entrepreneurs today because they took risks and made huge profits. They operated in what was called a black market and would have gone to jail if they were caught. They gambled on the war lasting a long time so that their goods would grow in value and supply be diminished. They often borrowed money and paid over the rate for goods in order to corner the market and thus deprived decent people from getting the goods they needed as they could not afford to pay the huge prices.’

Granny Mags was enjoying the drive and keeping an eye on the road. She smiled to herself as she noticed that they had just missed a turn so she told Grandad to turn back. ‘O be the Holy this young fella has me bamboozled with these big words. I’ll have to pay more attention to the job in hand before we all end up lost in the bog.’ He then turned the car around and they were on their way to Roundwood, the highest village in Ireland. ‘We have had more than enough talk let’s sing’ and before anyone could stop her Mags was in full voice. ‘There was an old woman that lived in the wood’ and in no time at all they were all singing the miles away. Grandad sang loads of old songs including a Dub-version of a song that was out in the war years: ‘Bless them all, bless them all, it’s off to the village we crawl, God bless De Valera and Seán MacEntee for giving us brown bread and a half ounce of tea, So it’s off to the village we crawl, the long and the short and the tall, you’ll get no promotion this side of the ocean, so cheer up me lads bless them all’.

Arriving in Roundwood Billy’s parents were waiting in the car park. Mags explained the delay, ‘You know your Da, he’s always bladdering on about something, it’s just as well someone was looking where we were going or we might have all ended up in Carlow by now.’
‘Grandad was only helping me with the hard word’ said little Billy as they trooped out of the sunshine and into pub for their evening meal. They had to wait a while to be served as the place was jammers (now there’s a word) so the ladies had some wine while the men who were doing the driving and the children had soft drinks. The place was full of hikers, bikers, walkers, talkers, backpackers, and tourists all eating, drinking and talking; while one end of the bar some people were even trying to start a sing-song, while others were having a serious debate on what someone else ought to do about the state of things in this bloody country. There was only one thing to do, sit back and enjoy the show. In due course they were ushered in for their meal and when they were finished it was time to hit the road for home.

‘It's getting late now and time to go home. We can do Glendalough another time’ said Grandad, as they climbed back into the car. Billy had enjoyed his meal of sausage, beans and chips with jelly and ice cream to follow all washed down with fizzy orange and in no time at all he was sound asleep in the back of the car. The evening was closing in as they reached home but Billy was wide awake as the car came to a halt and he was all set for action.

They all settled in the warm cosy kitchen while Mags put the kettle on and set the table for supper with some nice fancy cakes and buttered bread and loads of strawberry jam for the children. ‘There’s nothing like a nice cup of tea to end a lovely day like that’ said Mags.

‘Well as tomorrow is a school day I suppose we should look for an answer to that big question and maybe if we all work together we can find an answer’ Grandad said this as he reached up to the top book-shelf and took down not one, but three different dictionaries and opened each at the word in question. Enterprise comes from the French word (1852) enterpriser and entrepreneur has the same origin. It relates to somebody who assumes risks of a business or an enterprise while managing or organising it. A well-known American dictionary agreed with the good English dictionary that risk was involved but the old Concise Oxford Dictionary was a little more detailed and concise when it explained the meaning of the word: (a) Person in effective control of commercial undertaking; (b) one who undertakes a business or enterprise, with chance of profit or loss; (c) contractor acting as an intermediary. These words were common to all and they were RISK, LOSS, and CHANCE.

‘A begobs now this is thirsty work; put on the kettle there Mags for another drop of tea while we try to come to grips with this lot.  Someone who takes chances could be called a gambler, a chancer, a Bengal lancer, a loser, a winner, a taker and if they profit by risky gambling with money they don’t own might well be called crooks.’ Grandad frowned and said, ‘Well, the more we dig, the deeper the hole gets. All I can say is that when I was a kid old people had loads of simple language to describe such people; terms like spiv, cheat, double-dealer to name just a few but the list was endless and colourful.’

Pouring out the tea with a fresh plate of fancy biscuits Mags said, ‘I don’t think I’d like to be an entrepreneur after hearing all that’ and all were in agreement. ‘So’ said Grandad, ‘What’s the answer to be?’ Scrap it and get a simpler word was the unanimous answer.
‘We can put the word in a bottle and drop it over the cliffs of Moher into the Atlantic Ocean and let it drift off’ said Billy. 


Recorded at Ballymun Library Creative Writing Group, facilitated by Orla Ní hAonigh.

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