|Extract from Book|
THE FOLLOWING EXTRACT OF ‘GROWING UP SO HIGH’ CONSISTS OF THE OPENING PARAGRAPH OF EACH OF THE THIRTEEN CHAPTERS.
CHAPTER ONE-THE ADVENTURES OF SMALL DON
‘Go out and play,’ Mam was saying, her face so close to mine that I could smell her Ivory Velouté face cream. ‘I told you before. You can’t go to the Army tattoo in Ballsbridge.
Tommy and I were leaning out the window over Nannie’s shop in Francis Street. I was five. He was shouting in my ear about the Three Stewdies, but I was busy looking at the commotion below me. Mammy had gone downstairs to get change for the phone from Uncle Joe before she went to the post office to talk to Daddy, who had gone to Coventry to work for a couple of months, and two of my sisters were playing Beggar My Neighbour in the room behind me. Mammy had warned Tommy to mind me because I was so young.
Sister Bonaventure was in serious mood. ‘Come up the aisle one after the other to the altar rails with your hands joined in front of you, and kneel down. When Father Byrne is giving Communion to the boy beside you, hold your head back slightly and put out your tongue. And, ‘oh,’ she commanded ‘close your eyes when the priest stands in front of you.’
It was a damp September day. The chapel yard at the side entrance to Francis Street School was crackling with the excitement of boys back after their holidays. The quieter ones, like me, were slightly overwhelmed by the thought of starting in a new school. ‘New boys, go to the top floor, classroom number eight,’ a voice was intoning at the door. I stood on the threshold, fingering the crumbling brown brick around the doorway behind me and surveying the teeming action inside before taking my first step into this historic place.
PART TWO: INTERLUDES
But life for this Liberties schoolboy wasn’t all school. There were random diversions and activities that brought their own sweetness and fulfilment to an impressionable boy and left unforgettable memories. It is from them that these Interludes are drawn, concerning Holidays, Sport, Music and Nature in the Liberties, followed by Family Voices.
‘Now boys,’ Brother Devane was saying to our class, ‘you’re off on holidays from school today, and I’ll be on the train to Kerry tomorrow, thanks be to God! But remember to read something every day during the break. I don’t care what you read, comics or otherwise, but read you must.’ As he spoke, his face shone on us with benevolence and
I came across Paddy Merry on the rickety landing of the school stairs. He was eating an apple and giving out to young Brady for trying to travel a complete flight in one jump. I’m going to report you,’ he was saying, ‘you can run, creep or walk when you get out of here, but on the stairs you can only mooch. You were warned not to jump. You’ll get it when we come back on Monday.’ Paddy was a ‘policeman’, one of those anointed by the Head to make sure that the boys negotiated the stairs quietly, because the plaster was already spalling of the wall under the landings of the old school.
When I was nearly seven I’d graduated from eating my dinner with a spoon to using a knife and fork. It was a rite of passage that Nell celebrated by telling me that I could use her toothpaste, but not her toothbrush. She also said she was going to take me to the opera one of these days, and allow me to write a poem and send it to the Sunday Independent poetry competition with her own. This was her reward for my reciting from memory a poem I had learned in my High Babies class in Warrenmount School:
When I eat my porridge,
A knock rapped on the front door. ‘That’ll be Mr Doyle,’ said Mam. ‘Billy, get three pints and Seán will give you a hand. Ask him what the weather will be like today.’ Billy fetched the jugs and opened the door, with me in attendance. Mr Doyle, our milkman, was standing ready for action. A small churn with a spout for the loose milk was strapped across his back, and he had a pint measure in his hand. ‘Three pints,’ Billy said, ‘and I’ve to ask you about the weather.’
My dear children, It’s hard for me tonight, when I think of all my lovely kids gone from me, but I know they never forget me and they love me – they show it in every way possible.
PART THREE: GROWING UP SO HIGH
CHAPTER TEN-SO FAR THE SHORE
In December 1950 when I was twelve, our class was in the last stages of preparation for the Primary Certificate Examination, which was to follow in the spring. Devane told us that there would be a scholarship class for free entry to Synge Street Secondary School, and other colleges, for the boys who would do well in the Primary Exam and that the Christmas Examination would be a good trial.
Tommy asked if I was going to work in a factory and I twanged the strap of his overall in a way that made the sawdust fly. ‘No,’ I said, ‘two slaves are enough in one house.’ He told me to take it easy, that if anyone heard me there would be trouble. I didn’t care. I knew enough about his work to be aware that it was a very dangerous life, with long hours at saw machines, making furniture in freezing workshops where accidents were nearly inevitable. I remembered Dad having the side of his thumb sliced off by a circular saw and his stoicism as he waited for attention in Jervis Street Hospital. That life was not for me.
Martha and I were playing House in the parlour. She had just called clickety-click to fill her card when a knock like a drum roll assailed our front door above the noise of the party from the next room. A voice shouted through the letterbox,’ Hello, hello, hello, a happy new year everybody.’ Uncle Bill, Aunt Eva and my cousin Rory stood there, all apologies for their late arrival to the O’Connor family celebration of the engagement of my brother Billy and Alice. The infrequent Saturday bus service between James’s Street and our home on Keeper Road was the culprit. But what matter? They were here with us now.
By the day of Billy’s wedding I had achieved my plan for being well dressed on a limited budget. Mr Barber, whose sons Eric and Davey were known to me, was the manager of the Blackrock Tailoring Company in Chatham Street. His suggestion was that I buy a pair of slacks for two pounds and a sports coat for five, and replace them separately in the future as they wore out. Not only that, but a discount was available for friends of his sons. This transaction was to be financed by a Provident cheque that Mam arranged, which she could repay by the week until I was able to do so myself.