Sunday, 5 October 2014

Number 38 update

I did eight ...
1. Mike Conboy 
The weekend started here. A few days before I was going up, my old mate Mike Conboy got in touch to say he was back for a couple of weeks from New Zealand, where he emigrated countless years ago. This was the first time I'd seen him in 28 years. I only had an hour, so we went for a pint in what used to be the Moss, where we'd go for a drink before Altrincham FC home games from the age of 14 without anyone being interested how old we were. Beer has gone up. Great to see Mike, a really nice guy with a surreal and brilliant sense of humour. 

2. Riddings Court
A soulless little estate in a soulless suburb. This isn't the original street sign - that was stolen by a teenage idiot a long time ago as a souvenir when he left home. In fact I ... erm ... whoever did it only took it to the tip a couple of months ago.
Our house - the middle one in the picture - was one of the first finished when we moved in, so we had the excitement of living on a building site for a year. It was a sad day when my sister chased me into a kitchen where a startled family were having lunch, and we realized it wasn't our playground any more. This photo is taken from the spot where my sister's bike skidded from under her when we were doing speedway racing on the unsurfaced road. She took all the skin from up the side of her leg, and the bloodstains on the floorboards of the house are still visible.

3. house and parents
My parents in front of the house they've lived in for 44 years. The garage used to be me and my friends' goals for playing football in the road, but the best game we played with the garage was filling it with cardboard boxes we'd collected, then riding our bikes full tilt into into it. In teenage years the garage was the place where I'd come back with friends and carry on after the pub closed, if we still had nonsense to talk.

Here they are on their wedding day in Leicester, 1957.

4.St Hugh's Roman Catholic Primary School
I walked through this entrance when we moved to Timperley when I was six, and into Miss Murphy's class. Miss Murphy was in her 60s, hated children, and was brutally and randomly violent. I got several full-strength slaps across the face, which would have launched me out of the classroom if I hadn't been sitting in a desk. Charmaine Kirwan made the mistake of going to the classroom sink to wash her hands without asking permission. The rest of us covered our faces as if watching a horror film as we saw Miss Murphy approach her silently from behind. With a single sudden movement, she grabbed her hair and threw her across the room through the air. She landed face down and crashed into the opposite wall.
The next summer we went on holiday to Ireland, staying in a little village called Annestown in Waterford, just past the arse-end of nowhere.
Imagine my delight when we went to the local church and I got a poke in the ribs from behind. Miss Murphy was there. This was where she was from. Not Hell as we had all thought. Don't let it put you off Annestown, though, she wouldn't have had offspring.
That's Miss Murphy's classroom on the far right. They've probably got all the bloodspots off the ceiling by now. In the playground, the boys who didn't want to be part of Leone Poli's hyper-violent game of War played British Bulldog between the netball areas, or football with a tiny plastic cube. Balls were thought to be too dangerous, unlike Miss Murphy. On a rare day when we weren't playing football, I had a fight with Stephen Morphy on the exact spot the photo was taken. I fell on top of him in the clumsy struggle and he broke his arm and was taken off in an ambulance. I stood outside Mr Finnegan's office for an hour waiting to be seen. I was sure I was going to spend the rest of my life in prison, and was seriously considering running away from home. When he finally opened the door and ushered me in, Mr Finnegan just said, 'Did you do it on purpose?' Thinking quickly, I said, 'No'. And I was free.

5. St Ambrose
I passed the eleven plus and went to the nearest Catholic school, just over three miles away so I got the free bus pass, hoping to continue my education with uneducated, alcoholic, brainwashed thugs. My luck was in! The Christian Brothers were shadows of their former fearsome reputation by now, but a couple of them could still inflict pain. First-year French, which I'd really been looking forward to, consisted of Brother Owen reading to us about all the miracles that had taken place at Lourdes. We were motivated to listen because if we didn't, he would hit us on the hand twice with a three-play leather shaving strop.
Third-year History was brother Rynne, who was a hard, ignorant bastard with the ruddiest face and the biggest ears you could possibly imagine. His teaching method, which in retrospect could have been based on research and way ahead of its time, consisted of putting down a heavy box of history books at the front of the class. He would then go and sit on the counter at the back of the class and say, 'Now take a book'. Now came the keystone of his methodology. 'Now read your books. If yer look to der soid, oi'll t(h)ump yer teet(h) to der back of yer t(h)roat!' Actually what he did if someone looked to the side was sneak up and hit them on the back of the head with his knuckles, with a technique it was rumoured he used to slaughter cows in his youth.
One of my main general memories is I was always starving. In Brother Rynne's ... ahem ... 'lessons' ... I always used to pick out Extracts from the diary of Samuel Pepys, and turn to the page where he said what he had for lunch - 'a piece of plain fish'. I was so hungry, I just read the paragraph with that sentence in for forty minutes, dribbling desperately.
 I actually got to really like Brother Rynne a lot by the time I left - there was a sweet man under the brutal exterior, and I felt really sad he'd been pushed to spend his life in that way. A couple of years after I'd left he fell asleep in bed while smoking and accidentally burned down a good part of the Brothers' house, killing the oldest Brother.
Here's the house where the Brothers lived in celibacy and whisky-fumes.
Craggy Island come to life. Facing you when you walked in through the front door was a staircase with a lifesize Virgin Mary staring terrifyingly down at you from the top. The statue in the photo, which wasn't there in my day, appears to show St Ambrose holding a small boy against himself affectionately. Are you sure that's a good idea, Brothers, in the light of former Chemistry teacher Alan Morris's eight-year prison sentence for holding small boys against himself affectionately?
The extracurricular syllabus at the school was surreal. The one trip we went on was to the Imperial War Museum in London. The coach journey took six hours. The museum was closed that day - no one had thought to check. So we came back.
The school's careers service, however, was solid and efficient. 'Would you like to become a priest?' asked Brother Doyle.
OK. Can you send the next boy in, then.'
Sex education came without warning. Classes were suddenly interrupted one morning and the whole school was ushered to the assembly hall. There was an atmosphere of dread among the Brothers - had the Pope died? We noticed there was a projector and screen at the front of the hall, which itself caused a ripple of excitement, as we thought the school only had a cassette player.
Brother Rynne walked to the front and there was silence. 'You need to watch this', he said sheepishly, and pressed the on switch. The screen crackled into silent action, and you could make out a blurred image of two people. It came into focus for a few seconds, and you could see it was a man and a woman on a beach. They were wearing swimming costumes, holding hands and looking at each other. The image crackled off. Was that the end? What was happening? Suddenly an image filled the screen. We just had time to see it was a penis, covered in seeping sores, and the screen went black for good.
Brother Rynne stepped to the front, even redder than usual. 'Right, back to class!' he barked.
No one was quite sure what message to take away, but I for one haven't been on a beach since.

6. sink
My household job from when I was eight was to do the washing-up on Sundays. Not much to ask I suppose, but it included everything from a roast dinner. I looked forward to it because that's when I listened to the Top 40. It was a big thing then.

7. stairs
These are the stairs at home. When I was about seven, I put my head through them for a laugh. Then I couldn't get it out again. I was stuck there for half an hour, thinking that the fire brigade would have to cut off my head to get me out. In the end my dad suggested walking carefully to the top of the stairs, and my head came out easily. I'd forgotten where I'd put it in.

8. back garden
I've included the corner of our postage-stamp back garden in my memories because this was where I had one of my most painful accidents. There used to be a small tree in the corner, which my dad clumsily sawed back, and which was pretty much covered by foliage. When I was about 13, I climbed over the fence to retrieve a football, then back onto the fence to come back over. Instead of clambering down, I stood on top of the fence, about five feet up, and jumped. My feet were about six inches from the ground and I was approaching terminal velocity when the pointed vertical branch of the tree rammed up into the nerves and tendons of my armpit and stopped me dead in midair. With my weight holding me down, I dangled in a fireball of armpit pain for a couple of minutes until I managed to wriggled free and fall in a heap. 
This is an artist's ghostly reconstruction of the incident. I think Edward Munch did the mouth.
A lump soon appeared under my arm of a size not seen since the days of the bubonic plague, shortly followed by bruising down to my waist. My right arm could only dangle uselessly for the next few weeks.


Molly Potter said...

I now feel I have all the information I need to conceptualise you properly. Thank you.

I would like to know which brother taught you about terminal velocity. That seems to be a rather advanced level of sophistication compared with your other 'learning.'

Claire Potter said...


jim_greenan said...

That was Father O'Hawking, Molly. He seemed cleverer than the others and hit us less hard.