As It Were by John Connolley, Part Three

Leaving school
Now, although it was the 9th of May and I had reached the age of 14 years I could not leave school until the end of term. This was at the end of June. A chap called Molineaux was leaving at the same time. We had identical age and birth dates and were very friendly. We meet again at a later date.

Meanwhile the headmaster, a Mr Greenan, sent for me one day and asked me if I would like the job of cobbler. I said in the present day of the workless, I would be satisfied with any job I could find. He told me to go down to Saltergate and have a chat with Mr Murray in the cobbler's shop. "I have arranged for him to have a chat with you."

I went and saw the man and he was keen to give me a start, and after a few months trial he would decide whether to teach me the trade or not. All he asked was that I would give it a really good try. I assured him I would. Evidently Mr Greenan, Mr Murray and my father attended the same Catholic school in younger days so father was very pleased I was accepting the offer of work. However, deep down in an inner niche something told me… you will not be a cobbler.

Now, on leaving school the other classmates left behind always gave the leaver a good send off (albeit a bit rough). The last day I made sure I was on the back row and very near the door. The moment the 4pm bell rang I was through that door like a shot and away. Goodbye school days - enter workdays. How would I fare?

A cobbler's life is not for me
I will not linger too long over the next three years as I was looking for something a little more exciting. I was keen to get away from the poverty that was still around. I spent a whole year with the cobbler in which time he taught me to sole and heel any kind of shoes or boots. I ruined my teeth in the effort. One had to put nails in the mouth and with the tongue steer them out one by one headfirst. The nails eventually stripped all the enamel from my teeth. It took a little while to learn the trick. The next part of the job was learning how to prepare the waxed thread prior to sewing a sole on the shoe… but no sir, I had had enough. Much to my father's dismay I packed in the job.

Unfortunately there was no work to be found and the one or two positions I did apply for, at the interview they noted my disability and that was that. What was next? I took on selling papers, The Sheffield Telegraph and the Star. No money in that game. It took me all week to earn 6/- to 7/-. Despair was beginning to befriend me. However I had other ideas. I had saved a few bob and, when, I had enough, Liverpool here I come.

Too young to sail
Booked into a "dosser" for two nights and the next morning down to the Huskisson Docks. A chap told me to go on to this ship and ask for the bosun. He was the man to set me on if there was a vacancy. I found him. "Oh yes, I am short of crew. One or two have jumped ship. Before I can set you on you must have a ship's book. Go to yon office and tell them I sent you and they will provide you with the necessities. How old are you son?" "Nearly 16" I replied. Why didn't I lie? "Sorry, but you cannot go to sea under 16 years. Try again when you reach that age."

I went back to the bosun and told him of my bad luck. "Don't be too downhearted sonny. We are back in port in about three months. Come and see me again." I decided to go back home.

I was content
After about three weeks I was still trying to sell papers and this day a chap touched my arm. "Do you want a job?" I knew him to be a newsagent with rather large rounds. His man was leaving to join the Army. "Tell me about the job?"

I had to be at his shop by 4.30am. Morning delivery took four hours weekly. Periodicals and magazines took two hours during the day, and the evening papers took two hours. On Friday mornings at 2am I had to be at the Derbyshire Times Press. It was an early delivery to take the weight off the daily round. "You will take the job?" "Sure, but your man must teach me the rounds." Some job. A lot of cycle work. "You have two weeks to learn."

I learned but I found it a bit difficult to rise and get down to Stonegravels by 4.30am. "John come and live with us and there will be no trouble getting up." After consulting my mum I went to stay with the newsagent. My mum was agreeable but she said, "don't forget where we live." How could I…?

So there I was, and I must admit I was content. Seven days a week in a job that I was beginning to like. The Boss bought a new car, a Wolsley 10/40, and each Sunday afternoon we went for a spin. The seaside - Blackpool, Cleethorpes, Skegness etc - was not as far away as I had thought. My thoughts then turned to motorcycles. A relative of mine - same name - introduced me to the motorcycle.

I must go back for one moment. When my elder sister started work at Robbo's she met a lovely girl and they became very friendly. Amy told us that her boyfriend had gone to Canada to make his fortune and intended to return home and marry her. Of course, my elder brother and I really did pull her leg over that one… a fairy story. However, it was not. As she lived about three or four miles outside Chesterfield she came each day to spend lunchtime with us. She was one lovely lass. A cruel fate was in store for her which I will relate as the story unfolds.

Motorbike time
I had a few bob saved so off down to Jervis's. He was a bike salesman. He opened the shop after his motorbike racing days were over. He had just what he said was a useful bike for a learner, a New Imperial 190. I can't remember the age. The price was £11 and the hire purchase price was 10/- per week. No other charges. That bike was a good investment and immediately I had passed the test, six weeks later, I took it back and exchanged it for a larger 250cc bike. The beauty of those days was in being able to discover my county of Derbyshire. Each day from about 10am to 4pm I was "on my bike" visiting places I had only heard of.

The paper job was going well and I was content. (Or was I?)

The Boss had two sons: Dennis the elder, at 10 years, decided he liked me and from that day onwards he was my shadow. Whenever he was not at school and every weekend, he got on his bike and came with me on delivery rounds. On Sunday afternoons when his parents went for a spin, he preferred the pillion seat on the bike. He went everywhere with me when he could. I liked him. Then tragedy struck. (The story of my life.)

This particular Sunday had been a miserable wet day so the Boss and Dennis decided to go and clean the car after lunch. I decided to get down in front of the fire on the rug and have a kip. It was 4pm and the maid was sent down to the garage to tell them tea was ready. She came breathless after her 100 yard dash. "John, come to the garage quick. They are both dead." Whatever on earth!!! No time to argue. She seemed in her right mind. Without bothering to put my shoes on I was off. The garage doors were ajar. They had been shut. I pushed them open and entered. The Boss was lying on the floor and struggling to drag him out I was slightly overcome by fumes. Meanwhile the Boss's wife had found Dennis but, alas, he was dead. The ambulance chap confirmed that to be the case. Reg was taken to hospital and he recovered after two days. We could only gather that Dennis had shut the cold out unknown to his father who was sat in the car warming the engine. The Coroner accepted that.

One way ticket
For a while I was really shocked and on dark mornings when I knew Dennis would have been with me, I imagined his voice. "What paper does this house have John?" "Herald there." As time went on I could hear that inner voice again. "You will not be a newsagent." One thing came out of this tragedy. Every house had to be entered in a book and their requirements noted. This was music to my ears because I was dreaming up a plan to get out of my present position and find something a little more exciting. London. Save up John. There is time yet.

By this time I was getting on in years. Seventeen!!! If you want excitement: no time like the present.

June… before going out on to Town I had to push a barrow to the station ready for the Sunday papers which came by rail. I had on just the clothes I stood up in and a raincoat, £12 in my pocket and my razor, brush and soap. I knew the Boss's brother would take over my rounds so I did not feel guilty. The train left for London St Pancras arriving there after midnight, 19/- one-way.

Dick Whittington… London… here I come!
As It Were - Part 4 Home Top