As It Were by John Connolley, Part Two

I will just go back to a couple of items I believe are of interest.
My first communion. I must have been six years old. I remember the moment I went down to the altar to receive the bread and wine. There must have been a scarcity of the latter. I was dressed in a lovely white suit that comprised shirt and short pants, white socks and a pair of Woolies white plimsolls. How did mum get the suit? Well, she had a good friend who agreed to tailor the suit if mum could get the material. She did this from a market cheap jack and after two or three fittings, I was dressed to receive the Blessed Sacrament on that beautiful May morning.

A month later in June there was a Catholic procession just around the local streets surrounding the church. The Blessed Sacrament was to be carried by the priest under a canopy carried by four bearers. Just in front of the canopy we communicants were carrying special small baskets full of flower petals. At short intervals we got a handful of these petals and strewed them on the ground in front of the priest's footsteps so that he walked over a carpet of flowers. A memory which always lingers.

Hospital arrangements
As I wrote, the strike was over. The miners returned to work but the heartaches went on. No change in our fortunes. Time and again I thought of ways to get a few coppers to help mum. Chopping sticks and selling them in bundles was one way.

Autumn was approaching and then… "I have made arrangements for you to take John to the hospital Mrs Connolley. It will not take long and you can take him home shortly afterwards." "Right doctor." Now this is when fate dealt me my first bad card. The operation was only minor, and I believe went well. However, then things started to go wrong. I was off school for a while and I had to walk to the hospital a number of times in a great deal of discomfort. The stitches had become septic. Anyway, I overcame that episode. Then the accident happened.

Loss of an eye
As I mentioned I was off school for a period of time. I was talking to two brothers who had just left school but could not find work. They were interested in homing pigeons as it was a hobby in those days. "Are you coming with us John? We are taking a couple of birds for a short walk and we will let them out and hope they find their way back to the loft." "OK, I will come." Those words I will always remember. They were carrying the pigeons in a strong paper carrier and when they had released them we set off back home to see if they had found their way back. The chap carrying the folded bag started swinging it round on its handles. Suddenly it happened. The bag caught me in the eye. I knew immediately damage had been done and they agreed. They came home with me and mum took me to the hospital. This was all by way of being purely an accident.

I was admitted and the consultant visited me rather late as he was based in Sheffield. It seems the next day he consulted my father and the decision was made to remove the eye. What a shock, even in my young life!

I developed a headache and the noisy children's ward was too much for me so the sister in charge put me in a side ward. A staff nurse attended me daily and she loved to whistle very quietly the song "Sweetheart if you should stray." The memory is still very good.

I think I was in hospital for two weeks and on discharge the sister told me I could come up to the ward at any time and have a chat with the young friends I had made.

By great coincidence I met the very same eye surgeon in Iraq in 1942. He was Mr Muirhead. When I got back home from the hospital quite a number of friends were offering sympathy, a word I have disliked ever since. It was my life and I would meet the challenge.

Back to school and soon the name-calling began. Nelson, one eye etc. I had to forget the title my grandfather gave me - the Brampton Bruiser. I could not risk a black eye so it was a case of sticks and stones...

Annie goes to work
I had reached 12 or 13 years of age. Our fortunes had changed a little. My eldest sister, Annie had left school and found employment with Robinsons. They were the big cotton wool factory. It was every Chesterfield girl's ambition to work at Robbo's. They employed hundreds of lasses.

My father's pit days were over. He had contracted a miner's complaint. Eye stigma they called it, but in those days names of various things were confusing. He was compensated a mere pittance.

At the bottom of our garden was a dyke separating us from two large fields. The farmer sold the fields to the council who arranged with a builder to erect an estate of a goodly number of council houses. These houses were being finished one by one and mum was offered the job of scrubbing them out, top to bottom, using her own equipment. She was offered 10/- per house. She took it on and could manage one house per day. We were in clover. Now my story may change a little.

Visions of Egypt
My childhood dreams. Were they all shattered? Maybe not. I joined the library early on and I had read stories of the life of a jockey. That is probably what I would have liked to have been. Perhaps life at sea in the Merchant Navy. Not the Royal Navy as preferred by a friend of mine who crops up in my story at a later date. I nearly succeeded with the latter. I had visions of seeing the Sphinx, the pyramids and the Suez Canal. This dream I accomplished but not under the conditions I would have liked. Who, though, is going to employ a youth with a handicap such as I had. I had to believe in myself. Where there is a will… I certainly had the will and the nerve.

An old horse
In those days cruelty to animals, especially in slaughterhouses, was well known. Even I knew how the pork butcher killed pigs, but what I saw that day really hurt and ever afterwards I always supported animal charities with any amount I could afford. It was Saturday afternoon and the fruit hawker and his cart were down a yard selling his wares. I then noticed his horse fall down between the cart shafts. I stopped to look. No way could they get it to rise. He said it was an old horse and maybe its time had come. I did not know their intentions but after a long wait a lorry arrived with a kind of pulley wheel on it. I was intrigued so I decided to watch.

If you are squeamish, skip this part.

The man got out of his lorry and approached the horse with what seemed like a large stone. He put this down very close to the horse's head. The next part beggared belief. He put quite a number of those caps which were used in toy guns in a circular shape about the size of the bottom of a teacup. A fairly good amount of caps. He produced a stone hammer and with a mighty blow he hit the caps. The horse convulsed once and died. I could not stay to see the rest. There will be other times as we go along that you will not like…
Cath goes to work
Well times they were a-changing. Mum's crying days were over. Although the slump was still with us our fortunes had changed a little. Mum was now able to take out a Barnes Ticket. I will explain. Mr Barnes would provide you with a ticket for an amount of £10 to £20. This ticket would allow you to spend at three shops of his choice: clothing or shoe shops. His conditions were: no previous debt conviction and a promise to repay by weekly instalments. 2/- was the minimum repayment. So no more "Holy" knickers for the girls. This reminds me of the times on the maypole, legs flailing and half of the girls with no knickers on. They were surely not very warm. Don't forget though we lads were wary of the "birch" so if we had any ill intentions...

There were cases of one or two girls "slipping." They would be treated with contempt by all.

So, as I said, things were looking up for my family and life was not so hard. Another sister, Cath, had left school and straight away she went along to Robbo's for an interview. Alas, their rules had changed. No Catholics would be employed in future. She went skivvying for 5/- per week with meals included. My turn to face the big world would not be long now.

Diving in the Inkerman
The Inkerman was a very deep quarry filled with water and one look was enough to think - "I am not too sure." A swimming club had leased it and each Sunday morning in summer they made use of it. They had two diving tables built and the highest one was high. Dicky had found a way in but only after the members had gone home. So here we were at the Inkerman. My parents would have had a fit if they had known. "Can you dive John?" "Oh yes, but not off a height like that." "Come on man, if you can dive height doesn't matter. You will surface ok." Nerves… after a sit down on the top table I considered it. "John, I will get in the water and be handy when you dive. Just do not go too steep, that is all." Nerves.

"Here I come Dicky" and swoosh, in I went. I stopped myself from going too deep and came up to the surface. True to his word Dicky was beside me but I was OK and I never feared that dive again. "Let's swim across to the other side." Not me my friend. It was too far. Perhaps another time. I did not want my name in the local "rag" as having been fished out of the Inkerman. I did cross eventually. He was a great pal but we drifted apart after leaving school.

Shoe repairs
Time went by with not too much excitement. Saturday:"get me the hobbing foot and my tools out John before you go to the Collie (bugs hut)." Someone's shoes were going to get the hammer. Every Saturday and Sunday evening: "play me a record or two John." The old wind up Geisha, Widow Malone, Danny Boy, Kathlene, the Wild Colonial Boy. You name it I played it. Lots of Irish music.

Glad when I get to 14 so that somebody else can take over. Those were the days my friends!!! May the 9th… 14 years old. The last nine years. No child ought to experience the life we kids went through. What has this great world to offer this tiny mortal?
As It Were - Part 3 Home Top