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.
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
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.
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
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?