As It Were by John Connolley, Part Three
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
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
here I come!