I was reminded recently, that “I’m tellin’ me Ma” used to be the second scariest phrase I could hear. “I’m tellin’ Da” nudged it by a whisker. God, wasn’t life simpler then. I remember chasing girls without knowing why, thinking that anyone who kissed a girl needed their head examined and that anyone over the age of fifteen was old.
We used expressions like “Gis a goozer(give us a kiss) and had no understanding in our mono-racial Ireland of the time, that terms like Golly-wog could be in any way offensive. Lingerie didn’t exist in our world, knickers were knickers or keks for the boys and I once was humiliated into wearing my sisters ‘keks’ to school because my mother had nothing else dry. “There’s no dryin’ out today.”
Indeed ‘Drying’ was a major problem in a country that needs a roof most of the time and in a time where central heating, radiators, hot presses or dryers didn’t exist. Drying happened on the line, or in winter in front of the fire where space was at a premium.
We played knick-knack, knocking on doors before bells, and then running away before we got caught. Bad boys ‘scutted’ on the back of lorries and paying your fare on a bus was best avoided at all times. The telly was never on except after six in the evening and we spent our days outdoors whether we wanted to or not. Class size began at 40 and boys and girls went to very separate schools. Most of my teachers wore a habit, policemen were all Culchies (from the country) and the priest was held in high regard. Mass was obligatory and on Sunday was packed on the hour every hour from seven to one, with 2 more in the evening for good measure.
Mothers didn’t fart, fathers constantly did, men drank pints and women said they didn’t really drink, even when they did. Girls wore dresses and boys wore shorts and we all fancied someone (despite our distrust of the opposite sex) that we were never going to do anything about. Fancying came with nothing more than a notion and nothing less than distrust. Girls were hard work and sisters were trouble. Big brothers ‘bate ya’ because they were bigger but protected you nonetheless and small ones got in the way.
We tied ropes to trees, poles, walls and anything else that would hold them if it meant we could make a swing of some sort. There were more kids playing football on the road than cars and chalk was used with abandon by the girls to play ‘beds’. Everything was useful. Empty polish tins were filled with muck to play beds, discarded jars trapped bumble bees and everything from buckets, to mops and old bricks, became an imagined equestrian obstacle course for us, the majestic horses to overcome.
Kiss-chasing was something the girls seemed more interested in than the boys and spin the bottle was a lethal game of truth or dare. We drank milk from a bottle and water from the tap. Spaghetti pasta and rice were as foreign to us as men from Mars. We ate spuds and carrots because they were good for you and you never saw a blind rabbit did you?
Teachers hit you with sticks and leathers for no other reason than they could, and we were all ‘thick’ as far as they were concerned. We were children not to be pampered, encouraged or praised. We had a place and we knew it, out of harm’s way for the most part, away in the local parks or fields, adventuring, climbing imagined mountains, shooting ‘Injuns’ scoring a winning goal in the final, or just running… running with the wind in our scaldy faces, praying for another few minutes of daylight, free and wild for a few moments a day. We’d break a rule or two and not get caught, at least until you crossed your sister and a pound would get you a penny that then she’d say… “I’m tellin’ me Ma…”
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