Oh the mortification…sweating like a prisoner in the dock…

Oh the mortification…sweating like a prisoner in the dock…

I’ve always tried to explain to my children, (all grown up now) that they have no idea just how easy they have it these days. It is the duty of each generation to mock the next one and explain in graphic detail; just how much better their generation is, based on how much harder it was ‘back in our day.’ If only I could have captured the hardship in pictures. I could at least post it on Instagram so they might get to see it.

Of course back in my time, we had it harder than most. Ah yes the good auld days! I used to travel seventeen miles to school each day in my bare feet in the snow, carrying a lump of coal in my hand, a contribution to the fire that was seldom lit in the classroom, to keep us warm as we had no windows in the school. One hundred and fourteen of us there were, all crammed into a single classroom and only five of us had a desk.

Now I know what you’re thinking, especially if you’re a snowflake. Where did we charge our ipads? – ipads! We didn’t even have paper. I remember having to scratch out answers to maths questions on solid slate with my fingernails. Sometimes it was so cold that my fingers would bleed and by Jaybus you didn’t want to get blood on Master Casey’s lovely slate floor. Besides which, we had no tables, so we ate off the floor, that is if we were lucky enough to have food.

Back then such things were punishable, as indeed were most things. Being late was a two hour beating. Picking your nose was a box in the ears and a kick in the arse, and stamping your bare feet to keep them warm on the frozen floor was… well I can’t rightly remember that one…. from all the concussions you understand.

These days they go on about healthy lunches and making sure your precious darlings have enough fruit. Well let me tell you, it’s far from a satsuma I was reared. I was 27 before I saw my first banana. If I was lucky I’d be given a couple of raw cabbage stalks and a stick to fight off anyone who’d challenge me for them. Oh yes they were tough times. But we were better for it.


We learned much more than university graduates of today before we were 6 years old, because we didn’t just absorb knowledge siting on beanbags and drinking orange juice before school, oh no! They beat the learning into us in them days, the good old fashioned way. There’s nothin’ like a good hiding (beating) to get those 12 times tables into you.

They taught us everything through memory and pain. “Memorise the bible by tomorrow morning” they’d say and of course we’d have it word for word by the next morning, or risk losing a finger or some such punishment. God the children of today have it so easy eh?

As for being driven to school? Let me tell you, it was only the parish priest and the bank manager that could afford cars. There was so little traffic on our main street that a full international football match was once played there and there was a record crowd as I recall it, 70,000 it was, and they were just the ones from the three nearest streets, because we had big, holy, God fearing, procreating Catholic families back in them days.

If you didn’t have at least 12 children in your family you were either a protestant or there was something wrong with you. There’d be rumours. Back in the day within seconds of saying your marriage vows there’d be the question. “Is there anythin’ stirrin’?” Or “have you news for us?” And contraception was a sin. We didn’t have condoms back when I started imagining I might use them someday. Well we did, but you needed to be married and find a doctor heathen enough to give you a prescription for them if you were so inclined. The mortification! There was one way around it of course as there generally is.


In fact I remember the first time I tried to buy them and I still cringe in embarrassment at the very thought of it. First of all I had to go into Dublin, to the city centre and go to the Family Planning Clinic, as I was reliably informed that they would sell them to you there- no questions asked. In them days you couldn’t get them anywhere else, unless you wanted to go up across the border to Northern Ireland, or take a ferry to England and smuggle them back in. Lord almighty when I think about it. The priests used to pontificate about sex and make you feel like a filthy dirty dog in the street if you even considered sex before marriage. Little did we know about the amount of ‘housekeepers’ that had extra duties for certain priests in our parish. Now with regard to my planned purchase, I won’t go into the details as to the why’s and the wherefores, other than to say I was a teenager and was having ideas above my station. Well, you never know.

One of the big problems was that my Da worked in town not far from the family planning centre, so I had to have a whole back story as to what I was doing in that neck of the woods, just in case I bumped into him. I was sweating before I even started. Lying didn’t sit well with me. My Ma could spot one a mile off, so I had to avoid her at all costs. If she asked me where I was going that day, I would have made such an arse of the story I planned to tell her, that she would have probably just said…”Are you planning to buy condoms?” Oh she could see straight through me she could. That would have been the end of me, literally. So I sneaked out without her seeing me.

Straight off the bus in town, I took an overly circuitous route to my destination to avoid bumping into my Da, despite the fact that it was highly unlikely. By the time I arrived at the family planning clinic I was in a jock, sweating like a prisoner in the dock. I was so nervous, I walked straight past the main door, too afraid to go in, but then realised I was heading back towards O’Connell Street, which was near my Da’s job, so I had to turn back.

Now as anyone knows, when you are trying to look like you aren’t in fact up to no good, you immediately look shifty. I didn’t want to look dodge, so rather than just stop and turn back, I stopped and pretended to be looking at street signs, as if I wasn’t sure where I was.


‘Ah yes, golly gosh it appears I am going the wrong way, I had better turn around and innocently head back in the direction I came from’ was the message I was trying to convey. All I could see however, were prying, accusatorial eyes staring at me. I knew they knew.

In I went, not knowing what to expect and I was greeted by a waiting room full of women, all waiting for some ‘family planning’ whatever that meant, and a small counter to my left which appeared to be where the aforementioned items were for sale. I certainly wasn’t looking anywhere but at the ceiling. There was no one behind the counter, so I waited for what felt like 7 hours until a very pleasant, middle aged lady appeared.  She smiled and asked how she might help me.

I didn’t hesitate. There was no way I wanted to stay there a second longer than I needed to, so I blurted out… “a packet of Durex please.” Of course I only knew the product by the brand name and I almost panicked and backed out at the last moment. She said something to me and it didn’t register. It was only when I finally came back into my body that I realised she was repeating the question and it was not only one I hadn’t anticipated, it was one I didn’t know the answer to… “Which kind?”

There were kinds? No one told me that! She swept her hand across the glass topped counter before me and for the first time I actually looked at its contents. Oh there were ‘kinds’ alright. The choice seemed ridiculous in that moment. Trying to remain calm and look cool, realising that all the women behind me could hear every word, I almost choked, but recovered with a little swallow as I spoke, which raised my voice an octave for some reason.

“Oh… just the normal ones.”  What a Gobshite!

I was still red faced when I got home an hour later and it was then that I realised I had a bigger problem… Where in the name of all that was holy, could I hide them so my Ma wouldn’t find them!

See! The youth of today have it easy. The trauma I went through to make that purchase still makes me blush today. I wouldn’t mind, but if I’m not mistaken, they were probably past their use by date, by the time I even got close to even considering using them. But you see of course, things were different back then, when everything was in black and white and dinosaurs roamed the earth…

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18 thoughts on “Oh the mortification…sweating like a prisoner in the dock…

  1. Absolutely brilliant Patrick. Reminds me of a tale when my maternal grandparents smuggle din condoms and indoor fireworks through the customs when they visited from England. I know now what the condoms were for but the fireworks? If only mother had known they were available just down the road near O’Connell Street.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Patrick, I am so glad I recalled seeing that you had a new post. I’m about to put in a long session on my latest work and having read the daily tittle-tattle on FB I badly needed cheering up. Your writing is amazing, but your blog posts are a tonic. A master storyteller for sure, and it takes skill to write humour that makes me actually laugh out loud. Thank you for another memorable trip down memory lane, which was, of course, overgrown, full of dirty puddles the size of swimming pools and inhabited by rabid dogs. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. TITTLE_TATTLE!!! May I remind you, you had another suggestion for my blurb!
      Seriously, I enjoyed this blog too, though rabid dogs is going a bit far. My dad had a toad he welcomed in his greenhouse to eat pests that spat at everybody.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah, I remember those days, and you’ve nailed it perfectly. As a member of the female of the species, things were both harder, and easier–we were told just keep your knees tight together and all will be well. That, and we were sent to the school office to run off copies of papers on the mimeograph machine, a prehistoric piece of “technology” (barely) that preceded xeroxing. What do the young know?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s Dulux in the paint department😂. Glad you enjoyed it.. and every word as it happened.. I had to leave out some bits or I would have gone on forever 🤪😎😂☘️🎈


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