bully for you
There was 52 in our class if you counted Martin Monaghan, as our teacher did. ‘Monaghan’ she used to call out, even though his name used to be Connelly. I don’t know if he counted as one or two people. I was never very good at arithmetic and used to look sideways, through the blur of snow globed dandruff hair and copy him, but he wasn’t much use on that occasion. I don’t know if a change of name can change a man, but he grew about six inches and immensely wealthy. When he was Monaghan he would have chewed his way through Wrigley Spearmint chewing gum that had lost its minty flavour and was good for nothing but sticking on Wendy Morrison’s spiky and baldy fluffy chick head and watching her cry, because that’s what she liked doing. It made her the centre of attention. Teachers would crowd around her and console her. Other girls would stop their skipping games and batter us, with flailing girly arms and shout the kind of swear words no nice girls should know. And prayers would be said for her at Holy Mass, because she had some kind of disease that nobody would tell us about which made her head turn into a purple turnip with ears. Everybody felt sorry for her pumpkin features. She was wealthy in another way.
I preferred to be wealthy in the Martin Connelly/Monaghan way. His dad, who wasn’t his dad, but some kind of interloper, who had sneaked in and stole his mum, was bribing him to stay stum. He got 50p a day. That was enough to buy the caviar of ice-poles, red and green and ignore the yellow ones, which tasted ok, but only if they were bashed about in their packaging to make them mushy.
He could even afford to give away the green ones that looked like snotters when chewed and nobody likes in Wine Gums. He’d even give them to me, if I asked. But I wouldn’t. That would be begging. And the only thing worse than a beggar was a snitch. I don’t want to name names, but that was somebody that would put her hand up and say ‘McGonagle was talking miss’, when Mrs Kearney, our teacher, asked who had been talking when she left our classroom to go somewhere else -on some important mission that couldn’t wait until the school bell had rung. I didn’t get it. If the teacher left the room then it was like someone telling you to open your gub and pouring orange juice in your mouth and asking you not to swallow. Everybody knew that. Everybody apart from Annie Cochrane. She thought she was different because she had a prefect badge. I must admit it was pretty snazzy. It spelled prefect, just the way I would have if I copied it off Martin Monaghan, but it had a little green background and the writing was in gold and it had a pin that went through skin and bone and all the way into Annie Cochrane’s heart and made her think she was better than us. I would have stone hated her, if she hadn’t such perfect hair and teeth and stuff that the prettiest of pretty girls have.
She reminded me a bit of Marie Osmond. Only she was Catholic, of course, and not a Mormon. And she had blond hair, with in a dinky wee red bow, like a peony rose, that on anybody else you would have untied and braided her piglets to the school gates with, prefect or no prefect. But you couldn’t do that with her. She was too perfect. Only other girls and teachers could talk to her. I didn’t fancy her. I fancied Marie Osmond. She was pretty much what I was looking for in a woman. But I wasn’t daft. I knew it was just fantasy and I’d never marry her, because she had all those ‘Crazy Horses’ brothers looking out for her. And she was a virgin. I didn’t go with virgins. I preferred Suzie Quatro. She was all leather jackets and hitting the guitar as if it mattered and motorbikes and ‘Devil Gate’s Drive’. She was a real goer. Marie Osmond had her day.
I didn’t always feel that way. I used to think about Annie Cochrane quite a lot, and used to wonder if, maybe she’d fall and have an accident and I’d have to carry her up to the office and call an ambulance. And I’d say something like ‘its ok, it’s just a scratch, you’re not going to lose your leg.’ I wasn’t sure what happened next. What I was sure of if there were any pirates or anybody tried to kidnap her I’d have been there and we could have run away, even if she only had one leg. It was a stupid book that changed my feelings about her.
It had the picture of a big crab in the front cover. I wasn’t a nerdy-book type person. I’d pretty much peaked with Janet and John, that was with Mrs Ogilvie. She was nice, a very smiley person, that smelled of liquorice and made ‘l-o-n-g w-o-r-d-s’ out of short ones, by shaping her mouth like a chimpanzee learning to speak. ‘G-o-o-d’ she would say. Bad, was a short word and she would wave her finger, when she said it. I don’ think she knew any other short words. Well, she soon had us running and jumping and singing or doing whatever Janet and John done. We got that g-o-o-d at it that we got passed onto Mrs Kearny.
I was, in a word Mrs Kearny liked using in my case, when she referred to my attention seeking antics and my moronic lack of self control, before she hit me with the big black Samba of a belt she liked to keep cool in her desk, for such occasions, ‘indifferent’ to her, ‘indifferent’ to Marie Osmond and ‘indifferent’ to Annie Cochrane. Although, perhaps, not totally indifferent. If she wanted to be my girlfriend I would have thought about it. But she was seeing Johnny Gibson.
He was a snider, and thought he was great because he played for the school team and had scored 108 goals in one season. I could have done the same, if they’d played me, if I’d football boots, but I didn’t. I only had black sannies. Ma said football boots were far too expensive and just a waste of hard earned money. If I wanted football boots she said, ‘get a job’.
Then she’d go off on one of her rants about when she was my age, there was eighteen of them and they all worked. The big ones looked after the little ones and it was some kind of complicated thing about not being know I’d been born. She’d cuff me, if I’d said ‘I’d just wanted football boots’ and say that she was going to tell my dad and he’d batter me when he came in. It was two batterings for the price of one and not worth the hassle. I didn’t want to play football anyway. It was a mug’s game.
I did-kinda- have football boots. I’d done that much whining and moaning and backchatting that mum had taken me on the train to a shop up the town that took Provy cheques. She’d walked away ahead of me in the station. Everybody had got off the train in such a hurry that I was battered this way and that and I looked up and I couldn’t see mum. I looked one way then the other. Then I looked at the train drawing away from the station and I thought I ran I might be able to catch up with it, and that mum was still on the train, and that somehow I’d been really thinking about something and stepped off the train myself and left her on it. And that was it. I was lost and didn’t know how to get home and wondered if I’d need to become a beggar and live on the streets. And even thought I was pretty big by then I couldn’t help it, I started chocking up and sniffing and tears streamed down my face. And then I saw mum walking back the way. I just stood on the train platform, as if I’d crapped my pants and couldn’t move, like Noel Behan, had once done, and mum came up and put her arm through mine and pulled me to her and said ‘silly,’ and that was me back to normal. I was glad nobody I knew had seen me.
The Provy Shop was down a little back alley and then out and around. It was all on its own, as if the other shops were ashamed of it. The windows were all shuttered with metal bars as if the shop needed to cage its customers in and stop them from escaping. There was a bit for men and a bit for women. The clothes were all old fashioned, as if they’d been taken from a Hammer House of Horror set, because Dracula no longer felt he could wear them again. One of the thing I thought was funny, was the women’s department had an old fashioned shop assistant behind the counter, with a grey suit that made me itch from 50 feet away. But standing next to this old woman was a younger woman, but she was wearing a boiler suit, as if she was working in the shipyards and not a shop. Both of them looked up at me and mum. I was glad I didn’t need to go there. We only had to pass through it. The children’s section had better lighting and seemed less drab. All the bright primary colours, however, were a con. Their clothes was so out of date. They had stacks and stacks of gabardine coats that Little Lord Fauntlory might have worn. There only concession to modernity was high waist trousers and Bay City Roller jumpers. There were no prices on them. There didn’t need to be. An oily perspiring man appeared from behind the counter, his words ‘what would mam like,’ said in such a knowing way that the cheque almost jumped out of mum’s bag and danced into the till by itself. I instantly hated him and knew mum did too, but she led herself be led down into the basement were gentlemen’s shoes were located. There was also a shelf for football boots. I knew right away that it was all a mistake and that we should go home immediately. He wouldn’t let us, of course. I had to try on three different pairs. That was all there was. I would have been better putting the box on my feet. He ooed and ahhed as if I was a Pele or at least a Jimmy Johnstone, but it didn’t matter which way I turned, they still didn’t have the three white stripes that said they were proper football boots. One of the pairs did have four, the other five. I didn’t know which was worse. I tried to move my face, shape it into a smile when he wrapped them and tied them with string, as if they were some kind of black fish going to escape a net. The shop assistant whispered to mum and his machines zipped across the cheque and then back again. He handed her a copy and kept a copy for himself. Mum took my hand, or I took her hand. I wasn’t sure which. I didn’t want to look at the brown paper package, or anything, or anybody, I just wanted to get out of the shop and back home and read my brother’s book in the toilet.
It was called Tropic of Cancer. It wasn’t about crabs or some kind of geography book. It was what I wanted to be, the kind of guy that stole off French prostitutes, after doing the mucky business. I’d all my own hair and all my own teeth. My dentist in fact said I’d too many teeth and he’d need to take some out and give me a brace. I didn’t mind. That could wait. I’d need to stick in at school and learn French letters.