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Monday, 13 August 2007

And we all moved closer to Heaven

I saw them as a blur, as meaningful to me as wildebeest on the African Veldt. Suddenly they turned, streaming after their leader, charging down the boys’ play-yard, heading in my direction. It was too late to run. My back was against the railings. To my left a high brick wall, to my right the boys’ toilets. No refuge there. A hand grasped my throat, fanatical eyes glared deep into mine. “Wot team d’yer support, la?”

I didn’t support a team, never really thought about it before. He was still looking at me, pushing closer, heads peering over his shoulder waiting for an answer. “Liverpool,” I squeaked. It was the right answer. The hand relaxed. I was able to breath again. Had it been “Everton,” I’d have been dead meat, or at least badly bruised meat.

They charged off, the Spanish Inquisition, in search of fresh prey.
I stared across the yard towards the black metal fire-escape leading to the classroom, thinking of dinner and wondering whether I had time for a wee before lessons. I was nine years old and had suddenly become a Liverpool supporter. I was also very hungry.

Our dinner tickets came in rolls of thick, slightly fuzzy blue paper. They were comforting to touch when you were hungry and if you were really hungry you could imagine the smell of dinner on them. When lessons were boring I’d take them out of my pocket and sniff them, imagining the smell of meat and gravy, pies and toffee puddings. It was better than eating what was actually served. The ultimate nightmare was Tapioca pudding, which resembled frogspawn in cream - no, not even cream - thin milk.

Blessed Sacrament after the 11+ exam was rough and ready. All the smart kids had gone. We looked forward to ‘Games’ where we rolled hoops and threw coloured bean-bags, sometimes the other way round. I remember Mr. Grue, a small dapper man with short dark hair tightly curled and a face that was brown. It reminded me of a monkey, sometimes of a fierce but benevolent raisin. He controlled - often taught - classes of forty. Like many teachers in the 1950’s he was ex-army and possessed an authority increasingly rare in modern schools. In the adjacent pre-fabricated building was Miss Mooney who allowed me to sort out her stock cupboard when the weather was wet.

It was warm and simple. Classrooms had pictures of steps leading up to the Heavenly Throne. For sixpence a time, you could move your adopted African or Asian child up a step. The money went to the missions and we all moved a little closer to heaven.

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